Main Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Pynchon Street in Springfield, sometime around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the James Ward Birchall Collection.

The scene in 2017:

When the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, Springfield was a prosperous, rapidly-growing city, and this section of Main Street was the heart of its downtown shopping district. Major department stores included Forbes & Wallace – whose original building is seen second from the left in the first photo – and W. D. Kinsman, located further in the distance at the corner of Bridge Street. In 1906, a few years after the first photo was taken, these stores would also be joined by another competitor, Steiger’s, which opened its flagship store a couple blocks north of here at the corner of Hillman Street.

Along with large department stores, this scene also included smaller, specialized retailers. On the far right was D. H. Bingham & Co., a clothing store that had opened here in 1867 in a building previously occupied by the offices of the Springfield Republican. Other early 20th century stores in the foreground included Johnson’s Bookstore, which was located next to D. H. Bingham, and the W. J. Woods Co., another clothing store located further in the distance at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. The scene also featured several hotels, including most prominently the Haynes Hotel on the left side in the foreground.

Most of the buildings in the first photo were built in the late 19th century, during a period of rapid growth that saw Springfield’s population double roughly every 20 years. However, very few of the buildings along this section of Main Street are still standing today, aside from the Haynes Hotel on the left and several of the buildings on the right in the foreground. The old Forbes & Wallace building is gone, along with its early 20th century replacement, and today Monarch Place occupies the site. Further in the distance, the Tower Square skyscraper now fills the entire block between Boland Way and Bridge Street, and there are no other 19th century buildings on the left side until the Fort Block, which is barely visible more than four blocks away, in the distant center of the photo.

Main & Hampden Streets, Springfield, Mass

The northwestern corner of Main and Hampden Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

According to city records, the present-day building at this site dates back to 1909, which, if accurate, means that it is the same building in both photos. This is entirely possible, especially since both the size of the building and its window arrangement are very similar to the one in the first photo, but at the very least it has undergone dramatic changes over the years. When the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the ground floor was occupied by Whelan Drugs, along with a bake shop on the right side, while the upper floor tenants included professional offices such as City Optitians and City Dentists.

Assuming the present-day building is the same one from the first photo, it has had significant renovations that have entirely obscured its original appearance, including very different exterior materials. In particular, the first floor has been heavily altered, and now has a recessed entrance in place of the old storefront. The right side of the building has been incorporated into newer construction, and today the only recognizable feature from the scene in the first photo is the Paramount Theater, which is partially visible in the distant right of both photos.

Boston and Albany Railroad Offices, Springfield, Mass

The Boston and Albany Railroad offices, just north of the railroad tracks on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Henry H. Richardson was one of the most influential architects in American history, and helped to establish what became known as the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture. Along the way, he designed churches, government buildings, libraries, railroad stations, and private homes, but he began his career here in Springfield, where he received his first commission in 1866. Although originally from Louisiana, Richardson had graduated from Harvard, where his friends included James A. Rumrill, Jr.. a Springfield resident who later married the daughter of Chester W. Chapin. Chapin, a railroad and banking executive, was among the richest men in the city, and he was also a prominent member of the Church of the Unity. Through this connection Richardson able to enter a design competition for a new church building, and his plans were ultimately selected, giving him his first commission and helping to establish his career as an architect.

Even before the Church of the Unity was completed, Richardson’s connection to Chapin helped him to obtain several more commissions here in Springfield. Among other business interests, Chapin was the president of the Western Railroad, and in 1867 Richardson was hired – without any competition – to design a building for the railroad’s headquarters here in Springfield, directly adjacent to the city’s railroad station. The result was a granite, Second Empire-style building, with a design that bore more resemblance to the fashionable townhouses of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood than to an office building. Although hardly an architectural masterpiece, it reflected Richardson’s training at the École des Beaux Arts in France, and it showed his abilities in designing commercial structures.

Shortly after Richardson received his commission in 1867, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad, with Chapin as its president. The building was completed two years later as offices for the new railroad, and was ideally situated at the midpoint of the line, 98 miles from Boston and 102 miles from Albany by rail. Chapin went on to serve as president of the railroad for the next decade, with the line serving as an important link between Boston and the rest of the country. In 1900, it was acquired by the New York Central, but retained its separate Boston and Albany branding for many years. This building continued to be used as offices well into the 20th century, but it was finally closed in 1926 and was demolished soon after.

Many years later, this site was again used for transportation when, in 1969, the Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines built its terminal here. Established in 1933 by Peter C. Picknelly, Peter Pan became a major intercity bus company in the northeast, and it has remained in the Picknelly family ever since. Peter’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, served as the company chairman from 1964 until his death in 2004, and building, which also served as the terminal for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses, was named in his honor in 2005. However, in 2017, shortly after the first photo was taken, both Peter Pan and the PVTA moved across Main Street to the newly-restored Union Station, and the long-term future of this site seems uncertain at this point.

Old Union Station, Springfield, Mass

The old railroad station on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Railroads first came to Springfield in 1839, with the opening of the Western Railroad from Worcester to Springfield, and the line terminated here at a wooden, Egyptian Revival-style railroad station on the west side of Main Street. The railroad was later extended west through the Berkshires, and Springfield became an important midway point on the route between Boston and Albany. The original station stood here for 12 years, but in 1851 it was destroyed in a fire after sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the building.

A new station was soon built on the same site, as seen in the first photo. Like the first station, trains passed directly through the building, although this one was less flammable, having been built with brick and iron. Architecturally, this new station was unremarkable, resembling a large shed rather than a grand union station, but it was designed by railroad engineer George William Whistler, the older brother of the famous painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Their father, George Washington Whistler, had briefly lived in Springfield in the early 1840s, and had been the chief engineer of the Western Railroad during the construction of route through the Berkshires.

The new station was joined in the late 1860s by a new office building for the Western Railroad, which was located just north of the station on the right side of the first photo. A striking architectural contrast compared to the plain railroad station, this granite Second Empire-style building was one of the earliest works of Henry H. Richardson, who would go on to become one of the most important architects in American history. Although very different from his later Romanesque Revival buildings, this design reflected his education in France’s École des Beaux Arts, and it helped to establish him as a notable architect.

In 1867, around the same time that Richardson received his commission for the building, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester Railroad, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad. Both the station and the office building became part of the new railroad, but by this point it was obvious that the station, less than 20 years old, was already obsolete. As a union station, it served not just the Boston and Albany, but also the Connecticut River Railroad, and the Hartford and New Haven Railroad. Because of this, essentially all rail traffic from the four cardinal directions had to pass through this station, and Springfield’s rapidly growing population was straining the station’s capacity.

Along with overcrowding, the station’s location also caused problems, since the railroad tracks crossed Main Street just to the east of the station, as seen in the first photo. The busy railroad traffic meant that the Main Street crossing gates were closed as often as they were open, with an 1872 observer noting that the gates closed 66 times during one four-hour span from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This  caused a significant disruption to the busy pedestrian, carriage, and trolley traffic in downtown Springfield, but the problem persisted for several decades, with neither the city nor the Boston and Albany Railroad wanting to pay the expense of lowering the grade of Main Street or raising the grade of the railroad.

Because of this impasse, the old station remained in use well into the 1880s, since the railroad was unwilling to build a new station until the tracks were raised above street level. It was not until February 1888 that the two sides reached a compromise, with the railroad agreeing to spend $200,000 to raise the tracks and build a stone arch over Main Street, while the city would spend $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet, and would settle any damage claims by adjacent property owners. Most significantly, though, this project meant the construction of a new railroad station, which would be built across the street from here on the east side of Main Street.

The old railroad station was demolished in the spring of 1889, but the platforms and two waiting rooms were left standing until the new station opened in July. Like the older railroad office building, the new station was based on the designs of Henry H. Richardson, although he died before construction began, and his successors made some significant alterations to his original plans. The entire project was finished once the railroad arch was completed in 1890, finally eliminating the long-problematic grade crossing on Main Street.

Despite all of these changes, the Boston and Albany office building remained standing well into the 20th century, and continued to be used even after the railroad was acquired by the New York Central in 1900. The building was finally demolished in the late 1920s, around the same time as the 1889 railroad station. Despite being less than 40 years old, this station had become obsolete as quickly as its predecessor, and in 1926 it was replaced by the current Union Station on the same site. However, the stone arch is still here, and still serves as an important downtown landmark on Main Street.

Patton and Loomis Block, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Hampden Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the mid-19th century, Springfield’s commercial development was largely confined to the area around Court Square, extending only a few blocks to the north and south along Main Street. The opening of the Western Railroad in 1839, with its depot a half mile north of Court Square, did attract some businesses and industries to the northern part of downtown, but it would not be until the 1860s that Main Street began to take on its current form. As devastating as the Civil War was to the country at large, it brought significant growth to the city, thanks in large part to an influx of workers at the Armory, Smith & Wesson, and other war-related industries. The population boom also resulted in increased development along Main Street, as vacant lots and old houses were replaced with modern commercial blocks.

This particular site, at the southwest corner of Main and Hampden Streets, was purchased by William Patton in 1857. Originally from Warehouse Point in East Windsor, Connecticut, Patton started his career as the archetypal Yankee peddler, selling notions – small household articles like buttons, mirrors, scissors, hardware, and assorted novelties – from a cart, traveling throughout New England in the process. In 1848, he opened a store here in Springfield, but he also employed peddlers who continued selling his goods throughout the region. This proved profitable, and Patton also invested in real estate, including this property on Main Street. In 1864, he built this four-story commercial block and moved his store into the ground floor. He had his offices on the second floor, and he also rented part of the building to other tenants.

William Patton ran his store in this building until 1875, when he retired from the business and focused his attention on his real estate holdings. These included several downtown commercial properties as well as an entire street – named Patton Street – in the North End, and by his death in 1898 William Patton was one of the richest men in the city. His son, William, Jr., succeeded him in the real estate business, but in the early 1900s this property was sold to another developer, Frank L. Dunlap. In 1909, Dunlap modernized the building’s appearance, spending $15,000 to replace the old 1864 facade with one that conformed to early 20th century architectural tastes. This new facade extended for a short distance along the Hampden Street side of the building, but the rest of this side was left unaltered, providing an interesting contrast betwee the two architectural styles.

By the time the first photo was taken, the building’s ground floor tenants included Albert Furniture on the left, P & Q Clothes in the center-right, and Sarnoff-Irving Hats on the corner. In the 1950s, a modern glass and aluminum storefront was added to the building, although this was later removed and the first floor was restored to its early 19th century appearance. Today, the Patton and Loomis Block remains well-preserved as one of the many historic commercial buildings that still line this section of Main Street, and in 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Block, Springfield, Mass

The northwest corner of Main and Fort Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The name of this building, the Fort Block, comes from its location on the site of a brick, colonial-era house that had served as a fort during the 1675 Indian raid on Springfield. Built around 1660, the house was probably the only brick building in 17th century Springfield, and this rare luxury reflected the wealth and social prominence of its owner, John Pynchon. He was the son of William Pynchon, who had been the principal founder of Springfield and had built a lucrative trading business here on the colonial frontier. However, William caused controversy with the 1650 publication of his book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which was declared heretical by Puritan leaders in Boston. As a result, William Pynchon returned to England in 1652, and John succeeded him as both a merchant and as a leader of colonial Springfield.

In 1675, during King Philip’s War, a group of Indians attacked Springfield, killing four residents while burning 25 houses and 35 barns. John Pynchon also lost a corn mill and a sawmill, but his fortified house survived the attack, with its two-foot-thick brick walls providing shelter for many of the town’s residents. In subsequent years, the house became a Springfield landmark, with its role in the Indian raid becoming a part of local lore. It would remain in the family for more than 150 years, and the final owner was William Pynchon (1776-1847), the great-great-great grandson of John Pynchon. The house was one of several early colonial buildings in Springfield that survived into the 19th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1831.

Following the demolition, the property remained in the Pynchon family for several more decades, and it was finally sold in the late 1850s to the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Established in 1849, it was the first insurance company in Springfield, although it lacked permanent offices until 1858, when this commercial block was built on the site of the old Pynchon house. Originally, the building had an Italianate design that was similar to many other commercial buildings of this era and this style can still be seen on the left side along Fort Street. However, the Main Street facade was altered before the first photo was taken, and bears little resemblance to its mid-19th century appearance.

Along with the insurance company, this building also housed the John Hancock Bank, which leased the ground-floor storefront on the right side of the building. Both businesses would remain here for many years, and in 1886 the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company expanded the building along Fort Street in order to accommodate the growing company. However, in 1905 the company built a new headquarters at the corner of State and Maple Streets, and this building was subsequently sold. Early 20th century tenants included Hampden Savings Bank, which was located here from 1899 to 1918; the Bay Path Institute, which moved out in 1922 and later became Bay Path University; and the Springfield Union, whose offices were located here from 1909 until the newspaper was acquired by the Springfield Republican in 1926.

The two other buildings in this scene, on the right side of both photos, are nearly as old as the Fort Block. They were both built in 1864, although, like the Fort Block, they were heavily altered in the early 20th century. The Patton and Loomis Block on the far right, at the corner of Hampden Street, had its facade rebuilt in 1909, and the Loomis Block in between was similarly renovated in 1912, with a new yellow brick facade and a fifth floor. The owners of the Fort Block did likewise about a decade later, adding a new facade on the Main Street side in order to modernize the appearance of the building. However, the older Italianate-style appearance was retained on the Fort Street side, and can be seen on the left side of both photos.

By the time the first photo was taken about 80 years ago, these three buildings had assumed their present-day appearance, and very little has changed in this view since then. All of the Main Street businesses are long gone, including Roxy Clothes, Regal Shoes, and Bowles Lunch, but the Fort Block is still the home of the Student Prince, one of Springfield’s oldest restaurants. Established in 1935 on the Fort Street side of the building, this German restaurant was only a few years old when the first photo was taken, although it is not visible in the first photo. Since then, it has expanded to include much of the ground floor of the Fort Block, and it remains in business as a popular restaurant in downtown Springfield.