City Hall, Salem, Mass

City Hall, at 93 Washington Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

City Hall in 2017:

During the early 19th century, Salem was among the largest cities or towns in the country, ranking among the top ten in the first four federal censuses. It was also the second-largest in New England during this time, behind only Boston, and in 1836 it was incorporated as the second city in the state, with a population of 15,886. At the time, the municipal government occupied the town hall at Derby Square, but construction soon began on a purpose-built city hall here on Washington Street, just north of the intersection of Essex Street.

The building, which was completed in 1838, was designed by noted architect Richard Bond, whose other Salem works included the 1854 Tabernacle Congregational Church (demolished in 1922), as well as the 1841 county courthouse on Federal Street. Bond’s design for City Hall had a Greek Revival exterior, with a granite facade on the Washington Street side and brick walls on the rest of the building. The main entrance is flanked by four Doric pilasters, supporting an entablature that features seven laurel wreaths, with a gilded eagle atop the building. On the interior, the building was constructed with city offices on the first floor, and the mayor’s office and city council chambers on the second floor.

The first mayor of Salem was Leverett Saltonstall I, a prominent politician who had previously served as president of the Massachusetts Senate and would later go on to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1838 to 1843. He was also the great grandfather of Leverett A. Saltonstall, who would serve as governor of Massachusetts and as a U. S. Senator during the mid-20th century. Other notable early mayors included Stephen C. Phillips and Charles W. Upham, both of whom also served in Congress, and Stephen P. Webb, who served as mayor from 1842 to 1845 and 1860 to 1862, while in the interim serving as mayor of San Francisco from 1854 to 1855.

The first photo was taken at some point in the post-Civil War era, most likely in the late 1860s or early 1870s, and shows the front facade of City Hall, along with a horse-drawn trolley on Washington Street. The building was significantly expanded in 1876, with an addition that doubled its length, although its appearance from this angle remained unchanged. Another addition came a century later in the late 1970s, but likewise this did not affect the Washington Street side of the building.

Today, this building remains in use as the Salem City Hall, with a well-preserved exterior that shows hardly any changes from the first photo. Now over 180 years old, it is the oldest continuously-used city hall building in the state, and it survives as a good example of Greek Revival-style architecture. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and it is also a contributing property in the Downtown Salem Historic District.

Essex County Courthouses, Salem, Mass

The courthouses on Federal Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This block of Federal Street features four generations of Essex County courthouses, all lined up next to each other on the north side of the street. They represent a wide variety of architectural styles, and the two oldest are seen here in this view. The older of these is the granite, Greek Revival-style courthouse on the right side, which was completed in 1841. It was designed by noted architect Richard Bond, who was responsible for several other important buildings in Salem, including City Hall and the nearby Tabernacle Congregational Church. As built, the interior had a courtroom on the upper floor, with county offices on the lower floor, although this later changed as more courthouses were built here.

The second courthouse was built just 20 years later, but with architecture that sharply contrasts with that of its neighbor. Completed in 1862, it featured a brick exterior with an Italianate design, and was the work of architect Enoch Fuller. However, the exterior was heavily modified from 1887 to 1889, including a new wing on the rear of the building, a tower on the right side of this addition, and a new three-story entryway on the front of the building. Although similar to the original design of the courthouse, these additions had more of a Romanesque appearance, which gave the building an unusual blend of architectural styles.

The third courthouse is barely visible on the far left side of both photos. It was completed in 1909, shortly before the first photo was taken, and it has since been joined by a fourth courthouse on the other side of it, which opened in 2012. All four of the buildings are still standing, although the two oldest have been vacant since the new courthouse was completed. Neither have seen any significant exterior changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and both are part of the Federal Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. However, there are still no definite redevelopment plans for the buildings, and the 1841 courthouse was damaged by a fire in May 2018, less than a year after the second photo was taken.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Salem, Mass

The Tabernacle Congregational Church, at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Tabernacle Congregational Church had its origins in 1735, when a large group of parishioners, including the pastor, broke away from the First Church of Salem. Following the split, both churches claimed to be the true “First Church,” and the dispute was not resolved until 1762, when the colonial legislature forced the newer church to give up their claim to the name. As a result, the congregation became the Third Church of Salem, although it later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Its first meeting house burned down in 1774, and was replaced three years later by a new one, located here at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In 1812, Samuel Newell, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were ordained here as the first foreign missionaries from the United States, prior to their departure overseas for India. The building would remain in use for many years afterwards, but it was demolished in 1854 to build the church that is shown in the first photo.

This church building was designed by noted Boston architect Richard Bond, and had an Italianate-style design that was popular for churches of this period. It included a tall steeple that rose 180 feet above the street, and the sanctuary of the church could seat some 1,050 people, which was more than double the membership at the time. Including furnishings, it was built at a cost of $21,400, or about $600,000 today. However, the church made most of this money back in short order. In keeping with customs of this period, the pews were sold to parishioners, with prices that ranged from $25 to $60 in the galleries, and $40 to $250 on the main floor. Through this sale, held in 1854 on the day of its dedication, the church brought in $16,119.48 in revenue.

The 1854 church stood here until 1922, when it was demolished to build the present-day building. This was the third consecutive church building to stand on this site, and incorporated elements of the 1777 structure. This included the tower, which was modeled after the one that had been added to the earlier church in 1805. The new church was designed by Boston architects Philip Horton Smith and Edgar Walker, and it was completed in 1923. It has remained in use by the congregation ever since, and the exterior has been well-preserved after nearly a century since its completion. It is now part of the Federal Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

The town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, seen from the corner of High Street in May 1937. Image taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the old Brattleboro town hall was built in 1855, and over the years it was used for town offices and town meetings, but it also housed the library, police department, post office, and county clerk’s office, along with several different commercial tenants. The meeting hall was also used for concerts and other performances, and in 1895 the building was expanded with the addition of an auditorium that was originally known as the opera house. The building hosted a number of notable speakers throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Mark Twain.

During the early 20th century, movies began to eclipse live performances in popularity, and by the 1920s the opera house in the town hall was converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. The first photo, taken in 1937, shows the front entrance of the building, the the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. At the time, the Auditorium was the only movie theater in town, following the a March 15, 1937 fire that destroyed the Princess Theatre on Elliot Street. However, it would soon face new competition from new, modern theaters. Later in 1937, the building next door on the right side of the photo was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a little south of here on Main Street.

This new competition hurt the older Auditorium, which entered a steady decline in the following years. The building continued to be used as the town hall during this time, but in 1951 the town offices were moved to the old high school building, located just north of here on Main Street. The old town hall was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, parts of the exterior brick walls of the town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new one-story building. Part of the old wall can be seen on the right side of the building in the present-day photo, with light-colored bricks that contrast with the darker bricks of the front part of the building.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont

The old town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The Brattleboro town hall was built here on Main Street in 1855, and served a wide variety of roles during its 98 years of existence. Aside from the town offices, this building housed the police department, post office, county clerk’s office, and library, and its hall was used for town meetings, concerts, theatrical performances, and other public events. The town also rented space in the building to private tenants, and over the years these included a bookstore, a dry goods store, and lawyers’ offices. Another tenant was William Morris Hunt, a prominent artist who had lived across the street from here as a child in the 1820s and early 1830s. He subsequently spent many years in Europe, but returned to Brattleboro for about a year in 1856, living in his old boyhood home and renting studio space here in the town hall.

The first photo was taken around 1894, nearly 40 years after the building was completed. The town hall had not changed much at that point, but about a year later it underwent an extensive renovation and expansion, which added an 875-seat opera house to the building. Like the original meeting hall in the building, this opera house was used for a variety of live performances, but by the early 1920s it had been converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. Over the next few decades, though, the theater steadily declined, especially as newer, purpose-built movie theaters opened in downtown Brattleboro. In 1937, the building just to the right of the town hall was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a few blocks to the south.

In the meantime, the building remained in use as the town hall until the early 1950s. However, in 1951 a new high school building opened in the southern part of town, leaving the old downtown school building vacant. The school was then converted into town offices, and the old town hall was sold. It was mostly demolished in 1953, although some of the exterior walls were left standing and were incorporated into the W. T. Grant department store, which was built on this site. This store is now long gone, but the one-story building remains, and still has some of the original walls of the town hall.

Aside from these walls, the only other surviving feature from the first photo is the building on the far right. Built around 1850, this commercial block is distinctive for its Main Street facade, which is made of granite blocks. The building was substantially altered when it was converted into the Paramount Theatre in 1937, including a large addition to the rear, a flat roof to replace the original gabled roof, and metal panels that covered the granite exterior. The building was gutted by a fire in 1991, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing today. Now that it no longer has the metal panels or the theater marquee, it looks more like its original appearance than it did for most of the 20th century, and despite the many changes it is still recognizable from the first photo.