John Hancock Memorial, Boston

John Hancock’s grave in the Granary Burying Ground, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same site in 2009:

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Although John Hancock died in 1793, his grave wasn’t memorialized until 1896, about 2 years before the first photo, when the monument was dedicated.  The graveyard itself remains much the same as it was in 1898, down to the fence between it and the surrounding buildings, but the buildings themselves are very different from the ones at the end of the 19th century.

Back Bay, Boston

The view of the Back Bay, from the top of the State House, in 1857. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The same view from the same spot, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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This post is a bit unusual, since I don’t have a modern-day view of the scene, but I thought that the differences between these two photos, taken only about 50 years apart, was particularly compelling, and illustrates just how much of Boston is built on reclaimed land.  If I did have a present-day photo, it would show the John Hancock Building, the Prudential Tower, Hynes Convention Center, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston.  Yet, less than 160 years ago it was just a heavily polluted mud flat.

To help identify a few prominent locations in the swamps of 1857, the row of trees at the end of the water is present-day Arlington Street, and the road built across the water is Beacon Street, originally built in 1814 as a dam and toll road.  The dam was intended to use the power of the outgoing tides for factories in the area, but it had the unintended consequence of preventing the mud flats from being washed out twice daily by the tides, leading to a shallow basin filled with sewage, garbage, and other pollution. Another dam connected Beacon Street to the point of land in the distance on the left.  The left-hand side of the dam ended at the present-day intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.  In the extreme distance of the 1857 photo, Beacon Street reaches the mainland at present-day Kenmore Square.

Most of the Back Bay up was filled in only a short time after this photo was taken, and completely filled in by 1882.  The Fenway section (so-called because of the swamps, or “fens” in the area) was mostly finished by 1900, putting the finishing touches on the Boston that we now know today.

Corner of State & Dwight, Springfield

The view looking northwest from the corner of State Street and Dwight Street, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Buildings

The same street corner in 2015:

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There is absolutely nothing in the first photo that still exists today, so identification of its location eluded me for a while, until I zoomed in to a high-resolution scan of the photo and noticed the “Dwight Street” sign.  The building in the first photo was, at the time, the YMCA building in Springfield.  According to the date on the building, it was constructed in 1894.  So far, I have been unable to find information about when it was demolished, but it was certainly no later than 1972, when the MassMutual Center (at the time the Civic Center) was built.  The building is now the home of the Springfield Falcons (hockey) and the Springfield Armor (basketball), and was the home of the NFL’s Hartford Whalers for several seasons after the roof of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed in 1978.  Incidentally, notice the fire hydrant to the far right of both photos.  The hydrant itself isn’t the same, but they are probably in the same location, which makes it possibly the only fixed landmark in both photos.

Daniel B. Wesson House, Springfield, Mass

Daniel B. Wesson’s house on Maple Street, as it appeared between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site today:

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The building in the early 20th century was the home of Daniel B. Wesson, who was the co-founder of Smith and Wesson.  Located at 50 Maple Street, at the present-day intersection of Maple and Dwight, it was built in 1898, and was Wesson’s home until he died in 1906.  The house was purchased by a social club, the Colony Club, in 1915, and was used until February 20, 1966, when the building burned and was replaced by the bland, nondescript building that now stands on the lot.

Maple Street, Springfield

The view looking down Maple Street toward State Street, between 1905 and 1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in 2014:

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If the street network seems a little different here, it’s because it is.  When the first photo was taken, Maple Street and Chestnut Street (which are essentially the same road – they just switch names after crossing State Street) were together a major two-way, north-south road running along the top of the hill overlooking downtown.  Dwight Street was,  likewise, a major north-south road that ran from the North End until terminating at State Street.  However, in 1972, Dwight Street was extended diagonally up the hill to meet Maple Street, and turned into a one-way street carrying southbound traffic.  Maple/Chestnut, north of this intersection, then became a parallel, northbound one-way street.  South of here (the opposite direction of this photo), Maple Street is still a two-way road.

In any case, this is part of the reason why the left-hand side of this photo looks so dramatically different from the 1905-15 photo; the houses and apartment buildings were later demolished to make room for the extended Dwight Street.  The right-hand side of the street, however, remains essentially the same; the apartment building in the foreground is the most obvious, but there is also another building behind it, and the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Building barely visible at the corner of State and Maple.

The other major change between the two photos is the massive 34-story Chestnut Park apartment building, which was built between Dwight and Chestnut Streets on State Street.  It is the third-tallest building in Springfield and the tallest residential building.

Classical High School, Springfield

Classical High School in Springfield, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Schools

The same building today:

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Originally built as Central High School in 1898, it became Classical High School in the 1930’s, and closed in 1986 when the present Central High School was built on Roosevelt Ave. It has since been converted into condominiums, and is remarkably well-preserved from its days as a school.  The building was built on the site of the former Hampden County Jail, which had been in this location from 1814 until 1887.

Visible on the far right of the 1905 photo is the old Springfield High School, which was built in 1874.  After the construction of this building, the old high school was used as State Street Grammar School until 1922, when Central/Classical High School was expanded to include a junior high school wing, which necessitated the demolition of the old structure.

Probably the school’s most famous alumnus was 1921 graduate Theodor Geisel, who was better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss.  In addition, on a personal note, my grandfather was a 1937 graduate from the school, shortly after it became Classical High.