First Parish Church, Northfield, Mass

The First Parish Church, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Avenue in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The church in 2017:

The origins of the First Parish Church date back to 1673, when Northfield was first settled by colonists. However, the town’s frontier location at the far northern end of the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts made it vulnerable to attack from Native Americans and their French allies, and it would be several more decades before Northfield was permanently settled. The church also had a somewhat nomadic existence during these years, with worship services usually being held in private homes until 1718, when the first meetinghouse was built in the middle of Main Street, right near where the present-day church is located.

The first meetinghouse stood here until 1767, when its replacement was built on the west side of the street, near site of the current church. This new church stood here for more than 60 years, and during this time the New England Congregational church experienced a major schism, between the theologically liberal Unitarians and the orthodox Trinitarians. Thomas Mason, who served as pastor from 1799 to 1830, was among the Unitarians, and during his pastorate the First Parish became a Unitarian church, with most of the congregation supporting him.

A third meetinghouse was built on the site in 1833, and was used by the church until it burned in 1870. During this time, the First Parish had perhaps its most famous congregant, the young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a prominent evangelist in the second half of the 19th century. Moody was born in Northfield in 1837, and was just four years old when his father died, leaving his mother Betsey Moody to raise nine children on her own. The pastor of the church at the time, Oliver C. Everett, provided support for the family, though, and Betsey and her children were subsequently baptized into the church. However, the family left the church after Everett’s departure in 1848, and many years later Dwight L. Moody would decline an invitation to speak here at the First Parish Church, citing the incompatibility between his orthodox views and their Unitarian beliefs.

The present church was built in 1871, standing on approximately the same site as its two predecessors. Its ornate Gothic-style design was the work of Elbridge Boyden, a prominent architect from Worcester, and it stands out in a town center that otherwise consists primarily of early 19th century Federal and Greek Revival-style homes. It was built at a cost of nearly $15,000 (a little over $300,000 today), and the interior of the church included an organ that had previously been installed in the old Unitarian church in Springfield. Originally built in 1842 by E & G. G. Hook of Boston, it was used by the Springfield church until its new building was completed in 1869, and was later given to the Northfield church.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, the exterior of the church has not seen any significant changes. It remains a well-preserved example of a wood-frame Gothic Revival church, and it is still in active use by the First Parish Church. The only significant difference between the two photos is the small building on the left side of the scene. This was built in 1901, about 10 years after the first photo was taken, and was originally a motorcycle repair shop. It was later used a printing shop, but it has since been converted into a house. Today, both this house and the church, along with the rest of the historic buildings along Main Street, are now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Powers Institute, Bernardston, Mass

The Powers Institute on Church Street in Bernardston, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Massachusetts has long had a strong reputation for its educational system, with public schools dating back to the early days of the colonial era, but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that public high schools became common across the state. Prior to then, public high schools were typically only found in larger cities and towns, but many smaller towns were served by private schools, which were often founded by local benefactors. Here in Bernardston, the Powers Institute was established in 1857, two years after the death of Bernardston native Edward Eppes Powers. In his will, Powers gave the town 100 shares of the Franklin County Bank, which were valued at $10,000. Half of the income from this investment was to be used to support the town’s public elementary schools, while the other half was to be used to open a high school.

This Italianate-style school building was built in 1857 for the Powers Institute, on land that had been donated to the town by other benefactors. It served as a quasi-public high school throughout the 19th century, providing free education for Bernardston residents while charging tuition for out-of-town students. In 1860, Cushman Hall was built on the other side of Church Street, and was given to the town as a boarding house for tuition students. By the 1870s, the cost of tuition was $8 per term (around $180 today), and board was $4 per week, although students also had the option to self-board in furnished rooms that were provided for 35 cents per week.

During its peak in the 1860s, the school had several hundred students per year. However, the enrollment steadily dropped over the next few decades, eventually reaching just 61 students in 1891. By around the turn of the century, it had become more of a standard public school, and the state began subsidizing the tuition of out-of-town students, provided that they lived in a town that was too small to support its own high school. In this new role, the Powers Institute would continue to serve as the town’s public middle and high school for many years, but it finally closed in 1958, when Bernardston students began attending the Pioneer Valley Regional School in nearby Northfield.

After the Powers Institute closed, the old school building became the home of the Bernardston Historical Society, which runs a museum here. It is hard to tell from the first photo because of all the trees in the foreground, but the exterior of the building has not seen any significant changes over the years, and it stands as a rare example of a mid-19th century Italianate school building in the Connecticut River Valley. Because of this, the school building, along with Cushman Hall and the neighboring Cushman Library, is now part of the Powers Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Ira D. Sankey House, Northfield, Mass

The house at 68 Main Street in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The house in 2017:

This house was reportedly built around 1837 as the home of Oliver C. Everett, the pastor of the neighboring Unitarian Church. Everett served as pastor from 1837 to 1848, and during that time his perhaps most notable parishioner was a young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a world-famous evangelist. Born in Northfield in 1837, Dwight was the sixth child born to Edwin and Betsey Moody. However, Edwin died in 1841, and a month later his widow gave birth to twins. Destitute and with nine children to raise, Betsey received assistance from Reverend Everett, who helped her to raise the children and baptized them into his church.

The Moody family attended Everett’s church throughout the remainder of his time here in Northfield. However, he left in 1848, and later served for many years as the pastor of a church in Charlestown. The Moodys also left the church at some point soon after, and young Dwight’s religious education remained rudimentary until, as a teenager, he moved to Boston to work for his uncle in a shoe store. There, he attended church and Sunday school at the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, and was converted to evangelical Christianity, which helped to launch his eventual career as an evangelist.

In the meantime, this former house of Moody’s old pastor had several other owners during the 19th century, but was eventually purchased by Ira D. Sankey, who had an even stronger connection to Moody. Sankey was three years younger than Moody, and had grown up in Pennsylvania. He served in the Civil War, and later found a job with the Internal Revenue Service, but he was also a talented singer. It was this ability that brought Sankey to Moody’s attention, when the men first met at a YMCA in 1870. The evangelist has been in need of a vocalist for his revivals, and Sankey seemed to him like the perfect man for the job.

Not unlike Matthew, who had been a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Jesus, Moody insisted that Sankey leave his lucrative position with the IRS in order to join his ministry. Sankey took six months to decide, but ultimately accepted Moody’s offer. The two men went on to partner together for many years, traveling around the country and to the British isles as part of their evangelistic efforts. During this time, Sankey helped to pioneer the concept of gospel music. Although he did not write many of his own lyrics, he drew heavily from hymns and poetry, and he set them to tunes that were easier for people to sing than traditional church music. He also published a series of songbooks, titled Gospel Hymns, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies throughout the late 19th century.

Moody returned to his hometown in 1875, purchasing a house on the northern part of Main Street in Northfield. Four years later, he opened the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was followed in 1881 by the Mount Hermon School for Boys. Moody was involved on both of these schools for man years, and nearly a century later these two schools would be merged into the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. Sankey also moved to Northfield, along with his wife Fanny, and sometime in the early 1880s they purchased this house in the center of town. They were still living here when the first photo was taken a few years later, and during this time Sankey continued traveling with Moody while also publishing additional volumes of Gospel Hymns. However, the Sankeys later moved to Brooklyn, where he served as president of the Bigelow & Main hymnal publishing company until his death in 1908.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, Ira Sankey’s former home has not seen significant changes to its exterior. The 2017 photo was taken from a slightly different angle, since the tree on the left now blocks the view of the house from the original angle. However, the house still looks much the same as it did in the 1890s, and even the barn in the back is still standing. It is one of the many well-preserved early 19th century homes that still line Main Street, and it is now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Revell Hall, Northfield, Mass

Revell Hall, near the corner of Main and Moody Streets in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies was founded in 1879 by Dwight Lyman Moody, a prominent Christian evangelist of the late 19th century. Moody was born just up the hill from here, in a house that still stands on Moody Street, and he grew up here in Northfield. As a teenager, Moody moved to Boston in the 1850s, where he worked in his uncle’s shoe store and subsequently converted to the Christian faith. From there, he went on to have a long career as an evangelist, holding revivals across the country and overseas, and becoming a 19th century predecessor to later evangelists like Billy Graham.

Moody returned to Northfield in 1875, purchasing a house on Main Street just to the north of here. Within a few years, he had begun planning for the Northfield Seminary, and in 1878 he and H. N. F. Marshall, a building supply dealer from Boston, purchased this property on the west side of Main Street. The following year, this brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building was constructed on the site. It was named Revell Hall, in honor of Moody’s brother-in-law, the publisher Fleming H. Revell, and it was the first purpose-built school building on the campus. However, since it would not be ready in time for the school’s opening in the fall of 1879, Moody’s house was temporarily used for both classroom and dormitory space, housing the school’s first 25 girls.

Upon completion, Revell Hall was used as classroom building, chapel, and dormitory, but it was soon joined by other building on the campus. H. N. F. Marshall, in his capacity as the school’s treasurer, oversaw the construction of these new buildings, and in 1885 he purchased Revell Hall from the school. He converted it into his house, and that same year he built a carriage house in the rear of the property, which can be seen on the right side of both photos. Over the next few years, he continued to be involved in the school’s growth, contributing his knowledge in construction, as well as his personal wealth, in order to help the Northfield Seminary expand. He would remain here until 1889, when he retired and sold the property back to the school.

The first photo was probably taken only a year or two after Marshall left. By this point, both Revell Hall and the carriage house had been converted into dormitories, and the latter was named Holton Hall in honor of Moody’s late cousin, Fanny Holton, who had been one of the first teachers at the school. Within 20 years, Revell Hall was expanded several times, with additions in 1904 and 1909. Both buildings continued to be used as dormitories until 1962, when Revell Hall was converted into administrative offices and Holton Hall became faculty apartments.

Aside from the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was later named the Northfield School for Girls, Moody also founded the Mount Hermon School for Boys, in the nearby town of Gill, Massachusetts. The two schools were closely connected, but remained separate institutions until 1972, when they finally merged to form the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. The combined schools continued to operate both campuses for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and the school was consolidated at Mount Hermon.

The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which gave it to the National Christian Foundation in 2012. This organization transferred the bulk of the campus to Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, but gave ten of the buildings – including both Revell Hall and Holton Hall – to the Moody Center, which hopes to carry on the legacy of D. L. Moody here on the former campus. Today, despite the early 20th century additions to Revell Hall, neither of these two buildings look much different from when the first photo was taken over 125 years ago, and they stand as well-preserved examples of 19th century school buildings.

Chapin Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Chapin Street, from the corner of Oak Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Chapin Street was developed in the mid-1880s, less than a decade before the first photo was taken. The street, which runs one block from Oak Street to Linden Street, was built through land that had once belonged to Dr. Charles Chapin, who lived in a house at the end of the road on Linden Street. Chapin was a Harvard-educated physician, but he was also a businessman who served as a state legislator, a U.S. Marshal, and a director of the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and the Vermont Valley Railroad. He lived here until his death in 1875, and his wife Sophia died five years later.

Soon after Sophia’s death, the property was sold and subdivided. The old house survived, and still stands today, but the rest of the land became building lots for new houses. The new street was named in honor of Chapin, and was developed around the same time as Williston Street, which runs parallel to Chapin Street on land once owned by merchant Nathan B. Williston. Both streets featured ornate, Queen Anne-style homes, most of which were completed by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. A streetcar line was also built on the street in the 1890s, although this apparently happened after the first photo was taken.

The first photo shows a few people walking along an otherwise quiet residential street. In the foreground, three women walk arm-in-arm along the sidewalk, while a man walks further in the distance. On the left side of the street, a boy appears to be sitting on some sort of a bicycle, and far in the distance a pair of horses are harnessed to a wagon. In the distance, beyond the newly-built homes, is the northern slope of Mount Wantastiquet, which forms a scenic backdrop for much of downtown Brattleboro.

Today, most of the houses are hidden by trees from this view, but all of the ones from the first photo appear to still be standing. Chapin Street remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century middle class neighborhood, and the houses still retain their decorative exterior designs with multi-colored paint schemes. The street itself has changed somewhat over the years, though. The trolley tracks have come and gone, the street has been widened and paved, and the sidewalk on the left is gone, but overall the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo.

Lindenhurst, Brattleboro, Vermont

The mansion at the corner of Green and High Streets in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Brattleboro was a popular summer destination for wealthy southerners, many of whom came to the town for the reputed health benefits of the nearby Wesselhoeft Water Cure. Some ended up building summer homes here, including Simon Bolivar Buckner, an army officer from Kentucky. He purchased this property around 1859 and built a large Italianate-style house, which he subsequently gave to his friend James B. Eustis, a lawyer from New Orleans. Some sources identify Buckner as Eustis’s father-in-law, but this seems unlikely since, at the time, Buckner was about 36 years old and had only been married for nine years.

Neither Buckner nor Eustis would spend much time here at this house, since the Civil War broke out only a few years later. Both men supported the Confederate cause, with Buckner becoming a lieutenant general and Eustis serving as a judge advocate in the Confederate Army. Despite losing the war, though, they would both go on to have successful political careers in the postwar era. Buckner served as governor of Kentucky from 1887 to 1891, and was the father of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., a U.S. Army general who was killed in action in World War II during the Battle of Okinawa. Eustis became a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, serving from 1876 to 1879 and 1885 to 1891, and he was also the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1893 to 1897, during the second Cleveland administration.

However, after the war, Brattleboro did not regain its popularity as a resort for southerners. In 1871, the house was sold to Elie Charlier, a native of France who lived in New York City. He ran the Charlier Institute, a school in New York that was described in advertisements as “A Protestant French Boarding and Day School. Boys and young men from 7 to 20 prepared for College and Business. School designed to be as perfect as money, science, and experience can make it.” Some of Charlier’s students went on to have successful careers in politics, business, and the arts, including prominent photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Aside from his students, though, Charlier was also the great grandfather of folk singer Pete Seeger. As a boy in the 1920s, Seeger even visited this house in Brattleboro, although it was long after his family had sold the property.

Charlier ultimately sold this house in the late 1880s, to Brattleboro businessman George E. Crowell. Born in Massachusetts in 1834, Crowell grew up in New Hampshire, and served in one of the state’s regiments during the Civil War. However, after the war he came to Brattleboro, where he found a job with the Vermont Record and Farmer newspaper. He was only with the paper for a short time, though, before he went into business for himself. In 1868, he began publishing The Household, which was among the first magazines to focus on domestic living. It quickly gained a widespread readership, with 50,000 subscribers after only three years, and by the mid-1870s it could be found in every state and in a few foreign countries.

Aside from the publishing business, Crowell also invested in real estate, owning significant tracts of land in the western part of town. He also owned industrial properties along Flat Street, and had an ownership stake in several of these companies, including the Carpenter Organ Company and the Brattleboro Jelly Company. Crowell was also responsible for building the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which served as the town’s public water supply starting in the late 19th century.

Upon purchasing this house, Crowell began a major renovation project that significantly increased its size and altered its exterior and interior appearance. The remodeling took nearly two years, and was finished in 1890, a few years before the first photo was taken. By this point, there was little trace of the original Italianate-style design, and the house instead featured new Queen Anne-style details, such as the turrets and cupola on the roof. The renovated house, which was renamed Lindenhurst, had a total of 37 rooms, and was valued at around $150,000 in 1890, equivalent to over $4 million today.

George Crowell and his wife Mary had five children, although three of them died as children or young adults. George died in 1916, but the rest of the family continued to live here for another decade or so. It was ultimately converted into a boarding house, but was owned by Mary Crowell until 1934, when her mortgage lender, the Vermont National Bank, foreclosed on the property. The Great Depression likely contributed to Mary’s financial downturn, but it also hurt the bank’s ability to resell the property. With no demand for such a large house at the time, the bank ultimately demolished it in 1936, in order to avoid having to pay property taxes on the massive mansion.

The town ultimately purchased the property, and the Green Street School was built on the eastern section. The rest of the lot, including the site of the house, became a public park, named Crowell Park. As the first photo shows, the site of the house is now an open field, with no visible remnants of the Gilded Age mansion that once stood here. However, there are apparently still some old maple trees in the park, which date back to the time when the house was here. Pete Seeger recalled the trees during his childhood visit in the 1920s, and he was reportedly able to recognize these same trees during a 2008 visit to Brattleboro. These trees are probably not visible in the present-day scene, although the tree on the far right looks like it might be old enough to date back to the early 1920s.