Mills-Stebbins Villa, Springfield, Mass

The house at 3 Crescent Hill in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Italian villa-style house was completed in 1851 on Crescent Hill, atop a ridge near the corner of Maple and Pine Streets. It was the work of Henry A. Sykes, a notable local architect from Suffield, Connecticut. His career was cut short when he died in 1860 at the age of 50, but he was responsible for architecturally-significant houses, churches, and other buildings throughout the Connecticut River Valley. However, this house was perhaps his magnum opus. It reflected the Italian villa style that was just starting to become popular for upscale American homes, and it was later praised by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock as “one of the finest nineteenth century houses in America.”

The original owner of this house was John Mills, a lawyer and politician who was born in 1787 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He never attended college, but he studied law in Granville under future county sheriff John Phelps, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He subsequently lived in Southwick, and in addition to his law practice he also served in the state senate from 1823 to 1827, including as the senate president from 1826 to 1827. In 1826, he was also part of a six-man commission that established the current Massachusetts-Connecticut border, finally resolving a long-standing dispute that dated back to the 1640s.

One incident during Mills’s time in the state senate, which may be apocryphal, came in 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Massachusetts State House. Lafayette shook hands with each member of the state legislature and, upon reaching Mills, supposedly clasped his hands and declared, “My dear friend, I recollect you in the Revolution.” Mills, of course, was born five years after the war ended, and was the youngest of the state senators. However, he was also prematurely bald, which evidently made him look much older than he really was.

In 1835, Mills was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a position he held until 1841. During this time, in 1836, he moved to Springfield, where he lived in a house on Howard Street. He returned to the state senate in 1842, and then from 1843 to 1844 served as the state treasurer and receiver-general. In 1848, he was nominated for lieutenant governor by the newly-established and Free Soil Party, a third party that was mainly focused on preventing the spread of slavery. He and his running mate, Salem mayor Stephen C. Phillips, were roundly defeated in the general election by incumbent Whig governor George N. Briggs and lieutenant governor John Reed, Jr., but they managed to finish second in the three-way race, ahead of the pro-slavery Democratic candidate.

Around 1849, Mills commisssioned Sykes to design this house, which was completed two years later. At the time, Crescent Hill and the neighboring Ames Hill were just starting to be developed, but by the end of the 19th century this area would become the city’s most prestigious neighborhood, with its proximity to downtown and its sweeping views of the river valley. John Mills was in his early 60s at the time, and was largely retired from public life by then. However, he did serve a single term in the state house of representatives in 1851, and in 1855 he became president of the Hampden Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

During the 1855 state census, Mills was living here in this house with his wife Emily and three of their children: John, Sarah, and Isaac. Isaac’s wife Ann and their daughter also lived here, and the family employed three Irish-born servants who lived here. However, John sold this house two years later, and he and Emily moved to Byers Street, where they lived with their daughter Sarah and her newlywed husband, Roswell G. Shurtleff. The Mills family did not entirely leave Crescent Hill, though, because in 1859 Isaac and Ann moved into a new house across the street from here, at the corner of Crescent Hill and Pine Street.

John Mills died in 1862 at the age of 74, by which point this house on Crescent Hill was owned by by John B. Stebbins, a wealthy merchant who was a business partner of hardware store owner Homer Foot. Stebbins was a native of Springfield, and was among the original students at Springfield High School when it opened in 1828, but after leaving school he moved to Hartford, where he worked as a clerk in a grocery store. However, he soon returned to Springfield, and found work as a clerk in Homer Foot’s hardware store. After a few years here he moved again, this time to New York City, and worked as a clerk in another hardware store, but in 1839 he returned to Springfield for good, returning to his position with Foot, with the promise that he would be be given an interest in the firm.

Homer Foot kept his promise, and in 1842 Stebbins became a partner in the company. A year later he married his wife Maria, and the couple first lived on Elm Street, and then at the corner of Main and Emery Streets, and finally on Byers Street before purchasing this house from John Mills in 1857. They had a total of seven children: John, Mary, Elizabeth, Annie, Fannie, Maria, and an unnamed child who died shortly after birth. Mary also died in infancy, but the five surviving children all lived here in this house with their parents.

Aside from Foot’s store, Stebbins was also involved in a number of other companies, serving as a director and, at various times, as president of the Springfield Institution for Savings, the Holyoke Water Power Company, the Ludlow Manufacturing Company, and the Hampshire Paper Company. In the process he became a wealthy man, with the 1870 census listing his real estate as being worth $73,000, plus a personal estate worth $30,000, for a total net worth of more than $2 million in today’s dollars. He was also involved in politics, serving as a city alderman in 1853, a member of the school committee from 1865 to 1869 and in 1873, and as a state legislator in 1883.

His wife Maria died in 1891, and John died in 1899, but this house remained in the Stebbins family for many years. Of the five children who survived to adulthood, neither Annie nor Maria ever married, and they lived here for the rest of their lives. The 1920 census shows them living here with their nephew, 48-year-old John, who was the son of their brother John. Maria died in 1928, and by 1930 Annie was living here alone, aside from two servants. She would remain here until her death in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken.

After Annie’s death, the house was inherited by her nephew Carl Stebbins, the oldest son of her brother John. He had grown up in this house with his parents and grandparents, but he later moved to Tacoma, Washington, before eventually returning to Springfield. By the 1940 census he was 70 years old, and was living here with his wife Grace, their daughter Grace, and his wife’s sister, Rebecca Birnie. He lived here until his death a decade later, and his wife remained here until her death in 1961, more than a century after the Stebbins family first moved into this house.

Their daughter Grace sold the property in 1962, and the house remained vacant for a number of years. During this time the interior was vandalized, but by the early 1970s it had new owners and was carefully restored. The house was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the following year it became part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which encompasses the many historic 19th and early 20th century homes in the neighborhood. Today, the house shows some changes from its 1930s appearance, including different first-floor windows on the left side, but overall it still stands as one of the grandest and most architecturally-significant houses in the city.

Isaac Mills House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 2 Crescent Hill in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1859, at the corner of Crescent Hill and Pine Street, and was originally the home of Isaac Mills. He was about 33 years old at the time, and was the son of John Mills, a prominent lawyer and politician who lived across the street in an elegant Italianate villa. John Mills held a number of political offices, including President of the Massachusetts Senate, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts.

However, Isaac did not follow his father into law or politics, and instead became a local businessman. In the late 1840s, he was a partner in the Springfield-based railroad car manufacturing company of Dean, Packard & Mills. This company proved short-lived, though, and by 1853 he was working for the coal company of his father-in-law, Edmund Palmer. During the 1855 census, he and his wife Ann were living in his father’s house on Crescent Hill, but by the end of the decade they had moved into this newly-built house across the street.

Isaac eventually took over his father-in-law’s coal company and ran it until his death in 1892. Ann died the following year, but their two daughters, Emily and Elizabeth, inherited this house and lived here for the rest of their lives. Neither of them ever married, and early 20th century census records show them living here alone except for a servant. Emily died in 1934, but Elizabeth was still living here when the first photo was taken, some 80 years after she moved here with her parents as an infant.

Elizabeth Mills died in 1944, but the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved since then. Most of the shutters are now gone, but otherwise the house looks essentially the same as it did almost 80 years ago. Along with the other 19th and early 20th century homes in the area, the house is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

George P. Dickinson House, Northampton, Mass

The house at 211 Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The house in 2017:

This Queen Anne-style house was built around 1879-1880, and was designed by Eugene C. Gardner, a prominent local architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally from Ashfield, Massachusetts, he began his career as an architect here in Northampton in the 1860s, although he moved to Springfield in 1868. His subsequent works were predominantly in and around Springfield, although he continued to design homes, factories, and other buildings here in Northampton. Perhaps his most notable work was the Grove Hill Mansion in the neighborhood of Leeds, and this house here on Elm Street was, in some ways, a scaled-down version of the large, highly ornate Leeds house, which was built around the same time.

This Elm Street house was originally the home of George P. Dickinson, the treasurer of the Northampton Gas Light Company. He was living here when the first photo was taken around 1894, but he died in 1897, and the house was later owned by Charles A. Clark, a teller for the First National Bank. He and his wife Katherine were married in 1897, and by the 1900 census they were living here in this house with their two young children, Charles and Katherine, plus a 20-year-old, Irish-born nurse, Mariah Brennan. The Clarks would have two more children, Joseph and Virginia, by the next census, and they continued to live here for many years. However, Charles died around 1920, and the rest of the family moved out by about 1924.

In the ensuing years, the house had a variety of owners, including funeral director Oscar F. Ely in the 1920s, and physician Benjamin F. Janes in the 1930s. At some point, though, the house was converted into apartments. This probably happened in the 1940s, because city directories in the late 1940s show a number of people living at this address, all with different last names. Gardner’s original exterior design of the house has also since been altered, including the enclosed area on the right side of the front porch, the removal of the second-story balcony above the front porch, and alterations to the third-story windows. Overall, though, the house still stands as one of many upscale 19th century homes on Elm Street, and it is now part of the Elm Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

John L. Mather House, Northampton, Mass

The house at 275 Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The house in 2017:

This brick, Queen Anne-style house was built in 1882, and was one of many upscale homes built along this section of Elm Street during the 19th century. It was originally owned by John L. Mather, a mason and contractor who was about 30 years old when he moved in here. He was single at the time, but in 1891 he married his wife Ella. She had two sons from her previous marriage, and she and John also had a child of their own, Esther, who was born around the same time that the first photo was taken. John served as mayor of Northampton in 1897 and from 1899 to 1900, and he continued to live here until his death in 1922.

By 1924 this house was owned by John A. Pollard, the treasurer of the Hampton Company in Easthampton. He later became vice president of the O. S. P., Inc. music house, and during the 1930 census he was living here with his wife Flora, three of their children, and two grandchildren, plus two servants. John died in 1940, but Flora continued to live here for many years, and she was listed here in city directories as late as the early 1960s. Since then, the house has remained well-preserved, and the only significant difference between these two photos is the lack of the balustrade atop the left side of the house. The property is now part of the Elm Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

St. Mary’s Church, Northampton, Mass

The St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church on Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The church in 2017:

Like most other New England communities, Northampton was predominantly Protestant throughout its first few centuries, but this began to change after the Industrial Revolution, when the region saw large-scale immigration from Catholic countries. Here in Northampton, most of the early Catholics were French-Canadian, and began arriving by the mid-19th century. Within a few decades there were several Catholic parishes in Northampton, including Saint Mary of the Assumption, whose church building was built here on Elm Street in 1881.

The church was designed by Patrick W. Ford, an Irish-born architect who was responsible for a number of Catholic churches in New England. Its polychromatic brick and brownstone exterior reflects the High Victorian Gothic style of the era, and it matches the design of College Hall at Smith College, which is located directly across the street from here. The front of the church is nearly symmetrical, although the left tower is slightly taller and wider than the one on the right. As the first photo shows, the towers did not initially have spires, although they were added a few years later in 1895 and were also designed by Ford.

Aside from the spires, the exterior of the church has not significantly changed in the 125 years since the first photo was taken. However, it is no longer in use as a church, after having been closed in 2010 along with a number of other Catholic churches in the Diocese of Springfield. Some of the parishioners appealed the closing, but the Vatican upheld the decision in 2015. The building has since been offered for sale, although it currently remains vacant, more than eight years after it closed.

Ames Manufacturing Company, Chicopee, Mass

The Ames Manufacturing Company on Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Ames Manufacturing Company date back to 1822, when industrialist Edmund Dwight purchased property along the Chicopee River at Skenungonuck Falls, at the present-day village of Chicopee Falls. At the time, Chicopee was the sparsely-settled northern half of Springfield, but the Industrial Revolution helped to transform it into a major manufacturing center, thanks to the many waterfalls here on the Chicopee River. In 1823, Dwight incorporated the Boston and Springfield Manufacturing Company, and within a few years he had built a dam, a canal, and a mill at Chicopee Falls, marking the beginning of large-scale industry here in Chicopee.

In 1829, Dwight persuaded brothers Nathan P. and James T. Ames to relocate their cutlery business from Chelmsford to Chicopee Falls. He provided them with a blacksmith shop at his mill complex, rent-free for four years, and the brothers began operations here with a workforce of nine. The business rapidly expanded, though, and by 1833 they had 25 to 30 employees and were producing a wide variety of cutlery and tools, as well as swords for the Army and Navy.

The company was incorporated as the Ames Manufacturing Company in 1834, and the following year moved to this site further down the river. Known at the time as Cabotville, this village would later become the center of Chicopee when it was incorporated as a separate town in 1848. Here, the Chicopee River drops 50 feet in elevation, and both a dam and a canal were constructed in the early 1830s. At this new site, the company continued to grow and diversify, and by the end of the 1830s the Ames brothers were also producing cannons, cannonballs, bells, and a variety of other metal objects.

The first photo, taken in the early 1890s, shows the canal in the center and the Ames complex on the left. These buildings were constructed starting in 1847, with the oldest section visible just to the right of the tower. The facility was steadily expanded in the following decades, and was largely in its present form by the end of the Civil War. This era marked the heyday of Ames Manufacturing, which produced munitions during both the Mexican War and the Civil War. The Civil War in particular brought prosperity, and this facility became one of the war’s leading producers of swords, light artillery, and heavy ordnance.

During this period, the company also began casting bronze statues, beginning in 1853. Under the direction of foundry superintendent Silas Mosman, Jr., the company produced many important statues, including the Benjamin Franklin statue at Boston’s Old City Hall, the equestrian statues of George Washington at the Boston Public Garden and New York’s Union Square, the Minuteman statue at Concord, and the statues at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. However, perhaps Mosman’s most significant accomplishment was casting the bronze doors for the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, which were installed in 1867. In his later years, Silas Mosman was assisted in his work by his son, Melzar, who went on to have an accomplished career both designing and casting statues. He remained here at Ames until 1884, but subsequently left the firm and established his own foundry here in Chicopee.

Of the two Ames brothers, only James lived to see the company’s prosperity in the mid-19th century. Nathan died in 1847, at the age of 43, but James remained with the company until his retirement in 1872, a year before his death. However, by this point Ames Manufacturing was entering a decline. The Civil War had been a boon for business, but after the war the company struggled to adapt to peacetime demands. The factory produced a wide variety of metal products, from mailboxes to ice skates, and as late as the 1870s the company had major foreign contracts for bayonets, scabbards, and sabers. Starting in the early 1880s, Ames also produced bicycles for the Overman Wheel Company. This contract proved lucrative, as demand for bicycles skyrocketed during this period, but this high demand ultimately ended up hurting Ames when, in 1887, Overman opened its own bicycle factory in Chicopee Falls.

The first photo was taken several years later, by which point the company was in serious decline. Ames remained here for about 15 more years, but in 1908 the factory complex was sold to A. G. Spalding and Brothers. This sporting goods company had been established in Chicago in 1876 by baseball player Albert G. Spalding, and in 1893 the company began manufacturing its products in Chicopee Falls. After purchasing the Ames facility in 1908, Spalding set about expanding it, adding several new buildings, and for the next 40 years the factory produced a wide range of Spalding sporting goods. Among other things, Spalding supplied the baseballs for Major League Baseball for most of the 20th century, and these balls were produced here in Chicopee. Spalding was also an early leader in golf equipment, and at one point had an entire building dedicated to producing golf balls.

Spalding relocated to a new facility in Chicopee in 1948, but the old buildings continued to be used by a variety of industries until the 1980s, when the buildings were converted into a 138-unit apartment complex known as Ames Privilege. Despite the many changes in ownership and use, though, the former Ames facility has survived with few major changes over the years. It is hard to tell in the second photo, but the same buildings from the first photo still line the canal, and the only significant change is a fourth floor, which was added to the buildings sometime after the first photo was taken. Because of its level of preservation and its historical significance, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.