William Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on William Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, sometime around 1902-1915. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

William Street in 2017:


William Street, located in the South End of Springfield, was developed around the middle of the 19th century, as development of Springfield’s downtown area steadily moved southward. The area around this site had once belonged to Alexander Bliss, who operated a tannery on the site. His son, Elijah, inherited his father’s large estate after his death in 1843, and began subdividing the property. The 1851 city map shows a number of buildings here, all owned by Elijah, although the ones in the first photo were probably not built until around the 1860s or early 1870s.

The houses in the first photo were primarily rowhouses, with a larger wooden apartment block further in the distance and a few single-family homes interspersed among the larger buildings. The rowhouses feature Second Empire-style architecture, with the distinctive mansard roofs on the third floor, but their designs also incorporate elements of the earlier Italianate style, such as the curved window lintels and the decorative brackets under the eaves.

The South End has long been home to a variety of immigrant groups, many of whom were living here when the first photo was taken in the early 20th century. The 1910 census shows many different working-class residents living here in apartments and lodging houses, including French-Canadian and Irish immigrants along with native-born Americans. The house on the right side, for example, was a lodging house that was owned and operated by Abbie E. Neale, a 49-year-old widow who also owned the smaller house behind it. She rented the property to 14 lodgers, which included a mix of single people and married couples who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. They held a variety of working-class jobs, including several painters, a hotel bellman, a cotton mill spinner, and a machine shop laborer.

Around the corner on William Street, the three brick rowhouses on the left side of the photo were rented by three French-Canadian families during the 1910 census. The house closest to the camera, at 169 William Street, was rented by Ovide and Elmina Bouley, immigrants from Quebec who lived here with their infant daughter and Elmina’s father. The middle house was rented by Onesime Grise, a 65-year-old French-Canadian widow who lived here with her brother-in-law, three of her sons, her widowed daughter-in-law, and her young grandson. Furthest from the camera, the last of the three rowhouses was rented by another French-Canadian widow, 58-year-old  Alphonsie Archambeau. According to the 1910 census, she had 12 children, only one of whom was still alive. This child, 17-year-old Eva Tatro, was living here at the time, as were three lodgers who rented rooms from Alphonsie.

In the years after the first photo was taken, the South End shifted from predominantly French-Canadian to Italian, a legacy that remains in the neighborhood today, with many Italian restaurants, shops, and bakeries. However, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing here. The brick ones in the foreground appear to have been demolished prior to the late 1930s, because they were not among the buildings photographed as part of the 1938-1939 WPA project. The wooden apartment building in the distance was still standing at the time, but it has also since been demolished, and today this side of William Street is now primarily vacant lots, with a parking lot here at the corner.

Central Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on Central Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

Central Street in 2017:

In the 1880s, Springfield acquired the sobriquet of the “City of Homes,” thanks to the city’s abundance of fine single-family homes. Because such homes were the predominant residential construction of the 19th century, rowhouses were comparatively scarce, and were only built in a few parts of the city. Aside from a few small groups of homes on Temple and Maple Streets, only Mattoon and Central Streets have rowhouses in significant numbers, and this block of Central Street has, by far, the longest unbroken row of these homes.

In general, these rowhouses are less ornate than the ones on Mattoon Street, but they were built around the same time, over the span of about 10 years in the 1870s and early 1880s. They have similar Second Empire-style architecture, with two lower floors and a mansard roof on the third floor, and the western half of the block was built by B. F. Farrar, the same mason who was responsible for some of the homes on Mattoon Street.

The earliest of these houses are the five in the foreground, which were built in 1873 by Farrar. That same year, a financial panic hit the country, leading to a significant drop in demand for new houses, but despite the recession Farrar built nine more identical rowhouses in 1875, directly adjacent to his original five. The eastern half of the block, further in the distance, was built in 1882, and generally matches the design of Farrar’s original homes. However, many of the newer homes have bay windows, which contrast with the flat front facade of the earlier homes.

Although the entire south side of Central Street became a continuous set of rowhouses, the north side was never developed in a similar way. When the first photo was taken, the left side was lined with single-family homes, many of which would later be demolished to build a factory for the Springfield Knitting Company. This factory has, in turn, since been demolished, and today only one 19th century home still stands on the left side of the street.

Unlike the left side of the street, the right side of this photo has remained remarkably unchanged, 125 years after the first photo was taken. All of the historic rowhouses are still standing, after having been restored in the mid-1970s. The only significant change to this side of the street is the building on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. Known as The Central, this five-story Classical Revival building was built in 1908, with four stores on the first floor and 27 apartments on the upper floors. Like the neighboring rowhouses, the apartment building was restored in the 1970s, and it is still standing, with few changes from its original exterior appearance.

Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass

The factory of Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company at 125 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company started in the 1830s, when merchant Stephen C. Bemis began manufacturing hardware here in Springfield. One of his early business moves was to purchase Solyman Merrick’s patent of the monkey wrench, which would become one of the company’s leading products. He subsequently formed a partnership with Amos Call, and in the 1840s Bemis & Call began manufacturing tools and hardware in a factory here on this site along the Mill River. The company initially rented space in a factory building that they shared with several other tenants, but later in the 19th century they would purchase the entire site.

Stephen C. Bemis retired from the company in 1855,   and went on to have a career in politics. He served as a city alderman from 1856 to 1858, as mayor in 1861 and 1862, and in between he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1859, although he lost the general election to fellow Springfield politician Eliphalet Trask. In the meantime, his son, William C. Bemis, became treasurer when Stephen retired, and remained with the company for the next half century.

William became president in 1897, and that same year the company built a large addition to the original factory. This three-story brick building, seen in the center of both photos, was joined four years later by the more ornate two-story section on the right, which was used as the conpany’s offices. The original wooden building stood on the left side until around 1920, when it was demolished and replaced with the current four-story brick building. During this time, Bemis & Call continued to specialize in wrenches, but also produced punches, pliers, calipers, and eventually combination locks.

Bemis & Call finally sold their wrench line in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, unlike so many other Springfield-based companies, they survived the Great Depression and remained in business until finally closing in 1988. The factory buildings themselves are still standing, though, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago, and they serve as a reminder of Springfield’s legacy as an important industrial city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Union House, Springfield, Mass

The former Union House/Chandler Hotel building on the right side of the photo, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

955_1938-1939 spt

The scene in 2016:

955_2016
The building on the right side of this scene is one of the oldest existing commercial blocks in downtown Springfield, although much of it will soon be demolished as part of the MGM Springfield casino project. When it opened as the Union House in 1846 it was one of the finest hotels in the city, and it was built for Jeremy Warriner, who had previously operated a tavern a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets. His old tavern had been popular in the stagecoach days, but with the opening of the railroad a half mile away, his inconventiently located, colonial-era building faced stiff competition from modern hotels like the Massasoit House.

Here at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets, his new hotel was actually slightly further from the railroad, but it was at least in a modern building. Within a few years, the hotel had attracted some prominent guests, including President James K. Polk, who stayed overnight here in 1847, accompanied by future president James Buchanan, who was Secretary of State at the time. In 1849, author Sara Jane Lippincott, who wrote under the pen name of Grace Greenwood, visited the hotel and later raved about the quality of the meals here, explaining “I am not about to attempt a description of Warriner’s dinner, with their endless succession of delicious dishes, their inimitable sauces, and exquisite puddings and pastry. For this I have neither time nor talent sufficient.”

However, the Massasoit House continued to draw guests with its convenient location next to the railroad station, and “Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Phoebe” Warriner retired from the hotel business a few years later. The building continued to be used as a hotel through several changes in ownership, and by the 1880s it had become Chandler Hotel, a name that would remain until it closed in 1933. During this time, the building was extensively renovated, to the point where very little is left from the original 1846 structure.

The first photo was taken soon after the hotel closed, and at the time the first floor was being used as a drugstore. Most recently, it was the home of Glory Shoes, but the upper floors have been vacant for years and are in poor condition. Most of the building will soon be demolished except for the Main and Bliss Street facades, which will be incorporated into the casino design. As for the other buildings in the first photo, the Metropolitan Furniture Company was one of several furniture companies that were once located in the South End. This building was either demolished or trimmed down to one floor at some point, because there was a one-story commercial building here that was demolished as part of the casino project, along with the one on the far left side of the first photo.

South Church, Springfield Mass

The old South Church building on Bliss Street in Springfield, probably around 1865-1875. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

478_1865-1885c nypl

The location in 2015:

478_2015

For many years, the First Church in Springfield was the only church in town; it wasn’t until the first half of the 19th century that other churches started to form.  Many of these were offshoots from the first church, some of whom left because of doctrinal differences, such as the Unitarian Church.  However, others left the church on better terms, in order to form new congregations to meet the needs of the growing town (and soon to be city).  The South Church was one of these.  They were formed in 1842, and originally met in the parish house of the First Church before building their own church a few blocks away on Bliss Street.

The first pastor was Noah Porter, who served from 1843 to 1846, when he accepted a position as a professor at his alma mater, Yale College.  He later went on to serve as president of Yale from 1871 to 1886.  Following Porter’s departure, Dr. Samuel G. Buckingham became the pastor, and served for 40 years.  Buckingham was also an author, and he wrote a biography of his brother William Alfred Buckingham, who was Governor of Connecticut from 1858 to 1866 and a US Senator from 1869 to 1875.

During Buckingham’s tenure as pastor, the church outgrew the building on Bliss Street, and in 1875 they moved to a new location on Maple Street.  South Congregational Church is still there, and still meets in the 1875 building.  Meanwhile, on Bliss Street, the old church was demolished by 1884, which was the year that the Women’s Christian Association built a boarding house on the site.  That building is still there as of 2015, serving as the home of the Springfield Rescue Mission, although it is scheduled to be demolished later in the year to make way for the MGM Springfield casino.

Charles Merriam House, Springfield, Mass

The former Charles Merriam house at 61 Howard Street in Springfield, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

474_1892c picturesquehampden

The location in 2015:

474_2015

This house on Howard Street was built around the 1830s, and was the home of Charles Merriam. He and his brother Charles had grown up in West Brookfield, but in 1831 they moved to Springfield and, the following year, opened a publishing company called G. & C. Merriam. A few years later, the Merriams purchased the rights to Noah Webster’s dictonary, which turned out to be a wise business move. Merriam-Webster, as the company is now known, is still headquartered in Springfield, and their famous dictionary is still being published today.

Charles married his first wife, Sophia Warriner, in 1835, and the couple had five children. She died in 1858, and two years later he remarried to Rachel Capen, a 36 -year-old widow. They continued living here in this house, and Rachel became involved in charitable efforts in the city, which included being one of the founders of the Home for Friendless Women. It was established in 1865 with Rachel as its first president, and provided shelter and services for needy women and children.

The original building for the Home for Friendless Women was located on Union Street, essentially in the Merriams’ backyard. Within a few decades it was too small to meet the growing needs, though. Shortly after Charles’s death in 1887, Rachel donated the home to the organization, who was using it by the time the first photo was taken. However, within a few years they built a new building on William Street, and the Howard Street property was sold.

By the 1890s, Howard Street was hardly the upscale residential street that it had once been when Charles Merriam moved in more than 60 years earlier. The 1900 census shows that the street was predominantly French-Canadian, a fact emphasized by the presence of St. Joseph’s Church, a French Catholic church visible in the extreme right of the first photo. The former Merriam house was at this point owned by Napoleon Byron, a French-Canadian undertaker who lived here with his wife Emily, their seven children, and three boarders.

The old house did not remain here for much longer, though. It was demolished by 1905, when the Howard Street School was built to serve the growing population of the South End.  This school later became the Zanetti School, and was used up until 2009.  Two years later it sustained significant damage in the tornado that passed through Springfield, and as of April 2015 it is scheduled to be demolished, pending final approval from the state historical commission.  The current MGM Springfield casino plans call for the construction of a parking garage on the spot of the school.