First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, Mass

The First Church at the corner of Longmeadow Street and Williams Street, sometime in 1907. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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It doesn’t look like it at first, but this is the same church building in both photos. In fact, Longmeadow’s First Church of Christ is one of the oldest church buildings in Western Massachusetts, although I’m not sure how much of the original building is still left at this point. Up until 1783, Longmeadow was part of Springfield, and for many years its residents attended church there, nearly four miles away. They finally received permission to build their own church in 1716, which lasted for about 50 years before it was replaced with the present church in 1768.

The church was originally located on the Town Green, but in 1873 it was moved to its present location and drastically remodeled, as seen in the first photo. This Gothic style appearance was popular in the mid-1800s, but by the early 1900s it had fallen out of fashion, so in 1932 it was remodeled again to restore it to a colonial style. I haven’t seen any photos of the church in its original appearance, but it probably still looked a little different than it does now. In particular, the front portico would have been virtually unheard of in New England in 1768; this element was added with the 1932 renovation and modeled after the one on Arlington Street Church in Boston. There are a few features that date back to the early years of the church, though – the bell was cast in 1808 by Paul Revere and recast by him in 1812 after it cracked, and the rooster on top of the steeple is even older than the building itself. Its origins are unclear, but it has watched over the center of Longmeadow since at least 1732.

First Church Parsonages, Longmeadow, Mass

Looking south along the Town Green from Williams Street in Longmeadow, around 1902-1921. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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The first photo shows two of the houses that have been used as the parsonage for Longmeadow’s First Church of Christ, which is located just out of view to the right of the photos. The building in the distance just to the left of center is the Cordis House, which was built in 1832 for Jonathan Condit, the pastor of the church. He briefly lived here, as did the next pastor, Hubbard Beebe, but in 1845 it was sold to Thomas Cordis, whose descendants continue to own the house.

The house on the right side of the first photo was built only 25 years later, but it shows a shift in architectural style from the fairly plain Green Revival design of the Cordis House to the far more decorative Italianate style that became popular in the mid 19th century. This parsonage was built in 1857, and was first occupied by John Wheeler Harding, who served as pastor from 1850 until 1891. Several other pastors lived here before it was moved in 1921 to build the Community House. The old parsonage is now located just to the south of the church, where it has been used as a church school, the residence of the church caretaker, and currently as a Montessori school.

Town Green, Longmeadow, Mass

Facing north on the Town Green in Longmeadow, on July 5, 1903. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The Green in 2016:

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Longmeadow’s Town Green is a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is surrounded by a number of buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. There have been some changes since the first photo was taken, particularly to the church and its parsonage. The church, surprisingly, is the same one from the first photo, just with some significant alterations, and the parsonage is the same building, just in a different location. It is located in about the center of the 1903 photo, just north of Williams Street, but it was moved to the other side of the church around 1921, where it is visible on the far right in the 2016 photo. The large Colonial Revial-style Community House, which was built on the old site of the parsonage in 1921, is the newest building in this scene and the only one that does not appear in the 1903 photo.

Simon Colton House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Simon Colton House, as seen from the Longmeadow town green on September 21, 1918. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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When the first photo was taken almost a century ago, this house was already a historic building, as one of the oldest surviving houses in the town. It was built in 1735 by Simon Colton, who married Abigail Burt a year later. They raised their 12 children in this house, and after Abigail’s death in 1760, Colton married Rebekah Hale. Colton was a prominent resident of Longmeadow, and in addition to serving as a town selectman for nine years and as a captain in the French and Indian War, he also operated a tavern out of the house.

He lived here until his death in 1796, and his son Luther lived here with his wife Thankful and their eight children. Thankful died only a year later, though, and in 1799 Luther remarried to Mehitable Deming, a widow who had four children of her own. She accepted his proposal under the condition that he build her an addition to the house, seen on the right side in this view, where she could go if she needed time away from the 12 children. Luther and Mehitable ended up having two more children of their own, making their household an 18th century version of Yours, Mine and Ours. Luther died in 1804 at the age of 47, but Mehitable lived nearly twice as long, remaining in the house until her death in 1856 at the age of 93.

The house remained in the Colton family for 200 years, until it was transferred to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1935. The organization, which is now Historic New England, has since sold the house, but with the stipulations that the front facade not be changed, and that it remains painted red. Today, the house has not changed much since the first photo was taken 98 years ago, and it is flanked by two other historic buildings. The Justin Colton House on the right, and the 1857 church parsonage, which does not appear in the 1918 scene because it was moved here around 1921, is on the left. All three buildings, along with the rest of the historic buildings around the town green, are part of the Longmeadow Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Incidentally, the Colton House is not the oldest object in the first photo. According to photographer Paesiello Emerson, the elm tree that is partially blocking the view of the house was 300 years old, which, if accurate, would mean that the tree predated even the arrival of the Mayflower. However, it is unlikely to have survived more than a couple decades after the photo was taken, as both the 1938 hurricane and Dutch Elm Disease took a heavy toll on the large elms that once lined the streets of New England.

Thomas Bliss House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Thomas Bliss House on Longmeadow Street, on May 5, 1910. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is so old that it was actually built in Springfield, years before Longmeadow became a separate town. It is one of many historic 18th century homes still standing in Longmeadow, and although its exact date of construction is uncertain, it was built sometime between 1714 and 1758 for Thomas Bliss, on the opposite side of the street. When Bliss died in 1758, his son Henry sold it to Nathaniel Ely, who operated a tavern out of here. It was used as a tavern until 1833 , and was later moved across the street to its present location.

One of the subsequent owners was Dr. Lester Noble, a dentist who played a role in the high-profile 1849 murder of Dr. George Parkman. Along with fellow Longmeadow dentist Dr. Nathan Keep, Noble used dental records to identify Parkman’s badly mutilated body, making it one of the first trials to use dental evidence. Dr. Noble died a few years before the first photo was taken in 1910. At this point, the house was owned by Cora M. Page, and it featured a porch on the front and side, along with several outbuildings behind it. The porch is partially gone now, as are the barns/sheds in the background, but the historic house is still standing, and at possibly 300 years old it is one of the oldest buildings in Longmeadow.

Smith Platt House, Springfield, Mass

The Smith Platt House on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2016:

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Located next to the Lathrop House at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Washington Road, this house was built in 1893 for Smith H. Platt, a Methodist preacher, physician, and author. He was born in Connecticut and spent much of his life in New York City, but by the 1890s he was living here in Springfield and practicing medicine in an office in the house. He wrote several books, including an anti-slavery novel in 1859 entitled The Martyrs, and the Fugitive; or a Narrative of the Captivity, Sufferings, and Death of an African Family, and the Slavery and Escape of Their Son. Much later in life, in 1895, he published The Secrets of Health; or How Not to Be Sick and How to Get Well From Sickness, which provides somewhat dubious remedies for nearly every condition, including taking a teaspoon of turpentine before meals to treat cancer, drinking hydrogen peroxide to treat gangrene, and taking warm baths to treat insanity.

By the 1910 census, Platt was 81 years old and he was living here with his daughter Belle, her husband Leander W. White, and their two sons, Harrison and Gardner. He died two years later, and the White family remained here for many years. Leander was a banker, who by the 1920s was serving as vice president of Chicopee National Bank. Belle, like her father, was a physician, but she died relatively young in the 1920s. Leander and his two sons were still living in this house when the first photo was taken, and he died about 10 years later in 1949. Today, the house is still standing, and along with the surrounding houses it is virtually unchanged from the first photo. Like the rest of the neighborhood, it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.