Smith Platt House, Springfield, Mass

The Smith Platt House on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2016:

Located next to the Lathrop House at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Washington Road, this house was built in 1893 for Smith H. Platt, a Methodist preacher, physician, and author. He was born in Connecticut and spent much of his life in New York City, but by the 1890s he was living here in Springfield and practicing medicine in an office in the house. He wrote several books, including an anti-slavery novel in 1859 entitled The Martyrs, and the Fugitive; or a Narrative of the Captivity, Sufferings, and Death of an African Family, and the Slavery and Escape of Their Son. Much later in life, in 1895, he published The Secrets of Health; or How Not to Be Sick and How to Get Well From Sickness, which provides somewhat dubious remedies for nearly every condition, including taking a teaspoon of turpentine before meals to treat cancer, drinking hydrogen peroxide to treat gangrene, and taking warm baths to treat insanity.

By the 1910 census, Platt was 81 years old and he was living here with his daughter Belle, her husband Leander W. White, and their two sons, Harrison and Gardner. He died two years later, and the White family remained here for many years. Leander was a banker, who by the 1920s was serving as vice president of Chicopee National Bank. Belle, like her father, was a physician, but she died relatively young in the 1920s. Leander and his two sons were still living in this house when the first photo was taken, and he died about 10 years later in 1949. Today, the house is still standing, and along with the surrounding houses it is virtually unchanged from the first photo. Like the rest of the neighborhood, it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

1007-1017 Main Street, Springfield, Mass

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

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The scene in 2015:

The section of Main Street south of State Street was once primarily residential, but as the city grew in the second half of the 19th century many of the homes were either demolished or, in many cases, had storefronts built in front of them. Based on its blend of Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles, this house was probably built around the 1850s, but sometime around 1900-1910 the owners built a one-story commercial building around it, presumably incorporating the first floor of the house into the stores. This is similar to what happened to the John Avery House, a c.1825 house located diagonally across the street from here.

When the first photo was taken, the building had several commercial tenants, including The Linoleum Shoppe on the left and a cigar store on the right. The old house was still clearly visible at the time, but later taken down after a fire. The rest of the building was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado, and was subsequently renovated into its current appearance, as seen in the 2015 photo.

130 Union Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 130 Union Street, just east of Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

This two-story brick building was built around 1906-1910, on the site of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Bethesda Church, which had been built here in 1897. Although the church building was short-lived, I suspect that part of the church walls may have been incorporated into this building, because part of the first floor walls are made of stone, the same material as the church. This is also consistent with the church’s footprint as it appeared in the 1899 city atlas, although I do not have any photos of the church to confirm my theory.

In any case, when the first photo was taken the building had a sign that read “Bay State Mattress Company,” which may have occupied the upper floor, because the ground floor appears to have been used as a repair garage. There is a car visible inside the building, with signs on the exterior for “Brake Service & Greasing” and for Exide batteries. Later on, this building was home to Radding Signs, as the vertical neon sign on the left still indicates. Most recently, the building was owned by the Anti-Displacement Project, but it was damaged in the 2011 tornado and now appears to be vacant.

1069-1073 Main Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 1069-1073 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The site in 2015:

This duplex was built sometime between 1870 and 1880, at a time when this section of Main Street was still largely residential. In the 1880 census, the unit on the left was the home of Dennis S. Goff, a 47 year old widower whose occupation was listed as working in a pistol shop, presumably the nearby Smith & Wesson factory. He lived here with his 25 year old daughter Jessie and their servant, Jane West. In the same census, the unit on the right was owned by Austin B. Bush, his wife Susan, and their son Harry. His occupation was rather curiously listed as “No Special Business,” but he was evidently a somewhat prominent individual because his biography included in the 1902 book “Our County and Its People” A History of Hampden County. The book, though, mentions his ancestry and his education, but likewise makes no mention of his actual occupation.

By the 1900 census, Austin Bush still owned the unit on the right, but Dennis Goff died in 1896 and his daughter Jessie inherited the house to the left. She used this house as a rental property, because at the time she was married and living with her husband, Henry S. Safford, in a house at 80 Dartmouth Street that is still standing today. Jessie’s husband was a Springfield native who over 20 years before their marriage had played a role in the aftermath of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. At the time, Safford had been living in Washington DC, where he rented a room in the Petersen House across from Ford’s Theatre. When he heard the commotion outside after Lincoln was shot, Safford went outside and told the men carrying the mortally wounded president to bring him into the boarding house, where he died the following morning.

Sometime between 1900 and 1910, the entire property was sold to Nelson L. Elmer, and the storefront on the right was added. When the first photo was taken, this storefront was used as a barber shop, and the rest of the building appears, based on the signs in front, to have been used as a boarding house. Today, the building has long since been demolished, and the site is now occupied by a parking lot, but the Morse Block, which is visible to the right in the first photo, is still standing today.

Morse Block, Springfield, Mass

The Morse Block at 1055-1063 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

This building at 1055-1063 Main Street was built around 1904, and the signs in the first photo indicate that by the 1930s it was home to a bowling alley and a variety store. Along with the building to the right, it was later owned by Hampden Furniture until the company closed in 2007. Both buildings were damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado, but they were repaired and reopened in 2014 as the home of the Caring Health Center, a nonprofit healthcare organization that has several clinics in Springfield.

Coombs Block, Springfield, Mass

The Coombs Block at the corner of Main and Park Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

Very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken in the 1930s. The building here at 1049-1051 Main Street was built in 1914, and for many years it was used as a furniture store, as the sign in the first photo shows. In the 1940s, Hampden Furniture moved into this building and the adjoining one to the left, and they operated here until the company went out of business in 2007. The buildings were sold to the Caring Health Center, and despite suffering damage in the June 1, 2011 tornado, they were repaired and opened in 2014 as the Richard E. Neal Complex, named for the city’s former mayor and current Congressman.