William Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on William Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, sometime around 1902-1915. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

William Street in 2017:


William Street, located in the South End of Springfield, was developed around the middle of the 19th century, as development of Springfield’s downtown area steadily moved southward. The area around this site had once belonged to Alexander Bliss, who operated a tannery on the site. His son, Elijah, inherited his father’s large estate after his death in 1843, and began subdividing the property. The 1851 city map shows a number of buildings here, all owned by Elijah, although the ones in the first photo were probably not built until around the 1860s or early 1870s.

The houses in the first photo were primarily rowhouses, with a larger wooden apartment block further in the distance and a few single-family homes interspersed among the larger buildings. The rowhouses feature Second Empire-style architecture, with the distinctive mansard roofs on the third floor, but their designs also incorporate elements of the earlier Italianate style, such as the curved window lintels and the decorative brackets under the eaves.

The South End has long been home to a variety of immigrant groups, many of whom were living here when the first photo was taken in the early 20th century. The 1910 census shows many different working-class residents living here in apartments and lodging houses, including French-Canadian and Irish immigrants along with native-born Americans. The house on the right side, for example, was a lodging house that was owned and operated by Abbie E. Neale, a 49-year-old widow who also owned the smaller house behind it. She rented the property to 14 lodgers, which included a mix of single people and married couples who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. They held a variety of working-class jobs, including several painters, a hotel bellman, a cotton mill spinner, and a machine shop laborer.

Around the corner on William Street, the three brick rowhouses on the left side of the photo were rented by three French-Canadian families during the 1910 census. The house closest to the camera, at 169 William Street, was rented by Ovide and Elmina Bouley, immigrants from Quebec who lived here with their infant daughter and Elmina’s father. The middle house was rented by Onesime Grise, a 65-year-old French-Canadian widow who lived here with her brother-in-law, three of her sons, her widowed daughter-in-law, and her young grandson. Furthest from the camera, the last of the three rowhouses was rented by another French-Canadian widow, 58-year-old  Alphonsie Archambeau. According to the 1910 census, she had 12 children, only one of whom was still alive. This child, 17-year-old Eva Tatro, was living here at the time, as were three lodgers who rented rooms from Alphonsie.

In the years after the first photo was taken, the South End shifted from predominantly French-Canadian to Italian, a legacy that remains in the neighborhood today, with many Italian restaurants, shops, and bakeries. However, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing here. The brick ones in the foreground appear to have been demolished prior to the late 1930s, because they were not among the buildings photographed as part of the 1938-1939 WPA project. The wooden apartment building in the distance was still standing at the time, but it has also since been demolished, and today this side of William Street is now primarily vacant lots, with a parking lot here at the corner.

Central Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on Central Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

Central Street in 2017:

In the 1880s, Springfield acquired the sobriquet of the “City of Homes,” thanks to the city’s abundance of fine single-family homes. Because such homes were the predominant residential construction of the 19th century, rowhouses were comparatively scarce, and were only built in a few parts of the city. Aside from a few small groups of homes on Temple and Maple Streets, only Mattoon and Central Streets have rowhouses in significant numbers, and this block of Central Street has, by far, the longest unbroken row of these homes.

In general, these rowhouses are less ornate than the ones on Mattoon Street, but they were built around the same time, over the span of about 10 years in the 1870s and early 1880s. They have similar Second Empire-style architecture, with two lower floors and a mansard roof on the third floor, and the western half of the block was built by B. F. Farrar, the same mason who was responsible for some of the homes on Mattoon Street.

The earliest of these houses are the five in the foreground, which were built in 1873 by Farrar. That same year, a financial panic hit the country, leading to a significant drop in demand for new houses, but despite the recession Farrar built nine more identical rowhouses in 1875, directly adjacent to his original five. The eastern half of the block, further in the distance, was built in 1882, and generally matches the design of Farrar’s original homes. However, many of the newer homes have bay windows, which contrast with the flat front facade of the earlier homes.

Although the entire south side of Central Street became a continuous set of rowhouses, the north side was never developed in a similar way. When the first photo was taken, the left side was lined with single-family homes, many of which would later be demolished to build a factory for the Springfield Knitting Company. This factory has, in turn, since been demolished, and today only one 19th century home still stands on the left side of the street.

Unlike the left side of the street, the right side of this photo has remained remarkably unchanged, 125 years after the first photo was taken. All of the historic rowhouses are still standing, after having been restored in the mid-1970s. The only significant change to this side of the street is the building on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. Known as The Central, this five-story Classical Revival building was built in 1908, with four stores on the first floor and 27 apartments on the upper floors. Like the neighboring rowhouses, the apartment building was restored in the 1970s, and it is still standing, with few changes from its original exterior appearance.

Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass

The factory of Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company at 125 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company started in the 1830s, when merchant Stephen C. Bemis began manufacturing hardware here in Springfield. One of his early business moves was to purchase Solyman Merrick’s patent of the monkey wrench, which would become one of the company’s leading products. He subsequently formed a partnership with Amos Call, and in the 1840s Bemis & Call began manufacturing tools and hardware in a factory here on this site along the Mill River. The company initially rented space in a factory building that they shared with several other tenants, but later in the 19th century they would purchase the entire site.

Stephen C. Bemis retired from the company in 1855,   and went on to have a career in politics. He served as a city alderman from 1856 to 1858, as mayor in 1861 and 1862, and in between he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1859, although he lost the general election to fellow Springfield politician Eliphalet Trask. In the meantime, his son, William C. Bemis, became treasurer when Stephen retired, and remained with the company for the next half century.

William became president in 1897, and that same year the company built a large addition to the original factory. This three-story brick building, seen in the center of both photos, was joined four years later by the more ornate two-story section on the right, which was used as the conpany’s offices. The original wooden building stood on the left side until around 1920, when it was demolished and replaced with the current four-story brick building. During this time, Bemis & Call continued to specialize in wrenches, but also produced punches, pliers, calipers, and eventually combination locks.

Bemis & Call finally sold their wrench line in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, unlike so many other Springfield-based companies, they survived the Great Depression and remained in business until finally closing in 1988. The factory buildings themselves are still standing, though, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago, and they serve as a reminder of Springfield’s legacy as an important industrial city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Grenada Terrace, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on Grenada Terrace from Dickinson Street in Springfield, sometime in the early 1900s. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The scene in 2017:

The Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield was very sparsely developed up until the 1890s, when trolley lines were built through the area, providing a direct connection to downtown Springfield. This section of Forest Park, just to the northeast of the “X”, was developed by the Sumner Avenue Heights Company, and featured streets with names associated with warm climates, such as Ventura, Sorrento, and Pomona. The centerpiece of this development was Grenada Terrace, which was built parallel to Sumner Avenue and featured a wide street with a landscaped median.

The street itself was laid out by the late 1890s, but none of the houses were built until the first decade of the 20th century. Nearly all of the homes had been completed by 1910, and the first photo was probably taken around this time. Most of these homes were owner-occupied, and the 1910 census shows residents with a wide range of middle-class professions, including a clerk, contractor, building inspector, stenographer, traveling salesman, and an Armory employee.

A century later, nearly all of these homes are still standing, although most have been altered with modern changes such as enclosed porches and artificial siding. Two brick apartment buildings, visible in the distant left of the 2017 photo, were built in the 1910s, but the neighborhood remains predominantly single-family, two-family, and three-family homes. Otherwise, the only significant change to this scene is the left side, where four of the homes were demolished to make a parking lot for the Holy Name Church, which is partially visible on the far left.

Westminster Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Westminster Street from the corner of Bay Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:


When brothers John and William McKnight entered the real estate business in the early 1870s, they began by purchasing the 22-acre farm of Josiah Flagg, which was located between State and Bay Streets. They laid out Thompson, Westminster, Buckingham, and Sherman Streets roughly perpendicular to State Street, and began subdividing the property into individual house lots. Because of a nationwide recession, development was slow in the 1870s, but began in earnest in the early 1880s. Most of the homes on Westminster Street to the south of Bay Street were built during this time, but the development soon extended to the north of Bay Street.

These two photos show the northern half of Westminster Street, from the corner of Bay Street. These homes were mostly built in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and construction was largely complete by the time the first photo was taken, although a few homes on the left side were built later in the 1890s. By the early 20th century, the entire McKnight development would go on to include some 800 homes for some of the city’s leading residents. The northern part of the neighborhood, primarily around Worthington Street and Dartmouth Terrace, became a wealthy enclave with massive Queen Anne-style mansions, but other parts of the neighborhood, such as here on Westminster Street, remained more middle class, with residents who worked as teachers, insurance agents, ministers, contractors, factory managers, and similar middle-class professions.

Architecturally, the houses on this street have similar, but not identical Queen Anne-style designs, reflecting the prevailing architectural tastes of the 1880s and early 1890s. To ensure a consistent appearance throughout the neighborhood, the McKnights included deed restrictions on the properties that they sold, mandating setbacks from the street, prohibiting fences in the front yards, and setting minimum construction costs. These policies produced streetscapes like this, with unique houses yet a uniform appearance, and made McKnight a desirable neighborhood for the city’s upper middle class.

Over time, the McKnight neighborhood entered a decline. By the mid-20th century, large numbers of middle class residents were leaving for the suburbs, and many of the large homes were converted into cheap rooming houses. Queen Anne architecture, with its eclectic style and often excessive ornamentation, had fallen out of favor, and many of these homes were renovated with plain exteriors of aluminum siding or asbestos shingles. However, the neighborhood remained one of the largest concentrations of Victorian homes in New England, and in 1976 part of it, including this section of Westminster Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the McKnight Historic District. Since then, the neighborhood has undergone somewhat of a revitalization, and many of the homes have been restored to their original appearance, including most of the ones here on this block of Westminster Street.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Boston

Facing west on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall from Berkeley Street, on November 27, 1901. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:


When the Back Bay was planned in the mid-19th century, the streets were laid out in a rectangular grid pattern, with five east-west streets running the length of the development. In the middle was Commonwealth Avenue, which was made significantly wider than the others in order to accommodate a wide, tree-lined mall in the center. The house lots on this street soon became some of the most desirable in the Back Bay, and as the trees matured the street began to take on the appearance of a Parisian boulevard.

Most of the houses along this section of Commonwealth Avenue, which extends west from Berkeley to Clarendon Streets, were built in the 1860s and 1870s, in the Second Empire style of architecture that was popular during this period. Among the street’s few non-residential buildings is the First Baptist Church, which was built in 1875 and can be seen a block away on the left. The streetscape of Commonwealth Avenue also features a number of statues, including the one in the center of the photo that honors Revolutionary War hero General John Glover.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, the Back Bay has remained remarkably unchanged. Nearly all of the historic Victorian brownstone homes are still standing, and Commonwealth Avenue has continued to be the centerpiece of one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods. Aside from the cars on the street, the only hint of the modern world in the present-day scene is the Prudential Tower, which is barely visible through the trees on the far left side of the photo.