Ambrotype Saloon, Springfield, Mass

An ambrotype saloon on the east side of Main Street, between Bridge and Worthington Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo depicts a small, trailer-like building that appears to have originally been a traveling photographic studio, as suggested by the words “Ambrotype Saloon,” which are barely visible on the side of the building. Common in the mid-19th century, during the early years of commercial photography, these horse-drawn studios – known as saloons – traveled across the countryside in search of business. They were often built by the photographers themselves, and they frequently served as both a workplace and living quarters for their nomadic owners.  A 1917 article in The Youth’s Companion, written by C. A. Stevens, provides the following description:

Those “saloons” were picturesque little structures, not much more than five feet wide by fifteen feet long; they were mounted on wheels. On each side was a little window, and overhead was a larger skylight; and a flight of three steps led up to a narrow door at the rear. The door opened into the “saloon” proper, where the camera and the visitor’s chair stood; forward of that was the cuddy under the skylight, in which the photographer did his developing.

During the heyday of these photographic saloons, the most popular types of images were daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. The daguerreotype was the first widespread form of photography, and it was common throughout the 1840s and 1850s before being superseded by the ambrotype, which was primarily used in the 1850s and early 1860s. With both of these techniques, each photograph was unique. Like Polaroid images a century later, the image was exposed directly onto the surface, so there were no negatives and no way to reproduce an image, aside from photographing it.

By the time the above photograph was taken in the 1870s, both the daguerreotype and ambrotype had long since been replaced by newer photographic processes. The traveling saloon was also becoming a thing of the past, and this particular one had evidently found a permanent home here on Main Street in Springfield. Its wheels were either gone or hidden behind wood paneling, and it appears to have been connected to a building in the rear of the lot.

According to the handwriting on the back, the building was, at the time, the studio of Warren S. Butler, a photographer who appears in city directories as early as 1872. This is likely the earliest possible date for the first photo, although the city directories do not provide a specific location for his studio until 1877, when he was listed here at this address. Despite the words on the side of the building, it is unlikely that Butler would have been producing ambrotypes here during the 1870s. Instead, his primary photographic medium would have been albumen prints such as cartes de visite and cabinet cards, both of which appear to be visible in the window. Unlike the earlier methods, these were made using negatives, which allowed photographers to produce multiple prints of the same image.

Aside from Butler’s appearance in city directories starting in 1872, there are several other clues that suggest the first photo was taken no earlier than the early 1870s. To the left of the studio is a florist shop that was run by Edmund W. Clarke, who, like Butler, does not appear in any directories until 1872. However, perhaps the most conclusive evidence is the presence of two large brick buildings in the background. Located on the southern side of Worthington Street, these buildings do not appear on the 1870 city map, and were likely constructed at some point in the 1870s.

Similarly, the latest possible date for the first photo is about 1886, the last time that Edmund W. Clarke’s florist shop appears at this address in the city directories. Butler is listed here as late as 1887, but both of these buildings were demolished by the end of that year, when this entire half of the block was cleared in order to build the Fuller Block. This five-story brick building was among the finest commercial blocks in the city when it was completed, and it still stands today, occupying a prominent location at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets.

Main and Bridge Streets, Springfield, Mass

The northeast corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Springfield, Mass, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Up until the mid-19th century, the commercial center of Springfield was along Main Street in the immediate vicinity of Court Square, where most of the important stores, banks, hotels, and other businesses were located. This began to change with the arrival of the railroad in 1839, when a railroad station opened on Main Street, about a half a mile north of Court Square. A second commercial center soon sprung up near the station, with a particular emphasis on hotels and restaurants for travelers.

By 1850, Springfield was experiencing steady growth, but its population was still under 12,000 people at the time, and the Main Street corridor in the downtown area was still not fully developed. There were plenty of businesses and large buildings clustered around Court Square and the railroad station, but the blocks in between consisted of just a few commercial buildings, interspersed by homes, churches, and vacant lots. It would not be until the city’s post-Civil War population boom that this entire section of Main Street would be lined with larger buildings.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after the end of the war, and it shows a couple of the modest, wood-frame buildings that once stood along this part of Main Street. They were located at the corner of Bridge Street, about halfway between Court Square and the railroad station, and they would have been the first things that an eastbound traveler to Springfield would see on Main Street, after coming across the old covered bridge and walking up Bridge Street. Dwarfed by a massive tree – probably an elm – on the left side, these small, two-story buildings were probably constructed sometime in the 1850s. By the time the first photo was taken, they housed, from left to right, sign painter James C. Drake, wholesale cigar dealer C.H. Olcott, and stove dealer Edmund L. DeWitt.

These buildings stood here until the mid-1880s, and they were probably among the last surviving wood-frame buildings on Main Street in the downtown area. However, they were demolished to make room for the Fuller Block, a large five-story brick building that was completed in 1887. Like the other new commercial blocks that were constructed in the late 19th century, it housed retail shops on the ground floor, with professional offices on the upper floors. However, it featured a unique Romanesque-style design that incorporated Moorish elements, such as the horseshoe arches above the fifth floor windows, and a large onion dome that originally sat atop the right-hand corner of the roof.

Today, some 150 years after the first photo was taken, there are no surviving landmarks except for the streets themselves. However, the Fuller Block that replaced these older buildings is still standing, and aside from the loss of the onion dome its exterior has remained well-preserved. It is one of the finest 19th century commercial blocks in the city, and in 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Johnson’s Bookstore, Springfield, Mass

The Johnson’s Bookstore building at 1373-1383 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This building was constructed in 1861, and was originally part of the Union Block, a group of three matching Italianate-style commercial buildings that extended to the corner of Harrison Avenue. The left-most part of the block was demolished around 1915 to build the ten-story Third National Bank building that now stands there, and the central part was heavily remodeled around 1909. However, the section on the far right still retains its original exterior on the two upper floors, and gives a sense of what the entire row of buildings once looked like.

The early 20th century remodeling of the central building occurred after it was purchased by Henry R. Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Bookstore. This longtime fixture in downtown Springfield had been founded in 1893 by Henry and his brother, Clifton Johnson. Henry was the one who was primarily involved in running the bookstore, but Clifton served as a silent partner, providing financing for the business. The latter was also a noted author and photographer, and his works included the books in the Picturesque series of the 1890s, which he co-authored while also doing much of the photography. These books, each of which highlighted a different western Massachusetts county, featured hundreds of photographs of local scenes, and have provided many of the historic images that are used on this blog.

Johnson’s Bookstore was located in several other downtown buildings before Henry purchased this one around 1909. He soon set about renovating the exterior, replacing the old Italianate-style facade with one that matched the Classical Revival tastes of the early 20th century. The new facade was designed by the local architectural firm of Kirkham and Partlett, and included much larger windows, along with a polychromatic exterior made of contrasting red bricks and light-colored stones. Overall, the building was left essentially unrecognizable from its original appearance, as seen in the difference between it and its once-identical neighbor to the right.

Henry Johnson retired from active business in 1922, and Clifton’s sons, Arthur and Roger, took over the operation of the bookstore. The business steadily grew, and the store eventually occupied three floors of this building, plus the building to the rear of it, and it also owned a four-story warehouse on the other side of Market Street. By the early 1950s, the store employed 100 people, and brought in $1.3 million in sales per year. Aside from new and used books, the store sold a variety of stationery, office supplies, toys, and gifts, and was a popular destination for downtown shoppers throughout the 20th century.

The bookstore would remain in the Johnson family for several more generations, with Clifton Johnson’s great-grandson, Paul C. Johnson, eventually becoming president in the early 1990s. However, by this point shopping trends had shifted toward suburban malls and away from traditional downtown businesses. Many iconic stores, from Forbes & Wallace to Steiger’s, closed in the late 20th century, and Johnson’s Bookstore followed in January 1998, after more than 100 years in business. The building itself is still standing, though, and aside from the loss of the bookstore this scene has not undergone any significant changes in nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken.

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.

Kennedy Block, Springfield, Mass

The Kennedy Block, at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This large commercial block was built in 1874, and was owned by businessmen Warren H. Wilkinson and Emerson Wight. It was part of the commercial and industrial development that was occurring in downtown Springfield during the mid-19th century, spurred by the presence of the Boston & Albany Railroad just a few blocks to the north of here. Wilkinson and Wight had owned an earlier building on this site, but it burned down on January 6, 1874, and was replaced with this five-story, Italianate-style building. Wight went on to serve as mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878, and in 1879 he purchased Wilkinson’s interest in the building, becoming the sole owner of the property.

One of the building’s original tenants was the Morgan Envelope Company, which had been founded in 1872 by Springfield resident Elisha Morgan. A year later, Morgan Envelope produced the first postcards in the country, after securing a lucrative government contract. At the time, postcards were prepaid, pre-stamped cards that were issued directly by the post office, and Morgan Envelope was the lowest bidder out of 14 companies, submitting a bid of $1.39 7/8 per 1,000 postcards. The company moved into this building upon its completion in 1874, and remained here for the next decade, until moving into its own facility on Harrison Avenue in 1884.

Beginning in 1917, the ground floor of the building was the home of Kennedy’s, a men’s clothing store. The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s, with Art Deco-style signage above the storefront, and Kennedy’s remained here at this location until the early 1970s. Since then, many of the large 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Springfield have since been demolished, but the Kennedy Block is still standing with few significant changes to the exterior. The building is now part of the Silverbrick complex, with an interior that has been converted into apartments, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the neighboring Worthington Building on the right side of the scene.