Skinner Gymnasium, Northfield, Mass

The Skinner Gymnasium, on the former Northfield campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2017:

The present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School dates back to 1879, when it was established as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. Its founder was the noted evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, who opened the school near his birthplace in the northern part of Northfield, just a little south of the New Hampshire border. Two years later, Moody established the Mount Hermon School for Boys on a separate campus in nearby Gill, Massachusetts, and the two schools would remain separate institutions for nearly a century.

By the early 1890s, the Northfield school was in need of a gymnasium, in order to promote health and physical fitness among the girls. The result was this building, which was completed in 1895 and named the Skinner Gymnasium in honor of its benefactor, Holyoke textile manufacturer William Skinner. The building had a variety of amenities, including a bowling alley, a swimming tank, and the gymnasium itself, which included an elevated running track. At the time, basketball was just beginning to gain popularity after having been invented a few years earlier, and by the turn of the century the girls were playing here in the gym on intramural teams.

The first photo was taken within about a decade of the building’s completion, and shows its Queen Anne-style architecture, which was common for public and institutional buildings of the era. It also shows some elements of the popular Romanesque Revival style, including the asymmetrical design, the rounded arch over the door, and the use of towers and turrets. However, over time the building would be expanded and altered with several 20th century additions, although this portion was not significantly changed. The first of these additions came in 1930, when a pool was added to the rear of the building. Then, after the completion of a new gymnasium in 1971, this building was converted into a student center, and in 1987 a large library wing was added to the left side, just out of view in the 2017 scene.

The Northfield School formally merged with Mount Hermon in 1972, but continued to use both campuses for many years. This building was used as the student center and, after 1987, the library for the Northfield campus up until 2005, when the school consolidated its operations at the Mount Hermon campus. The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which, in turn, donated it to the National Christian Foundation. Then, in 2017, it was given to Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college that is based in California. The school is currently in the process of converting the property into a branch campus, and hopes to open by the fall of 2019.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Throughout New England’s early history, Episcopalians were a religious minority, particularly in small, rural towns, where the Congregational church was the predominant religious organization. However, there were Episcopalians in the Brattleboro area as early as 1817, when a church was built in neighboring Guilford. Episcopalian services were apparently held here in Brattleboro on occasion, and the first regular church was established in 1836, although this only lasted for a few years. By the early 1850s, though, the town’s population increase, combined with an influx of affluent summer visitors, led to the establishment of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in 1853.

The parish’s first, permanent church building was completed in 1858, on a lot immediately to the north of the recently-constructed town hall. It is set back from the street, and the ivy and trees hide much of the building’s design in the first photo, but its appearance resembled a medieval English country church. It featured a blend of Gothic and Tudor elements, including a steep roof, a quatrefoil window below the main gable, and a half-timbered exterior with brick infill. Local tradition holds that it was the work of prominent architect and Brattleboro native Richard Morris Hunt, but there does not appear to be any documentation to support this. Instead, it was evidently based on the designs of Joseph Coleman Hart, a New York architect who was responsible for a number of Gothic-style churches during this period.

The church stood here for nearly a century, but by the early 1950s this Main Street site had become valuable commercial real estate. The mid-20th century saw a number of downtown redevelopment projects across the country, most of which involved the demolition of significant numbers of historic buildings. Here in Brattleboro, this included the 1953 demolition of the old town hall, which was located just to the right of St. Michael’s Church. The site of the church was also slated for redevelopment, but unlike the town hall, the old church was moved to a new location about a half mile north of here, at the corner of Putney Road and Bradley Avenue. A bank building now stands on the lot that the church once occupied, but the historic church is still standing at its new location, and remains in use as an active Episcopalian parish.

Soldiers’ Monument, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Civil War monument and bandstand on the town common in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Civil War monuments are a near-ubiquitous feature of almost every town common across the country, and Brattleboro is no exception. Dedicated in 1887, the Brattleboro Soldiers’ Monument has a granite base, with bronze plaques on all four sides and an eight-foot-tall bronze infantryman on top. As indicated on one of the plaques, the monument was to commemorate “the loyalty and patriotism of the men of Brattleboro, who fought for liberty and the union in the great rebellion of 1861-1865.” According to the plaque, the town had a total of 381 residents who served in the war, 31 of whom died.

The monument was built at a cost of $6,000, and the June 17, 1887 dedication ceremony drew a number of dignitaries here to the common. It was presided over by Frederick Holbrook, a Brattleboro native who served as governor for the first two years of the war, and whose father once lived in a house across the street from the common. The dedication speech was given by James R. Tanner, a Civil War veteran who had lost both of his legs at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Tanner was the stenographer who had been summoned to Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed in order to record eyewitness testimonies from the assassination, and he later went on to become Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, serving from 1905 to 1906. Aside from Holbrook and Tanner, other dignitaries included Governor Ebenezer J. Ormsbee, and Brattleboro resident Colonel George W. Hooker, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly capturing 116 Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap in 1862.

The dedication ceremony drew about 5,000 people to the common, but an even larger crowd – estimated at 8,000 – gathered here on September 1, 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech during a presidential tour of Vermont. This took place only a few years before the first photo was taken, and Roosevelt spoke from the bandstand in the center of the photo, just to the right of the monument. The president was accompanied by a number of notable Vermonters, including Frederick Holbrook, then-Governor William W. Stickney, federal judge Hoyt H. Wheeler, and U.S. Attorney James L. Martin, whom Roosevelt would later appoint as Wheeler’s successor on the bench. Roosevelt was escorted here from the train station, spoke from the bandstand for about 15 minutes, and was presented with a bouquet of roses. He was then escorted back to the station, and from there he traveled south across the border to Northfield, Massachusetts, where he spent the night at the Northfield Hotel.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed. The old bandstand was evidently replaced at some point, and a different gazebo now stands on the site. Along with this, the cannon and shot are now gone, and its approximate location is now a picnic table. Otherwise, though, this site continues to be used as the town common, and the Soldiers’ Monument still stands here, now accompanied by a second memorial to the Brattleboro residents who were killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Brattleboro High School, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Brattleboro High School, at the corner of Main Street, Linden Street, and Putney Road in Brattleboro, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This school was built in 1884, replacing an earlier wooden high school building that had been used since 1832. Its design is a somewhat more subdued version of the High Victorian Gothic style that was popular in the 1860s and 1870s, and features a brick exterior with contrasting marble trim, pointed dormer windows on the roof, and three turrets on the front of the building. It was built at a cost of $48,000, and served the needs of a growing town that, by the 1890 census, had a population of over 6,800, more than triple the size of the town from when the old high school building had opened in 1832.

When this new school opened, the principal was Benjamin F. Bingham, an educator who served in this capacity from 1863 until his death in 1889, at the age of 65. The 1921 book Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895 includes a description of Bingham and his tenure at the school, describing how:

Every year there came up under Mr. Bingham’s hand a new class of boys and girls, many of them timid and shrinking and watching with half-scared eyes his quick, alert movements and his ominous eyebrow. On some of these he inflicted severe discipline; some he admonished with all a father’s tenderness; the obstinacy and conceit of others he pierced with a ridicule that was worse than blows; but everyone was loyal to the High School where truth and honor were taught by precept, discipline and example in the original methods employed by Benjamin F. Bingham to develop the mental character of his pupils.

This building was used as Brattleboro High School until the mid-20th century, and during this time the school had several notable graduates. George Aiken, who may have been a student when the first photo was taken, graduated in 1909, and went on to become governor from 1937 to 1941, and a U.S. Senator from 1941 to 1975. Another graduate was Aiken’s political ally, Ernest W. Gibson, Jr., class of 1919, who served as a U.S. Senator from 1940 to 1941, governor from 1947 to 1950, and a federal judge from 1949 until his death in 1969. Aside from politics, other noted graduates included Major League Baseball pitcher Ernie Johnson, who graduated in 1942 and played for the Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, and Baltimore Orioles before starting a long career as a radio and television broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves.

The school finally closed in 1951, upon completion of the present-day Brattleboro Union High School in the southern part of the town, at the site of the old fairgrounds. This new location allowed for more expansion as the student population grew, compared to the relatively confined space here in the center of town, and there was also room for athletic fields. Following this move, the old school building was converted into town offices. The exterior remained essentially unchanged, though, and today it remains in use as the Brattleboro Municipal Center, with hardly any noticeable difference between the two photos.

Wells Fountain, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Wells Fountain, at the corner of Putney Road and Linden Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Wells Fountain has been a feature here in the center of Brattleboro since 1890, when it was given to the town by William Henry Wells, a New York businessman who had grown up in Brattleboro. The fountain was originally located about 20 feet from here, but it was moved to its current site in 1906. The first photo appears to have been taken shortly before this move, because the photo shows it closer to the street than it is now, so the original location was probably on the far left side of the present-day photo.

The fountain was the the work of William Rutherford Mead, a noted architect who, like Wells, was a Brattleboro native who moved to New York as an adult. Mead was a cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes, whose family also had roots in Brattleboro, and he was a partner in the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Mead did not have the same architectural genius of his two partners, Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White, and he designed few works on his own. Instead, his talents were as an office manager, serving as a stable, practical-minded counterbalance to the more fanciful McKim and White. Under his leadership, the firm became one of the country’s leading architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, with commissions such as the Boston Public Library, the Rhode Island State House, and Penn Station, along with many other public buildings and Gilded Age mansions.

The original location of the fountain marked the spot where Mead’s older brother, Larkin Mead, had created an eight-foot-high snow sculpture in 1856. The Recording Angel, as it was called, stood here for about two weeks, and the subsequent publicity helped to launch his career as prominent sculptor. He would later go on to design works such as the statue atop the Vermont State House, a statue of Ethan Allen in the United States Capitol, and the statues on Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. He died in Florence, Italy in 1910, and his grave was topped with a replica of his original Recording Angel sculpture.

Today, the Wells Fountain still stands here at the corner of Linden Street and Putney Road, although its surroundings have changed significantly. The trolley tracks in the foreground of the first photo are long gone, as are many of the surrounding buildings. The land just up the hill behind the fountain was once privately owned, with a house that once stood just out of view to the right. However, this land is now a small public park in front of the courthouse, and part of the foundation of the old house can still be seen on the far right side of the present-day photo.

George J. Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vermont

The George J. Brooks Library on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

George Jones Brooks was born in 1818 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but when he was three years old his family relocated to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, directly across the river from Brattleboro. He grew up there, and subsequently worked at a store in Brattleboro, before heading west around the age of 20. He first settled in Hillsboro, Illinois, where he was a farmer for about 12 years. Then, in 1850, he joined the thousands of other young men who were flocking to San Francisco after the discovery of gold in California.

Unlike most of the other migrants, though, Brooks was not looking to get wealthy through gold, but rather through paper. His brother, Horace Brooks, was a wholesale paper manufacturer in New York, and he suggested that George open a business in San Francisco. Like almost every other commodity, paper was in short supply in the still-primitive boomtown, and in later years Brooks would tell of times when every scrap of paper on the west coast was located in his store. This scarcity, combined with his virtual monopoly, earned him significant profits, and by the time Brooks left the paper business in 1862 he had become a wealthy man.

Brooks eventually returned to Brattleboro, where he built the elegant Brooks House hotel, which still stands just a little south of here. Then, in 1885, he purchased the former Francis Goodhue House here on Main Street, in order to build a library on the site. The old house was soon demolished, and construction began on the first permanent home of Brattleboro’s public library, which had previously been located in the Town Hall. Upon completion, the building was presented to the town as a gift, but unfortunately Brooks did not live to see it finished; he died on December 23, 1886, just weeks before the dedication ceremony.

Like many other public buildings of the era, the George J. Brooks Library featured Romanesque Revival architecture. It was the work of Maine architect Alexander Currier, and the building was actually larger than it appears in the first photograph. As built, the front section included a ladies’ reading room on the right side, a men’s reading room on the left, and a vestibule and lobby in the center. The library itself was located in a large wing on the rear of the building, which was nearly the same size as the front section, and included the main floor plus a balcony. The basement originally housed a natural history museum, but this was later converted into a children’s library.

It did not take very long for the library to outgrow the original space, though, and in the early 20th century it was expanded with a large addition in the rear. Following this expansion, it continued to be used for many years, but by the 1960s the building was again overcrowded, and the adjacent post office wanted the property in order to build a parking lot. So, a new Brooks Memorial Library building opened just to the north of here in 1967, and the old building was demolished four years later. The parking lot is still here today, and the only surviving remnant from the first photo is the First Baptist Church on the far left, which is still standing on the other side of the Masonic Lodge.