Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass

The interior of Old First Church in Springfield, around 1915. Photo from The First Church, Springfield, 1637-1915; Milestones Through Twenty-Seven Decades (1915).


The church in 2015:


Old First Church was featured in the first post on this blog, and it is probably my favorite historic building in Springfield.  It is also the oldest church building in the city, having been completed in 1819, and it is one of the oldest buildings of any type in Springfield. Although the exterior of the church hasn’t changed much in the past 195 years, the interior has gone through some changes, as the two photographs show.

As built, the church had different pews, which had tall backs and were not particularly comfortable. These were replaced with the current pews in 1864.  Also at this time, the high pulpit was replaced with a platform, and the arch was constructed over it. The first organ was installed in 1849, but it was on the balcony in the back of the sanctuary; it wasn’t until 1881 that the organ was moved to the front, and the current organ has been there since 1958.  Since the 1915 photo was taken, most of the major changes to the interior came in 1924, when it was renovated to early 19th century designs.  This included modifying the arch over the organ and adding the two columns, changing the curve of the ceiling, and adding decorative scrollwork to the ceiling.

The church was dedicated in a special ceremony on August 19, 1819, with Reverend Samuel Osgood preaching on the occasion.  Osgood had been the pastor of the church since 1809, and would continue in that capacity until 1854.  During the ceremony, Colonel Solomon Warriner led the performance of four songs.  Warriner was the director of music for the First Church from 1801 to 1838, and served as a colonel in the Massachusetts Militia during the War of 1812.

In the years that followed, the sanctuary at Old First Church has hosted a number of notable guests, including Secretary of State and Senator Daniel Webster, abolitionist John Brown, singer Jenny Lind, and evangelist D.L. Moody.  I don’t know if any living presidents have ever visited the church, but in 1848, the body of John Quincy Adams lay in state in the center aisle when his body was being brought back from Washington, D.C. to Quincy.  Far more recently, several other notable politicians have spoken at Old First Church, including former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador Ray Flynn.

The church congregation disbanded in 2007, after 370 years of existence, as a result of declining membership and the increasing costs of upkeep.  The City of Springfield purchased the building and uses it for various functions.  It is, however, still used as a church – WellSpring Church leases the building from the city for Sunday services and church offices.

Main Street from Court Square, Springfield, Mass

Several buildings along Main Street in Springfield, seen from across the street in Court Square, around 1865-1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The view from Court Square in 2014:


These photos were taken from Court Square from about the spot that Parsons Tavern once stood, before it was moved to the location in this post.  The massive elm tree in the first photo once stood right next to the building, and George Washington likely would’ve seen the tree upon his arrival nearly 100 years earlier.  Today, the tree is gone, but the street that it was named after – Elm Street – is still there.

The elm tree isn’t the only thing missing in the 2014 photo – the entire area across Main Street was cleared in the 1970s to build the MassMutual Center, a sports arena and convention center where the Springfield Falcons minor league hockey team plays.  According to the 1899 map of downtown Springfield, there were over 70 buildings within the modern-day footprint of the MassMutual Center, along with two streets, Market Street and Sanford Street.  Sanford Street can be seen in the opening between the buildings behind the elm tree, and once ran from Main Street to Dwight Street.

There are several identifiable businesses in the first photo; the white building on the left-hand side was the home of the First National Bank of Springfield, and just to the right of it is the storefront of Frank G. Tobey.  Tobey’s ad in the 1875 city directory indicates that he was a “Dealer in Hats, Caps, and Gent’s Furnishing Goods. Silk Hats made to order.”  Across Sanford Street, none of the signs on the storefronts are visible, but the buildings on that side appear to date to the early 1800s, with a style similar to the Byers Block on Elm Street just across Main Street, which survives today.

Union Block, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main Street & Harrison Ave in Springfield, Mass, around 1878-1885.  Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The corner in 2017:


This view is very similar to the scene in this post, although the historic photo here is about 30 years older and shows just the buildings along Main Street from Harrison Ave to Court Street. As mentioned in the other post, the building in the foreground here is actually three buildings, which were constructed between 1858 and 1861, and came to be known as the Union Block.  The earliest section, furthest from the camera, is the Republican Block, and it was the home of the Springfield Republican newspaper from 1858 until 1867.  By the time the first photo was taken, it was the home of D.H. Bingham & Co. Clothing House, as seen on the massive sign atop the building.

The Republican Block is the only part of the Union Block that has survived relatively intact to this day.  The middle section, formerly home of Johnson’s Bookstore, is the original 1861 structure, but its facade was completely renovated in 1908 and does not retain any of its original architecture.

Closest to the camera, the northernmost third of the block was home of Kibbe Brothers Co., a large candy manufacturer in the city.  The Union Block was their home throughout the late 1800s, until they moved around the corner to a larger facility on Harrison Ave in 1890, which can be seen in this post.  This part of the Union Block was demolished in 1915, and replaced with the 10 story building that stands there today.

Old City Hall, Springfield, Mass

The old City Hall building in Springfield, viewed from across Court Square, between 1865 and 1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Court Square hasn’t changed much in the past 130-150 years, but the buildings beyond it have.  The first photo shows the old City Hall building, which as mentioned in this post was built in 1855, shortly after Springfield was incorporated as a city, and burned in 1905, allegedly as a result of a monkey overturning a kerosene lamp.  I don’t know the circumstances surrounding a primate having access to open flames in City Hall, but that’s how the story goes.  The present City Hall was completed in 1913, and has managed to survive for over a century without any problems from arsonist apes.

Bill’s Block, Springfield, Mass

Several buildings on the west side of Main Street in Springfield, Mass, near the corner of Bridge Street, sometime in the 1870s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The same location in 2017:


The New York Public Library estimates a date range of 1865 to 1885 for this photo, but a single sign on one of the buildings establishes that it had to have been in the 1870s.  The left-most storefront was home to W.D. Kinsman, a dry goods store that later moved a few buildings north in 1880, as seen in this post.  Other businesses visible on signs here include the Springfield Conservatory of Music, J. Wallach & Co., who sold hats, and F.S. Parmenter, another dry goods dealer.

Today, this site is still a major commercial center – the entire block is taken up by Tower Square, the second tallest building in the city.  People also still park along the side of the street, although instead of horses tied to hitching posts like in the first photo, there are cars parked next to meters.

Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, Springfield, Mass

The view looking from Court Square toward the corner of Main and Court Streets, around 1878-1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


The ornate building in the center of the first photo is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, which was built in 1876 at the corner of Main and Court Streets, diagonally across from Court Square.  The building is still there, although the Main Street facade was completely renovated at some point in the past 50 years or so.  However, the Court Street (today Falcons Way) facade is still largely intact, and reveals the fact that this building is not just another nondescript mid-20th century commercial building in the city.

Next to the Five Cents Savings Bank building in the first photo is the 1878 Republican Block, which was the home of the Springfield Republican newspaper.  I don’t know what happened to the building, but it apparently isn’t there anymore, unless it was renovated even more than its neighbor was.