Jonathan Ellsworth House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 336 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, in August 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

This house is one of the finest Georgian homes in Windsor, and was built in 1784 for Jonathan Ellsworth. They were a prominent family in 18th century Windsor, and one of his relatives was Oliver Ellsworth, the third Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, who lived a little further north of here on Palisado Avenue. Jonathan Ellsworth’s house would remain in his family for many years, and by the mid-19th century it was owned by William H. Ellsworth, who lived here with his wife Emily and their four children: William, Horace, Elizabeth, and Clara. Horace would later inherit the house, and owned it until his death in 1934, exactly 150 years after the house was built.

The first photo was taken only four years after Horace’s death, and it shows the alterations that had happened to the house over the years. It had lost many of its original Georgian details, and he WPA architectural survey, which was completed around the same time, noted that it was only in “fair” condition. However, in the 1960s it was restored to its former grandeur, with features such as historically appropriate windows, the scroll pediment over the door, the lintels over the first floor windows, and the quoins on the corners of the house. It is an excellent surviving example of an 18th century home in Windsor, and it is a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee was born in 1731 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and in the mid-1750s he moved to Windsor. Here, he married Lydia Griswold Phelps, a widow who was nine years older than him. He evidently prospered in his profession, because around 1765 he built this large, elegant home, directly opposite the green at the old town center on Palisado Avenue. Here, the Chaffees raised their five children: Hepsibah, Mary, Hezekiah, Jr., Esther, and John. They also had several slaves, with town records in 1791 indicating that an unnamed slave gave birth to a daughter, Betty Stevenson. At the time, slavery was legal in Connecticut, and would officially remain so until 1848, although gradual emancipation had reduced the number of slaves in the state to just a few dozen by then.

Perhaps the most notable event in the early history of the house came on November 4, 1774, when John Adams spent the night here while on his way back home from Philadelphia after the First Continental Congress. The future president kept a diary during the trip, primarily with brief daily accounts of where he ate and slept, along with occasional remarks about the character of his hosts. In his entry for “Fryday Novr. 4,” he mentioned that he dined in Hartford, and then “Lodged at Dr. Chafy’s in Windsor. Very cordially entertained.”

Dr. Chaffee lived here for the rest of his life, and also had his medical practice here in one of the ells of the home. His wife Lydia died in 1801, and he died in 1819, at the age of 88. The house went to his son, Hezekiah, Jr., who was also a physician. He died just two years later, but the house would remain in the Chaffee family for another century.

In 1926, the house became part of the Loomis Institute, a private school that had been founded 12 years earlier. Located a little north of the Loomis campus, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to Loomis. It was in use by the school in 1937, when the first photograph was taken as part of Great Depression-era efforts to document historic buildings across the country. The two schools consolidated in 1970, forming the current Loomis Chaffee School.

The house was subsequently sold to the town of Windsor, and it is operated by the Windsor Historical Society as a museum. More than 250 years after its completion, and despite several changes in use, the house remains well-preserved on both the interior and exterior. It is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Windsor, a town that features many historic 18th century homes. Because of this, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and it was subsequently designated as a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which also encompasses many of the other surrounding historic homes.

Westminster Arcade, Providence, RI

The south side of the Westminster Arcade on Weybosset Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2016:

The exterior of this imposing granite Greek Revival building bears no resemblance to its modern descendants, but the Westminster Arcade is believed to have been the nation’s first indoor shopping mall. Completed in 1828, it is just 74 feet wide but spans the entire length of the block between Weybosset and Westminster Streets. On the inside, three floors of shops run the length of the building on either side, with a large central area in between them, topped with skylights. In this sense, the interior is strikingly similar to the modern shopping mall, as seen in this 1958 view from the Historic American Buildings Survey:

Over the years, the Arcade has been renovated several times, but has retained its commercial role for nearly 200 years. It survived demolition in 1944, and was restored in 1980, a few years after being named a National Historic Landmark. However, by this point downtown commercial centers across the country were struggling with competition from suburban malls and shopping centers, and the Arcade was no exception. It experienced high tenant turnover, and the upper floors were particularly difficult to attract businesses.

The Arcade finally closed in 2008, but another renovation was soon in the works. The building reopened five years later, with a new mixed-use design that featured shops on the first floor and micro apartments on the two upper floors. These apartments, most of which range from 225 to 300 square feet, are particularly useful for students and recent graduates of the many colleges and universities in Providence. Despite the many renovations over the years, though, essentially nothing has changed with the columned facades on either end of the building, and even the interior has, despite changing storefronts into apartments, maintained its original 19th century appearance.

Lost New England Goes West: Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (3)

Another view of the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, taken looking down California Street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The view in 2015:

The first photo shows California Street just a few years before nearly this entire scene was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The most prominent building in the first photo is the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and this is also the only building that survives to the present day. As seen in the previous post, though, not much is left of the original building. It was completely gutted in the fires, and today only the exterior walls are left from the 1854 church. The city around the church has obviously changed; in the distance are the skyscrapers of the Financial District, and in the foreground is Grant Avenue, part of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

The only other feature that both photos have in common is the cable cars. One of San Francisco’s most recognizable symbols, the cable car line on California Street was established in 1878. Although more expensive to operate than conventional electric trolleys, cable cars remained in use for many years because of the city’s many hills, which are far too steep for a trolley. Rather than relying on overhead wires for power, cable cars are literally pulled up the hills on a continuously-moving 1.25 inch steel cable. To stop the car, the operators simply disengage from the cable and reconnect when they are ready to continue uphill. The technology has not changed much since the first photo, but the major difference is that today’s cable cars are primarily tourist attractions rather than as a significant part of the city’s public transit system.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (2)

Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, at the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue, in the aftermath of the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fires. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The church in 2015:

As mentioned in an earlier post, this church was built in 1854 as the first Catholic cathedral in San Francisco. The archdiocese moved to a new building in 1891, but Saint Mary’s remained a parish church. In 1906, though, the building burned in the earthquake that destroyed much of the city. The first photo shows the church after the fire, with interior was completely gutted. The stained glass windows were gone, and the heat of the fire even melted the bells and the marble altar.

However, the brick walls withstood both the earthquake itself and the fires, and the church reopened in 1909 with a new interior. Over a century later, it remains an active congregation, and it is a prominent landmark in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Dupont Street, San Francisco

Looking north on Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in San Francisco, sometime in the 1850s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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Grant Avenue in 2015:

This street has been at the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood since the first photo was taken over 150 years ago. Originally named Dupont Street, it soon became a red light district, notorious for its opium dens, brothels, and gang violence. In the background of the first photo is Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which opened in 1854 and, as a warning to would-be patrons of the neighborhood, has an inscription below the clock that reads, “Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil.”

The 1906 earthquake destroyed the entire street along with the rest of Chinatown, leaving only the burned-out shell of the church still standing from this scene. The disaster gave the city the opportunity to clean up the seedy establishments in the area, and to reflect this change the street was even renamed, to Grant Avenue. The buildings in the foreground of the 2015 scene were probably built in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and the old church is partially visible in the distance. The street is still a popular destination in San Francisco, though not for the same reasons in the 19th century; instead of brothels and opium dens, Grant Avenue of today is lined with Chinese restaurants and shops that sell gifts, souvenirs, and jewelry.