Main and Elm Streets, Westfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Elm Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

These two photos show the scene at the northwest corner of Park Square, in the center of downtown Westfield. For the most part, these buildings were constructed in the mid-19th century, when Westfield was in the midst of a long, steady growth in its population. The town had a population of 4,180 in 1850, and it would continue to increase throughout the rest of the century, reaching nearly 10,000 by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point, Westfield was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was particularly well-known for buggy whips, with the town’s firms ultimately controlling about 99% of the world’s production by the early 20th century.

All of the buildings in this scene were constructed as commercial blocks, with the exception of the three-story, wood-frame building on the far left. Located at the corner of Elm and School Streets, this was built in 1843 as the First Methodist Church. The congregation worshiped here in this building for the next 33 years, and during this time the church had several notable pastors. These included Mark Trafton, who served several stints here in the 1840s and early 1850s before being elected to Congress in 1854, and John Hanson Twombly, who served as pastor here from 1851 to 1853. He later went on to become president of the University of Wisconsin from 1871 to 1874, before returning here to this church in 1874. It was also in this building, in 1862, that Russell H. Conwell gave his first lecture. Although he never served as pastor here, he would go on to become a prominent Baptist minister, and the founder and first president of Temple University.

In 1876, during Reverend Twombly’s second pastorate, the church moved into a new, much larger building nearby on Court Street. The old church was then converted exclusively into commercial use. It had been constructed with storefronts on the ground floor, and its tenants included several different grocery stores. However, after the church relocated, the post office moved into this building, and it remained here until 1912, when a purpose-built post office was constructed on the other side of Park Square.

At some point, the original tower and belfry were removed from the building, but otherwise it still retained much of its Greek Revival exterior by the time the first photo was taken. It would remain largely the same until the 1940s, when it was dramatically altered by the removal of the third floor and gable roof. Now down to two stories, the old church is still standing here today on the left side of the photo, although it is barely recognizable from its historical appearance.

To the right of the church in the first photo is a row of three brick commercial buildings. Furthest to the left was the home of the First National Bank of Westfield. This is the only building from the first photo that no longer exists in any form, as it was demolished around 1930 to build the present-day bank on the lot. To the right of it is another two-story building at 32-34 Elm Street, which was built around 1860. For more than a century, it was occupied by Conner’s, a book, stationery, and gift shop that had been founded in 1867. It moved to this location by the mid-1890s, and it would remain here until it finally closed in 2007. Although Conner’s is gone, the building itself still stands, relatively unaltered from its appearance in the first photo.

Further to the right, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets, is Whitman’s Hall, also known as the Music Hall and the Opera House. It was built in 1855, but it was subsequently expanded in 1870 and renovated again in 1888 and 1904. As the names suggest, the three-story building originally included a public hall. This was used for many different kinds of events over the years, including balls, lectures, concerts, operas, and even prize fights. The building is still standing today, but like the old church it has been heavily altered. The third floor was removed around 1940, and the remaining portion of the building is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance.

On the far right side of both photos is the oldest building in the scene, and possibly the best-preserved of all these historic buildings. It was built in 1842 as the Westfield House Hotel, a boarding house that occupied the upper floors until 1894. The ground floor was used for shops and offices, throughout this time, and during the early 20th century the second floor housed the Westfield District Court. Today, the building stands relatively unaltered on the exterior, and it remains an important landmark on the north side of Park Square.

Overall, despite some significant alterations, most of the buildings from the first photo have survived to the present day in some form. Elsewhere in downtown Westfield, there are a number of other historic commercial buildings that are still standing, and the area is now part of the Westfield Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and expanded in 2013. Because of how heavily they were altered, neither the old church nor Whitman’s Hall are considered to be contributing properties, but both the Conner’s building and the Westfield House Hotel are listed as such, as is the 1930 First National Bank of Westfield building.

St. Stephen’s Church, Boston

Looking north on Hanover Street in Boston, with St. Stephen’s Church in the center of the scene, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show the view looking north on Hanover Street from about the corner of Tileston Street, in Boston’s North End. The most prominent building here in this scene is St. Stephen’s Church, which is located directly opposite the Paul Revere Mall. Although it is currently a Roman Catholic church, it was constructed in 1804 as a Congregational church. It was originally known as the New North Church, as opposed to the more famous Old North Church less than 200 yards away, and it was the work of prominent architect Charles Bulfinch, who was responsible for designing many important buildings in early 19th century Boston.

This church was built around the same time that Unitarian theology was causing divisions within Congregational churches across New England. In 1813, New North became Unitarian, as did a number of other Congregational churches in Boston. That same year, 25-year-old Francis Parkman became its pastor. He would go on to serve the church for the next 36 years, and he was also the father of Francis Parkman Jr., who went on to become a noted historian and writer.

By the mid-19th century, the demographics of the North End had changed. As new, more desirable neighborhoods were developed in other parts of the city, affluent North End residents had steadily left the area. These largely Protestant, native-born residents were replaced by Irish Catholic immigrants, who settled in large numbers here in the North End. With its congregants leaving the increasingly crowded and impoverished neighborhood, the New North Church was ultimately sold in 1862 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, becoming St. Stephen’s Church.

The church building subsequently underwent some changes, including alterations to the original cupola. In 1870, it was moved back 16 feet when Hanover Street was widened, and it was also raised six feet on a new, higher foundation, in order to create a lower level. The interior was also modified, and it saw further changes after being damaged by fires in 1897 and 1929.

The first photo shows the church, and its surroundings on Hanover Street, around the turn of the 20th century. By this point, the North End was no longer predominantly Irish. Instead, the neighborhood was filled with newer immigrant groups, particularly Italians, and the North End was well on its way to becoming known as Little Italy. However, some of the Irish parishioners maintained their connections to St. Stephen’s Church, including John F. Fitzgerald, who was a congressman and mayor of Boston. His daughter Rose – the mother of John F. Kennedy – was baptized here in 1890, and her funeral was held here 104 years later, in 1995.

Out of the five churches that Charles Bulfinch designed in Boston, this church is the only one that survived into the 20th century. By the 1960s it was also one of his few remaining churches anywhere, and it was recognized for its historic and architectural significance. From 1964 to 1965, it underwent a major renovation, which included lowering the building to its original level and restoring the cupola. The interior was also restored during this time, although it is somewhat different from Bulfinch’s original plans.

Today, St. Stephen’s Church is still an active Roman Catholic parish, and the restored building stands as an important architectural landmark in the North End. The surrounding streetscape has seen some changes since the first photo was taken around 120 years ago, with the most obvious being the three buildings on the right side, which were constructed around 1905. Overall, though, this scene has maintained the same scale since the late 19th century, which still consists primarily of four-story brick commercial blocks, and the North End remains a remarkably well-preserved section of Boston.

Bridge Street, Northampton, Mass

The view looking west on Bridge Street, from near the corner of Market Street in Northampton, around 1890. Image from Picturesque Hampshire (1890).

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows downtown Northampton as it appeared around 1890, prior to the construction of a railroad bridge over Bridge Street. At the time, the tracks crossed directly over the street, and the crossing was marked by both signs and gates. This was a busy area for both street and railroad traffic; the crossing is located at the eastern end of the downtown area, and Bridge Street was the main road out of Northampton to the east. In addition, the crossing was the site of the junction between the New Haven & Northampton and the Connecticut River Railroads, and an 1873 map shows six tracks passing over Bridge Street.

At the time, the two railroads maintained separate passenger depots, which were located out of view to the left, on the other side of the tracks along Strong Avenue. However, this arrangement would change only a few years after the first photo was taken, when the tracks were raised and Bridge Street was slightly lowered in order to build a bridge that would eliminate the busy grade crossing. This work was completed in 1897, and it coincided with the completion of a new Union Station that replaced the two older stations.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, many of the commercial buildings in the distance are still standing. Some of the other buildings were constructed soon after the photo was taken, including the yellow brick Masonic Building, located just beyond the bridge on the right side of the scene. Completed in 1898, it is perhaps best known as the building where Calvin Coolidge had his law offices prior to his political career. Closer to the foreground, the most significant change from the first photo is the railroad bridge, which still carries rail traffic over Bridge Street. However, while it has prevented rail and street traffic from interfering with each other, it has caused problems of its own with its low clearance. Despite prominent signage, trucks frequently end up stuck in the underpass, and locals have dubbed it the “truck-eating bridge.”

Sheffield Scientific School, New Haven, Connecticut

Looking south on Prospect Street toward Grove Street, with the Sheffield Scientific School on the left side of the street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Sheffield Scientific School was founded in 1847 as the Yale Scientific School, and was intended to provide an alternative to the  traditional liberal arts focus of Yale itself. In 1860, the school moved into the former Yale School of Medicine building, which was located in the distance at the corner of Prospect and Grove Streets. The building had been extensively renovated by railroad executive and philanthropist Joseph E. Sheffield, and the school was subsequently renamed in his honor.

In the following decades, the Sheffield Scientific School steadily expanded, with new buildings that were constructed here along the east side of Prospect Street. The first of these was North Sheffield Hall, which was built in 1873. It stands in the center of the first photo, and it was followed in 1893 by Winchester Hall, which stands just beyond it with the turret on the corner. Two years later, the Sheffield Chemical Laboratory was completed on the other side of North Sheffield, and it stands in the foreground of both photos. All three of these buildings featured similar Romanesque architecture, and they were the work of noted architect J. Cleaveland Cady, who was responsible for designing a number of college and other institutional buildings across the northeast.

New buildings continued to be constructed for the Sheffield Scientific School throughout the early 20th century, including Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, which replaced the original school building at the corner of Grove Street in 1932. These three buildings remained in use for many more years, though, even after the school was fully merged with Yale University in 1956. However, both North Sheffield and Winchester Halls were demolished in 1968 in order to make room for the Becton Laboratories, the large Brutalist-syle building in the distant center of the 2018 photo.

Today, only the Sheffield Chemical Laboratory still stands from the first photo. It was significantly renovated in 1986 for use by the computer science department, and it was renamed Arthur K. Watson Hall, in honor of the former IBM president and U. S. Ambassador to France. In 1993, the building was targeted by the Unabomber, and one of his mail bombs detonated here in the office of Professor David Gelertner, badly injuring him. The building itself sustained little damage, though, and it continues to be used as the home of the computer science department, with few noticeable exterior changes from the first photo.

Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut

The view looking north on Temple Street from near the corner of Chapel Street in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This block of Temple Street passes through the New Haven Green, and in front of three historic churches that stand on the Green. The southernmost of these, the 1816 Trinity Church, is just out of view on the far left side of the scene, but the 1814 Center Church, along with the more distant 1815 United Church, are both visible on the left side of the street. The latter two churches have very similar designs, with each one featuring a brick exterior and Federal-style architecture. Both of these photos also show the eastern portion of the Green, with a number of people walking across it or sitting on benches. The longer exposure time of the first photo is shown by the blurred images of several people walking on the right side, while the people seated on the left remain sharp and clear.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much of this scene has remained largely unchanged, particularly in the foreground and on the left. All three churches are still standing and in active use by their congregations, and they are contributing properties in the New Haven Green Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark. However, there have been some significant changes to this scene, particularly in the distance on the right side. This block of Elm Street was once known as Quality Row, and had a number of elegant early 19th century mansions that are visible in the first photo. These included the Nathan Smith House, which stood second from the right. It was built around 1815, and was once the home of U. S. Senator Nathan Smith, but it was demolished – along with the rest of Quality Row- by the 1910s, soon after the first photo was taken. The block is now occupied by the 1911 New Haven Free Public Library on the left, and the 1914 New Haven County Courthouse on the right.

Pelham Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking east on Pelham Street, toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around the early 1880s. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These photos show the same scene as those in an earlier post, just from the opposite view along Pelham Street. Here, a mix of 18th and 19th century homes line either side of the narrow street, with the United Congregational Church standing in the distance at the corner of Spring Street. Probably the oldest of these is the Langley-King House, which is partially visible on the extreme left of the photo. It was built around 1710, expanded around the mid-18th century, and eventually restored in the early 1970s. Next to it is the three-story John Gidley House, which was built around 1744, and further in the distance are several other homes that date to around the 18th century.

On the right side of the street, probably the newest house in the first photo is the Anthony Stewart, Jr. House. It was built around the 1860s or early 1870s, and its Victorian-era Mansard roof and bay windows stand in sharp contrast to the colonial-era buildings all around it. Its neighbor to the right, the c.1804 Jonathan Bowen House, also features a Mansard roof, although this was evidently added at some point after the first photo was taken. Further in the distance on the right is the small gambrel-roofed Lucina Langley House, which was built sometime before 1771 and still stands at 43 Pelham Street. However, its neighbor to the left, at the corner of Spring Street, was demolished sometime soon after the first photo was taken, and was replaced by the present-day William M. Austin House in 1883.

Perhaps the most historically significant building in this scene is the United Congregational Church. This Romanesque Revival-style brownstone church was completed in 1857, and was the work of noted New York architect Joseph C. Wells. At the time, the interior was largely plain, in keeping with the Puritan traditions of the Congregational Church, but this changed in 1880, when the prominent artist John La Farge was commissioned to redesign the interior. His only restriction was that he could not include illustrations of figures, or any Christian symbols, as these could be seen as violations of the second commandment’s prohibition of graven images. As a result, La Farge drew heavily upon Byzantine and even Islamic tradition, incorporating intricate geometric patterns and other abstract designs into his work. This ultimately included 20 stained glass windows, along with a number of murals on the walls and ceiling, and it was completed shortly before the first photo was taken.

Today, more than 130 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. All of the houses are still here, except for the one on the right at the corner of Spring Street, and the church is also still standing. It is now partially hidden by trees and by the Austin House, but the only significant change is the loss of the pyramidal roofs atop the towers, which were destroyed in the 1938 hurricane and were never replaced. All of the buildings in this scene are now part of the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was created in 1968. However, the United Congregational Church was also individually designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2012, in recognition of La Farge’s interior design of the building.