College Hall at Smith College, Northampton, Mass

College Hall on the campus of Smith College, seen from West Street in Northampton, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

College Hall in 2018:

Smith College was established in 1871, as part of the will of Sophia Smith (1796-1870), who left a large bequest to establish a women’s college in Northampton. This building, College Hall, was the first building on the campus, and it was completed in 1875, the same year that the school opened. It was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston-based architectural firm, and its design reflected the High Victorian Gothic style that was fashionable at the time. Smith College has just 14 students and six faculty members when it opened in the fall of 1875, and this building was used for almost everything except dormitory space. When completed, it included classrooms, a laboratory, a social hall, an art gallery, and administrative offices, although this soon began to change as the college grew.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the college’s enrollment had increased significantly. The campus had grown accordingly, and included new residential buildings, a gymnasium, a music hall, an art gallery building, a science building, a chemistry building, and a new academic building. College Hall itself had also been expanded, with an 1890 addition that increased the capacity of the social hall – renamed Assembly Hall – from 500 to 900. In 1901, Assembly Hall was expanded again, by opening up the second floor above the hall and adding another 500 seats. However, this ended up being a temporary change. John M. Greene Hall, with its 2,225-seat auditorium, was completed in 1910, eliminating the need for such a large auditorium here in College Hall, and the second floor above Assembly Hall was subsequently reconstructed.

By the 1909-1910 school year, Smith College employed 104 faculty members and had 1,635 students, with an annual tuition that had just been increased from $100 to $150. At this point, College Hall was only used for the auditorium, some classrooms, and administrative offices, but over time this would continue to change as more buildings were added to the campus. College Hall would ultimately come to be used only for offices, resulting in significant changes to the interior in he process. However, the exterior appearance has remained well-preserved over 140 years after the building first opened, and today the only noticeable difference between these two photos is the lack of ivy on the brick walls of the building.

Main Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Pynchon Street in Springfield, sometime around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the James Ward Birchall Collection.

The scene in 2017:

When the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, Springfield was a prosperous, rapidly-growing city, and this section of Main Street was the heart of its downtown shopping district. Major department stores included Forbes & Wallace – whose original building is seen second from the left in the first photo – and W. D. Kinsman, located further in the distance at the corner of Bridge Street. In 1906, a few years after the first photo was taken, these stores would also be joined by another competitor, Steiger’s, which opened its flagship store a couple blocks north of here at the corner of Hillman Street.

Along with large department stores, this scene also included smaller, specialized retailers. On the far right was D. H. Bingham & Co., a clothing store that had opened here in 1867 in a building previously occupied by the offices of the Springfield Republican. Other early 20th century stores in the foreground included Johnson’s Bookstore, which was located next to D. H. Bingham, and the W. J. Woods Co., another clothing store located further in the distance at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. The scene also featured several hotels, including most prominently the Haynes Hotel on the left side in the foreground.

Most of the buildings in the first photo were built in the late 19th century, during a period of rapid growth that saw Springfield’s population double roughly every 20 years. However, very few of the buildings along this section of Main Street are still standing today, aside from the Haynes Hotel on the left and several of the buildings on the right in the foreground. The old Forbes & Wallace building is gone, along with its early 20th century replacement, and today Monarch Place occupies the site. Further in the distance, the Tower Square skyscraper now fills the entire block between Boland Way and Bridge Street, and there are no other 19th century buildings on the left side until the Fort Block, which is barely visible more than four blocks away, in the distant center of the photo.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (2)

Looking north on Thames Street from the corner of Pelham Street in Newport, in August 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As with an earlier post, the first photo here shows Thames Street decorates in patriotic bunting for the Newport Carnival, which was held in August 1906. The building on the right side, at the corner of Pelham Street, was the United States Hotel, which had been one of the city’s finest hotels when it was built in 1836. Originally owned by the Townsend family, the hotel had replaced the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, which was built in 1785 and had been a popular gathering place for Newport’s leading citizens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The United States Hotel enjoyed similar success in the mid-19th century, and for many years it was the site of the state legislature’s “‘Lection Day” celebrations. Held on the last Tuesday of May, this was the day when the results of the statewide April elections were announced and the winners were inaugurated, and the occasion was a major holiday here in Newport.

By the time the first photo was taken, the ‘Lection Day festivities were a thing of the past, and the state legislature no longer met here in Newport. The United States Hotel has long since been eclipsed by more fashionable Gilded Age hotels, and it had gone through a succession of ownership changes since the Townsend family sold the property in 1858. In 1896, for example, it was being run by George E. Houghton, who declared in a full-page advertisement in the city directory that the hotel had been “thoroughly renovated and refurnished,” and offered “steam heat, electric bells, and table unsurpassed,” and overall it was “the best $2.50 hotel in New England.” When the first photo was taken less than a decade later, though, the hotel was being run by Wulf Petersen, who advertised that it was “lately renovated and under new management,” and was “open the entire year.”

Aside from the United States Hotel, the other historically-significant building in the first photo was the one just beyond it to the left. Built in 1817, this elegant Federal-style building was the home of the Rhode Island Union Bank, which later became the Union National Bank of Newport. The building was designed by Asher Benjamin, a prominent and influential early 19th century architect whose works can be found across New England. However, despite his prolific career, and Newport’s reputation for outstanding architectural works, this bank was Benjamin’s only known commission in the city. Part of this may be due to the fact that the early 19th century was somewhat of a lull in Newport’s prosperity; the city’s shipping industry had never fully recovered after the American Revolution, and its renaissance as a wealthy resort community would not start for several more decades. Consequently, there was limited demand for new buildings, and little need for Asher Benjamin and other architects of his era.

The Union National Bank was still located here when the first photo was taken, and the building was also the home of the People’s Library, which was located on the right side of the building. When the People’s Library – later renamed the Newport Public Library – was established in 1869, the concept of public libraries was still in its infancy in the United States. Members-only libraries, such as Newport’s own Redwood Library, had existed since the 18th century, but it was not until the mid-19th century that public libraries began to take hold, particularly here in the northeast. The library moved into the storefront on the right side in 1870, and would remain here for more than 40 years, until moving out in 1914.

In the years after the first photo was taken, this scene underwent significant changes. The United States Hotel closed in 1918, and remained vacant for many years. Badly deteriorated, it was finally demolished in 1933, leaving only the first floor. This surviving section appears to still be standing, having been incorporated into the present-day commercial building, but all traces of the original hotel building are long gone. In the meantime, bank building to the left was demolished in the 1950s, but like its neighbor it appears part of the first floor survived, and still stands in the present-day scene. However, despite these dramatic changes in the foreground, the two buildings in the distance on the left have survived relatively unchanged, and today they form part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Thames Street from Church Street, Newport, RI

Looking north on Thames Street from the corner of Church Street in Newport, in August 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The occasion for the patriotic flags and bunting covering the buildings in the first photo was the Newport Carnival, which was held in August 1906. It was a significant event, with both the New York Yacht Club and the U.S. Navy’s North Atlantic fleet in Newport at the time, and the carnival featured parades, concerts, automobile, motorcycle, and yacht races, and rowing contests between the battleship crews. Prominent visitors included President Theodore Roosevelt’s son Archie, who arrived with Joshua Slocum aboard the Spray, a yacht that Slocum had successfully sailed around the world nearly a decade earlier.

The first photo shows a variety of commercial buildings on either side of Thames Street, a major north-south road that runs along Newport’s waterfront. Some of the buildings in the distance can also be seen in the first photo of the previous post, and housed businesses such as a book and stationery store, a printing company, an electrician, an employment agency, and the Army and Navy YMCA. Closer to the camera, the businesses in the foreground of this scene included the Hall & Lyon apothecary shop, John Rogers’s music shop, and the Newport One Price Clothing Company. On the far right side of the photo, there is also a sign for bowling, pool, and billiards on one of the second floor windows.

The majority of the buildings on Thames Street in the first photo were wood-framed, with two or three stories, and many dates back to the early or mid-19th century. Probably the oldest in this scene was the one in the center, where the One Price Clothing Company was located. It was built in 1785 as the home of George Champlin, but around the 1850s it was apparently converted into a commercial block, with a new Italianate-style facade that matched architectural tastes of the era. This same Italianate style can also be seen in the two buildings on the right, which were both constructed in the late 1850s for the Caswell & Hazard Company, an apothecary that later went through a variety of name changes, eventually becoming Hall & Lyon by the time the first photo was taken.

Thames Street did not significantly change until the late 1960s, when the large-scale redevelopment of the waterfront, including the construction of America’s Cup Avenue, led to the demolition of almost everything on the west side of the street. Today, the four-lane America’s Cup Avenue is just to the left of this scene, dividing the center of Newport from its waterfront area, but the east side of Thames Street has survived largely unscathed. Some of the buildings further in the distance were demolished in the 20th century, but most of the ones in the foreground are still standing. These buildings are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was established in 1968 and encompasses the many well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings in downtown Newport.

Thames Street from Cotton Court, Newport, RI

Looking north on Thames Street, from the corner of Cotton Court in Newport, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

At the turn of the 20th century, Newport’s Thames Street featured an eclectic mix of low-rise commercial buildings that were built throughout the 19th century in a variety of architectural styles. Of the three buildings in the foreground of the first photo, the oldest was probably the one in the middle, which likely dated back to the early 19th century and may have originally been a single-family home. By the time the first photo was taken, the ground floor housed A.E. Burland & Co. electricians, along with an employment agency for male and female servants. Just to the right of it, at the corner of Cotton Court, was the Hammett Building, a three-story Italianate building that was built around 1850. In the first photo, it housed Simon Hart’s book, stationery, and picture framing shop, with Ward Printing Company on the second floor.

The third building prominent building in this scene, on the left side of the photo, was much newer than the other two. Known as the Horgan Building, it was built in 1896 with an ornate Classical Revival design that contrasted with the more modest wood-frame buildings around it. When the first photo was taken, the ground floor housed the McMullin-Holmes 5 and 10 cent store, while the two upper floors were the Army and Navy YMCA, which served the military personnel stationed at the nearby naval base here in Newport. The YMCA had moved into this building in 1903, but would subsequently move into a much larger building at Washington Square, which was completed in 1911.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, Thames Street has seen some dramatic changes, particularly on the west side, but the east side has retained some of its 19th century buildings, as seen here. The older building in the center is long gone, and the lot is now occupied by a modern commercial building that is set back from the street. The Horgan Building on the left is still standing, although it has undergone significant alterations, most notably the removal of the top floor. Only the Hammett Building on the right side still bears a close resemblance to its appearance in the first photo, although it has also been remodeled over the years, including a new storefront and a completely different window arrangement.

Vernon House, Newport, RI

Vernon House at the corner of Clarke and Mary Streets in Newport, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

This house is perhaps Newport’s finest surviving Georgian-style house, with an exterior appearance that dates back to around 1759. However, the house itself is actually significantly older, having been built sometime in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The first recorded owner was William Gibbs, a painter who moved from Boston to Newport in the early 1700s and was living in this house by 1708. Whether he built the house himself or purchased it from a previous owner is unclear, but the architecture of the original structure suggests that it was built sometime around 1700.

William Gibbs lived here until his death in 1729, leaving an estate valued at about 2,300 pounds. His daughter Elizabeth, whose husband William Gardner had been lost at sea three months earlier, inherited the property, remarried in 1732 to James Martin, and then died in 1735. This sequence of events set up an interesting legal battle after her death. Under English law at the time, her father’s property would have gone to her husband, and then to their children. However, if her husband – who had been missing for three months – died before her father, Elizabeth herself would have inherited it, and the property would have gone to her second husband after her death. Martin argued that, by all accounts, Gardner was dead before Gibbs’s death in 1729, but he ultimately lost his case and the property remained in the Gibbs-Garnder family until 1744.

The house was subsequently owned by a Patrick Grant and by Charles Bowler, the Collector of Revenue in Newport, who purchased it around 1753. In 1759, Charles sold it to his son, Metcalf Bowler, a prominent merchant who was among he wealthiest men in colonial Rhode Island. Shortly after purchasing the house, Metcalf had the house expanded and renovated to its current Georgian-style appearance. There are no surviving records of who the architect was, although tradition suggests that it may have been Peter Harrison, the prominent colonial-era architect who designed several buildings in Newport during the mid-18th century, including the Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, and the Brick Market.

Metcalf Bowler was active in Rhode Island politics, particularly in the years leading up to the American Revolution, when Newport’s shipping industry was in its golden age. He served as one of Rhode Island’s delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, as speaker of the colonial legislature from 1767 to 1776, and was appointed to the state supreme court in 1776. However, during this time he was also a paid informant for the British army, working as a spy for General Henry Clinton, apparently in order to safeguard his property during the British occupation of Newport. His role as a spy was not discovered until the 20th century, but the war was devastating for Newport’s shipping industry and Metcalf Bowler lost much of his fortune as a result.

Bowler only lived in this house until 1773, when he sold it to William Vernon, another merchant who was involved in the American Revolution. However, unlike Bowler, Vernon remained loyal to the Patriot cause, and in 1777 the Continental Congress appointed him as president of the Eastern Navy Board, effectively making him the de facto equivalent of Secretary of the Navy. In this position, he worked to develop the fledgling American navy, and he even loaned his own money – at little or no interest – to the perpetually cash-strapped government, to enable them to meet some of the many pressing wartime demands.

During the American Revolution, Vernon was directly associated with some of the leading figures of the era. His son William traveled to France in 1778 under the care of John Adams, who was also traveling with his own son, 11-year-old John Quincy Adams. Then in 1780, after the British occupation ended, the Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport with 5,500 French soldiers, who remained here while awaiting deployment against the British. Rochambeau used Vernon’s house as his headquarters, and during this time his visitors included the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, with Washington arriving here in March 1781 to meet with Rochambeau. Several months later, in June, the French soldiers departed Newport for Virginia, for a campaign that ultimately led to the decisive American and French victory at Yorktown in October.

In the years following the American Revolution, William Vernon continued to live here in this house. His son Samuel served in the war, and in 1784 married his cousin Elizabeth Almy. The couple lived here with his father, and had eleven children, nine of whom survived infancy. In the meantime, the younger William remained in France for many years, where he became a favorite in the court of Louis XVI. He remained in France through the French Revolution, but returned to Newport in 1796, bringing with him a significant collection of paintings that included a copy of the Mona Lisa that is reputed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Both of the Vernon brothers were prominent men in Newport, with Samuel running a prosperous merchant business and serving as president of the Newport Bank and the Newport Insurance Company, while William was the secretary of the Redwood Library for many years. They inherited the property after their father’s death in 1806, owning it until William’s death in 1833 and Samuel’s a year later. However, the house would remain in the Vernon family until it was finally sold in 1872, 99 years after William Vernon purchased it from Metcalf Bowler.

For the rest of the 19th century, the house was used as offices. Tenants included prominent geologist Raphael Pumpelly, as well as architect Clarence S. Luce, both of whom had offices in the building in the early 1880s. In 1912, about a decade after the first photo was taken, the house was purchased by the Charity Organization Society, who did some restoration work. It was later the home of the Family Service Society until the 1960s, when it was sold and again became a private residence.

Because of its historic and architectural significance, Vernon House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968. Since then, it has been well-preserved, and there are hardly any noticeable differences between the photos aside from minor details such as the shutters, which may not have been original to the house anyway. The house remained privately owned until 2009, when it was donated to the Newport Restoration Foundation. This organization has preserved a number of historic properties in downtown Newport, and it continues to own Vernon House and rent it out as a residence.