Boston and Albany Railroad Offices, Springfield, Mass

The Boston and Albany Railroad offices, just north of the railroad tracks on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Henry H. Richardson was one of the most influential architects in American history, and helped to establish what became known as the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture. Along the way, he designed churches, government buildings, libraries, railroad stations, and private homes, but he began his career here in Springfield, where he received his first commission in 1866. Although originally from Louisiana, Richardson had graduated from Harvard, where his friends included James A. Rumrill, Jr.. a Springfield resident who later married the daughter of Chester W. Chapin. Chapin, a railroad and banking executive, was among the richest men in the city, and he was also a prominent member of the Church of the Unity. Through this connection Richardson able to enter a design competition for a new church building, and his plans were ultimately selected, giving him his first commission and helping to establish his career as an architect.

Even before the Church of the Unity was completed, Richardson’s connection to Chapin helped him to obtain several more commissions here in Springfield. Among other business interests, Chapin was the president of the Western Railroad, and in 1867 Richardson was hired – without any competition – to design a building for the railroad’s headquarters here in Springfield, directly adjacent to the city’s railroad station. The result was a granite, Second Empire-style building, with a design that bore more resemblance to the fashionable townhouses of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood than to an office building. Although hardly an architectural masterpiece, it reflected Richardson’s training at the École des Beaux Arts in France, and it showed his abilities in designing commercial structures.

Shortly after Richardson received his commission in 1867, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad, with Chapin as its president. The building was completed two years later as offices for the new railroad, and was ideally situated at the midpoint of the line, 98 miles from Boston and 102 miles from Albany by rail. Chapin went on to serve as president of the railroad for the next decade, with the line serving as an important link between Boston and the rest of the country. In 1900, it was acquired by the New York Central, but retained its separate Boston and Albany branding for many years. This building continued to be used as offices well into the 20th century, but it was finally closed in 1926 and was demolished soon after.

Many years later, this site was again used for transportation when, in 1969, the Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines built its terminal here. Established in 1933 by Peter C. Picknelly, Peter Pan became a major intercity bus company in the northeast, and it has remained in the Picknelly family ever since. Peter’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, served as the company chairman from 1964 until his death in 2004, and building, which also served as the terminal for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses, was named in his honor in 2005. However, in 2017, shortly after the first photo was taken, both Peter Pan and the PVTA moved across Main Street to the newly-restored Union Station, and the long-term future of this site seems uncertain at this point.

Old Union Station, Springfield, Mass

The old railroad station on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Railroads first came to Springfield in 1839, with the opening of the Western Railroad from Worcester to Springfield, and the line terminated here at a wooden, Egyptian Revival-style railroad station on the west side of Main Street. The railroad was later extended west through the Berkshires, and Springfield became an important midway point on the route between Boston and Albany. The original station stood here for 12 years, but in 1851 it was destroyed in a fire after sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the building.

A new station was soon built on the same site, as seen in the first photo. Like the first station, trains passed directly through the building, although this one was less flammable, having been built with brick and iron. Architecturally, this new station was unremarkable, resembling a large shed rather than a grand union station, but it was designed by railroad engineer George William Whistler, the older brother of the famous painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Their father, George Washington Whistler, had briefly lived in Springfield in the early 1840s, and had been the chief engineer of the Western Railroad during the construction of route through the Berkshires.

The new station was joined in the late 1860s by a new office building for the Western Railroad, which was located just north of the station on the right side of the first photo. A striking architectural contrast compared to the plain railroad station, this granite Second Empire-style building was one of the earliest works of Henry H. Richardson, who would go on to become one of the most important architects in American history. Although very different from his later Romanesque Revival buildings, this design reflected his education in France’s École des Beaux Arts, and it helped to establish him as a notable architect.

In 1867, around the same time that Richardson received his commission for the building, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester Railroad, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad. Both the station and the office building became part of the new railroad, but by this point it was obvious that the station, less than 20 years old, was already obsolete. As a union station, it served not just the Boston and Albany, but also the Connecticut River Railroad, and the Hartford and New Haven Railroad. Because of this, essentially all rail traffic from the four cardinal directions had to pass through this station, and Springfield’s rapidly growing population was straining the station’s capacity.

Along with overcrowding, the station’s location also caused problems, since the railroad tracks crossed Main Street just to the east of the station, as seen in the first photo. The busy railroad traffic meant that the Main Street crossing gates were closed as often as they were open, with an 1872 observer noting that the gates closed 66 times during one four-hour span from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This  caused a significant disruption to the busy pedestrian, carriage, and trolley traffic in downtown Springfield, but the problem persisted for several decades, with neither the city nor the Boston and Albany Railroad wanting to pay the expense of lowering the grade of Main Street or raising the grade of the railroad.

Because of this impasse, the old station remained in use well into the 1880s, since the railroad was unwilling to build a new station until the tracks were raised above street level. It was not until February 1888 that the two sides reached a compromise, with the railroad agreeing to spend $200,000 to raise the tracks and build a stone arch over Main Street, while the city would spend $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet, and would settle any damage claims by adjacent property owners. Most significantly, though, this project meant the construction of a new railroad station, which would be built across the street from here on the east side of Main Street.

The old railroad station was demolished in the spring of 1889, but the platforms and two waiting rooms were left standing until the new station opened in July. Like the older railroad office building, the new station was based on the designs of Henry H. Richardson, although he died before construction began, and his successors made some significant alterations to his original plans. The entire project was finished once the railroad arch was completed in 1890, finally eliminating the long-problematic grade crossing on Main Street.

Despite all of these changes, the Boston and Albany office building remained standing well into the 20th century, and continued to be used even after the railroad was acquired by the New York Central in 1900. The building was finally demolished in the late 1920s, around the same time as the 1889 railroad station. Despite being less than 40 years old, this station had become obsolete as quickly as its predecessor, and in 1926 it was replaced by the current Union Station on the same site. However, the stone arch is still here, and still serves as an important downtown landmark on Main Street.

William Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island

The William Watts Sherman House on Shepard Avenue in Newport, sometime in the late 1870s. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection.

The house in 2017:

William Watts Sherman was born in Albany in 1842, and later moved to New York City, where he became a physician. However, he left the medical practice to enter his father’s banking firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company, and became a wealthy businessman. In 1871 he married Annie Wetmore, the daughter of prominent merchant William Shepard Wetmore. Originally from Vermont, Wetmore had been among the early summer residents in Newport, and built his Chateau-sur-Mer mansion on Bellevue Avenue in 1852.

A few years after their marriage, the Shermans built their own house on part of Annie’s late father’s property, just to the south of Chateau-sur-Mer on the opposite side of Shepard Avenue. For the design, they hired Henry H. Richardson, a recently-established architect who was already well on his way to becoming one of the most influential in American history. He is best known for pioneering the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was prevalent throughout the late 19th century, and designed a number of churches, railroad stations, libraries, and other public buildings. He did not design many private residences, but the Sherman house would become one of his most important works and would help to inspire the Shingle style of architecture that would go on to become ubiquitous in New England resort communities such as Newport.

Completed in 1876, the Sherman house was unlike anything that had been built in Newport up to this point. Most of the earlier homes had designs that were based on Greek, Italian, or French styles, but for this house Richardson blended elements from traditional English and American architecture, giving it a unique appearance that stood out among the other summer cottages in Newport. The house’s exterior, particularly the use of wooden shingles on the upper floors, proved highly influential, and the house became a prototype for Shingle-style architecture of the 1880s and 1890s. Richardson himself designed very few other houses, though, and  it would be two of his former assistants, Charles McKim and Stanford White, who would go on to create some of the finest Shingle-style homes.

Stanford White was involved in the design of the house, and he would play a larger role a few years later, when his firm of McKim, Mead & White was hired to design a large addition to the house. Built on the left side of the scene, this new wing substantially enlarged the house, while matching Richardson’s original exterior. The first photo here shows the house as it originally appeared, sometime before construction on the addition began in 1879. It was completed two years later, with Stanford White providing interior designs for both a parlor and a library in this wing.

William and Annie Sherman had two daughters, Georgette and Sybil, who were born in the early 1870s. However, Annie died in 1884 at the age of 35, and the following year William remarried to Sophia Augusta Brown, the 18-year-old daughter of the late John Carter Brown II. A member of the prominent Brown family of Providence, John Carter Brown II was the son of Nicholas Brown, Jr., the namesake of Brown University, and John himself would later leave leave his mark on the university when his rare book collection became the basis for the John Carter Brown Library. Curiously, William Sherman’s oldest daughter, Georgette, would later marry Sophia’s older brother, Harold Brown, making William Sherman both a brother-in-law and father-in-law to his daughter’s new husband.

With his new wife, William Watts Sherman had two more daughters, Irene and Mildred, and around 1890 they expanded the house again, adding a ballroom that was designed by local architect Dudley Newton. He continued to spend summers here until his death in 1912, and Sophia owned the house until her death more than 30 years later, in 1946. By this point the massive Gilded Age mansions of Newport had fallen out of fashion, and the mid-20th century saw many of these landmarks demolished or converted into other uses. In the case of the Sherman house, it became the Baptist Home of Rhode Island, a retirement home that opened in 1950.

Because of its architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and it is also a contributing property in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which is likewise a National Historic Landmark. In 1982, the property was purchased by Salve Regina University, whose campus includes many other historic mansions in the area. It is now a dormitory for sophomore students, and still stands as one of Newport’s finest architectural treasures, with hardly any differences between these two photos aside from the 1879-1881 addition on the left side.

1 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The houses at 1 Commonwealth Avenue and 12 Arlington Street in Boston, sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The houses in 2017:

This building at the corner of Arlington Street and Commonwealth Avenue was actually built as two separate houses, starting with the house on the right at 12 Arlington Street. Located on the sunny north side of Commonwealth Avenue and directly opposite the Public Garden, this house occupies one of the most desirable locations in the entire Back Bay neighborhood. Completed in 1860, it was also among the first houses to be built in the new neighborhood, with the development starting here at the Public Garden and steadily working westward over the next few decades. It was originally owned by John D. Bates, a merchant who had paid $13,695 for the vacant lot in 1858, and subsequently had this elegant house built here.

In the meantime, the slightly smaller lot at 1 Commonwealth was purchased by Samuel Gray Ward, who built his house here around 1861. Ward was a banker who worked as agent for the prominent Baring Brothers of London, and by the time he and his wife Anna moved into this house he was a very wealthy man. Aside from his career in international banking, though, Ward was also involved in the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. Although Transcendentalism is more associated with utopian communes and cabins at Walden Pond, rather than townhouses on Commonwealth Avenue, Ward was good friends with leaders in the movement, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller. He even had several poems published in the literary magazine The Dial, although that was mostly the extent of career as a writer.

Samuel and Anna Ward ended up living here for just a few years, because in 1865 they moved to New York City, where he went on to become one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That same year, the house was sold to Nicholas Reggio, an Italian merchant who lived here for two years until his death in 1867. His widow, Pamelia, was probably still living here when the first photo was taken, but in the late 1870s the house was sold again, to cotton merchant James Amory. He likewise only lived here for a few years before his death, and his family sold the house in 1892.

Like its neighbor, the house at 12 Arlington also changed hands several times in only a short period of time. John Bates died overseas in 1863, and five years later the property was sold to merchant William H. Bordman, who in turn sold it five months later to Nathan Matthews. A real estate developer, Matthews served as the president of the Boston Water Power Company from 1860 to 1870, and in that capacity he was involved in the filling of the Back Bay. He was also a philanthropist, and his contributions included Matthews Hall, a Harvard dormitory that was completed in 1872 and still bears his name today.

Matthews apparently ran into financial trouble, perhaps caused by the Panic of 1873, because in 1876 he sold the house to two of his creditors. The following year, they sold the house to another real estate investor, Joshua Montgomery Sears. Born in 1854, Sears was an orphan by the age of two, but he inherited a sizable fortune from his father, Joshua Sears, who had been a wealthy merchant. This inheritance was held in a trust during his childhood, gaining interest for 20 years, so by the time he graduated from Yale at the age of 22, he was already one of the wealthiest men in Boston, with a fortune purported to be worth $7 million.

In 1877, the same year as his graduation, he married Sarah Choate, a 19-year-old aspiring artist whose father, Charles F. Choate, was the president of the Old Colony Railroad. Sears purchased this house for her as a wedding gift, paying Matthews’s creditors the princely sum of $110,000 for the property. The purchase was just for the house at 12 Arlington, but in 1892 he bought the adjoining house at 1 Commonwealth and combined the two homes, removing the Commonwealth Avenue entrance in the process. Along with this, he also owned a country estate in Southborough, the 1,000-acre Wolf Pen Farm.

Joshua Sears went on to have a successful career as a businessman, but it was his wife Sarah who went on to achieve far more lasting fame. A patron of the arts, Sarah commissioned portraits by artists such as John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, and also purchased paintings from leading European artists, including Degas, Manet, Cézanne, and Matisse. However, she was also a successful artist and photographer in her own right, and exhibited her work at many of the major world’s fairs in the 1890s and early 1900s. Joshua died from pancreatic cancer in 1905 at the age of 50, but Sarah outlived him by more than 30 years, and owned this house until her death in 1935.

In the following years, this house was put to a variety of uses. During World War II, it was a club for officers in the Army and Navy, and after the war it was purchased by the Boston Archdiocese and used as a school and convent. In 1966, it was converted into offices, and was eventually owned by Sears, Roebuck & Company (no relation to the building’s former owner). Most recently, in the mid-1990s, the building was converted back into residential use, and it is now divided into nine condominium units.

For more detailed historical information about this house, see the house’s page on the Back Bay Houses website.

3-5 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The houses at 3 and 5 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The houses in 2017:

Like the neighboring homes at 7-9 Commonwealth, these houses here were completed around 1861, and were among the first to be built in the new Back Bay development. The entire neighborhood was designed to attract Boston’s upper class, but these houses occupy a particularly prime location, on the sunny north side of Commonwealth Avenue and just up the street from the Public Garden. Built as a symmetrical pair, they were originally owned by two siblings, with Abbott Lawrence and his wife Harriette on the left at 5 Commonwealth, and Abbott’s sister Annie and her husband Benjamin Rotch in 3 Commonwealth on the right.

Abbott and Annie were children of Abbott Lawrence, Sr., a textile manufacturer and namesake of the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was also a Congressman in the 1830s, and he later became the minister to the United Kingdom, serving from 1849 to 1852. His children moved into these houses about six years after his death in 1855, and the younger Abbott followed in his father’s footsteps as a textile manufacturer.

Annie’s husband, Benjamin Rotch, was also an industrialist, and had been one of the founders of the New England Cordage Company in New Bedford. This ropemaking company was founded in 1842, and originally supplied rope for whaling ships. By the time he and Annie moved into this house, the whaling industry was in sharp decline, but his company remained profitable, manufacturing rope for textile mills, salt mines, and oil wells, among a variety of other uses.

Both families were living in these houses when he first photo was taken, and they remained here for many years afterward. Benjamin died in 1882, but Annie remained in the house on the right until her death in 1893, the same year as her brother Abbott. Abbott’s house on the left was owned by Harriette until her death a decade later, and the house was subsequently sold. In 1905, the house was rebuilt with a Classical Revival-style design that was common for Back Bay homes of the early 20th century.

These houses have since gone through a variety of owners and uses over the years. On the left, 5 Commonwealth was a single-family home until the 1940s, when it was sold to the Boston Center for Adult Education. This organization owned the property until 2009, and the house has since been converted back into a single-family home. In the meantime, for most of the 20th century the house on the right was owned by the prominent Ames family, who leased it to the French consulate from 1961 to 1995. The house was then converted into five  condominium units, but it is otherwise unchanged from the exterior, providing a sharp contrast to the heavily altered exterior of the house on the left.

For more detailed historical information on these houses, see the Back Bay Houses website for 3 and 5 Commonwealth.

7-9 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The houses at 7 and 9 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The houses in 2017:

These two houses, built around 1861, were among the first in the city’s new Back Bay neighborhood. Like many other homes in the area, they were built as a symmetrical pair, with identical Second Empire-style architecture. The development of the Back Bay was intended to provide an upscale neighborhood for Boston’s upper class, in an effort to encourage them to remain in the city instead of leaving for the suburbs. The plan worked well, and many of the city’s wealthy residents soon made their way to new homes here, including dry goods merchants Richard Cranch Greenleaf and Samuel Johnson, Jr., who purchased these two properties.

Greenleaf lived in the house on the left at 9 Commonwealth, and Johnson lived in the one to the right, at 7 Commonwealth. Both men were partners in the C.F. Hovey department store, which was located on Summer Street in the present-day Downtown Crossing shopping district. The store was destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872, but they soon rebuilt it, and the company remained in business until 1947, when it was purchased by Jordan Marsh. During this time, Richard Greenleaf and his wife Mary lived here with their son, Richard Jr., for a little less than a decade, before selling the house in 1870. However, Samuel Johnson and his wife, also named Mary, lived here for the rest of their lives, until her death in 1891 and his in 1898.

After the Greenleafs sold the house on the left, it was purchased by Otis and Lucy Norcross. A member of the prominent Norcross family, Otis was a merchant who imported crockery, pottery, glass, and earthenware. His company, Otis Norcross & Co., became one of the nation’s leading importers of such goods, and he also went on to have a successful political career, serving a term as the chairman of the board of alderman and another term as the mayor of Boston. He died in 1882, but Lucy continued to live here in this house until her death in 1916 at the age of 99, after having outlived five of her eight children.

One of the surviving Norcross children, their son Grenville, inherited 9 Commonwealth from his mother and owned it for the next two decades, until his death in 1937. That same year, the house was sold and converted into a 13-unit apartment building. The entire exterior was remodeled, and the original brownstone was replaced with light-colored stone on the lower third and brick on the upper two-thirds of the building. Along with this, two additional floors were added to the building to accommodate the new apartment units, and the front entrance was moved down to the ground floor.

In the meantime, 7 Commonwealth on the right side continued to be used as a single-family home for many years, with owners who included Mary Frothingham, the widow of former Lieutenant Governor and Congressman Louis A. Frothingham. She moved into this house in 1928, a few months after her husband’s death, and she lived here for more than 25 years, until her death in 1955. Like the house to the left, her house also became an apartment building, with 12 units, although the renovations were far less drastic than next door. The house would remain an apartment building for about 50 years, but in 2007 it was sold and converted back into a single-family home.

Today, 7 Commonwealth looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken nearly 150 years ago, and 9 Commonwealth looks better than it used to. In 2013, it underwent another major renovation, which converted the 13 apartments into five condominiums. In the process, the 1930s exterior was replaced with a design that better matches its original appearance. Because of the two additional stories that had been added during the first renovation, the house is still not symmetrical with 7 Commonwealth, but today it is far more historically accurate than it had been for the previous 75 years.

For more detailed historical information on these houses, see the Back Bay Houses website for 7 and 9 Commonwealth.