Main Street, Laconia, NH (2)

Looking north on Main Street from the bridge across the Winnipesaukee River in Laconia, probably in 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Main Street in 2016:

This scene is a perfect example of urban renewal gone horribly wrong. What had once been a vibrant downtown with a variety of 19th century architecture was completely leveled in the 1960s, and it was replaced with nondescript one-story commercial buildings to the left and a parking garage on the right. Even the streets themselves were dramatically changed, with bizarre traffic patterns and an extremely narrow, one-way street here that looks more like a back alley than a Main Street.

The first photo is far more interesting than the present-day scene, and it was probably taken around the same time as the one in this earlier post, which shows the same view from about 150 yards further up Main Street. Some of the downtown businesses in this view include several drugstores, hardware stores, tobacco shops, and confectioneries, along with a photographer, tailor, paint store, sporting goods store, baker, harness maker, and a horse shoer. There are several advertisements posted on the building on the left side of the photo. One of them is a poster for the Cole Bros. Circus on Tuesday, July 23, which helps to establish the 1907 date since that day was a Tuesday in 1907. Below it is a larger advertisement for Folsom Opera House, which reads: “A Genuine Treat. The most perfect Moving Pictures ever examined. All the latest and best films including the funny chase pictures and animated pantomimic dramas. Wonderful Realism.”

Most of the buildings from the first photo were still standing by the 1950s, as seen in a photo on this Weirs Beach website. However, nothing in the block between Beacon and Pleasant Streets is still standing today, and most of the buildings further in the distance are also gone, although some were demolished before the 1960s redevelopment. The Eagle Hotel at the corner of Main and Pleasant Streets was demolished in the 1930s, and the Unitarian Church across the street from it, whose steeple is visible near the center of the photo, was destroyed by a fire in 1938. At least one brick building, barely visible on the left side near the center of the photo, is still standing. Nearly 250 yards away from the camera, this is the only identifiable building left from the 1907 scene along this section of Main Street.

Halfway House, Mt. Washington, NH

The Halfway House on the Mount Washington Carriage Road in New Hampshire, around the 1870s. Image courtesy of the Mount Washington Auto Road.

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The scene in 2016:

Mount Washington is the tallest peak in the northeastern United States, and it has been a popular tourist destination since the mid-19th century. By the end of the 1860s, the mountain had a hotel at the summit, along with both a cog railway and a carriage road to bring visitors to the top. The nearly eight-mile long carriage road opened in 1861, and this small building along the side of the road served an important purpose for early travelers. Known as the Halfway House, it was located about four miles up the road, hence the name, and it was used as a toll house. It was also a good resting place during the four-hour carriage ride up the mountain, and when necessary its location just below the treeline made it a refuge from the unpredictable and often dangerous weather in the alpine zone.

The building in the first photo was later replaced with a more substantial two-story structure. This one served the same purpose as the original, but over time it suffered from vandalism because of its isolated location, and it was finally destroyed by a fire in 1984. Today, the carriage road is now the Mount Washington Auto Road, and aside fro cars replacing horses, not much has changed about the road, which still follows the same route that was laid out in the 1850s. The drive to the summit now takes about 30 minutes, and while the Halfway House no longer stands here, the site is still used as a stopping place. It is no longer necessary to rest horses here, but the climb is still taxing for cars, so the site here is used by drivers heading up the mountain to cool their radiators, and by those heading down to cool their brakes.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library (3)

The hallway at the top of the grand staircase at the McKim Building, in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2021:

Designed like a Venetian arcade, this hallway connects the grand staircase on the left side with Bates Hall, the library’s main reading room, on the right side. Like the rest of the area around the staircase, this hallway was decorated with a mural by French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. When the first photo was taken, the poetry murals on the left side had not yet been added, but the large mural on the right had already been installed. It features the nine Muses who, in Greek mythology, provided inspiration for literature, science, and art, and the entire work was collectively given the title of “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.”

The first photo was taken before all of the finishing touches, such as the murals on the left and the light fixtures, were added. Otherwise, very little has changed here, and this scene, along with the rest of the building, still retains the splendor that it had when it first opened over 120 years ago. As mentioned in earlier posts, the building was the combined effort of architect Charles McKim and many prominent artists, and it set the standard for public libraries that was later followed in places like New York City.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library (2)

Another view of the grand staircase at the McKim Building, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The staircase in 2021:

The previous post shows this same staircase from the opposite side. Each side has a lion statue by Louis Saint-Gaudens, the younger brother of prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also did work here at the Boston Public Library. As mentioned in the previous post, the staircase also includes nine murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, with the title of “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.” The three panels here focus on poetry and feature three ancient Greek poets, with Virgil on the left representing pastoral poetry, Aeschylus in the middle for dramatic poetry, and Homer on the right for epic poetry. Not much has changed here since the first photo was taken, although the lamp has moved from the corner on the left side in the first photo to the right side in the 2021 view.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library

The grand staircase at the McKim Building, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The staircase in 2021:

The main branch of the Boston Public Library is a work of art. With the architecture of Charles McKim, the sculptures of Augustus and Louis Saint-Gaudens, and murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and John Singer Sargent, the building combines the work of some of the world’s finest visual artists of the late 19th century. This marble staircase is one of the centerpieces of the building, which was completed in 1895. Years before the New York Public Library had its iconic lion statues, the Boston Public Library had its two lions here, which were sculpted by Louis Saint-Gaudens. The one in this view is a memorial to the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from the Civil War, and the one on the other side of the staircase is for the 2nd Regiment.

Along with the lion sculptures, the grand staircase features nine murals by French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, entitled “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.” The three murals visible here are, from left to right: Philosophy, Astronomy, and History. Overall, not much has changed in this scene over the past 120 years, with the grand staircase remaining as impressive as it was when the building was first opened to the public.

Bates Hall, Boston Public Library (3)

The marble doorway in Bates Hall at the McKim Building, in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The view in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous two posts here and here, Bates Hall is the main reading room at the Boston Public Library, and the first photo here shows the room shortly after the building opened. Architect Charles McKim designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style, with features such as this carved marble doorway, with the balcony above it. The two marble busts that flank the doorway are the same in both photos, although at some point in the past 120 years they were moved to opposite sides of the doorway. They are actually several decades older than the building itself; the one on the left in the 2016 photo is of Joshua Bates, the hall’s namesake, and the one on the right is of Boston author George Ticknor. Not much else has changed here, except for newer books on the shelves and different chairs, and the room remains one of Boston’s architectural treasures.