Crosby Block and Brooks House, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street, from near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1871-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This block, on the west side of Main Street between Elliot and High Streets, was the scene of one of the most disastrous fires in Brattleboro history, which occurred on October 31, 1869. All of the buildings along this section of Main Street, mostly wood-frame stores and hotels, were destroyed in the fire, including the Brattleboro House hotel and several other important commercial blocks. However, the property was quickly redeveloped, and within two years the ruins had been replaced by two large, brick commercial buildings, with the Crosby Block on the left and the Brooks House further in the distance on the right.

The first photo shows the Crosby Block as it appeared within about 15 years of its completion in 1871. It was owned by grain and flour merchant Edward Crosby, and was designed by local architect George A. Hines, whose plans reflected the prevailing Italianate style for commercial buildings of this era. Only about two thirds of the building is visible in this scene, as it was once 26 window bays wide, extending all the way to the corner of Elliot Street. As was often the case in downtown commercial blocks, it was originally a mixed-use building, with stores on the ground floor, professional offices on the second floor, and apartments on the third floor.

Further in the distance, on the right side of the scene, is the Brooks House, which was also known as the Hotel Brooks. Although completed in the same year as the Crosby Block, it featured far more elaborate Second Empire-style architecture that contrasted with the modest design of its neighbor. Designed by noted architect Elbridge Boyden, the hotel was reportedly the country’s largest Second Empire-style building outside of New York City at the time, and was a popular Gilded Age summer resort. It was owned by George Jones Brooks, a merchant who had grown up in the Brattleboro area but later made his fortune in San Francisco, as a merchant during the Gold Rush. However, he later returned to Brattleboro, where he built this hotel and also later founded the Brooks Memorial Library.

More than 130 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has remained remarkably unchanged. The facade of the southernmost section of the Crosby Block, just out of view to the left, was rebuilt in the late 1950s and is now completely unrecognizable from its original appearance. However, the section of the building in this scene has been well-preserved, and still continues to house a variety of shops on its ground floor. On the right side of the scene, the Brooks House is also still standing. The interior was completely rebuilt in the early 1970s and converted into offices and apartments, but the exterior was preserved. More recently, the upper floors were heavily damaged by a fire in 2011, but the building has since been restored and still stands as a major landmark in downtown Brattleboro.

Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Mass

Mechanics Hall on Main Street in Worcester, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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Mechanics Hall is a concert hall and a prominent landmark in Worcester. It was built in 1857 by the city’s Mechanics Association, with prominent local architect Elbridge Boyden designing the Italianate structure. With a seating capacity of nearly 2,000, it was by far the largest public hall in the city during the second half of the 19th century, and it attracted many prominent speakers and performers.

In 1868, Mechanics Hall was a stop on Charles Dickens’s tour of the United States. He had previously visited Worcester in 1842, when he was still a young writer, but when he returned to America for his 1867-1868 tour he was an international celebrity. His tour featured sell-out crowds in venues across the northeast, and when he visited Boston there were even people who out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets. Here in Worcester, he probably had a similar reception, and in his March 23 performance at Mechanics Hall his audience heard him read A Christmas Carol and part of The Pickwick Papers.

Over the years, the concert hall has seen many other notable performers. It fell into decline in the mid-20th century, though, and was threatened with the possibility of demolition. All of the surrounding buildings from the first photo have since disappeared, but Mechanics Hall has survived. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and later in the decade it was restored to its former appearance. Today, the third-floor hall remains in use for a variety of events, including, appropriately enough, a 2012 reading of A Christmas Carol by Gerald Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.

Main Street, Worcester, Mass

Looking north along Main Street from just south of Pleasant Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Taken just across Main Street from the previous post, this scene shows the buildings along the east side of Main Street, many of which are still standing some 110 years after the first photo was taken. Most prominent in this view is Harrington Corner, the four-story commercial block on the right side at the corner of Front Street. This Italianate brick building was designed by local architect Elbridge Boyden and completed in 1850, several years before his more famous Mechanics Hall was built a few locks away in the distance. When the first photo was taken, it had several businesses in the ground-level storefronts, including D.H. Eames Men’s & Boys’ Clothing, and Bemis & Co. Fine Shoes. The upper floors had professional offices, with signs showing offices for a stock broker, architect, and even Whittemore’s Dancing Academy on the top floor. Today, the building is somewhat altered, but is still standing as a prominent historic landmark in downtown Worcester.

Beyond Harrington Corner on the right side of the street, starting closest to the foreground in the first photo, is the Piper Block, the Richmond Block, and the Clark Block, all of which were built in the 1850s. Today, these buildings are still standing, but they were heavily altered in the second half of the 20th century with drastically different Main Street facades, leaving only the two upper floors of part of the Clark Block still recognizable from the first photo. Even further in the distance on the right side are several other historic buildings, including the 1871 Grout’s Block and the 1857 Mechanics Hall. The left side of the photo has seen more changes, but a few buildings are still standing, including the 1869 Rogers Building, in the foreground at the corner of Pleasant Street, and the 1897 State Mutual Building further in the distance.

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Worcester, Mass

The Cathedral of Saint Paul, on Chatham Street in Worcester, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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Although now a cathedral, when the first photo was taken this building was still a Roman Catholic parish church. The first services had been held in the church in 1869, while it was still under construction. It was completed in 1874, with prominent Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden as its designer. Boyden had previously designed Worcester’s landmark Mechanics Hall, although its Italianate architecture is very different from the Gothic Revival style of this church. The only major change to the exterior of the church was the addition of the tower on the right side of the building, which was built in 1889 based on Boyden’s original designs.

Very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken, although the role of the church has changed somewhat. In 1950, it became a cathedral, and since then it has been the mother church of the Diocese of Worcester. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hotel Brooks, Brattleboro, Vermont

Main Street in Brattleboro, looking south toward High Street around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2014:

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These photos were taken facing the opposite direction of the ones in this post, and faces the historic Hotel Brooks on the right-hand side of the photos.  Built in 1871, it was once a popular hotel and summer resort, but has since been extensively renovated.  The outward appearance looks the same, but the interior was drastically changed in the 1970s, and the upper floors were damaged by a fire in 2011.  Currently, the building is undergoing repairs, as can be seen with the boarded-up storefronts.