The LaRiviere, Springfield, Mass

The building at 162-164 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This commercial block was one of several Indian Orchard properties that were owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian merchant, politician, and contractor who was among the neighborhood’s leading citizens of the late 19th century. LaRiviere, who also went by the name of John Rivers earlier in his career, lived in the house directly to the right of this building, and he also owned a tenement building, which was located a block west of here on Main Street.

This four-story brick building was completed in 1908, and was known as The LaRiviere. It is perhaps the most architecturally significant of the several late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings here on Main Street, and it features an ornate, polychromatic Classical Revival facade. There are two storefronts on the ground floor, with apartments in the upper floors, and the 1910 census shows at least four families in the building. Based on the census records, the residents were primarily skilled laborers and other middle-class workers at the nearby factories in Indian Orchard, and included a machinist, a foreman, an inspector, a pattern maker, a traveling salesman, a clerk, and a chief engineer.

By the time the first photo was taken, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, but there were still a good number of factory jobs here in Indian Orchard. As was the case in 1910, most of the residents worked as skilled laborers, with the 1940 census showing that most of them earned around $1,000 to $1,300 per year. The building had five different families at the time, with two each paying $40 per month in rent, one paying $36, one paying $20, and one whose rent was not included on the census.

Today, The LaRiviere is one of several historic commercial blocks in the center of Indian Orchard. It remains remarkably well-preserved, with even the storefronts looking the same as they did over 80 years ago. LaRiviere’s house, located on the right side of the scene, has since been altered, but it is still standing and still recognizable from the first photo. The only significant change in this scene is the building on the left, at 158-160 Main Street. It was still standing here as late as the 1980s, when it was included in the state’s MACRIS database of historic properties, but it has since been demolished, and the site is now a parking lot.

Dr. Paul H. Larose House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 200 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Indian Orchard’s growth in the late 19th century was largely independent from the rest of Springfield, and it became largely a working-class factory village, with large numbers of immigrant laborers. This contrasted with the rest of the city, which had an economy that was based primarily on insurance, banking, and skilled manufacturing, and as a result, Indian Orchard never had significant numbers of large, elegant houses like the ones in McKnight, Forest Park, and other upscale neighborhoods. Instead, Indian Orchard’s housing stock consisted mainly of factory tenements and small, single-family homes. However, this house on Main Street was one of the exceptions, and was built in 1898 with a Queen Anne style that reflected the design of contemporary houses in McKnight and elsewhere in the city.

The house was originally owned by Dr. Paul H. Larose, a physician who, like many other Indian Orchard residents of the era, was a French-Canadian immigrant. Dr. Larose was an 1892 graduate of Laval University in Quebec, and he moved to the United States soon after, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1898. He moved into this house around the same time and, like many other physicians of the era, he practiced medicine out of an office here in his home. Around 1899, he married his wife Alexina, who was also a French-Canadian immigrant. However, the couple only lived here for a few years before Larose’s sudden death from heart disease in 1901, at the age of 31.

The house was subsequently owned by Napoleon Bengle, who was another French-Canadian immigrant. He also went by the name Paul, perhaps in an effort to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination, and he worked as a clerk in the nearby clothing store of his brother, Charles Bengle. During the 1910 census, Napoleon was 42 years old and unmarried, and lived here with his widowed mother Louise. The household also included his sister Mary, her husband Louis Roy, their 21-year-old son Louis, and a lodger. The elder Louis Roy was a physician and, like the previous owner of the house, also had his office here in the house.

By about 1915, this house had changed hands again and was owned by Joseph Ratell, a barber who was, of all things, also an undertaker. According to he 1915 directory, he had a barber shop here in this house, and worked as an undertaker at 119 Main Street. However, by the end of the decade, Ratell was evidently performing both of these jobs here in this house, where he lived with his son Ernest, plus Ernest’s wife Lena and their daughter Loretta. Ernest worked for his father as an embalmer and, after Joseph’s death in 1929, he continued to operate the funeral home here in this house.

Ernest and Lena were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, along with Loretta and their younger daughter Rita, and Ernest continued to run the funeral home until his death in 1947. Very little has changed since then, and the Ratell Funeral Home is still located here in this house. Now over 100 years old, it is perhaps one of the oldest businesses in the city that is still housed in the same building. As the two photos show, the house itself has not changed too much over time, aside from the one-story addition on the right and the wheelchair ramp on the front, and it still stands as one of the finest 19th century homes in Indian Orchard.

Indian Orchard Mills Company Tenements, Springfield, Mass

The tenement block at 114-124 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Indian Orchard is located along the Chicopee River, in the northeast corner of Springfield, and in the mid-19th century it was developed into a factory village. The first mill was built in 1854 by the Ward Manufacturing Company, a cotton company that also owned the dam on the river, the power canal, and much of the land in the village. The company also built a number of tenement blocks in the vicinity of the mill, and this building on Main Street was likely one of them. However, Ward Manufacturing went bankrupt only a few years later, and in 1859 the mill and tenements were acquired by the Indian Orchard Mills Company.

Many of the early mill workers were French-Canadian immigrants, and it was common for almost every family member to be employed in the mills, including young children. Long before child labor laws were enacted, one 1867 observer wrote: “I have admitted that there are great abuses in the employment of children,” and he went on to describe “a resident population composed mainly of English, Irish and French Canadians, requiring separate tenements and the whole family, save one or two, working in the mills. The adults are ignorant and illiterate, and force their children to work and when operatives are scarce, as they have been, the mill owner is obliged to allow the employment of the children or lose the whole family, thus causing his machinery to stay idle.”

The 1900 census shows 10 families living in this building, nearly all of whom were French-Canadian. Most worked for the mills in some capacity, including as a weaver, spooler, teamster, boiler tender, and watchman. The largest family was that of John and Rose Levesque, who lived here with nine of their 11 children. The children’s ages ranged from one to 26, with the four oldest employed in factories, although it is also possible that the younger children may have – at least unofficially – been working as well, since child labor was still a common practice here in Indian Orchard and throughout the country. However, perhaps the most tragic story seen through the census records is that of Owen and Mary Hammond, two Irish immigrants who were in their 50s at the time. They lived alone, but according to the census, Mary had six children, only one of whom was still alive by the time of the census.

The building was still standing when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, but, like all of the other Indian Orchard Mills tenements in the area, it has since beeen demolished. Some of the mill buildings are still standing, though, and the interior space is now rented to a variety of tenants, who use it for offices, manufacturing, and art studios. These buildings can be seen in the distance of the present-day photo, although closer in the foreground, the former site of the tenement house is now a parking lot that extends the entire length of the block from Main to Front Streets.

Octave A. LaRiviere Tenement Block, Springfield, Mass

The tenement houses at 136-142 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This Second Empire-style tenement building was built sometime around the 1870s, and was owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian immigrant who lived a block away in a house on Main Street. A dry goods merchant, LaRiviere went by the anglicized name of John Rivers for many years, in order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination. He served as a city councilor and alderman in the 1880s and 1890s, and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the 1912 Republican National Convention. In his later years, he reverted to his original French name, and was a contractor in the firm of LaFrance & LaRiviere.

This building was one of many tenements that were built in this area in the late 19th century, in order to house workers at the nearby mills. Many were company-owned tenements, but this one was privately owned, with a mix of mill employees and other workers. The 1900 census showed at least three families in this building (although there were probably more than that), including two immigrant families from Quebec. One unit housed Louise Bengle, who lived here with her son Paul, who worked as a clothing salesman, and her grandson Donald, who worked as a machinist. A second unit was the home of Casimir Baillargeon, a carpenter who lived here with his wife Mary, along with his nephew, his niece, and a boarder. A third unit in the building was the home of Fred Pero, an iron molder who lived here with his wife Kate and their three children.

The first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows 12 families living in the buildings. They were a mix of native-born Americans, plus immigrants from Quebec and Poland, and most were employed by the nearby mills along the Chicopee River. Each family paid around $20 per month in rent, and their salaries ranged from a janitor who made $350 per year, to a tire maker who earned a salary of $1,560. The first photo shows two sets of wooden porches on the front, with two units apparently sharing each porch level. Today, not much has changed in this scene, and these porches are still standing. The rest of the building has also remained well-preserved, and continues to be used as a 12-unit apartment building.

Octave A. LaRiviere House, Springfield, Mass

The building at 166 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

The state MACRIS database estimates that this building was built around 1865, although its original appearance has been significantly altered over the years. It is one of the older commercial buildings here on Main Street in Indian Orchard, dating back to when the neighborhood was being developed as a factory village. During this time, many immigrants moved to Indian Orchard, drawn to jobs at mills such as the nearby Indian Orchard Manufacturing Company, and Main Street became a small downtown area lined with stores and other commercial buildings.

Many of the immigrants who came to Indian Orchard were French-Canadian, including Octave A. LaRiviere, who came to the United States as a teenager in the 1850s. In order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination, he adopted the anglicized name John Rivers, and by 1870 he and business partner Alfred Dessotelle were running the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store here on the ground floor of this building. LaRiviere later became the sole owner of the business, and by 1880 the city directory listed him as selling “Dry Goods, Fancy Goods, Boots and Shoes, Hats and Caps, Window Shades, etc., Gents’ Furnishing Goods.”

LaRiviere – who reverted to his French name by around the turn of the 20th century – lived here above his store, along with his wife Edesse and their two daughters, Eugenia and Josephine. Aside from his dry goods business, he was also active in politics, representing Ward 8 on the city council in 1883, 1884, and 1896, and on the board of aldermen in 1887 and 1888. Then, in 1912, he served as one of the state’s eight at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention, a hotly-contested party convention that pitted conservative incumbent president William Howard Taft against progressive former president Theodore Roosevelt. LaRiviere was a pro-Roosevelt delegate, but Taft ultimately won the party nomination. However, Roosevelt ran a third-party campaign in the fall, and LaRiviere did the same, breaking ranks with the Republicans and running for state auditor as a member of the Progressive Party. LaRiviere finished a distant third in the statewide race, though, behind the Republican and Democratic candidates.

At some point, apparently around 1909, a third floor was added to the building, with a large cross-gambrel roof and dormer windows. LaRiviere continued to live here until his death in 1915, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the ground floor was occupied by Kitchener’s Department Store. The store would remain a fixture in Indian Orchard for many years, and was still in business here in this building into at least the 1989s, more than a century after the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store first opened in the storefront. However, the rise of suburban malls and shopping centers eventually took its toll on Kitchener’s and other downtown retailers, and the store subsequently closed.

Today, the building is still recognizable from the first photo, although it has undergone some changes. At some point around the mid-20th century, the exterior was covered in asbestos shingles. Although it is hard to tell for sure, these may have been on the building at the time of the first photo, but they have since been replaced by modern siding, except for the section on the far right. On the front of the building, the storefronts have not significantly changed over the years, but the  front porches on the second and third floors have since been completely enclosed, with only two windows on the second floor and a small one on the third floor. Otherwise, the only other noticeable change from this angle is a patio area, which is located above the storefront on the right side of the building.

Edmund J. Gendreau Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at 176 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This three-story, mixed-use building was built around 1894, and was originally owned by Edmund J. Gendreau, whose name still appears at the top of the photo. Born in Quebec, Gendreau came to the United States in 1873 when he was about 20 years old, and he subsequently settled here in Indian Orchard, which had a large French-Canadian population at the time. The 1880 city directory shows him working as a store clerk, but by the end of the decade he had gone into business for himself and was running a grocery store on Main Street.

Gendreau moved his store to the ground floor of this building once it was completed, and the 1895 directory shows that he sold dry goods, groceries, boots, and shoes here. The upper two floors had a total of four apartments, and Gendreau lived in one of them with his wife Alida and several of their children. During the 1910 census, for example, they were living here with their son Joseph and two daughters, Anna and Corrine, plus Joseph’s wife Albina and Corrine’s husband, Louis Jacques. At the time, Joseph was working as a clerk in a grocery store and Louis was a painter, while Edmund appears to have changed careers and opened a real estate office here in the building.

Edmund lived here in this building until his death in 1930, and the property was still owned by his family when the first photo was taken nearly a decade later. The 1940 census shows Joseph and Albina still living here, with their daughter Alice, her husband, Donald Viens, and their four children. Joseph’s brother Wilfred also lived in an apartment here in this building, along with his wife Louise, their daughter and son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Since then, the building has not significantly changed, aside from the loss of the porches on the right side, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century commercial block. Many of the surrounding buildings are also still standing, except for the one to the left of it, which was evidently either demolished or trimmed down to one story.