Burnham School, Northampton, Mass

The Burnham School on Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built sometime around 1810, although it has been significantly altered over the years. It was originally the home of Elijah Hunt Mills, a lawyer and politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1815 to 1819, and in the U.S. Senate from 1820 to 1827. Mills was also one of the founders of the Northampton Law School, a short-lived but notable law school whose students included future president Franklin Pierce. Because of ill health, Mills retired from the Senate at the end of his term in 1827, and about a year later he left the Northampton Law School, which closed soon after. He lived here in this house until his death in 1829, and the house was subsequently owned by Thomas Napier, a Southerner who was was apparently a slave auctioneer and a vocal anti-abolitionist.

By the mid-19th century, this house was owned by Samuel L. Hinckley, whose occupation was described as “gentleman” in the 1860 census. Born Samuel Hinckley Lyman in 1810, he legally changed his name in 1831 at the request of his grandfather, Judge Samuel Hinckley, in order to carry on the Hinckley family name. After graduating from Williams College, Hinckley married Henrietta E. Rose, although they were married for less than a year before her death, soon after the birth of their only child, Henry. Hinckley later remarried to Ann L. Parker, and they had four children together. By the 1860 census, all seven family members were living here in this house, along with three servants. At the time, Hinckley’s real estate was valued at $15,000, plus a personal estate of $40,000, for a total net worth equal to about $1.5 million today.

The house was subsequently owned by Hinckley’s younger brother, Jonathan Huntington Lyman, a physician who was living here by the 1865 state census. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1840, and in 1847 he married his first wife, Julia Dwight. She came from a prominent family, and both of her grandfathers were among the most influential men in late 18th and early 19th century New England. Her father’s father was Timothy Dwight IV, the noted pastor, theologian, and author who served as president of Yale from 1795 to 1817, and her mother’s father was Caleb Strong, a Northampton lawyer who served as a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, a U.S. senator from 1789 to 1796, and governor of Massachusetts from 1800 to 1807 and 1812 to 1816.

Jonathan and Julia Lyman had three children together, but Julia died of tuberculosis in 1853 at the age of 29. Two years later, he remarried to her older sister Mary, and by 1865 they were living here with Jonathan’s two surviving children, John and Francis, plus two servants. Francis died in 1871 from yellow fever at the age of 18, while in Brazil studying natural history, and John went on to become a physician, after graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1872.

In 1877, Jonathan sold the property to Mary A. Burnham, who established a school for girls here in this house. Originally called the Classical School for Girls, it opened in 1877 with the goal of preparing girls for the newly-established Smith College, located directly across the street from here. Only 22 students were enrolled during this first school year, but the school soon grew, and by the time the first photo was taken there were 175 students on a campus that included several other buildings. Mary Burnham died in 1885, and assistant principal Bessie T. Capen subsequently took over the school, which was renamed the Mary A. Burnham School in honor of its founder.

By the time the first photo was taken, very little remained of the house’s early 19th century appearance. It originally had Federal-style architecture, as seen with features such as the second-story Palladian window, but after its conversion to a school a wing was added to the right side, and the original part of the house was altered with a Mansard roof, dormer windows, and a tower above the main entrance.

The house would remain part of the Burnham School for many years, but in 1968 the school merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, forming the present-day Stoneleigh-Burnham School. The Northampton campus was then sold to Smith College, which converted this building into student housing. It is now known as the Chase House, in honor of writer and Smith professor Mary Ellen Chase, and it is attached to the neighboring Duckett House, just out of view to the right. Over the years, the house has lost some of its Victorian-era elements, particularly the tower, but it still stands today as one of many historic homes along Elm Street.

Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street near Bedford Terrace in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows three 18th and early 19th century homes that once lined the eastern side of Elm Street, directly opposite the campus of Smith College. Starting on the far right, closest to the camera, was the Stoddard House, which was probably built sometime in the mid to late 18th century. Not to be confused with The Manse, an architecturally-similar home that was owned by Solomon Stoddard (1736-1824) and still stands on Prospect Street, this Elm Street house appears to have been owned by his son, Solomon Stoddard (1771-1860). The latter was the great-grandson of yet another Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), a prominent theologian who had served as pastor of the Northampton church from 1672 until his death in 1729.

The younger Solomon Stoddard was a 1790 graduate of Yale, and he subsequently studied law under Northampton attorney, U.S. senator, and future Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong. Stoddard went on to have a successful career as a lawyer, and also served in a variety of roles in local government, including register of deeds, town clerk, chief justice of the court of sessions, court clerk, and state representative. He and his wife Sarah had eight children, and they lived here in this house until Sarah’s death in 1852 and Solomon’s death in 1860. The house was later sold to Smith College in 1885, and by the time the first photo was taken it was in use as residential building for students.

Just to the left of the Stoddard House, in the center of the first photo, is another 18th century home that was later converted into a Smith College residence. Supposedly built in 1710 by Isaac Clark, the house remained in his family for several generations, and by the mid-19th century was owned by Clark’s great-grandson, Justin Smith. Upon Smith’s death in 1880 he left half of the property to Smith College, under the condition that his sister, Mary Smith Tenney, would be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. During this time, she ran the house as an off-campus residence for Smith College students, and after her death the school took over the property and continued to operate it as a residential building, named the Tenney House.

The third building in the first photo, on the far left of the scene, was also a private home that later became part of Smith College. Built sometime in the early 19th century, this house was originally the home of Enos Clark, a church deacon who lived here until his death in 1864. The property remained in his family for several more decades, but in 1886 it was sold to Mary L. Southwick, who enlarged the house and converted it into another off-campus residence for Smith College students. Known as the Southwick House, it operated into the 20th century, but it was later purchased by the Burnham School, a college preparatory school for girls. The house remained part of the school campus until 1968, when Burnham merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, and it was then sold to Smith College and converted into the Duckett House.

Today, of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Duckett House remains. It is still in use as a Smith College residential building, housing 37 students, and it is connected to the adjacent Chase House, which is just out of view in the distance to the left. As for the other two historic houses, both the Stoddard House and the Tenney House were demolished in the mid-1930s to build the Alumnae House, which was completed in 1938. This building, with its two wings in the center and right side of the photo, is still standing today, and is still in use by the college.

Elm Street from Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street from near the corner of Henshaw Avenue in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

A lot has changed here on Elm Street in more than 120 years, but one prominent landmark that remains is the Hunt/Henshaw House, seen here on the right side of both photos. Many sources give a construction date of around 1700-1710, with Jonathan Hunt as the original owner. Hunt did indeed live here at the corner of present-day Elm Street and Henshaw Avenue, but more recent research seems to indicate that the current house on the lot was built in 1751 by his son, John Hunt. A wealthy landowner and a militia captain, John Hunt lived here with his wife Esther Wells, and their large, elegant Georgian-style house reflected the family’s economic and social prominence.

After John Hunt’s death in 1785, the house was inherited by his daughter Martha, who lived here with her husband, Samuel Henshaw. Originally from Milton, Massachusetts, Henshaw was a pastor-turned-lawyer who came to Northampton in 1788. He later became a judge of probate, then a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, and also served as a trustee of Williams College from 1802 until his death in 1809. Like the Hunts, the Henshaws were also a prominent family, and their oldest daughter Martha married Isaac Chapman Bates, a lawyer and politician who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1827 to 1835, and in the Senate from 1841 to 1845. Martha and Isaac were married here in this house in 1807, in a double wedding ceremony that also included Martha’s sister Sarah and her husband, Ebenezer Hunt.

The older Martha continued to live here in this house long after Samuel Henshaw’s death, until her own death in 1842. The house was later owned by Sidney E. Bridgman, a local bookseller who lived here in the late 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century it was owned by Ruth Sessions. The daughter of Episcopalian bishop Frederic Dan Huntington, Ruth was an author who published poems, short stories, and articles, and later in life she published a memoir, Sixty Odd, in 1936. Ruth was also the mother of prominent composer Roger Sessions, and the 1910 census shows him living here in this house as a 13-year-old boy, shortly before he entered Harvard University to study music.

Ruth Sessions converted this house into a boarding house for students at Smith College, which is located right across the street from the house. Sometime before 1916 she added a large wing to the rear of the original 18th century house, which significantly expanded its capacity while preserving the historic appearance of the house. In 1921 she sold the property to Smith College, and it was named Sessions House in her honor. Nearly a century later, it remains in use as student housing, and it is the oldest of the school’s 35 residential buildings.

Aside from the Hunt/Henshaw House, the most prominent feature in the 1894 scene is the large elm tree in the center of the photo. John Hunt had planted elm trees in his front yard in 1753, and this tree could very well have been one of them. It is no longer standing, perhaps a victim of Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century, but there is another elm tree that now towers over the house, on the right side of the present-day scene. Such large elm trees are rare, since most die of Dutch Elm Disease long before reaching this size, but it still stands as one of the few survivors on the eponymous Elm Street, which was once lined with many of these trees.

Morris House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Morris House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Morris House in 2018:

As mentioned in the previous post, the identical Lawrence House and Morris House were both completed in 1892, filling a need for student housing at the rapidly-growing Smith College. Although the school had opened less than 20 years earlier, in the fall of 1875, with an enrollment of just 14 students, this had grown to 636 by 1892. Morris House, seen here in these two photos, was named after one of these early students, Kate Morris, who was one of eleven women in the school’s first graduating class in 1879. Three years later she became the first to earn a Ph.D. from Smith, and she would subsequently become the first alumna to serve on the school’s Board of Trustees.

Like Lawrence House, Morris House was designed by Hartford-based architect William C. Brocklesby, and in more than 125 years there have been few changes to the building’s exterior. The small dormer windows on the long side of the building have been replaced by larger ones, and the decorative bargeboards under the gables are gone, but otherwise it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. It remains in use as one of the 35 residential buildings at Smith College, and currently houses 68 students on its four floors.

Lawrence House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Lawrence House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Lawrence House in 2018:

When Smith College opened in the fall of 1875, there were just 14 students enrolled in the school. However, over the next few decades the school saw dramatic growth, resulting in a number of new buildings on campus in the 1880s and 1890s. In the six year period from 1886 to 1892, for example, enrollment grew from 247 to 636, and in 1892 two new dormitories were added to accommodate this influx. The two identical buildings, Lawrence House and Morris House, were both designed by William C. Brocklesby, a Hartford architect who was responsible for many of the campus buildings during this period, and they were named in honor of two Smith College alumnae: Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence, class of 1883; and Kate Morris, class of 1879.

Lawrence House, seen here in these two photos, became a cooperative house in 1912, with students receiving discounted tuition in exchange for doing one hour of chores each day. The 62 spots here were highly competitive, requiring high academic standing as well as an interview with the dean, and former resident Constance Jackson, writing for The Smith Alumnae Quarterly in 1922, noted that “it is considered a stroke of luck by most of the college to achieve Lawrence House.” At the beginning of the school year, students were assigned temporary jobs, but they later submitted their preferences for permanent jobs. As Jackson described in her article:

Later, when academic schedules are definitely settled, each student gives the head of the house a card bearing her first, second, and third choice for a permanent task, as well as her “pet aversion.” Needless to say these are never assigned! The freshmen are but little concerned for they have already been informed by upper classmen who have achieved the dignity of sweeping and setting up tables, that the dinner dishes constitute their particular destiny.

Jackson went on to explain how:

The work is never a burden in any sense, for the hour each day spent at one’s particular task is a wholesome change from the academic atmosphere. The interest which everyone takes in the well-being of the house as a whole is truly remarkable and far different from the attitude commonly seen in the houses where the duties of keeping up appearances fall to maids. A scrap of paper in the hallway, a bit of dust on the stairs, is noticed and immediately removed by whomever sees it first – not because it is a duty but because it reflects on the common home which we have all come to love.

Lawrence House remained a cooperative house for many years, and during this time its most famous resident was Sylvia Plath, who lived here from the fall of 1952 until her graduation in the spring of 1955. Although best known for her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Plath has already written many short stories by the time she moved into Lawrence House, and several of these had been published in magazines. While at Smith College she also served on the editorial board of the school’s literary magazine, the Smith Review, and in 1953 she was selected as a guest editor for Mademoiselle. However, her college years were also marked by increased depression, and her time at Lawrence House was interrupted in 1953, when she spent six months in a psychiatric hospital after her first suicide attempt.

Today, Lawrence House is no longer a cooperative house, but it remains in use as one of 35 residential buildings on the Smith College campus, housing 68 students. The exterior has seen few changes, although at some point in the mid-20th century the dormer windows on the long sides of the building (not visible from this angle) were significantly altered. Otherwise, both Lawrence House and its twin, Morris House, remain very much the same as they did when they were completed over 125 years ago.

Washburn House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Washburn House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Washburn House in 2017:

Washburn House was built in 1878, and is among the oldest buildings on the Smith College campus. It was opened as a dormitory just three years after the school opened, and was named for former Massachusetts governor and senator William B. Washburn, who was serving as one of the school’s trustees at the time. Like many of the other 19th century buildings on the campus, it was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, with a High Victorian Gothic style that matched the rest of the campus.

Today, more than 120 years after the first photo was taken, the exterior of Washburn House has not seen any significant changes. In the mid-20th century it was the Spanish House, and the interior had Spanish-themed decorations, along with Spanish names for the rooms. Initially conceived during the Spanish Civil War, when students were unable to study abroad in Spain, the Spanish House continued until 1955, when it reverted to a regular dormitory. It has remained in use ever since, as one of 35 residential buildings at Smith College, and it currently has a capacity of 43 students.