Old Burying Ground, Cambridge, Mass

The Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, across from Harvard Yard, around 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The cemetery in 2016:

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Cambridge was first settled in 1631, just a year after Boston, at a location a little further up the Charles River from Boston. Originally given the creative name of Newe Towne, the settlement centered around the Harvard Square area, and this was the town’s only cemetery for nearly 200 years. The first burials here date back  to around 1635, but headstones were not common at the time, so the oldest one still standing is dated 1653.

Most of the headstones here are from the late 17th and 18th centuries, with very few after the early 19th century. Because it was the town’s only cemetery, the burials here represent people from all classes and walks of life. Some of the prominent citizens have more elaborate monuments, such as the table stone in the foreground, which marks the grave of Colonel John Vassall, who died in 1747.

Today, the historic gravestone remains essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken some 117 years ago. In the background is Christ Church, one of two churches that borders the cemetery on either end. It was built in 1760, and although partially hidden by trees in the 2016 scene, it is still standing as one of the few surviving works of prominent colonial architect Peter Harrison.

Matthews Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Matthews Hall at Harvard University, probably around 1872-1890. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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The Gothic architecture of Matthews Hall is very different from the Georgian style of the neighboring Massachusetts Hall, which is some 150 years older. However, they both contribute to the appearance of the Old Yard at Harvard Yard, which includes a variety of historic 18th and 19th century buildings. Matthews Hall was one of the first buildings designed by Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns, and it was completed in 1872 as a dormitory, named for its benefactor, Nathan Matthews.

Today, Matthews Hall is still a dormitory, and like the others at Harvard Yard it is a freshman-only dorm. Over the years it has housed a wide range of notable students, including newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, Nobel laureate physicist Philip Warren Anderson, Senator Chuck Schumer, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and actor Matt Damon.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass (2)

Another view of Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, taken around 1886. Image from Harvard and Its Surroundings (1886).

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The building in 2016:

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As explained in more detail in the previous post, Massachusetts Hall is the oldest building still standing at Harvard, and has housed many notable figures over the years, including future president John Adams. While the previous post shows the south side of the building, this scene is of the north side, with the Johnston Gate partially visible in the distance. The building was originally a dormitory, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted into offices and lecture rooms. Today, the exterior looks the same, as does the section of Matthews Hall visible on the far left. Inside, though, the first three floors are now used for administrative offices, including those of the university president, and the top floor is a dormitory for 14 students. Like the rest of the dorms at Harvard Yard, it is used exclusively for freshman housing.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

This building, which was completed in 1720, is the oldest surviving building at Harvard and the second oldest academic building in the United States. When it opened, it housed 64 students, and some of its colonial-era residents included young future Founding Fathers such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, and James Otis. During the American Revolution it was used as barracks for the Continental Army, with George Washington using Cambridge as his headquarters while laying siege to the British across the river in Boston.

The soldiers caused considerable damage to the interior of the building, and since then it has been substantially renovated several times. In the 1800s, the building was converted into other uses, such as offices and lecture rooms, and then converted back to dormitories in 1924. Then, in 1939, the lower three floors became offices, leaving only the top floor for students. Today, the offices of the Harvard President and other high-ranking administrators are located in Massachusetts Hall, but the fourth floor retains its original purpose as a dormitory, with rooms for 14 freshmen who live here.

Fort Gilbert Monument, West Brookfield, Mass

The Fort Gilbert Monument at the corner of North Main and Winter Streets in West Brookfield, around 1902-1927. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The monument in 2016:

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The town of Brookfield, which originally included present-day North, East, and West Brookfield, was first settled by Europeans in 1660 as the town of Quaboag. At the time, it was in a very isolated location in central Massachusetts, some 25 miles from the towns in the Connecticut River valley and twice as far from Boston and the other towns along the coast. Because of this, it was very vulnerable to an Indian attack, which occurred in 1675 during King Philip’s War. The town was destroyed and abandoned, with many of the settlers moving back to where they had previously lived.

Over a decade later, settlers returned, and this time they came better prepared for potential raids. They built four forts, including Fort Gilbert here in the western part of the town. It included barracks for soldiers and, if necessary during a raid, to house the families of the town, and it was surrounded by a stockade. The fort was still standing during the French and Indian War, although it was far removed from any battles, and some of its remains were still visible well into the 19th century.

Today, any evidence of the fort is long gone, but the site is marked with this simple monument, which was put here around 1900. It is located in a small park next to the West Brookfield Elementary School, on North Main Street just west of the town common.

Union House, Springfield, Mass

The former Union House/Chandler Hotel building on the right side of the photo, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2016:

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The building on the right side of this scene is one of the oldest existing commercial blocks in downtown Springfield, although much of it will soon be demolished as part of the MGM Springfield casino project. When it opened as the Union House in 1846 it was one of the finest hotels in the city, and it was built for Jeremy Warriner, who had previously operated a tavern a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets. His old tavern had been popular in the stagecoach days, but with the opening of the railroad a half mile away, his inconventiently located, colonial-era building faced stiff competition from modern hotels like the Massasoit House.

Here at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets, his new hotel was actually slightly further from the railroad, but it was at least in a modern building. Within a few years, the hotel had attracted some prominent guests, including President James K. Polk, who stayed overnight here in 1847, accompanied by future president James Buchanan, who was Secretary of State at the time. In 1849, author Sara Jane Lippincott, who wrote under the pen name of Grace Greenwood, visited the hotel and later raved about the quality of the meals here, explaining “I am not about to attempt a description of Warriner’s dinner, with their endless succession of delicious dishes, their inimitable sauces, and exquisite puddings and pastry. For this I have neither time nor talent sufficient.”

However, the Massasoit House continued to draw guests with its convenient location next to the railroad station, and “Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Phoebe” Warriner retired from the hotel business a few years later. The building continued to be used as a hotel through several changes in ownership, and by the 1880s it had become Chandler Hotel, a name that would remain until it closed in 1933. During this time, the building was extensively renovated, to the point where very little is left from the original 1846 structure.

The first photo was taken soon after the hotel closed, and at the time the first floor was being used as a drugstore. Most recently, it was the home of Glory Shoes, but the upper floors have been vacant for years and are in poor condition. Most of the building will soon be demolished except for the Main and Bliss Street facades, which will be incorporated into the casino design. As for the other buildings in the first photo, the Metropolitan Furniture Company was one of several furniture companies that were once located in the South End. This building was either demolished or trimmed down to one floor at some point, because there was a one-story commercial building here that was demolished as part of the casino project, along with the one on the far left side of the first photo.