Main Street Pedestrians, Brattleboro, Vermont

Pedestrians on the sidewalk of Main Street, near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, in August 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in August 1941 by Jack Delano, a prominent photographer who was, at the time, working for the Farm Security Administration. Among the projects of this New Deal-era agency was hiring photographers to document living conditions in rural America in the wake of the Great Depression, and Delano traveled throughout Vermont during the summer of 1941. He took a number of photographs in downtown Brattleboro, showing everyday life in the small town on the eve of World War II. These two young people were the subjects of several of his photographs, and his original caption reads “On the main street of Brattleboro, Vermont, during the tourist season.”

The first photo does not show much of the surrounding streetscape, but several historic buildings are visible across the street. To the left of the lamppost is the stone building at 109-113 Main Street, which was built around 1850 and features an exterior facade that contrasts with the more conventional brick of the surrounding buildings. On the right side of the photo is the Union Block, which was built around 1861 and was evidently named in recognition of the patriotic sentiment at the start of the Civil War. Both of these stores housed discount department stores when the first photo was taken, with F. W. Woolworth on the left and M. H. Fishman on the right.

More than 75 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed. Most of the historic commercial blocks on Main Street are still standing, including the two in this scene, and even the present-day fire hydrant is still in the same location as the one in the first photo. The only noticeable difference – aside from the modern cars – is the change in the businesses occupying the storefronts. The era of downtown department stores is long gone, and both Woolworth and Fishman have since gone out of business. However, unlike many other downtowns, Brattleboro has managed to retain a thriving Main Street, and the storefronts here now house an eclectic mix of different businesses.

High Street from Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking west up High Street, from the corner of Main Street in Brattleboro, in August 1941. Image taken by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in August 1941 by Jack Delano, a noted photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration. This Depression-era agency was part of the New Deal, and its programs included photographers who traveled around the country, documenting rural poverty in the wake of the Great Depression. Delano visited Vermont in 1941, and he took a number of photographs here in Brattleboro, capturing images of everyday life in the town, including this scene of a police officer directing traffic at the corner of Main and High Streets.

More than 75 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. On the far left is the Brooks House, a hotel that was built in 1871 and converted into apartments and offices a century later. Next to it is the small, wood-frame Retting Block, which was built around 1850 and is probably the oldest building in this scene. Just beyond it is the much larger Manley Brothers Block, which was built around 1910, and on the other side of the street is the Manley Apartment Building, which was built about eight years later. Probably the newest building in the first photo was the Gulf station on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. It was later replaced by a Dunkin Donuts, which was, in turn, demolished to create Pliny Park, which now occupies the space.

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.