Methodist Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Brattleboro Methodist Church at 16-20 Elliot Street, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Methodism first took root in Brattleboro in 1834, when the first Methodist Episcopal Church began worshipping in the town. Its first church building was completed three years later on Canal Street, but within a few years this building was owned by the Baptists, Adventists, and then Universalists before becoming a private house in the 1850s. A second Methodist church was later established, with a brick building on School Street, but this was later sold and converted into apartments, and is apparently still standing opposite Moore Court.

Following this sale, the Methodists held services in the town hall for some time, but in 1880 they moved into this newly-built church on Elliot Street. Like several of the other buildings along this section of Elliot Street, it featured High Victorian Gothic-style architecture, with a mostly brick exterior that was trimmed with light-colored stone for contrast. It was designed by Warren H. Hayes, a noted architect whose works included a number of churches – particularly Methodist ones – that were built across the country during the late 19th century. Although more modest than some of Hayes’s works, this building reflects the typical church design of the era, with an asymmetrical facade featuring a tall tower in one corner and a shorter turret in the other.

Aside from the church itself, other buildings in the first photo include the Leonard Block, which is located just to the left of the church, and the former People’s National Bank Block, which is further to the left at the corner of Main Street. Both of these were built in the early 1880s, around the same time as the church, and were located on the former site of the Revere House, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1877. Across the street, on the far left side of the first photo, is the Market Block, which can be seen from a different angle in the previous post. This building, with its large mansard roof, was built in 1873 and was originally owned by merchant and real estate developer Edward Crosby, who also built the nearby Crosby Block on Main Street.

Today, this scene has not significantly changed in nearly 125 years, and all of the buildings from the first photo are still standing except for the two small wood-frame buildings on the right side. The exterior of the church has not seen too many changes, aside from awnings and the addition of a wheelchair ramp, but the interior has been altered. Just as the two earlier Methodist church buildings were repurposed into other uses, this church is likewise no longer used for religious purposes. The congregation moved to a new location in 1970, and the old building was first converted into a theater and then into commercial space. It is now the Hotel Pharmacy, and features rows of shelving where the pews once stood. However, the interior still includes the stained glass Gothic windows, vaulted ceiling, and other reminders of its former use. Along with the other surrounding buildings, the church is now a contributing property in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Elliot Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The majority of downtown Brattleboro’s central business district is along Main Street, but the commercial center spills around the corner onto several cross streets, including Elliot Street, as seen here. Most of these buildings date back to the second half of the 19th century, and include a variety of brick commercial blocks, typically around three stories in height. When the first photo was taken, there were still several older wood-frame buildings, such as the ones on the far left and far right, but these were steadily being replaced by more modern ones.

There are at least four identifiable buildings from the first photo that are still standing today. On the left is the two-story central fire station, which was built in 1873 and was used by the fire department until 1949, when a new station was built just a little to the west of here. Beyond it is the three-story Market Block, with its large, distinctive mansard roof. This was also built in 1873, and was owned by Edward Crosby, who developed much of this area in the wake of the disastrous fire of 1869. On the other side of the Market Block, at the corner of Main Street, was the Crosby Block, which was built in 1871 and was also owned by Edward Crosby. Probably the oldest brick building in the first photo is visible in the distant center, on the other side of Main Street. Known as Cutler’s Block, it is located at 95-97 Main Street, and was built around the early 1840s.

Today, nearly 125 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. Mount Wantastiquet still towers over downtown Brattleboro in the distance, and many of the 19th century buildings are still standing. The wood-frame buildings on the far sides are gone, but most of the other ones are still there, although with some alterations. The old fire station now has a one-story storefront on the front of the building, and in the late 1950s a portion of the Crosby Block at the corner was heavily altered with a new brick and metal exterior. Overall, though, the scene is still recognizable from the first photo, and most of these buildings are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on High Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo portrays an idyllic small-town scene, with horse-drawn carriages traveling along a rutted dirt road that was lined with trees. Two elegant Queen Anne-style homes stand on the far right side of the photo, while the Brooks House, perhaps the town’s finest hotel of the era, is visible at the bottom of the hill, at the corner of Main Street. Further in the distance, on the other side of the Connecticut River, is Mount Wantastiquet, which rises to an elevation of 1,388 feet and forms a dramatic backdrop to downtown Brattleboro.

Today, nearly 125 years later, this scene has not significantly changed, although it has lost some of its picturesque charm from the first photo. High Street is now a major road, carring Vermont Route 9 through downtown Brattleboro, and the bottom of the hill has been developed with early 20th century commercial and apartment blocks, including the 1918 Manley Apartment Building on the left side. However, the Brooks House is still there, as are the two homes on the right, although their sloping front lawns have been replaced by a large concrete retaining wall. Across the street on the left side, the sidewalk is narrower and closer to the street than it was in the 1890s, but the granite blocks and steps are still there on the left side of the sidewalk.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is from an undated stereocard, and could have been taken anytime around 1865 to 1885. However, it may have been taken in the earlier end of that range, since the First Baptist Church is not visible on the left side of the photo. This church was completed in 1870, and its absence seems to suggest that the photo was taken before this year, although it is possible that it could be hidden by trees. Either way, this photo shows Main Street as it appeared in the second half of the 19th century, when Brattleboro was developing as a small but prosperous mill town in the southeastern corner of Vermont.

On the extreme right side of the first photo is the corner of the town hall, which was built in 1855 and stood here for nearly a century before its demolition in 1953. Further in the distance on the right is the Centre Congregational Church, which was initially built in 1816 on the town common. In 1842, the church was dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here on Main Street, where it originally featured a Greek Revival-style design that included a columned portico and a steeple above it. However, this steeple was destroyed in a windstorm in 1864, and was subsequently rebuilt with a new design that also eliminated the portico.

The first photo shows the 1864 steeple, possibly only a few years after it was completed. This steeple was damaged in a fire in 1929, but it was repaired and now looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the church is the only identifiable photo from the first photo that still survives. The buildings on the left side of the present-day scene date back to around the late 1920s, replacing the old Jonathan Hunt House that once stood on this lot. On the other side of the street is the old W. T. Grant department store, which was built in the mid-1950s to replace the old town hall. Overall, this section of Main Street has undergone far more changes than other parts of downtown Brattleboro, but some of these buildings – including the two churches – are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, in May 1937. Photo taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in May 1937 by Arthur Rothstein, a prominent photojournalist who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930s. Like the other photographers of this New Deal-era agency, Rothstein traveled around the country, documenting rural life during the Great Depression. In 1936 he visited Oklahoma, where he took one of the most iconic images of the Dust Bowl, and the following year he was in Vermont, where his images included this scene on Main Street in the downtown Brattleboro. The photo shows rows of cars parked along the street, with a mix of houses, businesses, and public buildings on the east side of the street.

Probably the oldest building in this scene is the Centre Congregational Church, with its prominent steeple in the middle of both photos. The church was originally built in 1816, and was located a little north of here on the town common. However, in 1842 the building was dismantled and reconstructed here on this site, with a design similar to the old building. The new church was dedicated in 1843, and included a steeple and a columned portico at the front of the building. This steeple was destroyed in high winds in 1864, though, and it was rebuilt with a new Italianate-style design that omitted the columns at the front entrance. In 1929, the steeple was damaged in a fire, but was repaired and has not seen any other significant changes since the first photo was taken.

The other notable building in the first photo is the town hall, which is on the right side of the scene. Built in 1855, this building saw a variety of uses, including as town offices, post office, library, and the police department, and it also housed commercial tenants over the years. In 1895, the building was renovated, and an 875-seat opera house was added to it. By the time the first photo was taken, the opera house had the less-glamorous name of Auditorium, and was used primarily as a movie theater, with the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery. However, the auditorium fell into decline as newer theaters opened on Main Street in the late 1930s, and in 1951 the town offices moved just up Main Street to the old high school, leaving this building vacant. It was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, portions of the exterior walls of the old town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new building.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed aside from the loss of the old town hall. The W. T. Grant building that replaced it is still there, although the old department store has long since given way to new retail tenants. The church is also still there, as is the three-story granite building on the far right, which was built around 1850 and was later converted into the Paramount Theatre soon after the first photo was taken. Today, these 19th century buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Main Street from Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking south on Main Street from Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1850-1851. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Brattleboro was founded in 1753, as one of the earliest towns in Vermont. For the first century it saw only modest growth, but by the mid-1800s it had grown into a small but prosperous mill town. This was aided in part by the arrival of the railroad in 1849, and over the next few decades the town saw considerable growth, more than doubling its population between 1840 and 1880 and becoming an important town in the southwestern part of the state. This growth contrasted sharply with that of Vermont as a whole, which saw a population increase of less than 14 percent during this same period.

The first photo is among the earliest photographs of downtown Brattleboro, showing the town as it appeared around 1850 or 1851. Main Street began to acquire its current form around this time, and many of the present-day brick commercial blocks were built during this period. The first photo shows a mix of the older wood-frame buildings, with a few newly-built brick buildings. These included the building on the far right, which was apparently the rear portion of the 1849 Revere House, and the Van Doorn Block on the far left, which was built in 1850 and is still standing today.

Today, more than 160 years later, the Van Doorn block is the only surviving building from the first photo. Some of the buildings in the distance at the bottom of the hill were destroyed in the 1869 Whetstone Brook Flood, while others – including the Revere House – were destroyed in fires. However, almost all of the major changes in this scene occurred more than a hundred years ago, and by the early 20th century this scene had largely taken on its present appearance. Starting on the far left is the yellow brick American Building, which was constructed in 1906. Just beyond it to the right is the 1900 Ullery Block, which hides most of the Van Doorn Block from this angle. The other side of the street includes the 1877 Pentland Block on the far right, the large 1915 Barber Block just beyond it, and the 1936 Art Deco-style Latchis Hotel, which is barely visible near the center of the photo. Today, all of these buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.