North Street, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking north on North Street from Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The scene in 2016:

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The east side of North Street in the present-day scene is lined with historic buildings, but essentially none of these were built yet when the first photo was taken. At the time, Pittsfield was growing at a steady pace. It had become the seat of Berkshire County in 1868, and by 1891, with a population of over 1891, it was incorporated as a city. The population growth would continue at an even faster pace for the next few decades, resulting in the disappearance of many old 19th century buildings along North Street and the construction of new ones.

Among the first to go in this scene was the building on the far right, at the corner of North and East Streets. It came down only a few years after the first photo was taken, and was replaced with the Berkshire County Savings Bank Building. Completed in 1896, it is still standing as a major landmark in downtown Pittsfield. Opposite the bank, on the left side of the photo, is one of the few survivors from the first scene. The Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building was built in 1868, and although it was significantly expanded in 1911, it is still standing at the corner of North and West Streets.

St. Stephen’s Church, Pittsfield, Mass

St. Stephen’s Church at the corner of East and Allen Streets in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The church in 2016:

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As seen in a previous post, St. Stephen’s Church is one of several historic 19th century buildings at Park Square, in the center of downtown Pittsfield. The Gothic Revival church was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston firm of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Completed in 1890, it replaced an earlier Episcopalian church that had been built on virtually the same spot in 1832, the same year as the old town on the left side of the scene. The town hall has survived to the present, but the old church had to be demolished to build Allen Street, seen in the center of the photos.

When the first photo was taken, St. Stephen’s Church was just a few years old. More than 120 years later, most of its surroundings, except for the old town hall, are different, but not much has changed with the church itself. The building underwent a restoration in 1999, which included repairs to the stained glass windows that had been designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast. The church is still in use as an active Episcopalian parish, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

South Street, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Looking north on South Street toward the corner of West Street, around 1905-1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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These photos were taken from nearly the same spot as the ones an earlier post, just further to the right side of the road. The scene shows the central business district of Pittsfield, the largest city in the Berkshires. On the far right is Park Square, and beyond it is the Berkshire County Savings Bank Building, a six-story office building that was completed in 1896 and is still standing. Across the street, in the center of the photo, is the Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building, which was built in 1868 and expanded in 1911, soon after the first photo was taken.

Although these buildings are still standing, the ones in the foreground on the left side are not. At the corner of West Street was the Hotel Wendell, completed in 1898. It contrasts with the much smaller, much older commercial buildings further to the left. They are an odd assortment of sizes and architectural styles, but were apparently stitched together into a single building. The storefront tenants had as much variety as the building’s facade, and included the Pittsfield Coal Gas Company, Seid Send Laundry, Hotel Wendell Valet, and J.A. Maxim Antiques and Bric-a-Brac. These buildings were all demolished by 1930, when the Hotel Wendell expanded to the left. However, the hotel closed in 1965 and was demolished soon after. Its present-day replacement, the Crowne Plaza and the Berkshire Commons, was completed in 1971 and now stands on the site.

South Street, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking north on South Street in Pittsfield, toward Park Square, around 1911-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Although a century has passed since the first photo was taken, the appearance of downtown Pittsfield has not significantly changed. The buildings in this scene are built around Park Square, which is partially visible on the right side and is the main focal point in the center of the city. Looking ahead in the distance is North Street, which is lined with 19th and early 20th century commercial blocks.

Pittsfield is the largest city in the Berkshires, and when the first photo was taken the region was a resort destination for wealthy families across the northeast, especially from New York. As a result, Pittsfield thrived, and the first photo shows a number of prominent buildings in the foreground.

To the left was the Hotel Wendell, which was built in 1898 at the corner of South and West Streets. It was the city’s premier hotel in the first half of the 20th century, and in 1930 it was expanded, replacing the much smaller buildings on the far left. Within a few decades, though, times had changed for grand downtown hotels across the country, and in the 1960s the hotel closed and was demolished.

Just beyond the Hotel Wendell, at the corner of North and West Streets, is the Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building. Constructed in 1868, it was significantly expanded in 1911, shortly before the first photo was taken. It is still standing today, along with the Berkshire County Savings Bank Building, which was built in 1896 across the street on the right side of the photo. Both of these buildings are now part of the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Butler Exchange, Providence, RI

The Butler Exchange, on the south side of Exchange Plaza in Providence, around the 1870s or 1880s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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The late 19th century was a time of growing prosperity for the city of Providence, and few buildings indicated this as well as the Butler Exchange. This massive commercial block was built in 1873, and was designed by prominent architect Arthur Gilman. Like many other public buildings of the day, it was designed in the Second Empire style, complete with towers on the corners and a large, two-story mansard roof at the top. On the inside, it consisted of shops on the first floor, with offices on the five upper floors. Starting in 1878, the second floor was also the first home of the Providence Public Library, until they opened their current building in 1900.

Today, nothing remains from the first photo. The smaller buildings on either side of the photo are long gone, and the Butler Exchange itself was demolished in 1925. By the turn of the 20th century, Providence’s skyline had begun growing upward, culminating in 1928 with the completion of the 428-foot, 26-story Industrial Trust Tower, built here on the site of the Butler Exchange. Later known as the Bank of America Tower and now as 111 Westminster Street, the Art Deco-style skyscraper remains the tallest building in Rhode Island. However, the historic building has been vacant since 2013, and despite several redevelopment proposals its future is still uncertain.

Customshouse, Providence, RI

Looking down Weybosset Street from Westminster Street in Providence in 1868, with the U.S. Customshouse in the background. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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In the first photo, this scene is dominated by the U.S. Customshouse, a domed, three-story granite building that had been completed just 11 years earlier, in 1857. It was designed by Ammi B. Young, during his time as Supervising Architect of the Treasury. His works included many prominent buildings, such as the old Vermont State House, part of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, and the Custom House in Boston.

Young designed the custom houses in Boston and Providence about 20 years apart, and the two buildings reflect a shift in architectural tastes during the time. Although both were constructed of granite, Boston’s earlier building was Greek Revival, but by the time Providence’s Customshouse was built, Italianate architecture was far more common. Gone were the massive columns and triangular pediments, replaced instead with design elements such as arches, window cornices, and quoins on the corners.

When the first photo was taken, the Customshouse was surrounded by an assortment of low-rise commercial buildings, many of which were wood and probably dated back to the early 19th century. However, over time these buildings disappeared, and were replaced by much taller skyscrapers, dwarfing the old Customshouse. The first of these skyscrapers was the Banigan Building, built in 1896 on the left side of the present-day scene. It was followed in 1913 by the even taller Turk’s Head Building on the right side of the photo, which was constructed on a triangular lot and bears some resemblance to New York’s Flatiron Building.

Because Providence was a major port in New England, the Customshouse served an important function housing the offices of the city’s Collector of Customs. However, despite its name, the building also included the city’s main post office, a federal courtroom, and the offices of the federal District Attorney. Consequently, while Providence’s skyline was growing, so was the need for space in the old building.

The problem was solved in 1908, with the completion of a new Federal Building at Exchange Plaza. Even this new building was not enough, though. After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the old Customshouse was reopened in 1921 to provide additional space for federal offices. It remained in use until 1989, and was later sold to the State of Rhode Island. Today, it is used as offices for the State Courts System. Along with the turn-of-the-century skyscrapers around it, the 160 year old building is now part of the Customshouse Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.