Abel Howe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 45 Pearl Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The mid-19th century was a time of considerable growth for Springfield, which nearly tripled in population between 1820 and 1840. This led to the opening of a number of new streets in the downtown area, including Pearl Street, which originally extended one block from Chestnut Street west to Spring Street. This particular house, located at what would eventually become the corner of Mattoon Street, was the first to be built on the new street. It was completed in 1847, and was originally the home of Abel Howe, a mason who evidently designed and built the house himself. The exterior was built of brick, and it featured a square, Italianate-style design, with a flat roof and wide overhanging eaves above the third floor.

Howe lived here until at least the early 1850s, but by the end of the decade he had moved to a house nearby on Salem Street. By about 1868, this house on Pearl Street was owned by Dr. Nathan L. Buck, a physician who, during the 1870 census, was living here with his wife Elmira and their two children, Fred and Nellie. At the time, his real estate was valued at $15,000 ($300,000 today), and his personal estate at $11,000 ($220,000 today). This wealth would have put him well within Springfield’s middle class, although these figures were lower than those of most of his neighbors.

The Buck family was living here as late as 1877, and Dr. Buck also had his medical practice here in the house. He was still listed as the owner of the property in the 1882 city atlas, but he evidently rented it, because he does not appear in the 1880 census or in any subsequent city directories. Instead, another physician, Dr. John Blackmer, was living here from about 1878 to 1883. Like Dr. Buck, he had his offices in the house, and during the 1880 census he was living here with his wife Ellen, daughter Nellie, son John, and a servant.

By 1885, the house was owned by Mary Shaw, a widow who was about 60 years old at the time. A native of Coventry, England, she and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1860, and by 1866 they were living in Springfield, where Joseph established himself as a brewer. He died in 1875, but Mary outlived him by more than 30 years. The 1900 census shows her living alone at this house on Pearl Street, but she evidently moved out soon after, because the subsequent city directories list her at a variety of different addresses until her death in 1906, at the age of 83.

The house was still owned by the Shaw family by 1910, but by this point it had been converted into a boarding house. Although there was just one resident in this large house during the 1900 census, the 1910 census showed 24 boarders living here. Nearly all were unmarried men in their 30s and 40s, and most held working-class jobs such as a carpenter, plumber, painter, tile layer, bookkeeper, and several chauffeurs, salesmen, and machinists. Six of them were immigrants, and most of the other boarders had previously lived in a different state before moving to Springfield.

By the 1920 census, the house was still in use as a boarding house. It was run by James and Mary Alexander, and they rented rooms to 24 boarders. James was an immigrant from Greece, and Mary from England, and many of their tenants were also immigrants, including people from Canada, Ireland, Greece, Russia, Holland, and Switzerland. The Alexanders would continue to keep a boarding house here until as late as 1939, around the time that the first photo was taken, but they are not listed on the following year’s census. Instead, the 1940 census shows Thomas and Katherine Van Heusen living here and running the boarding house. They paid $85 per month in rent, and in turn they rented rooms to 19 boarders.

Up until this point, the exterior of the house had retained much of its original appearance, despite having been used as a boarding house throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, in 1948 it underwent a major renovation to convert it into a commercial property. The porch was replaced by a new storefront, the overhanging waves were removed, a third story was added to the rear section, and many of the first floor windows were bricked up, among other alterations. The building is still standing today, but because of these changes its exterior bears little resemblance to its original appearance. Despite this, though, it survives as one of the oldest buildings in the area, and it is a remnant of the many upscale homes that once lined this block of Pearl Street.

Hotel Kimball, Springfield, Mass

The Hotel Kimball, seen from the Apremont Triangle at the corner of Pearl and Bridge Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The Hotel Kimball is one of the most historically-significant early 20th century buildings in Springfield. It was opened in 1911, at a time when the city was at its peak of prosperity as a major commercial and manufacturing center, and it was regarded as the finest hotel in the city. It was constructed at a cost of $1 million – about $27 million today – and featured a Renaissance Revival exterior that was the work of architect Albert Winslow Cobb. On the interior, it originally included 309 guest rooms, a dining room that could seat 450 people, and the largest ballroom in the area.

An advertisement in the 1912 city directory declared the Hotel Kimball to be “A Modern Metropolitan Hotel Unexcelled in New England. Affording 500 Guests Every Comfort, Convenience and Safety.” The ad also provided the room rates, which started at $1.50 ($40 today) for “Rooms with use of Bath.” This presumably meant a communal bathroom, because “Rooms with Shower Bath” started at $2 ($53 today), while “Rooms with Bath” would cost a traveler $2.50 and up ($66 today). However, the most expensive option was “Suites of Parlor, Chamber and Bath,” which started at $5.50, or $144 today.

Aside from its importance as the city’s finest early 20th century hotel, the Hotel Kimball was also significant as the home of one of the country’s first commercial radio stations. Radio broadcasting was still in its infancy in 1921, when WBZ was licensed to Westinghouse. It transmitted from the Westinghouse facility on Page Boulevard, but in 1922 the station opened its studios here in the Hotel Kimball. The station remained here until 1931, when it relocated to Boston, but this building continued to be used by its affiliate station, WBZA, which served the Springfield market during the mid-20th century.

In the meantime, the Hotel Kimball was significantly expanded in 1923, with a large addition that is visible in the distance on the left side of both photos. It would remain an important hotel for many years, and attracted a number of prominent guests during this time, including presidents Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy. Other celebrity visitors included Babe Ruth, who stayed here in the 1920s and 1930s along with the rest of his Yankees teammates, prior to their exhibition games against the minor league Springfield Ponies.

In addition to its popularity with visitors to Springfield, the Hotel Kimball also housed a number of long-term residents. The 1930 census, for example, lists 52 residents of the hotel. These included at least eight hotel maids and housekeepers, plus the hotel manager and his family. There were also a few other middle class residents, such as an accountant, an engineer, and several salesmen, but most were members of Springfield’s upper class, with professions that included a physician, several attorneys, a banker, and a number of business executives. The monthly rents ranged from about $50 to $475 (about $760 to $7,200 today), but one resident was also listed as having a rent of $10,000 – an implausibly-high number that must have been an error.

Of these residents who lived here in 1930, the most prominent was Frederick H. Gillett, a politician who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Born in Westfield in 1851, Gillett began practicing law in Springfield in 1877, and in 1892 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for 32 years, from 1893 to 1925, and he was also the Speaker of the House from 1919 until 1925, when he was elected to the Senate. He went on to serve one term in the Senate, from 1925 to 1931, and then retired from politics. Throughout much of his political career, Gillett lived here at the Hotel Kimball. He was here as early as 1912, just a year after it opened, and he would remain here until at least the early 1930s, although he may have lived here until his death in 1935.

During the 1940 census, which was done only a year or two after the first photo was taken, there were a total of 38 residents living here. There appears to have been more middle class workers than in 1930, with occupations such as an accountant, a mechanic, a clerk, a nurse, an electrician, and a few salesmen, in addition to five hotel employees who lived here. However, there were still a number of wealthy residents living at the hotel, including three attorneys and a few business owners.

The 1940 census enumerator not include their monthly rent, but their salaries are listed, which provides valuable insight. Most of the hotel maids earned $703 per year ($12,700 today), and the middle class workers such as the electrician, mechanic, and nurse all made a little over $1,000 ($18,000 today). The wealthier residents earned between $3,000 and $5,000 ($54,000-$90,000 today), and any incomes over $5,000 were recorded as “$5,000+” on the census. This was the case for two Kimball Hotel residents, who each earned the modern equivalent of over $90,000: John Haggerty, whose occupation was listed as “electrotypes” for a publishing company, and Chester McGown, the president of American International College.

Around the early 1950s, the hotel was acquired by Sheraton, which had been founded in 1937 in Springfield. This property became the Sheraton-Kimball Hotel, and it was declared to be “The Leading Hotel in Western Mass.” in a 1955 directory. The advertisement went on to list its “Town Room – Coffee Shop (Excellent food, Superb Service) Pickwick Cocktail Lounge (Entertainment Nightly),” and it also mentioned how the hotel specialized in wedding receptions and private parties.

However, despite this glowing description of the hotel, the mid-20th century was a difficult time for grand downtown hotels across the country, as interstate highways and suburban motels began changing the way Americans traveled. The Sheraton-Kimball closed by the early 1960s, but the building avoided demolition. Instead, it was converted into apartments, and it was renamed the Kimball Towers. Then, in 1985 it was converted into condominiums, with a total of 132 units. Today, it is still in use as a condominium building, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. It remains an important downtown landmark, and it forms the centerpiece of the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Daniel L. Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The Daniel L. Harris House at the corner of Chestnut and Pearl Streets, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2016:

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In the mid-19th century, Chestnut Street was Springfield’s most prestigious residential street. Running parallel to Main Street on a bluff overlooking downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River, it was lined with mansions of many prominent residents. Many of these homes were originally owned by members of the Dwight family, and this particular house, located at what would later become the corner of Pearl Street, was built in 1835 by William Dwight (1805-1880). He and his wife Eliza lived here with their seven sons, four of whom would go on to serve in the Civil War. Two, Wilder and Howard, died during the war, and another, General William Dwight, was badly wounded and left for dead after the Battle of Williamsburg. He survived, but was captured and spent time in a Confederate prison.

At some point before 1851, the house was moved slightly to the left of its original location in order to open Pearl Street through the property. At this point, the house was owned by Daniel L. Harris (1818-1879), a civil engineer who built railroads and bridges. He served as the president of the Connecticut River Railroad, and in 1859 he traveled to Russia as a consultant for the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railway. The following year, he served a term as mayor of Springfield, and at this point he was one of the wealthiest men in the rapidly-growing city. In 1866, the Springfield Republican published a list of the taxable income of residents from the previous year, and Harris had the ninth highest income, earning $24,117, or about $377,000 in 2016.

Harris lived here until his death in 1879, and the house remained in his family for nearly 50 more years. By the early 1920s, though, Chestnut Street was no longer the city’s preeminent neighborhood. Springfield’s commercial center had spread up the hill from Main Street, and one by one the 19th century mansions were replaced by 20th century development. Most of these homes disappeared during the 1920s, including the Harris house.

The land became the Apremont Triangle, a small park bounded by Chestnut, Pearl, and Bridge Streets, but the house itself was not completely lost to history. In 1923, it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island, where it was rebuilt to its original design. Today, it is still standing, although it is essentially unrecognizable in its current appearance because of a dramatic 1970 renovation that removed most of the second floor. This article on the Westerly Sun website provides photographs as well as more details about the building’s highly varied history.