High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking south on High Street from the corner of Hampden Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Much of High Street in Holyoke has been remarkably well-preserved over the years, particularly this block on the west side of the street, between Hampden and Dwight Streets. It consists primarily of brick, three and four-story commercial blocks that were built in the second half of the 19th century, during the early years of Holyoke’s development as a major industrial center. The scene had largely taken on its present-day appearance by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and today the only significant difference is a noticeable lack of horse-drawn carriages.

According to district’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the one-story building in the foreground was built in the mid-20th century, but it seems possible that it might actually be the same one from the first photo, just with some major alterations. Either way, this is the only noticeable change in the buildings on this block. Just beyond this building are two matching three-story buildings, located at 169-175 High Street. These are perhaps the oldest buildings in the scene, dating back to around 1855, and have a fairly plain exterior design, unlike the more ornate building further down the street.

To the left of these two buildings is the four-story Dougherty’s Block, at 177-179 High Street. This was built sometime around the late 1880s, and was probably the newest building in the first photo. Beyond it is the 1870 Taber Building, with its distinctive ornate pediment above the third floor. However, the most architecturally-significant building in this scene is the Second Empire-style Caledonia Building at 185-193 High Street. It was built in 1874, and was originally owned by Roswell P. Crafts, a businessman who went on to become mayor of Holyoke in 1877 and from 1882 to 1883. The building was later owned by the Caledonian Benefit Society, which provided aid for Scottish immigrants.

Beyond the Caledonia Building, most of the other buildings also date to between 1850 and 1880. These include, just to the left of the Caledonia Building, the Johnson Building at 195 High Street and the R.B. Johnson Block at 197-201 High Street, both of which date back to around the 1870s. Further in the distance is the 1850 Colby-Carter Block at 203-209 High Street, and the c.1870 Ball Building at 211-215 High Street. The only noticeable change in this section is the six-story Ball Block, at the corner of Dwight Street. It was completed in 1898, a few years after the first photo was taken, and is visible on the far left side of the 2017 photo.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this section of High Street survives as a good example of Victorian-era commercial buildings, representing a range of architectural styles from the plain brick buildings of the 1850s, to the more ornate styles of the 1870s and 1880s. Holyoke is no longer the thriving industrial city from the first photo, having experienced many years of economic stagnation since the mid-20th century. However, this has probably contributed to the survival of so many 19th century buildings, since there has been little demand for new construction, and today these historic buildings and streetscapes are among the city’s greatest assets.

School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, Holyoke, Mass

The former School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, on Chestnut Street opposite Hampden Park in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke grew into a major industrial center during the second half of the 19th century, and the jobs in the mills attracted large numbers of immigrants, particularly the Irish and French Canadians. Most of these immigrants were Catholic, in a region that had previously been almost entirely Protestant, and they soon set about establishing Catholic churches and other religious institutions. The first of these churches was St. Jerome’s, which was established in 1856. Two years later, the parish constructed a church building that still stands at the corner of Hampden and Chestnut Streets, just out of view to the right of this scene.

In 1869, St. Jerome’s Parish opened its first parochial school, the School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame. It was originally an all-girls school, and was located in a wood-frame building that was moved to this site. That same year, the Convent of Notre Dame was completed just to the right of the school. It housed the nuns who taught at the school, and can be seen in the center-right of both photos, with its central tower and Second-Empire style architecture. Then, in 1872, the St. Jerome’s Institute was established as a school for boys, and was located on the other side of Hampden Street, at the corner of Elm Street.

The original Immaculate Conception building was replaced in 1883 by a much more substantial brick school building, which stands on the left side of both photos. It was designed by architect Donat R. Baribault, with an Italianate-style design that included a symmetrical front facade and a tower above the main entrance. By 1890, around the time that the first photo was taken, it had an enrollment of about 550 girls, and the principal of the school was also the sister superior at the adjacent Convent of Notre Dame.

The Immaculate Conception School later became the St. Jerome High School, and in 1963 it merged with several other parish high schools in the city to form Holyoke Catholic High School. The old 1883 school building became part of the Holyoke Catholic campus, and remained in use until 2002, when the school relocated to Granby. Holyoke Catholic has since merged with Cathedral High School in Springfield, and the consolidated school has been known as Pope Francis High School since 2016.

Today, most of the historic 19th buildings from the St. Jerome’s Parish are still standing, including the former Holyoke Catholic buildings. Although they were boarded up for more than a decade after the school moved to Granby, the buildings have since been converted into the Chestnut Park Apartments. This work was completed in 2015, and now there is hardly any difference between these two photos, which were taken 125 years apart. The buildings are now part of the Hampden Park Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Classical and High School, Salem, Mass

The Classical and High School at 5 Broad Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows two historic school buildings on Broad Street in Salem. The older of the two is the Oliver Primary School in the distance on the left, which is discussed in more detail in the previous post. It was completed in 1819, and in the early years it served as the home of the Latin Grammar School and the English High School. These two schools were later renamed the Fisk and the Bowditch Schools, respectively, and in 1854 they were merged into the Bowditch School.

At the time, the Bowditch School taught boys, with a separate Saltonstall School for girls. However, these two schools were merged in 1856 to form the Salem Classical and High School, and moved into a newly-completed building on the right side of the scene. This ornate, Italianate-style school was designed by local architect Enoch Fuller, and was dedicated on March 18, 1856. The ceremonies included an address by former principal Henry K. Oliver, who would go on to have a successful political career as the state treasurer, and as mayor of Lawrence and Salem, among other state and local offices.

By 1868, the school had a total enrollment of 173, including 85 boys and 88 girls. However, there was evidently a significant amount of turnover throughout the school year, because the high school had, on average, only 117 students enrolled at any given time. This was just under half of the building’s total capacity at the time, which was listed at 238 seats during that year’s annual school report. The first photo was probably taken around this time, and it shows a group of children standing on the sidewalk, apparently posing for the camera. Somebody of them look fairly young, and may have attended school at the old high school building in the distance, which had been converted into a primary school by this point.

Today, neither of these two buildings are still used as schools, but both are still standing without any major exterior changes. The Oliver Primary School in the distance has lost its original balustrade along the roof, and the old doorway has become a window, but otherwise it retains much of its original early 19t century appearance. The newer building is also still standing as an excellent example of an Italianate-style high school building, and it is now occupied by the Salem Council on Aging. Both buildings, along with the surrounding neighborhood, are now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Oliver Primary School, Salem, Mass

The Oliver Primary School at 3 Broad Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This is the oldest surviving school building in Salem, and it stands alongside two other historic school buildings that all date back to the early or mid-19th century. It was completed in 1819 at a cost of $10,000, with a Federal-style design that was the work of master builder John Milligan. Originally, it housed the Latin Grammar School and the English High School, and at the time the building consisted of just this rectangular section along Broad Street. Among its early teachers was Henry K. Oliver, the building’s future namesake, who would go on to become a prominent local and state politician, including serving as state treasurer and as mayor of both Lawrence and Salem.

In 1842, the building was expanded with an addition to the south, on the side opposite of this view. Then, in the mid-1850s, it was joined by two other school buildings. Just beyond the school, on the left side of both photos, is the Salem Normal School, which was built in 1854 as the original home of the present-day Salem State University, and was later expanded in 1870-1871. Just out of view to the right, on the other side of the 1819 school building, is the Classical and High School. This was completed in 1856, replacing the older building as the city’s high school.

The former Latin Grammar School and English High School was converted into the Broad Street Primary School, and later became the Oliver Primary School. It underwent interior renovations in the late 1860s, and was described in the city’s 1869 school committee report:

On Broad street, between Normal and High School houses; now undergoing changes to make four graded rooms; height of story, 13 ft.; dimensions of building, 62 x 33 ft.; will accommodate 220 pupils; the lot of the land contains 14,844 ft.; value of land and building, $14,000; erected in 1818.

The building was used as a school for many more years, until sometime in the early 20th century. However, both it and the former Normal School on the left have since been converted into residential use, with 14 units in the Oliver Primary School and 12 condominiums in the Normal School. The exteriors have remained well-preserved, though, and the Oliver Primary School survives as a good example of early 19th century Federal architecture. Both buildings, along with the neighboring Classical and High School, are now part of the Chestnut Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Hamilton Hall, Salem, Mass

Hamilton Hall, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, on December 24, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2017:

More than two centuries before he became the subject of a popular Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton was an icon of the Federalist Party, a short-lived but highly influential political party in the formative years of the country. The Federalists were well on their way to political irrelevance at the national level by the start of the 19th century, but they would remain dominant here in New England for a couple more decades, including here in Salem.

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, and many of its most important homes and public buildings date to this period, including Hamilton Hall, which was constructed between 1805 and 1807. It was built as an assembly hall for the town’s wealthy Federalist families, and was named for Alexander Hamilton, who had been killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The building was designed by the prolific Salem architect Samuel McIntire, who also built mansions for many of the towns’s leading merchants, and it is regarded as one of the finest Federal-style public buildings in the country.

It was constructed at a cost of $22,000, and it originally housed two stores on the ground floor, with a ballroom on the second floor. The exterior incorporates many elements of Federal-style architecture, including symmetrical facades, Palladian windows, and a pediment on the gable end of the building. The Chestnut Street side of the building, on the left side of the photo, also features rectangular panels above the windows, with an eagle carved into the central panel.

Early tenants of the ground-floor storefronts included grocer John Gray on the left side, and caterer John Remond on the right. A free black immigrant from Curacao, Remond lived in an apartment here in the building, and worked as a caretaker while also providing the refreshments for events that were held here. He was regarded as Salem’s premier restauranteur throughout the first half of the 19th century, and he catered many events here, including receptions for visiting dignitaries such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who attended a dinner here during his 1824 tour of America.

Over the years, Hamilton Hall was used for a wide variety of social events, including lectures, dances, and dinners. It saw some changes during this time, including the addition of the portico on the Cambridge Street side in 1845, but overall the exterior has retained its original early 19th century appearance. By the time the first photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1940, it was recognized as historically significant, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Then, in 1970, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and three years later it also became a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District.

Today, Hamilton Hall has hardly seen any changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. The eagle panel on the left side was removed for preservation in 2014, and was replaced by a replica that is seen in the second photo. Otherwise, the exterior appearance is the same, and the interior is also largely unchanged. More than two centuries after its completion, it continues to be used as a public hall for lectures, weddings, and other events. The surrounding neighborhood has also been well-preserved, and it is one of many early 19th century buildings that are still standing in this part of Salem.

Ropes Mansion, Salem, Mass

The Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built sometime in the late 1720s, and was originally the home of Samuel Barnard (1684-1762), a merchant who had moved to Salem from Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was a survivor of the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, and he lived there until after the death of his wife Mary and their infant son Samuel in 1720. He subsequently came to Salem and married his second wife Rachel, the widow of his cousin Thomas Barnard. Here, he propspered as a merchant and became a wealthy man, as demonstrated by the elegant Georgian mansion that he built within a few years of his arrival.

Rachel died in 1743, and he later remarried to Elizabeth Williams, who died in 1753. Three years later he married his fourth wife, Catharine Dexter, and they lived here until his death in 1762. With no surviving heirs from any of his marriages, Barnard left a considerable amount of money for charitable purposes, including a hundred pounds for the relief of the poor in Salem and Deerfield, and two hundred pounds to purchase silver for the churches in Salem, Deerfield, and Greenfield. Among these gifts was a silver tankard, now in the collections of Historic Deerfield, that was made by the young Boston silversmith Paul Revere.

Barnard left his property in Salem, including this house, to his nephew, Joseph Barnard. In 1768, Joseph sold the house to Judge Nathaniel Ropes (1726-1774) for eight hundred pounds. At the time, the property extended beyond the house as far as the banks of the North River, since Federal Street has not yet been opened a block to the north of here. Ropes was a 1745 graduate of Harvard, and began his career as a lawyer. He represented Salem in the colonial legislature in 1760 and 1761, and served on the Governor’s Council from 1762 to 1768. He was also a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and a judge of probate, and in 1772 Governor Thomas Hutchinson appointed him as a justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony.

Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the court was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Although appointed by the royal governor of the colony, the judges were, until this point, paid by the elected representatives of the General Court. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. However, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, and in 1773 the lower house of the General Court gave a clear warning to Ropes and the other Superior Court justices, with a resolution stating that:

any one of them who shall accept of, and depend upon the Pleasure of the Crown for his Support, independent of the Grants and Acts of the General Assembly, will discover to the World that he has not a due Sense of the Importance of an Impartial Administration of Justice, that he is an enemy to the Constitution, and has it in his Heart to promote the Establishment of an arbitrary Government in the Province.

Nathaniel Ropes promised that he would not accept the royal salary, and he was even acquainted with prominent patriots such as John Adams, who visited this house on November 9, 1771. The future president commented on the visit in his diary, writing:

Dined this Day, spent the Afternoon, and drank Tea at Judge Ropes’s, with Judges Lynde, Oliver and Hutchinson, Sewal, Putnam, and Winthrop. Mrs. Ropes is a fine Woman — very pretty, and genteel. Our Judge Oliver is the best bred Gentleman of all the judges, by far. There is something in every one of the others indecent and disagreable, at Times in Company-affected Witticisms, unpolished fleers, coarse Jests, and sometimes rough, rude Attacks, but these you dont see escape Judge Oliver.

This meeting here at the Ropes house included some of the most prominent jurists in the colony at the time. Along with Ropes himself, both Benjamin Lynde, Jr. and Peter Oliver were justices of the Superior Court, and the Hutchinson mentioned in the entry is likely Foster Hutchinson, who also served on the court. Lynde was the chief justice at the time, but the following year he was succeeded by Oliver, who was later forced out once the Revolution started. Coincidentally, Oliver’s replacement as chief justice was none other than John Adams himself, although he never actually sat on the court and eventually resigned after holding the position from 1775 to 1776.

In the meantime, as the colony moved closer to revolution, Ropes faced problems right here at his home in Salem. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Ropes was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death.

Writing in his diary a little over a week later, John Adams made no mention of a specific mob attacking the house, but did comment on how the turmoil in the colony had affected Ropes’s health:

Pynchon says judge Ropes was exceedingly agitated all the time of his last Sickness — about the public Affairs, in general, and those of the Superiour Court in particular — afraid his Renunciation would be attributed to Timidity — afraid to refuse to renounce — worried about the Opinion of the Bar, &c.

Nathaniel Ropes was only 47 when he died, leaving his widow Priscilla and six young children, whose ages ranged from one to 14. She and the children moved to nearby Danvers for some time, but after a few years their oldest son, Nathaniel Ropes III (1759-1806), returned to this house and began a merchant business here in Salem. He and his wife Sarah had three children who survived infancy, including a son, Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885), and two daughters, Sarah (Sally) and Abigail. The elder Sarah died in 1801, at the age of 36, and two years later Nathaniel remarried, to Elizabeth Cleveland. However, he died in 1806, at the same age as his father’s untimely death.

Nathaniel Ropes IV would later move to Cincinnati, where he lived for the rest of his life, but his sisters Sally and Abigail continued to live here in the family home. In 1817, Sally married Joseph Orne, whose father, William Orne, was a prosperous merchant. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1818, but Joseph died later in the year, at the age of just 22. Like so many other members of the family, Abigail Ropes also died relatively young in 1839, and Elizabeth died three years later, at the age of 24.

After having outlived her husband, daughter, parents, and sister, the middle-aged Sally remained here in this house for many years. The 1850 census shows her living here alone except for two women who were presumably servants. By the 1870 census, she was 75 years old and employed a live-in nurse and a servant, and she also lived here with her nephew, 37-year-old Nathaniel Ropes V. Although born in Ohio, Nathaniel had later returned to his father’s childhood home here in Salem, and continued living in the house after Sally’s death in 1876.

Nathaniel died in 1893, and the house was then acquired by his sisters. The following year, it underwent renovations. It was moved back from the street, and was modernized with conveniences such as central heat, electricity, and plumbing. A large wing was also built in the rear of the house, the fence was added to the front yard, and some of the interior was also renovated. The three sisters went on to live here for the rest of their lives. The oldest, Sarah, died in 1899, followed by Mary in 1903 and Eliza in 1907. Unmarried, and with no surviving nieces or nephews, Mary and Eliza were the last of their branch of the Ropes family, and after their deaths they left the property to the Essex Institute, as a memorial to their family.

The first photo was taken a few decades later, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. The house has not seen any significant changes since then, and it is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which acquired the property following the 1992 merger between the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute. A year later, the exterior of the house appeared in the Disney film Hocus Pocus, where it served as the home of one of the main characters. Today, the house is still open to the public as a museum, and is one of many historic properties owned by the Peabody Essex.