First Church, Salem, Mass

The First Church at the southeast corner of Washington and Essex Streets in Salem, around 1865-1874. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The building in 2017:

This location, at the southeast corner of Essex and Washington Streets, was the site of the First Church of Salem for nearly three centuries. The congregation worshipped in four successive buildings here, beginning with the completion of the first meeting house in 1634. The pastor at the time was Roger Williams, who would preach here for less than two years before his banishment and subsequent founding of Providence. This building was used until the 1670s, when it was replaced by a new meeting house that, in 1692, was the site of some of the examinations during the Salem Witch Trials.

The fourth church on this site was built in 1826, with a Federal-style design that was the work of noted Boston architects Solomon Willard and Peter Banner. The church itself was located on the second floor, while the ground floor was rented out to retail tenants on Essex Street side, providing the church with about $1,000 in revenue per year at the time of its completion. The first photo was taken around 40 years later, and shows the church in its original exterior appearance, with a granite first floor, brick upper section, and Ionic pilasters on the Essex Street facade.

However, around 1874 the exterior of the church was heavily remodeled to give it a High Victorian Gothic-style appearance. The granite first floor was rebuilt, creating a new storefront with large windows on the Essex Street side, and the Washington Street side was expanded to add towers on either side of the building, which were originally topped with pyramidal roofs. Also on the Essex Street side, the pilasters were removed and the rounded arches of the old windows were given pointed stone trim, matching the arches of the new third-floor windows on the addition.

When these renovations were completed, the new ground-floor tenant was Daniel Low & Company. Established in 1874, this store sold jewelry, watches, and silverware, and was a longtime fixture here in downtown Salem. The store would remain here until it finally closed in 1995, although the signs still hang above the first-floor windows in the present-day scene. In the meantime, the First Church continued to worship in the remodeled building until 1923, when the congregation merged with the North Church and relocated to its 1836 Gothic Revival-style church at 316 Essex Street.

Today, the building bears little resemblance to the church from the first photo, aside from the large pediment and the windows on the Essex Street side. However, aside from the missing tops of the towers, the exterior has remained well-preserved since the 1870s renovations. The former Daniel Low storefront is now the Rockafellas restaurant, and the building is now a contributing property in the Downtown Salem Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Salem, Mass

The Tabernacle Congregational Church, at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Tabernacle Congregational Church had its origins in 1735, when a large group of parishioners, including the pastor, broke away from the First Church of Salem. Following the split, both churches claimed to be the true “First Church,” and the dispute was not resolved until 1762, when the colonial legislature forced the newer church to give up their claim to the name. As a result, the congregation became the Third Church of Salem, although it later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Its first meeting house burned down in 1774, and was replaced three years later by a new one, located here at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In 1812, Samuel Newell, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were ordained here as the first foreign missionaries from the United States, prior to their departure overseas for India. The building would remain in use for many years afterwards, but it was demolished in 1854 to build the church that is shown in the first photo.

This church building was designed by noted Boston architect Richard Bond, and had an Italianate-style design that was popular for churches of this period. It included a tall steeple that rose 180 feet above the street, and the sanctuary of the church could seat some 1,050 people, which was more than double the membership at the time. Including furnishings, it was built at a cost of $21,400, or about $600,000 today. However, the church made most of this money back in short order. In keeping with customs of this period, the pews were sold to parishioners, with prices that ranged from $25 to $60 in the galleries, and $40 to $250 on the main floor. Through this sale, held in 1854 on the day of its dedication, the church brought in $16,119.48 in revenue.

The 1854 church stood here until 1922, when it was demolished to build the present-day building. This was the third consecutive church building to stand on this site, and incorporated elements of the 1777 structure. This included the tower, which was modeled after the one that had been added to the earlier church in 1805. The new church was designed by Boston architects Philip Horton Smith and Edgar Walker, and it was completed in 1923. It has remained in use by the congregation ever since, and the exterior has been well-preserved after nearly a century since its completion. It is now part of the Federal Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Unitarian Church, Springfield, Mass

The Unitarian church at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

 

For nearly 200 years, the Congregational Church was essentially the only church in Springfield. Aside from small groups of religious minorities such as Baptists and Methodists, who arrived at the turn of the 19th century, nearly all of Springfield’s residents were affiliated with the First Church. However, this hegemony began to break apart in the early 19th century, when the New England Congregationalists saw a schism between the traditional Trinitarians and the newer, theologically-liberal Unitarians.

Here in Springfield, the First Church had two fairly liberal pastors throughout much of the 18th century, beginning with Robert Breck, who served from 1736 to 1784. Breck’s ordination had been highly controversial, due to the perceived unorthodox beliefs of the young clergyman. He was popular among the Springfield congregants, but many of the pastors of surrounding towns – including Jonathan Edwards of Northampton – had advised against him, and some of his opponents had Breck arrested for heresy on the day of his scheduled ordination.

The charges against Breck were ultimately dropped, and he was duly ordained, serving the church for nearly 50 years. After his death, he was replaced by another young liberal pastor, Bezaleel Howard, who served for 18 years before announcing his resignation in 1803, due to poor health. He agreed to remain with the church until his replacement was found, but this process likely took longer than Howard had anticipated. By this point, the Unitarian-Trinitarian controversy had become the dominant issue in New England churches, and it took six years – and 37 candidates – before Samuel Osgood was selected as pastor in 1809.

Osgood, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, had been the unanimous choice of the congregation, who had viewed him as being theologically liberal. However, as the divide grew between the two factions, Osgood ultimately favored the orthodox Trinitarian theology, alienating some of the most influential citizens of Springfield in the process. The majority of the church sided with Osgood, but the Unitarians were both vocal and wealthy, and included prominent businessmen such as merchant Jonathan Dwight, Sr. As a result, around 117 Unitarians separated from the First Church in 1819, forming the Third Congregational Society of Springfield. This name came from the fact that Chicopee, home of the Second Congregational Church, was still a part of Springfield at the time.

Later in 1819, the Unitarians moved into this newly-completed church building at the corner of State and Willow Streets. Both the land and the building had been donated by Jonathan Dwight, and the building was designed by local architect Simon Sanborn. It bore a strong resemblance to the new First Church building, which had been completed several weeks earlier at Court Square, and it reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular for churches and other public buildings during this era.

The first pastor of the Unitarian church was William B. O. Peabody, who was just 21 years old when he was ordained in October 1820. He served the church for the next 27 years, until his death in 1847, and during this time he also had a successful career as an author. He wrote several books, plus a number of poems and hymns, and he was also a regular contributor to the North American Review literary magazine. None of Peabody’s 19th century successors were able to match his longevity with the congregation, but the second-longest pastorate here in this church building was that of Francis Tiffany, who served from 1852 until 1864, when he left to accept a position as professor of English and rhetoric at Antioch College in Ohio. Like Peabody, he also became a published author, writing a biography of social reformer Dorothea Dix in 1890.

The Unitarians worshiped here in this building for nearby 50 years, but by the 1860s they had begun planning the construction of a new building further up the hill, opposite where the Springfield City Library now stands. In the process, they helped to start the career of Henry H. Richardson, who would become one of the most influential architects in American history. Although he did not have any major commissions at the time, Richardson was allowed to enter the design competition thanks to Chester W. Chapin, a railroad and bank executive who was a prominent member of the Unitarian church. Chapin’s son-in-law had attended college with Richardson, and this connection enabled the young architect to submit his plans for a new church, which were ultimately the ones chosen in the competition. The new building, known as the Church of the Unity, was completed in 1869, and Richardson’s work helped to establish his reputation as an architect.

The other building in the first photo, just to the right of the church, is the Springfield Bank. This brick, two-story Greek Revival structure was built around in 1814, the same year that the Springfield Bank was established as the first bank here in Springfield. It was one of the many business interests of Jonathan Dwight, who was one of its founders and its first president, serving from 1814 to 1817. The building was also the first home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, which was established in 1827. It was the first savings bank in Springfield, and it shared this building with the Springfield Bank until 1849, when it moved into the newly-completed Foot Block at the corner of Main and State Streets. In the meantime, the Springfield Bank remained here in this building until 1863, when it was reorganized as the Second National Bank. This new bank relocated three years later, and the old building later became a store owned by grain merchant John W. Wilder.

Only four years after the Unitarians moved up the hill to their new building, the old church burned down on the night of October 12, 1873. The site was later redeveloped with a large brick commercial building known as the Kirkham and Olmstead Block, which was in turn replaced by the two-story building that is now standing here. However, the old bank building survived well into the 20th century, despite being converted to other commercial use. The 1920 atlas shows it still standing, but it was demolished sometime before 1933, when the Art Deco-style Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company building was completed on the site. This building, now the Community Music School, is still here today, and is visible on the far right side of the 2017 photo.

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.