Spring and Cannon Streets, Newport, Rhode Island

The northwest corner of Spring and Cannon Streets in Newport, around 1925. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a somewhat dilapidated building that stood at the corner of Spring and Cannon Streets. It was probably built sometime in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and by the time the first photo was taken it was a two-family home. The 1920 census, which had been done a few years later, shows Danish immigrant Andrew Christensen living in one unit with his wife Katherine and their three children. The other unit was rented by French-Canadian immigrant Hector Renaud, his wife Louise, and their daughter Alice. Both men were employed by the navy, with Christensen serving as a chief boatswain’s mate in the navy, and Renaud as a machinist at the U. S. Naval Torpedo Station.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1925, the house appears to have been in poor condition, particularly the roof. It was evidently still occupied, though, because the city directories of the mid-1920s continue to list tenants here. By the 1930 census, it was rented by two more immigrant families, with Italian-born shoe repairer Pasquale Panaggio in one unit with his wife Sarah and four children, and Irish-born gardener Florence C. Sullivan in the other one with his wife Mary and two children.

Today, the old house from the first photo is no longer standing, and was presumably demolished at some point in the mid-20th century. However, there is a different historic building that is still standing on the site. The Newport Historic District building inventory lists it as the Jeremiah J. Sullivan House, with an estimated construction date of 1836-1839. Since this is clearly not the same building that was standing here when the first photo was taken, it must have been moved to this site at some point after the other building was demolished.

The streets have also changed since the first photo was taken. Cannon Street, once a narrow one-block street between Thames and Spring Streets, was significantly expanded in the mid-20th century, becoming part of Memorial Boulevard West. All of the buildings on the south side of the street were either moved or demolished, but the ones on the north side were largely unaffected. As a result, the other buildings from the first photo are still standing today, including the c.1894-1907 J. P. Ancaster House on the left, the c.1859-1876 Patrick Tiernan Building to the right, and the c.1758-1772 James Pitman House further to the right. All three buildings, along with the Sullivan House, are contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Spring and Mill Streets, Newport, Rhode Island

The northwest corner of Spring and Mill Streets in Newport, around 1928. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows an evidently abandoned building that once stood at the corner of Mill and Spring Streets in Newport. It was probably built at some point in the second half of the 18th century, as it shares many common architectural features of this period, most notably the gambrel roof. Many surviving Newport buildings have a similar style, including the somewhat smaller White Horse Tavern building, which was originally constructed in the 17th century but was expanded to its present-day appearance a century later.

The 1777 map of Newport shows a building standing here at the corner, although it is unclear whether it was this particular building or an earlier one. Either way, the building was here by the 19th century, and the 1876 city atlas shows that the property belonged to Theodore R. Helme. His occupation was variously listed as a mason, carpenter, auctioneer, and grocer, and he also owned the commercial block that still stands on the opposite side of the street, at 148-160 Spring Street. He died around the turn of the 20th century, but the 1907 city atlas shows that his widow Ruby still owned this property, along with the one across the street.

The first photo shows that the building had several storefronts on the ground floor, and the upper floors were presumably divided into apartments. However, by the time the photo was taken in 1928, the building had fallen into serious disrepair. The upper floors were clearly empty, with hardly any surviving windows, and the storefronts also appear to have been vacant. The sign above the stores is completely illegible, and the only things visible in the windows are posters advertising for a circus on Wednesday, May 31. If the 1928 date of the photo is accurate, these posters must have been there for a long time, because the last time May 31 had fallen on a Wednesday was in 1922, and it would not do so again until 1933.

Based on its condition in the first photo, this building likely did not survive beyond the 1930s at the latest. The neighboring building on the far right side has also since been demolished, and today the area is a park adjacent to Trinity Church. Only the top of the church spire is visible in the first photo, but the entire building can now be seen from this angle. It was completed in 1726 and it features a design that is very similar to that of Old North Church in Boston, which was built only a few years earlier. Although the other buildings from the photo are gone, the nearly 300-year-old church is still standing, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its architectural and historical significance.

Spring Street from Mary Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street, toward the corner of Mary Street in Newport, around the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Narrow streets such as these are typical in downtown Newport, where the street network was laid out long before the advent of automobiles. Even Spring Street, which is a fairly major street, is hemmed in by densely-crowded historic buildings on either side, leaving just a single travel lane for northbound traffic in the present-day photo. This is not much of a change from the first photo, taken around the 1920s, which shows several cars sharing the narrow street with a trolley line on the right side.

In nearly a century since the first photo was taken, most of the buildings in this scene are still standing. On the far left is the Odlin-Otis House, which is probably the oldest building in this scene. It was constructed around 1705 and was subsequently expanded, although by the time the first photo was taken it had been altered and converted into a two-family home. On the other side of Mary Street, just beyond the Odlin-Otis House, is the Franklin Bakery, which was built in 1876 and stands as the only brick building in the scene.

Further in the distance on the left side of the street, there are several houses beyond the Franklin Bakery. Closest to the foreground is the c.1870s George C. Barker House, which still stands and now features a coat of dark blue paint. Two houses down from the Barker House is the gambrel-roofed Elisha Johnson House, which was built around 1750 and is now painted brown. In between these two houses, the first photo shows a gable-roofed house with two windows on the first and second floors. This building is the only noticeable change from the first photo, as it was demolished around 1969 in order to move the c.1807 Edward Willis House onto the site.

The buildings on the right side of this scene are not as easily visible from this angle, but they have been similarly well-preserved over the years. Today, thia section of Spring Street features a remarkable collection of historic 18th and 19th century buildings, all of which are now part of the Newport Historic District. This is one of the many historic districts in Newport, encompassing much of the downtown area, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of historic recognition in the country

Odlin-Otis House, Newport, Rhode Island

The Odlin-Otis House at 109 Spring Street, at the corner of Mary Street in Newport, in 1924. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

The streets of downtown Newport are lined with many historic colonial-era buildings, including this house at the corner of Spring and Mary Streets. It was originally owned by John Odlin, who purchased the property in 1705 and evidently constructed the house shortly afterward. The house was subsequently expanded several times in the early 18th century, creating a long, narrow house with a highly asymmetrical Spring Street facade. Other early owners of the house included Jonathan Otis, a silversmith who was here around the time of the American Revolution.

At some point during the 19th century, the house was divided into two units, with two front entrances on the Spring Street side, as seen in the first photo. This arrangement continued throughout much of the 20th century, and at some point the exterior was covered in artificial siding. Despite these changes, the house remained as one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport, and in 1968 it became a contributing property in the Newport Historic District. Four years later, it was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that has been responsible for saving dozens of historic properties in the city. The Odlin-Otis House was restored in 1976-1977, and today it stands in far better condition than it was in when the first photo was taken nearly a century ago.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Wales Public Library, Wales, Mass

The Wales Public Library, at the corner of Main and Church Streets, around 1922-1925. Image courtesy of the Nevins Memorial Library.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Wales Public Library date back to 1897, when it began as a collection of books in the corner of a general store. The town had a population of a little over 700 at the time, with woolen mills employing many of its residents. However, these companies began to leave around the turn of the 20th century, and by 1910 the population had dropped by more than half, to just 345 residents in that year’s census. Throughout this time, the small public library continued to operate out of the general store, but around the early 1920s this house was donated to the town, in order to provide a more permanent home for the library.

The early history of this house seems difficult to trace. The state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings gives 1841 as the date of construction, while the library itself gives a date of 1825. Either way, it was apparently built by a Stephen Fisk, although maps from the mid-19th century show it as belonging to the Shaw family. By the second half of the century, the house was right in the midst of the town’s manufacturing center, and was directly adjacent to the woolen mill of the Shaw Manufacturing Company. Around 1875, the Wales Baptist Church relocated to this area, constructing a large church just up the hill from this house, which can be seen in the distance on the right side of the first photo.

At some point in the early 20th century, this house was acquired by the church, which, in turn, gave it to the town for use as a library. It opened in 1922, following a conversion that included changing the window configuration on the first floor. This helped to balance the building’s appearance, as it previously had one window on the left and two on the right, although the second floor windows were unchanged, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical front facade.

The first photo was taken soon after the library opened, and very little has changed in its appearance since then. The church in the distance is long gone, but this building remains in use as the Wales Public Library, with only minor exterior alterations. However, both the town’s population and the library’s collections have grown substantially in almost a century since the building opened, and today the library faces both overcrowding of its shelves and the structural deterioration of the building itself. Because of this, the library is in need of a new building, although to date there have been no definitive plans for relocating.