Nathaniel Parsons House, Northampton, Mass

The Nathaniel Parsons House on Bridge Street in Northampton, around 1914. Image from Early Northampton (1914).

The house in 2017:

Northampton has a remarkable collection of colonial-era homes, but one of the oldest is this house on Bridge Street. It has been significantly expanded over the years, but the original part of the house has, at various times, been estimated to be as old as 1658 and as recent as 1730. However, more recent dendrochronological analysis of the home’s timbers has provided an approximate date of 1719 for the oldest section of the house.

This plot of land was originally owned by Joseph Parsons, one of the founders of both Springfield and Northampton. He and his wife Mary came to Northampton in 1655, just a year after the first European settlers arrived, and they would live here for about 25 years. During this time, however, Mary repeatedly faced accusations of witchcraft, brought by members of the Bridgman family. Joseph won a slander suit against the Bridgmans in 1656, but the accusations continued and in 1675 Mary was put on trial for witchcraft. She was ultimately acquitted, but soon after she and Joseph returned to Springfield, where they lived for the remainder of their lives.

Despite this controversy, other members of the Parsons family remained here in Northampton. Their son Jonathan subsequently owned this lot, and apparently built a house here, but the existing house was built by his son Nathaniel, who was born in 1686. Nathaniel married his first wife, Experience Wright, in 1714, but she and their infant child died the following year. He evidently built this house a few years later, but would not remarry until 1728, when he married Abigail Bunce. They had five children together, although two of them, Abigail and Jerusha, were twins who both died soon after they were born. Their other three children all lived to adulthood, and included a daughter, Experience, and two sons, Elisha and Nathaniel.

When built, this house was much smaller. It was only one room deep, and had two rooms on the first floor and two on the second. It would remain this way for most of the 18th century, even as the family continued to grow in size. The older Nathaniel died in 1738, but Abigail outlived him by 50 years and lived here in this house with her children and grandchildren. Experience lived here until her first marriage in 1754, then returned after her husband’s death two years later and lived here until her second marriage in 1768. Elisha lived here until his marriage in 1770, and he may have continued living here as late as 1779, and the younger Nathaniel lived here for the rest of his life, even after his 1768 marriage to Sarah Hunt. For a far more comprehensive account of the house and the people who lived here, see this website.

At some point in the late 18th century the house was finally expanded, with a lean-to on the back that included a new kitchen. Abigail died in 1789, but Nathaniel and Sarah continued to live here, with Nathaniel having purchased his siblings’ shares of the house. They had nine children, although, as was the case with his parents, two were twins who died in infancy. Their other seven children were Nathaniel, Luther, Sally, Abigail, Mary, Persis, and Eunice, and they all grew up here in this house. The two oldest later owned the house, and sold it upon Nathaniel and Abigail’s deaths in 1806 and 1807.

Around 1808, the house was purchased by the Wright family, and was jointly owned by Chloe Wright and her stepson Ferdinand Hunt Wright. The house was further expanded soon after. An ell was added to the house, and the lean-to roof was removed in order to add a second floor above the late 18th century addition. Hunt, as he was known, married Olive Ames in 1811, and they had three children: Elzabeth, Roxana, and Mary. He died in 1842, and by about 1850 Olive had moved out, although she continued to own her half of the house and rented it to George and Lydia Sergeant. In the meantime, Chloe Wright lived in her half of the house until her death in 1854, and her daughter Fannie appears to have lived here until her death in 1869.

The Wright family retained ownership of the house for many years, living here at various times while also renting part of it to tenants. Olive and her daughter Roxana had returned to this house by the 1880s, and both lived here for the rest of their lives, until Olive’s death in 1889 and Roxana’s in 1909. The first photo was probably taken several years later, by which point the house was owned by three of Mary’s children: Anna, Arthur, and Edgar Bliss. Anna, who was unmarried, lived here from 1910 until her death in 1941, and in her will she left the house to Historic Northampton, which continues to own the property today.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, this view of the house has undergone a few minor changes, including the removal of the shutters and the small front porch. The porch was undoubtedly a 19th century addition, though, so today the house looks more historically accurate than it did when the first photo was taken. The Parsons House is now one of three owned by Historic Northampton, although it is currently closed to the public for renovations.

For a more detailed history of this house and the people who lived here, please see this article.

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.

Marlborough Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking west on Marlborough Street from Farewell Street in Newport, around 1911. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene on Marlborough Street includes several notable Newport landmarks, with the most significant being the White Horse Tavern on the far right. This building is perhaps the oldest in the city, dating back to before 1673. It was just a two-story, two-room house at the time, but it was later expanded, and by 1687 it was being operated as a tavern by William Mayes, Sr. His son, William Mayes, Jr., had a career as a pirate before returning to Newport, retiring from piracy, and taking over the operation of the tavern in 1703. Within a few years, though, his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols, owned the property, and it would remain in the Nichols family for nearly two more centuries.

In the years before the Colony House was built in the 1730s, the colonial legislature often met here at the White Horse Tavern, which acquired its current name around this same time. Some 40 years later, it was used to house British soldiers during the American Revolution, and after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof. It would continue to be owned by the Nichols family until it was finally sold in 1895. The first photo was taken only about 16 years later, and at this point it had been converted into a rooming house.

The White Horse Tavern was already an old building in 1807 when the other prominent landmark in this scene, St. Paul’s Methodist Church, was completed. Long known for its religious tolerance, Rhode Island was among the first places where Methodism took root in America in the late 18th century. However, the Newport congregation caused a considerable stir in the Methodist community when they built this church. Although similar to other New England churches of the era, it was far more elaborate than the plain meeting houses that early Methodists worshipped in. It is considered to be the first Methodist church in America to have a steeple, bell, and pews, and early Methodist leader Bishop Francis Asbury is said to have “lifted his hands with holy horror when he first saw it and predicted that a church which began with a steeple would end with a choir and perhaps even an organ.”

Bishop Asbury was ultimately proved right in his prediction about the organ, with the congregation installing one in the church in the 1850s. However, an even more significant change had come about 15 years earlier in 1842, when the entire building was raised eight feet and a new, full-story foundation was built beneath it to make space for a parish hall. Otherwise, the exterior of the church has not significantly changed, although the building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1881. However, it was subsequently restored, and the first photo was taken about 20 years later.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, most of the historic buildings on both sides of Marlborough Street have been demolished. Even the White Horse Tavern itself was threatened with demolition. Badly deteriorated and neglected more than 50 years after it became a rooming house, it was nearly demolished in the 1950s to build a gas station here on the corner. Instead, though, it was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored it and reopened it as a tavern in 1957. It remains in operation today, and is marketed as America’s oldest tavern. Further down the street, St. Paul’s Methodist Church is also still standing, and still houses the same congregation. The 2017 photo shows it in the midst of a restoration project, but otherwise it is largely unchanged from the first photo, and both it and the White Horse Tavern are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark district.

Samuel Bowles House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 182 Central Street in Springfield, probably sometime around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Italianate-style home was built in 1853, along the slope of Ames Hill near the corner of Maple and Central Streets. It was designed by Henry A. Sykes, an architect from Suffield, Connecticut, whose other Springfield works included the Mills-Stebbins Villa on nearby Crescent Hill, and it was originally owned by Francis Tiffany, the pastor of the Church of the Unity. Reverend Tiffany had become the pastor of the church in 1852, and he would go on to serve the congregation for the next 12 years. He and his wife Esther lived in this house throughout this time, and by the 1860 census they were living here with four young children.

In 1864, Tiffany left the church to take a position as an English professor at Antioch College in Ohio, and he sold the house to Samuel Bowles, who was a friend of his and one of the most influential men in the city. He was the son of Samuel Bowles II, a journalist who had founded the Springfield Republican as a weekly newspaper in 1824. The younger Samuel was born two years after the paper started, and began working alongside his father when he was 17. Around the same time, the Republican became a daily newspaper, and after his father’s death in 1851, Samuel took over control of the paper, when he was just 25 years old.

By the time Samuel Bowles and his wife Mary moved into this house, the Republican was one of New England’s leading newspapers, and as the name of the paper suggested, it generally supported Republican, anti-slavery policies before and during the Civil War. Bowles was also a friend of Emily Dickinson, and he published several of her poems in the Republican. These poems, which were heavily edited in order to conform with conventional poetic styles, were among the very few that were ever published during her lifetime, as most of her nearly 1,8000 poems were discovered and published posthumously.

Samuel and Mary Bowles raised ten children in this house, although during this time he frequently traveled. He suffered from poor health, which was attributed to over-working, so because of this he took a number of trips to the American West and to Europe in the 1860s and early 1870s, often publishing accounts of his travels. However, he died in 1878, at the age of 51, and the responsibility of running the newspaper fell to his son, Samuel Bowles IV, who was 26 years old at the time, just a year older than his father had been when he took over the paper in 1851.

By the end of the 19th century, the house had become part of the MacDuffie School, which had been founded in 1890 by John and Abby MacDuffie as a school for girls. The Bowles house became the school’s main classroom building, but over time the campus expanded, eventually encompassing many of the historic mansions on and around Ames Hill. The house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but in 1978 the school requested permission from the Historical Commission to demolish the house, claiming that it was in poor condition and that the land was needed for tennis courts. The Commission ultimately granted the request, and despite a court challenge by local preservationists, the house was demolished in 1980. However, the tennis courts were never built, and the site of the house remains vacant nearly 40 years later.

Grenada Terrace, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on Grenada Terrace from Dickinson Street in Springfield, sometime in the early 1900s. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The scene in 2017:

The Forest Park neighborhood of Springfield was very sparsely developed up until the 1890s, when trolley lines were built through the area, providing a direct connection to downtown Springfield. This section of Forest Park, just to the northeast of the “X”, was developed by the Sumner Avenue Heights Company, and featured streets with names associated with warm climates, such as Ventura, Sorrento, and Pomona. The centerpiece of this development was Grenada Terrace, which was built parallel to Sumner Avenue and featured a wide street with a landscaped median.

The street itself was laid out by the late 1890s, but none of the houses were built until the first decade of the 20th century. Nearly all of the homes had been completed by 1910, and the first photo was probably taken around this time. Most of these homes were owner-occupied, and the 1910 census shows residents with a wide range of middle-class professions, including a clerk, contractor, building inspector, stenographer, traveling salesman, and an Armory employee.

A century later, nearly all of these homes are still standing, although most have been altered with modern changes such as enclosed porches and artificial siding. Two brick apartment buildings, visible in the distant left of the 2017 photo, were built in the 1910s, but the neighborhood remains predominantly single-family, two-family, and three-family homes. Otherwise, the only significant change to this scene is the left side, where four of the homes were demolished to make a parking lot for the Holy Name Church, which is partially visible on the far left.

Westminster Street from State Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Westminster Street from State Street in Springfield, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The scene in 2017:


About 50 years before the first photo was taken, this section of State Street was only sparsely settled, with very little development to the east of the Armory. This site here, on the north side of State Street, was the approximate location of a farmhouse that was owned by Josiah W. Flagg, who owned 22 acres of land behind the house. Located about a mile and a half from Main Street, and separated from it by a steep hill, this part of the city was hardly desirable real estate, but this began to change in 1870, when the Springfield Street Railway began operation, with a horse-drawn trolley line extending as far as Oak Street.

That same year, dry goods merchant John McKnight entered the real estate business, and purchased the Flagg farm. Along with his brother William, he subdivided the property and laid out four streets between State and Bay Streets, including Westminster Street, as seen here. Thanks in part to the economic recession following the Panic of 1873, development was slow for the first decade or so, but it construction of new homes picked up in earnest by the early 1880s. Most of the houses on this block of Westminster Street were built between 1880 and 1891, with Queen Anne style architecture that appealed to popular tastes of the era.

In contrast to the modest, middle class homes on the side streets, the houses on State Street were much larger, and were built for some of the city’s most prominent residents. The house on the far left of this photo was built for William McKnight in the early 1870s, although he later moved to a different house on Worthington Street. On the opposite side of the photo, this house was built in 1871 for insurance agent Henry K. Simons. However, the house was later remodeled in 1894 for Noyes W. Fisk, an industrialist who worked as the clerk and treasurer of the season Manufacturing Company, and later established the Fisk Rubber Company. The house’s large gambrel roof was probably added during this renovation, and it disguises the fact that the house is actually several decades older than it appears.

About a century after the first photo was taken, much of the McKnight neighborhood remains remarkably well-preserved. However, this section of Westminster Street has lost a number of houses over the years, particularly on the left side of the street. The old William McKnight house on the far left was demolished around the early 1920s to build and an automobile service station that is still standing today. Just beyond it, two highly ornate Queen Anne-style homes have also been demolished, and were replaced with plain multi-family homes.

Further down the street, there are other vacant lots where houses once stood on both sides of the street, but many of the historic homes are still standing, including most notably the house on the far right. Now a funeral home, it is one of the last of the 19th century mansions on State Street, and despite the 1890s alterations it is also one of the oldest homes in the McKnight neighborhood. Today, this neighborhood consists of some 800 historic homes from the late 19th and early 20th century, and they now form the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.