Phelps Tavern, Simsbury, Connecticut

Phelps Tavern on Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, in 1926. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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The building in 2016:

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This house was built in 1771 for Elisha Phelps, a member of one of Simsbury’s most prominent 18th century families. He served in the American Revolution, participating in Ethan Allen’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. The following month, he was appointed as a commissary and a captain in the Continental Army, a position he held until his death in 1776 while serving in Albany. His widow, Rosetta, moved out of the house in 1779 and sold it to Elisha’s brother, Noah Phelps.

Like his brother, Noah had participated in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, playing a particularly vital role. Prior to the capture, he had entered the fort disguised as a farmer in need of a shave. While there, he gained valuable intelligence about the vulnerability of the fort, particularly its weakened walls and wet gunpowder. This gave Ethan Allen the confidence to attack, and the fort was taken without a fight, leading to a significant colonial victory in the early days of the war.

Noah Phelps only lived here for a few years before moving to a different house. He went on to serve in several different positions, including as a justice of the peace, a probate judge, a delegate to the state ratifying convention for the US Constitution, and a major general in the state militia.In the meantime, his son, Noah Amherst Phelps, moved into this house. During his ownership, the younger Noah used the house as a tavern. After his death in 1817, his widow Charlotte and later their son Jeffery continued operating the tavern.

The tavern was in a good position to take advantage of traffic on the Farmington Canal, which was completed in 1835 and connected New Haven, Connecticut with Northampton, Massachusetts. It was built directly behind the tavern, only several hundred feet east of here, and the tavern became known as the Canal Hotel. However, the canal was never particularly successful, and its route was converted into a railroad in the late 1840s. Around this same time, in 1849, Jeffery Phelps closed the tavern, although the house would remain in his family for several more generations.

The house was modified in 1879 and again in 1915, but it was owned by members of the Phelps family until 1962, when it was donated to the Simsbury Historical Society. It has been preserved as a museum, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearby Farmington Canal route is also listed, although the old railroad is long gone and the right-of-way is now a rail trail.

City Hall, Pittsfield, Mass

The Post Office building, which later became City Hall, on Allen Street in Pittsfield, around 1910-1930. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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City Hall in 2016:

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For many years, it was common for post offices, even in relatively large cities and towns, to be located within commercial buildings rather than in separate buildings. Springfield, for example, did not get its first purpose-built post office until 1890. Here in Pittsfield, the post office had been located in the Berkshire Life Insurance Company building until 1910, when this post office opened on Allen Street.

Its classical revival architecture was designed by James Knox Taylor, who, as Supervising Architect of the Treasury was responsible for designing government buildings across the country. Its design was fairly standard for post offices of the era, but its location was somewhat unusual. It is located at the corner of Allen and Federal Streets, two relatively minor side streets a block away from the far busier North and East Streets. However, it served its purpose well, and was used as a post office for over a half century until it closed in 1966.

After the post office left, the building was renovated into City Hall, replacing the much older building a block away, which had served as the seat of Pittsfield’s municipal government since 1832. It has remained in use ever since, and has now been City Hall for almost as long as it had been a post office. The original interior has been somewhat altered over the years, but exterior is essentially unchanged from the first photo, aside from the significant addition in the back.

Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass

Christ Church on Garden Street in Cambridge, on October 25, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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This church, which is also visible in the previous post, is the oldest existing church building in Cambridge. It was completed in 1761 and designed by Peter Harrison, who was the first formally trained architect to work in the future United States. It is one of only a few existing buildings that he definitely designed, along with King’s Chapel in Boston and several others in Newport, Rhode Island. Like King’s Chapel, and unlike most colonial New England churches, Christ Church was Anglican, and was intended to serve the town’s small but wealthy Anglican population along with students at nearby Harvard. Early in the American Revolution, Cambridge served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. Many of the Anglicans here were Loyalists who fled the city, and the church closed for several years. However, George and Martha Washington, who were Anglicans themselves, did attend a service here in 1775.

The building reopened in 1790, and along with the Washingtons, the church has seen a number of other distinguished visitors. In 1879, Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here until a new pastor asked him to stop, because he was Dutch Reformed rather than Episcopalian. Nearly a century later, the church was more accommodating to Martin Luther King, Jr., who held a press conference here after Harvard refused to allow him to use one of their buildings.

Aside from an 1857 expansion to accommodate its growing congregation, the church has remained true to Harrison’s original design, and over 250 years later it is still in use as an Episcopalian church. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Gilbert Monument, West Brookfield, Mass

The Fort Gilbert Monument at the corner of North Main and Winter Streets in West Brookfield, around 1902-1927. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The monument in 2016:

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The town of Brookfield, which originally included present-day North, East, and West Brookfield, was first settled by Europeans in 1660 as the town of Quaboag. At the time, it was in a very isolated location in central Massachusetts, some 25 miles from the towns in the Connecticut River valley and twice as far from Boston and the other towns along the coast. Because of this, it was very vulnerable to an Indian attack, which occurred in 1675 during King Philip’s War. The town was destroyed and abandoned, with many of the settlers moving back to where they had previously lived.

Over a decade later, settlers returned, and this time they came better prepared for potential raids. They built four forts, including Fort Gilbert here in the western part of the town. It included barracks for soldiers and, if necessary during a raid, to house the families of the town, and it was surrounded by a stockade. The fort was still standing during the French and Indian War, although it was far removed from any battles, and some of its remains were still visible well into the 19th century.

Today, any evidence of the fort is long gone, but the site is marked with this simple monument, which was put here around 1900. It is located in a small park next to the West Brookfield Elementary School, on North Main Street just west of the town common.

Center Elementary School, Longmeadow, Mass

The Junior High School, seen from the Town Green in Longmeadow on April 27, 1923. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The building in 2016, now part of the Center Elementary School:

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This school was built in 1921 as the Longmeadow Junior High School, and seven years later another school building was built just to the right of here. The two buildings later became Center Elementary School, and today from this angle they look the same on the outside as they did in the 1920s, but everything on the interior is new. Both buildings were completely gutted in the mid-1990s, leaving only the exterior walls still standing, and an entirely new structure was built inside. They were also connected via a new library, which was built in the back of the school, below the grade of the road.. By preserving the exteriors, and by making the modern addition invisible from here, it helps to maintain the character of the Town Green area, which is a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lost New England Goes West: Santa Monica, California (2)

Another view looking north from the pier in Santa Monica, around 1910-1930. Image courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society.

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The view in 2015:

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Like the view in the previous post, these two photos show some of the changes that have happened along the beach in Santa Monica over the years. The most prominent building in the first photo here is the Windermere Hotel, visible in the upper center of the photo. It was built in 1909 and was demolished in 1962 to build Pacific Plaza, the tall apartment building that stands on the site today. Just to the left of it in the 2015 view is the Georgian Hotel, which was built in 1933 by the owners of the Windermere, probably only a few years after the first photo was taken.

This post is the last in a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.