Edmund K. Baker House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 192 Maple Street, at the corner of Central Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Tudor-style house was built around 1901, and was originally the home of Edmund K. Baker, the secretary and treasurer of the Hampden Paint and Chemical Company. He and his wife Marie were in their mid-40s at the time, and they lived here with their four children: Madeline, Rhea, Donald, and Lawrence. Edmund later became the president of the company, and he continued to live here in this house for the rest of his life. Marie died in 1927, and by the 1930 census Edmund was living here alone except for two servants. He died five years later, and the house remained vacant until the early 1940s.

The house was still vacant when the first photo was taken, but it was later sold and was again occupied by he mid-1940s. However, at some point the top floor of the house was removed, and it was converted into a commercial property. The front porch is also gone, but otherwise the remaining two floors still retain the building’s original Tudor-style architectural elements. Despite its altered condition, though, the house still stands as one of the many historic mansions along this section of Maple Street, and it is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Safford-Carter House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 238 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

According to the state MACRIS database, this house was built in 1914 and was originally owned by the Carter family. However, part of the house appears to be older, dating back to around the 1890s, when the property was owned by James D. Safford, the president of the City National Bank. As seen in these two photographs, the house is highly asymmetrical, with a large wing on the left side that does not entirely match the right side of the house. The 1899 city atlas shows a house standing here, with a footprint that roughly matches the right side of the house, which suggests that the right side was built sometime around the 1890s, followed by the large addition on the left side around 1914.

Either way, by 1914 the house was owned by Edwin A. Carter, the vice president of the Chapman Valve Manufacturing Company in Indian Orchard. He and his wife Nina had previously lived on Pearl Street, before purchasing this property in the mid-1910s and evidently building a sizable addition to the house. The couple had two children who died young, and by the time they moved into this house they only had one surviving child, Charles, who was about ten years old at the time. The 1920 census shows the three of them living here along with two servants, and Charles continued to live here with his parents until the late 1920s, when he married his wife Louise.

Edwin Carter remained with the Chapman Valve Company for many years, eventually becoming chairman of the board by the early 1930s. He and Nina were still living here when the first photo was taken, and the 1940 census shows them here with a live-in cook and two maids. Edwin died a few years later in 1943, and Nina continued to live here in this house until her death in 1947. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, without any noticeable changes from the first photo. However, the it is no longer a single-family home, and the interior is now divided into 12 apartments.

Nathan Bill House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 284 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

The late 19th century was a time of great prosperity for Springfield, and the city experienced rapid growth in population, industries, and commerce. Many elegant homes were constructed during this time, giving Springfield its nickname as “The City of Homes,” but some of the finest were built here on Maple Street, where wealthy residents enjoyed panoramic views from a bluff above the city.

This site here on Maple Street, near the top of the hill, was originally developed in the early 1870s by Jotham G. Chase, a lumber dealer whose business was particularly lucrative in the initial post-Civil War construction boom in the city. With his wealth he purchased this property and began construction of a brick, High Victorian Gothic-style house that was designed by the prominent New York architectural firm of Vaux & Withers. One of the partners Calvert Vaux, had previously worked with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park, and Chase would also hire Olmsted to design the grounds for his house.

The 1873-74 city directory estimated the cost of the house at $50,000, but unfortunately for Chase he never actually moved into the house. The exterior was finished, but he was unable to finish the interior because of financially difficulties, probably caused by the Panic of 1873. This economic downturn resulted in a steep drop in new house construction, which would have, in turn, hurt Chase’s lumber business. The shell of the house stood here for the next decade, and was still in its half-finished condition when Chase died in 1884.

The property was subsequently purchased by Andrew L. Fennessy, a banker who was also the treasurer of the Springfield Bicycle Club. By Thisbe point, the High Victorian Gothic style of the 1879s has fallen out of fashion, which may have been one of the reasons why Fennessy wanted to build a new house on the site. He moved the unfinished house to nearby Maple Court, where it became a multi-family home, and he built a new Shingle-style house, which was completed in 1888.

As it turned out, Fennessy only lived in this house for a few years, because he moved to Boston around 1891. By the time the first photo was taken a year later, the house was owned by Nathan D. Bill, a wealthy businessman who was involved in a number of paper manufacturing companies. He was a Springfield native, the son of Gurdon and Emily Bill, and as a teenager he worked a series of different jobs before becoming an apprentice at a wholesale paper and stationery business, at the age of 18. Two years later, he went into business for himself, as owner of the Union Envelope and Paper Company. This company subsequently became part of the National Papeterie Company, with Bill as one of its partners.

Nathan Bill made a considerable fortune in the paper industry in just a short time, and retired from active business in the late 1880s, when he was just 33 years old. He was one of the wealthiest men in Springfield at this point, enabling him to purchase Fennessy’s mansion here on Maple Street, and he lived here with his wife Ruth and their only child, Beatrice, who was about five years old when they moved into the house.

Although retired from active business, Nathan Bill remained involved in various paper manufacturing companies, but he also took on an active role in the community as a civic leader and philanthropist. He was a library trustee for 60 years, including many years as the library president, and a park commissioner for 28 years, during which time he was a strong advocate for creating new parks and playgrounds.

During this time, the city also benefitted from his philanthropy, including five parks that he donated, all of which still bear the names of members of his family: Emerson Wight Playground, Gurdon Bill Park, Emily Bill Playground, Ruth Elizabeth Playground, and Nathan Bill Playground. He also donated some of the land for the city-owned Franconia Golf Course, which helped prevent part of Forest Park from being converted into a golf course.

The 1900 census shows Nathan and Ruth living here with 14-year-old Beatrice and four servants, whose occupations were listed as “servant,” “seamstress,” “domestic,” and “coachman.” Of these, the coachman, George LaBroad, would go on to have a remarkably long career with the Bill family. He was listed here in city directories as early as 1894, and he would continue to work for the family, first as a coachman and then as a chauffeur, until his death in 1941, several years after the second photo was taken.

The second photo shows few changes in the nearly 50 years since the first photo was taken. Both Nathan and Ruth Bill were still living in the house, and the only significant change was an addition on the left side, where the one-story porch stood in the first photo. However, another interesting difference is the contrast between the horse-drawn carriage in the driveway of the first photo, and the automobile parked in the same spot in the second photo, reflecting the dramatic changes in transportation in the intervening years.

Nathan Bill died in 1947, at the age of 91, and Ruth died three years later. The house was subsequently converted into a nursing home, but by the 1960s it was vacant. The owner had plans to convert both the house and its carriage house into professional offices, but the carriage house was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1967. A year later, the house itself was destroyed in another fire, and the site was never rebuilt. Today, the property is vacant except for the concrete driveway, which marks the site of the old house. However, the neighboring Frederick Harris House, visible on the right side of all three photos, is  still standing as one of the many historic mansions on this section of Maple Street.

For a view of this house from a different angle, see this earlier post.

John Ames House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 398 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1828 by David Ames, Sr., a prominent paper manufacturer who had previously served as the first superintendent of the Springfield Armory, from 1794 to 1802. He lived in a modest house nearby on Mill Street, at the foot of Maple Street, but in the mid-1820s his son, David Ames, Jr., built a large mansion atop the hill on Maple Street, which came to be known as Ames Hill. Shortly after, in 1828, David Ames, Sr. built this architecturally-similar house for his son John, who was about 28 years old at the time.

John was, along with his brother David, involved with their father’s paper company, and he invented and patented a number of papermaking machines. However, he never actually lived here in this house. It was completed around the same time that he was engaged to be married, and he was supposed to live here with his new wife. The wedding ultimately did not happen, though, and John remained a lifelong bachelor, living in his father’s house on Mill Street until his death in 1890.

In the meantime, this house remained vacant for many years. The grounds occupied the entire triangle of land between Mill, Pine, and Maple Streets, and the house would have been easily visible up the hill when looking out the front windows of the Ames house on Mill Street. Although vacant, it was owned by the Ames family until 1856, when it was sold to Samuel Knox, a lawyer and politician from St. Louis.

Originally from Blandford, Massachusetts, Samuel Knox graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School, and subsequently moved to St. Louis, where he established his law practice in 1838. He continued to live in Missouri for many years, but in 1856 he purchased this house as a summer residence, and owned it until 1869. During this time, he ran for Congress in 1862, in Missouri’s first congressional district. He lost to incumbent Francis Preston Blair, Jr., but Knox contested the results, and in 1864 he was declared the winner, with less than nine months remaining in his term. He served the rest of his term, but lost re-election in 1864 and subsequently returned to his law practice. He sold this house a few years later, but he would eventually move back to Massachusetts permanently, living in his native Blandford until his death in 1905, and he was buried only a short distance away from here in Springfield Cemetery.

In 1869, this house was purchased by George R. Dickinson. Like the original owner of the house, he was a paper manufacturer, and ran the George R. Dickinson Paper Company in Holyoke. Born and raised in Readsboro, Vermont, Dickinson later moved to Holyoke, and in 1859 he married his first wife, Mary Jane Clark. They had one child, Henry Smith Dickinson, who was born in 1863, but Mary died several days later. The following year, George remarried to Mary’s sister, Harriet, and they had a son, George R. Dickinson, Jr., who was born around the same time that the family moved into this house.

The younger George drowned in 1876 at the age of seven, but his older half brother Henry grew up here in this house, and eventually joined his father in the paper business. Upon George’s death in 1887, Henry inherited this property and also became president of the George R. Dickinson Paper Company. He remained in this role until 1899, when Dickinson Paper was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, with Henry becoming the company’s vice president.

Along with his involvement in the paper industry, Henry was also active in politics. In 1884, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and he was also chairman of the Republican City Committee here in Springfield. He subsequently served as a city alderman in 1889 and as president of the board of alderman in 1890, and he served one term each as a state representative in 1891 and mayor of Springfield in 1898.

When the first photo was taken around 1893, Henry and his wife Estella were living here in this house along with his stepmother Harriet. However, in 1894 Harriet remarried, and by the following year Henry and Estella had house of their own at 192 Pearl Street. In the meantime, Harriet and her second husband, William W. Stewart, remained here in this house. However, Estella died in 1902, and he subsequently remarried to his second wife Agnes. By the 1910 census Henry had returned to this house, where he was living with William, Harriet, Agnes, and the four children from his first marriage: George, Henry, Stuart, and Harriet.

Henry died in 1912, and Harriet in 1915, but the house was still in the family as late as 1919, when Henry’s three sons were living here. However, by the early 1920s the house was the home of George A. MacDonald, the president of the Chicopee National Bank. He was living here as late as the mid 1920s, but by the end of the decade the house was being rented by George W. Ferguson, the pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. During the 1930 census, he and his wife May were living here with May’s three teenage sons from her first marriage, along with four servants.

The Fergusons were living here as late as 1933, but by the following year the house was listed as vacant in the city directory. It was evidently demolished soon after, because it does not appear in late 1930s directories or in the WPA images of Maple Street, which were done in 1938-1939. The site was subsequently redeveloped, and it is now the site of a Colonial Revival-style Mormon church, which was built in 1957. There is no longer any trace of the old house here in his scene, but at least one thing from the first photo is evidently still in existence. The carriage house, barely visible in the distance to the right of the house in the first photo, was apparently moved to East Forest Park and converted into a residence, where it still stands at the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Gifford Street.

Solyman Merrick House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 104 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The house in the first photo was built in 1850 for Solyman Merrick, a tool manufacturer who had previously lived nearby in a house that still stands at the corner of Maple and Union Streets. Best known as the inventor of the monkey wrench, Merrick had patented his design in 1835 and later sold it to Bemis & Call, a Springfield-based tool manufacturer. He married his first wife, Henrietta Bliss, in 1841, and that same year they moved into the house at the corner of Maple and Union Streets. However, they were only there for a few years, because Henrietta died in 1845 and Solyman sold the property two years later. Then, in 1848, Merrick remarried to Anne Clapp, and in 1850 they moved into this new house at 104 Maple Street.

Although his new home was built less than a decade after his first one, it represented a dramatic shift in architectural styles. His first home had been a fairly conservative Greek Revival-style home, but his new one was a far more ornate Italian villa, designed by architect Leopold Eidlitz. It was one of the first buildings in Springfield to be designed by a formally-trained architect, and caused a considerable stir in the small but growing community. Born in Prague in 1823, he later came to America and studied under renowned architect Richard Upjohn, before starting his own firm in 1846. One of his first works was the home of P. T. Barnum in Bridgeport, and soon afterward he designed this house for Merrick in Springfield. He would go on to have a successful career, including designing Springfield’s old city’s hall, and later in life he was one of several architects who worked on the New York State Capitol.

Unfortunately for Solyman Merrick, he died in 1852, just two years after the completion of this house. He was only 45 at the time, and he left behind his wife Anne and their three-year-old son, William. The two of them continued to live here after Solyman’s death, along with Anne’s sister Caroline and her husband, Albert D. Briggs. During the 1860 census, Albert and Caroline lived here with their two young sons, John and Edward, and the household also included lawyer Franklin Chamberlin and his wife Mary, along with four live-in servants.

Albert Briggs was a bridge builder who, as a boy, had moved with his family to Springfield from Brattleboro, Vermont. When he got older, he found work as as a surveyor and engineer during the construction of the Western Railroad between Springfield and Albany. Despite being barely 20 years old, he was also an assistant engineer for the railroad bridge across the Connecticut River, where he worked under William Howe, the inventor of the Howe truss design. This set Briggs on a successful career as a bridge builder, and he worked closely with Howe for the next decade and even purchased Howe’s patent rights for several states. By the time he moved into this house in the 1850s, he had established a successful business that was building bridges in all parts of the country.

Aside from his bridge building, Briggs was also involved in politics, serving as a city alderman in 1864 and as mayor from 1865 to 1867. He did not, however, serve in the Civil War, but his widowed sister-in-law did. Anne Merrick was 42 years old at the start of the war, and she joined the war effort as a nurse for the 10th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The history of this regiment, published in 1909, highlights her service, writing that:

“When, in the fall of 1861, typhoid fever was decimating the ranks of the Tenth and Brighwood, two ministering angels in human form, left their happy northern homes to serve these men in camp. Their stay with the regiment was a blessing from the start and every soldier, whether well or ill, has never failed to sing their praises when the names of Mrs. Merrick and Miss Wolcott were mentioned.”

The author, Alfred S. Roe, went on to write:

“Mrs. Merrick, it will be observed, was a widow when she volunteered to minister to the suffering soldiers in Washington. In this capacity she continued until, herself stricken with fever, she was compelled to return home, Miss Wolcott accompanying her.”

Anne Merrick had died long before the book was published, but her fellow nurse, Helen Wolcott, wrote a short letter to the author, describing their experience in the war:

“In regard to Mrs. Merrick and myself, nurses in the old Tenth Regiment, I could tell you more than I can write. It is all very fresh in my mind. The first night we slept on the floor of the tent. The next day the carpenter made us a very good bedstead. I shall never forget how glad the sick men were to see us, as one said, ‘Any one in petticoats.’ I fully recall one from Northampton, who died very soon, his parents coming at the very last moment.”

After her service in the war, Anne Merrick continued to live here with her son William, along with Alfred and Caroline Briggs, until her death in 1879. In the meantime, William followed in his father’s footsteps as a businessman, eventually becoming treasurer of the Springfield Gas Light Company as well as a director of the John Hancock Bank. He was also involved in several city organizations, including the library and the Springfield Hospital, and he donated the land for Merrick Park, at the corner of State and Chestnut Streets. However, like his father, William died young, in 1887 at the age of 37.

Albert Briggs died two years after Anne Merrick, in 1881, but Caroline continued to live here in this house, even after William’s death. She died in 1895, and the house was subsequently sold to lumber dealer Frank C. Rice. He was the president of the Rice & Lockwood Lumber Company, and during the 1900 census he was living here with his wife Emily and their son Julian, along with Emily’s mother Charlotte Anderson and sister Martha Anderson.

A decade later, during the 1910 census, Frank and Julian were still living here, but Emily had died in 1907 from appendicitis, at the age of 50. Frank lived here until around 1916, when he moved into an apartment nearby at 169 Maple Street, and he sold this house to Dr. Richard S. Benner, an obstetrician who lived here with his wife Marion and their four children.

Dr. Benner lived here until his death in 1939, right around the same time that the first photo was taken. Marion continued to live here for at least a few more years, although by the mid-1940s she had moved to Randolph Street in Forest Park. In the meantime, her old house stood here on Maple Street until around the early 1960s. Despite its historical significance as the home of the inventor of the monkey wrench, and despite its importance as one of the city’s early architectural landmarks, it was demolished and replaced with the office building that now stands on the site.

76-78 Maple Street, Springfield, Mass

The townhouses at 76-78 Maple Street, at the corner of Park Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This double townhouse was built in 1879 at the corner of Maple and Park Streets, directly adjacent to a block of three townhouses to the left, which were built almost a decade earlier. Architecturally, the two groups of townhouses have similar Second Empire-style architecture, although the 1879 homes show the beginnings of the more elaborate Stick and Queen Anne styles, which would become dominant in the 1880s. These two homes were originally owned by Seth Hunt, who lived in the more desirable house on the right at the corner, and his son David, who lived in the house on the left.

Born in Northampton in 1814, Seth Hunt was a longtime employee of the Connecticut River Railroad, and served as the company’s treasurer from 1858 until his death in 1893. Aside from his work on an actual railroad, though, Hunt was also an abolitionist who was active in the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. He lived in Northampton at the time, and used his house to help shelter runaway slaves. During this time, he had friendships with some of the country’s leading abolitionists, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Sojourner Truth.

Seth and his wife Juliet moved from Northampton to Springfield after this house was completed, and they lived here until their deaths in the summer of 1893, only six weeks apart from each other. In the meantime, in the early 1880s their son David and his wife Grace lived in the house next door on the right side, and he worked with his father as assistant treasurer of the Connecticut Valley Railroad. However, later in the 1880s the city directories show David living with his parents on the right side.

By the late 1880s, the house on the left was the home of Maria Browne, a writer and retired teacher who was about 70 at the time. Born in Northampton, she grew up in Templeton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1840. She subsequently moved to New York City, where she worked as a teacher while also writing magazine and newspaper articles as well as short books. Her writings included moral stories for children, and in 1866 the book The Female Prose Writers of America described her, with regards to her writing, as being “playful, pathetic, serious, earnest, full of life and intensity, never prosaic, never tedious, never common-place, deeply imbued with the religious, largely read in that school of sensibility which enables her to sympathize with all forms of human sorrow and suffering; her writings, consequently, find their way directly to the heart and bosom of the reader.”

Browne never married, and she lived here in this house from around the late 1880s until her death in 1908 at the age of 89. Two years later, the house was still owned by her heirs, who rented it to real estate broker Henry F. Waters, his wife Frances, and their young daughter, who was also named Frances. During that same time, the house on the right was owned by physician Ralph B. Ober, who lived here with his newlywed wife Eleanor. Dr. Ober was a 1901 graduate of Harvard Medical School, and he began practicing medicine here in Springfield in 1904. By the early 1910s, he was a assistant medical director for Massachusetts Mutual, an assitant surgeon at Springfield Hospital, and president of the Springfield Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.

The Obers had two children, Frederick and Mary, and they were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. In the meantime, though, most of the nearby townhouses, including the house on left, had become lodging houses in the first half of the 20th century. During the 1930 census, the lodging house was run by Harry A. Engel, who rented it for $85 a month and, in turn, rented rooms to six different families with a total of 19 people. A decade later, shortly after the first photo was taken, it was still a lodging house, although by this point it was being run by Orelina Menard, who had only seven lodgers here.

Ralph Ober died in 1945, but Eleanor continued to live here until her death in 1972, at the age of 86. Just four years later, the house became part of the Maple-Union Corners Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and very little has changed in this scene since then. The only major difference between the two photos is the house in the distance on the far right. Completed in 1899 as the home of firearms manufacturer Daniel B. Wesson, it was later used as the clubhouse of the Colony Club, until it burned down in 1966. A medical office building, visible on the right side, now stands on the site.