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.

Lilly Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Lilly Hall on the campus of Smith College, seen from West Street in Northampton around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Lilly Hall in 2018:

When Smith College first opened in the fall of 1875, all of the classrooms, laboratories, offices, and other school facilities were located in College Hall. However, as the school’s enrollment grew there was a significant need for more space, particularly for the sciences. The result was the Lilly Hall of Science, which was completed in 1886 thanks to a $32,500 gift from Alfred T. Lilly, a silk manufacturer from Florence. It was designed by architect William C. Brocklesby and featured a High Victorian Gothic style that was similar to College Hall, but without the polychromatic walls and ornate details.

The original layout of the building had the chemistry and physics departments in the basement and on the first floor, with biology and geology on the second floor and a museum on the third floor. There was a scientific library, a botanical laboratory, a spectrum analysis room, and a photography room, among other modern scientific facilities, and in his dedication speech college president Laurenus C. Seelye called it “the first time in the history of the world when a building like this has been devoted to the study of science in a female college.” In his speech, Seelye went on to explain Lilly’s motives for giving the money, stating that “The donor believes in the education of women. If this was a college for gentlemen, the donor said he would never give a cent. He believes in science, and believes that truth is as valuable for women as for men.”

However, it did not take long for the college to outgrow this building. By 1892, just six years after the building was dedicated, the student body had grown from 247 to 636, and the science departments needed more space. In 1899, several years after the first photo was taken, the school added a separate chemistry building, and by 1914 the geology, botany, and biology departments had all moved into other buildings, leaving only the physics department here in Lilly Hall. Physics would remain here for many years, and in 1940 a Van de Graaff electrostatic generator was installed here in the building. Known as an “atom-smasher,” it was useful in the field of nuclear physics, and it was the first such machine at a women’s college.

In 1967, the physics department left Lilly Hall, and the School of Social Work moved into the upper floors, while the basement and first floor became the Afro-American Cultural Center. Later renamed the Mwangi Cultural Center, it remained in the building until 2005 before moving elsewhere on campus, but Lilly Hall is still used by the School of Social Work. The building itself was renovated from 2002 to 2003, but the exterior has remained well-preserved over the years, with hardly any noticeable changes between the two photos.

College Hall at Smith College, Northampton, Mass

College Hall on the campus of Smith College, seen from West Street in Northampton, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

College Hall in 2018:

Smith College was established in 1871, as part of the will of Sophia Smith (1796-1870), who left a large bequest to establish a women’s college in Northampton. This building, College Hall, was the first building on the campus, and it was completed in 1875, the same year that the school opened. It was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston-based architectural firm, and its design reflected the High Victorian Gothic style that was fashionable at the time. Smith College has just 14 students and six faculty members when it opened in the fall of 1875, and this building was used for almost everything except dormitory space. When completed, it included classrooms, a laboratory, a social hall, an art gallery, and administrative offices, although this soon began to change as the college grew.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the college’s enrollment had increased significantly. The campus had grown accordingly, and included new residential buildings, a gymnasium, a music hall, an art gallery building, a science building, a chemistry building, and a new academic building. College Hall itself had also been expanded, with an 1890 addition that increased the capacity of the social hall – renamed Assembly Hall – from 500 to 900. In 1901, Assembly Hall was expanded again, by opening up the second floor above the hall and adding another 500 seats. However, this ended up being a temporary change. John M. Greene Hall, with its 2,225-seat auditorium, was completed in 1910, eliminating the need for such a large auditorium here in College Hall, and the second floor above Assembly Hall was subsequently reconstructed.

By the 1909-1910 school year, Smith College employed 104 faculty members and had 1,635 students, with an annual tuition that had just been increased from $100 to $150. At this point, College Hall was only used for the auditorium, some classrooms, and administrative offices, but over time this would continue to change as more buildings were added to the campus. College Hall would ultimately come to be used only for offices, resulting in significant changes to the interior in he process. However, the exterior appearance has remained well-preserved over 140 years after the building first opened, and today the only noticeable difference between these two photos is the lack of ivy on the brick walls of the building.