Wight & Chapman Block, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The neighborhood of Indian Orchard is located in the northeastern corner of Springfield, about five miles from the city center, and during the mid-19th century it developed into a small factory village along the Chicopee River. In part because of this distance, Indian Orchard’s growth was largely independent from the rest of Springfield, and came to include a small downtown area, with its own Main Street that was lined with brick commercial blocks. Among these was this three-story, Italianate-style building at the corner of Oak Street. Built in 1875, it was located at one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood, and included stores on the first floor, plus offices and a public hall on the upper floors.

The building was originally owned by businessmen Henry K. Wight and George H. Chapman, who each had stores on the ground floor. Wight was a partner in Wight, Rivers & Co., a grocery store that occupied the corner storefront, and city directories of the era describe the company as “Dealers in Choice Groceries, Crockery and Glass Ware, Flour, Teas, Coffees, Sugars, Butter, Cheese, Syrup and Molasses. All varieties of Canned Fruits, with a complete assortment of goods usually kept in a first-class store. Also Dealers in Paints, Oils, Window Glass, etc.” Next to this store, on the left side of the building, was Chapman & Bengle, “Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

George Chapman’s business partner, Charles Bengle, purchased Chapman’s interest in the company in 1886, and he remained in business in this building until around 1904, when he built a new commercial block, directly across Oak Street from here, and moved his store into the new building. Then, around 1910, the older Wight & Chapman Block was purchased by Charles Rieutord, the owner of the nearby National House hotel on Oak Street. Upon purchasing this building, he set about renovating it, including extending the storefronts along both the Main Street and Oak Street sides.

Rieutord opened a wholesale liquor store on the left side of the ground floor, and ran it for about a decade, until Prohibition was enacted in 1920. Along with this, he was also involved with the Springfield Breweries Company, which attempted to adapt to Prohibition by producing non-alcoholic beverages. By the mid-1920s, he was the company’s vice president, serving under president Theodor Geisel – the father of Dr. Seuss – but the brewery ultimately went out of business before the end of Prohibition.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building’s retail tenants included Frank J. Livi, an Italian immigrant who ran a clothing shop in the corner storefront. The store would remain here until at least the 1960s, and since then the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Indian Orchard still retains much of its historic appearance, and still bears closer resemblance to a small mill town rather than a neighborhood of a large city. The Wight & Chapman Block is one of many historic buildings along this section of Main Street, and today it stands as one of the finest commercial buildings of its era, not just in Indian Orchard but in the entire city of Springfield.

Octave A. LaRiviere House, Springfield, Mass

The building at 166 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

The state MACRIS database estimates that this building was built around 1865, although its original appearance has been significantly altered over the years. It is one of the older commercial buildings here on Main Street in Indian Orchard, dating back to when the neighborhood was being developed as a factory village. During this time, many immigrants moved to Indian Orchard, drawn to jobs at mills such as the nearby Indian Orchard Manufacturing Company, and Main Street became a small downtown area lined with stores and other commercial buildings.

Many of the immigrants who came to Indian Orchard were French-Canadian, including Octave A. LaRiviere, who came to the United States as a teenager in the 1850s. In order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination, he adopted the anglicized name John Rivers, and by 1870 he and business partner Alfred Dessotelle were running the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store here on the ground floor of this building. LaRiviere later became the sole owner of the business, and by 1880 the city directory listed him as selling “Dry Goods, Fancy Goods, Boots and Shoes, Hats and Caps, Window Shades, etc., Gents’ Furnishing Goods.”

LaRiviere – who reverted to his French name by around the turn of the 20th century – lived here above his store, along with his wife Edesse and their two daughters, Eugenia and Josephine. Aside from his dry goods business, he was also active in politics, representing Ward 8 on the city council in 1883, 1884, and 1896, and on the board of aldermen in 1887 and 1888. Then, in 1912, he served as one of the state’s eight at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention, a hotly-contested party convention that pitted conservative incumbent president William Howard Taft against progressive former president Theodore Roosevelt. LaRiviere was a pro-Roosevelt delegate, but Taft ultimately won the party nomination. However, Roosevelt ran a third-party campaign in the fall, and LaRiviere did the same, breaking ranks with the Republicans and running for state auditor as a member of the Progressive Party. LaRiviere finished a distant third in the statewide race, though, behind the Republican and Democratic candidates.

At some point, apparently around 1909, a third floor was added to the building, with a large cross-gambrel roof and dormer windows. LaRiviere continued to live here until his death in 1915, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the ground floor was occupied by Kitchener’s Department Store. The store would remain a fixture in Indian Orchard for many years, and was still in business here in this building into at least the 1989s, more than a century after the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store first opened in the storefront. However, the rise of suburban malls and shopping centers eventually took its toll on Kitchener’s and other downtown retailers, and the store subsequently closed.

Today, the building is still recognizable from the first photo, although it has undergone some changes. At some point around the mid-20th century, the exterior was covered in asbestos shingles. Although it is hard to tell for sure, these may have been on the building at the time of the first photo, but they have since been replaced by modern siding, except for the section on the far right. On the front of the building, the storefronts have not significantly changed over the years, but the  front porches on the second and third floors have since been completely enclosed, with only two windows on the second floor and a small one on the third floor. Otherwise, the only other noticeable change from this angle is a patio area, which is located above the storefront on the right side of the building.

Edmund J. Gendreau Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at 176 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This three-story, mixed-use building was built around 1894, and was originally owned by Edmund J. Gendreau, whose name still appears at the top of the photo. Born in Quebec, Gendreau came to the United States in 1873 when he was about 20 years old, and he subsequently settled here in Indian Orchard, which had a large French-Canadian population at the time. The 1880 city directory shows him working as a store clerk, but by the end of the decade he had gone into business for himself and was running a grocery store on Main Street.

Gendreau moved his store to the ground floor of this building once it was completed, and the 1895 directory shows that he sold dry goods, groceries, boots, and shoes here. The upper two floors had a total of four apartments, and Gendreau lived in one of them with his wife Alida and several of their children. During the 1910 census, for example, they were living here with their son Joseph and two daughters, Anna and Corrine, plus Joseph’s wife Albina and Corrine’s husband, Louis Jacques. At the time, Joseph was working as a clerk in a grocery store and Louis was a painter, while Edmund appears to have changed careers and opened a real estate office here in the building.

Edmund lived here in this building until his death in 1930, and the property was still owned by his family when the first photo was taken nearly a decade later. The 1940 census shows Joseph and Albina still living here, with their daughter Alice, her husband, Donald Viens, and their four children. Joseph’s brother Wilfred also lived in an apartment here in this building, along with his wife Louise, their daughter and son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Since then, the building has not significantly changed, aside from the loss of the porches on the right side, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century commercial block. Many of the surrounding buildings are also still standing, except for the one to the left of it, which was evidently either demolished or trimmed down to one story.