High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on High Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo portrays an idyllic small-town scene, with horse-drawn carriages traveling along a rutted dirt road that was lined with trees. Two elegant Queen Anne-style homes stand on the far right side of the photo, while the Brooks House, perhaps the town’s finest hotel of the era, is visible at the bottom of the hill, at the corner of Main Street. Further in the distance, on the other side of the Connecticut River, is Mount Wantastiquet, which rises to an elevation of 1,388 feet and forms a dramatic backdrop to downtown Brattleboro.

Today, nearly 125 years later, this scene has not significantly changed, although it has lost some of its picturesque charm from the first photo. High Street is now a major road, carring Vermont Route 9 through downtown Brattleboro, and the bottom of the hill has been developed with early 20th century commercial and apartment blocks, including the 1918 Manley Apartment Building on the left side. However, the Brooks House is still there, as are the two homes on the right, although their sloping front lawns have been replaced by a large concrete retaining wall. Across the street on the left side, the sidewalk is narrower and closer to the street than it was in the 1890s, but the granite blocks and steps are still there on the left side of the sidewalk.

Green Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Green Street toward High Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Downtown Brattleboro is located right along the Connecticut River, with Main Street running parallel to the the river. However, the topography quickly rises to the west of the river, and much of the downtown area is built into the side of a hill, as shown in this scene. When the first photo was taken, this area consisted primarily of modest, wood-frame houses, in contrast with the large brick commercial blocks that were located just a block to the east on Main Street. At the bottom of the hill is High Street, one of the main east-west roads in the town, and further in the distance the two steeples mark the location of Main Street. The one closer to the foreground is the First Baptist Church, which was completed in 1870, and the one further in the distance on the right is the Centre Congregational Church, which was built in 1842 and had its current steeple added in 1864.

The buildings on the right were demolished within about 15 years after the first photo was taken. They were replaced by the present-day building, which was completed around 1910. It was owned by the neighboring Hotel Brooks, and was used as an automobile repair and rental business, which was run by John and Robert Manley. The main entrance to the building was at the bottom of the hill on High Street, but there was a second entrance here on Green Street, on the far right side of the 2017 photo, which allowed direct access to the third floor. Known as the Brooks House Garage, this building was advertised as “the largest and most complete garage in Vermont,” and offered day and night repair work, tires, and “Cars to rent by the hour, day and week.” They were also agents for Stoddard-Dayton, Mitchell, Maxwell, and Ford car companies,  and the advertisement in the Automobile Blue Book promised that “Tourists Will Receive Special Attention.”

Today, the only identifiable feature from the first photo, aside from Green Street itself, is the First Baptist Church steeple, with its spire still rising above the roofline of the old Brooks House Garage. The Centre Congregational Church is also still there, although its steeple is no longer visible from this angle. Otherwise, this scene is completely changed from the first photo, and the two most visible buildings are the garage on the right and the Shriners Hall on the left, which was evidently built here sometime in the early 20th century, on the site of a house that had stood here when the first photo was taken.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont

The old town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The Brattleboro town hall was built here on Main Street in 1855, and served a wide variety of roles during its 98 years of existence. Aside from the town offices, this building housed the police department, post office, county clerk’s office, and library, and its hall was used for town meetings, concerts, theatrical performances, and other public events. The town also rented space in the building to private tenants, and over the years these included a bookstore, a dry goods store, and lawyers’ offices. Another tenant was William Morris Hunt, a prominent artist who had lived across the street from here as a child in the 1820s and early 1830s. He subsequently spent many years in Europe, but returned to Brattleboro for about a year in 1856, living in his old boyhood home and renting studio space here in the town hall.

The first photo was taken around 1894, nearly 40 years after the building was completed. The town hall had not changed much at that point, but about a year later it underwent an extensive renovation and expansion, which added an 875-seat opera house to the building. Like the original meeting hall in the building, this opera house was used for a variety of live performances, but by the early 1920s it had been converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. Over the next few decades, though, the theater steadily declined, especially as newer, purpose-built movie theaters opened in downtown Brattleboro. In 1937, the building just to the right of the town hall was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a few blocks to the south.

In the meantime, the building remained in use as the town hall until the early 1950s. However, in 1951 a new high school building opened in the southern part of town, leaving the old downtown school building vacant. The school was then converted into town offices, and the old town hall was sold. It was mostly demolished in 1953, although some of the exterior walls were left standing and were incorporated into the W. T. Grant department store, which was built on this site. This store is now long gone, but the one-story building remains, and still has some of the original walls of the town hall.

Aside from these walls, the only other surviving feature from the first photo is the building on the far right. Built around 1850, this commercial block is distinctive for its Main Street facade, which is made of granite blocks. The building was substantially altered when it was converted into the Paramount Theatre in 1937, including a large addition to the rear, a flat roof to replace the original gabled roof, and metal panels that covered the granite exterior. The building was gutted by a fire in 1991, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing today. Now that it no longer has the metal panels or the theater marquee, it looks more like its original appearance than it did for most of the 20th century, and despite the many changes it is still recognizable from the first photo.

Richards Bradley House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The house at 53 Harris Avenue in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1858 as the home of Richards Bradley, a member of a prominent political family in Vermont. His grandfather, William C. Bradley, had served two terms in Congress in the 1820s, and his great grandfather, Stephen R. Bradley, had been one of Vermont’s first two U. S. Senators, and served as President pro tempore of the Senate from 1802 to 1803 and 1808 to 1809. Richards Bradley briefly worked as a merchant in New York City, but in 1856 he married Sarah Ann Williams Merry, a wealthy heiress from Boston. With this fortune, he was able to live as a country gentleman, and in 1858 he built this elegant house on a large plot of land, just to the north of downtown Brattleboro on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Richards and Sarah’s first child, Robert, was born in 1857 but died just a week later. They had six more children, all of whom grew up in this house: Susan, Richards, Jonathan, Emily, Sarah, and Walter. During the 1870 census, the family also lived here with three servants and a coachman. Richards was listed as a farmer in that census, with real estate valued at $50,000 and a personal estate of $20,000, for a net worth equivalent to over $1.3 million today. Then, in 1877, they purchased a second house at 122 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, in the city’s exclusive Back Bay neighborhood. This became their winter residence, with the family spending summers here at their Brattleboro home, and they continued this arrangement until 1891, when they permanently returned to Brattleboro.

Richards Bradley died in 1904, and Sarah in 1914, but the house remained in the family for several more decades, until it was finally sold in 1940. Six years later, the house was converted into apartments, and at some point it was expanded, with a large addition on the right side of the photo. The large estate has also since been subdivided, and the house is now surrounded by mid-20th century homes. The exterior of the original part of the house has seen some changes, particularly the loss of the porch, but it retains much of its original appearance. It is now used as a senior living facility, and it is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion to increase the number of residents.

Connecticut River, Brattleboro, Vermont

The view of Brattleboro, Vermont, seen looking northwest from the bridge over the Connecticut River, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were actually taken in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, since the state line runs along the western side of the Connecticut River. However, the subject of the photos is Brattleboro, a town that developed along the banks of the river during the 19th century. Located near the southeastern corner of Vermont, Brattleboro was among the earliest towns in the state, and was settled soon after the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when French invasions from Quebec were no longer a threat. Its location along the Connecticut River made Brattleboro an important center for both trade and manufacturing, and by the middle of the 19th century it was rapidly growing as a mill town.

Many of the buildings in downtown Brattleboro date back to this period, and some of these are visible in these two photos. The left side of the first photo shows the rear of the buildings on the east side of Main Street, most of which are still standing today, although hidden by trees in the 2017 photo. Further in the distance, on the far left of both photos, is the tower of the Brooks House, a large hotel that was built in 1871 at the corner of Main and High Streets. Two other landmarks in this scene include the steeple of the 1870 First Baptist Church in the center, and the steeple of the 1842 Centre Congregational Church on the right side.

Today, this scene has not significantly changed, more than 120 years after the first photo was taken. The Connecticut River appears somewhat higher in the present-day view, perhaps a consequence of the 1908 construction of the Vernon Dam, which is located a few miles downstream of here. Overall, though, Brattleboro has remained well-preserved over the years, with many historic commercial buildings still lining both sides of Main Street. Most of the buildings here in this scene are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Deacon John Holbrook House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The house at 80 Linden Street, at the corner of Chapin Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The house in 2017:

John Holbrook was born in 1761 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, but as a young man he moved to Vermont, where he found work as a surveyor in what was, at the time, largely uncharted territory. He originally settled in Newfane, where he later ran a general store, but he subsequently moved to Brattleboro, where he continued his business career. Holbrook was affiliated with merchants in Hartford, Connecticut, and in 1811 he relocated to East Windsor. However, he only remained in Connecticut for a few years, returning to Brattleboro soon after the death of his son-in-law, William Fessenden, in 1815. Upon returning, Holbrook took over Fessenden’s publishing company, and he was also selected as a church deacon.

Holbrook had no prior experience in the publishing industry, but he grew the company into a prosperous business, which specialized in producing Bibles. Although located far from the major commercial centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Holbrook’s Brattleboro-based business fared well in competition with the more established publishing houses in the major cities. His Bible proved popular, thanks in part to its quality paper and abundant illustrations, and over the next few decades he and his firms would produce 42 different editions.

Holbrook retired in 1825, and moved into this newly-built home in the northern part of the downtown area. It was designed and built by local builder Nathaniel Bliss, with a Federal-style design that was likely inspired by the works of Asher Benjamin, a prominent New England architect who published a number of architectural handbooks in the early 19th century. As was usually the case in Federal architecture, the front facade is nearly symmetrical, with the only exception being the off-centered front door. The house also includes a distinctive, and somewhat unusual front porch, although it does not seem clear as to whether this was part of its original design.

By the time John Holbrook and his wife Sarah moved into this house, most of their ten children were already grown. The youngest, Frederick, was born in 1813 during the family’s brief residence in Connecticut, but spent most of his childhood in Brattleboro. He was about 12 when this house was built, and presumably lived here for at least a few years before leaving to attend school. Returning to Brattleboro after a tour of Europe in 1833, Frederick became a farmer, eventually serving as the president of the Vermont State Agricultural Association for eight years. Along with this, he also had a career in politics, serving in the state legislature from 1849 to 1850, and as governor from 1861 to 1863.

In the meantime, John Holbrook lived here in this house until his death in 1838, and his widow Sarah sold the property three years later, to Dr. Charles Chapin. Originally from Orange, Massachusetts, Dr. Chapin attended Harvard, and he subsequently began practicing medicine in Springfield, Massachusetts. His first wife, Elizabeth, died only a few years after their marriage, and in 1830 he remarried to Sophia Dwight Orne, the granddaughter of prominent Springfield merchant Jonathan Dwight. A year later, the couple relocated to Brattleboro, where Dr. Chapin became a businessman and a government official. His long career included serving in the state legislature and as a U.S. Marshal, and he was also a director of the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and the Vermont Valley Railroad.

Dr. Chapin had one child, Elizabeth, from his first marriage, and he had five more children with Sophia: Lucinda, Oliver, Mary, William, and Charles. All but the youngest were born before the family moved into this house, but they all would have spent at least part of their childhood here. The two older sons, Oliver and William, would later go on to serve in the Civil War, and William spent time in the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, after being captured by Confederates. By the 1870, their widowed daughter Mary was their only child still living here with them. The census of that year shows Charles with a net worth of 40,000 – a considerable sum equal to nearly $800,000 today – while Sophia had $25,000 of her own, possibly an inheritance from her wealthy Dwight relatives.

Dr. Chapin died in 1875, and Sophia died five years later. Shortly after, the property behind the house was sold and subdivided. Chapin Street was opened through the property, just to the left of the house, and was developed with new houses by the late 1880s. The first photo was taken only a few years later, and one of the new houses can be seen in the distance on the far left. However, the old Holbrook and Chapin house remained standing, even as the surrounding land was divided into house lots for the growing town population.

Today, the house’s exterior is not significantly different from when the first photo was taken over 120 years ago. Although now used as a commercial property, the house has remained well-preserved as a good example of late Federal-style architecture, and as one of Brattleboro’s finest early 19th century homes. Because of this, in 1982 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.