Bijou Theater, Holyoke, Mass

The Bijou Theater on Main Street in Holyoke, in October 1941. Image taken by John Collier, Jr., courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Bijou Theater was one of several early 20th century theaters in Holyoke, and was built around 1913. Located on Main Street in the Flats neighborhood, it primarily catered to the city’s large population of factory workers, and it had one screen, with a seating capacity of nearly 1,300. The original caption of the first photo was “Theatre in workers’ section at Holyoke, Massachusetts”, and it was taken by John Collier, Jr., a prominent photographer and anthropologist. At the time, he was working with the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency that, among other projects, hired photographers to document life in America during the Great Depression.

The first photo shows the entrance to the theater, with a “candy shoppe” in the storefront on the left and a shoe shine business on the right. Both stores display the seemingly-ubiquitous Coca-Cola signs of the 1940s, and the theater marquee advertises for a double feature of The Devil and Miss Jones, starring Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn; and Thieves Fall Out, starring Eddie Albert, Joan Leslie, Jane Darwell, and Alan Hale, Sr. These films were both released in the spring of 1941, more than five months before the first photo was taken, suggesting that the Bijou was, at least by this point, a second-run theater. One sign under the marquee promises “Big Shows at Small Prices”, while another sign indicates that the theater offered “Entire New Show Every Sun. Tues. Fri.”

The first half of the 20th century was the heyday of downtown movie theaters, but in later years they were increasingly replaced by large multi-screen theaters in the suburbs, which offered greater options as well as ample parking. Here in Holyoke, the decline was only exacerbated by the loss of the city’s industrial base, which caused a significant drop in population. The Bijou appears to have closed sometime in the 1950s, and was subsequently demolished. Today, none of the surrounding buildings are standing either, and the site is now a gas station. Holyoke’s other historic downtown theaters suffered similar fates, and today only the long-abandoned Victory Theater is still standing.

William Soper House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1580 Poquonock Avenue in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1806 in the village of Poquonock, which is located in the northern part of Windsor, along the banks of the Farmington River. The house was originally owned by William Soper, who was about 36 years old when he moved here with his wife Rebecca and their young children. At the time, the Poquonock church was in the midst of a schism, with a majority of the members favoring Universalism over traditional Christian doctrine, and the church was steadily losing members by the early 19th century. The church appears to have been completely defunct by 1821, but for the next several decades some Poquonock residents held occasional religious meetings, with historian Henry Reed Stiles noting, in The History and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut, that the Soper family sometimes held such meetings.

Aside from these meetings, the village of Poquonock went several decades without a regular church. In his book, Stiles noted that the village was, in the first half of the 19th century, in the midst of “a moral and religious lethargy which had so deteriorated the character of this beautiful portion of Windsor that it was familiarly spoken of in the surrounding country as Sodom.” However, in the 1830s William Soper became one of the leaders in an effort to start a new church congregation. From 1835 to 1841, an assortment of visiting pastors preached at the village’s public hall, with Soper serving as part of a three-man committee that was responsible for finding suitable clergymen, and in 1841 the church was formally established, with John R. Adams ordained as the first minister.

William Soper lived here until his death in 1844, and in his will he left the house to his wife Rebecca, with their son Chester to inherit it after her death. However, Rebecca ended up outliving Chester, and after her death in 1855 the property was divided between their two surviving sons, Ira and Merritt. After Ira’s death in 1861, Merritt acquired the property, and during the 1870 census he was 70 years old and was living here with his wife Maria and their daughter Mary. Maria died in 1874, though, and Merritt died five years later, after falling and dislocating his neck.

During the first half of the 20th century, this house was owned by John B. Parker, a tobacco farmer who had also represented Windsor in the state legislature in 1903. He died in 1930, but his wife Estella was still living here later in the decade, around the time that the first photo was taken. During the 1940 census, she was 82 years old and lived here alone, although she did rent a portion of the house to a young couple, Carroll and Muriel Perry, who paid Estella $10 in monthly rent. Estella died five years later, and at some point afterward the house was expanded with an addition on the right side. However, this scene remains otherwise unchanged, and the house still stands here in the center of the village of Poquonock, more than 200 years after it was built by William Soper.

Joel Palmer House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 280 Pigeon Hill Road in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1766 by Joel Palmer, who moved in here a few years after his marriage to Anna Hayden. Joel was a veteran of the French and Indian War, serving in the 1st Windsor Company in 1755, during the early years of the war. He subsequently married Anna in 1761, and they had ten children who grew up here: Ann, Naomi, Lattimer, Joel, Harvey, Martin, Rubah, Hezekiah, Horace, and Zulma.

Joel died in 1812, and Anna died around 1825, but this house would remain in their family for many more years. By the second half of the 19th century, the property was owned by Martin’s son, who was also named Joel Palmer. This younger Joel was a farmer, and during the 1850 census he was 45 years old and was living here with his mother Nancy, his wife Emily, and their five children: Charles, James, Osbert, Martin, and Maria. However, Emily died later in 1850, and Joel eventually remarried in 1873, to Elizabeth Goodwin.

Census records from the second half of the 19th century give an insight into the crops that Joel Palmer produced here on his farm. In 1870, he had 35 acres of improved land, plus 12 acres of woodland and 12 acres of other unimproved land, for a total value of $5,000. Like almost every farmer in Windsor at the time, he grew tobacco, and his other crops included corn, oats, and buckwheat. A decade later, these were still major crops for him, but the 1880 census also noted that his farm produced 100 bushels of potatoes, 50 bushels of apples, and 10 cords of wood.

The first photo was taken around the late 1930s, as part of the WPA Architectural Survey of historic houses in Connecticut. By this point, the house was no longer in the Palmer family, and the survey documentation listed it as being in poor condition, with an interior that had been completely changed from its 18th century appearance. The yard surrounding the house also seems to have been poorly-maintained, with what appears to be overgrown bushes and weeds in front and to the left of the house.

Despite its condition, the house stood here for many more years, and at some point underwent exterior renovations, including replacing the clapboards with wooden shingles and adding a new front door. However, by the early 2000s the house was abandoned and was again in poor condition. At this point, the surrounding neighborhood had also changed significantly, and open farmland had become housing subdivisions and suburban office parks, with Interstate 91 running less than a quarter mile to the east of here. The house was finally demolished around 2012 or 2013, and today the lot remains vacant except for a barn in the back corner of the property.

John Hillier House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 140 East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

According to local tradition, this house was built around 1650 by John Hillier, one of the original settlers in Windsor. If accurate, this would make this house the second-oldest in the town, and among the oldest surviving houses in the entire country. However, if so, it must have undergone some significant alterations, both on the interior and exterior, because its appearance does not bear any resemblance to typical 17th century New England architecture.

This house is certainly very old, though, dating back to at least the early 1800s, when it was owned by the Hatheway family. The documentation for the first photo, done between 1935 and 1942, notes that the house had been in the family for over 100 years at that point, although it seems unclear as to which members of the family owned the house in the first half of the 1800s.

By 1869, the county atlas showed that Duane Hatheway owned both this house and a neighboring one, with real estate that was valued at $4,000 in the 1870 census. Duane had been married twice before, but his first two wives, Lucinda Barrett and Julia Huntley, both died only a few years after their marriages. He and Julia had two children, Freddie and Cora, although Freddie died in 1863 when he was just 10 days old.

Duane married his third wife, Laura Tooker, in 1866. He was 45 years old at the time, and she was about 25, and they had six children together: Clinton, Adin, Louie, Emory, Annie and Grace. However, despite being widowed twice and losing a young child, Duane faced even more tragedy in his life in 1877, when Clinton, Louie, and Annie died within a week of each other, presumably from an infectious disease that struck the family.

Although Duane was 20 years older than her, he would eventually outlive Laura, who died in 1905. He died the following year, at the age of 84, and his son Adin inherited the property. Adin Hatheway was a blacksmith, and had a shop nearby at the present-day corner of East Street and Clubhouse Drive. He later worked for General Electric, and he lived here in this house with his brother Emory, Emory’s wife Alice, and their daughters, Edna and Ruth. In early 20th century census records, Emory was variously listed as a machinist in a tool factory and as a farmer, but he was also a noted taxidermist and collector of Indian artifacts.

Adin and Emory were still living in this house when the first photo was taken, and they would remain here for the rest of their lives. They both died in February, 1962, when Adin was 92 and Emory was 88. Since then, the clapboards on the exterior of the house have been replaced with modern siding, but otherwise its appearance has not significantly changed in the past 80 years.

William Phelps, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 124 East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

According to local tradition, this house was built in 1670 for William Phelps, Jr., the son of one of Windsor’s founders. As a boy, the younger William had immigrated to the American colonies in 1630 along with his father, settling first in Dorchester, Massachusetts, before moving to Windsor. The elder William built a house here on East Street along the banks of the Farmington River, and, according to some accounts, William, Jr. later built this house nearby.

If accurate, the 1670 date would make this house among the oldest homes not just in Windsor, but in all of Connecticut as well. However, there seems to be significant doubt as to the accuracy of this date. The saltbox-style design of the house did not become common until the first half of the 18th century, long after William Phelps’s death, and there is little in the home’s exterior appearance to suggest that it is from the 17th century. The documentation that accompanied the first photo, done as part of the WPA Architectural Survey of historic homes in Connecticut, indicates that the house was probably built after 1700, and it identifies the first owner as William Griswold, while also stating that it was known as the Mather House.

The subsequent history of this house seems equally uncertain. The 1798 map of the town shows two houses on this section of East Street, which were owned by Daniel and Roger Phelps, and the 1855 county map also shows members of the Phelps family living here. However, in the absence of street numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint which present-day house was owned by which person. By 1869, though, the house was owned by Hiram Buckland, a farmer who also owned a neighboring house to the right. The other house, which has since been demolished, seems to have been the larger of the two, and was probably Buckland’s actual residence.

After Buckland’s death in 1887, the property was purchased by H. Sidney Hayden, a prominent landowner and philanthropist. He, in turn, sold the property to the town of Windsor for a nominal fee, to establish a poor farm for the town’s indigent residents. This house, while located on the property, does not appear to have been part of the poor farm, although it was owned by the town for many years, and rented out to a number of different tenants. During the 1920 census, for example, it was rented by Peter J. Reittinger, a clerk for General Electric. At the time, he was 40 years old and was living here with his wife Mary, their three children, and a young nephew.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Elmer J. Norman, who paid the town $18 per month in rent, and was living here with his wife Rose and their four daughters. Several decades earlier, Elmer had served in World War I, and after the war he began working for the Windsor Highway Department. He went on to work for the town until his retirement in 1959, but he lived here in this house until his death in 1980. During this time, he was also responsible for the flags at the adjacent Veterans Memorial Cemetery, which was established on the former site of the poor farm.

In 1961, this house was the subject of a proposal to dismantle it and rebuilt it on Palisado Avenue, next to the historic Flyer House. Around the same time, the other house on the former poor farm property was demolished, in order to expand the veterans’ cemetery. However, this house was never moved, and it survives with few changes from the first photo, aside from more historically-appropriate windows. After more than a century of town ownership, the house was finally sold in 2006, and it is now a privately-owned residence once again. It is probably not as old as the traditional 1670 date, but it is undoubtedly still very old, most likely dating back to the early 18th century, and it stands as one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Windsor.

Loomis Homestead, Windsor, Connecticut

The Loomis Homestead, on the present-day campus of the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, probably taken around the turn of the 20th century. Image from Descendants of Joseph Loomis in America (1908).

The house around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

Built sometime between 1640 and 1652, this house is the oldest in Windsor, dating back to the first few years of the town’s settlement, and it is also among the oldest existing buildings in the country. The house was significantly expanded later in the 17th century, but the oldest section – the ell on the right side – was built by Joseph Loomis, one of Windsor’s original settlers and the patriarch of the Loomis family in America. Loomis was originally a woolen Draper in Braintree England, but in 1638 he emigrated to the American colonies, along with his wife Mary and their eight children.

After a three-month voyage aboard the Susan and Ellen, the Loomis family arrived in Boston, and they lived nearby in Dorchester for the next year. However, in 1639 they joined a number of other Massachusetts colonists and relocated to the Connecticut River Valley. The following year, Joseph was granted 21 acres of land here in Windsor, located along the south side of the Farmington River, just to the west of its confluence with the Connecticut River. He built this house soon after, on a section of raised land that was known as “The Island,” because the surrounding meadows would often flood during spring freshets, effectively making the property an island.

Mary Loomis died in 1652, and Joseph in 1658, and their son John inherited the property. He had been about 16 years old when he and his family left England, and he lived here in Windsor until 1652, when he moved to Farmington. However, he moved back to Windsor in 1660, where he became a distinguished town citizen. He served as a deacon in the church, and he also represented the town in the Connecticut General Court from 1666-1667 and 1675-1687. John and his wife Elizabeth had eleven sons and two daughters, although only eight of their children would live to adulthood. Their only surviving daughter, Elizabeth, married Peter Brown, and they had a son, John Brown, who would become the great-grandfather of the prominent abolitionist of the same name.

According to the sign on the house, as well as other historical records, John Loomis built the main part of the house in 1688. He died the same year, but this addition was probably built for his son Timothy, who inherited the house and married his wife Rebecca the following year. They raised seven children here, and the youngest, Odiah, inherited the house. Odiah lived to be 88 years old, and after his death in 1794 he left the house to his son Ozias, who died two years later.

Ozias Loomis’s son, Odiah, was 12 years old when his father died, and he subsequently inherited the property, becoming the sixth consecutive generation to own this house. He and his wife, Harriet Allyn, had seven children, and, like his great-great grandfather Timothy Loomis, he represented Windsor in the state legislature, serving in 1818. However, he died in 1831 at the age of 48, and his youngest child, Thomas, inherited the house. Like his father, Thomas would also go on to be elected to the state legislature, serving in the lower house in 1857 and 1862, and in the state senate in 1874.

Census records from the late 19th century show Thomas Loomis as a prosperous farmer, with $20,000 in real estate in 1880. This included over 200 acres, although most of this was listed as unimproved woodland. He had 58 acres of meadows and orchards, and only two acres of tilled land, but in the year prior to the 1880 census his farm had produced 100 tons of hay, 624 pounds of butter, 800 dozen eggs, 80 bushels of potatoes, and 25 bushels of apples.

Thomas and his wife, Mary Jane Cooke, had two children, Allen and Jennie, although Allen died in 1884 at the age of 23. As a result, Jennie inherited the family homestead after her father’s death in 1895, becoming the eighth generation to own the house. However, Jennie was unmarried and had no surviving siblings, so in 1901 she transferred the house to the Loomis Institute, a private school that had been established in 1874 by five siblings from a different line of the Loomis family. The school itself would not open until 1914, but it was to be located here on “The Island,” where Joseph Loomis had originally settled in the 1640s.

The campus Loomis Institute, which later became the Loomis Chaffee School, was built just to the south of this house. Under the conditions of Jennie Loomis’s transfer of the house, she and her mother were allowed to live here for the rest of their lives. Mary Jane died in 1920, but Jennie was still living here when the second photo was taken around the late 1930s. She was actively involved with the school, serving as secretary of the Board of Trustees, and she lived here in this house until her death in 1944, about three centuries after Joseph Loomis had built the house.

The main section of the house underwent renovation in 1940, which included restoring the interior wood paneling to its original appearance. About a decade later, the older section was restored on both the interior and exterior, with the most noticeable change being the removal of the porch on the right side of the house. Otherwise, the exterior of the house has not significantly changed, and it remains a well-preserved example of 17th century saltbox-style architecture. It is still owned by the Loomis Chaffee School, and it stands as the oldest wood frame house in Connecticut, and the state’s second-oldest surviving building, after a stone 1639 house in Guilford.