Parsons Tavern, Springfield, Mass

Parsons Tavern on Court Street in Springfield, sometime in the 1800s. Photo from Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts (1902).


The scene in 2014:


When Springfield was first settled in 1636, it was at a strategic location along several different transportation routes.  As the years went by, the modes of transportation changed, but Springfield remained an important crossroads.  By the late 1700s, there were three major routes from New York to Boston, the northernmost of which went through Boston.  Although a less direct route than the other two, the Springfield route reportedly offered the best taverns, and in Springfield the best was Parsons Tavern.

The tavern was originally built on what is today the southeastern corner of Court Square, and was operated by Zenas Parsons.  During its time in operation, it hosted at least two presidents, the first of whom was George Washington in October, 1789.  Washington was on his way to Boston, and made a stop in Springfield to inspect the Armory.  He stayed overnight at Parsons Tavern, and wrote in his diary that “A Colo. Worthington, Colo. Williams (Adjutant General of the State of Massachusetts), Genl. Shepherd, Mr. Lyman and many other Gentleman sat an hour or two with me in the evening at Parson’s Tavern where I lodged and which is a good House.”  Years later, in 1817, President James Monroe also visited the tavern, not long before it was moved in order to make way for Court Square.

The tavern survived until at least the 1890s, but it was gone by the early 1900s, but today its former location is a parking lot at the G.A.R. Hall across East Columbus Avenue from Symphony Hall.  Springfield is still a major transportation hub, although as the 2014 photo shows, we’ve come a long way from stagecoach routes and taverns.  Interstate 91 now passes through this scene, and probably has more people travel on it in one day than Parsons Tavern had during its entire existence.

George Ashmun House, Springfield, Mass

The former home of Congressman George Ashmun, at 297 Union Street, Springfield Mass, around 1893. Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)


The building around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The location in 2015:


The house in the first two photos is located at the corner of Union and State Streets, and was the home of lawyer and politician George Ashmun from 1838 to 1841.  Ashmun was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1833, at the age of 29.  He served there until 1837, then spent three years in the Massachusetts Senate before returning to the House and serving as Speaker in 1841.  He later represented the Sixth District of Massachusetts in Congress from 1845 to 1851.

However, his most significant political and historical moment came in 1860, when he served as the chairman of the Republican National Convention in Chicago.  Going into the convention, Senator William Seward had been the favorite to win the nomination, but in the end, the delegates chose Abraham Lincoln, a former colleague of Ashmun who served alongside him in the House.  As the chairman, he traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to inform Lincoln that he had received the nomination.

Ashmun worked with Lincoln throughout his presidency, meeting with him for the last time in the White House on the evening of April 14, 1865, shortly before Lincoln left to attend a play at Ford’s Theatre.  When they departed, President Lincoln promised to meet with him the next morning; this meeting obviously did not happen.

The house that Ashmun once lived in still stood at the corner of Union and School until around the mid 20th century; it was there when the WPA photo was taken in the late 1930s, but was probably demolished when the present-day school building was built in 1962.

Barrington Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia (2)

Another scene on Campbell Road (today’s Barrington Street) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.


The scene in 2014:


The first photo is undated, but the absolute earliest date would be 1888, although it is probably a little later than that, perhaps around 1900.  A few clues give it away, with one being fairly obvious: the Coca Cola advertisement on the side of the building.  Coca Cola was established in 1886, but it is unlikely that it would have made its way to Canada so quickly.  Perhaps less obvious of a clue is the bicycle leaning against the mailbox; this now-ubiquitous style of bicycle, known as the “safety bicycle” – because it was safer than a penny farthing – was not developed until the late 1880s.  Finally, the reference to “Kodaks” in the drugstore sign indicates that it must be 1888 or later, and probably later.  Kodak was founded in 1888, but the sign seems to indicate that people were already familiar with it by then, which suggests a somewhat later date.

These photos were taken from almost the same spot as the ones in this post, just from a slightly different angle, at the corner of Barrington and Young Streets.  As mentioned in the other post, this entire area would be leveled by the 1917 Halifax Explosion, and today the scene looks entirely different.  In the distance is the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge, one of two that cross the Narrows of Halifax Harbour, the same area where the explosion occurred.

Barrington Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia (1)

The view looking south on Campbell Road (today Barrington Street) sometime before the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.


The scene in 2014:


It’s not in New England, but Halifax has historically had close ties with New England, particularly in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, when an ammunition ship exploded in the harbor on December 6, 1917, leveling much of the city and killing several thousand people.  This section of road was right near ground zero, and the buildings in the first photo, if they were still standing before the explosion, were certainly not standing afterward.  The first photo was probably taken around 1900, in what was at the time a mix of residential and commercial uses.  Today, the waterfront (left) side of the road is primarily industrial, with some commercial development to the right.  Overall, the c.1900 scene is entirely unrecognizable today.

Park Street Station, Boston

Tremont Street during construction of the Park Street subway station in 1897. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Park Street Station after completion, taken in 1906. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Park Street Station in 2014:


As mentioned in previous posts, the Tremont Street Subway (today’s MBTA Green Line) was the first subway in the country, and Park Street was one of the first two stations, along with Boylston.  The station opened in 1897, and helped to relieve congestion on Tremont Street by removing the trolleys from the surface, as seen in the first photo.  Today, the station is still there, as is Park Street Church behind it.

See this post and this post for a few photos of the interior of the station.

Tremont Street Trolleys, Boston

Looking up Tremont Street toward Park Street Church in Boston, in 1895. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Tremont Street in 2014:


These photos were taken from almost the same spot as the ones in this post and this post, but the first one here shows Tremont Street as it appeared before the construction of the Tremont Street Subway.  By the time the 1895 photo was taken, Tremont Street was becoming crowded with traffic, from pedestrians to carriages and even trolleys, as seen in the distance of the first photo.  Toalleviate the congestion, the trolley lines were put underground, making this the first subway in the country.  Today, Tremont Street is still a busy road, but trolleys such as the green and orange one in the 2014 photo are purely for tourism – the real trolleys still run underground through here on the MBTA Green Line.