Spring Street from Mary Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Spring Street, toward the corner of Mary Street in Newport, around the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Narrow streets such as these are typical in downtown Newport, where the street network was laid out long before the advent of automobiles. Even Spring Street, which is a fairly major street, is hemmed in by densely-crowded historic buildings on either side, leaving just a single travel lane for northbound traffic in the present-day photo. This is not much of a change from the first photo, taken around the 1920s, which shows several cars sharing the narrow street with a trolley line on the right side.

In nearly a century since the first photo was taken, most of the buildings in this scene are still standing. On the far left is the Odlin-Otis House, which is probably the oldest building in this scene. It was constructed around 1705 and was subsequently expanded, although by the time the first photo was taken it had been altered and converted into a two-family home. On the other side of Mary Street, just beyond the Odlin-Otis House, is the Franklin Bakery, which was built in 1876 and stands as the only brick building in the scene.

Further in the distance on the left side of the street, there are several houses beyond the Franklin Bakery. Closest to the foreground is the c.1870s George C. Barker House, which still stands and now features a coat of dark blue paint. Two houses down from the Barker House is the gambrel-roofed Elisha Johnson House, which was built around 1750 and is now painted brown. In between these two houses, the first photo shows a gable-roofed house with two windows on the first and second floors. This building is the only noticeable change from the first photo, as it was demolished around 1969 in order to move the c.1807 Edward Willis House onto the site.

The buildings on the right side of this scene are not as easily visible from this angle, but they have been similarly well-preserved over the years. Today, thia section of Spring Street features a remarkable collection of historic 18th and 19th century buildings, all of which are now part of the Newport Historic District. This is one of the many historic districts in Newport, encompassing much of the downtown area, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of historic recognition in the country

Odlin-Otis House, Newport, Rhode Island

The Odlin-Otis House at 109 Spring Street, at the corner of Mary Street in Newport, in 1924. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

The streets of downtown Newport are lined with many historic colonial-era buildings, including this house at the corner of Spring and Mary Streets. It was originally owned by John Odlin, who purchased the property in 1705 and evidently constructed the house shortly afterward. The house was subsequently expanded several times in the early 18th century, creating a long, narrow house with a highly asymmetrical Spring Street facade. Other early owners of the house included Jonathan Otis, a silversmith who was here around the time of the American Revolution.

At some point during the 19th century, the house was divided into two units, with two front entrances on the Spring Street side, as seen in the first photo. This arrangement continued throughout much of the 20th century, and at some point the exterior was covered in artificial siding. Despite these changes, the house remained as one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport, and in 1968 it became a contributing property in the Newport Historic District. Four years later, it was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that has been responsible for saving dozens of historic properties in the city. The Odlin-Otis House was restored in 1976-1977, and today it stands in far better condition than it was in when the first photo was taken nearly a century ago.

Broadway from Farewell Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of Farewell Street in Newport, around 1884. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the west side of Broadway, looking north from the Colony House at the corner of Farewell Street and Courthouse Way. Although taken more than 130 years apart, not much has changed in these two photos. Like much of downtown Newport, this area has remained remarkably well-preserved since the colonial era, and both photos show an eclectic mix of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century.

Perhaps the oldest building in this scene is the one on the far left, at 2-6 Broadway. It was built sometime before 1700, and was once owned by Peleg Sanford (1639-1701), who served as the colonial governor of Rhode Island from 1680 to 1683. Sanford came from a leading Rhode Island family, with his father, John Sanford (c.1605-1653), having briefly served as governor of Newport and Portsmouth in 1653. However, his most notable relative was his grandmother, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), the famed religious dissenter whose 1638 banishment from Boston had helped lead to the establishment of Newport.

Peleg Sanford died in 1701, and the house was later owned by his son-in-law, Job Almy, who purchased the property in 1723. The house would remain in the Almy family for over a century, until it was sold in 1827. By this point, the first floor of the house had been converted into a storefront, and the building would see even more drastic changes around 1845, when it was enlarged to its present size. This addition concealed most of its original appearance, although the building retained its overhanging second floor, which was a distinctive feature of many 17th century homes.

By the time time the first photo was taken around 1884, the building was occupied by several commercial tenants, including J. B. Deblois & Son, whose grocery store was located in the corner storefront. In later years, the ground floor was occupied by Lalli’s, a variety store that was in business here from 1923 until 1986. It was during this time that, in 1976, the exterior of the building was restored, giving it more of a 17th century appearance. Today, despite all of these changes, the structure of the original house is still there, making it possibly one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport.

Aside from the Peleg Sanford House, there are a number of other historic buildings in this scene. Immediately to the right of it is the William P. Shefield House, which was built around 1850, although its exterior has been altered beyond recognition since the first photo was taken. Next, in the center of the scene, is the William H. Stanhope House, at 12-18 Broadway. It was built around 1815 as a private home, and its Federal-style architecture is still recognizable today, despite having been converted to commercial use during the 19th century. Further in the distance, barely visible in the 2017 photo, are two late 18th century homes at 20-24 and 26-30 1/2 Broadway, both of which are also now commercial properties.

Today, the vehicles on the street have changed, and this block of Broadway is now a one way street for southbound traffic, but otherwise the buildings themselves have seen few changes. All of them are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which encompasses much of downtown Newport. The district was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, because of the survival of so many historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Broadway from Spring Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking south on Broadway toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were taken more than 130 years apart, yet they show remarkably little change. In fact, many of these buildings were already old by the time the first photo was taken. Newport had been a prosperous seaport throughout much of the 18th century, but its economy was hit hard by the American Revolution. Its shipping industry never fully recovered, and the city saw very little growth during the first half of the 19th century. The first federal census, taken in 1790, shows 6,719 residents living here, and over the next 50 years Newport saw only a very modest increase in population, with 8,333 by 1840.

This long period of stagnation hurt Newport’s economy, and there was very little new construction during this time. By the time the first photo was taken around 1885, Newport had reinvented itself as a Gilded Age summer resort, with most of this development occurring to the south of the downtown area. As a result, downtown Newport remained remarkably well-preserved, and it now boasts one of the largest collection of 18th and early 19th century buildings in the country, many of which are visible in this scene.

Along with the buildings themselves, Newport has also retained its colonial-era street network, complete with narrow streets, sharply-angled intersections, and oddly-shaped building lots. These photos show the view looking south on Broadway, at the complex intersection of Broadway, Spring Street, Bull Street, and Marlborough Street. Both Spring Street, to the left, and Marlborough Street, on the extreme right, intersect with Broadway at sharp angles, creating triangular-shaped lots on either side of Broadway.

The narrower of these two lots is on the left, between Broadway and Spring Street. Long before the Flatiron Building was constructed on a similarly-shaped plot of land, a small three-story, wood-frame commercial building was built here. It appears to date back to the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and by the time the first photo was taken it was occupied by Cornell & Son, a grocery store operated by William Cornell and his son Rodman. William also lived here in the building, and the 1880 census showed him here with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ellen.

Today, this scene has not undergone few significant changes, and many of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, including the former Cornell building. Newport remains a popular summer resort, and the storefronts in this scene are now filled with a variety of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists and seasonal residents. Because of its level of preservation, and its high concentration of historic buildings, the downtown area now forms the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

High Street from near Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on High Street, from just south of the corner of Dwight Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the commercial center of Holyoke during the early 20th century, when the city was at the height of its prosperity. Both sides of High Street were lined with commercial buildings, most of which had been built in the second half of the 19th century. They represented a range of architectural styles, and two of the most significant buildings stood in the foreground at the corner of Dwight Street. On the left is the six-story Ball Block, which was built in 1898, and on the right side of the first photo is Delaney’s Marble Block, which was built in 1885 and was designed by noted local architect James A. Clough.

Today, more than a hundred years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke has undergone some significant changes. Much of its manufacturing base was gone by the mid-20th century, and the city has since experienced rising poverty rates and declining population. However, this economic stagnation may have also helped to preserve many of the historic commercial blocks on High Street, since there has been little demand for new developments. Almost all of the buildings are still standing from the first photo, and the only noticeable loss is Delaney’s Marble Block, which was demolished around 1950 to build the present-day two-story building. The buildings in this scene are now part of the North High Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.