Henry Sterns House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 48 Madison Avenue in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The house in 2017:

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Henry Sterns was born in 1794 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but came to Springfield as a young child. He went on to become a prosperous merchant, and in 1826 he married into the prominent Dwight family. His wife, Sophia, was the daughter of the late James Scutt Dwight, who himself had been a wealthy merchant. The following year, the couple moved into this house, which at the time was located closer to Central Street.

The house is built of brick, with a relatively simple Federal-style design that was typical for the time. It was designed by Simon Sanborn, a prolific master builder who constructed a number of buildings in early 19th century Springfield, including the Alexander House. At the time, the Maple Hill section of Springfield was lightly developed, and Sterns’s home was situated on a large lot on the north side of Central Street. Covered in trees, the land became known as Sterns’s Woods, and abutted the land that would later become Springfield Cemetery.

Sterns lived in this house for the rest of his life, during which time he continued to be a successful businessman, and eventually served as treasurer for the Springfield Institution for Savings from 1849 to 1858. He died in 1859, and within the next decade Springfield experienced a rapid population growth. With increasing demand for new houses, the property was subdivided. Two new streets, Sterns Terrace and Madison Avenue, were developed, with one on either side of the house. Around 1870, the house itself was moved to the back of the lot, and became 48 Madison Avenue. The Charles L. Goodhue House, which still stands at 216 Central Street, was later built on the original site of the Sterns House.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was in its new location, and was the home of jeweler William W. White and his wife Ellen. He died in the 1890s, and by the 1900 census Ellen was living here with her daughter and granddaughter. She also rented to boarders, and four were living here at the time. Among them was a newspaper editor, a proofreader, and an inspector at the Armory.

The old house has since seen a number of other owners, but it is still standing, nearly two centuries after Henry and Sophia Sterns moved in. Very little has changed with the exterior, and its plain design stands out in a neighborhood otherwise dominated by far more elaborate homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The city has very clearly grown up around the house, but it survives as a reminder of a long-lost time when Springfield’s wealthy residents lived on large, wooded estates on the outskirts of the downtown area. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, and it is part of the city’s Maple Hill Local Historic District.

Buckwheat Hall, Springfield, Mass

The house at 224 Walnut Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The house around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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James W. Crooks was a lawyer and a prominent Springfield resident of the early 19th century. He was from Blandford, Massachusetts, and had graduated from Yale in 1818. Initially he worked as a teacher, before studying law here in Springfield, under George Bliss, Sr. Aside from his legal work, he also served Springfield in different capacities, including as a member of the school committee, the board of selectmen, and the county commission.

Crooks also owned a significant amount of land in Springfield, and in 1835 he moved into this house on Walnut Street. At the time, Walnut Street marked the eastern extent of Springfield’s development, and beyond here was largely open land, with occasional scattered farms. On the eastern side of Walnut Street, opposite his house, Crooks owned a sizeable tract of land, which extended to Eastern Avenue and was later developed as part of the Old Hill neighborhood. At the time, though, it consisted of open fields of buckwheat, providing the name Buckwheat Hall for his house.

In 1849, Crooks married Ann Chapin, who was the daughter of Colonel Harvey Chapin, another prominent Springfield resident. Two years later, the couple left Buckwheat Hall, and by 1870 it was owned by Joseph and Mary Atwood.Joseph was a carpenter, and probably had plenty of work to do in this neighborhood. In the post-Civil War era, Springfield saw a significant housing boom, resulting in widespread development in the previously vacant land to the east of here.

Both Joseph and Mary died in 1889, and the property was subsequently developed. Atwood Place, seen in the foreground of the 2017 photo, was built just south of the house, subdividing the lot into six new houses. Buckwheat Hall remained, but was used as a rental property. In the 1900 census, it was rented by Francis C. Croy, a teacher who lived here with his wife Ella, their two children, and their daughter-in-law. In 1910, it was the home of carpenter Harry L. Putnam, his wife Bertha, and their two children. By 1920, Arthur M. Tales, who worked as a guard at the Armory, lived here with his wife Billie and their four children.

At the start of the 1920s, the large house was still serving as a single-family residence, but it was soon divided into four different units, and the rear section was reconstructed to match the height of the front. Along with this, as seen in the second photo, a one-story storefront was built on the front of the building. By the time this photo was taken, a convenience store was located here, and advertised a variety of soft drinks, including Nehi, Royal Crown, and Springfield’s own Country Club Soda.

More than 180 years after it was built, Buckwheat Hall is still standing. In 1893, it had been one of over 40 houses featured in Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield. Most of these homes dated to the late 18th and early 19th century, and only four remain today, including Buckwheat Hall. The storefront, which had long been vacant and neglected, was demolished around 2012-2013, revealing the house’s original appearance. From the outside, it looks to be in rough shape, though, and the front windows are still bricked up from when the storefront had been built. The windows at southeast corner of the building, seen here, are boarded up, but the rest of the units appear to still be occupied, and hopefully the house can eventually be restored to its former grandeur.

First Church, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the First Church at Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893).

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The church in 2016:

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As mentioned in a previous post on the church, Pittsfield’s original church building was built here in 1761, and was subsequently replaced by newer buildings in 1793 and, finally, in 1853. The current church is a granite Gothic-style building that was designed by prominent architect Leopold Eidlitz. It is still in use by the congregation today, and very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken. Even the old 1832 town hall, its plain Federal architecture a sharp contrast to that of the church, is still here. Both buildings are contributing properties in the Park Square Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places.

North Street, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking north on North Street from Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The scene in 2016:

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The east side of North Street in the present-day scene is lined with historic buildings, but essentially none of these were built yet when the first photo was taken. At the time, Pittsfield was growing at a steady pace. It had become the seat of Berkshire County in 1868, and by 1891, with a population of over 1891, it was incorporated as a city. The population growth would continue at an even faster pace for the next few decades, resulting in the disappearance of many old 19th century buildings along North Street and the construction of new ones.

Among the first to go in this scene was the building on the far right, at the corner of North and East Streets. It came down only a few years after the first photo was taken, and was replaced with the Berkshire County Savings Bank Building. Completed in 1896, it is still standing as a major landmark in downtown Pittsfield. Opposite the bank, on the left side of the photo, is one of the few survivors from the first scene. The Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building was built in 1868, and although it was significantly expanded in 1911, it is still standing at the corner of North and West Streets.

St. Stephen’s Church, Pittsfield, Mass

St. Stephen’s Church at the corner of East and Allen Streets in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The church in 2016:

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As seen in a previous post, St. Stephen’s Church is one of several historic 19th century buildings at Park Square, in the center of downtown Pittsfield. The Gothic Revival church was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston firm of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Completed in 1890, it replaced an earlier Episcopalian church that had been built on virtually the same spot in 1832, the same year as the old town on the left side of the scene. The town hall has survived to the present, but the old church had to be demolished to build Allen Street, seen in the center of the photos.

When the first photo was taken, St. Stephen’s Church was just a few years old. More than 120 years later, most of its surroundings, except for the old town hall, are different, but not much has changed with the church itself. The building underwent a restoration in 1999, which included repairs to the stained glass windows that had been designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast. The church is still in use as an active Episcopalian parish, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

American House, Pittsfield, Mass

The American House, a hotel at the northwest corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue, sometime in the 1800s. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The New American House on the same site, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The American House was one of several important 19th century hotels in Pittsfield. It was built sometime before 1865, and in that year it was purchased by Cebra Quackenbush, a prominent resident who soon expanded the hotel. By the end of the century, though, the old wooden building had become outdated, so in 1899 he had it demolished and replaced with a larger brick hotel, named the New American House.

The second photo was taken shortly after the 1911 renovations, which added a fifth story to the building. Quackenbush, in his 70s at this point, still owned the hotel, although he was not involved in the day-to-day operations. Instead, he leased it out to different landlords over the years until his death in 1914, nearly 50 years after he purchased the property. After his death, the hotel continued in business for a few more decades, but it was demolished in 1937 and replaced with the one-story commercial building that stands here today.