Trinity Church and Center Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Trinity Church on the Green (left) and Center Church (right), seen from across the New Haven Green, around 1900-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These two churches were completed only two years apart, and were designed – at least in part – by the same architect, yet they represent two very different architectural styles. On the right is the Federal-style Center Church, which was completed in 1814. It was the work of notes architects Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town, and it reflects the typical appearance of New England churches during this period. Common features include a columned portico with a triangular pediment above it, a tall, multi-stage steeple, and an exterior of red brick. The United Church, located just out of view to the right, was completed a year later, and in many ways its design was a close imitation of Center Church.

A third church, Trinity Church, was also built on the New Haven Green around the same time. It was completed in 1816, and can be seen in the distance on the left side of the scene. However, while the two earlier churches were Congregationalist, Trinity was an Episcopalian parish, and its members were interested in a design that would set it apart from the new neighboring churches. As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, the result was a stone, Gothic Revival church, perhaps the first church of this style to be built in the United States. Like the neighboring Center Church, it was designed by Ithiel Town, and his work predated the widespread popularity of Gothic Revival architecture by several decades.

The first photo was taken nearly a century later, and shows the view of the Green with both churches still standing. Aside from a partially-reconstructed steeple on Trinity Church, neither building had seen many exterior changes by this point. Today, the churches are more than twice as old as they were when the first photo was taken, yet they have still remained well-preserved. The only noticeable difference is the removal of the pyramidal spire atop Trinity Church, which was not original anyway. The Green itself has also remained largely unchanged, aside from the loss of the elm trees that once gave New Haven its nickname of Elm City. The only other major change to this scene since the early 20th century has been the construction of the Hotel Taft, which was completed in 1912 and can be seen in the distance between the two churches.

Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, Connecticut

Looking west on the New Haven Green, toward Trinity Church on the Green, with the Old Campus of Yale University in the distance, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The New Haven Green is home to three historic churches on the west side of Temple Street, all of which were constructed between 1812 and 1816. The two oldest, Center Church (1814) and United Church (1815) both feature Federal-style architecture that was common for churches of this period, and Center Church is particularly notable for having been designed by prominent architects Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town. Town subsequently designed the last of these three churches, Trinity Church, which was completed in 1816 on the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets. However, its design was a vast departure from his work on Center Church, and it is generally regarded as one of the first – if not the first – Gothic-style church building in the country, as Gothic Revival architecture would not gain widespread popularity for several more decades.

Trinity Church was established in 1723, and was a rare Anglican parish in a colony that was otherwise predominantly Congregationalist. The first permanent church building was completed in 1753, and stood a block away from here on the southeast corner of Chapel and Church Streets. As time went on, though, this building proved too small for the growing parish, and in 1814 construction began on a new church here on the Green. The exterior was built of locally-quarried trap rock from East Rock, giving the church its distinctive multicolor appearance. This, along with the Gothic architecture, provided a significant contrast to the more conventional brick churches just to the north of here. The new church was consecrated in 1816, an event that coincided with the installation of a new rector, the noted journalist, author, and clergyman Harry Croswell.

By the time the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, Trinity Church was already nearly 100 years old, and had undergone some changes since its completion. The top of the tower was originally constructed of wood, but this portion was rebuilt of stone in 1871. The church had also been built with crenelated wood balustrades along the roofline, although these rotted and were eventually removed as part of the 1871 renovations. Other 19th century changes included the installation of stained glass windows, and the addition of a pyramidal spire atop the tower, which can be seen in the first photo.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, the interior of the church has undergone some changes, but this view of the exterior has remained largely unaltered, with the only noticeable difference being the removal of the pyramid on the tower. Trinity Church is still an active Episcopalian parish, and the church building is now part of the New Haven Green Historic District, which includes the other two early 19th century churches nearby. Aside from the church itself, there have not been many other changes to the scene from the first photo. The New Haven Green still functions as a park in the center of the city, and the Old Campus of Yale University still stands in the distance, on the other side of College Street. The only significant difference in this view of the campus is the loss of Osborn Hall. Visible just to the right of the church, it was demolished in 1926 and replaced by Bingham Hall, which now stands on the site.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House on Forest Street in Hartford, around 1905. Image courtesy pf the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author who was made famous by her 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She grew up in Connecticut and attended the Hartford Female Seminary, but she subsequently moved to Ohio, where she met her husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, and then to Brunswick, Maine, where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. From there, they moved to Andover, Massachusetts, before finally returning to Connecticut in 1864.

Here in Hartford, the Stowes constructed a Gothic Revival mansion along the banks of the Park River. Known as Oakholm, the house was a dream home for Harriet, and she built it using much of the money that she had earned through the sale of her books. However, it proved too expensive to maintain, and the Stowes ultimately sold the house in 1870. The house was demolished in 1905, and the site of the house is now approximately where Interstate 84 crosses Capitol Avenue.

The Stowes’ final house, seen here in these two photos, was constructed in 1871 by Franklin Chamberlin, a lawyer who owned a large tract of land at the corner of Forest Street and Farmington Avenue. The Stowes purchased the house in 1873, and a year later they were joined by Mark Twain, who built a house just around the corner from here on Farmington Avenue. These two famous authors became the leading figures in Hartford’s flourishing literary scene, and they remained neighbors until 1891, when Mark Twain and his family moved to Europe.

In the meantime, Harriet Beecher Stowe continued to write while living in this house, although none of her subsequent works could top her first novel, which had sold more copies during the 19th century than any other book except for the Bible. She was also involved in civic organizations such as the Hartford Society for Decorative Art, which she helped to establish in 1877 along with several other notable Hartford women, including Mark Twain’s wife Olivia Clemens. The society was later renamed the Hartford Art School, and it is now part of the University of Hartford.

Calvin Stowe died in 1886, and Harriet’s health soon began to deteriorate. She evidently suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and displayed erratic behavior such as wandering around the neighborhood, sometimes even entering her neighbors’ gardens and homes. She also took to rewriting Uncle Tom’s Cabin from memory, unaware that she had already written it. She outlived her husband by a decade, and lived here in this house until her death in 1896, at the age of 85.

Stowe’s children subsequently sold the house to Frances Z. Niles, a wealthy heiress whose father, Jonathan S. Niles, had been a prominent foundry owner. She was living in the house when the first photo was taken around 1905, and the 1910 census shows her here along with her niece, Caroline Hansell, and two servants. Neither Frances nor Caroline had ever married, and they lived here until Frances’s death in 1922. She left an estate that was valued at over $90,000, or nearly $1.4 million today. The house itself was valued at $17,000, but her single greatest asset was 33 shares of Aetna, valued at over $44,000.

In 1924, nearly 30 years after the Stowe family sold the house, it was purchased by Harriet’s niece, Katharine Seymour Day. She moved into the house, and became an outspoken advocate of historic preservation. Perhaps her single most important accomplishment in this field came in the late 1920s, when she spearheaded an effort to rescue the neighboring Mark Twain House from potential demolition. Through her leadership, the Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission was established, which purchased the house in 1929 and subsequently restored it. Then, in 1940, she purchased the house directly to the right of hers, which had once been owned by Franklin Chamberlin.

Today, very little has changed in this scene. The house is still standing, and it is now the centerpiece of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which offers guided tours of the home. The organization also owns the house on the right, which is now known as the Katharine Seymour Day House. It now houses administrative offices, along with a research library. Although not visible in this scene, the Mark Twain House is also still standing, and it is located directly behind the Stowe House. It is operated by a separate organization, but it is also open to the public for tours. Because of their connections to two of the most important American writers of the 19th century, both of these homes are now listed as National Historic Landmarks, the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Mark Twain House on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, around 1880. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The house in 2018:

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was born and raised in Missouri, and he is probably best identified with the Mississippi River, where many of his works are set. However, Mark Twain actually spent much of his literary career in Hartford. He moved here in 1871, a year after his marriage to Olivia Langdon, and the couple initially rented a house here in the Nook Farm neighborhood. Mark Twain came to Hartford in part because it was the home of his publisher, Elisha Bliss. However, the city also enjoyed a thriving literary community, with prominent authors such as Charles Dudley Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe also living in Nook Farm.

After several years of renting, Mark Twain decided to build a house of his own. He purchased a lot on Farmington Avenue, just around the corner from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house on Forest Street, and he hired architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, who designed this ornate High Victorian Gothic-style house. It was completed in 1874, and the family would go on to live here for the next 17 years. At the time, the couple had two young daughters, Susy and Clara, and a third daughter, Jean, would be born in 1880. They had one other child, a son named Langdon, but he died in 1872 at the age of 19 months. The first photo was taken around the time that Jean was born, and it shows the house as it appeared before the servants’ wing was added to the right side of the scene in 1881.

Mark Twain was already a prominent author by the time he moved into this house, having recently published books such as The Innocents Abroad (1869) and The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873). However, his 17 years at this house would become perhaps the most productive of his career, and he wrote many of his most famous works here, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), A Tramp Abroad (1880), Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Despite significant literary success throughout the 1880s, Mark Twain suffered several major financial setbacks in the early 1890s. Because his Hartford house was so expensive to maintain, he and his family moved to Europe, where he went on lecture tours. He eventually succeeded in paying off his creditors and becoming financially stable again, but during this time he also experienced struggles within his own family. In 1896, his youngest daughter Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy – which would ultimately lead to her early death in 1909 at the age of 29 – and only five months later, in August 1896, his 24-year-old daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis. Her death hit the family particularly hard, and they never lived in this house again, in part because of its association with Susy.

Mark Twain finally sold this house in 1903, a year before his wife Olivia’s death. He would eventually return to Connecticut, although not to Hartford. In 1908, he built a home in Redding, near the southwest corner of the state in Fairfield County. He named it Stormfield, after his short story “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” which would prove to be his last story published during his lifetime. It was at Stormfield that, on Christmas Eve in 1909, Jean drowned after apparently having a seizure in the bathtub. Less than four months later, Mark Twain also died at his Redding house, having outlived his wife and three of his four children.

In the meantime, the new owner of his Hartford home was Richard M. Bissell, an insurance executive who would later go on to serve as president of The Hartford for many years. He and his wife Mary had three children who grew up here, including Richard M. Bissell, Jr., who was born in 1909. The younger Richard went on to become a high-ranking CIA executive during the Cold War. He was involved in the development of the U-2 spy plane, and he was later appointed Deputy Director for Plans in 1959, a position that put him in charge of planning clandestine operations. These included the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the failure of which ultimately led to his departure from the CIA in 1962.

Richard Bissell, Jr. spent the first eight years of his life here in this house, before he and his family moved to Farmington in 1917. The elder Bissell subsequently leased the house to the Kingswood School, a private school for boys that Richard Bissell, Jr. attended. The Bissell family sold the property in 1920, but the sale included a stipulation that allowed Kingswood to remain here until 1922. They did so, and after they left the new owners announced plans to demolish the house and build an apartment building on the site. These plans were eventually scrapped after a significant public outcry, and the interior of the house was instead divided into 11 apartment units in 1923.

The threatened demolition of the historic house helped to spur support for its preservation, and in 1929 it was purchased by the Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission. The ultimate goal of this organization was to restore the house to its original appearance, but these plans took many years to come to fruition. In the meantime, the first floor became a branch of the Hartford Public Library, and the upper floors continued to be rented to residential tenants while the organization raised funds for the restoration.

This work was finally completed in 1974, and today the entire house is open to the public as a museum. Thanks to the preservation efforts that began nearly a century ago, there is very little difference between these two photos, aside from the addition of the 1881 servants’ wing. The neighboring Harriet Beecher Stowe House has also become a museum, known as the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and both of these houses are now designated as National Historic Landmarks because of their literary significance.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (3)

The view of The Breakers in Newport, seen from the south side of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was apparently taken around the same time as the one in the previous post, and shows the southeastern and southwestern sides of The Breakers, around the time that it was completed in 1895. The Classical Revival-style mansion was the work of noted architect Richard Morris Hunt, and the grounds of the 14-acre property were designed by landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch. Some of this landscaping is visible in this scene, including the south parterre, which was planted with a variety of flowers in its formal garden.

The Breakers was the largest of the many opulent mansions that were built in Newport during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was originally the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. Cornelius had inherited a substantial fortune from his father, William Henry Vanderbilt, and his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and upon his death in 1899 he had a net worth of about $73 million – equivalent to about $2.2 billion today. The house would remain in the family for several more generations, with their daughter Gladys Széchenyi inheriting the property after Alice’s death in 1934, and Gladys’s daughter Sylvia inheriting it in 1968.

During this time, the house itself remained well-preserved, but the grounds underwent some changes. The 1938 hurricane caused only minimal damage to the house, but it significantly altered Bowditch’s landscaping. Over the years, the landscaping also suffered from neglect, and by the late 1950s the garden here on the south parterre were replaced with turf. Beginning in 1948, The Breakers was leased to the Preservation Society of Newport County for the nominal sum of $1 per year, and it was opened to the public for tours. The family continued to occupy the third floor of the house, but in 1972 Sylvia sold the property to the Preservation Society for $365,000, with the stipulation that she be allowed to use the third floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Today, the grounds look very different compared to their appearance over 120 years ago. However, the garden on the south parterre was replanted at some point after the Preservation Society acquired the property, and it now features a symmetrical design similar to what Bowditch had envisioned. In the meantime, the house itself has remained well-preserved on both the exterior and interior, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is also the most popular tourist site in Rhode Island, drawing around 400,000 visitors each year.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The Breakers in Newport, viewed from the southwest corner of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in an earlier post, The Breakers is the grandest of all the Gilded Age mansions that were built in Newport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 70-room, 125,000-square-foot “cottage” was built between 1893 and 1895, and was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. The Vanderbilts had purchased the property in 1885, which at the time included a smaller house that was also named The Breakers. This house burned down in 1892, and the Vanderbilts quickly commissioned noted architect Richard Morris Hunt to design its replacement.

The first photo shows The Breakers around the time of its completion. This is actually the side of the house, and it features a portico outside of the first floor music room. Directly above it is the rounded exterior wall of Alice Vanderbilt’s bedroom. At the time, mansions such as The Breakers were typically built with separate bedrooms for the husband and wife, and Cornelius’s was located directly to the left of hers, on the western corner of the house. On the left side of the house is the porte-cochère at the main entrance, and around the corner to the right is the terrace on the southeastern side of the house, which faces the ocean.

Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1899, only a few years after The Breakers was completed, but Alice continued to own the property until her death in 1934 at the age of 89. She had not only outlived her husband and four of her seven children; she had also outlived the Gilded Age and the philosophy of conspicuous consumption that had led to the construction of The Breakers. The house, like many of the other mansion in Newport, had become an expensive white elephant, with astronomical operating costs from the property taxes, utilities, and the nearly 60 servants who were required to run the house.

Of Alice’s three surviving children, only her daughter Gladys had any interest in the property. She was the wife of Hungarian count László Széchenyi, and she inherited The Breakers after her mother’s death. She continued to own the house until her death in 1965, but starting in 1948 she leased it to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which opened it to the public for tours. Her daughter Sylvia would subsequently sell The Breakers to the organization in 1972, for $365,000, although she was allowed to retain a third-floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Sylvia died in 1998, but her children – the fourth generation to spend summers here in the house – were allowed to continue to use the third floor until early 2018, shortly after the second photo was taken. In the meantime, the first two floors have been open to the public for many years, drawing over 400,000 visitors annually. It is one of nine historic houses owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historical and architectural significance.