Boston Public Library Entrance, Boston

The main entrance to the Boston Public Library on Dartmouth Street, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2015:

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These photos show the detail of the entrance to the Boston Public Library’s main branch at Copley Square.  The history of the library building is explained in more detail in this post, but it was completed in 1895 and served as a precursor to many similar libraries across the country in the early 20th century.  The main entrance reflects the building’s Renaissance Revival architecture, which includes a symmetrical design with arched doorways, as seen here.  Above the central arch is the head of Athena, which was carved by famed sculptors Domingo Mora and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and further up are three relief sculptures that were also carved by Saint-Gaudens.  The central one features the seal of the Boston Public Library, with a banner above it reading “Lux Omnium Civium,” or “The Light of the People.”  To the left is the seal of Massachusetts, and to the right is the seal of the city of Boston.

The building was designed by Charles McKim of the firm McKim, Mead & White, and it is named the McKim Building in honor of him.  Over 120 years after its completion, it has seen few changes, as the two photos show here.  It was expanded in 1972 to accommodate the library’s growing collections, but there were no major alterations to the original section, and it still Boston’s central library as well as a major architectural landmark in the city.

 

Union Station, Palmer, Mass

Union Station in Palmer, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Palmer Historical Commission.

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The scene in 2015:

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Palmer is sometimes referred to as the “Town of Seven Railroads,” and although two of these railroads were never actually operated, the town was and still is a major regional railroad center.  The two most prominent of the seven railroads were the Boston & Albany, which ran east-west between those two cities, and the Central Vermont which ran north-south from the Canadian border in Vermont to New London, Connecticut.

These two railroads shared Union Station, with the Central Vermont platform on the left and the Boston & Albany one on the right from this perspective.  It was built in 1883, and although Palmer is a relatively small town, there were two prominent figures involved in the station: architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed the station itself, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the grounds.  Olmsted is best known for designing Central Park in New York City, and Richardson’s other works include Trinity Church in Boston, First Baptist Church in Boston, the Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield, and the Church of the Unity in Springfield.  However, he was also commissioned by the Boston & Albany Railroad to design their railroad stations.  He ended up designing nine stations, including this one, before his death in 1886.  After his death, his successors at Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge designed about 20 more stations based on his style, including the old Union Station in Springfield.

Because of its location as a transfer point between north-south and east-west trains, Palmer was an important stop on the Boston & Albany Railroad; an 1885 timetable shows it as one of just seven express stops along the 200 miles between Boston and Albany.  It was also the primary rail line connecting Boston to the Midwest, and the 1885 timetable shows connecting trains from Palmer to destinations like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.  By comparison, the Central Vermont Railway was a much less prominent, but it was still one of the major north-south railroads in central and western New England, and Palmer became its primary rail hub south of Brattleboro, Vermont.

Passenger rail entered a steadly decline in ridership after World War II, with automobiles replacing trains for short trips and airplanes becoming a legitimate alternative for long-distance travel.  Many small-town stations closed by the 1950s, including nearby stations in Monson and Wilbraham.  However, Palmer remained a stop on the Penn Central Railroad until 1971, when Amtrak absorbed all U.S. passenger rail service and closed Palmer’s station.

Almost 45 years after the last train picked up passengers in Palmer, the historic Union Station is still standing today.  Palmer is still a major railroad hub, although now it is exclusively freight trains that stop here.  The old Boston & Albany line is now operated by CSX, one of the largest railroads in the country, and the Central Vermont is now operated by the New England Central Railroad, whose southern division offices are still here in Palmer, just a little left of where the photo was taken.  A third railroad, the Massachusetts Central Railroad, also operates out of Palmer, and the station is at the southern end of their line.

Despite several decades of deterioration and neglect, the station is still standing.  It has since been restored, and the only major difference to the exterior has been the removal of the covered platform on the Boston & Albany side of the building.  Otherwise, the rest of the station still reflects its 19th century appearance, and it is now the home of the Steaming Tender restaurant.  Because of the busy rail traffic, it is also a popular place for railroad enthusiasts to watch and photograph the passing trains, and the railroad-themed restaurant serves many of these visitors.  The restaurant also has a historic locomotive on display, as seen in the foreground of the 2015 photo, and a 1909 passenger car to the left, which is rented for private events.

North Main Street Cemetery, Monson, Mass

A view of the North Main Street Cemetery in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The cemetery in 2015:

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The area of present-day Monson was first settled in the early 1700s, but at the time it was part of the town of Brimfield.  Among other things, this meant that residents of this area had to bury their dead in Brimfield’s town cemetery, over six miles away from the current center of Monson. The 1960 History of Monson book quotes a petition signed by some of the area’s residents, complaining of “the Badness and length of ye way,” and pointing out that a more convenient burial ground would be of no harm, “it being no matter to the body where it lies when Dead.”  Their request was granted, but in any case the point was soon moot when Monson separated from Brimfield in 1760.

The town’s first large cemetery was established here, just a few hundred yards north of the meeting house.  The first burial was in 1777, and it was used until 1850, at which point the much larger Hillside Cemetery up the road became the town’s primary public cemetery.  Around 250 people were buried here, mostly in the first few decades of the 19th century.  The oldest headstones are carved of red sandstone or slate, and have survived the past few centuries in excellent condition.  The more recent white marble stones, though, have not weathered as well, and many of the inscriptions are no longer legible.

There has not been a burial here since about 50 years before the first photo was taken, but the cemetery is still well-maintained by the town, and it looks essentially the same as it did a century ago; some of the headstones are even still leaning in the same direction today.

Hillside Cemetery Arch, Monson, Mass

The arch at the entrance to Hillside Cemetery, at the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Monson, probably taken around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The arch in 2015:

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The mid-1800s saw a major shift in the way cemeteries were designed.  Especially in larger cities, simple graveyards were replaced with elegant, landscaped cemeteries that felt more like a park than a place for burying the dead.  Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, just outside of Boston, helped to pioneer this idea in the 1830s, and soon major cities across the northeast were creating similar cemeteries.  Here in Monson, the town had its own scaled-down version of such cemeteries with Hillside Cemetery, which is seen in these two photos.  It is the final resting place for many of the town’s prominent citizens of the 19th century, many of whom had large family plots with ornate stones carved of Monson granite.

One of the defining features of Hillside Cemetery is this granite arch, which was built in 1897 with funds provided by Emma Field Page Norcross.  Although she lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she had the arch built in memory of her family members who are buried here, including prominent factory owner Cyrus W. Holmes.  Nearly 120 years later, the arch is still standing, and not much else has changed in this scene, aside from the increase in the number of headstones in the background.

Railroad Station, Monson, Mass

The railroad station on Washington Street in Monson, probably in the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The site of the station in 2015:

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Railroads first came to Monson in 1839, when the Western Railroad opened between Springfield and Worcester.  It cut across the extreme northwestern corner of the town, though, and the nearest station was in Palmer, about four miles from Monson’s town center.  It would be another 11 years before rail service came to the center of Monson, with the completion of the New London, Willimantic, and Palmer Railroad.  It was renamed the New London Northern Railroad in 1861, and was leased to the Central Vermont Railroad in 1871.  The frequent name changes actually help to date the first photo; one of the cars had the abbreviation “C.V.R.R.” on the back, which indicates it was probably taken before (or very soon after) the company was renamed the Central Vermont Railway in 1899.

Over time, the Central Vermont operated four stations in Monson, but the main station was here on Washington Street, just a little north of the town center.  A 1934 timetable shows two scheduled passenger trains in each direction that stopped here daily; the two northbound trains left at 8:14 in the morning and 4:36 in the afternoon, and the southbound trains at 10:00 in the morning and 6:10 in the evening.  From here, town residents could travel on the line north to the Canadian border in Vermont, or south to New London in Connecticut, where they could connect with trains to New York City and points south.  They could also travel six minutes north to Palmer and take a Boston & Albany train east to Boston or west to upstate New York and beyond.

Passenger rail travel entered a steady decline after World War II, though, and by the 1950s railroads such as the Central Vermont were eliminating passenger service to small towns like Monson. The station was demolished in 1960, and today the site is vacant, although the old granite foundations of the station are still there.  Passenger trains did briefly return to this line from 1989 to 1995, when Amtrak ran their Montrealer train through here, but it did not make any stops in Monson.  Since 1995, the old Central Vermont has been operated by the New England Central Railroad, which runs several freight trains per day through Monson.

Flynt Memorial Fountain, Monson, Mass

The fountain at the corner of Main and Fountain Streets in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The fountain in 2015:

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As mentioned in previous posts, the town of Monson became a significant industrial center in the 1800s. Most of this involved manufacturing textile products or straw hats, but the Flynt family built a prosperous business out of quarrying granite.  The company was started around 1825 by Rufus Flynt, and after his death in 1836, his son William took over the company at the age of 18.  Incidentally, the Flynts also had a connection to another prominent family in town.  William’s middle name was Norcross, which was his mother Sarah’s maiden name.  She was the daughter of William Norcross and the sister of Joel Norcross, whose house on Main Street is still standing today.  Joel was the grandfather of Emily Dickinson, which means William was her second cousin, once removed.

William N. Flynt remained in control of the company for the next 39 years, during which time it became one of the area’s leading producers of granite.  Monson buildings such as the Memorial Town Hall, St. Patrick’s Church, the Universalist Church, and the library were built of Flynt granite, as was the Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield along with many other public buildings in the northeast.

Shortly after his retirement, Flynt donated this fountain to the town.  It is located directly across the street from his company store, and it reads “Presented to the town by W.N. Flynt. 1882. Pro bono publico.”  The Latin phrase translates as “for the public good,” and in its early years this fountain served the public good as a watering trough for horses.  Given the marked decline in horse traffic on the streets of Monson, though, it has since been used as a decorative planter.