John Watson House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1876 Main Street, at the corner of Sullivan Avenue in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many wealthy New Englanders built large, ornate, three-story mansions such as these, usually with symmetrical facades, hip roofs, Palladian windows, and other Federal-style architectural features. However, most of these mansions were built in prosperous coastal seaports, such as Salem, Providence, and Portsmouth, and they were rarely seen in inland towns. This house in South Windsor, though, is a rare exception, and it stands out among the otherwise more conservatively-designed homes in the village of East Windsor Hill.

The house was built between 1788 and 1790 for John Watson, a prominent local merchant and farmer. Although he did not live in one of the major seacoast ports, he nonetheless styled his home after the leading merchants in those places, and hired architect and builder Thomas Hayden to design it. The result was one of the finest late 18th century homes in the area, with an elegant exterior and interior that reflected Watson’s wealth and his standing in the town. The house even included such luxuries as a four-hole outhouse, which is still standing in the backyard.

A Yale graduate of 1764, John Watson married his wife Anne Bliss three years later, and they had eight children. Around the same time that he built his house, he was serving as a delegate to the state’s U.S. Constitution ratification convention, voting yes in favor of ratifying the new national constitution. He was in his mid-40s at the time, and John went on to live here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1824. Anne died three years later, and their son Henry inherited the property. Born in 1781, he married Julia Reed in 1809, and they had 13 children, who were born between 1810 and 1833.

Several of Henry and Julia’s children would go on to become prominent individuals, in widely varying fields. Their oldest, Henry Jr., graduated from Harvard, but moved to Alabama in the early 1830s and became a lawyer. He became wealthy through his law practice and several business ventures, and he went on to purchase a plantation, becoming one of the largest slaveowners in the state. In the meantime, his younger brother Louis graduated from Yale Medical School and became a successful surgeon, with a career that included serving as a medical director in the Union Army during the Civil War. Yet another Watson brother, Sereno, also graduated from Yale, with a degree in biology. He went on to become a prominent botanist, and served as the curator of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard.

Despite having so many heirs, the house did not remain in the Watson family after Henry’s death in 1848. Instead, it was sold to Theodore E. Bancroft, who probably moved in around the same time as 1853 marriage to Elizabeth Moore. During the 1860 census, he was 32 years old, and was already a moderately wealthy farmer, with real estate valued at $8,000 and a personal estate of $3,815, for a combined net worth equal to over $300,000 today. He and Elizabeth had two children at this point, and he also employed two farm hands who lived here.

By the 1870 census, Bancroft’s net worth had increased to $37,000, or over $700,000 today, and he and Elizabeth had a total of six children. He lived here until his death in 1903, and Elizabeth remained here with her son Frank until her death in 1923, when she was over 90 years old. By this point, the house had already become a prominent landmark because of its seemingly out-of-place architecture, and the first photo was taken only about a decade later, as part of a project to document the state’s historic buildings.

About 80 years have passed since the first photo was taken, but the exterior of the house has not changed much. It was restored in the late 1990s and converted into a bed and breakfast, the Watson House, which has since closed. The house is again in need of some rehabilitation, but it still stands as a rare example of a three-story 18th century mansion in the region, and it is one of the contributing properties in the East Windsor Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Samuel Webster House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1906 Main Street in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This brick, gambrel-roofed house in the village of East Windsor Hill was built in 1787 for Samuel Webster and his wife Lucy. Samuel was a veteran of the American Revolution, having enlisted in 1776 as a private in the 19th Connecticut Regiment, under the command of Colonel Erastus Wolcott, who was a fellow resident of what was, at the time, East Windsor. Webster was nearly 40 at the time, and depending on the actual date of his enlistment he may have participated in the Siege of Boston, which resulted in the British evacuating Boston in early 1776.

Samuel and Lucy moved into this house a few years after the end of the war, and he lived here until his death in 1799. A year later, his daughter Wealthy married Asa Bowe, and they had five children who grew up here. Asa served in the War of 1812, and he later worked as a mail carrier, traveling once a week from East Windsor to Belchertown, Massachusetts in order to deliver the mail. Wealthy died in 1825, and Asa later remarried to Sabra Strickland, with whom he had three more children.

Asa died in 1848, but the house would remain in his family for many more decades. It would eventually be owned by his granddaughter, Mary Ann Birge, who died in 1931 at the age of 90, only a few years before the first photo was taken. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, and it is one of many historic 18th century homes in the East Windsor Hill village of South Windsor. Today, this area, including this house, now forms the East Windsor Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Newberry House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 960 Main Street, at the corner of Newberry Road in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

John Newberry was born in 1756 in South Windsor, which was at the time part of East Windsor still. He served in the American Revolution, and after the war he married Elizabeth Ellsworth in 1784. The following year, they moved into this newly-built house on Main Street, where they raised their 11 children. After Elizabeth’s death in 1816 and John’s death in 1825, their children inherited this home, with the 1855 county map showing their youngest child, Joseph M. Newberry, living here.

Joseph and his wife Jane had eight children of their own, one of whom, Samuel P. Newberry, later purchased the brick house next door at 954 Main Street, directly across Newberry Road from here. Samuel’s youngest son Leslie later owned that house, but another one of his sons, Dwight, inherited this house at 960 Main Street. Like his father, Dwight was a tobacco farmer, and by the early 20th century he was living here with his wife Grace and their son Ellsworth.

Dwight, Grace, and Ellsworth were still living here when the first photo was taken around the late 1930s, and he would continue to live here until 1966 when, at the age of 96, he moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, presumably to be closer to Ellsworth, who was living nearby in Wappingers Falls. Dwight died three years later, at the age of 99, more than 180 years after his great-grandfather had first moved into this house.

Very little has changed with this scene since the Newberry family lived here, and even the fence is the same style as the one that appears in the first photo. The surrounding neighborhood also retains much of its small-town appearance, as US Route 5 now bypasses the center of town on a four-lane road about a half mile from here, leaving Main Street relatively quiet. Several historic districts now comprise much of the area along Main Street, and this house is part of Windsor Farms Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Arnold Allen House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 954 Main Street, at the corner of Newberry Road in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1805 for Arnold Allen, a Revolutionary War veteran who married his wife, Mary Elmer, that same year. He was about 46 at the time, and Mary was about 30, and they had two daughters, Anna and Julia, who grew up here. Arnold later sold this house, but he and Mary remained in South Windsor until their deaths in the 1840s.

By the 1860s, this house was owned by Samuel P. Newberry, a farmer who lived here with his wife Emma. They had five children, the youngest of whom were still teenagers when Emma died in 1885. Samuel continued living here until his death in 1913, and his son Leslie later inherited the property. An 1893 graduate of Yale Law School, Leslie worked as a lawyer until shortly before his father’s death, when he began operating a tobacco farm.

By the 1920 census, Leslie was 47 years old and was living here with his wife Hazel and their three young children. Aside from tobacco farming, he also served as town clerk and as a judge, and he and his family were still living here when the first photo was taken. He continued operating his farm until 1960, and by the time he died in a nursing home in 1974, he was 101 years old and was the oldest resident of South Windsor.

In more than two centuries since it was built, this house has seen some changes, including several large additions on the back. The front door appears to have been bricked up at some point before the first photo was taken, and the notes from this photo indicate that an original chimney had been removed from the south side, perhaps to build the porch on the right. However, essentially nothing has changed with this scene since the first photo was taken about 80 years ago, and it is now a contributing property in the Windsor Farms Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Richard S. Johnson House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 174 Buckingham Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1883 for Richard S. Johnson, although he did not live here for very long, and there seems to be very little information about who he was. By 1887, the house was the home of Dexter P. Lillie, his wife Alice, and their three children. At the time, Dexter worked as a clerk for the Springfield-based Olmsted and Tuttle Company, which manufactured cotton waste. However, like his predecessor in the house, he only lived here for a few years, and had moved out by 1893. The following year, he opened his own company, the Dexter P. Lillie Company, which produced cotton waste and railroad supplies from its facility in Indian Orchard.

Around 1893, the house was purchased by James H. Rice, a retired army officer who had served as a captain and brevet lieutenant colonel in the Civil War. The 1893 city directory lists his profession as “special pension agent,” while the 1900 census indicates only that he was a “capitalist.” During this census, he was 60 years old, and he lived here with his wife Margaret, who was 40 at the time. She had a son from a previous marriage, 20-year-old Franklin G. Brown, and the family also rented a room to a boarder and hired a live-in servant.

After James’s death in 1907, the house was put up for sale. It seems to have stayed on the market for several years, because by 910 Margaret still owned the house, but by 1912 it was owned by Dr. Eoline C. Dubois. A graduate of Vassar College and Tufts Medical College, she opened up her own practice here in Springfield in the early 1900s. In 1917, at the start of World War I, she formed a Military Drill Corps for girls here in Springfield, where, according to that year’s municipal register, they “received military drill once a week, and were instructed by different lieutenants from the Armory, furnished by the courtesy of the Commandant.”

Dr. Dubois’s drill corps eventually included 77 girls, but later in the year she left Springfield for France, to take part in the war effort with the Medical Corps. Working with the Secretariat of the Bureau of Liberated French Villages, she provided medical care near the front lines, and remained there until the end of the war a year later, when she returned to her home here in Springfield and resumed her private practice.

The first photo was taken about 20 years later, and Dr. Dubois was still living in this house, along with a servant, Helen Dorman, and Helen’s son Frederick. She sold the house a few years later, in 1943, and since then it has only had two different owners. The house was restored to its original appearance in the early 1970s, shortly before this part of the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, as the McKnight Historic District. Today, there is hardly any difference between the two photos, and even the large trees on either side of the house appear to be the same ones that were there in the late 1930s.

C. C. Abbey House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 170-172 Buckingham Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Most of the 19th century homes in the McKnight neighborhood were built as single-family homes, but many were later converted into multiple units. Some, however, were built as duplexes, such as this Queen Anne-style home on Buckingham Street. Both the 1899 and 1910 city atlases show that the property was owned by a C. C. Abbey, who does not appear to have personally lived here. Instead, both units were rented to a variety of tenants, most of whom were employed at local industries.

During the 1890s, the unit on the left, number 170, was rented by James A. Turnbull, who worked nearby at the Armory. By the turn of the 20th century, it was being rented by another firearms employee, this time James Gilbreth, who worked as a watchman at Smith & Wesson. In the meantime, unit 172 on the right had tenants such as William J. Cooper, the paymaster for Deane Steam Pump Company in Holyoke, as well as traveling salesman Francis W. Cole.

The unit on the right appears to have been further subdivided in the 1910s, because by the 1920 census there were three different families living here, in addition to a fourth in the unit on the left. A decade later, though, only one family appears to be listed in the census, with Frederick G. Platt as the owner. He lived in number 170 on the left, along with his wife Ethel and their five children, and he worked for the Y.M.C.A. Ethel was also employed, working as a nurse, and their only son, 18-year-old Graydon, worked as a pressman for a printing company.

By the time the first photo was taken, the entire house was owned by Hamilton Torrey, a teacher who lived in 170 Buckingham with his wife Marjorie, who was also a teacher, and their daughter Barbara. The 1940 census lists their incomes and number of weeks worked, and it indicates that, while Hamilton earned $1,000 for 52 weeks of work, Marjorie earned $880 for just 28 weeks. They also supplemented this income by renting out the unit on the right for $35 per month, to William G. Edwards, a photographic manager at an optical store. His wife Alma was a secretary for Forbes and Wallace, and in the 1940 census their incomes were much higher than that of their landlords, earning $2080 and $1040, respectively.

Nearly 80 years after the first photo was taken, this building remains a two-family home. Although the surrounding neighborhood entered a decline in the second half of the 20th century, many of the historic homes in the area have since been restored to their original appearance, including this duplex. Like these other homes, 170-172 Buckingham now forms part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.