Boston Art Club, Boston

The Boston Art Club building at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury Street in Boston, around 1882. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The building in 2017:

The Boston Art club was founded in 1855 by local artists, as a way of exhibiting and promoting their work. The organization met in a variety of locations throughout much of the 19th century, but by the early 1880s the Art Club had expanded to nearly 600 members, and there was a need for a new building. Like many of the city’s other cultural institutions, they moved to the recently-developed Back Bay, where they hired architect William Ralph Emerson to design a new building here at the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth Streets. It was an ideal spot for an art club, since it was just a block away from Art Square. Later renamed for Boston artist John Singleton Copley, this square has long been the main focal point of the Back Bay neighborhood, and it was the home of the Museum of Fine Arts from 1876 until 1909.

Upon completion of this building in 1882, membership in the Boston Art Club continued to grow, and the exhibitions that were held here were major events, attracting many of the nation’s leading artists. However, non-artist members began to vastly outnumber actual artists, which led to the organization becoming more of a social club, with conservative members who were reluctant to embrace modernism and other new art styles in the early 20th century. They continued to hold exhibitions for many years, and even allowed women to join as members in 1933, but the club would never reach the level of prominence that it had enjoyed in the late 1800s. The building was finally sold in 1950, and it is now a public school, the The Muriel Sutherland Snowden International School at Copley.

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:

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.


The scene in 2016:

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.

The Common, Greenfield, Mass

Looking west across the Common toward Park Square in Greenfield, sometime around the 1880s. Image from Greenfield Illustrated.


The scene in 2016:

The Common is at the heart of downtown Greenfield, and over the past 130 years or so, not much has changed in this view. This scene includes three historic buildings, which are partially hidden by the trees on the Common. To the left is the Second Congregational Church, which was built in 1868 on the site of an earlier church and is still standing, largely unchanged. To the right is another well-preserved building from the same era, the George A. Arms Block. Built in 1876 at the corner of Main Street and Court Square, this four-story brick building is one of many surviving 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Greenfield.

The building in the center of both photos is also still standing, although it has undergone far more drastic changes than the other two. Built in 1848 as the Franklin County Courthouse, it was originally a wooden Greek Revival building designed by Isaac Damon, a Northampton architect who designed churches, courthouses, and bridges across Western Massachusetts. A few decades earlier, he had designed courthouses for Hampden and Hampshire Counties, and he had also designed Greenfield’s original Second Congregational Church just to the left of the courthouse.

In 1872, Damon’s courthouse was essentially rebuilt, with little if anything left from the original structure. Because of the need for a more fire-resistant place to store county records, the exterior of the courthouse was covered in brick, and it was redesigned in a Gothic Revival style, in keeping with the architectural tastes of the era. The building’s design was again altered in 1954, when the exterior was renovated to its current Colonial Revival appearance. Today, the building is now Greenfield’s municipal building, and it, along with its neighbors to the left and right, are part of the Main Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

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.


The church in 2016:

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.

American House, Greenfield, Mass

The American House at the corner of Main and Davis Streets in Greenfield, sometime around the 1880s. Photo from Greenfield Illustrated.


The scene in 2016:

In modern-day redevelopments, architects often attempt to preserve the facades of old buildings, even if everything else is being demolished and rebuilt, and incorporate them into new structures. Especially in historic urban settings, this helps to maintain the visual appearance of the street while at the same time allowing a new building to occupy the site. However, in the 1960s the trend was the exact opposite. Many historic buildings had their original facades removed or covered, which the rest of the structure survived more or less intact underneath.

This was the case for several buildings along Greenfield’s historic Main Street, including this architectural monstrosity in the center of the photo. It was originally built in 1876, a few years before the first photo was taken, and was known as the American House. At the time it was Greenfield’s largest hotel, with a hundred guest rooms on the upper floors. The first floor had several stores, including a clothing store that was purchased in 1896 by John Wilson. He turned it into a department store and soon expanded into the second floor, and his business has remained here in the building ever since.

As for the hotel, it went through several other names, including the Devens Hotel and the Hotel Greenfield. Over time, though, the department store gradually expanded into the former hotel section, and the hotel finally closed for good in 1944. The building is still standing today, although it is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance. In 1965 its exterior was remodeled, with a metal facade that covered the original Italianate exterior. This original facade is probably still hiding under there, though, so perhaps someday the bland, warehouse-like exterior will be removed and the building restored to its 1870s appearance.

Although the American House has survived more or less intact under its mid-century shroud, the same cannot be said for the other historic building from the first photo, the Colonnade Block on the right. It was built in the 1790s as the home of Jerome Ripley, a prominent resident whose children included George Ripley, a Transcendentalist writer who founded the Brook Farm utopian community. In 1842, Dr. Daniel Hovey added the columns and portico to the front of the building, and for many years it was a commercial building known as the Colonnade Block. It stood here until 1975, when the 18th century structure was demolished to build a bank building, which is now a branch of Greenfield Community College.