Elm Street, Westfield Mass

Elm Street in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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Elm Street in 2015:

When the first photo was taken, Westfield was a significant industrial center, with factories that made everything from buggy whips (hence the city’s nickname as the “Whip City”) to organs, and as a result the town had a fairly prosperous downtown.  In the years since the first photo was taken, the town has become a city, most of the factories have closed, and much of the city’s commercial activity has left the downtown area.  However, many of the historic commercial blocks from the 19th century survive today, and the city has been making an effort to revitalize the downtown area, including a complete renovation of the town green and the rotary that surrounds it, part of which can be seen here in the 2015 photo.

The most prominent building in both photos is the commercial block to the right, at the corner of Elm and Main Streets.  Known as the Morrissey Block, it was built in 1842 as a boarding house, and by the time the first photo was taken it was operated as the Westfield House Hotel.  After the hotel closed, the second floor was used as the Westfield District Court in the early part of the 20th century, and today the historic building is used for a variety of commercial and office spaces.

First Congregational Church, Westfield Mass

The First Congregational Church and the old Town Hall in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The buildings in 2015:


The scene at the rotary in downtown Westfield is very different from over 120 years ago, but several historic buildings have survived, including the First Congregational Church and the Town Hall.  The Town Hall in the foreground is actually the older of the two, having been built in 1837.  It served a variety of roles since then, first as a town hall and later as a city hall, when Westfield was incorporated as a city in 1920.  However, it was also used for high school classrooms from 1855 until around 1868, and later as a police station and district court.  It was used as city hall until 1962, when the city offices were moved up Broad Street to the former State Normal School building.  The building has seen some changes over the years, with the most obvious being the removal of the cupola, which happened in 1912.  However, it otherwise retains much of its historic exterior appearance, and today it is used as offices for a mental health agency.

Beyond the old Town Hall is the First Congregational Church.  The original church was established in 1679, with Edward Taylor serving as the town’s first pastor.  He had first come to Westfield in 1671 and began serving as pastor before the church was formally established, and he would continue until his death in 1729 at the age of 87.  However, today he is probably best known as one of the first American poets, although his works weren’t published until over 200 years after his death.

His original church building is long gone, and the one that stands on the site today was built in 1860.  The original steeple was destroyed in a storm in 1886, and I’m not sure if the first photo was taken before or after that.  It was published in 1892, but the photo itself could date to much earlier than that. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, “Several smaller steeples were in use until 1962 when a tall steeple was erected similar to the original one.”  The steeple in the first photo doesn’t appear to be a “small steeple,” yet the present-day one also doesn’t bear much resemblance to the first one, so I’m not sure which one is shown in the first photo.  In any case, though, otherwise the brick exterior of the church is well preserved, and it continues to be used by the same congregation that Edward Taylor began serving in 1671.

Green District School, Westfield Mass

The Green District School in Westfield, at the corner of Washington and School Streets, probably around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The location in 2015:

The Green District School was a public school in Westfield, but for a time it was also used as the observation school of the Westfield Normal School, located directly across School Street and visible in the background in the first photo.  Here, prospective teachers at the Normal School could get in-classroom experience analogous to present-day student teaching.  The Normal School later built their own training school in 1900, on the spot of the old Normal School building.  This building is still there today, in the background of the 2015 photo.  The Green District School continued to be used as a public school long after its affiliation with the Normal School ended, but today the Westfield Police Department headquarters occupies the school’s former location.

Normal School, Westfield Mass

Westfield Normal School at the corner of Washington and School Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The scene in 2015:

The present-day Westfield State University has gone through a number of changes in name and location since it was founded in Barre, Massachusetts in 1838 as a training school for teachers. In 1844, the school moved to Westfield, becoming the Westfield Normal School. Two years later, the building in the first photo was completed, and it housed the school for the next 46 years, until a new, larger school building was constructed nearby on Court Street. During the time that this building was in use, its notable graduates included geneticist Nettie Stevens and Cabinet secretary George B. Cortelyou, who served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Treasury during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.

When the school relocated to the Court Street building in 1892, the old building here was demolished and in 1900 replaced with the State Normal Training School.  From then until 1956, this school was used to train prospective teachers from the Normal School, and it was later used by the City of Westfield as a regular elementary school.  Today, the building has been renovated into apartments for students at Westfield State University, which is now located several miles west of downtown.

Elm Street Grammar School, Springfield Mass

Looking west on Elm Street from in front of the Hampden County Courthouse, around 1892.  Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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Elm Street in 2015:

The Elm Street Grammar School was built in 1867, and it stood on Elm Street just to the west of the old Hampden County Courthouse and across the street from Old First Church.  It served as the modern-day equivalent of a middle school for the children in the downtown and South End area until around the turn of the century; it appears in the 1899 atlas but was demolished sometime in the first decade of the 20th century and replaced with the Springfield Institution for Savings building by 1910.  Today, the Hampden County Hall of Justice is located on the site.  One of the school buildings that replaced Elm Street Grammar School was the Howard Street School, which opened in 1905 as a primary and grammar school, and covered part of what was once Elm Street’s territory.  The Howard Street School is still around, but not for long; the vacant, tornado-damaged building is going to be demolished soon to make way for the MGM Springfield casino.

These two photos were taken from nearly the opposite direction as the ones in this post, which show Elm Street facing east.  As mentioned in that post, the massive elm tree in front of the school (seen here on the far right of the 1892 photo) is believed to be the one referenced by Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, in which he writes “Beautiful and stately she is beyond all praise.”  The tree was later cut down, and a cross-section of it is now on display in the Springfield Science Museum.

State and Main Streets, Springfield Mass

Foot’s Block at the southwest corner of State and Main Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The location around 1910. Image from View Book of Springfield (1910)

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The building in 2015:

The site now occupied by 1200 Main Street has had its share of historic buildings over the years. Thomas Bates built a tavern here in 1773, which operated well into the 19th century. On the surface, it was a popular stagecoach tavern that regularly entertained visiting dignitaries like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. However, it also operated clandestinely a stop on the Underground Railroad. It stood here until 1847, when it was moved a few lots west on State Street, as seen in this post, which gives more details about its history.

After the old tavern was moved in 1847, businessman Homer Foot built Foot’s Block, the building seen in the 1892 photo here.  It didn’t take long for Foot to find tenants for the commercial and office space in the building; in 1851,the newly-incorporated Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company rented office number 8 in the building as their original company office.  The company would later move to their own building a few blocks up Main Street, but by the first decade of the 20th century they had moved back to the corner of Main and State.  However, instead of renting a single suite as they had some 50 years earlier, they demolished Foot’s Block and replaced it with the 12-story tower that stands there today.

The building was completed in 1908, and at 125 feet it is the same height as the steeple of Old First Church.  In response to the construction of this building. and because of fears that the city would be overtaken by modern skyscrapers, the Massachusetts legislature set 125 feet as the height limit for any building in Springfield, a law that stood until 1970.  As a result, despite being over a century old it is still tied for 7th tallest building in the city.  MassMutual didn’t stay here for too long, however.  In 1927 with a continually-expanding company and little room in downtown, MassMutual moved to their present-day home a few miles up State Street in the Pine Point neighborhood.  Menawhile, the historic office building here at the corner of State and Main is now owned by MGM Springfield, who plan to preserve the building for MGM’s offices once the casino is built adjacent to it.