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.

Butler Exchange, Providence, RI

The Butler Exchange, on the south side of Exchange Plaza in Providence, around the 1870s or 1880s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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The late 19th century was a time of growing prosperity for the city of Providence, and few buildings indicated this as well as the Butler Exchange. This massive commercial block was built in 1873, and was designed by prominent architect Arthur Gilman. Like many other public buildings of the day, it was designed in the Second Empire style, complete with towers on the corners and a large, two-story mansard roof at the top. On the inside, it consisted of shops on the first floor, with offices on the five upper floors. Starting in 1878, the second floor was also the first home of the Providence Public Library, until they opened their current building in 1900.

Today, nothing remains from the first photo. The smaller buildings on either side of the photo are long gone, and the Butler Exchange itself was demolished in 1925. By the turn of the 20th century, Providence’s skyline had begun growing upward, culminating in 1928 with the completion of the 428-foot, 26-story Industrial Trust Tower, built here on the site of the Butler Exchange. Later known as the Bank of America Tower and now as 111 Westminster Street, the Art Deco-style skyscraper remains the tallest building in Rhode Island. However, the historic building has been vacant since 2013, and despite several redevelopment proposals its future is still uncertain.

Second Congregational Church, Greenfield, Mass

The Second Congregational Church on Court Square in Greenfield, around the 1870s or 1880s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The church in 2016:

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Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church was established in 1817, during a time when many New England churches were experiencing division. Here in Greenfield, though, the source of the dispute was not theological but geographical, as the two factions could not agree on a location for the meetinghouse. Ultimately, the offshoot congregation built their church here in what is now the center of Greenfield. Their first building was designed by prolific Western Massachusetts church builder Isaac Damon. This brick Greek Revival design was copied a few years later and a few miles south of here in Deerfield, and still stands today as part of Historic Deerfield.

Here in Greenfield, though, the old church was demolished in 1868 and replaced with a new building on the same site. By this point, the Greek Revival style of the early 19th century had fallen out of style, and Gothic Revival had become prevalent in post-Civil War churches. This church was designed by the Boston firm of Richards & Park, and included many of the common Gothic Revival features, including a stone exterior, an off-centered steeple, and pointed arches over windows and doors. The church is still standing today, essentially altered from its original appearance. It is one of many surviving 19th century buildings facing the Common, and is part of the Main Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rose Cottage, Springfield, Mass (1)

Rose Cottage, on Chestnut Street at the present-day corner of Edwards Street, sometime in the 1800s. Image from A Chronicle of Ancient Chestnut Street (1897).

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The scene in 2016:

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This house on Chestnut Street was built in 1824, at the time when the street was first being developed. Unlike some of its more elaborate neighbors, this house was a fairly simple, modest Greek Revival-style home. Its original owner was Elisha Edwards and his wife Eunice, who had been married in 1821 and moved in here three years later. They had a total of ten children before Elisha’s death in 1840, including Oliver Edwards, who was born here in 1835. He joined the Civil War as a lieutenant in 1861, but soon moved up the ranks, eventually commanding the 37th Massachusetts at the Battle of Gettysburg and later retiring as a brevet major general. One of Elisha and Eunice’s grandsons, Clarence R. Edwards, was also a prominent general, achieving fame in World War I.

Soon after Eunice’s death in 1875, the house became one of the first to disappear from Chestnut Street. Chester Harding’s nearby estate had been demolished a few years earlier to build Mattoon Street, and the Edwards house, which had been known as Rose Cottage for the many roses that grew up the side of the house, soon fell victim to progress. Edwards Street was laid out through the property, and the old house was directly in its path. Thankfully, though, it was not completely lost to history. Sometime before 1882, the house was moved about a half mile away to 57 Mulberry Street, where it still stands today.

In the meantime, the area that had once been the Edwards’ backyard is now part of the Quadrangle, which houses the city’s museums, including the Museum of Springfield History on the left. Only a handful of homes are still standing on Chestnut Street today, none of which date back to the 19th century. Several were built in the first decade of the 20th century, though, including the house at 73 Chestnut Street, on the right side of the 2016 photo. Built in 1901 as a private home, it is now used for professional offices.

Whistler House, Springfield, Mass

The former home of George Washington Whistler on Chestnut Street near the corner of Edwards Street, sometime in the 1800s. Image from A Chronicle of Ancient Chestnut Street (1897).

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The scene in 2016:

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Perhaps no house in Springfield has been home to as many historical figures as this one was, so it is perhaps only appropriate that the Museum of Springfield History is now located on the site. The house was built in the 1820s by Simon Sanborn, who built a number of buildings in Springfield during the early 19th century, including the architecturally-similar Alexander House. When this spacious, 20-room house was completed, Chestnut Street was Springfield’s most prestigious residential street, and the home enjoyed unobstructed views of downtown and the Connecticut River in the distance.

Its original owner was James Sanford Dwight, a merchant and member of the prominent Dwight family who died while vacationing in Italy in 1831. Several years after his death, the house was briefly the home of Chester Harding, a notable portrait artist. He was born in Conway, Massachusetts, but he worked as an itinerant painter in the western states, living for a time in Pittsburgh, Kentucky, and St. Louis. After this, he spent time in England, then returned to the US, living in Boston for a few years. By the early 1830s, he was living in Springfield, first renting the Alexander House and then moving into this house. He only remained here for a short time, though, before building a new house just to the left of here, on the site of present-day Mattoon Street.

Despite Harding’s prominence, he would turn out to be only the second most famous artist to reside in the house in the first photo. After he moved out, it was the home of George Washington Whistler and his family from 1839 to 1842. Whistler had been hired as chief engineer for the Western Railroad, which was under construction from Worcester to the New York state line at the time. He achieved fame in his own right as a railroad builder, and left Springfield in 1842 when Czar Nicholas I of Russia hired him to build a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. However, his son James Abbott McNeill Whister, who was just eight when they moved from Springfield, would go on to become one of the most prominent American artists of the 19th century. Although he only spent three years here, it is interesting to consider what influence, if any, their next-door neighbor Chester Harding may have had on the young future artist.

After the Whistlers left, its next resident was Major James Ripley, the commandant of the Springfield Armory from 1842 to 1854. He was third consecutive nationally-prominent figure to live in the house, and earned recognition for his efforts to modernize the Armory. Under his leadership, many new buildings were constructed, including the distinctive Main Arsenal, as well as the nearby Commandant’s House. The latter was completed in 1846, at which point Ripley moved out of his house here on Chestnut Street. Although he left Springfield in 1854, his reforms came just in time. When the Civil War started less than a decade later, the Armory was in an ideal position to meet the wartime demands of the Union army.

The house was later owned by Ethan Chapin. He and his brother Marvin were the co-owners of the Massasoit House, the city’s premier hotel during the 19th century. After his death in 1889, his Chestnut Street home went through several other owners, including Dr. Frederick Sweet and his wife Adeline. However, by the turn of the century, its location was no longer as fashionable as it had been some 75 years earlier, and the house fell into disrepair. It was demolished in the mid-1920s, and although the historical significance of its former residents was recognized at the time, there does not seem to have been any call to preserve it at the time. The site was later redeveloped, though, and it is now the home of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, which is seen in the 2016 photo.

Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Mass

Mechanics Hall on Main Street in Worcester, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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Mechanics Hall is a concert hall and a prominent landmark in Worcester. It was built in 1857 by the city’s Mechanics Association, with prominent local architect Elbridge Boyden designing the Italianate structure. With a seating capacity of nearly 2,000, it was by far the largest public hall in the city during the second half of the 19th century, and it attracted many prominent speakers and performers.

In 1868, Mechanics Hall was a stop on Charles Dickens’s tour of the United States. He had previously visited Worcester in 1842, when he was still a young writer, but when he returned to America for his 1867-1868 tour he was an international celebrity. His tour featured sell-out crowds in venues across the northeast, and when he visited Boston there were even people who out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets. Here in Worcester, he probably had a similar reception, and in his March 23 performance at Mechanics Hall his audience heard him read A Christmas Carol and part of The Pickwick Papers.

Over the years, the concert hall has seen many other notable performers. It fell into decline in the mid-20th century, though, and was threatened with the possibility of demolition. All of the surrounding buildings from the first photo have since disappeared, but Mechanics Hall has survived. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and later in the decade it was restored to its former appearance. Today, the third-floor hall remains in use for a variety of events, including, appropriately enough, a 2012 reading of A Christmas Carol by Gerald Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.