Charles Bengle Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at the northeast corner of Main and Oak Streets in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood was developed in the late 19th century as a factory village, and this intersection at the corner of Main and Oak Streets became its commercial center. The first significant business block, the three-story Wight & Chapman, was built in 1875 at the northwest corner of the intersection, and it was followed 30 years later by this building, which was completed in 1905 on the opposite side of Oak Street, at the northeast corner of the intersection.

This building was originally owned by Charles Bengle, a merchant whose store was located on the ground floor. A native of Quebec, Bengle came to Indian Orchard in 1867, where he found work in the mills. However, after a short time he began working for a grocer, and then for a clothier. After just a year, he purchased an interest in the clothing firm, which became Chapman & Bengle. In 1875, the store moved into the newly-built Wight & Chapman Block, where they were, according to city directories of the era,“Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

In 1886, Bengle purchased Chapman’s interest in the business and became its sole owner. The store remained in the Wight & Chapman Block until 1905, when Bengle completed his new building across the street. His store occupied the storefront on the left side, and he ran it until his death in 1909. However, the business remained in the family for many years, and it thrived during the first half of the 20th century, drawing customers not only from Indian Orchard but also from the nearby towns of Ludlow and Wilbraham.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the sign for the “Charles Bengle Co.” above the left storefront. At the time, it was run by Charles’s son Adelard, who died in 1946 and left the store to his son, Victor. However, by this point the store was in decline, and it finally closed in 1952, more than 75 years after Charles Bengle first entered the retail clothing business. It was replaced in this storefront by a radio and television store, but subsequent tenants included an auto parts store and, today, a cabinetry store.

Overall, despite changes in its use, the building itself has remained remarkably well-preserved. The storefronts have not been significantly changed since the first photo was taken, and the upper floors retain their decorative Classical Revival-style features. It is one of several historic business blocks that still stand here on this section of Main Street, including the Wight & Chapman Block and the nearby LaRiviere building, and today the center of Indian Orchard still retains much of its original late 19th and early 20th century appearance.

Wight & Chapman Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at the corner of Main and Oak Streets in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The neighborhood of Indian Orchard is located in the northeastern corner of Springfield, about five miles from the city center, and during the mid-19th century it developed into a small factory village along the Chicopee River. In part because of this distance, Indian Orchard’s growth was largely independent from the rest of Springfield, and came to include a small downtown area, with its own Main Street that was lined with brick commercial blocks. Among these was this three-story, Italianate-style building at the corner of Oak Street. Built in 1875, it was located at one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood, and included stores on the first floor, plus offices and a public hall on the upper floors.

The building was originally owned by businessmen Henry K. Wight and George H. Chapman, who each had stores on the ground floor. Wight was a partner in Wight, Rivers & Co., a grocery store that occupied the corner storefront, and city directories of the era describe the company as “Dealers in Choice Groceries, Crockery and Glass Ware, Flour, Teas, Coffees, Sugars, Butter, Cheese, Syrup and Molasses. All varieties of Canned Fruits, with a complete assortment of goods usually kept in a first-class store. Also Dealers in Paints, Oils, Window Glass, etc.” Next to this store, on the left side of the building, was Chapman & Bengle, “Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

George Chapman’s business partner, Charles Bengle, purchased Chapman’s interest in the company in 1886, and he remained in business in this building until around 1904, when he built a new commercial block, directly across Oak Street from here, and moved his store into the new building. Then, around 1910, the older Wight & Chapman Block was purchased by Charles Rieutord, the owner of the nearby National House hotel on Oak Street. Upon purchasing this building, he set about renovating it, including extending the storefronts along both the Main Street and Oak Street sides.

Rieutord opened a wholesale liquor store on the left side of the ground floor, and ran it for about a decade, until Prohibition was enacted in 1920. Along with this, he was also involved with the Springfield Breweries Company, which attempted to adapt to Prohibition by producing non-alcoholic beverages. By the mid-1920s, he was the company’s vice president, serving under president Theodor Geisel – the father of Dr. Seuss – but the brewery ultimately went out of business before the end of Prohibition.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building’s retail tenants included Frank J. Livi, an Italian immigrant who ran a clothing shop in the corner storefront. The store would remain here until at least the 1960s, and since then the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Indian Orchard still retains much of its historic appearance, and still bears closer resemblance to a small mill town rather than a neighborhood of a large city. The Wight & Chapman Block is one of many historic buildings along this section of Main Street, and today it stands as one of the finest commercial buildings of its era, not just in Indian Orchard but in the entire city of Springfield.