Spring Street from Prospect Hill Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street from the corner of Prospect Hill Street in Newport, around 1888. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Downtown Newport has a remarkable collection of historic buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but few street scenes have remained as well-preserved as this block of Spring Street. Aside from the addition of pavement and telephone poles, there are hardly any differences between these two photos, which were taken nearly 130 years apart. However, these buildings were already old when the first photo was taken, so it has been nearly 250 years since there were any major changes to this scene.

Most of the buildings in this scene date back to the mid to late 18th century. Starting in the foreground, at the corner of Spring Street and Prospect Hill Street, is the Lyn Martin House, which was built sometime between 1758 and 1777. The next two houses were also built during this same time period, including the Robert Brattle House at 209 Spring Street, and the Benjamin Howland House further in the distance at 205 Spring Street. Just beyond the Howland House is the Cremin House at 199 Spring Street, which was somewhat newer than its neighbors, having been built around 1785-1790. However, the newest building along this section of Spring Street is the William N. Austin House, which is barely visible on the far right side of the scene. It was built in 1883 at the corner of Spring and Pelham Streets, and replaced a very modest colonial-era building that once stood on the site.

With the exception of the Austin House, all of these buildings date back to Newport’s golden age as a prosperous seaport in the 18th century. However, the American Revolution caused irrevocable harm to Newport’s shipping industry, and the city experienced a long economic decline throughout the first half of the 19th century. As a result, though, there was very little new development in the city during this period, which may have helped contribute to the survival of so many colonial-era buildings, including these ones along Spring Street.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1888, Newport has reinvented itself as one of the nation’s premier resort communities, with the Vanderbilts, Astors, and other Gilded Age families spending their summers in palatial seaside homes. Most of this development was occurring in the southern part of Newport, leaving the downtown area largely intact as a quaint reminder of the city’s past. There are a few signs of progress, including the trolley tracks on Spring Street, but otherwise the scene looks much the same as it would have been a century earlier.

Today, all of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, with only a few significant alterations. The most obvious of these is the addition of the porch on the left side of the Martin House, but other changes include the dormer windows atop the neighboring Brattle House. Further in the distance, there are no noticeable changes to the Howland House, but it is now operated as the Howland House Inn. Along with much of the surrounding area, these buildings are now part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Spring Street from Church Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street from the corner of Church Street in Newport, around 1887. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These photos were taken directly across Spring Street from Trinity Church, and show the west side of the street, on the block between Church and Mary Streets. A small portion of the churchyard is visible on the far left side of the scene, with an assortment of commercial and residential buildings beyond it. Most of the buildings from the first photo are still standing today, with remarkably few exterior changes, but the one significant difference between the two photos is the building in the foreground, at the corner of Church Street. The first photo shows a colonial-era, gambrel-roofed house that was probably built in the early or mid-18th century. It was probably constructed as a house, but by the late 19th century it included a storefront on the Spring Street facade, which was occupied by the L. Schaefer shoe repair shop. However, the building was demolished sometime around the turn of the 20th century, when the present-day building was constructed on the site.

Further down the street, most of the buildings are still standing. Starting closest to the foreground is the blue and white John Preston Mann House, which was built around 1827. Next to it, with the mansard roof and two-story bay window, is the William B. Sherman House, which was built around the 1860s and is now the Outlook Inn. Further in the distance, barely visible in both photos, is the gambrel-roofed Samuel Barker House. This elegant house was built around 1714, and stands as probably the oldest recognizable building in this scene, predating most of its neighbors by more than a century. Today, all of these buildings, including the turn-of-the-century corner building, are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Broadway from Farewell Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of Farewell Street in Newport, around 1884. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the west side of Broadway, looking north from the Colony House at the corner of Farewell Street and Courthouse Way. Although taken more than 130 years apart, not much has changed in these two photos. Like much of downtown Newport, this area has remained remarkably well-preserved since the colonial era, and both photos show an eclectic mix of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century.

Perhaps the oldest building in this scene is the one on the far left, at 2-6 Broadway. It was built sometime before 1700, and was once owned by Peleg Sanford (1639-1701), who served as the colonial governor of Rhode Island from 1680 to 1683. Sanford came from a leading Rhode Island family, with his father, John Sanford (c.1605-1653), having briefly served as governor of Newport and Portsmouth in 1653. However, his most notable relative was his grandmother, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), the famed religious dissenter whose 1638 banishment from Boston had helped lead to the establishment of Newport.

Peleg Sanford died in 1701, and the house was later owned by his son-in-law, Job Almy, who purchased the property in 1723. The house would remain in the Almy family for over a century, until it was sold in 1827. By this point, the first floor of the house had been converted into a storefront, and the building would see even more drastic changes around 1845, when it was enlarged to its present size. This addition concealed most of its original appearance, although the building retained its overhanging second floor, which was a distinctive feature of many 17th century homes.

By the time time the first photo was taken around 1884, the building was occupied by several commercial tenants, including J. B. Deblois & Son, whose grocery store was located in the corner storefront. In later years, the ground floor was occupied by Lalli’s, a variety store that was in business here from 1923 until 1986. It was during this time that, in 1976, the exterior of the building was restored, giving it more of a 17th century appearance. Today, despite all of these changes, the structure of the original house is still there, making it possibly one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport.

Aside from the Peleg Sanford House, there are a number of other historic buildings in this scene. Immediately to the right of it is the William P. Shefield House, which was built around 1850, although its exterior has been altered beyond recognition since the first photo was taken. Next, in the center of the scene, is the William H. Stanhope House, at 12-18 Broadway. It was built around 1815 as a private home, and its Federal-style architecture is still recognizable today, despite having been converted to commercial use during the 19th century. Further in the distance, barely visible in the 2017 photo, are two late 18th century homes at 20-24 and 26-30 1/2 Broadway, both of which are also now commercial properties.

Today, the vehicles on the street have changed, and this block of Broadway is now a one way street for southbound traffic, but otherwise the buildings themselves have seen few changes. All of them are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which encompasses much of downtown Newport. The district was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, because of the survival of so many historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Broadway from Spring Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking south on Broadway toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were taken more than 130 years apart, yet they show remarkably little change. In fact, many of these buildings were already old by the time the first photo was taken. Newport had been a prosperous seaport throughout much of the 18th century, but its economy was hit hard by the American Revolution. Its shipping industry never fully recovered, and the city saw very little growth during the first half of the 19th century. The first federal census, taken in 1790, shows 6,719 residents living here, and over the next 50 years Newport saw only a very modest increase in population, with 8,333 by 1840.

This long period of stagnation hurt Newport’s economy, and there was very little new construction during this time. By the time the first photo was taken around 1885, Newport had reinvented itself as a Gilded Age summer resort, with most of this development occurring to the south of the downtown area. As a result, downtown Newport remained remarkably well-preserved, and it now boasts one of the largest collection of 18th and early 19th century buildings in the country, many of which are visible in this scene.

Along with the buildings themselves, Newport has also retained its colonial-era street network, complete with narrow streets, sharply-angled intersections, and oddly-shaped building lots. These photos show the view looking south on Broadway, at the complex intersection of Broadway, Spring Street, Bull Street, and Marlborough Street. Both Spring Street, to the left, and Marlborough Street, on the extreme right, intersect with Broadway at sharp angles, creating triangular-shaped lots on either side of Broadway.

The narrower of these two lots is on the left, between Broadway and Spring Street. Long before the Flatiron Building was constructed on a similarly-shaped plot of land, a small three-story, wood-frame commercial building was built here. It appears to date back to the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and by the time the first photo was taken it was occupied by Cornell & Son, a grocery store operated by William Cornell and his son Rodman. William also lived here in the building, and the 1880 census showed him here with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ellen.

Today, this scene has not undergone few significant changes, and many of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, including the former Cornell building. Newport remains a popular summer resort, and the storefronts in this scene are now filled with a variety of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists and seasonal residents. Because of its level of preservation, and its high concentration of historic buildings, the downtown area now forms the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Derby Square, Salem, Mass

Derby Square from Front Street in Salem, with the Old Town Hall on the right side, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Derby Square is a small plaza in the center of Salem, and it is named for the prominent Derby family, which once owned the land here. Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) was a prosperous merchant and among the richest men in New England, referred to by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter as “King Derby.” During the 1790s, Derby had an elegant mansion built here on the site. It was designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch and was completed in 1799, but Derby died later that year and the property was inherited by his son, Elias Hasket Derby, Jr. However, the younger Derby had little interest in paying the high costs to maintain the house, and it sat abandoned for some time before finally being demolished in 1815.

After demolishing the house, Derby sold the property to his brother, John Derby III, and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pickman, Jr. The following year, they donated the property to the town of Salem, in order to build a new town hall on the site of the mansion. Construction began later that year, and was completed in 1817. It was built of brick, with an elegant Federal-style exterior, and there is some speculation that it may have been designed by Charles Bulfinch. Like many New England municipal buildings of the era, it was designed as a multi-use building, with a public market on the first floor, and a meeting hall and town offices on the upper floor. The basement also had commercial tenants, including a restaurant that was housed here during the early 19th century.

The first event held in the meeting hall was a reception for President James Monroe, who visited Salem in July 1817 during a tour of the New England states. At the time, Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a major trading port. It was the tenth-largest city or town in the country during the 1820 census, and the second-largest in New England after Boston. However, it was still technically a town at the time, with a town meeting form of government, and this building continued to be used as the town hall until 1836, when Salem was incorporated as the second city in the state, just 14 years after Boston became the first city.

The municipal government moved into the new city hall, which was completed on Washington Street in 1837, and this building remains in use today. By this point, though, Salem’s once-prosperous shipping industry was in decline, and the city saw slow population growth throughout most of the 19th century. Salem never again ranked among the ten largest cities in the country, and now it is no longer even one of the ten largest in the state. However, this early prosperity, followed by many decades of stagnation, has resulted in the preservation of a remarkable number of historic buildings. Today, while Salem is best-known for its infamous witch trials, the city also boasts hundreds of historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including many of the buildings here at Derby Square.

Although Salem’s government moved out of the upper floor of the old town hall in the 1830s, the first floor continued to be used as a public market for many years. It was known as the Market House, as shown by the sign in the first photo, and had stalls for a number of merchants, most of whom sold food. The 1869 city directory lists a fruits and vegetable dealer, a butter and cheese dealer, plus five tenants whose business was described simply as “provisions.” As seen in the first photo, the area in front of the building was also used as a marketplace, with dealers selling goods from their wagons.

The old town hall continued to be used as a market into the 20th century. Although threatened by demolition, it was ultimately preserved following an extensive renovation from 1933-1934. The first floor was completely remodeled, and the old market stalls were replaced with office space for a variety of city offices. The “Market House” sign was removed, and the building became known as the “Old Town Hall,” despite having served in that function for just two decades. Despite the changes on the first floor, though, the old meeting hall on the upper floor has remained largely the same, and continues to be used as a venue for many different functions.

Today, aside from the sign, the exterior of the building has seen few changes since the first photo was taken, and most of the other neighboring buildings have also been preserved. The first floor of the old town hall is no longer used for city offices, and is instead an art exhibition space, but the area in front of the building on Derby Square is still used for its original purpose. Although it was empty when the 2017 photo was taken, the square is the site of a weekly farmers’ market during the summer, plus a monthly flea market that runs from May through September.

James Fisk, Jr. Monument, Brattleboro, Vermont

The gravesite of James Fisk, Jr., in Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1872-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This ornate marble obelisk marks the final resting place of James Fisk, Jr., a Vermont native who became a prominent Wall Street financier and, in the process, one of the most notorious of the Gilded Age robber barons. Fisk was born in 1835 in Pownal, Vermont, and was the son of James Fisk, Sr., a peddler who sold silk dressed and other high-end dry goods. The family moved to Brattleboro in 1843, and in 1849 the elder James opened the Revere House, which became a successful hotel at the corner of Main and Elliot Street. James, Jr. was about 15 at the time, and he lived in the hotel with his father, his stepmother Love, and his half-sister Mary.

For some time, the younger James worked as a waiter at the Revere House, but in 1850 he quite literally ran away with the circus, joining Van Amburgh’s Mammoth Circus and Menagerie. His flamboyant, outgoing personality was perfectly suited for the circus, although he primarily performed menial tasks like taking ticket, feeding animals, setting up tents, and cleaning cages. However, his time with the circus gave him valuable business experience. When he returned to Brattleboro a few years later, at the age of 18, he joined his father’s peddling business, where he applied some of the techniques he had learned with the circus, including traveling in brightly-colored wagons and wearing fancy clothing.

Fisk’s success as a peddler led to him being hired as a salesman for the Boston-based dry goods firm of Jordan Marsh & Company. However, his career remained unremarkable until the start of the Civil War. In 1861, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where his personality and business skills helped win him lucrative government contracts to provide textiles for army uniforms. He became a wealthy man, largely because of these contracts, but he also profited from the war in less scrupulous ways, including smuggling cotton from the south and selling Confederate bonds to European speculators.

Near the end of the war, Fisk became a stockbroker, and in 1866 he established his own brokerage firm of Fisk & Belden. He worked closely with Daniel Drew and Jay Gould, two of the most ruthless business tycoons of their era. Fisk followed in their ways, teaming up with them to gain control of the Erie Railroad and prevent Cornelius Vanderbilt from adding it to his railroad empire. To do so, the trio issued fraudulent shares of the company, which Vanderbilt purchased in large quantities. He lost a considerable amount of money in the process – over $100 million in today’s dollars – and, despite the fraud, Drew, Fisk, and Gould were able to retain control after bribing the New York state legislature to legalize the fraudulent shares.

A few years later, in 1869, Fisk and Gould would attempt an even more ambitious scheme to corner the gold market. They managed to drive the price as high as $160 per ounce before President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell to release $4 million in treasury gold. The price of gold quickly plummeted, breaking their corner on the market. Fisk and Gould managed to avoid serious financial losses, but many investors were ruined, and the scheme triggered a nationwide economic panic.

Aside from his questionable business practices, Fisk’s personal life also had its share of scandal. He had married his wife, Lucy Moore, in 1854, not long after he left the circus. They remained married even after his rapid ascent from dry goods peddler to Wall Street tycoon, but she spent most of her time in Boston rather than with Fisk in New York. During this time, Fisk had a mistress, the actress Josie Mansfield, whom he housed in a brownstone on 23rd Street in New York. However, after a few years she fell in love with one of Fisk’s business partners, Edward Stiles Stokes, and she began threatening Fisk with blackmail. Fisk refused to pay, and the love triangle eventually led to Stokes shooting Fisk on the staircase of the Grand Central Hotel, in January 6, 1872. Fisk died the following day, at the age of 36, although not before identifying Stokes as the shooter.

Fisk’s body lay in state on January 8, at the Grand Opera House, where around 20,000 mourners came to pay their respects. On Wall Street, Fisk has been a ruthless businessman, but the poor and working-class of New York admired him for his charity work, and many saw him as the typification of the American Dream: a circus laborer and country peddler who rose to greatness through hard work and determination. That night, his body was returned to Brattleboro, where around 5,000 people – equivalent to the town’s entire population at the time – were on hand when the funeral train arrived at almost midnight. His funeral was held the next morning at the Revere House, and then his body was brought here to Prospect Hill Cemetery for burial.

At the time of his death, Fisk’s estate was valued at just under $1 million, or about $20 million today. Of this, $25,000 was spent on a marble obelisk here at his gravesite. It was designed by prominent sculptor Larkin Mead, a Brattleboro native whose other works of this era included Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. His design for Fisk’s monument included a bas-relief portrait of Fisk in the center, surrounded on all four corners by partially nude female figures. Each figure symbolized trade and commerce in some way, with one representing railroads, another steamships, a third the stage, and the fourth finance.

The first photo was probably taken soon after the monument was installed, because at this point it did not yet include Fisk’s dates of birth or death. His widow, Lucy, outlived him by 40 years, and she was interned here after her death in 1912. Her inscription was added to the base of the monument, and over the years other members of the family were buried here in this plot, as shown by the many gravestones in the present-day photo.

Overall, though, the monument has not aged well. No longer the brilliant white of the first photo, its marble has been weathered and blackened by nearly 150 years of New England’s climate. Along with this, the bas-relief of Fisk was removed in the early 2000s, leaving a faint shadow in the oval. Souvenir hunters have also caused damage over the years, with Fisk’s admirers occasionally chipping off pieces of the marble. However, as one of Fisk’s friends noted many years later, in an excerpt published by Jay Gould biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr., these visitors “have made the monument more fitted to commemorate Jim’s career – striking from many aspects, picturesque, but blemished.”