Thompson Triangle, Springfield, Mass

Facing north toward Worthington Street from the center of the Thompson Triangle, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).


The scene in 2017:


When the first photo was taken, the house in the distance was the home of William McKnight, and it is described in more detail the previous post. John and William McKnight were the developers of most of this neighborhood, and they created a highly-desirable residential area for many of the city’s wealthiest residents. Part of their development plan included several triangular parks, which they donated to the city. Although ostensibly an act of generosity to the public, these parks also added to the value of the lots that bordered them, and it is no coincidence that William McKnight built his own mansion here, overlooking the Thompson Triangle, which is the largest of these parks.

Prior to the McKnight brothers’ development, the land north of Saint James Avenue and east of Thompson Street was owned by Colonel James M. Thompson. He was a businessman who served as president of several of Springfield’s banks, and he also held several political offices, including city alderman, state senator, and member of the Governor’s Council. After his death in 1884, the McKnights purchased and subdivided the property, in the process creating this park as its centerpiece. Many of the finest homes in the neighborhood are located on or around the Thompson Triangle, including the homes on Dartmouth Terrace, which can be seen in the distance in both photos.

Today, the area around the Thompson Triangle remains one of the best-preserved parts of the neighborhood. William McKnight’s house still stands, as do the other 19th century mansions around the park, and in 1976 this area became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The only significant difference in these two photos is the fountain at the center of the triangle, which was added along with benches and brick walkways during a 1986 renovation of the park.

William McKnight House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1176 Worthington Street, at the corner of Dartmouth Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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Like many other places across the northeast, Springfield developed into a major city with very little in the way of central planning. For the first two centuries, Springfield was mostly confined to the Main Street corridor, but by the mid-19th century the city had begun to expand outward. In the absence of a consistent street pattern, the layout of new neighborhoods was generally left to the men who developed them. None of these developers, though, had as much success in their efforts and long-term influence on the city as John and William McKnight, two brothers who moved from Truxton, New York to Springfield in the 1850s.

The McKnight brothers initially entered the dry goods trade, and in 1866 they started their own company of McKnight, Norton & Hawley. Soon afterwards, they also entered the real estate business, starting in 1870 when John purchased the 22-acre farm of Josiah Flagg. Located between State Street and Bay Street near the present-day Mason Square, the property was subdivided and four streets were built through here: Thompson, Westminster, Buckingham, and Sherman Streets. The McKnight brothers began building homes along these streets, but the Panic of 1873 led to a recession that lowered the demand for new houses.

As the economy recovered from the recession, housing demand increased, particularly here in Springfield, where the city was growing at a fast rate. The McKnights purchased the large estate of Colonel James M. Thompson on the north side of Bay Street, and by 1880 they had begun large-scale development of the neighborhood. Many of the houses were built by the McKnights and then sold, but they also sold a number of empty lots for buyers to built their own houses on. To maintain the appearance of the neighborhood, though, they placed restrictions on these lots, which included setbacks from the street as well as a minimum construction cost for the homes.

John and William each lived in several different homes in the area over the years, but by 1890 William and his wife Caroline had moved into this elegant home at the corner of Worthington Street and Dartmouth Terrace. It is hardly surprising that he chose this as the site for his home, because it occupies perhaps the finest lot in his development. On one side is Thompson Triangle, the largest park in the neighborhood, and on the other side is the landscaped Dartmouth Terrace, with the wooded McKnight Glen beyond it.

William McKnight is certainly best-known for the development of the neighborhood that now bears his name, but he was also involved in other residential developments in Springfield. He built Ridgewood Terrace between Union and Mulberry Streets, and he also established the Mutual Investment Company, which began developing the Forest Park neighborhood in the 1890s. However, he did not live to see Forest Park fully developed, because he died in 1903 at the age of 67, under somewhat unusual circumstances. He had just returned to this house from his summer home in Hyannisport, and had turned on the gas lamp in his bedroom before getting into bed. However, for reasons unknown, he was unable to light the gas, and asphyxiated in his sleep.

William’s wife Caroline died two years later, and the house was sold to Alfred and Ella Pillsbury, who lived here with their son Alfred and daughter Anna.  The elder Alfred had been a longtime lithographer for Milton Bradley, but by the time he moved into this house he had become a successful real estate broker. Along with this, he was involved in city politics, serving as a member of the city council and as president of the board of aldermen. He only lived here for a few years, though, before his death in 1911, and Ella remained here until her death in 1920.

Subsequent owners included Dr. Harold Tooker, a pediatrician who was living here by the 1930 census, and Mary E. Cosgriff, who was living here when the first photo was taken. Since then, very little has changed in the home’s exterior, and it looks just as stately today as it did when William McKnight moved in more than 125 years ago. The surrounding neighborhood that he and his brother spent years developing is still largely intact, and it remains one of the finest residential areas in the city. Because of this, in 1976 much of the neighborhood, including this house, became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Law House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 171 Dartmouth Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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This distinctive Shingle-style home was built in 1895, and in many ways it is a larger version of the house at 53 Dartmouth Street, which was built a year earlier. It was the home of John law, a retired tin manufacturer who had previously lived in Enfield, Connecticut. He and his wife Margaret were Scottish immigrants, and were in their 60s by the time they moved into this house. However, they did not live here long; John died in 1900, and Margaret died two years later.

The house was then purchased by Luman S. Brown, a manufacturer and businessman who was the founder and president of the Springfield Facing Company, which made facing material for foundries. Along with this, he was also the president and treasurer of a charcoal company, and he served as a director of the Chapin National Bank. He and his wife Clara lived here for about a decade or so, and by around 1914 they were living in a nearby home on Florida Street. They later retired to Florida itself, where they died several months apart in 1937.

The next owner of the house was Robert C. Cooley, a lawyer who lived here with his wife Harriet and their two children. They remained here for more than 30 years, until Robert’s death in 1946 and Harriet’s in 1951. Since then, the house has been well-maintained, and provides a striking example of Shingle-style architecture on what is probably the finest street in the neighborhood. Along with the other historic homes in the area, it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sarah A. Whiting House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 125 Harvard Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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This house was built in 1889 for Edward and Sarah Whiting, who lived here with their daugher Florence. Edward was a railway postal clerk who worked on the Springfield to Athol train. At the time, many passenger trains had railway post offices, which were specialized cars used by postal employees to sort mail en route, in order to save time. Although many of the residents of the McKnight neighborhood were wealthy businessmen and industrialists, the Whitings were decidedly middle class, with Edward earning $900 per year throughout the 1890s, or around $26,000 in 2017 dollars. Compared to the large, elegant homes that were built a block away on Dartmouth Terrace around the same time, the Whitings’ house was smaller and simpler, without all of the excessive ornamentation that was so common on Queen Anne houses of the era.

Edward died in 1914, and Sarah soon moved into Florence’s house in Cambridge, where she lived until her death in 1933. In the meantime, her old house was sold to William and Etta Carlton, who were living here by 1918. They had three children, Elizabeth, Julia, and Susan, and William worked as an accountant. He was an auditor and later assistant treasurer of the Federal Land Bank in Springfield, and he also taught business courses at the Springfield campus of Northeastern College, which later became Western New England University. William and Etta were still living here when the first photo was taken, and remained here for many more years. Sometime after Etta’s death in 1967, William sold the house and moved to Maine, where he died five years later.

Just three years after William’s death, his former home became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Like so many other homes in this neighborhood, it has been well-maintained and restored to its original appearance, with hardly any noticeable differences from when the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago.

Arthur C. Graves House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 77 Dartmouth Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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Built in 1897, this house was among the last of the Queen Anne-style homes to be built in the McKnight neighborhood. Although several years newer than some of the nearby Colonial Revival homes, this house is a generation earlier in terms of architecture. By the late 1890s, the trend was away from the highly ornamented, eclectic homes of the 1880s, and toward simpler designs inspired by colonial-era architecture. In that sense, this house is somewhat of a transition, because its design is certainly more subdued than many of the earlier Queen Anne homes in the neighborhood.

The house was originally owned by hardware dealer Arthur C. Graves, but he died just two years later, at the age of 42. His widow Nellie continued to live here, though, along with her two children and her mother. They were still living here at the 1910 census, but sold the house later that year to Roscoe and Flora Moody. Roscoe was a banker, stockbroker, and businessman who, among other things, was the president of the Springfield-based Clifty Consolidated Coal Company. Along with this, he was also one of the founders of the W. H. Miner Chocolate Company, whose original factory at 616 Berkshire Avenue still stands today. Flora also had a professional career of her own, working as a physician at a time when married women of the upper class rarely had full-time careers of their own.

They were still living here when he first photo was taken in the late 1930s, but Roscoe moved out sometime after Flora’s death in 1944. He ended up living to be 90, and died in 1957. In the meantime, the neighborhood entered a decline, and many of the houses fell into disrepair. However, much of the area, including this house, became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Since then, many of the homes have been beautifully restored, especially those here on Dartmouth Street. This house is still a work in progress, but will hopefully soon be fully restored to its original 19th century appearance.

William G. Wheat House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 65 Dartmouth Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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Although the majority of houses in the McKnight neighborhood are Queen Anne-style, many other homes had yet to be built by the mid-1890s, as preferences began to shift toward Colonial Revival architecture. This particular house was built in 1895, right around the time that this shift was happening, so it still retains some of the earlier Queen Anne features, such as the bay window and the multi-story front porch. However, it is clearly a Colonial Revival home, with elements such as a symmetrical front facade and a cross-gambrel roof, along with an exterior covered in shingles.

This house was originally owned by William G. Wheat, a dry goods merchant who was a partner in the Springfield firm of Meekins, Packard & Wheat. He and his wife Clara lived here with their two children, Harold and Isabelle, until around 1910, when they moved to State Street. The family apparently owned the house for some time afterwards, although by 1920 it was owned by Charles and Edith Van Norman. Charles was a Canadian immigrant who, along with his brother Fred, had founded the Van Norman Machine Tool Company here in Springfield.

By the time Charles Van Norman moved into this house, the company had prospered, specializing in milling and grinding machines. He served as president and general manager of the company, and both he and Edith were still living here when the first photo was taken. Despite living in a comparatively modest house, he was far wealthier than most of his other neighbors, and the 1940 census listed his annual income as $5,000+, the highest bracket used on the census.

Charles lived here until his death in 1946, and Edith died two years later. Since then, the house has not changed significantly, and it still retains its original Colonial Revival appearance. Along with the other houses in the neighborhood, it is part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.