Benjamin Hawkes House, Salem, Mass

The house at 4 Custom House Court, just off Derby Street in Salem, on June 27, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was originally intended as the home of Elias Hasket Derby, a prominent merchant who was among the wealthiest men in the country during the late 18th century. He had previously lived in the brick house on the right side of the photo, which his father Richard Derby had built for him in the early 1760s, but he had moved out of the house by the late 1770s. In 1780, he began construction on this large, wood-frame house, hiring noted Salem architect Samuel McIntire to design it.

However, the house was only partially completed by 1782, when Derby changed his plans and purchased the former home of merchant Benjamin Pickman on Washington Street. Derby hired Mcintire again, this time to make alterations to the Pickman House, and this half-finished house sat vacant for nearly two decades. In 1800, a year after Derby’s death, local pastor and diarist William Bentley described the house in his September 23 diary entry, noting that,

On this Land in 1780 Mr. Derby raised a Great House which he never finished. The third story was as high as the first & higher than the second. The pediment was lost in the roof & the Cupola which was finished was without any good effect. The back part was finished but the front only covered with boards & was very rotten. It was sold this day to the Carpenters for 600 Dollars. A more uncomely mass was never piled up for a building. The Lot under it sold for above 2,000 D. It has now stood 20 years as a monument of folly.

The “monument of folly” was ultimately sold to shipbuilder Benjamin Hawkes in 1801, who had the house completed later that year. The original design was altered somewhat, including the removal of the cupola that Reverend Bentley had described, and the interior of the massive house was converted into a two-family home. It seems unclear exactly how much of McIntire’s original design was retained for the completed house, and whether the architect was involved in its completion, but either way the house became a good example of the Federal style that was common in Salem around the turn of the 19th century.

The house is located directly across the street from Derby Wharf, the longest wharf in the city. Because of this, it was right at the center of Salem’s busy port, where fleets of early 19th century sailing vessels arrived with valuable cargoes from around the world. Benjamin Hawkes’s shipyard was just a short walk from his house, at the site of present-day Kosciusko Street, and in 1819 the Salem Custom House was built directly adjacent to the house, just out of view on the left side of this scene.

Benjamin Hawkes lived here during the peak of Salem’s prosperity as a seaport, but by the middle of the 19th century the city’s shipping industry was in decline. However, many of the elegant mansions from this golden age are still standing today, including the Benjamin Hawkes House. After years of being used as a duplex, it was acquired by the National Park Service in the late 1930s, becoming part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Established in 1938, this was the first National Historic Site in the country, and the first photo shows the house as it appeared just two years later. Very little has changed in this scene since then, and the house is now used as administrative offices for the park.

Clifford Crowninshield House, Salem, Mass

The house at 74 Washington Square East, at the corner of Forrester Street in Salem, on May 12, 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built between 1804 and 1806 for Clifford Crowninshield, a merchant who was a member of one of Salem’s most prominent families. It was the work of noted Salem architect Salem McIntire, and featured a Federal-style design that was typical for mansions of this period, including a symmetrical front facade, three stories, and a hip roof that was originally topped by a balustrade. Crowninshield had the house built around the same time as his marriage to Elizabeth Fisher, the daughter of Nathaniel Fisher, who was the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. There was a considerable age difference between the two, with Clifford about 44 years old and Elizabeth only about 20 at the time of their marriage in 1805.

Ultimately, though, neither of them lived in this house for very long. Elizabeth died in March 1806, less than a year after their marriage and possibly before the house was even completed, and Clifford died three years later in 1809. However, their short marriage did manage to cause significant controversy within the Crowninshield family, and not necessarily because of their age difference. Writing in his diary on the day after Clifford’s death, local pastor William Bentley explained the circumstances surrounding their marriage:

In this wealth & unmarried he [Crowninshield] attracted the notice of N. Fisher . . . & was persuaded to marry his only daughter, who soon deceased after marriage. This alliance was displeasing to his 6 sisters who had no advantages from education, & many of them scanty means, & an open alienation from their Brother ensued with continued three years till within a few months of his death.

Fisher had evidently hoped that Crowninshield’s estrangement from his sisters would give him access to the family fortune, but Bentley went on to explain that, after he and his sisters reconciled shortly before his death,

This reconcilliation excluded the Rector & disappointed his hopes who had removed into one of the houses of his Son in Law & had indulged great expectations. In the last hours all intercourse ceased & the Rector has been left to lament his numerous indiscretions & ill placed confidence, in the serious evils of his affairs.

In the end, Crowninshield’s mansion was inherited by his sister Sarah and her husband James Devereux. He was, like so many of Salem’s other upper class men of the era, a ship captain and merchant. In 1799, his ship, the Franklin, became the first American ship to sail to Japan, and he subsequently developed a lucrative trading business with Europe, Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and South America. His company specialized in commodities such as coffee, pepper, and sugar, and included one 1808 voyage from which the Franklin returned with a cargo of over half a million pounds of coffee.

Sarah Devereux died in 1815, only a few years after inheriting the house from her brother, but James lived here until his death in 1846. His daughter, Abigail, then inherited the property, and lived here with her husband, William Dean Waters. They were both in their 40s at the time, and had six children, four of whom were at the house by 1850. That year’s census shows their sons William, James, Edward, and Clifford, whose ages ranged from 20 to nine, and they also lived here with Abigail’s sister Elizabeth and a servant.

Abigail died in 1879, followed by her husband a year later, and the house was then inherited by their son, William Crowninshield Waters. He sold the property in 1892, ending almost 90 years of ownership by the same family, and it was purchased by Zina Goodell, who was a machinist and blacksmith. Goodell made some alterations to the house, including moving it closer to Forrester Street. This made room for a second house on the lot, which was built just to the right of the house, at 72 Washington Square East.

Goodell lived here until his death in 1920, but the house would remain in his family for many years. His daughter Mary and her husband, George Patterson, were living here when the first photo was taken in 1941, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. Today, more than 75 years later, the house has since been converted into condominiums, but the exterior has not seen any substantial changes from this angle, aside from the loss of the balustrade atop the roof. It is now a contributing property in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

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.