First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard, at the corner of Myrtle and Berkshire Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

This is the third oldest surviving church building in Springfield, after Old First Church (1819) and St. Michael’s Cathedral (1861), and was built in 1863 for the First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard. The church had been established in 1848, back when Indian Orchard was just starting to be developed as a factory village, and at the time the congregation consisted of just 15 members. Worship services were originally held in a nearby schoolhouse, and the church lacked a permanent home until 1863, when this wood-frame, Gothic Revival-style building was completed at the corner of Berkshire Street and Myrtle Street.

However, the new building failed to grow the church, and the congregation was soon dissolved. It was replaced in 1865 by a new church, the Evangelical Religious Society of Indian Orchard, which worshipped here in this building. The church began with just 11 members, but were soon joined by former members of the congregational church, and by 1884 the membership had grown to 150 people. The first photo was taken less than a decade later, and shows the church as it appeared around the time when Indian Orchard was at its peak as a manufacturing center.

Today, around 125 years after the first photo was taken, the church is still in active use. It is the home of the Orchard Covenant Church, which traces its history back to the 1848 founding of the congregational church, although it is now affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. The building itself has been expanded over the years, with a large wing on the right side of the tower, but the original section has not seen many changes, aside from losing some of the Gothic ornamentation on the tower and on the front of the building.

Myrtle Street School, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The Myrtle Street School in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, seen from Worcester Street near the corner of Myrtle Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the Civil War, Springfield lacked a strong centralized school system. The city was divided into 12 school districts, each of which was responsible for taxing residents, hiring teachers, setting curriculum, and maintaining schools. However, this proved inefficient, in part because these school districts tended to focus more on lowering taxes than improving education, and by the late 1860s school committee member Josiah Hooker had led a large-scale reform of the city’s public schools.

The result of these reforms was a new high school building on State Street, plus six new grammar schools around the city. All were located in or near the downtown area except for the Indian Orchard school, which was located here at the corner of Worcester and Myrtle Streets. Located in the far northeastern corner of the city, Indian Orchard developed as a factory village in the mid-19th century. It saw a significant population growth during this time, particularly among French-Canadians and other immigrant groups who came to work in the mills, so a grammar school became necessary to serve the needs of the village.

At the time, students attended primary school for three years, followed by six years of grammar school and then four years of high school. The 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield provides a description of the grammar school curriculum, writing that “In these schools, thorough instruction is given in all the common English branches, including book-keeping, and United-States and English history; and special teachers give instruction in penmanship, music, and drawing.” Following the reforms of the 1860s, the school year began on the first week of September and ended on the Friday before July 4, and students attended school from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with a two-hour break from noon to 2:00.

The Indian Orchard school was designed by James M. Currier, a local architect whose works included three other schools in Springfield, along with an assortment of factories, business blocks, and houses. Perhaps his most notable commission, however, was a house in Ottawa, Canada, that he designed for his brother, Joseph M. Currier, who was a lumber dealer and Canadian politician. This house, located at 24 Sussex Drive, now serves as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada, although it has been heavily altered from Currier’s original design.

Like the Prime Minister’s residence, though, the Indian Orchard school has also been extensively modified over the years. The first photo shows its original appearance, with its mansard roof and Second Empire-style architecture, but by the turn of the 20th century this building had become too small for the growing population of the village. As a result, in 1904 a large wing was built on the west side of the original building, facing Myrtle Street. This is the part of the school building that is visible in the present-day photo, and features a Classical Revival-style design that was the work of architect Eugene C. Gardner. The addition hid the original school building from this angle, although it is still standing and still visible from the other side of the school.

This expansion added eight classrooms to the school, but within a decade there was again need for more space, and in 1914 Gardner was hired to design a matching, nearly symmetrical wing on the south side of the building. Located on the left side of the 1904 addition, just out of view from this angle, the new wing doubled the size of the building. It was completed in 1915, and included eight more classrooms, plus a lunchroom, gymnasium, and an auditorium that could seat nearly 700 people.

The school, which became known as the Myrtle Street School after the additions, remained in use until the early 1980s. Like several other historic Springfield school buildings, it has since been converted into condominiums, and is still standing with few significant exterior changes. Even the original 1868 section is still there, and it now stands as the oldest existing school building in the city, as well as the only one of the original six grammar schools that is still standing. Because of this, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Indian Orchard Branch Library, Springfield, Mass

The branch library on Oak Street in the Springfield village of Indian Orchard, probably around 1910. Image from the Russ Birchall Collection at ImageMuseum.

The library in 2017:

Springfield’s public library system dates back to 1857, when the City Library Association was founded. Two years later, the library opened in a room in the old city hall, where it remained until the first permanent public library building was completed on State Street in 1871. Throughout the 19th century, this would remain the only public library in Springfield, but the city also had a number of private libraries, some of which were open to the public. Here in Indian Orchard, a factory village in the northeastern corner of the city, the Indian Orchard Mills Corporation opened a private library in 1859. This library was open to the public, and would serve the residents of the neighborhood until 1901, when a public branch library was opened.

This public library was the first branch library in the city, and was originally located on the ground floor of the Wight & Chapman Block, at the corner of Main and Oak Streets. However, it proved so popular that within a few years it was regularly overcrowded, and a more permanent location was needed. The solution came in 1905, when steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $260,000 to the city in order to build a new central library and three branch libraries. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Carnegie donated funding to build 2,509 libraries around the world, including 43 in Massachusetts, and his 1905 Springfield grant was the single largest one that he made in the state.

Of these four new libraries, the Indian Orchard branch was the first to be completed, opening its doors on March 26, 1909. It featured a Classical Revival design that was popular for libraries of the era, and was the work of Springfield architect John W. Donohue. A prolific local architect, Donohue specialized in designing Catholic churches and other ecclesiastical buildings, but the library was one of his few major secular commissions during his long career. His design also won him national attention, and was featured in The American Architect in 1911.

Nearly 110 years after it opened, the Indian Orchard library is still in use, and it is now one of eight branch libraries in the city. It was threatened with closure in 1982 and in 1990, but it ultimately remained opened and was expanded, undergoing a major renovation and addition that was completed in 2000. This included a large new wing on the back of the building, which is partially visible in the distance on the right side of the 2017 photo. However, the original section of the building was preserved, and today this scene has not significantly changed since the first photo was taken. Because of its historical and architectural significance, the library is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

158-160 Main Street, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The building at 158-160 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The early history of this building seems unclear, but it was likely among the oldest buildings on Main Street in Indian Orchard when the first photo was taken. The state’s MACRIS database estimates that it was built between 1855 and 1860, in the early years of Indian Orchard’s development. At the time, the majority of buildings on Main Street were small wood-frame structures, but over time these began to be replaced by larger brick buildings, as seen on both sides of these photos. However, this building managed to survive, with some alterations, until the late 20th century, despite being overshadowed on either side by taller neighbors.

By about 1880, this building was owned by Walter S. Colwell, a merchant who lived here and ran a meat market around the corner at 21 Oak Street, where the present-day post office now stands. He lived on the left side of this building, at 158 Main, along with his wife Eliza and their son Howard. The  right side of the building was the home of his uncle, Larned Colwell, who lived on the right side with his wife Melissa and their children, Harding and Minnie. Larned was Walter’s business partner, and they were, according to the 1882 city directory, “Dealers in all kinds of Fresh, Salt and Smoked Meats, Lard, Tripe, and Vegetables in their season.”

Larned Colwell died in 1889, and within a few years his widow Melissa had moved to Hampden Street. However, Walter would remain here for at least another decade, although by the 1899 city directory he had evidently left the meat business and was working as a bookkeeper for the Chapman Valve Company. He, Eliza, and Howard moved soon after, and by the 1900 census they were living a few blocks away in a house at 111 Berkshire Street. Within a few years, this property on Main Street was sold to clothing merchant Charles Bengle, who built a large commercial block at the corner of Oak Street, just to the left of this building. Then, in 1908, Octave A. LaRiviere built an even taller building just to the right, surrounding the old building on both sides.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, this building had seen a few alterations from its original appearance, including several storefronts and a cross-gable that faced Main Street. There are no legible signs in any of the storefronts to indicate what businesses were located here, but the building was used for both residential and commercial purposes for many years. It was still standing in 1984, when it was inventoried for the state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings, and a photo from this era showed two ground-floor tenants: de Sousa Real Estate and Notary Public on the left, and Casa de Portugal on the right. However, the building has subsequently been demolished, and today the site is a parking lot, flanked on either side by the other two buildings from the first photo.

Charles Bengle Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at the northeast corner of Main and Oak Streets in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood was developed in the late 19th century as a factory village, and this intersection at the corner of Main and Oak Streets became its commercial center. The first significant business block, the three-story Wight & Chapman, was built in 1875 at the northwest corner of the intersection, and it was followed 30 years later by this building, which was completed in 1905 on the opposite side of Oak Street, at the northeast corner of the intersection.

This building was originally owned by Charles Bengle, a merchant whose store was located on the ground floor. A native of Quebec, Bengle came to Indian Orchard in 1867, where he found work in the mills. However, after a short time he began working for a grocer, and then for a clothier. After just a year, he purchased an interest in the clothing firm, which became Chapman & Bengle. In 1875, the store moved into the newly-built Wight & Chapman Block, where they were, according to city directories of the era,“Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

In 1886, Bengle purchased Chapman’s interest in the business and became its sole owner. The store remained in the Wight & Chapman Block until 1905, when Bengle completed his new building across the street. His store occupied the storefront on the left side, and he ran it until his death in 1909. However, the business remained in the family for many years, and it thrived during the first half of the 20th century, drawing customers not only from Indian Orchard but also from the nearby towns of Ludlow and Wilbraham.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the sign for the “Charles Bengle Co.” above the left storefront. At the time, it was run by Charles’s son Adelard, who died in 1946 and left the store to his son, Victor. However, by this point the store was in decline, and it finally closed in 1952, more than 75 years after Charles Bengle first entered the retail clothing business. It was replaced in this storefront by a radio and television store, but subsequent tenants included an auto parts store and, today, a cabinetry store.

Overall, despite changes in its use, the building itself has remained remarkably well-preserved. The storefronts have not been significantly changed since the first photo was taken, and the upper floors retain their decorative Classical Revival-style features. It is one of several historic business blocks that still stand here on this section of Main Street, including the Wight & Chapman Block and the nearby LaRiviere building, and today the center of Indian Orchard still retains much of its original late 19th and early 20th century appearance.

The LaRiviere, Springfield, Mass

The building at 162-164 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This commercial block was one of several Indian Orchard properties that were owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian merchant, politician, and contractor who was among the neighborhood’s leading citizens of the late 19th century. LaRiviere, who also went by the name of John Rivers earlier in his career, lived in the house directly to the right of this building, and he also owned a tenement building, which was located a block west of here on Main Street.

This four-story brick building was completed in 1908, and was known as The LaRiviere. It is perhaps the most architecturally significant of the several late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings here on Main Street, and it features an ornate, polychromatic Classical Revival facade. There are two storefronts on the ground floor, with apartments in the upper floors, and the 1910 census shows at least four families in the building. Based on the census records, the residents were primarily skilled laborers and other middle-class workers at the nearby factories in Indian Orchard, and included a machinist, a foreman, an inspector, a pattern maker, a traveling salesman, a clerk, and a chief engineer.

By the time the first photo was taken, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, but there were still a good number of factory jobs here in Indian Orchard. As was the case in 1910, most of the residents worked as skilled laborers, with the 1940 census showing that most of them earned around $1,000 to $1,300 per year. The building had five different families at the time, with two each paying $40 per month in rent, one paying $36, one paying $20, and one whose rent was not included on the census.

Today, The LaRiviere is one of several historic commercial blocks in the center of Indian Orchard. It remains remarkably well-preserved, with even the storefronts looking the same as they did over 80 years ago. LaRiviere’s house, located on the right side of the scene, has since been altered, but it is still standing and still recognizable from the first photo. The only significant change in this scene is the building on the left, at 158-160 Main Street. It was still standing here as late as the 1980s, when it was included in the state’s MACRIS database of historic properties, but it has since been demolished, and the site is now a parking lot.