Radding Building, Springfield, Mass

The Radding Building, at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

This eight-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was built in 1915 by real estate developer Edward Radding, and was one of the largest early 20th century buildings on State Street. It was the work of Boston-based architect Charles R. Greco, and featured decorative elements such as Corinthian columns and pilasters on the first two floors, carvings in between windows on the third floor, and cornices above the third, seventh, and eight floors. Upon completion, the building housed a variety of commercial tenants, and included stores, offices, and assembly halls.

The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s. There are a number of of signs in the windows, although only a few are legible. The ground floor storefront on the left side was the State Barber Shop, while the storefront on the right was vacant, with a “For Rent” sign in the window. Directly above this empty storefront was a fur retailer, but none of the other signs are visible from this distance. Only a few years later, in 1943, the Mutual Fire Assurance Company began renting space in the building. This company would later become its primary tenant, and was headquartered here for many years.

Nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken, the exterior of the Radding Building has seen few changes. Because of its level of preservation and its architectural significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and it remains well-preserved today. When the first photo was taken in 2017, it was undergoing major renovations to convert it from an office building to a Holiday Inn Express. This project was completed earlier in 2018, and the hotel now occupies the historic building.

Brewer Building, Springfield, Mass

The Brewer Building at 119-125 State Street, near the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This four-story commercial block was built in 1893, and featured a distinct Romanesque architectural style, with features such as rounded arches, sandstone trim, and a castle-like turret on the left side. It was owned by businessman and state legislator Edward S. Brewer, and it housed a variety of commercial tenants over the years, with shops on the ground floor and professional offices on the upper floors. During the early 20th century, these included an optician, watchmaker, barber, tailor, jeweler, dentist, and an insurance company.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, tenants included the Surprise Barber Shop on the left side of the ground floor, Dean’s Music House in the storefront just to the left of the arch, and A. I. Blitz Furrier on the second floor. However, just a few years later the building was badly damaged by a fire in 1945. It was not a total loss, but the two upper floors were removed, resulting in its current appearance. The facade was later covered in panels to match mid-20th century architectural trends, although these were removed in 1981 and the exterior was restored. Today, despite the loss of its upper floors, the building still has some resemblance to its 19th century appearance, and even its original outline is still visible on the walls of the neighboring Masonic Building.

Unitarian Church, Springfield, Mass

The Unitarian church at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

 

For nearly 200 years, the Congregational Church was essentially the only church in Springfield. Aside from small groups of religious minorities such as Baptists and Methodists, who arrived at the turn of the 19th century, nearly all of Springfield’s residents were affiliated with the First Church. However, this hegemony began to break apart in the early 19th century, when the New England Congregationalists saw a schism between the traditional Trinitarians and the newer, theologically-liberal Unitarians.

Here in Springfield, the First Church had two fairly liberal pastors throughout much of the 18th century, beginning with Robert Breck, who served from 1736 to 1784. Breck’s ordination had been highly controversial, due to the perceived unorthodox beliefs of the young clergyman. He was popular among the Springfield congregants, but many of the pastors of surrounding towns – including Jonathan Edwards of Northampton – had advised against him, and some of his opponents had Breck arrested for heresy on the day of his scheduled ordination.

The charges against Breck were ultimately dropped, and he was duly ordained, serving the church for nearly 50 years. After his death, he was replaced by another young liberal pastor, Bezaleel Howard, who served for 18 years before announcing his resignation in 1803, due to poor health. He agreed to remain with the church until his replacement was found, but this process likely took longer than Howard had anticipated. By this point, the Unitarian-Trinitarian controversy had become the dominant issue in New England churches, and it took six years – and 37 candidates – before Samuel Osgood was selected as pastor in 1809.

Osgood, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, had been the unanimous choice of the congregation, who had viewed him as being theologically liberal. However, as the divide grew between the two factions, Osgood ultimately favored the orthodox Trinitarian theology, alienating some of the most influential citizens of Springfield in the process. The majority of the church sided with Osgood, but the Unitarians were both vocal and wealthy, and included prominent businessmen such as merchant Jonathan Dwight, Sr. As a result, around 117 Unitarians separated from the First Church in 1819, forming the Third Congregational Society of Springfield. This name came from the fact that Chicopee, home of the Second Congregational Church, was still a part of Springfield at the time.

Later in 1819, the Unitarians moved into this newly-completed church building at the corner of State and Willow Streets. Both the land and the building had been donated by Jonathan Dwight, and the building was designed by local architect Simon Sanborn. It bore a strong resemblance to the new First Church building, which had been completed several weeks earlier at Court Square, and it reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular for churches and other public buildings during this era.

The first pastor of the Unitarian church was William B. O. Peabody, who was just 21 years old when he was ordained in October 1820. He served the church for the next 27 years, until his death in 1847, and during this time he also had a successful career as an author. He wrote several books, plus a number of poems and hymns, and he was also a regular contributor to the North American Review literary magazine. None of Peabody’s 19th century successors were able to match his longevity with the congregation, but the second-longest pastorate here in this church building was that of Francis Tiffany, who served from 1852 until 1864, when he left to accept a position as professor of English and rhetoric at Antioch College in Ohio. Like Peabody, he also became a published author, writing a biography of social reformer Dorothea Dix in 1890.

The Unitarians worshiped here in this building for nearby 50 years, but by the 1860s they had begun planning the construction of a new building further up the hill, opposite where the Springfield City Library now stands. In the process, they helped to start the career of Henry H. Richardson, who would become one of the most influential architects in American history. Although he did not have any major commissions at the time, Richardson was allowed to enter the design competition thanks to Chester W. Chapin, a railroad and bank executive who was a prominent member of the Unitarian church. Chapin’s son-in-law had attended college with Richardson, and this connection enabled the young architect to submit his plans for a new church, which were ultimately the ones chosen in the competition. The new building, known as the Church of the Unity, was completed in 1869, and Richardson’s work helped to establish his reputation as an architect.

The other building in the first photo, just to the right of the church, is the Springfield Bank. This brick, two-story Greek Revival structure was built around in 1814, the same year that the Springfield Bank was established as the first bank here in Springfield. It was one of the many business interests of Jonathan Dwight, who was one of its founders and its first president, serving from 1814 to 1817. The building was also the first home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, which was established in 1827. It was the first savings bank in Springfield, and it shared this building with the Springfield Bank until 1849, when it moved into the newly-completed Foot Block at the corner of Main and State Streets. In the meantime, the Springfield Bank remained here in this building until 1863, when it was reorganized as the Second National Bank. This new bank relocated three years later, and the old building later became a store owned by grain merchant John W. Wilder.

Only four years after the Unitarians moved up the hill to their new building, the old church burned down on the night of October 12, 1873. The site was later redeveloped with a large brick commercial building known as the Kirkham and Olmstead Block, which was in turn replaced by the two-story building that is now standing here. However, the old bank building survived well into the 20th century, despite being converted to other commercial use. The 1920 atlas shows it still standing, but it was demolished sometime before 1933, when the Art Deco-style Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company building was completed on the site. This building, now the Community Music School, is still here today, and is visible on the far right side of the 2017 photo.

Westminster Street from State Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Westminster Street from State Street in Springfield, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The scene in 2017:


About 50 years before the first photo was taken, this section of State Street was only sparsely settled, with very little development to the east of the Armory. This site here, on the north side of State Street, was the approximate location of a farmhouse that was owned by Josiah W. Flagg, who owned 22 acres of land behind the house. Located about a mile and a half from Main Street, and separated from it by a steep hill, this part of the city was hardly desirable real estate, but this began to change in 1870, when the Springfield Street Railway began operation, with a horse-drawn trolley line extending as far as Oak Street.

That same year, dry goods merchant John McKnight entered the real estate business, and purchased the Flagg farm. Along with his brother William, he subdivided the property and laid out four streets between State and Bay Streets, including Westminster Street, as seen here. Thanks in part to the economic recession following the Panic of 1873, development was slow for the first decade or so, but it construction of new homes picked up in earnest by the early 1880s. Most of the houses on this block of Westminster Street were built between 1880 and 1891, with Queen Anne style architecture that appealed to popular tastes of the era.

In contrast to the modest, middle class homes on the side streets, the houses on State Street were much larger, and were built for some of the city’s most prominent residents. The house on the far left of this photo was built for William McKnight in the early 1870s, although he later moved to a different house on Worthington Street. On the opposite side of the photo, this house was built in 1871 for insurance agent Henry K. Simons. However, the house was later remodeled in 1894 for Noyes W. Fisk, an industrialist who worked as the clerk and treasurer of the season Manufacturing Company, and later established the Fisk Rubber Company. The house’s large gambrel roof was probably added during this renovation, and it disguises the fact that the house is actually several decades older than it appears.

About a century after the first photo was taken, much of the McKnight neighborhood remains remarkably well-preserved. However, this section of Westminster Street has lost a number of houses over the years, particularly on the left side of the street. The old William McKnight house on the far left was demolished around the early 1920s to build and an automobile service station that is still standing today. Just beyond it, two highly ornate Queen Anne-style homes have also been demolished, and were replaced with plain multi-family homes.

Further down the street, there are other vacant lots where houses once stood on both sides of the street, but many of the historic homes are still standing, including most notably the house on the far right. Now a funeral home, it is one of the last of the 19th century mansions on State Street, and despite the 1890s alterations it is also one of the oldest homes in the McKnight neighborhood. Today, this neighborhood consists of some 800 historic homes from the late 19th and early 20th century, and they now form the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Olivet Church, Springfield, Mass

The Olivet Congregational Church on State Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2015:

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For the first two centuries of Springfield’s history, most of the development was confined to the downtown area along Main Street, and it was not until the first half of the 19th century that other parts of the town began to see significant growth. Here on the “Hill” section of town, expansion of the Armory had spurred development along this part of State Street, and by the 1830s there was sufficient demand for a church.

The Fourth Congregational Church was established in 1833, and a year later they built this church here on State Street, directly opposite the Armory.  The building was extensively remodeled in 1854-1855, giving it the appearance as shown in the first photo, and it was renamed Olivet Congregational Church. By 1884, King’s Handbook of Springfield records that the church membership was up to 340, with plans to further expand the building. I don’t know whether the additions were ever carried out, but the church remained here for about 30 more years, until it was demolished to build Commerce High School around 1915.

Today, the 101 year old Commerce High School building is still used as a school.  The only building still standing from the first photo is the three story brick one on the left. It is visible just beyond the church in the first photo, with a three-story porch on the side.

First Baptist Church, Springfield, Mass

First Baptist Church at the corner of State and Spring Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2015:

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For several centuries, Congregationalism was the dominant religion in Massachusetts, including here in Springfield. It was the official state religion until 1780, and well into the 19th century the Congregational church was still publicly funded (this did not violate the First Amendment, which at the time only restricted Congress from establishing a religion, not the individual states). Minority churches such as Methodists and Baptists were permitted, but were generally small, as was the case in Springfield.

The First Baptist Church was officially organized in 1811 with 19 members, and for the first ten years of its existence the congregation met in homes or schoolhouses. Their first permanent meeting house was built on Central Street in 1821, and later in the decade they moved to a larger building at the corner of Maple and Mulberry Streets. At the time, these locations were on the outskirts of the town, which reflected their still somewhat marginalized status in a town still dominated by Congregationalism. This changed in 1847, though, when the growing church opened a new building right in the middle of downtown, at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. This building, which was in use until around 1888, can be seen in the distance of the photo in this earlier post.

By the late 1880s, Springfield had nearly quadrupled in size from its population when the old Baptist church was built, and Main Street had by then become primarily commercial. However, State Street was becoming the city’s cultural center, with a number of churches including Christ Church Cathedral, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Church of the Unity, and the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church. All of these churches were located within a quarter mile of each other, and around 1888 the First Baptist Church joined them by relocating to a new building at the corner of State and Spring Streets, as seen in the first photo. Built in the Romanesque style that was popular at the time, its architecture featured gratuitous use of arches and turrets, and later photos of the building show ivy covering the walls, giving the building an almost medieval appearance. Part of the church can be seen in the photo in this post, which was taken about 20 years later from the opposite direction.

Despite the grand architecture of their new building, First Baptist Church  remained here for only about 20 years. Around 1907 they merged with Highland Baptist Church, and this building was sold to St. Paul’s Universalist Church. It was still standing in the late 1930s, but at some point after that it was demolished and replaced by a two-story parking garage that stands on the site now. Interestingly, though, a part of one of the walls appears to have been incorporated into the parking garage; from Spring Street, a part of the rear wall (the side opposite State Street) is made of stone that matches the church’s rough-hewn stone exterior.