Connecticut River, Brattleboro, Vermont

The view of Brattleboro, Vermont, seen looking northwest from the bridge over the Connecticut River, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were actually taken in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, since the state line runs along the western side of the Connecticut River. However, the subject of the photos is Brattleboro, a town that developed along the banks of the river during the 19th century. Located near the southeastern corner of Vermont, Brattleboro was among the earliest towns in the state, and was settled soon after the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when French invasions from Quebec were no longer a threat. Its location along the Connecticut River made Brattleboro an important center for both trade and manufacturing, and by the middle of the 19th century it was rapidly growing as a mill town.

Many of the buildings in downtown Brattleboro date back to this period, and some of these are visible in these two photos. The left side of the first photo shows the rear of the buildings on the east side of Main Street, most of which are still standing today, although hidden by trees in the 2017 photo. Further in the distance, on the far left of both photos, is the tower of the Brooks House, a large hotel that was built in 1871 at the corner of Main and High Streets. Two other landmarks in this scene include the steeple of the 1870 First Baptist Church in the center, and the steeple of the 1842 Centre Congregational Church on the right side.

Today, this scene has not significantly changed, more than 120 years after the first photo was taken. The Connecticut River appears somewhat higher in the present-day view, perhaps a consequence of the 1908 construction of the Vernon Dam, which is located a few miles downstream of here. Overall, though, Brattleboro has remained well-preserved over the years, with many historic commercial buildings still lining both sides of Main Street. Most of the buildings here in this scene are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Deacon John Holbrook House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The house at 80 Linden Street, at the corner of Chapin Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The house in 2017:

John Holbrook was born in 1761 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, but as a young man he moved to Vermont, where he found work as a surveyor in what was, at the time, largely uncharted territory. He originally settled in Newfane, where he later ran a general store, but he subsequently moved to Brattleboro, where he continued his business career. Holbrook was affiliated with merchants in Hartford, Connecticut, and in 1811 he relocated to East Windsor. However, he only remained in Connecticut for a few years, returning to Brattleboro soon after the death of his son-in-law, William Fessenden, in 1815. Upon returning, Holbrook took over Fessenden’s publishing company, and he was also selected as a church deacon.

Holbrook had no prior experience in the publishing industry, but he grew the company into a prosperous business, which specialized in producing Bibles. Although located far from the major commercial centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Holbrook’s Brattleboro-based business fared well in competition with the more established publishing houses in the major cities. His Bible proved popular, thanks in part to its quality paper and abundant illustrations, and over the next few decades he and his firms would produce 42 different editions.

Holbrook retired in 1825, and moved into this newly-built home in the northern part of the downtown area. It was designed and built by local builder Nathaniel Bliss, with a Federal-style design that was likely inspired by the works of Asher Benjamin, a prominent New England architect who published a number of architectural handbooks in the early 19th century. As was usually the case in Federal architecture, the front facade is nearly symmetrical, with the only exception being the off-centered front door. The house also includes a distinctive, and somewhat unusual front porch, although it does not seem clear as to whether this was part of its original design.

By the time John Holbrook and his wife Sarah moved into this house, most of their ten children were already grown. The youngest, Frederick, was born in 1813 during the family’s brief residence in Connecticut, but spent most of his childhood in Brattleboro. He was about 12 when this house was built, and presumably lived here for at least a few years before leaving to attend school. Returning to Brattleboro after a tour of Europe in 1833, Frederick became a farmer, eventually serving as the president of the Vermont State Agricultural Association for eight years. Along with this, he also had a career in politics, serving in the state legislature from 1849 to 1850, and as governor from 1861 to 1863.

In the meantime, John Holbrook lived here in this house until his death in 1838, and his widow Sarah sold the property three years later, to Dr. Charles Chapin. Originally from Orange, Massachusetts, Dr. Chapin attended Harvard, and he subsequently began practicing medicine in Springfield, Massachusetts. His first wife, Elizabeth, died only a few years after their marriage, and in 1830 he remarried to Sophia Dwight Orne, the granddaughter of prominent Springfield merchant Jonathan Dwight. A year later, the couple relocated to Brattleboro, where Dr. Chapin became a businessman and a government official. His long career included serving in the state legislature and as a U.S. Marshal, and he was also a director of the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and the Vermont Valley Railroad.

Dr. Chapin had one child, Elizabeth, from his first marriage, and he had five more children with Sophia: Lucinda, Oliver, Mary, William, and Charles. All but the youngest were born before the family moved into this house, but they all would have spent at least part of their childhood here. The two older sons, Oliver and William, would later go on to serve in the Civil War, and William spent time in the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, after being captured by Confederates. By the 1870, their widowed daughter Mary was their only child still living here with them. The census of that year shows Charles with a net worth of 40,000 – a considerable sum equal to nearly $800,000 today – while Sophia had $25,000 of her own, possibly an inheritance from her wealthy Dwight relatives.

Dr. Chapin died in 1875, and Sophia died five years later. Shortly after, the property behind the house was sold and subdivided. Chapin Street was opened through the property, just to the left of the house, and was developed with new houses by the late 1880s. The first photo was taken only a few years later, and one of the new houses can be seen in the distance on the far left. However, the old Holbrook and Chapin house remained standing, even as the surrounding land was divided into house lots for the growing town population.

Today, the house’s exterior is not significantly different from when the first photo was taken over 120 years ago. Although now used as a commercial property, the house has remained well-preserved as a good example of late Federal-style architecture, and as one of Brattleboro’s finest early 19th century homes. Because of this, in 1982 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

High Street from Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking west up High Street, from the corner of Main Street in Brattleboro, in August 1941. Image taken by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in August 1941 by Jack Delano, a noted photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration. This Depression-era agency was part of the New Deal, and its programs included photographers who traveled around the country, documenting rural poverty in the wake of the Great Depression. Delano visited Vermont in 1941, and he took a number of photographs here in Brattleboro, capturing images of everyday life in the town, including this scene of a police officer directing traffic at the corner of Main and High Streets.

More than 75 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. On the far left is the Brooks House, a hotel that was built in 1871 and converted into apartments and offices a century later. Next to it is the small, wood-frame Retting Block, which was built around 1850 and is probably the oldest building in this scene. Just beyond it is the much larger Manley Brothers Block, which was built around 1910, and on the other side of the street is the Manley Apartment Building, which was built about eight years later. Probably the newest building in the first photo was the Gulf station on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. It was later replaced by a Dunkin Donuts, which was, in turn, demolished to create Pliny Park, which now occupies the space.

Crosby Block, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Crosby Block on Main Street, just north of the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1871-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the Crosby Block was built in 1871, replacing several earlier commercial buildings that had been destroyed in a large fire two years before. It was owned by grain and flour merchant Edward Crosby, who built it at a cost of almost $175,000, or around $3.6 million today. Its Italianate-style design was the work of local architect George A. Hines, and it was originally 26 window bays in width, extending along Main Street from the corner of Elliot Street north to the Brooks House. Upon completion, the ground floor of the building housed a variety of stores, while the second floor had professional offices and the third floor had apartments.

Nearly 150 years after it was built, most of the Crosby Block has seen little change. However, the southernmost section of the building – once the home of Vermont National Bank – was rebuilt in the late 1950s, with an International Style yellow brick and metal facade. Now occupied by People’s United Bank, this section is still standing on the left side of the scene, and sharply contrasts with the surviving three quarters of the Crosby Block. The rest of the building, particularly the upper floors, has remained well-preserved, though. Today, it is one of the many historic 19th century commercial buildings that still line Main Street, and it is a contributing property in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Crosby Block and Brooks House, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street, from near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1871-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This block, on the west side of Main Street between Elliot and High Streets, was the scene of one of the most disastrous fires in Brattleboro history, which occurred on October 31, 1869. All of the buildings along this section of Main Street, mostly wood-frame stores and hotels, were destroyed in the fire, including the Brattleboro House hotel and several other important commercial blocks. However, the property was quickly redeveloped, and within two years the ruins had been replaced by two large, brick commercial buildings, with the Crosby Block on the left and the Brooks House further in the distance on the right.

The first photo shows the Crosby Block as it appeared within about 15 years of its completion in 1871. It was owned by grain and flour merchant Edward Crosby, and was designed by local architect George A. Hines, whose plans reflected the prevailing Italianate style for commercial buildings of this era. Only about two thirds of the building is visible in this scene, as it was once 26 window bays wide, extending all the way to the corner of Elliot Street. As was often the case in downtown commercial blocks, it was originally a mixed-use building, with stores on the ground floor, professional offices on the second floor, and apartments on the third floor.

Further in the distance, on the right side of the scene, is the Brooks House, which was also known as the Hotel Brooks. Although completed in the same year as the Crosby Block, it featured far more elaborate Second Empire-style architecture that contrasted with the modest design of its neighbor. Designed by noted architect Elbridge Boyden, the hotel was reportedly the country’s largest Second Empire-style building outside of New York City at the time, and was a popular Gilded Age summer resort. It was owned by George Jones Brooks, a merchant who had grown up in the Brattleboro area but later made his fortune in San Francisco, as a merchant during the Gold Rush. However, he later returned to Brattleboro, where he built this hotel and also later founded the Brooks Memorial Library.

More than 130 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has remained remarkably unchanged. The facade of the southernmost section of the Crosby Block, just out of view to the left, was rebuilt in the late 1950s and is now completely unrecognizable from its original appearance. However, the section of the building in this scene has been well-preserved, and still continues to house a variety of shops on its ground floor. On the right side of the scene, the Brooks House is also still standing. The interior was completely rebuilt in the early 1970s and converted into offices and apartments, but the exterior was preserved. More recently, the upper floors were heavily damaged by a fire in 2011, but the building has since been restored and still stands as a major landmark in downtown Brattleboro.

High Street from Lyman Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the same block of High Street as this previous post, just from the opposite direction. As mentioned in that post, these buildings were mostly built around the 1860s and 1870s, with the oldest probably being the Fuller Block in the center of the photo, which dates back to around the 1850s. Closer in the foreground, there are seven very similar Italianate-style brick commercial blocks. The six closest to the camera were all built around the same time, probably about 1870, and the one near the center of the photo was built a little later, around 1878. Holyoke’s Gothic-style city hall also dates back to around this time, having been completed in 1876, and its tower rises in the distance of both photos.

Today, this scene has not significantly changed in the past 125 years. Everything on High Street to the north of Lyman Street was demolished in the 1970s as part of an urban renewal project, but most of the historic High Street buildings are still standing to the south of Lyman Street. The Fuller Block is still here, as are most of the other buildings beyond it, and five of the seven buildings in the foreground are also still standing. The building on the far left, at the corner of Lyman Street, is gone, as is the one at the corner of Oliver Street, but otherwise this scene retains much of its late 19th century appearance. Because of this, the buildings along this section of High Street are now part of the North High Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.