Herbert Stearns House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 92 Magnolia Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1902, as one of the many upscale homes constructed in Springfield at the turn of the 20th century, in order to meet the needs of the city’s growing population of upper middle class residents. Situated on Magnolia Terrace, one of the most desirable streets in the Forest Park neighborhood, this house was originally the home of insurance agent Herbert Stearns and his newlywed wife Mary. Originally from Connecticut, Herbert came to Springfield with his older brother Edwin, and the two started Stearns Brothers, an insurance agency with offices in the Fuller Building, at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets. Early in their business they represented Travelers Insurance, but they were later affiliated with Aetna and several other insurance companies.

Herbert and Mary Stearns lived here until about 1918, but by 1919 the house was owned by Forest L. Mather, who lived here with his wife Caroline and their three children. Mather was an executive for the American Brush Manufacturing Company, which was located on Main Street in downtown Springfield, and he and his family lived here until the late 1920s, when they moved to Manchester, New Hampshire. The house was vacant for several years afterwards, but by the early 1930s it was the home of James L. Durfee, a dairy equipment salesman. However, by about 1936 it was the home of Horace Quimby, a manager at Massachusetts Mutual who lived here with his wife Mary.

The Quimby family was living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and they remained here until about 1956 when they sold the house. By this point, Quimby was still working for Massachusetts Mutual, with the city directory listing him as assistant agency secretary. Since then, very little has changed with his former house, and it remains a well-preserved example of Colonial Revival architecture. Even the exterior materials – with clapboards on the first floor and shingles on the upper floors – are still the same, although the current paint scheme does not make this difference very noticeable. Today, like the other surrounding houses, it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

James P. Caldwell House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 102 Magnolia Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Colonial Revival-style home was built in 1903, and was one of the many upscale houses developed in the Forest Park neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century. It was originally owned by James P. Caldwell, a conductor for the Boston & Maine Railroad, who was about 47 at the time and lived here with his wife Edna and their three children: Edgar, Edna, and Eugene. The family was still living here during the 1910 census, and by this point Edgar was working as a bookkeeper for a paper company, while his twin sister Edna was a stenographer for the United Electric Light Company.

Around 1913, the Caldwell family moved out of this house, which was sold to George G. Bulkley, the assistant secretary of the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Originally from Connecticut, Bulkley moved to Springfield in 1912 after taking the position with Springfield Fire and Marine, and he and his wife Caroline moved into this house with their five children: George, Charles, Chester, James, and Caroline. In the years that followed, Bulkley steadily moved up the ranks of the insurance company, becoming vice president in 1917 and president in 1924. Along with this, he was also a director in a number of local corporations, including the Holyoke Water Power Company, the Springfield Street Railway, and the Third National Bank.

Their daughter Caroline died in 1921, when she was just eight years old, but their four sons all lived to adulthood. The three oldest followed their father into the insurance business while their youngest, James, became an attorney. By the 1930 census, only James was still living here with his parents, and a few years later they moved to a house nearby at 432 Longhill Street, on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River. During this time, George Bulkley continued to serve as president of Springfield Fire and Marine, and he would hold this position for a total of sixteen years before his death in 1940, at the age of 69.

In the meantime, this house on Magnolia Terrace remained in the Bulkley family even after George and Caroline moved out. When the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, their son Chester was renting the house, paying $50 a month and living here with his wife Helen and their daughters Janet and Ann. The house would stay in the family until 1949, and it has remained well-preserved since then. The only significant difference today is the front porch, which was enclosed in the first photo. However, this was almost certainly not original to the house, and today its appearance, with the open front porch, is probably closer to its 1903 design than it was when the first photo was taken.

Main & Hampden Streets, Springfield, Mass

The northwestern corner of Main and Hampden Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

According to city records, the present-day building at this site dates back to 1909, which, if accurate, means that it is the same building in both photos. This is entirely possible, especially since both the size of the building and its window arrangement are very similar to the one in the first photo, but at the very least it has undergone dramatic changes over the years. When the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the ground floor was occupied by Whelan Drugs, along with a bake shop on the right side, while the upper floor tenants included professional offices such as City Optitians and City Dentists.

Assuming the present-day building is the same one from the first photo, it has had significant renovations that have entirely obscured its original appearance, including very different exterior materials. In particular, the first floor has been heavily altered, and now has a recessed entrance in place of the old storefront. The right side of the building has been incorporated into newer construction, and today the only recognizable feature from the scene in the first photo is the Paramount Theater, which is partially visible in the distant right of both photos.

Patton and Loomis Block, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Hampden Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the mid-19th century, Springfield’s commercial development was largely confined to the area around Court Square, extending only a few blocks to the north and south along Main Street. The opening of the Western Railroad in 1839, with its depot a half mile north of Court Square, did attract some businesses and industries to the northern part of downtown, but it would not be until the 1860s that Main Street began to take on its current form. As devastating as the Civil War was to the country at large, it brought significant growth to the city, thanks in large part to an influx of workers at the Armory, Smith & Wesson, and other war-related industries. The population boom also resulted in increased development along Main Street, as vacant lots and old houses were replaced with modern commercial blocks.

This particular site, at the southwest corner of Main and Hampden Streets, was purchased by William Patton in 1857. Originally from Warehouse Point in East Windsor, Connecticut, Patton started his career as the archetypal Yankee peddler, selling notions – small household articles like buttons, mirrors, scissors, hardware, and assorted novelties – from a cart, traveling throughout New England in the process. In 1848, he opened a store here in Springfield, but he also employed peddlers who continued selling his goods throughout the region. This proved profitable, and Patton also invested in real estate, including this property on Main Street. In 1864, he built this four-story commercial block and moved his store into the ground floor. He had his offices on the second floor, and he also rented part of the building to other tenants.

William Patton ran his store in this building until 1875, when he retired from the business and focused his attention on his real estate holdings. These included several downtown commercial properties as well as an entire street – named Patton Street – in the North End, and by his death in 1898 William Patton was one of the richest men in the city. His son, William, Jr., succeeded him in the real estate business, but in the early 1900s this property was sold to another developer, Frank L. Dunlap. In 1909, Dunlap modernized the building’s appearance, spending $15,000 to replace the old 1864 facade with one that conformed to early 20th century architectural tastes. This new facade extended for a short distance along the Hampden Street side of the building, but the rest of this side was left unaltered, providing an interesting contrast betwee the two architectural styles.

By the time the first photo was taken, the building’s ground floor tenants included Albert Furniture on the left, P & Q Clothes in the center-right, and Sarnoff-Irving Hats on the corner. In the 1950s, a modern glass and aluminum storefront was added to the building, although this was later removed and the first floor was restored to its early 19th century appearance. Today, the Patton and Loomis Block remains well-preserved as one of the many historic commercial buildings that still line this section of Main Street, and in 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Block, Springfield, Mass

The northwest corner of Main and Fort Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The name of this building, the Fort Block, comes from its location on the site of a brick, colonial-era house that had served as a fort during the 1675 Indian raid on Springfield. Built around 1660, the house was probably the only brick building in 17th century Springfield, and this rare luxury reflected the wealth and social prominence of its owner, John Pynchon. He was the son of William Pynchon, who had been the principal founder of Springfield and had built a lucrative trading business here on the colonial frontier. However, William caused controversy with the 1650 publication of his book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which was declared heretical by Puritan leaders in Boston. As a result, William Pynchon returned to England in 1652, and John succeeded him as both a merchant and as a leader of colonial Springfield.

In 1675, during King Philip’s War, a group of Indians attacked Springfield, killing four residents while burning 25 houses and 35 barns. John Pynchon also lost a corn mill and a sawmill, but his fortified house survived the attack, with its two-foot-thick brick walls providing shelter for many of the town’s residents. In subsequent years, the house became a Springfield landmark, with its role in the Indian raid becoming a part of local lore. It would remain in the family for more than 150 years, and the final owner was William Pynchon (1776-1847), the great-great-great grandson of John Pynchon. The house was one of several early colonial buildings in Springfield that survived into the 19th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1831.

Following the demolition, the property remained in the Pynchon family for several more decades, and it was finally sold in the late 1850s to the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Established in 1849, it was the first insurance company in Springfield, although it lacked permanent offices until 1858, when this commercial block was built on the site of the old Pynchon house. Originally, the building had an Italianate design that was similar to many other commercial buildings of this era and this style can still be seen on the left side along Fort Street. However, the Main Street facade was altered before the first photo was taken, and bears little resemblance to its mid-19th century appearance.

Along with the insurance company, this building also housed the John Hancock Bank, which leased the ground-floor storefront on the right side of the building. Both businesses would remain here for many years, and in 1886 the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company expanded the building along Fort Street in order to accommodate the growing company. However, in 1905 the company built a new headquarters at the corner of State and Maple Streets, and this building was subsequently sold. Early 20th century tenants included Hampden Savings Bank, which was located here from 1899 to 1918; the Bay Path Institute, which moved out in 1922 and later became Bay Path University; and the Springfield Union, whose offices were located here from 1909 until the newspaper was acquired by the Springfield Republican in 1926.

The two other buildings in this scene, on the right side of both photos, are nearly as old as the Fort Block. They were both built in 1864, although, like the Fort Block, they were heavily altered in the early 20th century. The Patton and Loomis Block on the far right, at the corner of Hampden Street, had its facade rebuilt in 1909, and the Loomis Block in between was similarly renovated in 1912, with a new yellow brick facade and a fifth floor. The owners of the Fort Block did likewise about a decade later, adding a new facade on the Main Street side in order to modernize the appearance of the building. However, the older Italianate-style appearance was retained on the Fort Street side, and can be seen on the left side of both photos.

By the time the first photo was taken about 80 years ago, these three buildings had assumed their present-day appearance, and very little has changed in this view since then. All of the Main Street businesses are long gone, including Roxy Clothes, Regal Shoes, and Bowles Lunch, but the Fort Block is still the home of the Student Prince, one of Springfield’s oldest restaurants. Established in 1935 on the Fort Street side of the building, this German restaurant was only a few years old when the first photo was taken, although it is not visible in the first photo. Since then, it has expanded to include much of the ground floor of the Fort Block, and it remains in business as a popular restaurant in downtown Springfield.

Whitney Building, Springfield, Mass

The building at the southwest corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The skylines of American cities underwent dramatic changes at the end of the 19th century, thanks in large part to new developments in engineering and construction. Prior to this time, the height of commercial buildings was limited by a variety of practical factors, not least of which was the difficulty in supporting upper floors. Load-bearing masonry walls worked well for low-rise buildings, but taller buildings required increasingly thick exterior walls, sacrificing valuable ground-floor retail space in order to build higher. Such buildings could reach impressive heights, such as Chicago’s 17-story Monadnock Building, which was completed in 1894, but here in Springfield most masonry buildings did not exceed four or five stories.

By the late 19th century, though, inexpensive steel helped to revolutionize the way buildings were constructed. With steel frames, buildings were no longer limited to the capacity of load-bearing masonry, enabling the rise of modern skyscrapers. The first of these, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was completed in 1885, and it did not take long for the trend of steel-frame skyscrapers to reach Springfield. This location at Main and Worthington Streets has previously been the site of a brick, two-story commercial block that burned in 1893. Its owner, Andrew Whitney, soon set out on an ambitious project to replace it by building a six-story steel building that would become the first steel-framed building in Springfield and among the first in New England.

Construction on the building in 1894, although it would not ultimately be completed for another three years. Historian George C. Kingston, in his book William Van Alen, Fred T. Ley and the Chrysler Building, attributes this delay to a combination of factors, including the new style of construction, concerns from city officials, and the fact that Whitney, a real estate developer from Fitchburg, designed the building himself, instead of hiring a professional architect. As a result, the building did not conform to architectural trends of the era, instead featuring a relatively plain exterior without the classically-inspired ornamentation that was common at the time. However, despite local fears that the walls were too thin to support the six-story building, it was completed in 1897 and would stand here for more than 75 years.

A 1913 building directory shows a wide variety of tenants here. On the ground floor, the Main Street facade had two storefronts, with Miner & Co. cigars, magazines, soda, and confectionery in one, and W. L. Douglas shoe company in the other. There were another seven stores on the Worthington Street side, including a barber shop, a jewelry store, and a haberdasher. Above these shops, the upper five floors housed offices, which were served by two elevators – another late 19th century development that helped make skyscrapers a practical reality. These offices included attorneys, dentists, physicians, realtors, and other professionals, for a total of 50 individuals and corporations that had offices here in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, first-floor tenants included jeweler P. B. Richardson on the left side, Clear-Weave Hoisery Stores in the center, and the Stearns Curtain Shop in the storefront on the corner. The building would stand here for several more decades, but it was severely damaged by a fire in December 1974, and was demolished the following year. Several years later, the entire block along Main Street between Bridge and Worthington Streets was redeveloped, and a new federal building was constructed here in 1981. The government sold the property in 2009, following the completion of the new federal courthouse on State Street, but the old building underwent a significant renovation and is now used for offices.