First Church, Pittsfield, Mass

The First Church at Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The church in 2016:

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Pittsfield’s first church was built on this site in 1761, on the north side of Park Square. It was, in turn, replaced by a more substantial building designed by Charles Bulfinch in 1793. This second church building was among his early works, and Bulfinch would go on to become one of the most prominent architects in the early years of the United States. Many of his works still stand, but the Pittsfield churches heavily damaged in a fire in 1851, and was subsequently replaced with the present building.

Like its predecessor, the new building was also designed by a noted architect, Leopold Eidlitz. It was completed in 1853, with a Gothic Revival style that was becoming common in church architecture. Eidlitz’s design incorporates many Gothic elements, including the off-center tower, pointed arches, steep roof, and decorative trim along the eaves. However, several parts of the old church were preserved, including the bell and the clock, and were added to the new building.

Today, the historic church building is still standing, with few modifications from its original appearance. The clock from the previous church was removed in 1994 and donated to a museum, and a replica of the clock face was installed in its place. Otherwise, though, little has changed, and the church is one of many historic buildings around Park Square, including the Berkshire County Savings Bank Building on the left and the old town hall on the right.

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.

Market Square, Providence, RI

Market Square, as seen from across the Providence River in 1865. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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Market Square in 2016:

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Located at the foot of College Hill on the east side of the Providence River, Market Square was for many years an important commercial and political center of the city. The oldest building in the first photo is Market Houston the right side. Like other colonial buildings such as Boston’s Faneuil Hall, the Market House functioned as a market on the first floor, but had upper floors that were used for public meetings. It opened in 1775, just in time to witness the start of the American Revolution, which included an anti-British protest where colonists burned tea outside the building. Later in the war, French soldiers were housed in the building in 1781, prior to their participation in the decisive Battle of Yorktown later in the year.

Providence was incorporated as a city in 1832, and that same year the newly-formed city government moved into the Market House. The building soon became too small for the needs of the growing city, but it took years before a suitable site for a new City Hall was finally chosen. In 1878, the present City Hall opened on the other side of the river at Exchange Place, and the Market House was put to new use as an office building.

Today, the Market House is the only building left from the first photo. The 19th century commercial blocks on the left were demolished by the first half of the 20th century to build the Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium, and the buildings in the center were also subsequently demolished. The entire scene around Market Square is now part of the Rhode Island School of Design, including the Market House itself. The historic building was transferred to the school in 1948, and is now in use for classroom space, although very little has changed in its exterior appearance over the past 150 years.

Westminster Street from Eddy Street, Providence, RI

Looking west on Westminster Street from Eddy Street in 1865. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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Westminster Street in 2016:

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Taken over 150 years apart, these two views both show Westminster Street as a busy commercial center in downtown Providence. The camera’s exposure time for the first photo was too long to capture the pedestrians and vehicles passing by, but their blurred streaks give the impression of a bustling, fast-paced scene. Today, the scene is crowded with vehicles of a different kind, and almost nothing is left from the first photo. Most of the buildings here today date back to the 19th century, but they were built a decade or two after the first photo was taken. Because of this, the 1865 photo gives a glimpse of the street as it appeared before it was completely altered by developments of the 1870s and 1880s.

The first photo was taken the same year that the Civil War ended, and in the postwar years Providence experienced a dramatic population increase. For most of the 19th century, the city’s population had been doubling roughly every 20 years. This trend continued after the war, with the city growing from just over 50,000 in 1860 to over 100,000 in 1880, and then to over 200,000 by the first decade of the 20th century. In the process, street scenes like the one here on Westminster Street were changed, with the plain early 19th century buildings giving way to larger, more elegant ones of the Victorian era.

The most prominent building in the first photo is the First Universalist Church, on the right side at the corner of Union Street. It was built in 1825, designed by Providence architect John Holden Greene to replace the previous church on the same site, which had burned down earlier in the year. The congregation was still meeting here 40 years later when the first photo was taken, but in 1872 they moved to their current building on Washington Street. Soon after, the old church was demolished and replaced with one of the commercial blocks on the right side of the 2016 photo.

Today, none of the commercial buildings from the first photo survive. The oldest one is the red brick building at 239 Westminster Street, visible in the upper right center of the photo. Although it was altered later in the 19th century, the oldest part of the building dates to 1866. On the other side of the street, visible directly behind the lamppost, is the Burgess Building. Completed in 1870, this is the oldest one in the present-day scene that remains relatively unaltered. None of these are old enough to have appeared in the first photo, though. The only building of any kind that is still standing from the 1865 scene is Grace Church, visible a few blocks away on the right side of the street. This Gothic Revival church was designed prominent architect Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846, and although it is mostly blocked from view in the present-day scene, the top of its spire can still be seen in the distance.

Westminster Street, Providence, RI

Looking southwest on Westminster Street from the bridge over the Providence River, in 1865. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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One of the main commercial streets in downtown Providence is Westminster Street, which begins here at the College Street Bridge and continues southwest through downtown Providence and toward the Federal Hill neighborhood. When the first photo was taken, this area consisted primarily of low-rise brick commercial buildings, some of which dated as far back as the early 19th century. The oldest was probably the Union Bank Building on the left, which dated back to 1816. Just to the right of it is Merchants Bank Building, completed in 1857, and on the other side of Westminster Street is part of the large Washington Building, which was built in 1843. Also partially visible in this scene is the 1857 Customhouse, whose dome can be seen in the distance on the far left.

Today, this streetscape has completely changed. Only the Merchants Bank Building remains, now seeming oddly out of place. It has actually gained an additional floor in the intervening years, but despite this it is still completely dwarfed by modern skyscrapers, being literally overshadowed by its neighbor to the left. The Union Bank Building is long gone, as is the Washington Building, which died a slow death in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was partially demolished around 1889 to build a Romanesque building for the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company. Both this new structure and the remainders of the old one were demolished by 1919, when a new, much larger building was completed for the company on the same site. This building is still standing, dominating the right side of the 2016 photo, but it is now owned by the Rhode Island School of Design as part of their campus. The only other survivor from the first photo is the Customhouse building. It is hidden behind modern buildings, but is still standing on Weybosset Street and is in use as a courthouse.

Lost New England Goes West: Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco

Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral at the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue in San Francisco, around 1856. Image courtesy of the DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

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The church around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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As mentioned in earlier posts, San Francisco of the 1850s was very different from just a decade earlier. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, its population was just a thousand, but by the early 1850s it had jumped to over 30,000, and was rapidly growing. To accommodate the number of Catholics, the city’s first cathedral was built here in 1854, and the building has stood here ever since. At the time, it was located near the fringes of the city, near Chinatown and some of the notorious red light districts, which explains the “Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil” inscription just below the clock.

The first photo was taken before the steeple was completed, but by the early 1860s the church looked essentially the same as it does today. It served as the cathedral for the Archdiocese of San Francisco until 1891, and since then it has been a parish church. In 1906, it was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the earthquake, which did no serious structural damage to it. However, the earthquake started fires that gutted the building, so today the only original part of the church is the brick exterior.

The surrounding Chinatown neighborhood was rebuilt after the fires, and today it is home to the largest Chinese population in the world outside of Asia. This section of Grant Avenue in particular is a major tourist attraction, and Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral remains both an active church and also a major landmark that dates back to the city’s early years as a Gold Rush town.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.