Cemetery Avenue, Springfield, Mass

The road to Springfield Cemetery, Springfield, Mass, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The road in 2014:


Both views here show the road leading to Springfield Cemetery from Maple Street, with the first photo showing the arch from this post.  This main entrance to the cemetery was designed by Reverend William B. O. Peabody in 1845, and today this road is still the way in and out of the cemetery, but there are some dramatic differences.  The arch is gone, as are the white picket fences, replaced with chain-link fences, and the narrow, rutted dirt road is now paved with asphalt.  Today, there are small trees along either side of the road, but they pale in comparison to the ones that once formed a canopy of branches over the road; they were probably the same trees that Peabody himself had planted some 60 years earlier.

Springfield Cemetery Arch, Springfield, Mass

The arch at the entrance to Springfield Cemetery in Springfield, Mass, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2015:


Springfield Cemetery is one of those places that is hard to find unless you’re looking for it.  In fact, it was hard to find on my first visit, and I was looking for it.  Once in the cemetery, it’s hard to tell that you’re in the middle of a cemetery, and this was done intentionally.  Modeled after the beautifully-landscaped Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., Springfield Cemetery demonstrates a similar desire to create a peaceful, park-like setting.

As seen in the first photo, visitors to the cemetery once passed under the dramatic stone arch, which was built in 1845, just a few years after the cemetery opened.  I don’t know when or why the arch was removed, but my guess is it probably had something to do with traffic concerns; getting modern vehicles through it would probably be a tight f

Springfield Women’s Club, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Women’s Club building at the corner of Spring Street and Frost Street, around 1906-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2014:


The first photo was taken around the time that the Springfield Women’s Club building opened on Frost Street.  A few changes have been made to the building over the years, including the addition of five windows on the Spring Street side of the building and a set of double doors beneath them.  Today, though, the overgrown weeds around the building contrast with the stately trees surrounding it in the first photo.  Both the building and the neighborhood have obviously seen better days, although I don’t know the current status of the structure.

Springfield Municipal Group, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Municipal Group in Springfield, Mass., around 1913. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2014:


Springfield’s former City Hall burned down in 1905, allegedly after a monkey overturned a kerosene lamp.  The site remained vacant for a few years, as seen in this c.1908 photo, but by 1909 construction began on the Noe-Renaissance complex, which consisted of not just a new City Hall (located on the left-hand side), but also an auditorium, known as Symphony Hall, and 300 foot bell tower in between.  Construction was still ongoing in the first photo, as evidenced by the fencing around the building.  It was dedicated on December 8, 1913, probably soon after the photo was taken, with former president William Howard Taft presiding over the ceremonies. Taft had previously visited Springfield just a year and a half earlier, to campaign in an ultimately unsuccessful re-election effort.

When they opened 101 years ago, the buildings of the Municipal Group symbolized the prosperity of the city.  Today, its surroundings have changed, as has the rest of the city, but the three buildings are still there.  One of the major changes has been the skyline – the bell tower was the tallest in the city from the time of its construction until 1973.  This was due to a 1908 state law that limited Springfield’s buildings to under 125 feet in height – the height of the steeple of Old First Church.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the law was repealed, which is one of the reasons why Springfield has a comparatively smaller skyline than other major cities in New England.

Another major change is the Court Square extension, which opened not long before the first photo was taken.  It extended from the back of Old First Church all the way to the railroad tracks along the Connecticut River, and appears in the foreground of the first photo.  Today, not much is left of the western extension of the square; I-91 now passes over it, and East Columbus Avenue, seen in the foreground, now cuts diagonally through it.

Springfield Institution for Savings, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Institution for Savings building on Elm Street in Springfield, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The site in 2014:


The first photo shows the former home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, one of Springfield’s first banks.  Today, the building no longer exists, and neither does the company.  SIS is now part of TD Bank, and the site of the building is now part of the Hampden County Courthouse.  Even the street that the bank was once on, Elm Street, no longer really exists.  It used to extend from Main Street to present-day East Columbus Avenue, but the construction of the new courthouse in the 1970s caused the street to be truncated, and today it is a street in name only, as the section along Court Square is gated off, and the section next to Old First Church is essentially a parking lot for courthouse employees.

What really interested me in this picture, though, is the car parked outside.  Here is a close-up of it:


Along with giving us a clue as to the date (the license plate appears to read “1910”), it also shows an intriguing and long-forgotten part of Springfield history.  The car was made by Springfield-based Knox Automobile Company, who made cars in the city from 1900 until 1914, and trucks until 1924.  Their factory was on Wilbraham Road in the Mason Square neighborhood, right across the street from the Indian Motorcycle factory.  The Knox building is still there, although it is in pretty rough shape and was included in the 2014 list of Springfield’s most endangered buildings.

I am fairly certain that the car in the photo is a 1909 Model “O,” although I am no expert on early 20th century automobiles, so if someone more knowledgeable than me knows otherwise, let me know. Assuming it was a Model “O,” though, it would’ve been $3,000 car 1909.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $75,000 in 2014 dollars, so the owner would’ve been a fairly wealthy person.  Today, though, cars don’t look like that, as the pickup truck and station wagon bear witness to in the 2014 photo.  However, at least one 1909 Knox Model “O” still exists today; this article explains the process of restoring the car and includes plenty of post-restoration photos.

President Taft in Springfield, Mass

President William Howard Taft speaking behind Old First Church on April 25, 1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Bain Collection.


The scene in 2014:


The 1912 presidential election was an unusual one, brought on by a rift in the Republican party between President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt.  Both sought the Republican nomination, and on April 25, Taft was making his way through Massachusetts before the primary five days later.  April 1912 was an eventful time – when the photo of Taft was taken, Fenway Park had just opened five days earlier, and five days before that, the Titanic sank. However, at the time, the most pressing political issue in the country was the apparent fracturing of the Republican Party.

The Massachusetts voters ended up choosing Roosevelt for the Republican nomination, but at the national convention a few months later, the party bosses chose Taft. It would end up being a Pyrrhic victory for them, though, because Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate, which split the Republican vote in he November election and gave Democrat Woodrow Wilson an easy victory.  In the end, Taft won just two states and eight electoral votes, a dismal showing for an incumbent president.

For the speech, Taft stood behind Old First Church, facing what was at the time the newly-cleared extension of Court Square, which went from the back of the church to the railroad tracks next to the Connecticut River.  The brick section in the back of Old First Church is still there today, although it was substantially renovated in 1947.  The windows behind Taft have since been bricked up, but their outlines, formed by lighter-colored bricks, are still visible.