Francke W. Dickinson House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 141 Saint James Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2018:

Most of the houses in Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood were built in the 1880s, and feature Queen Anne-style architecture, which was popular during that decade. However, trends had begun to shift by the early 1890s, and some of the later McKnight homes had a Colonial Revival design, including this house at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Thompson Street. It was built in 1894, and was originally the home of Francke W. Dickinson, a funeral director and local politician who lived here with his wife Katie and their two children, Ethel and Henry.

Francke Dickinson was the son of Springfield undertaker Elijah Dickinson, and he and his brother Arthur joined the family business in 1872. Arthur left after just two years, but Francke stayed, and took over the company after his father’s death in 1885. In 1910, he formed a partnership with George W. Streeter, establishing the Dickinson-Streeter Company, which would remain in business in Springfield for over a century. During this time, Dickinson also held several different political offices, including serving on the city’s common council from 1888 to 1890, on the board of alderman from 1903 to 1904, as mayor from 1905 to 1906, and as a state senator from 1908 to 1909.

Their son Henry died in 1896 from heart disease at the age of 19, and Ethel left home after her marriage in 1900, so Francke and Katie were living here alone during the 1900 census, except for one servant. They were still here in 1907, but by the following year they had moved to a house on Chestnut Street, and then to Sumner Avenue a few years later. However, by the 1920 census they had returned to the McKnight neighborhood, and were living at The Oaks, a hotel a few blocks away from here on Thompson Street. They lived there until 1922, when they died only three months apart from each other.

In the meantime, by 1910 their former house here on Saint James Avenue was the home of Elizabeth A. Rice and Helen S. Stratton. The two women were sisters, and both were widows who were in their 70s at the time. Helen died in 1916, but Elizabeth was still living here during the 1920 census, along with her nephew Samuel F. Punderson. He was 50 years old and unmarried, and was the treasurer of the R. W. Rice Coal Company, which had been established by Elizabeth’s late husband Richard. Punderson subsequently inherited the house after his aunt’s death in 1923, and in 1930 he was living here with his wife May, whom he had married a few years earlier.

May died in 1931, and Samuel remained here until his death in 1938 at the age of 75. The first photo was taken around this same time, and it shows the west side of the house as seen from Saint James Avenue. Very little has changed since then, and the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is that the two trees from the first photo are also still there. They do not seem to have grown much, and aside from a few missing limbs, they look almost the same as they did when the first photo was taken some 80 years ago.

Andrew L. Fennessy House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 29 Buckingham Place in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2018:

This ornate Queen Anne-style house was built in 1884, and was originally the home of banker Andrew L. Fennessy. At the time, he was cashier for J. G. Mackintosh & Co., but in 1886 he started the banking firm of Fennessy, Armstrong & Co. This business evidently prospered, because within just a few years he was building a new, much larger home on Maple Street. The house was completed in 1888, but his stay there was also short-lived, because in 1891 he moved to Boston and sold his Maple Street residence to paper manufacturer and philanthropist Nathan Bill.

In the meantime, his former home here on Buckingham Place was purchased by Edward H. Phelps, the treasurer and editor of the Phelps Publishing Company. This Springfield-based company had its origins in 1878, when Phelps left his position with the Springfield Union newspaper in order to purchase the New England Homestead. Phelps revived this moribund agricultural journal, and subsequently expanded his company’s holdings to include Farm and HomeAmerican Agriculturalist, and the Orange Judd Farmer. He remained with the company until 1890, when, shortly after purchasing this house, he decided to retire from publishing because of poor health. However, his ailments did not prevent him from starting the Phelps Music Company, which he ran until his death in 1897 at the age of 55.

Following his death, this house remained in the Phelps family for about 20 years. The 1910 census shows his widow, Harriet, living here with their son Walter, his wife Flora, and their daughters Harriet and Dorothy. Walter carried on the family tradition by publishing the Springfield Weekly Guide, and he lived here with his mother until her death in 1914. By 1917, though, he and Flora had moved to a newly-built house on Trinity Terrace in the Forest Park neighborhood, and this house on Buckingham Place was subsequently sold.

The next owner of this house was G. Fred Estey, the treasurer of the H. W. Carter Paper Company. A native of New Brunswick, Estey came to the United States as a teenager. He held a variety of jobs in Boston during the late 19th century, eventually working for many years in the accounting department of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company before coming to Springfield in 1908 to work for H. W. Carter Paper. He and his wife Geneva had two children, Helen and Roger, who were born during the family’s time in Boston, but Geneva died in 1909, shortly after the move to Springfield. The 1920 census shows Estey living here along with Helen, Roger, his aunt Ester Sutherland, and a servant. They would remain here until the mid-1920s, but by 1926 Estey had moved to a house on Westford Circle.

Subsequent owners of this house included Henry G. Miller,a phonograph salesman who was living here during the 1930 census along with his wife Carrie and their four children. By 1933, though, the house had changed hands again, and was the home of Elwin O. Rowell, an engineer for the Boston & Maine Railroad. He and his wife Dell were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows them renting a room to Horace G. Clark, a city police officer.

Today, this house is one of the many fine Victorian-era homes that still stand in Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood. At one point during the 20th century, the house was covered in aluminum siding, but this has since been removed and the exterior has been restored to its original appearance. As a result. the present-day view shows very few changes since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago, and the house is now part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Johnson’s Bookstore, Springfield, Mass

The Johnson’s Bookstore building at 1373-1383 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This building was constructed in 1861, and was originally part of the Union Block, a group of three matching Italianate-style commercial buildings that extended to the corner of Harrison Avenue. The left-most part of the block was demolished around 1915 to build the ten-story Third National Bank building that now stands there, and the central part was heavily remodeled around 1909. However, the section on the far right still retains its original exterior on the two upper floors, and gives a sense of what the entire row of buildings once looked like.

The early 20th century remodeling of the central building occurred after it was purchased by Henry R. Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Bookstore. This longtime fixture in downtown Springfield had been founded in 1893 by Henry and his brother, Clifton Johnson. Henry was the one who was primarily involved in running the bookstore, but Clifton served as a silent partner, providing financing for the business. The latter was also a noted author and photographer, and his works included the books in the Picturesque series of the 1890s, which he co-authored while also doing much of the photography. These books, each of which highlighted a different western Massachusetts county, featured hundreds of photographs of local scenes, and have provided many of the historic images that are used on this blog.

Johnson’s Bookstore was located in several other downtown buildings before Henry purchased this one around 1909. He soon set about renovating the exterior, replacing the old Italianate-style facade with one that matched the Classical Revival tastes of the early 20th century. The new facade was designed by the local architectural firm of Kirkham and Partlett, and included much larger windows, along with a polychromatic exterior made of contrasting red bricks and light-colored stones. Overall, the building was left essentially unrecognizable from its original appearance, as seen in the difference between it and its once-identical neighbor to the right.

Henry Johnson retired from active business in 1922, and Clifton’s sons, Arthur and Roger, took over the operation of the bookstore. The business steadily grew, and the store eventually occupied three floors of this building, plus the building to the rear of it, and it also owned a four-story warehouse on the other side of Market Street. By the early 1950s, the store employed 100 people, and brought in $1.3 million in sales per year. Aside from new and used books, the store sold a variety of stationery, office supplies, toys, and gifts, and was a popular destination for downtown shoppers throughout the 20th century.

The bookstore would remain in the Johnson family for several more generations, with Clifton Johnson’s great-grandson, Paul C. Johnson, eventually becoming president in the early 1990s. However, by this point shopping trends had shifted toward suburban malls and away from traditional downtown businesses. Many iconic stores, from Forbes & Wallace to Steiger’s, closed in the late 20th century, and Johnson’s Bookstore followed in January 1998, after more than 100 years in business. The building itself is still standing, though, and aside from the loss of the bookstore this scene has not undergone any significant changes in nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken.

Main Street near Court Street, Springfield, Mass

The east side of Main Street, looking toward the corner of Court Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a group of four buildings along the east side of Main Street, representing a wide range of late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles. On the left side is the ornate Beaux Arts-style Union Trust Company building, which was completed in 1907. It was designed by the noted architectural firm of prominent Boston-based architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, and housed the Union Trust Company. This company was formed by the 1906 merger of three city banks, and it still occupied the building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s.

Just to the right of the Union Trust Company, in the center of the first photo, is a five-story Second Empire-style building that once housed the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. The company was originally located in the Foot Block, at the corner of Main and State Streets, from 1851 to 1868, before moving into this building. However, its offices were only here for about five years before the building was gutted by a fire on February 5, 1873, although it was soon reconstructed based on plans by architect George Hathorne. The company would remain here until 1908, when a new, larger office building was completed a block south of here, where the Foot Block had previously stood.

The third building to the right was probably built sometime in the early 20th century, based on its architectural style. By the time the first photo was taken, the ground floor of this five-story building housed the Woman’s Shop, which offered “Distinctive Outer Apparel,” according to the sign above the entrance. To the right of it, at the corner of East Court Street (now Bruce Landon Way), is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank. It was built in 1876, and featured an ornate Main Street facade, including cast iron columns. A better view of the exterior can be seen in an earlier post, which shows the view of this scene from the opposite direction.

Today, almost 80 years after the first photo was taken, most of the buildings are still standing. The former Woman’s Shop building has remained relatively unaltered except for the exterior of the second floor, and the Union Trust Company building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural significance. Even the Five Cents Savings Bank building is still there in the distance, although it is hard to tell from this angle. The Main Street facade was rebuilt in the mid-20th century, but the building itself remains standing, with the original southern facade visible along Bruce Landon Way. Overall, the only building from the first photo that is completely gone is the former MassMutual headquarters, which was demolished sometime around the 1950s and replaced with the current Modernist building.

Josiah Gilbert Holland House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 115 High Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, this house was the home of author Josiah Gilbert Holland, a noted historian, novelist, poet, and editor who lived in Springfield for much of his literary career. Holland was born in 1819 in Belchertown, Massachusetts, and was an 1844 graduate of the Berkshire Medical College. He moved to Springfield after graduating, where he married his wife, Elizabeth Chapin, and briefly practiced medicine. However, he soon abandoned the profession and turned to writing. He published a weekly newspaper, the Bay State Courier, for six months in 1847, but he and Elizabeth subsequently moved to the south, where he worked as a teacher in Richmond and as superintendent of schools in Vicksburg. He had little professional experience for the latter position, and Vicksburg had little in the way of public schools, but Holland was able to establish a system that was based on public education in northern states.

Holland served as superintendent in Vicksburg for a year and three months, but he and Elizabeth returned to Springfield in the spring of 1849, in order to care for her dying mother. Here, Holland resumed his journalistic career, after Springfield Republican editor Samuel Bowles hired him as an assistant editor of the newspaper. During the early 1850s he wrote History of Western Massachusetts, which was originally printed in the newspaper in serial format before being published in a two-volume book in 1855. The following year, Holland was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the old city hall at Court Square, where he gave an hour-long speech that, among other things, criticized the city’s lack of noteworthy architectural works. He objected to the designs of public buildings as well as private homes, and noted that “a common horse-block has just as many, and just the same, architectural ideas in it” as an entire street full of the city’s finest homes.

Around the time that he gave this speech, though, Holland lived here in this very modest Greek Revival-style home, which had very little architectural distinction of its own. The house was likely built sometime in the late 1830s or 1840s, during the time when this style was common for houses in Springfield. It does not appear in the 1835 map, but it was in existence by 1851, when that year’s map shows it as being owned by an A. Howe. Josiah and Elizabeth Holland likely moved into the house a few years later, and at some point it came to be known as “Buff Cottage.” By the 1860 census the Hollands were living here with their young children Annie, Katie, and Theodore, plus two servants. At the time, the value of Holland’s real estate was listed at $9,000, plus a personal estate of $13,000, for a total net worth equal to about $600,000 today.

During the time that Holland lived in this house, his literary career gained him national attention. His first novel was The Bay Path, a work of historical fiction that was set in early Springfield. It was published in 1857, and was followed a year later by the long narrative poem Bitter Sweet, which was written here in this house. This poem would become one of his most popular works, and was described in 1894 by biographer Harriette Merrick Plunkett as “Dr. Holland’s reflections on the mysteries of Life and Death, on the soul-wracking problems of Doubt and Faith, on the existence of Evil as one of the vital conditions of the universe, on the questions of Predestination, Original Sin, Free-will, and the whole haunting brood of Calvinistic theological metaphysics.” She declared it to be “truly an original poem,” comparing it to the works of Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott, and cited the praise that it had earned from poet James Russell Lowell. However, the poem, along with many of Holland’s other works, also received its share of criticism from those who found his writing style to be excessively sentimental and moralistic.

Holland’s other works during this period included three collections of essays, Letters to Young People, Single and Married (1858), Gold Foil, Hammered from Popular Proverbs (1859), and Letters to the Joneses (1863), all of which were published under the pseudonym Timothy Titcomb. In 1860, he wrote his next novel, Miss Gilbert’s Career: An American Story, which highlighted the Victorian belief that a woman’s greatest career was to be a wife. The Civil War started a year later, and Holland’s editorial duties at the Republican consumed much of his time throughout the war. He even became the de facto editor-in-chief of the newspaper during part of the war, taking on these responsibilities during Samuel Bowles’s overseas trip to Europe.

As Holland became a more established literary figure, he put some of his newfound wealth into building a new house that was both much larger and more architecturally prominent than his home here on High Street. It was completed in 1862, and was located in the northwestern corner of the city, near the border of Chicopee, on what is now Atwater Terrace. At the time, this part of the city was far removed from the city center and only sparsely populated, so Holland’s choice of a location was puzzling to some. One person is even reported to have questioned “Who would ever want to live there, except some hare-brained poet like Dr. Holland?” The design of the house was unique among the many 19th century mansions in Springfield, featuring a Swiss Chalet-style design, and it was named “Brightwood” because of its painted wooden exterior. This name would later be applied to the entire northwestern corner of the city, and today the neighborhood is still known as Brightwood.

The Holland family would only live at Brightwood for five years, before embarking on a two-year vacation to Europe and then relocating to New York City, but Holland wrote several of his best-selling books while living here in this house. Perhaps the most notable work of his career was Life of Abraham Lincoln, which was published in 1866. A year earlier, Holland had been asked to give a eulogy of Lincoln at a memorial service here in Springfield, held just four days after his assassination. The eulogy proved powerful, and just a month later Holland was traveling to Springfield, Illinois to research Lincoln’s life.

The resulting book was the first lengthy biography of the 16th president, and sold around 100,000 copies. It was one of many such biographies that were published soon after Lincoln’s assassination, most of which were poorly written, but Holland’s book is generally considered to have been the best of these. As described by Allen C. Guelzo in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Holland’s book was “a landmark Lincoln biography, the first of any substantial length as a biography, the first with any aspirations to comprehensiveness,” and “the first life of the ‘inner Lincoln,’ setting the stage for a genre of Lincoln studies that remains compelling and fruitful to this day.”

After moving to New York, Holland became one of the founders and the first editor of Scribner’s Monthly, which later became The Century Magazine. He continued his role as both editor and author throughout the 1870s, alternating between publishing novels and volumes of poetry. His final book was The Puritan’s Guest, a collection of poems that was published in 1881. He died on October 12 of that year, at the age of 62, and his body was returned to Springfield, where he was interred in Springfield Cemetery, just a short walk from where he once lived here on High Street.

In the meantime, at some point during the 1860s the house here on High Street was sold to Timothy Henry, a livery stable owner who lived here for many years with his wife Julia. He died in 1883, but Julia continued to live here until her death in 1900, more than 30 years after she and Timothy moved into the house. Following her death, however, the house went through a series of owners and residents throughout the early 20th century. It steadily declined until, when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, it was being used as a lodging house. The 1940 census shows that it was being rented for $50 a month by Elizabeth Cody, a 64-year-old widow. She, in turn, rented space to two young women, one of whom worked as a bank clerk while the other was a stenographer.

By the time the first photo was taken, the once-famous resident of the house had long since been forgotten. Although ridiculed by many within the literary community during his lifetime, Holland had nonetheless been popular with the general public throughout the late 19th century. However, by the turn of the 20th century his overly sentimental, melodramatic style and Victorian-era moral lessons had fallen out of fashion, and his works drifted into obscurity.

Ironically, it was a reclusive friend and correspondent of Holland – the Amherst poet Emily Dickinson – who would go on to achieve lasting fame as the area’s preeminent 19th century poet. She died only five years after Holland, having had just a few poems published in her lifetime, yet her posthumously-published work eventually established her place within the Western canon of literature. This proved the exact opposite of Holland’s fame and reputation, who in 1940 was dismissed by biographer Harry Houston Peckham as “the major prophet of the unsophisticated, the supreme apostle to the naive.”

Holland’s two former homes in Springfield did not fare much better than his literary legacy. This house on High Street was evidently still standing as late as the 1960s, since the address was listed in city directories of the period, but at some point in the late 20th century it was demolished and replaced with a parking lot for the Wesson Memorial Hospital, which is located across the street from where the house once stood. However, this house ultimately outlived Holland’s grand Brightwood mansion on Atwater Terrace. After moving to New York, Holland had sold it to industrialist George C. Fisk, and the property remained in the Fisk family until well into the 20th century. It eventually fell victim to the Great Depression, though, and proved too costly for the few surviving family members to maintain, so it was finally demolished in 1940.

70-76 Temple Street, Springfield, Mass

The townhouses at 70-76 Temple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Unlike many other large cities in the northeast, Springfield never saw large-scale development of townhouses during the 19th century, with residents preferring detached single-family homes on larger lots. However, there were some townhouses that were built throughout the downtown area, including this block of four houses on Temple Street, which was completed in 1874. The houses are among the city’s finest surviving examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and they were designed by local architect George E. Potter, whose other works included the six townhouses at the corner of Maple and Central Streets.

Temple Street itself was developed in the 1870s, on land that had previously belonged to the prominent Morris family, including probate judge Oliver B. Morris and his son George B. Morris, who served as the Clerk of Courts for many years. However, Oliver died in 1871, followed by George a year later, and within a few years George’s son Robert had opened Temple Street through the property. This townhouse block was among the first buildings to be developed on the street, and was constructed at a cost of about $32,000 for the four homes, or about $700,000 today.

The houses were numbered 70, 72, 74, and 76 Temple Street, starting with 70 on the far right. They were jointly owned by Robert Morris and William S. Shurtleff, with Morris living at number 72 and Shurtleff at number 74. Morris had become the Clerk of Courts after his father’s death in 1872, and served in that position until his own death in 1925. Along with this, he was also a directory of the United Electric Light Company and president of the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, and in 1901 he published a book, The Birds of Springfield and Vicinity. He and his wife Lizzie lived here in this townhouse for many years, although around 1912 they moved a short distance to the east of here, to a house at 82 Temple Street.

William S. Shurtleff was also a longtime resident of this townhouse block, living at 74 Temple Street until the early 1890s. Shurtleff had served in the Civil War, enlisting as a private but ending up as a colonel. In 1863, he was appointed Judge of Probate and Insolvency, and served on the bench for the next 33 years, until his death in 1896. He also served several terms on the city’s Common Council, and was also the vice president of the state Board of Public Reservations, a founder and vice president of the Connecticut Valley Historical Society, and a director of the City Library Association. During the 1880 census, he was living here with his wife Clara and their daughter Mabel, plus his niece Clara, his brother Roswell, Roswell’s wife Sarah, and two servants.

Although designed as upscale single-family homes, this began to change by the turn of the 20th century. During the 1900 census, Morris’s house was the only one still occupied by a single family, with the other three having been converted into boarding houses. The most crowded of these was 74 Temple, which had three residents, along with a servant and six boarders living here. The subsequent 1910 and 1920 censuses show fewer numbers of boarders in these houses, although this would change dramatically by 1930, perhaps as a result of the Great Depression. During that year, there were eight lodgers in number 70, eleven in number 72, thirteen in number 74, and eight in 76. These residents included a variety of middle class workers, such as a pharmacy clerk, a waitress, a factory inspector, an auto mechanic, several teachers, a chauffeur, an accountant, a traveling salesman, and a milkman.

The first photo was taken later in the decade, only a few years before the 1940 census. By this point, the townhouses were still in use as boarding houses, with similar numbers of residents. As was the case in 1930, the residents held a variety of jobs, and nearly all of them earned under $1,000 a year, or under $18,000 today. By the time the first photo was taken, there was also another building attached to this block, just to the right of 70 Temple Street. This building first appears in city atlases in 1899, and had a plain brick exterior that contrasted sharply with the much more ornate Gothic townhouses that adjoined it. It was numbered 66-68 Temple Street, and during the 1940 census it housed four apartment units in number 66, plus a boarding house with six tenants in number 68.

Today, this addition on the right side is gone, having been demolished sometime in the second half of the 20th century. However, the four original townhouses are still standing, with well-preserved exteriors that have seen few changes since the first photo was taken. The interiors, though, have undergone substantial renovations over the years. The houses had started as single-family homes, before becoming boarding houses, and they are now divided into condominiums, with four units in each of the four houses. Like the Classical High School directly across the street, they are one of a number of historic properties in Springfield that have been converted into condominiums, and today this block of townhouses is part of the city’s Lower Maple Local Historic District.