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.

Hampden Savings Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

The Hampden Savings Bank building at 1665 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The Hampden Savings Bank was established in 1852, and its headquarters was located in several different buildings in downtown Springfield during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1899 to 1918, it was in the Fort Block, at the corner of Main and Fort Streets, but in 1918 the bank moved into this new headquarters, located a block away on the other side of Main Street. The building was designed by local architect Max Westhoff, and featured a Classical Revival-style design that was popular for banks in the early 20th century.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the Hampden Savings Bank building, along with portions of the surrounding buildings. On the far left is the Chapin National Bank, which was built in 1917 and heavily altered on the Main Street side around the early or mid-1930s. On the right side is the Olmsted-Hixon-Albion Block, which extends all the way to the corner of Taylor Street. Originally built in the 1860s and 1870s as three separate buildings, the interiors of these commercial blocks were connected in 1927. However, the exteriors remained largely unchanged, giving the appearance of three different buildings, although only two of these sections are visible in this scene.

Hampden Savings Bank was located in this building until 1952, when a new headquarters was built a few blocks away on Harrison Avenue. The bank remained there until 2015, when it was acquired by Berkshire Bank, which continues to have a branch location in the Harrison Avenue building. In the meantime, this building on Main Street was later converted into law offices, although its exterior has hardly changed since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. It is now vacant, but there are currently plans to restore its interior and convert it into a recreational marijuana shop.

Chapin National Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The Chapin National Bank was established in 1872 by Chester W. Chapin, a railroad magnate, businessman, and future Congressman who was among the leading citizens of Springfield during the 19th century. The bank was located here, at the southeast corner of Main and Lyman Streets, but the original building was replaced in 1917 with the present-day structure. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Mowbray and Uffinger, which specialized in banks during the early 20th century, and it featured a Classical Revival design. Its appearance has been altered over the years, but it originally had four columns on the Main Street facade, matching the ones that still stand on the Lyman Street facade to the left.

The bank was gone by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. By this point, the Main Street facade had been reconstructed, although it seems unclear whether the columns were removed, or simply hidden by the new exterior wall. One of the tenants during this time was the Lorraine Spaghetti Palace, a restaurant that was located in the left storefront. In later years, the building became the Playtown Amusement Center, which opened in 1967. This arcade remained here until it closed in the 1990s, although the old sign is still visible on the left side of the building.

Today, the exterior of the building has not changed significantly since the first photo was taken. Despite the altered Main Street side of the building, it still stands as a good example of early 20th century bank architecture, and its Lyman Street facade remains well-preserved. It is one of a number of historic late 19th and early 20th century buildings along this section of Main Street, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.