Kennedy Block, Springfield, Mass

The Kennedy Block, at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This large commercial block was built in 1874, and was owned by businessmen Warren H. Wilkinson and Emerson Wight. It was part of the commercial and industrial development that was occurring in downtown Springfield during the mid-19th century, spurred by the presence of the Boston & Albany Railroad just a few blocks to the north of here. Wilkinson and Wight had owned an earlier building on this site, but it burned down on January 6, 1874, and was replaced with this five-story, Italianate-style building. Wight went on to serve as mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878, and in 1879 he purchased Wilkinson’s interest in the building, becoming the sole owner of the property.

One of the building’s original tenants was the Morgan Envelope Company, which had been founded in 1872 by Springfield resident Elisha Morgan. A year later, Morgan Envelope produced the first postcards in the country, after securing a lucrative government contract. At the time, postcards were prepaid, pre-stamped cards that were issued directly by the post office, and Morgan Envelope was the lowest bidder out of 14 companies, submitting a bid of $1.39 7/8 per 1,000 postcards. The company moved into this building upon its completion in 1874, and remained here for the next decade, until moving into its own facility on Harrison Avenue in 1884.

Beginning in 1917, the ground floor of the building was the home of Kennedy’s, a men’s clothing store. The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s, with Art Deco-style signage above the storefront, and Kennedy’s remained here at this location until the early 1970s. Since then, many of the large 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Springfield have since been demolished, but the Kennedy Block is still standing with few significant changes to the exterior. The building is now part of the Silverbrick complex, with an interior that has been converted into apartments, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the neighboring Worthington Building on the right side of the scene.

Hampden Savings Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

The Hampden Savings Bank building at 1665 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The Hampden Savings Bank was established in 1852, and its headquarters was located in several different buildings in downtown Springfield during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1899 to 1918, it was in the Fort Block, at the corner of Main and Fort Streets, but in 1918 the bank moved into this new headquarters, located a block away on the other side of Main Street. The building was designed by local architect Max Westhoff, and featured a Classical Revival-style design that was popular for banks in the early 20th century.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the Hampden Savings Bank building, along with portions of the surrounding buildings. On the far left is the Chapin National Bank, which was built in 1917 and heavily altered on the Main Street side around the early or mid-1930s. On the right side is the Olmsted-Hixon-Albion Block, which extends all the way to the corner of Taylor Street. Originally built in the 1860s and 1870s as three separate buildings, the interiors of these commercial blocks were connected in 1927. However, the exteriors remained largely unchanged, giving the appearance of three different buildings, although only two of these sections are visible in this scene.

Hampden Savings Bank was located in this building until 1952, when a new headquarters was built a few blocks away on Harrison Avenue. The bank remained there until 2015, when it was acquired by Berkshire Bank, which continues to have a branch location in the Harrison Avenue building. In the meantime, this building on Main Street was later converted into law offices, although its exterior has hardly changed since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. It is now vacant, but there are currently plans to restore its interior and convert it into a recreational marijuana shop.

Chapin National Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The Chapin National Bank was established in 1872 by Chester W. Chapin, a railroad magnate, businessman, and future Congressman who was among the leading citizens of Springfield during the 19th century. The bank was located here, at the southeast corner of Main and Lyman Streets, but the original building was replaced in 1917 with the present-day structure. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Mowbray and Uffinger, which specialized in banks during the early 20th century, and it featured a Classical Revival design. Its appearance has been altered over the years, but it originally had four columns on the Main Street facade, matching the ones that still stand on the Lyman Street facade to the left.

The bank was gone by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. By this point, the Main Street facade had been reconstructed, although it seems unclear whether the columns were removed, or simply hidden by the new exterior wall. One of the tenants during this time was the Lorraine Spaghetti Palace, a restaurant that was located in the left storefront. In later years, the building became the Playtown Amusement Center, which opened in 1967. This arcade remained here until it closed in the 1990s, although the old sign is still visible on the left side of the building.

Today, the exterior of the building has not changed significantly since the first photo was taken. Despite the altered Main Street side of the building, it still stands as a good example of early 20th century bank architecture, and its Lyman Street facade remains well-preserved. It is one of a number of historic late 19th and early 20th century buildings along this section of Main Street, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

The town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, seen from the corner of High Street in May 1937. Image taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the old Brattleboro town hall was built in 1855, and over the years it was used for town offices and town meetings, but it also housed the library, police department, post office, and county clerk’s office, along with several different commercial tenants. The meeting hall was also used for concerts and other performances, and in 1895 the building was expanded with the addition of an auditorium that was originally known as the opera house. The building hosted a number of notable speakers throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Mark Twain.

During the early 20th century, movies began to eclipse live performances in popularity, and by the 1920s the opera house in the town hall was converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. The first photo, taken in 1937, shows the front entrance of the building, the the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. At the time, the Auditorium was the only movie theater in town, following the a March 15, 1937 fire that destroyed the Princess Theatre on Elliot Street. However, it would soon face new competition from new, modern theaters. Later in 1937, the building next door on the right side of the photo was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a little south of here on Main Street.

This new competition hurt the older Auditorium, which entered a steady decline in the following years. The building continued to be used as the town hall during this time, but in 1951 the town offices were moved to the old high school building, located just north of here on Main Street. The old town hall was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, parts of the exterior brick walls of the town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new one-story building. Part of the old wall can be seen on the right side of the building in the present-day photo, with light-colored bricks that contrast with the darker bricks of the front part of the building.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, in May 1937. Photo taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in May 1937 by Arthur Rothstein, a prominent photojournalist who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930s. Like the other photographers of this New Deal-era agency, Rothstein traveled around the country, documenting rural life during the Great Depression. In 1936 he visited Oklahoma, where he took one of the most iconic images of the Dust Bowl, and the following year he was in Vermont, where his images included this scene on Main Street in the downtown Brattleboro. The photo shows rows of cars parked along the street, with a mix of houses, businesses, and public buildings on the east side of the street.

Probably the oldest building in this scene is the Centre Congregational Church, with its prominent steeple in the middle of both photos. The church was originally built in 1816, and was located a little north of here on the town common. However, in 1842 the building was dismantled and reconstructed here on this site, with a design similar to the old building. The new church was dedicated in 1843, and included a steeple and a columned portico at the front of the building. This steeple was destroyed in high winds in 1864, though, and it was rebuilt with a new Italianate-style design that omitted the columns at the front entrance. In 1929, the steeple was damaged in a fire, but was repaired and has not seen any other significant changes since the first photo was taken.

The other notable building in the first photo is the town hall, which is on the right side of the scene. Built in 1855, this building saw a variety of uses, including as town offices, post office, library, and the police department, and it also housed commercial tenants over the years. In 1895, the building was renovated, and an 875-seat opera house was added to it. By the time the first photo was taken, the opera house had the less-glamorous name of Auditorium, and was used primarily as a movie theater, with the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery. However, the auditorium fell into decline as newer theaters opened on Main Street in the late 1930s, and in 1951 the town offices moved just up Main Street to the old high school, leaving this building vacant. It was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, portions of the exterior walls of the old town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new building.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed aside from the loss of the old town hall. The W. T. Grant building that replaced it is still there, although the old department store has long since given way to new retail tenants. The church is also still there, as is the three-story granite building on the far right, which was built around 1850 and was later converted into the Paramount Theatre soon after the first photo was taken. Today, these 19th century buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

158-160 Main Street, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The building at 158-160 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The early history of this building seems unclear, but it was likely among the oldest buildings on Main Street in Indian Orchard when the first photo was taken. The state’s MACRIS database estimates that it was built between 1855 and 1860, in the early years of Indian Orchard’s development. At the time, the majority of buildings on Main Street were small wood-frame structures, but over time these began to be replaced by larger brick buildings, as seen on both sides of these photos. However, this building managed to survive, with some alterations, until the late 20th century, despite being overshadowed on either side by taller neighbors.

By about 1880, this building was owned by Walter S. Colwell, a merchant who lived here and ran a meat market around the corner at 21 Oak Street, where the present-day post office now stands. He lived on the left side of this building, at 158 Main, along with his wife Eliza and their son Howard. The  right side of the building was the home of his uncle, Larned Colwell, who lived on the right side with his wife Melissa and their children, Harding and Minnie. Larned was Walter’s business partner, and they were, according to the 1882 city directory, “Dealers in all kinds of Fresh, Salt and Smoked Meats, Lard, Tripe, and Vegetables in their season.”

Larned Colwell died in 1889, and within a few years his widow Melissa had moved to Hampden Street. However, Walter would remain here for at least another decade, although by the 1899 city directory he had evidently left the meat business and was working as a bookkeeper for the Chapman Valve Company. He, Eliza, and Howard moved soon after, and by the 1900 census they were living a few blocks away in a house at 111 Berkshire Street. Within a few years, this property on Main Street was sold to clothing merchant Charles Bengle, who built a large commercial block at the corner of Oak Street, just to the left of this building. Then, in 1908, Octave A. LaRiviere built an even taller building just to the right, surrounding the old building on both sides.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, this building had seen a few alterations from its original appearance, including several storefronts and a cross-gable that faced Main Street. There are no legible signs in any of the storefronts to indicate what businesses were located here, but the building was used for both residential and commercial purposes for many years. It was still standing in 1984, when it was inventoried for the state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings, and a photo from this era showed two ground-floor tenants: de Sousa Real Estate and Notary Public on the left, and Casa de Portugal on the right. However, the building has subsequently been demolished, and today the site is a parking lot, flanked on either side by the other two buildings from the first photo.