George J. Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vermont

The George J. Brooks Library on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

George Jones Brooks was born in 1818 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but when he was three years old his family relocated to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, directly across the river from Brattleboro. He grew up there, and subsequently worked at a store in Brattleboro, before heading west around the age of 20. He first settled in Hillsboro, Illinois, where he was a farmer for about 12 years. Then, in 1850, he joined the thousands of other young men who were flocking to San Francisco after the discovery of gold in California.

Unlike most of the other migrants, though, Brooks was not looking to get wealthy through gold, but rather through paper. His brother, Horace Brooks, was a wholesale paper manufacturer in New York, and he suggested that George open a business in San Francisco. Like almost every other commodity, paper was in short supply in the still-primitive boomtown, and in later years Brooks would tell of times when every scrap of paper on the west coast was located in his store. This scarcity, combined with his virtual monopoly, earned him significant profits, and by the time Brooks left the paper business in 1862 he had become a wealthy man.

Brooks eventually returned to Brattleboro, where he built the elegant Brooks House hotel, which still stands just a little south of here. Then, in 1885, he purchased the former Francis Goodhue House here on Main Street, in order to build a library on the site. The old house was soon demolished, and construction began on the first permanent home of Brattleboro’s public library, which had previously been located in the Town Hall. Upon completion, the building was presented to the town as a gift, but unfortunately Brooks did not live to see it finished; he died on December 23, 1886, just weeks before the dedication ceremony.

Like many other public buildings of the era, the George J. Brooks Library featured Romanesque Revival architecture. It was the work of Maine architect Alexander Currier, and the building was actually larger than it appears in the first photograph. As built, the front section included a ladies’ reading room on the right side, a men’s reading room on the left, and a vestibule and lobby in the center. The library itself was located in a large wing on the rear of the building, which was nearly the same size as the front section, and included the main floor plus a balcony. The basement originally housed a natural history museum, but this was later converted into a children’s library.

It did not take very long for the library to outgrow the original space, though, and in the early 20th century it was expanded with a large addition in the rear. Following this expansion, it continued to be used for many years, but by the 1960s the building was again overcrowded, and the adjacent post office wanted the property in order to build a parking lot. So, a new Brooks Memorial Library building opened just to the north of here in 1967, and the old building was demolished four years later. The parking lot is still here today, and the only surviving remnant from the first photo is the First Baptist Church on the far left, which is still standing on the other side of the Masonic Lodge.

Francis Goodhue House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Francis Goodhue House on Main Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1870-1885. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1815, and was originally the home of Francis Goodhue, a businessman who had previously lived in Swanzey, New Hampshire, and Weathersfield, Vermont. In 1811, when he was about 43 years old, Goodhue moved to Brattleboro, which at the time was still a small town of fewer than 2,000 residents. He built this house a few years later, and went on to become a prominent local figure. He had a wide variety of business ventures, and was also involved in a proposed canal that, if constructed, would have linked Brattleboro New Haven by way of Northampton, Massachusetts.

An 1880 biographical sketch in Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont describes how Goodhue “carried on a wool-carding, cloth-dressing, saw and grain mill, cotton spinning, distilling, and a large store of such goods as were sold from country stores at that time. He was also erecting a building of some kind every year, and largely, at the same time, engaged in farming, yet his note was never worth less than 100 cents on the dollar.”

Francis Goodhue lived here with his wife Mary and their three children: Joseph, Lucy, and Wells. In 1834, Francis gave this house to Joseph, and he and Mary moved to a house across the street, where they lived until Francis’s death in 1839 and Mary’s death a decade later. In the meantime, Joseph lived here in the old family home with his wife Sarah until his death in 1862. Sarah outlived Joseph by more than two decades, and was presumably still residing here until she died in 1883, at the age of 87.

The first photo was probably taken during Sarah’s lifetime or soon after her death, because around 1885 the house was demolished by businessman and philanthropist George Jones Brooks, in order to build a public library on the site. Brooks had grown up in the Brattleboro area, but made his fortune as a merchant in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Later returning to Brattleboro, he built the landmark Brooks House hotel in 1871, and in 1885 began work on a permanent home for the town’s public library. Brooks was the older brother of Mary E. Goodhue, whose husband was Francis J. Goodhue, the son of Joseph and Sarah, so Brooks likely acquired the property through this connection.

The George J. Brooks Library was dedicated in January 1887, only a few weeks after its benefactor’s sudden death, and it was used as the Brattleboro public library for about 80 years. However, by the 1960s the building was overcrowded, and the neighboring post office needed the room to expand. As a result, in 1967 the current library building was completed just to the north of here, and the old building was demolished in 1971. Today, there are no surviving traces of either the Goodhue House or the library that had replaced it, and the site is now a parking lot for the post office, which can be seen on the right side of the photo.

Jonathan Hunt House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The house near the northwest corner of Main and High Streets in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was the home to a number of notable Brattleboro residents throughout the 19th century, starting with Jonathan Hunt, Jr., a lawyer and politician who served several terms in Congress. Born in 1787 in the nearby town of Vernon, Hunt was the son of Jonathan Hunt, Sr., the first lieutenant governor of the state of Vermont. The elder Hunt was one of the early settlers of Vermont, arriving in the area in the mid-18th century, and he became the patriarch of a prominent family.

The younger Jonathan Hunt was an 1807 graduate of Dartmouth College, and subsequently became a lawyer here in Brattleboro. At some point in the early 19th century, he built this elegant house here on Main Street. It was reportedly the first brick house to be built in the area, and Hunt lived here with his wife, Jane Leavitt, who came from a prominent family in Suffield, Connecticut. The Hunts raised their five children here, and Jonathan went on to have a successful political career, serving in the state House of Representatives in 1811, 1816, 1817, and 1824, before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826. He was re-elected two more times, and served in Congress until 1832, when he died from cholera while in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Hunt’s death left Jane with five young children, all under the age of 10. Soon after his death, Jane and the children left this house, moving first to New Haven before going to New York and then to Boston. In the subsequent decades, three of her sons would go on to achieve fame as artists. The oldest, William Morris Hunt, was a prominent painter in Boston, while his brother, Richard Morris Hunt, was one of the most celebrated architects of the Gilded Age, designing mansions such as The Breakers and Marble House in Newport, along with the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The youngest child, Leavitt Hunt, was an attorney like his father, but he also became a noted photographer, and during an 1851-1852 tour he took some of the earliest photographs of the Middle East.

Later in the 19th century, this house was owned by George Howe. Like Jonathan Hunt, he was also a Vernon native who went on to become a lawyer and politician. He was an 1847 graduate of Harvard Law School, and later that year he was admitted to the bar and began his practice here in Brattleboro. From 1858 to 1860, he served as state’s attorney for Windham County, and from 1861 to 1864 he was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont. He also served in the Vermont state Senate from 1874 to 1875, and was a delegate to the 1876 Republican National Convention. He moved out of Brattleboro in 1880, after being appointed to a position in the Pension Department, and he died eight years later in Vernon.

By the time the first photo was taken around the early 1890s, this house was owned by yet another prominent Brattleboro resident, Colonel George W. Hooker. A Civil War veteran, Hooker was 23 years old when he enlisted as a private at the start of the war. However, he quickly rose through the ranks, and by the end of the war he was a lieutenant colonel. During this time, he was noted for his heroism in combat, particularly at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap in 1862, when he single-handedly captured 116 Confederate soldiers at one time. He had been riding ahead of his men, and stumbled into the midst of the Confederate unit. Despite being alone, he demanded the colonel’s surrender, who complied and gave Hooker his sword, and Hooker was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Later in the war, Hooker was badly wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, where he was shot five times. However, he recovered from his wounds, and after the war he resumed his peacetime occupation as a traveling salesman. Then, in 1876 he moved to Brattleboro, where he began a career in politics. He was Governor Redfield Proctor’s chief of staff in 1878, a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880, and the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1881 to 1883. He also served in the Vermont state House of Representatives, and he lived here in Brattleboro until his death in 1902.

Despite its connection to many important Brattleboro residents, this house was demolished sometime in the early 20th century, and the property was redeveloped for commercial use. The current buildings on this site date back to 1929, so the house was probably demolished shortly before then. However, there is one building that remains from the first photo. On the far right is the First Baptist Church, which was completed in 1870, just to the right of the Hunt-Howe-Hooker House. It is still standing today, although from this angle it is mostly hidden by buildings and trees.

High Street from Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking west up High Street, from the corner of Main Street in Brattleboro, in August 1941. Image taken by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in August 1941 by Jack Delano, a noted photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration. This Depression-era agency was part of the New Deal, and its programs included photographers who traveled around the country, documenting rural poverty in the wake of the Great Depression. Delano visited Vermont in 1941, and he took a number of photographs here in Brattleboro, capturing images of everyday life in the town, including this scene of a police officer directing traffic at the corner of Main and High Streets.

More than 75 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. On the far left is the Brooks House, a hotel that was built in 1871 and converted into apartments and offices a century later. Next to it is the small, wood-frame Retting Block, which was built around 1850 and is probably the oldest building in this scene. Just beyond it is the much larger Manley Brothers Block, which was built around 1910, and on the other side of the street is the Manley Apartment Building, which was built about eight years later. Probably the newest building in the first photo was the Gulf station on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. It was later replaced by a Dunkin Donuts, which was, in turn, demolished to create Pliny Park, which now occupies the space.

Revere House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Revere House, at the southwest corner of Main and Elliot Streets in Brattleboro, around 1860-1877. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The same location, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene around 2017:

The first photo shows the Revere House, a hotel that was built in 1849 by James Fisk, Sr. Born in Rhode Island, Fisk grew up in Adams, Massachusetts, and as an adult he moved first to Pownal and then to Bennington, Vermont. He became a successful peddler, traveling throughout western New England and eastern New York, where he sold silk dresses and other high-end dry goods. He moved to Brattleboro in 1843, and about six years later he built the Revere House. By this point, the Fisk family included James’s second wife Love, their daughter Mary, and Fisk’s son from his first marriage, James, Jr.

The Fisks moved into the Revere House after its completion, and the younger James, who was about 15 at the time, worked as a waiter here in the hotel. He later joined his father’s peddling business, before becoming a salesman for the Boston-based Jordan Marsh and Company. James, Jr. went on to make his fortune during the Civil War, obtaining contracts with the federal government to supply textiles for army uniforms, while also smuggling scare cotton from the south. With his earnings, he speculated heavily, gaining and losing significant sums in the process.

Fisk eventually became one of the most notorious of the Gilded Age “robber barons.” Using dubious tactics, he and fellow investor Jay Gould managed to gain control of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Erie Railroad, and in 1869 the two men triggered a nationwide economic panic in an unsuccessful attempt to corner the gold market. However, his career as a financier was cut short less than three years later, when he was murdered by Edward Stiles Stokes, who was a rival for the affections of Fisk’s mistress, Josie Mansfield.

Although Fisk was living in New York City at the time of his murder, his body was returned to Brattleboro for burial. An estimated 5,000 mourners – equivalent to the entire population of the town at the time – were on hand when his funeral train arrived in town at almost midnight, and his body was brought to the Revere House. The next morning, on January 9, 1872, his funeral was held here at the hotel, followed by his burial at the Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street.

By this point, the Fisk family had moved out of the Revere House, and the building burned down only a few years later, in 1877, after a fire broke out in the hotel stables. The site was quickly rebuilt, though, and the current building was completed in 1880 as the home of the People’s National Bank. Unlike the plain Greek Revival-style hotel that preceded it, this building had an ornate design that was based on High Victorian Gothic architecture, and included an elaborate cornice with turrets, along with a highly contrasting exterior of red brick and white marble.

When the first photo was taken, People’s National Bank occupied the left side of the ground floor, with Brattleboro Savings Bank on the right. The upper floors housed professional offices, including the studio of noted local photographer Caleb L. Howe. People’s National Bank remained here until 1923, when they merged with Vermont National Bank, which was located directly across the street from here. After a series of mergers, the name has since come full circle, and the former Vermont National Bank building is now the location of a People’s United Bank branch.

Today, the old People’s National Bank building still stands here at the corner of Main and Elliot Streets. Its appearance has been somewhat altered over the years, most notably with the removal of the upper part of the cornice. However, it still remains a unique example of High Victorian Gothic architecture in downtown Brattleboro, and it is one of the many 19th century commercial buildings that still line Main Street. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the building is now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Crosby Block, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Crosby Block on Main Street, just north of the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1871-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the Crosby Block was built in 1871, replacing several earlier commercial buildings that had been destroyed in a large fire two years before. It was owned by grain and flour merchant Edward Crosby, who built it at a cost of almost $175,000, or around $3.6 million today. Its Italianate-style design was the work of local architect George A. Hines, and it was originally 26 window bays in width, extending along Main Street from the corner of Elliot Street north to the Brooks House. Upon completion, the ground floor of the building housed a variety of stores, while the second floor had professional offices and the third floor had apartments.

Nearly 150 years after it was built, most of the Crosby Block has seen little change. However, the southernmost section of the building – once the home of Vermont National Bank – was rebuilt in the late 1950s, with an International Style yellow brick and metal facade. Now occupied by People’s United Bank, this section is still standing on the left side of the scene, and sharply contrasts with the surviving three quarters of the Crosby Block. The rest of the building, particularly the upper floors, has remained well-preserved, though. Today, it is one of the many historic 19th century commercial buildings that still line Main Street, and it is a contributing property in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.