St. Stephen’s Church, Pittsfield, Mass

St. Stephen’s Church at the corner of East and Allen Streets in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The church in 2016:

As seen in a previous post, St. Stephen’s Church is one of several historic 19th century buildings at Park Square, in the center of downtown Pittsfield. The Gothic Revival church was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston firm of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Completed in 1890, it replaced an earlier Episcopalian church that had been built on virtually the same spot in 1832, the same year as the old town on the left side of the scene. The town hall has survived to the present, but the old church had to be demolished to build Allen Street, seen in the center of the photos.

When the first photo was taken, St. Stephen’s Church was just a few years old. More than 120 years later, most of its surroundings, except for the old town hall, are different, but not much has changed with the church itself. The building underwent a restoration in 1999, which included repairs to the stained glass windows that had been designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast. The church is still in use as an active Episcopalian parish, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thomas Colt House, Pittsfield, Mass

The Thomas Colt House at 42 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The house in 2016:

This house was built in 1866 by Thomas Colt, an industrialist who was, at the time, one of the largest paper manufacturers in the state. In 1856, he had purchased a paper mill on the eastern edge of Pittsfield, in the neighborhood that later became known as Coltsville. The business was soon successful, and a decade later he built his house here. It had a prime location just a short walk away from downtown Pittsfield, and the 15-room Italianate mansion cost an estimated $40,000 for him to build.

Unfortunately for Colt, he did not get to enjoy it for very long. The nation’s economy, particularly in the north, was booming in the years following the Civil War. However, it was followed by the Panic of 1873, which caused a serious economic recession. Many wealthy businessmen lost their fortunes, including Thomas Colt, whose factory soon closed. By 1874, he was a half million dollars in debt – over $10 million today – and he died two years later.

The house was subsequently owned by Alexander Joslin and his family, and later by Simon England, a businessman who owned the England Brothers store in Pittsfield. In 1937, he donated the home to the Women’s Club of the Berkshires, and this organization became, by far, the house’s longest owner. They remained here until 2011, and sold the house the following year. It is now the Whitney Center for the Arts, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (3)

Facing north across Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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Park Square in 2016:

It is hard to tell in the present-day photo because of the trees, but all three of these historic buildings on the north side of Park Square are still here today. In the center is Pittsfield’s old town hall, a plain brick Federal-style building that was completed in 1832. After Pittsfield became a city in 1891, it remained in use as city hall until 1968, when the city government moved a few blocks away to the old post office.

The old town hall is flanked on either side by stone Gothic Revival churches, both of which were designed by prominent architects. To the left is the First Church, which was designed by Leopold Eidlitz and built in 1853 on the site of an earlier 18th century church building. On the other side is St. Stephen’s Church, designed by the Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns. Although architecturally similar to the First Church, it is significantly newer, having been completed in 1889.

Today, all three of these buildings are well-preserved and relatively unchanged from when the first photo was taken. The two churches are both still in active use, and the old town hall is now an office building for the Berkshire Insurance Group. In 1975, the buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building at the corner of North and West Streets in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The building in 2016:

This building at the heart of downtown Pittsfield was built in 1868 as the home of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company. It was designed by Louis Weissbein, the same architect who would later design the courthouse on the opposite side of Park Square. Like the courthouse, this building once had a mansard roof, which was common in Second Empire architecture. However, while these buildings are still standing, both have undergone significant renovations that have, among other things, removed the original roofs.

When the first photo was taken around 1900, the Berkshire Life building still looked essentially the same as it had when it was completed. However, in 1906 it was expanded in the back, along the West Street side of the building. Just a few years later, the building grew again, when two stories were added to the original section in 1911, replacing the old mansard roof in the process. Both of these additions matched the original architecture, although the new roof gives the building more of a Renaissance Revival appearance than Second Empire.

Today, the building is one of many historic 19th century buildings that surround Park Square. The interior was damaged by fire after a gas explosion in 1970, but the building survived and was restored. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and later became part of the Park Square Historic District.

Van Sickler’s Mill, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking upstream on the east branch of the Housatonic River, from the Dawes Avenue bridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

Pittsfield is located at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Housatonic River, and for several centuries these two waterways have helped develop industries in the city. The first mill dam in Pittsfield was built on the east branch, a little further upstream of here near the present Elm Street bridge. It was in existence by 1778, when Ebenezer White leased it and used it to operate a sawmill. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, though, riverfront property would be in high demand for large-scale industrial uses.

In 1832, a group of businessmen, including Samuel McKay and Curtis Fenn, purchased the dam and the property downstream of it. That same year, the building in the first photo was completed, and was used as a cotton mill. It went through several ownership changes over the years, starting in 1839, when it was purchased by Thomas F. Plunkett. He removed the old dam and built one closer to the factory, as seen in the first photo. Along with this, he expanded the building and increased the workforce to 100 employees, enabling the mill to produce around 1.5 million yards each year.

A year later, in 1840, Martin Van Sickler became an overseer in the mill, and steadily worked his way into ownership. He purchased a quarter interest in the company in 1849, and after several ownership changes his percent of the company increased until 1867, when he became the sole owner. However, by the late 1800s Pittsfield’s textile industry was already in decline. The cotton mill closed in 1883, and Van Sickler found himself $70,000 in debt. He sold the building, which was subsequently used for other industrial purposes, and Van Sickler died eight years later, penniless and homeless.

Although no longer a cotton mill, the old building was still in use when the first photo was taken. In 1930, while being used by Dale Brothers Laundry, it was gutted by a fire, nearly a century after it first opened. Today, a corrugated sheet metal building stands on the site. The old 1845 dam is also gone. It was removed in 1966 to improve drainage and to avoid sludge buildup, and the Housatonic River now flows freely through this scene, with hardly a trace remaining of the mill that once stood here.

Irving House, Dalton, Mass

The Irving House at the corner of Main Street and Curtis Avenue in Dalton, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

The small town of Dalton, located just east of Pittsfield in the Berkshires, has long been a major papermaking center. Dalton’s largest employer is Crane & Co., a paper company that has been based here for over two centuries. Crane supplies the US government with the paper used to print the nation’s currency, and has done so since the 1870s, when Winthrop M. Crane, the son of the company’s founder, first obtained the contract.

Papermaking was not Winthrop Crane’s only business venture, though. In 1888, he and his brother Zenas opened a hotel here, named the Irving House. It was located in the center of town, just a short walk from the paper mill, and like many hotels of the era it housed temporary guests as well as long-term residents. The 1880s was a good time to build a hotel here. Not only was the Berkshires a popular summer destination, but also the growth of Crane & Co. had resulted in a dramatic increase in Dalton’s population. This, in turn, meant more visitors and residents to stay in their hotel.

The original Irving House burned down in 1894, but the Cranes apparently rebuilt quickly, because the hotel in the first photo was standing here by the end of the 19th century. By this point, Winthrop Crane had become a prominent figure in state politics. He served as lieutenant governor from 1897 to 1900, and then served three one-year terms as governor from 1900 to 1903 before finishing his political career as a US Senator from 1904 to 1913.

Zenas Crane died in 1917, and Winthrop in 1920, but the Irving House remained in operation for many more years. By the early 1950s, it was purchased by Crane & Co., who renamed it the Crane Inn. It was marketed as an “early American inn,” and it was in business until the mid-1960s. However, it was demolished in 1966, and a bank was subsequently built on the site.