Whitney Building, Springfield, Mass

The building at the southwest corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The skylines of American cities underwent dramatic changes at the end of the 19th century, thanks in large part to new developments in engineering and construction. Prior to this time, the height of commercial buildings was limited by a variety of practical factors, not least of which was the difficulty in supporting upper floors. Load-bearing masonry walls worked well for low-rise buildings, but taller buildings required increasingly thick exterior walls, sacrificing valuable ground-floor retail space in order to build higher. Such buildings could reach impressive heights, such as Chicago’s 17-story Monadnock Building, which was completed in 1894, but here in Springfield most masonry buildings did not exceed four or five stories.

By the late 19th century, though, inexpensive steel helped to revolutionize the way buildings were constructed. With steel frames, buildings were no longer limited to the capacity of load-bearing masonry, enabling the rise of modern skyscrapers. The first of these, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was completed in 1885, and it did not take long for the trend of steel-frame skyscrapers to reach Springfield. This location at Main and Worthington Streets has previously been the site of a brick, two-story commercial block that burned in 1893. Its owner, Andrew Whitney, soon set out on an ambitious project to replace it by building a six-story steel building that would become the first steel-framed building in Springfield and among the first in New England.

Construction on the building in 1894, although it would not ultimately be completed for another three years. Historian George C. Kingston, in his book William Van Alen, Fred T. Ley and the Chrysler Building, attributes this delay to a combination of factors, including the new style of construction, concerns from city officials, and the fact that Whitney, a real estate developer from Fitchburg, designed the building himself, instead of hiring a professional architect. As a result, the building did not conform to architectural trends of the era, instead featuring a relatively plain exterior without the classically-inspired ornamentation that was common at the time. However, despite local fears that the walls were too thin to support the six-story building, it was completed in 1897 and would stand here for more than 75 years.

A 1913 building directory shows a wide variety of tenants here. On the ground floor, the Main Street facade had two storefronts, with Miner & Co. cigars, magazines, soda, and confectionery in one, and W. L. Douglas shoe company in the other. There were another seven stores on the Worthington Street side, including a barber shop, a jewelry store, and a haberdasher. Above these shops, the upper five floors housed offices, which were served by two elevators – another late 19th century development that helped make skyscrapers a practical reality. These offices included attorneys, dentists, physicians, realtors, and other professionals, for a total of 50 individuals and corporations that had offices here in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, first-floor tenants included jeweler P. B. Richardson on the left side, Clear-Weave Hoisery Stores in the center, and the Stearns Curtain Shop in the storefront on the corner. The building would stand here for several more decades, but it was severely damaged by a fire in December 1974, and was demolished the following year. Several years later, the entire block along Main Street between Bridge and Worthington Streets was redeveloped, and a new federal building was constructed here in 1981. The government sold the property in 2009, following the completion of the new federal courthouse on State Street, but the old building underwent a significant renovation and is now used for offices.

George Kibbe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1030 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The house in 2017:


This Italianate-style home is the oldest in the city’s historic McKnight neighborhood, predating the area’s large-scale development by two decades. It was built around 1850, at a time when this section of Springfield was sparsely settled. A few of Springfield’s wealthy residents built estates on large lots here, including George Kibbe, who was the original owner of this house. He and his younger brother Horace were the owners of the Kibbe Brothers Company, a Springfield-based candy company that was, for many years, located in the Union Block at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. From here, they distributed candy to retailers throughout the region, utilizing horse-drawn wagons that traveled on regularly-scheduled routes across New England.

George Kibbe lived in this house for many years, along with his wife Sarah and their daughters Sarah and Georgiana. A third daughter, Emily, died in 1853 at the age of six, only a few years after the family moved into the house. During the time that the family lived here, the area began to undergo significant transformation. Land that had once been on the outskirts of the city became one of Springfield’s most desirable residential neighborhoods, and by the 1880s a number of other large mansions were built along this section of Worthington Street. George only lived to see the very beginning of these changes, though, because he died in 1882, at the age of 64.

After George Kibbe’s death, part of his land was subdivided and developed. Bowdoin Street was extended north through the property,and a number of new homes were built here by the late 1880s. Kibbe’s old house remained, though, and was sold to Sigmund Levison, a businessman who owned a prosperous millinery company in Springfield. He was born in Germany and came to the United States as a young man, where he worked for his uncle’s millinery company. After his uncle retired in 1879, Levison purchased the Springfield branch of the business and operated it for many years.

In 1894, Levison made some alterations to the house, bringing it more in line with architectural tastes of the era by adding the classical details that are now part of the exterior. His first wife, Eleanore, died in 1916, and two years later he remarried to Edith Wilson, who was 24 years younger than him. After Sigmund’s death in the late 1920s, Edith remained in the house for another decade or so, and in the 1930 census she was living here with her 80-year-old mother and a servant.

In 1937, shortly before the first photo was taken, the house became an Odd Fellows lodge. In the 1970s, it became a VFW post, but this eventually closed as well. Today, its exterior appearance has changed little since the 1930s, and it stands as the oldest building in the McKnight neighborhood. Within the past few decades, several different owners have purchased the house with the intention of restoring it, but as of now it remains vacant.

George Dutton House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1054 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:


This house is one of many large Queen Anne-style homes in this area of the McKnight neighborhood, and it was built in 1885 as the home of George D. Dutton. He lived here with his wife Harriet, who was the daughter of Gurdon Bill, a prominent publisher and businessman in Springfield. Along with Harriet’s brother, Nathan Bill, George Dutton founded the National Envelope Company in Milwaukee, and the family moved there in the 1890s.

The house was subsequently purchased by real estate agent William E. Parsons, who lived here with his wife Grace and their two children, Gladys and William, Jr. After living here for about 30 years, William died in 1928, and at the 1930 census Grace was living here with Gladys, along with Gladys’s husband Robert Bradshaw and their children. Within a few years, though, Grace and the rest of the family moved to Burlingame, California.

By the time the first photo was taken, this house was the home of Ethyl Parker, who lived here with her father George and her 24 year old daughter Dorothy. Since then, the exterior of the home has been well-maintained, and aside from the fence very little has changed from the 1930s scene. In 1976 the house, along with a large portion of the neighborhood, became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Theron Hawks House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1078 Worthington Street, at the corner of Florida Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:


This Queen Anne-style house was built in 1884, and was originally the home of the Reverend Theron H. Hawks. A native of Charlemont, Massachusetts, Hawks attended Williams College, graduating as the valedictorian in 1844. He taught for several years, graduated from Union Theological Seminary, and in 1855 he became the pastor of the First Congregational Church in West Springfield. That same year, he married his wife Mary, and after six years they moved west, where Reverend Hawks served as the pastor of churches in Cleveland and Marietta, Ohio. However, in 1885 they returned to Springfield and moved into this house.

Theron Hawkes became an instructor at the newly-established School for Christian Workers, where he taught Bible History, Exegesis, and Church History. The school was soon divided into four different institutions, including a YMCA Training School, which became Springfield College, and a French Protestant School, which became American International College. Reverend Hawks’s division became the Bible Normal College, moved to Hartford, and later became part of Hartford Seminary.

In the 1900 census, the Hawks’s were living here with two of their daughters, three grandsons, and two servants. Reverend Hawks died in 1908, and Mary lived here until her death two years later. The house remained in the family, though, and two of their daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, continued to live here for the rest of their lives. Mary died in 1931, and Elizabeth in 1939, around the time that the first photo was taken.

Since then, not much has changed in the exterior of the house, except for the left side of the porch, which is now gone. One interesting connection between the two photos is the tree in the center, which partially blocks the view of the house. It appears to be the same one that is visible in the first photo, and was likely planted by Elizabeth Hawks herself. The house is now used as a daycare, and it is part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

William Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1104 Worthington Street, at the corner of Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:


This massive house is the only four-story single-family home in Springfield, and it was the longtime home of William and Henrietta Harris. William was a leading figure in the region’s foundry business, having learned the trade from his father in Rutland, Vermont, before moving to Springfield in 1881. He and his wife were married in 1883, and in 1886 they moved into this newly-built house in the McKnight neighborhood. At the time, William was serving as the secretary of the Springfield Foundry Company, but in 1896 he became a partner in C. H. Bausch & Sons. This Holyoke-based foundry was renamed Bausch & Harris Machine Tool Company and moved to Springfield, with Harris becoming the company president.

William and Henrietta lived here for more than 40 years, and raised their seven children here. William died in 1931 and Henrietta in 1933, and he house subsequently became a boarding house, as was the case with so many other 19th century mansions in the neighborhood at the time. It was being used as such when the first photo was taken, and by the 1940 census there were six lodgers here, all of whom were single or divorced, and most of whom were middle aged or older. Since then, though, the house has been restored, and it is again a single-family home. Along with the other houses in the neighborhood, it is now part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thompson Triangle, Springfield, Mass

Facing north toward Worthington Street from the center of the Thompson Triangle, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).


The scene in 2017:


When the first photo was taken, the house in the distance was the home of William McKnight, and it is described in more detail the previous post. John and William McKnight were the developers of most of this neighborhood, and they created a highly-desirable residential area for many of the city’s wealthiest residents. Part of their development plan included several triangular parks, which they donated to the city. Although ostensibly an act of generosity to the public, these parks also added to the value of the lots that bordered them, and it is no coincidence that William McKnight built his own mansion here, overlooking the Thompson Triangle, which is the largest of these parks.

Prior to the McKnight brothers’ development, the land north of Saint James Avenue and east of Thompson Street was owned by Colonel James M. Thompson. He was a businessman who served as president of several of Springfield’s banks, and he also held several political offices, including city alderman, state senator, and member of the Governor’s Council. After his death in 1884, the McKnights purchased and subdivided the property, in the process creating this park as its centerpiece. Many of the finest homes in the neighborhood are located on or around the Thompson Triangle, including the homes on Dartmouth Terrace, which can be seen in the distance in both photos.

Today, the area around the Thompson Triangle remains one of the best-preserved parts of the neighborhood. William McKnight’s house still stands, as do the other 19th century mansions around the park, and in 1976 this area became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The only significant difference in these two photos is the fountain at the center of the triangle, which was added along with benches and brick walkways during a 1986 renovation of the park.