Jonathan Gibbs House, Newport, Rhode Island

The house at 181 Spring Street in Newport, around 1920. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

One of the remarkable features of modern-day Newport is the incredible number of colonial-era buildings that still stand in the city center. Some are grand 18th century mansions such as Hunter House and Vernon House, but the vast majority are plain, modestly-sized homes such as this one. Squeezed in sideways in a narrow lot about halfway between Mill and Pelham Streets, it was built around 1771 by Jonathan Gibbs, a housewright who owned it for about 20 years. Its design was fairly common for this period, and features a gambrel roof on the upper floor and two rooms on the first floor. According to the city’s property assessment, the house currently has just one bedroom, and a total of 776 square feet of living space.

Jonathan Gibbs does not appear to have personally lived here, and instead probably used it as a rental property. According to the Newport Restoration Foundation, in 1777 the house was the home of James Brattle, who lived here with four other people. Gibbs owned the house until 1782, and it was subsequently owned by John Bours in the early 19th century. By the time the first photo was taken there was a small addition to the back of the house, although otherwise its exterior appearance had not significantly changed since it was built.

By about 1925, shortly after the first photo was taken, this house was being rented by Bertha B. Chase, a widow who was in her mid-40s at the time. The 1930 census lists her as paying $19 per month in rent, and she lived in this house with her children Edward, Marion, and Lawrence, whose ages ranged from 17 to 22. A decade later, only Lawrence was still living here with Bertha, and they would remain here until the late 1940s, when they moved to Broadway.

About 20 years later, in 1969, the house was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that had been founded the previous year by tobacco heiress Doris Duke in order to preserve Newport’s colonial architecture. The Foundation also purchased the neighboring Samuel Bours House on the right side of the photo, and both houses were restored in the early 1970s. Today, both of these properties are still owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation, and they form part of the Newport Historic District, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Gad Lane Tavern, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 1007 Halliday Avenue West in Suffield, around 1921. Image from Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).

The house in 2017:

Different sources identify this house as having been built in 1726, 1740, or 1744, but either way it is one of the oldest houses in Suffield, and was originally owned by Samuel Lane. Born in Hadley, Massachusetts, Samuel later moved to Suffield, where he married Abigail Hovey in 1709. In 1723, he purchased 23 acres of land here in the northern part of the town, and subsequently built this house at some point over the next two decades. At the time, Suffield was part of Massachusetts, but was part of a border dispute that was eventually resolved in 1749, when the two colonies established the present-day border, about a third of a mile north of Samuel’s house.

Samuel owned this house until 1765 when, a few years before his death, he transferred the property to his grandson, Gad. About 21 years old at the time, Gad’s father Samuel had died in 1748 when Gad was just a few years old. But, as the oldest son of Samuel and Abigail’s oldest son, he inherited the family home, along with 40 acres of land. The house was situated on the main road from Suffield to Westfield, Massachusetts, and for some time Gad operated a tavern in the walk-in basement on the left side of the house. Here, 18th century cattle and sheep drivers could satiate their hunger and thirst at the tavern, while their herds and flocks did the same in the surrounding pastures and at the stream that flows just to the left of the house.

In 1772, Gad married the curiously-named Olive Tree, and the couple had five children: Hosea, Gad, Comfort, Ashbel, and Zebina. However, in 1798 Gad filed for divorce, alleging that Olive had run off with another man and had stolen many of his possessions. A March 19, 1798 notice, published in the Hartford Courant, provides the details of her infidelity, with Gad stating that: “Olive formed an improper connection with one Joſeph Freeman: That ſhe has frequently and privately took and conveyed to ſaid Freeman, the petitioners bonds, obligations, papers, cloathing and other property: That ſaid Olive hath committed adultery with ſaid Freeman — hath eloped from the petitioner and now lives in a ſtate of adultery with ſaid Freeman.”

Gad subsequently remarried to Margaret Ferry, and in 1827 he gave the property to his son Ashbel. He owned the house for 20 years before selling it in 1847, and after changing hands several times the property was purchased by David Allen in 1849. He and his wife Mary went on to live here for nearly 40 years, running a modest farm that, during the 1880 census, consisted of eight acres of tilled land, plus six acres of meadows and orchards, and four acres of woodland. His primary crops were corn, oats, rye, potatoes, and apples, and his property had a total value of $2,500, plus $100 in farm machinery and $150 in livestock.

The Allen family would remain here until 1888, when David sold the property a few years before he and Mary died. The property changed hands several times over the next few decades, and by the time the first photo was taken the house had been significantly altered, including the addition of three dormers. Well into the 20th century, the house lacked modern conveniences such as heat and bathrooms, and by the late 1930s it was owned by Raymond Kent, Sr., a tobacco farmer who used the house as a residence for his field hands. However, in 1942 his son, Raymond Kent, Jr., restored the house, and today it still stands well-preserved as one of the oldest surviving houses in Suffield.

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.

Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, Windsor, Connecticut

The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead at 778 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, around 1920. Image from Old New England Houses (1920).

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The house in 2017:

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This house was built in 1781 for Oliver Ellsworth, a lawyer who was, at the time, a member of the Continental Congress. He  was well on his way to becoming one of Connecticut’s most prominent figures of the late 18th century, and served as one of the state’s representatives in Congress from 1778 to 1783. Along with this, he held a variety of state offices, but perhaps his most important contribution to history came in 1787, when he was one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Although he left the convention early and did not sign the finished Constitution, he played a key role in resolving the contentious issue of how states would be represented in the new Congress. He worked with fellow Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman to create the Connecticut Compromise, which established the current structure of Congress, with two senators per state, plus a varying number of representatives that was based on population.

Two years later, Ellsworth became one of Connecticut’s first two senators, serving from 1789 to 1796. During this time, he was largely responsible for writing the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the federal court system. In 1796, he became the head of this court system when George Washington appointed him as the nation’s third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Washington’s previous choice for the position, John Rutledge, had been rejected by the Senate, but Ellsworth was confirmed by a unanimous vote. That same year, he also gained 11 electoral votes in the presidential election, finishing a distant sixth behind John Adams. He served as the Chief Justice until his retirement in 1800. During this time, John Adams sent him to France as part of a delegation to negotiate with Napoleon, with Ellsworth and the other Americans ultimately reaching an agreement that avoided war between the two countries.

Ellsworth lived in this house for over 25 years, and both George Washington and John Adams made visits here during their presidencies. Ellsworth and his wife Abigail raised nine children here, including twins William Wolcott Ellsworth and Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. Born here in 1791, they both achieved prominence of their own. William followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a lawyer and politician. He married Emily Webster, the daughter of dictionary writer Noah Webster, and he served as a Congressman from 1829 to 1834, the governor of Connecticut from 1838 to 1842, and as a judge on the state Supreme Court from 1847 to 1861. Likewise, Henry was involved in politics, serving briefly as mayor of Hartford before spending a decade as the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, from 1835 to 1845.

The exterior of the house has not changed much since Ellsworth’s lifetime. The addition on the right side came in 1788, presumably to accommodate the growing family, although the pillars and the overhanging roof were added later in the 1800s. After his death in 1807, the house remained in his family for nearly a century, until 1903, when it was given to the Connecticut chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The organization still owns the house, and it is preserved as a museum, with tours offered by appointment. Because of its significance as the home of one of the Founding Fathers, the  house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

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.