Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is from an undated stereocard, and could have been taken anytime around 1865 to 1885. However, it may have been taken in the earlier end of that range, since the First Baptist Church is not visible on the left side of the photo. This church was completed in 1870, and its absence seems to suggest that the photo was taken before this year, although it is possible that it could be hidden by trees. Either way, this photo shows Main Street as it appeared in the second half of the 19th century, when Brattleboro was developing as a small but prosperous mill town in the southeastern corner of Vermont.

On the extreme right side of the first photo is the corner of the town hall, which was built in 1855 and stood here for nearly a century before its demolition in 1953. Further in the distance on the right is the Centre Congregational Church, which was initially built in 1816 on the town common. In 1842, the church was dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here on Main Street, where it originally featured a Greek Revival-style design that included a columned portico and a steeple above it. However, this steeple was destroyed in a windstorm in 1864, and was subsequently rebuilt with a new design that also eliminated the portico.

The first photo shows the 1864 steeple, possibly only a few years after it was completed. This steeple was damaged in a fire in 1929, but it was repaired and now looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the church is the only identifiable photo from the first photo that still survives. The buildings on the left side of the present-day scene date back to around the late 1920s, replacing the old Jonathan Hunt House that once stood on this lot. On the other side of the street is the old W. T. Grant department store, which was built in the mid-1950s to replace the old town hall. Overall, this section of Main Street has undergone far more changes than other parts of downtown Brattleboro, but some of these buildings – including the two churches – are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Main Street from Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1865. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1865).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows downtown Brattleboro as it appeared in 1865, back when this section Main Street was still mostly lined with wood-frame commercial buildings. These included, on the far left, the Brattleboro House, which was previously known as Chase’s Stage House. Built in 1795 and subsequently expanded over the years, this was an important hotel throughout the first half of the 19th century, accommodating visitors and stagecoach travelers while also serving as a meeting place for locals. On the other side of the street, on the far right, was Hall’s Long Building, which was built in the 1830s or earlier. This building had a variety of commercial tenants over the years, and was the home of the post office from 1845 to 1849. The building also housed the town’s first telegraph office, sendings its first message in 1851.

This scene changed dramatically in 1869, only a few years after the first photo was taken. October of that year was a particularly disastrous month, beginning with 36 hours of heavy rainfall. The resulting flood on October 4 destroyed factories and homes along the Whetstone Brook, washed out most of the bridges over the brook, and killed two people. However, the flood also helped set the stage for another disaster at the end of the month. In the early morning hours of October 31, a fire started in the kitchen of a saloon on the left side of the street. The flames soon spread to the surrounding wooden buildings as firemen rushed to the scene, but their efforts were hampered by the aftermath of the flood. Their response was delayed by the washed-out bridges, and they also had difficulty getting water, since the flood had destroyed the water wheel that pumped water from the brook.

The fire ultimately destroyed the entire west side of Main Street, between Elliot and High Streets, including all of the buildings on the left side of this scene. Aside from all of the other challenges, firemen also had to contend with a strong northwest wind that blew embers across the streets. The Revere House, located just south of here on the other side of Elliot Street, caught fire several times, as did Hall’s Long Building across Main Street. However, both of these buildings were ultimately saved, and the fire was contained within just one block.

Ultimately, the fire spurred several large building projects on the site of the rubble, and the early 19th century buildings were quickly replaced by modern brick commercial blocks. The Crosby Block in the foreground, and the Brooks House in the distance were both completed in 1871, and both are still standing today. Meanwhile, the other side of Main Street would soon undergo some changes as well. Hall’s Long Block was destroyed in yet another fire, in 1883, and the following year the site was rebuilt with the brick, three-story Hooker-Dunham Block, which takes up most of the right side of the present-day scene.

Today, only two identifiable buildings are still standing from the first photo, and both are located far in the distance. The most noticeable of these is the Centre Congregational Church, which was built in 1842 and had its current steeple added in 1864, only about a year before the first photo was taken. This steeple still rises above the trees in the present-day scene, and is the only surviving feature from the first photo that is visible from this angle. Otherwise, the only other existing building from the first photo is the far less prominent granite-faced building at 165-169 Main Street, which is partially visible to the right of the church in the 1865 view. This building, although heavily altered, is still standing today, although it is hidden by the trees in the 2017 photo.

Aftermath of 1869 Flood, Brattleboro, Vermont

The scene looking north on Main Street from the Whetstone Brook in Brattleboro, apparently in the aftermath of the October 4, 1869 flood. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is undated with no caption, but it almost certainly shows the aftermath of the October 4, 1869 flood, which was among the most disastrous floods in the history of Brattleboro. The town has always been vulnerable to flooding, given its location on the banks of the Connecticut River, but the majority of the damage in this particular flood was caused by the small but fast-moving Whetstone Brook, which passes through downtown Brattleboro in the foreground of this scene. Originating in the hills to the west of here, the Whetstone provided the water power for many of Brattleboro’s early industries. However, this proximity to the brook also made these factories vulnerable to flooding, which could come with little warning.

Although rapid changes in the water level were not uncommon, the October 1869 floodwaters were higher than any in recorded history up to that point, and came after 36 hours of heavy rainfall. The flooding began shortly after 11:00 on the morning of October 4, and initially the primary concern was removing goods from the basements of homes and businesses on Flat Street, which runs along the north side of the brook. However, within ten minutes the water level had risen to the point where the focus shifted from saving property to saving lives. The book Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895 provides a detailed description of the subsequent events:

John L. Ray’s livery stable floor was completely covered with water. Many ready and willing hands were there to seize his horses by the bridle and lead them to a place of safety; all his buggies and horses were taken to high ground on Main Street. So suddenly did the waters spring upon the workmen in the blacksmith shop of Mr. Hall, that the floor was afloat and the workmen were obliged to break through a back door and climb up a stone wall and take shelter upon Elliot Street. A frame workshop just beyond the smithy was washed from its foundation and swung completely around. Mr. Dunklee, occupying the first house on the right-hand side of Flat Street, had just begun to gather up his things on the first floor of his tenement when he was obliged to call for help for the rescue of himself, wife and two other females. Help was promptly given him by Mr. John Rogers of the Revere House, who did yeoman’s service and saved them, although they were all pretty well drenched. In the next house resided Mr. Frank Holding, whose wife had been for four weeks dangerously ill with typhoid fever; their lower floor was completely inundated. Ropes and boats were procured by the spectators, who numbered hundreds, and after much peril and great exertion, the family were taken alive. The house of Willard Frost, on the lower side of the street, was in a peculiarly exposed situation. Fences were broken down by the ferocity of the current, the woodshed was veered around, the barn was shaken on its foundation, and inevitable destruction seemed imminent. The house was occupied by the female members of Mr. Frost’s family together with Mr. Eugene Frost, Mr. Wells Frost and his mother. They all went to the upper chamber of the house and there made signals of distress from the windows to the assembled multitude on Elliot Street. The rapid current which eddied and whirled around the house on all sides made it next to impossible for a boat to live in the waters. Several attempts were made to reach the house, but without success and these people suffered agonies untold for many minutes, until at last the timbers which had floated between the buildings formed a raft, on which they safely passed to the shore.

The large dam at B. M. Buddington’s gristmill was washed away, and the tannery which stood below was demolished and two thousand hides taken down the stream. Spenser & Douglas’s shop was entirely swept away and the road all along ruined. The bridge near the old woolen factory went down, on which two ladies had stood a moment before, barely escaping with their lives. The swollen stream then swept over Frost meadow reaching Estey & Company’s organ factory, doing no damage to the buildings, but carrying off thousands of feet of lumber and tearing up the road badly. On the south side of the brook, Woodcock & Vinton’s canal for about two hundred rods was torn out and one of the buildings and some paper injured. The flood swept away in a moment, Dwinell’s furniture shop with all its contents, furniture, tools, stock and account books, the Main Street bridge, A. F. Boynton’s shoe shop, office of I. K. Allen, lumber dealer, and Boyd’s fish market. Several men were in the market, among them the proprietor – he felt the building tremble and singing out “Run for your lives,” quickly he followed his flying guests. He sprang out of the door, turned around to look and saw nothing but a mass of water where a second before had stood his place of business. On the other side the planing mill of Smith & Coffin was cleaned out of its machinery, tools, etc.; the machine shop of Ferdinand Tyler was struck by the timbers and a part of the underpinning knocked away, the sawmill near the bridge and the foundry below were swept into the Connecticut with all their contents.

Nearly all of the bridges across the Whetstone Brook were destroyed by the flood, including the one here on Main Street. The first photo shows a large ditch where the bridge had once been, with wreckage strewn across the scene. The flood caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, equivalent to about $5.6 million today, and also killed two people. One of the victims was Adolph Friedrich, a Prussian immigrant sho left behind a wife and five young children. Twelve years earlier, Friedrich had survived the sinking of the treasure ship S.S. Central America, which was lost in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas. He had been returning from the gold fields of California, but he lost his fortune in the shipwreck. He eventually made his way to Brattleboro, where he found work at the Estey Organ Company. Friedrich was working there when the flood hit, and was swept downstream on a raft of boards. He was last seen going over the waterfall near the Main Street bridge, and his skeletal remains were later discovered on a riverbank. The other victim of the flood was Kittie Barrett, a 16 year old girl who had been watching debris float by at the tannery. She was killed when the upstream dam broke, and her body was recovered about a quarter mile downstream.

Today, nearly 150 years after this disastrous flood, this scene has remained remarkably unchanged. Some of the old buildings, particularly on the left side of the street, were replaced in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but overall the area retains a similar scale in both photos. The right side, though, has been well-preserved, and a number of the buildings from the first photo are still there. The most noticeable of these is the Van Doorn Block on the far right, with its large, pedimented gable. Built in 1850, the brick building survived the 1869 flood and still stands, with few noticeable changes over the years. Further up the street, other survivors from the first photo include the Devens, Exchange, and Cutler Blocks, which were built in the early 1840s and form a continuous facade from 85 to 97 Main Street. Even further in the distance, near the center of the scene, are several other mid-19th century buildings that are still standing. Today, all of these buildings form part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Wesselhoeft Water Cure, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Wesselhoeft Water Cure, at the corner of Elliot and Church Streets in Brattleboro, probably around the 1860s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

During the first half of the 19th century, a number of alternative medical treatments gained popularity in Europe and the United States. Among these was hydrotherapy, also known as water cure, which involved wraps, baths, and drinking large quantities of water in order to treat a wide range of ailments. The thinking was that water – particularly cold, pure spring water – would flush out impurities in the body, and would restore a person to health. Like most of the other medical treatments of the era, these claims were often dubious, but hydrotherapy was certainly less harmful than many of the often dangerous patent medicines that were peddled turing this time period. It was marketed as a natural alternative to such drugs, and these water cure facilities enjoyed a heyday in the United States around the middle of the 19th century.

One of the earliest and most prominent of these water cure establishments was the Wesselhoeft Water Cure, which was opened here in Brattleboro in 1845 by Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft. A native of Germany, where hydrotherapy had gained popularity in the early 19th century, Wesselhoeft subsequently immigrated to the United States, and earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1841. Several years later he came to Brattleboro, after determining it to be an ideal location with pure water. As he described it, “Fresh springs issue from all the hills. The water is the purest I could find among several hundred springs I have visited and tested, from Virginia to the White Mountains, within two hundred mines of the seacoast.”

In 1844, Dr. Wesselhoeft purchased the buildings at this location, on the northwest corner of Elliot and Church Streets. After some additions and remodeling, the water cure was ready to open the following year, on May 29, 1845. The water cure had only 15 patients at first, but this soon increased to around 150, with men housed in a building on the west side, and women in the east building, which is seen here in the first photo. By the following year the water cure had nearly 400 patients, which was beyond the capacity of the buildings, and many to stay in nearby hotels and boarding houses. The facility was expanded over the next few years, and by 1848 Dr. Wesselhoeft has to hire a second physician, fellow German immigrant Dr. Charles W. Grau, to keep up with the demand.

The book Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895 provides a description of a typical patient’s treatment, which was written by Dr. Wesselhoeft:

The patient is waked about four o’clock in the morning, and wrapped in thick woollen blankets almost hermetically; only the face and sometimes the whole head remains free; all other contact of the body with the air being carefully prevented. Soon the vital warmth streams out from the patient, and collects round him, more or less according to his own constitution and the state of the atmosphere. After a while he begins to perspire, and he must continue to perspire till his covering itself becomes wet. During this time his head may be covered with cold compresses and he may drink as much fresh water as he likes. Windows and doors are opened in order to promote the flow of perspiration by the entrance of fresh, vital air. As soon as the attendant observes that there has been perspiration enough, he dips the patient into a cold bath, which is ready in the neighborhood of the bed. As soon as the first shock is over he feels a sense of comfort, and the surface of the water becomes covered with clammy matter, which perspiration has driven out from him. The pores, which have been opened by the process of perspiration, suck up the moisture with avidity, and, according to all observations, this is the moment when the wholesome change of matter takes place, by which the whole system gradually becomes purified. In no case has this sudden change of temperature proved to be injurious.

Such treatments were believed to cure a wide range of illnesses. The 1848 book The Water Cure in America, which was co-authored by Dr. Wesselhoeft and several other physicians, included a number of case studies and testimonials from patients here in Brattleboro. According to these claims, the water cure could treat conditions such as lumbago, hemorrhage from the liver, scrofula, scarlet fever, paralysis, swelling of the knee, lung disease from measles, fever and ague, chilblains, typhus of the lungs, typhoid fever, iodine poisoning, boils, bronchitis, dyspepsia, rheumatism, curvature of the spine, and even smallpox.

The book also promised relief from “Headache, Cold Feet, Costiveness, and slight attacks of Hypochondria and Hysteria, from depression of Spirits.” This group of ailments primarily afflicted patients who were “of the female sex, and of students, who, by their sedentary habits, contract congestion of the blood in the lower abdominal organs.” The cure for this was “cold washings, sitz, and foot-baths, two injections a day of one tumbler of water 72º each, wet bandages on the abdomen and loins, drinking of nothing but water; a light diet, and removal of woollen underdresses.”

A stay at the Wesselhoeft Water Cure cost $10 per week in the summer, and $11 in the winter. This covered all expenses except for laundry, but patients also needed to provide the following items, which could be rented or purchased:

  1. At least two good large woollen blankets.
  2. A feather bed, or three comforters.
  3. A sheet of coarse linen, which can be cut, or at least one piece of inch linen, six qrs. long, and six qrs. wide; also, pieces of linen, and cotton, for bandages.
  4. Two coarse cotton sheets.
  5. Six towels.
  6. One injection instrument.

In addition, Wesselhoeft’s description in The Water Cure in America advised that “Very sick, and helpless patients, for whom the ordinary attendance would not be sufficient, must hire a nurse, or waiter, who can be boarded at $2.50 per week.” Those who did not wish to stay at the establishment could stay at one of the nearby boarding houses for $3.50 to $5.00 per week, plus a $5.00 per week fee as a day guest at the water cure. However, these charges were advertised as being negotiable, with Dr. Wesselhoeft offering reduced rates for poor patients whenever possible.

During its heyday in the 1840s and early 1850s, the Wesselhoeft Water Cure attracted patients from around the country, including a number of prominent figures of the era. Former President Martin Van Buren was a patient here, along with poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, abolitionists Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe, and authors Richard Henry Dana, Francis Parkman and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The latter spent 11 months here in 1846 and 1847, several years before she achieved widespread fame as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ironically, the same establishment that catered to so many prominent northern abolitionists was also popular among southerners in the antebellum era, and they comprised about a third of Wesselhoeft’s business.

Dr. Wesselhoeft returned to Germany in 1851, where he died the following year, but his widow Ferdinanda carried on the water cure even after his death. However, by this point it was in decline, and this would only get worse after the start of the Civil War in 1861, when southerners stopped traveling to the north. The first photo was probably taken around this time, and the water cure finally closed in 1871, after having been in business for just 26 years. The building, which had once attracted some of the most prominent Americans of the mid-19th century, was subsequently sold and converted into tenements. It remained here for some time afterward, but it was eventually demolished, and its former location is now the site of the current fire station.

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.

Main and Old South Streets, Northampton, Mass

The south side of Main Street, just east of the corner of Old South Street in Northampton, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the scene along the south side of Main Street in Northampton, sometime around the 1860s. The four buildings here represent a variety of uses and architectural styles, with two mid-19th century brick commercial blocks on the left, a Georgian-style house in the center, and a Greek Revival-style Edwards Church on the right. The most notable of these buildings was the church, which was built in 1833 at the corner of Main and Old South Streets. Formed as an offshoot of the First Church, it was named in honor of Jonathan Edwards, who had served as pastor of the First Church from 1729 to 1750. The congregation worshipped here in this modest wood-frame church for the next 37 years, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1870.

This same fire also destroyed the adjacent Hunt Building, which was built in 1770 as the home of Dr. Ebenezer Hunt. A 1764 graduate of Harvard, Hunt studied medicine in Springfield under Dr. Charles Pynchon, before returning to his native Northampton in 1768. This house was built two years later, with Georgian-style architecture that was similar the home of his second cousin, John Hunt, that still stands on Elm Street. In 1772, Dr. Hunt married his wife Sarah, and they had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. He lived here for the rest of his life, and during this time he was, in addition to practicing medicine, also active in politics. He served for eight years in the state legislature, in both the House and the Senate, and he was a presidential elector for John Adams in both the 1796 and 1800 elections.

Upon Ebenezer Hunt’s death in 1820, the house was inherited by his son David, who was also a physician. At the time, the property extended as far as Old South Street, but in 1833 David sold the corner lot to the Edwards Church, and the church building was constructed soon after. The house remained in the Hunt family after David’s death in 1837, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted to commercial use. The storefront signs are not legible in the first photo, but around the 1860s the ground floor housed three tenants, with a crockery store on the left side, a confectionery and fruit store in the middle, and the dry goods store of Robert J. Fair on the right side. By 1870, Fair’s store occupied the entire ground floor, but on May 19, 1870 he lost nearly his entire stock when both the Hunt Building and the neighboring Edwards Church burned.

After the fire, the Edwards Church constructed a new building a few blocks away at the corner of Main and State Streets, and this site here at the corner of Old South Street was soon rebuilt with new brick commercial blocks. The Columbian Building, located on the right side where he church once stood, was completed in 1871, and two years later McCallum’s Dry Goods opened in a new building on the site of the Hunt house. Both buildings are still standing today, although the latter has undergone significant changes over the years and is now Thornes Marketplace. As for the other two buildings in the first photo, it appears that at least one of them is still standing. The building just to the left of Thornes might be the same one from the first photo, minus its top floor, but if so it has been altered beyond recognition from the exterior. However, the building on the extreme left of the first photo appears to still be there, just with major late 19th century alterations.