Newport Casino, Newport, Rhode Island

The Newport Casino on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of Newport’s many architectural landmarks is the Newport Casino, which is located on Bellevue Avenue, just a little south of the present-day intersection of Memorial Boulevard. Its origins date back to 1879, when New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., purchased the Stone Villa house on the west side of Bellevue Avenue, plus a vacant lot directly across the street where the Newport Casino would subsequently be built. Bennett had inherited a considerable fortune – including one of the nation’s leading newspapers – after his father’s death in 1872. Just 31 when his father died, the younger Bennett acquired a reputation as a flamboyant and eccentric member of New York society.

Bennett’s famously erratic behavior included an incident in New York in 1877, when he urinated in the fireplace during a party at his fiancée’s house. The resulting outrage ended their engagement and also resulted in a duel between Bennett and his would-be brother-in-law, although neither man was injured. Another oft-repeated – though probably apocryphal – incident happened in Newport in 1879 when, according to the tale, Bennett dared a friend to ride his horse onto the porch of the Newport Reading Room, an exclusive social club for the city’s elite. Supposedly, the friend lost his membership, and Bennett was said to have resigned his membership in protest before establishing the Newport Casino as a social club of his own.

Whether or not the story is entirely true, it speaks to Bennett’s reputation for impulsive behavior, and either way he soon began work on building the Newport Casino on the vacant lot opposite his Bellevue Avenue mansion. For the designs, he hired McKim, Mead & White, a newly-established architectural firm whose subsequent meteoric rise to prominence would be due in no small part to their work here on the Newport Casino. The result was an architectural masterpiece, which was built in 1880 as one of the first significant Shingle-style buildings. McKim, Mead & White helped to pioneer this distinctly American style of architecture, which would go on to become predominant in New England coastal resort communities in the late 19th century.

In 19th century terminology, a casino was not specifically a place for gambling, but instead referred more broadly to a social and recreational facility. At the time of the casino’s opening in the summer of Newport, the city had already been well-established as the premier summer resort for New York millionaires, and the casino quickly became its social center. The building offered a wide variety of amenities, including stores along the Bellevue Avenue facade, plus a restaurant, a ballroom, a theater, and tennis courts. Unlike the elite Reading Room, it was also less exclusive, with both the wealthy members and the general public able to enjoy the facilities.

The casino would go on to play an important role in the early history of tennis. Originally referred to as lawn tennis, so as to distinguish it from the earlier game of court tennis, the sport came to America in the 1870s and was played under a variety of rules until 1881, when the United States National Lawn Tennis Association – today’s United States Tennis Association – was established to standardize the rules of the sport. Given its reputation as an affluent summer resort, Newport was chosen as the site of the association’s first championships in 1881, with the newly-built Newport Casino serving as the site for both the men’s singles and men’s doubles championships.

The men’s doubles championships would be played here at the Newport Casino for the rest of the 1880s, and the men’s singles championships through 1914. During this time, the sport was dominated by Richard Dudley Sears, a Boston native and Harvard student who won the first seven singles championships from 1881 to 1887, plus the doubles championships from 1882 to 1887, before retiring from the sport at the age of 26. In later years, other prominent winners here included Oliver S. Campbell and Malcolm D. Whitman, who each one three singles titles, and William Larned, who won in 1901, 1902, and from 1907-1911.

In 1915, the tennis championships were moved to the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Queens, which was more conveniently located and could accommodate more spectators. The Newport Casino continued to be used for other tennis events over the years, but both the building and the city entered a decline in the first half of the 20th century, as Newport began to fall out of fashion as a summer resort. Many of the Gilded Age mansions were demolished in the middle of the century, including James Gordon Bennett’s house across the street from here. Demolished in 1957, the site of his Stone Villa is now a shopping plaza, and a similar fate nearly befell the Newport Casino, which had been threatened with demolition a few years earlier.

The Newport Casino was ultimately preserved, though, thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Van Alen, a Newport native and former court tennis champion who established the International Tennis Hall of Fame here in 1954. Since then, the building has remained well-preserved, with hardly any changes in this scene since the first photo was taken. The Hall of Fame is still here, along with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, plus one of the country’s few remaining courts for court tennis. Along Bellevue Avenue, the building’s first floor houses upscale retail shops and a restaurant, and it forms part of a continuous row of historic buildings that extends the entire block from Memorial Boulevard to Casino Terrace. Because of its level of preservation, its architectural significance, and its role in the early history of tennis, the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Samuel J. Filer House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 92 Buckingham Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:


This house was built around 1880, only about a year after its neighbor to the left, but it represents a significant shift in architectural taste. By the early 1880s, the related Stick and Queen Anne styles of architecture had become fashionable, and many of the homes here on Buckingham Street are modest examples of these trends. Most of the people who moved into these homes were middle class professionals such as Samuel J. Filer, who was living in this house by around 1888. A veteran of the Civil War, Filer later worked as a clerk for James D. Gill, a prominent publisher and art dealer in late 19th century Springfield.

Samuel Filer lived here until around 1891, when the house was purchased by Caroline M. Sherman, a widow who had previously lived nearby at 212 Bay Street. Like many of the other residents of the McKnight neighborhood, she supplemented her income by renting rooms to boarders, one of whom was James Naismith, a Canadian student and instructor at the nearby YMCA Training School. He had originally lived with Caroline and her two daughters, Maude and Florence, in the house on Bay Street, but he joined them when they moved to this house on Buckingham Street, and lived here from 1892 to 1894.

Naismith, of course, is best known for having invented the game of basketball during his time at the YMCA Training School. He invented the game in December 1891, so he was probably still living on Bay Street at the time, but his move to Buckingham Street coincided with the meteoric rise in basketball’s popularity, from an improvised physical education game to a widely popular team sport. The game was popular at the YMCA Training School, but it did not take long for outsiders to take notice. Among the first were the young women who taught at the nearby Buckingham School, at the corner of Wilbraham Road and Eastern Avenue. They soon began playing basketball too, becoming in the process the sport’s first female players.

One of the teachers who played regularly was Caroline’s daughter Maude, who was 21 years old at the time. It was around this time that she and Naismith, who nearly 10 years older than her, began their courtship, and they were married two years later in 1894. After their marriage, the couple moved out of Caroline’s house and into their own home at 30 Wilbraham Avenue, where they lived for about a year before moving to Denver. The Naismiths would later move to Kansas, where James worked as a teacher, basketball coach, and ultimately the school’s athletic director. He would never again live in Springfield, but his legacy is still here, in the name of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In the meantime, by 1895 Caroline had sold this house on Buckingham Street. Several different people lived here in the following years, including George H. Phelps in 1895 and pharmacy owner Fred N. Wheeler in 1897. Not until the end of the decade, though, did the house have a long term resident, when George and Alice Lyman purchased it. They were living here by 1899, along with their daughter Blanche, and like previous owners they also housed several boarders. George worked as a carpenter and builder, and he likely found plenty of work to do here in Springfield, with the city in the midst of a massive building boom that has given it he nickname of “The City of Homes.”

The Lymans lived here until around 1916, when they moved to a house on Wilbraham Road. In subsequent years, their old house here had a variety of residents, including physician Robert E. Seibels in 1917, and Christian Science practitioner William C. Loar in the late 1910s and early 1920s. By 1932, it was the home of Weaver H. Stanton, who was living here with his wife Florence and their daughter Marjorie when the first photo was taken. Although they lived here for many years, the Stantons were actually renting the house, paying $50 per month. However, this expense was reduced even further by the fact that they, in turn, rented rooms to boarders, with the 1940 census showing four mostly elderly people living here with them.

The Stantons were still living in this house as late as the early 1950s, but they appear to have moved out around 1951 when the house was sold. Since then, the house has remained relatively unchanged, although the exterior has deteriorated somewhat, especially the collapsing front porch. Otherwise, though, the house is still standing, and has historical significance both for its architecture and, more importantly, for having been the residence of James Naismith. The actual building where he invented the sport is long gone, and the site is now a McDonalds, but this house remains as perhaps Springfield’s most important existing connection to the invention of basketball.

Country Club, Pittsfield, Mass

The Country Club of Pittsfield, on South Street, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The Country Club of Pittsfield was established on this site on South Street in 1900, but the building that became the clubhouse actually dates back more than a century earlier. It was built in 1785 by Henry Van Schaack, who lived here until 1807. During this time, he entertained visitors such as Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Jay, and Senator Philip Schuyler. From 1816 to 1837, it was the home of author Herman Melville’s uncle, Thomas Melville.By this point, Pittsfield was becoming a popular destination for some of the great writers of the era, and Thomas’s son Robert took advantage of this. He purchased the house from his father in 1837 and opened Melville Hall, a resort whose guests included literary figures such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1850, the house was sold to the Morewood family, who renamed it Broad Hall and lived here for the next 50 years. Prominent guests continued to visit here during this time, including former president John Tyler. After the Morewoods sold the property to the country club in 1900, the house very nearly hosted another president. Theodore Roosevelt was in Pittsfield on September 3, 1902, and was traveling in a horse-drawn carriage on South Street, heading for the country club. With him was governor Winthrop M. Crane, along with several others. Shortly before reaching the country club, the carriage was hit by a speeding trolley, throwing the occupants out of the carriage. Roosevelt suffered a bloody lip and bruised face, and was reportedly only two inches away from being crushed by the wheels of the trolley, but was otherwise unhurt, and later remarked that “It takes more than a trolley accident to knock me out.” However, Secret Service agent William Craig was killed in the accident, making him the first agent to be killed in the line of duty.

Today, the country club is still located on this property, although the clubhouse has significantly expanded from its original 18th century building. The historic structure is still easily distinguished from the modern additions, though. It still has its distinct Federal architecture, and aside from its connection to so many historic figures, it also serves as a rare example of an 18th century mansion in Pittsfield.

Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass (3)

Another view of the interior of the Eastern States Coliseum, in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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As with the photos in the two previous posts, the first photo here was taken during the 1936 Eastern States Exposition. This annual agricultural fair, better known today as the Big E, has been held at the fairgrounds in West Springfield since 1916. Among the buildings here is the Coliseum, which was hosting a cattle judging event when the first photo was taken. A century after it was built, the Coliseum remains well-preserved in the 2016 scene, and the historic building is still used for many different events. See this earlier post for more details on the Coliseum’s varied history.

Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the interior of the Eastern States Coliseum, in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Like the photo in the previous post, the first photo here was taken by photojournalist Carl Mydans during his time with the Farm Security Administration. During the Great Depression, the agency employed a number of prominent photographers who traveled around the country, documenting conditions of rural areas across the country. Many of these photos showed the harsh conditions that farmers endured, including Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo, and have become iconic representations of the Great Depression.

During his travels, Carl Mydans, who was a Massachusetts native, took a series of photographs at the 1936 Eastern States Exposition, including some inside the Coliseum. Built in 1916 when the annual exposition began, the arena was used for everything from professional hockey to equestrian shows, and the first photo shows a cattle judging event that was happening when Mydans visited.

Today, although 80 years have passed, very little has changed inside the Coliseum since Mydans photographed it. The present-day photo was taken during the 2016 exposition, when both the agricultural fair and the building itself turned a century old. There were no events happening at the time that the photo was taken, but the Coliseum is still regularly used at the Big E every fall, as well as other times throughout the year.

Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass

The interior of the Eastern States Coliseum during a cattle show in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

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The Coliseum in 2016:

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The Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E, began in 1916 as an agricultural fair for the six New England states. A century later, it is still held every September on the same site in West Springfield, and one of the centerpieces of the fair has been the Coliseum, seen here in these two photos. It opened in 1916 for the first exposition, and since then it has been used for a variety of events.

The first photo was taken during a cattle judging event at the 1936 exposition, and was photographed by Carl Mydans. He would go on to become a prominent photographer during World War II, and even spent two years as a prisoner of war to the Japanese. In 1936, though, he was working for the Farm Security Administration, traveling around the country and documenting rural life during the Great Depression, and his work can be seen on the Library of Congress website.

Aside from agricultural-related events at the Big E, the Coliseum has also been used as a sports venue, especially hockey. Starting in 1926, it was home to the Springfield Indians, a minor league professional hockey team. A few years after the first photo was taken, the team was purchased by Eddie Shore. A retired Bruins player who was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Shore played here for three seasons and owned the team for nearly 40 years. In 1972, Shore and the Indians moved across the river to the newly-built Springfield Civic Center, and four years later he sold the team.

The Coliseum was last used for professional hockey a few years later, when the major league New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association briefly used it while their permanent home, the Hartford Civic Center, was nearing completion. After this, it continued to be used for high school hockey games until 1991, when the ice plant was dismantled.

Today, although hockey games are no longer played here, the Coliseum remains in use during the Big E as well as other times throughout the year. With a seating capacity of 5,900, it is still one of the largest arenas in Western Massachusetts, and as the two photos show, the interior has been well-preserved over the years. The windows along the exterior walls have since been covered, but overall the Coliseum is an excellent surviving example of an early 20th century indoor arena.