Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this church was built around 1889 as Park Congregational Church, and was used by this church until they merged with South Congregational Church in 1973. That same year, they sold the building to Faith Baptist Church, but it was gutted by a fire just three weeks later. The wooden upper section of the church was destroyed, but the lower brick section survived the fire, and the church was rebuilt a few years later.

Today, the building stands vacant and deteriorated, with hardly any resemblance to its appearance in the first photo. The surviving walls have been heavily altered, but there are still a few remnants of the original design, including the steps to the side entrance, the arched windows on the left side, and a few of the windows on the right side. Despite these dramatic alterations, though, the church is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, right around the same time that the church was rebuilt.

Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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

The church in 2017:

The McKnight neighborhood in Springfield was developed in the late 19th century, just to the east of the Armory and a little over a mile from downtown Springfield. The large, elegant homes, landscaped streets, and easy access to trolley lines made it a desirable neighborhood for many of the city’s prominent residents, with hundreds of families moving here by the end of the 19th century. The neighborhood was almost exclusively residential, but there were also a number of new churches that were established in the neighborhood, including Park Congregational Church, which is seen here in these photos.

The church was established in 1889, and this building was completed around the same time. Its design reflected the popular Romanesque architecture of the era, and it was constructed with a variety of materials, including a stone foundation, brick lower walls, and shingled upper walls. It was situated in a prominent location at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street, and it was named for the Thompson Triangle, the largest park in the neighborhood, which is located directly opposite the church.

The first photo was taken soon after the building’s completion, and it shows a round turret at the northwestern corner of the building. However, this was removed by the time the second photo was taken nearly 50 years later, and the building instead had square, one-story additions on either side of the Clarendon Street entrance, on the left side of the photo. The other notable change in the second photo is the cupola, which was added to the top of the roof.

This building continued to be the home of Park Congregational Church for more than 30 years after the first photo was taken, but in 1973 the church merged with the South Congregational Church. Shortly after the merger,  this property was sold to Faith Baptist Church, which had previously been located at 76 Oak Street. However, in April 1973, just three weeks after Faith Baptist moved in, this building was gutted by a fire. The brick section of the walls survived the fire, though, and the building was subsequently reconstructed around them, with a dramatically different architectural style that included a low, mostly flat roof, and a tall, narrow tower at the Saint James Avenue entrance.

Despite its heavily modified appearance, the church building became a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District in 1976, when the neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would remain the home of Faith Baptist Church into the early 2000s, but in 2006 the congregation merged with Christian Hill Baptist Church, which is located nearby on Bowdoin Street. This building was later sold in 2013, but it appears to have remained vacant ever since, and it is currently boarded up and in poor condition, as seen in the 2017 photo.

First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mass

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church at 57 Bay Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:


During the 19th century, Springfield experienced significant population growth as it developed into a major industrial and commercial center. From its 1800 population of 2,312, it grew to over 62,000 by 1900, and with many new residents bringing new languages, cultures, and religious beliefs to the city. At the start of the 19th century, Springfield’s only religious institution was a single Congregational church, but over time Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and other denominations would all establish churches in the city.

By the turn of the 20th century, many of these churches served specific ethnic groups, particularly recent immigrants. The early Catholic churches were predominantly Irish, but other parishes were later established for French, Italian, and Polish Catholics. In addition, there were six Protestant churches that held their services in a language other than English, including one German, one Italian, one French, and three Swedish churches. Of the Swedish churches, there was one Congregational church, one Lutheran church, and a Methodist church, which was located here on Bay Street.

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1893, and in its early years it held services in a hall above the First National Bank on Main Street, opposite Court Square. However, in 1901 the congregation built this church building, near the corner of Bay and Pleasant Streets in Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood. Its Shingle-style design reflected architectural tastes of the era, although its windows, with their pointed arches, give it somewhat of a Gothic appearance as well.

In the late 1930s, around the time that the first photo was taken, the church was renamed the Bay Street Methodist Church. The congregation continued to use this building for the next decade or so, until it merged with the Asbury First Methodist Church in 1952. The new church held its services in the Asbury church building at the corner of Hancock and Florence Streets, and this property on Bay Street was sold in 1953 to the Church of the Nazarene. This church would remain here for the next 13 years, until moving to a new building on Wilbraham Road in Sixteen Acres in 1966.

Later in 1966, the building was sold to the Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, which remains an active congregation here more than 50 years later. During this time, the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved, and the only significant change in this scene has been the addition of a wheelchair ramp on the right side of the building. It stands as a good example of Shingle-style church architecture, and it is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Simeon E. Walton House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 80 Cornell Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is known locally as the “Peter Proud House” for its role in the 1975 film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, but the house was already nearly a century old when it made its brief Hollywood appearance. It was built in 1888, and was originally the home of Simeon E. Walton, a carpenter and builder who, according to an 1892 advertisement in the city directory, specialized in hardwood mosaic floors. This likely explains the interior of the house, which is still covered in fine hardwood floors, as well as wood paneling on the walls. He and his wife Ella had previously lived in a different house in the McKnight neighborhood, at 77 Clarendon Street, but they moved here after this house was completed and lived here until around 1910, when they moved to Agawam.

During the 1910 census, the house was owned by William Patton, a real estate developer whose properties included the Patton Building, which still stands at 15-19 Hampden Street. He was 52 years old and unmarried, and he rented part of this large house to Frederick and Mary Simmons, who were in their late 60s at the time. They lived here with their son, Frederick Jr., but both Frederick and Mary died of pneumonia in January 1914, less than a week apart. Their son continued to live here for a few more years, but he died in 1918 at the age of 50.

After Frederick’s death, his sister Emma and her husband, George B. Church, moved into this house, along with their two teenaged daughters, Dorothea and Mary. William Patton continued to live here during this time, and George worked as a secretary for his real estate company. However, William died in 1925, and George and Emma subsequently moved to their own house on Morningside Park, in the Forest Park neighborhood.

This house stood vacant throughout the late 1920s, and was not occupied again until the early 1930s, when it was the home of Philip Decoteau, a French-Canadian immigrant who owned a shoe repair business on Oak Street in Indian Orchard. He and his wife Emily were in their 60s at the time, and they lived here with their sizable family, which included at least six of their adult children, plus a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and several grandchildren. They were still living here into the late 1930s, but by 1939 the house was vacant and for sale, as indicated by the sign in the front yard of the first photo.

The house’s moment of fame came in 1975, when it was featured in the supernatural film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. The movie was an adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name, which was written by Springfield native Max Ehrlich, and much it was filmed here in Springfield. In the movie, the title character (played by Michael Sarrazin) is a college professor in California who suffers from recurring nightmares that, as it turns out, are flashbacks from a previous life. Seeking answers, he travels to Springfield, where he discovers many of the landmarks from his dreams, including this house, which had been his home in his previous life.

Today, the house still stands on Cornell Street, and still retains much of its Victorian-era elegance, although it has undergone some significant changes over the years. Even before the first photo was taken, the original clapboard exterior was replaced with stucco, and during the 1940s the interior was divided into several different apartments. The original tin roof, visible in the first photo, is also gone, except for the top of the spire. However, it remains a prominent house in a neighborhood that is filled with fine Victorian homes, and it is now part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

John McFethries House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 52 Cornell Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This elegant home was built in 1888 for John McFethries, a Scottish-born mechanical engineer who was in his late 50s at the time. He had come to America as a young man, where he married his first wife, Juliette McLean, in 1864 in Ludlow, Massachusetts. However, they subsequently moved to Russia, where John worked for the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railroad. Juliette died there in 1886, and three years later, while still in Russia, John remarried to Emily Pudan, who was originally from England.

By the early 1880s, John had moved back to the Springfield area along with Emily, and he became a prominent resident in the city. For several years they lived in a house nearby at 69 Clarendon Street, but around 1888 they moved into this house on Cornell Street, along the northwestern edge of the McKnight neighborhood. John was involved in several different local businesses, including serving as treasurer of the Waltham Watch Tool Company. He was also involved with the Highland Extension Company, which developed much of the land in the Upper Hill neighborhood of Springfield, and from 1890 to 1891 he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Emily died in 1900, and that year’s census shows John living here with his daughter Olga, her husband John E. Cowan, their infant daughter Martha, and Emily’s brother Frank. The Cowans subsequently moved to California, and John McFethries lived here in this house until his death in 1907 at the age of 76. His heirs owned the house for a few more years, and rented it to several different tenants, including Frank W. Watkins, who lived here from about 1910 to 1912. He lived here with his wife Mary and their daughter Lila, and he worked as a designer for the Taber-Prang Art Company, a Springfield-based firm that was a leading producer of fine art prints in the early 20th century.

Around 1913, the house was sold to Augustus C. Lamb, who lived here with his wife Effie and their three sons. He was a salesman for the American Writing Paper Company in Holyoke, and in 1917 he was promoted to sales manager. However, he resigned two years later to become factory manager of the Russ Gelatin Company, although he only stayed there for a few years before returning to American Writing Paper in 1922. Around the same time, he and his family also moved out of this house, and into an apartment in Forest Park at 143 Belmont Avenue.

This house then became the home of George S. Lewis, a firearms manufacturer who had previously worked for J. Stevens Arms of Chicopee. By the time he and his wife Fannie moved into this house around 1922, George had left Stevens and was in business for himself, starting the Page-Lewis Arms Company. He was vice president, general manager, and designer for this company, and he was also the general manager of the affiliated Page Needle Company, both of which were located in the same factory in Chicopee. However, in 1926, Page-Lewis was purchased by J. Stevens Arms, and George later began working for Winchester Repeating Arms in New Haven, Connecticut.

George and Fannie appear in city directories here as late as 1934, but by the end of the decade the house had been divided into several different apartments. During the 1940 census, which was done shortly after the first photo was taken, the house was owned by Robert W. Leduc, an accountant who lived here and rented out two other units in the home. One was rented by Edward J. Sawyer, a supervisor at Westinghouse who lived here with his wife Jean and their son, Edward Jr., and the other unit was rented by Nellie M. Allen, a widow who was 74 years old at the time.

In subsequent years, the city directories show a number of different residents living in this house, and it appears to have frequently changed owners in the mid-20th century. However, it is now a single-family home again, and it is one of the hundreds of historic 19th century homes in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Frederick A. North House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 28 Cornell Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1895, and was originally the home of Frederick A. North. He only lived here for a few years, though, because by 1898 he had moved to New York, and by the following year the house was owned by James M. Van Deusen. He was a graduate of Rutgers and the Hartford Theological Seminary, but never entered the ministry, and instead worked in the four and grain business, with the firm of Van Deusen & Foley. He and his wife Isabel lived here with their five children for about a decade, but in 1908 they sold the house and moved to Pasadena, California, where James died in 1921.

The house subsequently became the home of Henry L. Thomas, a Canadian-born mason who is also listed in city directories as being a building supervisor. He and his wife Eleanor had seven children, whose ages ranged from 6 to 26 at the time of the 1910 census. The oldest, William, was listed in the census as working as a stage electrician for an opera company, although city directories from the same period list his occupation as an actor. Either way, he later married and moved to a house on Winthrop Street in the South End, where he was living in 1917 while working for Poli’s Palace Theatre. Several of William’s younger siblings also moved out of this house during the 1910s, and around 1920 Henry and Eleanor moved to an apartment at 663 State Street, where they lived with their three youngest daughters.

This house would remain in Henry’s family, though, because during the 1920 census his daughter Mary was living here with her husband, John E. Keefe, and her daughter Patricia. John was a dentist and oral surgeon who was originally from Fall River, and in the aftermath of World War I he traveled to Romania with the American Red Cross. He was featured in several photographs taken by the Red Cross in 1919, including the one below, which shows him at work in his clinic in Bucharest.

The caption of this photo explains that he performs around 400 major dental operations each month, while one of the other captions explains how “The war has wrought many changes in the life of the people of southwestern Europe and has brought them in contact with many people they had never seen before. Here is Capt. John Keefe of N.Y. who has charge of the A.R.C. dental hut at Bucharest which is the mecca for native dental experts anxious to learn the mysteries of modern dental surgery.”

Dr. Keefe returned to Springfield after his time overseas, and for many years he worked out of an office at 1490 Main Street, where Tower Square now stands. He and Mary were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and they would remain here until Mary sold the house in 1953, a few years before John’s death in 1957.

In the second half of the 20th century, the McKnight neighborhood entered a decline, and many properties were abandoned or taken by the city for tax delinquency. This particular house became part of the McKnight Historic District when it was established in 1976, but several years later the city took the property, and it stood empty for many years until it was finally destroyed in a fire in 1999.