State and Main Streets, Springfield Mass

Foot’s Block at the southwest corner of State and Main Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

529_1892c picturesquehampden

The location around 1910. Image from View Book of Springfield (1910)

529_1910c viewbookofspfld

The building in 2015:

529_2015
The site now occupied by 1200 Main Street has had its share of historic buildings over the years. Thomas Bates built a tavern here in 1773, which operated well into the 19th century. On the surface, it was a popular stagecoach tavern that regularly entertained visiting dignitaries like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. However, it also operated clandestinely a stop on the Underground Railroad. It stood here until 1847, when it was moved a few lots west on State Street, as seen in this post, which gives more details about its history.

After the old tavern was moved in 1847, businessman Homer Foot built Foot’s Block, the building seen in the 1892 photo here.  It didn’t take long for Foot to find tenants for the commercial and office space in the building; in 1851,the newly-incorporated Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company rented office number 8 in the building as their original company office.  The company would later move to their own building a few blocks up Main Street, but by the first decade of the 20th century they had moved back to the corner of Main and State.  However, instead of renting a single suite as they had some 50 years earlier, they demolished Foot’s Block and replaced it with the 12-story tower that stands there today.

The building was completed in 1908, and at 125 feet it is the same height as the steeple of Old First Church.  In response to the construction of this building. and because of fears that the city would be overtaken by modern skyscrapers, the Massachusetts legislature set 125 feet as the height limit for any building in Springfield, a law that stood until 1970.  As a result, despite being over a century old it is still tied for 7th tallest building in the city.  MassMutual didn’t stay here for too long, however.  In 1927 with a continually-expanding company and little room in downtown, MassMutual moved to their present-day home a few miles up State Street in the Pine Point neighborhood.  Menawhile, the historic office building here at the corner of State and Main is now owned by MGM Springfield, who plan to preserve the building for MGM’s offices once the casino is built adjacent to it.

South Church, Springfield Mass

The old South Church building on Bliss Street in Springfield, probably around 1865-1875. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

478_1865-1885c nypl

The location in 2015:

478_2015

For many years, the First Church in Springfield was the only church in town; it wasn’t until the first half of the 19th century that other churches started to form.  Many of these were offshoots from the first church, some of whom left because of doctrinal differences, such as the Unitarian Church.  However, others left the church on better terms, in order to form new congregations to meet the needs of the growing town (and soon to be city).  The South Church was one of these.  They were formed in 1842, and originally met in the parish house of the First Church before building their own church a few blocks away on Bliss Street.

The first pastor was Noah Porter, who served from 1843 to 1846, when he accepted a position as a professor at his alma mater, Yale College.  He later went on to serve as president of Yale from 1871 to 1886.  Following Porter’s departure, Dr. Samuel G. Buckingham became the pastor, and served for 40 years.  Buckingham was also an author, and he wrote a biography of his brother William Alfred Buckingham, who was Governor of Connecticut from 1858 to 1866 and a US Senator from 1869 to 1875.

During Buckingham’s tenure as pastor, the church outgrew the building on Bliss Street, and in 1875 they moved to a new location on Maple Street.  South Congregational Church is still there, and still meets in the 1875 building.  Meanwhile, on Bliss Street, the old church was demolished by 1884, which was the year that the Women’s Christian Association built a boarding house on the site.  That building is still there as of 2015, serving as the home of the Springfield Rescue Mission, although it is scheduled to be demolished later in the year to make way for the MGM Springfield casino.

Charles Merriam House, Springfield, Mass

The former Charles Merriam house at 61 Howard Street in Springfield, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

474_1892c picturesquehampden

The location in 2015:

474_2015

This house on Howard Street was built around the 1830s, and was the home of Charles Merriam. He and his brother Charles had grown up in West Brookfield, but in 1831 they moved to Springfield and, the following year, opened a publishing company called G. & C. Merriam. A few years later, the Merriams purchased the rights to Noah Webster’s dictonary, which turned out to be a wise business move. Merriam-Webster, as the company is now known, is still headquartered in Springfield, and their famous dictionary is still being published today.

Charles married his first wife, Sophia Warriner, in 1835, and the couple had five children. She died in 1858, and two years later he remarried to Rachel Capen, a 36 -year-old widow. They continued living here in this house, and Rachel became involved in charitable efforts in the city, which included being one of the founders of the Home for Friendless Women. It was established in 1865 with Rachel as its first president, and provided shelter and services for needy women and children.

The original building for the Home for Friendless Women was located on Union Street, essentially in the Merriams’ backyard. Within a few decades it was too small to meet the growing needs, though. Shortly after Charles’s death in 1887, Rachel donated the home to the organization, who was using it by the time the first photo was taken. However, within a few years they built a new building on William Street, and the Howard Street property was sold.

By the 1890s, Howard Street was hardly the upscale residential street that it had once been when Charles Merriam moved in more than 60 years earlier. The 1900 census shows that the street was predominantly French-Canadian, a fact emphasized by the presence of St. Joseph’s Church, a French Catholic church visible in the extreme right of the first photo. The former Merriam house was at this point owned by Napoleon Byron, a French-Canadian undertaker who lived here with his wife Emily, their seven children, and three boarders.

The old house did not remain here for much longer, though. It was demolished by 1905, when the Howard Street School was built to serve the growing population of the South End.  This school later became the Zanetti School, and was used up until 2009.  Two years later it sustained significant damage in the tornado that passed through Springfield, and as of April 2015 it is scheduled to be demolished, pending final approval from the state historical commission.  The current MGM Springfield casino plans call for the construction of a parking garage on the spot of the school.

Jeremy Warriner House, Springfield Mass

The Jeremy Warriner house at 43 Bliss Street in Springfield, probably around 1893.  Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)

469_1893c sketchesofoldinhabitants

The location in 2015:

469_2015

Jeremy Warriner was a tavern owner in Springfield in the first half of the 19th century.  He operated Warriner’s Tavern at the corner of Main and State Streets, and he later opened the Union House, which is still standing as of April 2015, but is scheduled to be demolished later this year.  By the 1840s, Warriner was living in this house on Howard Street, just a block away from the Union House.  During his time here, he hosted at least one distinguished visitor.  In 1851, famed Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind traveled around the United States performing to enormous crowds, and one of her stops was Old First Church in Springfield.  While in Springfield, she stayed at Warriner’s home, and one of his employees, Julia Lee, gives an account of the visit in her letter that I included in this post.  I have included part of her description below:

After uncle Jerry gave up keeping the tavern and went over on Howard street to live I went with him, and Jenny Lind when she came here in 1851 stayed with Jerry and had her meals sent down from the hotel. There was Quincy, Harrison Gray Otis and Mr. Cabbot and lots of others. I liked Jenny Lind the best of all. She was beautiful and the school children all came around to see her and she was so polite to everybody.

Warriner’s house was still standing in 1905 when the Howard Street School was built two houses away, and it appears on city atlases as late as 1920, but it is not included among the 1938-1939 WPA photos of Howard Street, which suggests it was probably gone by then.  Most recently, the site has been used as a parking lot, but the 2015 photo shows construction equipment getting ready to begin work on the MGM Springfield casino.  The Howard Street School in the background will be demolished soon, pending final approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Warriner’s Tavern, Springfield Mass

The former Warriner’s Tavern on State Street in Springfield, around 1893. Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)

468_1893c sketchesofoldinhabitants

The location in 2015:

468_2015

The building in the first photo was built around 1773, and was originally located a half a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets.  It apparently had a number of different names over its long lifespan, but it was built by Thomas Bates and operated as the Bates Tavern for many years.  However, probably its most notable owner was Jeremy Warriner, and under his ownership starting in 1820, the tavern was variously referred to as the United States Hotel, Eagle Tavern, Warriner’s Tavern, and “Uncle Jerry’s.”  He appears to have sold it by the 1840s, and in 1847 the building was moved to its location on State Street.

During Warriner’s ownership, when the tavern was still located on Main Street, it was one of Springfield’s premier taverns along the stagecoach lines, and hosted many distinguished guests, but it was also part of the Underground Railroad.  Many runaway slaves became employees here, and in 1907 the Springfield Homestead published the recollections of Julia Lee, the daughter of Mary Sly, who was one of the runaway slaves.  Lee’s narrative provides a fascinating account of the Underground Railroad and life in Springfield during the mid 19th century:

I don’t know just when I was born, but I know where I was born. I was born in the old Springfield house, as it is now called, Frank Foot tells me that Emil Wunsch is going to pull it down and put up a big block there. Frank says to me, “Julia, they ought to give you that old house.” Yes I was born there, when it used to stand on the corner of State and Main streets. It was the United States Hotel then and Uncle Jeremy Warriner used to run it. The Springfield house is only the front part of the old tavern, which was a great deal larger than the Springfield house. An Irishman, who lived over on Central street, bought the back part, and it used to run way to a Mr. Sykes’, when Uncle Jerry gave up keeping hotel there.

The way I happened to be born there, my mother, Mrs. Mary Sly, was a cook with Uncle Jerry. She came from Natchez, Miss. up here, and mother was born in New Orleans. Father was a West India man.  Uncle Jerry had all colored help men and women. Aunt Phoebe’s (Mrs. Warriner’s) aunt used to do the cooking. A colored girl, Emily, did all the pastry.  Jane Hall and I helped wait on table. I used to feel quite proud when some of those big folks would come in on the stage and when they’d sit down at the table would say, “Where’s Julia, I want Julia to wait on me.”  Those folks were generous about tipping, too.  They would leave money around under the plates, often 25 cents and sometimes as much as a dollar.

I used to know some of the biggest folks in the country.  Daniel Webster would stop over on his way to and from Boston. Webster always had a parlor and bedroom.  I used to carry his meals up to his room.  He kept by himself a good deal and was always busy.  Rufus Choate used to come here, too.  My! How that man would walk the floor.  Lots of brides used to come and we had bridal chambers for them.  They would send on ahead for rooms and sometimes Jerry would have the band come and serenade them at night.  I couldn’t begin to tell all the people who would come.  Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe I remember and Mrs. Samuel Colt of Hartford, and Fanny Elsley, the great dancer, and Henry Clay, I most forgot him, and P.T. Barnum and Jennie Lind and Louis Kossuth.  After uncle Jerry gave up keeping the tavern and went over on Howard street to live I went with him, and Jenny Lind when she came here in 1851 stayed with Jerry and had her meals sent down from the hotel.  There was Quincy, Harrison Gray Otis and Mr. Cabbot and lots of others.  I liked Jenny Lind the best of all.  She was beautiful and the school children all came around to see her and she was so polite to everybody.  When Uncle Jerry went to what is Chandler’s hotel now I went too.  I stuck by the Warriners as long as they lived.

What good times we all had in those old days at the United States! Uncle Jerry had two or three spans of horses and used to take his guests around and then at night they would gather around the big fire places and go into the parlor and dance.  I was strictly temperate and Jane Hall and I used to march in the front of the cold water processions they used to have.  To be sure Uncle Jerry kept a bar but I didn’t see many getting full, same as they do now.

Uncle Jerry made lots of money, he kept such a good house.  People would come there and he would say he was full and they would say “Well Jerry, we are going to stay here anyway.” It was because he set such a good able you know.  People would room all around and come there to take their meals.  Jerry used to make a specialty of venison suppers, served with spiced gravy and jelly, with little chafing dishes placed around the table.  There was always something to drink, too.  Lots of Springfield people used to come there for suppers, too, Sam Bowles, Homer Foot, George Ashman, Judge Shurtleff and I can’t remember how many others.

Southern people used to be there and I will never forget one family and the time we had.  It was this way: Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte of Baltimore had a head waiter, William Gordon, who ran away and came up north.  Uncle Jerry always harbored all the slaves; In fact our house was one of the underground stations and would have eight or ten hid away sometimes.  Well, this Gordon, was in our house, when who should appear but Mrs. Bonaparte and her family.  They knew their waiter was up north somewhere and my! the fuss they made, but they didn’t get their slave.  Uncle Jerry was too smart for them.

After I got though here I went to Cincinnati and lived with a Mr. Hawkins, a Quaker who also kept runaway slaves escaping from Kentucky.

Uncle Jerry treated me with the best of any one I ever met and in summer he would take me to the summer resorts same as if I was one of the family.  All my relatives are dead and I feel as if I wished I could see the Warriners again.  You like my picture? Well I am sorry to disappoint The Homstead, but I had just one picture and some on stole that out of my album and I vowed then that I would never have another taken.

The event that prompted the publishing of this story was the planned demolition of the old tavern. Another 1907 article, this one appearing in the Springfield Republican, quoted a resident who lamented, “Oh the ceaseless march of improvements! they may soon build the tower of Babel again.” The building was demolished to make way for the United Electric Company building, which stands on the location today.  However, the “march of improvements” continues, and most of the building will soon be demolished to build the MGM Springfield casino, which will retain the State Street facade as an entrance, but is otherwise planning to take down the rest of it.

There is one other MGM connection to the old tavern, though.  In her letter, Lee mentioned how Warriner left the old tavern and went to Chandler’s Hotel.  This was originally known as the Union House, and Warriner was the original owner after it was built in the mid 1840s.  The building still stands today, at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets.  It is one of the oldest commercial buildings in downtown Springfield, but it is scheduled to be demolished this year as part of the casino development.

French Protestant Church, Springfield Mass

The former French Protestant Church on Bliss Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

458_1938-1939 spt

The church in 2015:

458_2015

This church on Bliss Street was built in 1887 as the French Protestant Church, thanks in part to the efforts of Daniel B. Wesson, whose Smith & Wesson factory was just on the other side of Main Street from here.  Many of his workers were French-Canadian Protestants, and he wanted them to have a French alternative to the Roman Catholic church.  However, the congregation disbanded in 1909, and several other churches used the building until 1919, when it was purchased by the First Spiritualist Society, who remained at the Bliss Street location until 2013.  The property was purchased by MGM Springfield, and while several historic buildings will be demolished to build the casino, the church will be moved to a new location on the MGM property and renovated as a restaurant.