Main Arsenal, Springfield Mass

The Main Arsenal at the Springfield Armory, seen around 1910-1920. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Arsenal in 2015:


Springfield had long been a center of production for US military firearms, beginning in 1777, during the American Revolution.  The need arose for a suitable location to manufacture and store arms and ammunition, and several sites in New England were considered, including Brookfield Mass. and Hartford.  However, in the end General Henry Knox recommended Springfield, and George Washington agreed.  Perhaps Knox had recalled passing through Springfield in early 1776 while bringing cannon from Ticonderoga to Boston, but either way he determined that it was the best location.

The location of Springfield was particularly valuable, as it was along several major roads, leading to Boston, Albany, Hartford, and other points south.  The Connecticut River and several major tributaries were also an advantage, although unlike at Hartford the river was not navigable by ocean-going vessels at this point.  This had been one of the strongest arguments in favor of Hartford, but it was also one of the main weaknesses of the Hartford plan – British ships could easily sail up the river and attack.  Springfield’s location, some 20 miles north of the head of navigation, meant that the town was secure from British naval attacks.  Another important feature in Springfield is the hill that the Armory is located on.  Situated on a broad plateau above the downtown area, the Armory is only three quarters of a mile from the river, but is about 150 feet higher in elevation.  In the unlikely event that Springfield was attacked, this would have been an easy position to defend.

However, while the Armory itself dates back to the 1700s, most of the buildings on the site date to the mid 1800s, including the main arsenal seen in these photos.  This building was built between 1847 and 1851, and it served as a storehouse for the weapons produced at the Armory.  It was built during the Mexican-American War, and it played a vital role in the Civil War just a decade later.  Springfield had been one of two federal arsenals prior to the war, with the other being at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Since this facility was lost early in the war, Springfield became the primary manufacturing center for Union firearms.  It continued in this role throughout World War I, World War II, and even into the Vietnam War before its closure in 1968.  Today, the Armory is National Historic Site, and is also home to Springfield Technical Community College.  The arsenal today hasn’t changed much since its completion in 1851, although today it serves as a museum run by the National Park Service.

Main & Emery Streets, Springfield Mass

Main Street looking south from Emery Street in Springfield around 1892.  Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2015:


Aside from the railroad arch barely visible in the distance, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the 1892 scene that still exists today.  Unlike in other neighborhoods of Springfield, the North End retains very few historic buildings; just about the entire area between the railroad and I-291, extending a block on either side of Main Street, is new development from the 1970s.  The 1920 city atlas shows literally hundreds of houses and other buildings in this area, but today there is not one permanent resident within nearly a quarter mile of this spot.  Instead, there are commercial developments and highways.  The Springfield Republican offices are to the right, and across the street is the US Post Office.  Not visible to the left of the post office is a shopping plaza, and beyond the Republican building on the right is the Peter Pan bus terminal.  In the opposite direction, looking north along Main Street there are several professional offices, and then the sprawling I-291 interchange with I-91, both of which consume substantial real estate in the North End.

Hampden Park from Round Hill, Springfield, Mass

The view of Hampden Park from the North End of Springfield, around 1882. Photo from Springfield Illustrated (1882).


The view in 2014:


The location of the second photo isn’t exact – the actual location would be somewhere in the southbound lane of Interstate 91, so I did the next best thing; I took the 2014 photo from a bridge over the highway.  Either way, not much remains the same today.  The railroad tracks are still there, as is the Connecticut River, but otherwise it’s a completely different scene.  Hampden Park is visible in the distance; this was home to bicycle races, minor league baseball games, and even the occasional college football game.  A more in-depth history of the park is explained in this post.

In later years, the part of Hampden Park closest to the North End Bridge became Pynchon Park, and was the home of several different minor league teams until the 1960s.  Today, the former site of Hampden Park is now primarily industrial, with warehouses and other facilities on the spot where Harvard and Yale used to play early college football games.  Pynchon Park is now a Pride station, and can barely be seen through the trees just to the left of the billboard on the right-hand side of the photo.

North Main Street, Springfield, Mass

Main Street in Springfield, looking toward the North End near Congress Street, around 1882. Photo from Springfield Illustrated (1882).


The scene in 2014:


The only readily identifiable building in the first photo is on the right side of Main Street, the Hooker School, which was a grammar school that opened in 1865.  In the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield, it is described as “the finest of the grammar-school buildings in external appearance,. for which it is indebted to its imposing tower (containing a clock with illuminated dial), as well as to the beautiful network of vines which in summer relieve the bareness of its brick walls.”

The building was still being used as a school by the time the 1910 atlas was published, but by 1920 the school had moved to a different location a few blocks away.  The old building was apparently still there, though, and it was labeled as “Old School Building.” Obviously, the school building is no longer there, although it was likely gone long before the interchange between I-91 and I-291 was built here.  Today, Main Street itself is the only thing left over from the first photo, although instead of trees in the median, it now has concrete supports for the elevated highway.

Springfield Hospital, Springfield, Mass

Springfield Hospital, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The site in 2014, now the home of Baystate Medical Center:


From its humble beginnings as Springfield Hospital in 1883, this location has grown into one of the largest hospitals in the state.  The first major expansion happened within 20-30 years of when the first photo was taken, when the building in the 2014 photo opened.  Since then, the hospital has significantly expanded the area behind this building, and the large, grassy area in front of the hospital is now a parking lot.

Mercy Hospital, Springfield, Mass

Mercy Hospital in Springfield, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2014:


Mercy Hospital has been at this location on Carew Street since 1898, and treated a number of soldiers returning home from the Spanish-American War.  However, the building on the left-hand side is older than that; it was built as the residence of Haitsill Hastings Allis, a businessman who owned a brick company in Springfield.  The building was sold to the Catholic Church in 1896, and the hospital began working out of the building two years later.  The addition on the right was opened a year later, significantly expanding the number of patients that the hospital could treat.

Today, all of the buildings in the first photo are gone.  The addition was demolished in 1974, and the Allis Mansion itself survived until 2013.  It had been vacant since 2001, and its restoration was unfeasible, so it was taken down to make way for the parking lot in the foreground of the 2014 photo.