Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters on Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company was established in Springfield in 1851, and originally had its offices in the Foot Block, at the southwest corner of Main and State Street. Its first president was Caleb Rice, a lawyer and politician who also served as the first mayor of Springfield, from 1852 to 1853. He went on to serve as president for the next 22 years, until his death in 1873, and during this time the company saw substantial growth.

The offices were located in the Foot Block until 1868, when the company relocated to its own office building here on Main Street, just north of the corner of Court Street. However, this new building was heavily damaged by a fire just five years later. King’s Handbook of Springfield, published in 1884, provides the following description of the fire and its effects on the company:

[O]n the evening of Feb. 5, 1873, a fire broke out in the lower part of the building (which was rented for mercantile purposes), and raged all night, destroying all the rear and much of the front of the structure. The company’s safes, and most of its books and papers, were preserved; and business was transacted, with but little interruption, in temporary quarters in the Hampden House Block on Court Street.

The Main Street facade of the building survived the fire, though, and the rest of the building was reconstructed around it. King’s Handbook continues with the following description of the new building:

By December of the same year [1873] the company’s own building had been rebuilt, re-arranged, and improved, under the supervision of George Hathorne, the New-York architect, and its own offices were re-occupied. The lofty brown-stone front and iron mansard roof form a handsome and conspicuous feature of the street; while the Masonic lodges and other organizations that occupy the floors over the company’s offices, and the stores that are on the ground floor, make the inside of the building familiar to a great number of people.

Massachusetts Mutual continued to have its offices here in this building for several more decades, and for many years the company shared it with the Freemasons, who occupied the two upper floors. This arrangement was still going on when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, as it shows the words “Masonic Hall” above the fourth floor windows, along with “Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.” above the second floor. However, the Freemasons moved out of this building soon after the first photo was taken, upon the completion of their own building at the southeast corner of Main and State Streets in 1893.

About 15 years later, Massachusetts Mutual followed the Freemasons to the same street corner. The old Foot Block, where the company had begun in a single room, was demolished and was replaced by an eight-story, Classical Revival-style building that still stands at 1200 Main Street. This new building was only used for a fairly short period, though, before the company relocated to its current headquarters on State Street in the Pine Point neighborhood.

In the meantime, the old 1868/1873 building stood here on Main Street for many years after Massachusetts Mutual moved out. It can be seen in the late 1930s photo in the previous post, and it was still recognizable despite alterations to the two lower floors. At the time, the building housed the Weeks Leather Store in the storefront on the left, and the Ann Lewis women’s apparel store on the right. However, it was ultimately demolished sometime before the late 1950s, when the current Modernist-style building, with its distinctive curved front facade, was built on the site.

Main Street near Court Street, Springfield, Mass

The east side of Main Street, looking toward the corner of Court Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a group of four buildings along the east side of Main Street, representing a wide range of late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles. On the left side is the ornate Beaux Arts-style Union Trust Company building, which was completed in 1907. It was designed by the noted architectural firm of prominent Boston-based architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, and housed the Union Trust Company. This company was formed by the 1906 merger of three city banks, and it still occupied the building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s.

Just to the right of the Union Trust Company, in the center of the first photo, is a five-story Second Empire-style building that once housed the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. The company was originally located in the Foot Block, at the corner of Main and State Streets, from 1851 to 1868, before moving into this building. However, its offices were only here for about five years before the building was gutted by a fire on February 5, 1873, although it was soon reconstructed based on plans by architect George Hathorne. The company would remain here until 1908, when a new, larger office building was completed a block south of here, where the Foot Block had previously stood.

The third building to the right was probably built sometime in the early 20th century, based on its architectural style. By the time the first photo was taken, the ground floor of this five-story building housed the Woman’s Shop, which offered “Distinctive Outer Apparel,” according to the sign above the entrance. To the right of it, at the corner of East Court Street (now Bruce Landon Way), is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank. It was built in 1876, and featured an ornate Main Street facade, including cast iron columns. A better view of the exterior can be seen in an earlier post, which shows the view of this scene from the opposite direction.

Today, almost 80 years after the first photo was taken, most of the buildings are still standing. The former Woman’s Shop building has remained relatively unaltered except for the exterior of the second floor, and the Union Trust Company building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural significance. Even the Five Cents Savings Bank building is still there in the distance, although it is hard to tell from this angle. The Main Street facade was rebuilt in the mid-20th century, but the building itself remains standing, with the original southern facade visible along Bruce Landon Way. Overall, the only building from the first photo that is completely gone is the former MassMutual headquarters, which was demolished sometime around the 1950s and replaced with the current Modernist building.

Orick H. Greenleaf House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 275 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The site in 2017:

Orick H. Greenleaf was originally from the western part of New York state, but he moved to Springfield as a young man in the mid-1840s. A tanner by trade, he soon entered the paper business, forming a partnership with L. H. Taylor to create Greenleaf & Taylor. Originally only involved in buying and selling paper, the firm later switched to manufacturing paper, and opened a mill in Huntington, Massachusetts. Greenleaf was involved with the firm until the 1860s, and in 1865 he purchased a controlling interest in the recently-established Holyoke Paper Company, which was only the second paper mill in Holyoke. At the time, Holyoke was a small but rapidly developing industrial city, and by the end of the century Greenleaf and other manufacturers had turned the city of Holyoke into the world’s leading producer of paper.

Under Greenleaf’s leadership, the factory expanded and was, by 1867, producing five tons of paper each day. He became a wealthy man, and in the 1870s he and his wife Mary moved to the top of the hill on Maple Street, where many of the city’s most affluent families were building mansions. Greenleaf hired New York architect George Hathorne, who designed this elaborate High Victorian Gothic-style house. At the time, the house looked very different from its appearance when the first photo was taken, with a brick exterior that resembled one of Hathorne’s other Springfield works, the old library building. Situated on a hill directly east of downtown Springfield, the home offered dramatic views of the city and the surrounding landscape, and it was appropriately named “River View.”

Greenleaf was a man of considerable wealth, but he was best remembered for his philanthropy. A devout Baptist, he had made it a habit to give away a portion of his incone, ever since he was a young man. As his wealth grew, so did his giving, and upon his death in 1896 the Boston Watchman cited Greenleaf’s own estimate that he had earned about a million dollars in his lifetime (nearly $30 million today), and had given half of it away. He donated to a wide range of charitable organizations, and he also served as a trustee of both the Mt. Hermon School and Shaw University.

However, Greenleaf’s most lasting legacy came in 1884, while he was serving on the city’s parks commission. At the time, Springfield lacked a large public park, but several ideas had been put forward, including one along the riverfront in the downtown area and another in the vicinity of the Watershops Ponds. Greenleaf settled the issue, though, when he offered to give the city 65 acres that he owned in the southern part of the city. He had originally planned to subdivide the land and build upscale homes, but the economic recession after the Panic of 1873 had delayed these plans. So, instead the property became Forest Park, which grew extensively as more benefactors, including ice skate manufacturer Everett H. Barney, later followed Greenleaf’s lead.

Greenleaf lived long enough to see his park become widely popular with the residents of Springfield, and he died in 1896 at the age of 72. His wife Mary died five years later, and they had no children, so the house was subsequently sold to bank executive James W. Kirkham. An 1872 graduate of Yale, Kirkham had worked for the First National Bank of Springfield for many years, eventually becoming president in 1905. A year later, the bank merged with the Union Trust Company, and Kirkham became its vice president. Along with this, he was also the president of the Agawam Woolen Company, and he served on the city’s board of fire commissioners.

James and his wife Fannie had one child, William, who was also a Yale graduate. He earned his doctorate in biology in 1907, and subsequently taught at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School from 1908 to 1916 before returning to Springfield as a biology professor at Springfield College.  He would also go on to become president of the Springfield Library and Museum Association, serving from 1941 to 1959. After James’s death in 1927, he inherited the Maple Street property, and by the 1930 census he and his wife Irma were living in this house along with their 18-year-old daughter Marguerite, plus three Irish-born servants who were, confusingly enough, all named Margaret.

At some point during the Kirkham family’s ownership, the exterior of the house was dramatically modified. By the early 20th century, Victorian-style architecture had fallen out of fashion, and the Kirkhams remodeled the highly ornate brick walls, covering them in stucco instead. The carriage house in the distance on the left also matched the redesigned house, as did the fence along Main Street in the foreground.

The Kirkhams later moved out of this house, and by the 1950s it was the Springfield Chapter House of the American Red Cross. However, the house burned down in 1956, and it was replaced with a nondescript one-story building that now stands on the site. This property was later part of the adjacent MacDuffie School campus, and following their 2011 move to Granby the property was sold to Commonwealth Academy. Not all is gone from the first photo, though; both the fence and the carriage house are still standing today.

Springfield Public Library, Springfield Mass (2)

Springfield Public Library, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in 2014:

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Another view of the old library, which was built in 1871 and moved around 1910 in preparation for the construction of the new library, which sits on the same spot today.

Springfield Public Library, Springfield Mass (1)

The Springfield Public Library, around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same scene in 2014:

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Springfield’s first public library opened in 1871, on State Street just up the hill from Chestnut Street.  However, it didn’t take long to outgrow the building, and in 1905 Andrew Carnegie donated money to Springfield to build a new main library and several branch libraries.  The library needed to stay open during construction, so the old building was moved back and the new building was built in its spot. It was dedicated on January 10, 1912, and the old library building was subsequently demolished.