Varillas L. Owen House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 383 Union Street, at the corner of Mulberry Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, many of Springfield’s upper class residents built fine Italianate homes such as this one, which is located at the corner of Union and Mulberry Streets, on a hill overlooking downtown Springfield. It was built around 1864 for Dr. Varillas L. Owen, a Harvard-educated physician who moved to Springfield in the early 1850s and opened his practice in the rapidly-growing city. He lived here with his wife, Maria Tallant Owen, a Nantucket-born botanist who would go on to achieve fame in the scientific community, particularly with her 1888 work Catalogue of Plants Growing Without Cultivation in the County of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Here in Springfield, she worked at several different schools, teaching botany, French, astronomy, and geography. Along with this, she also served for many years as the president of both the Springfield Women’s Club and the Springfield Botanical Society.

The Owens had two children, Walter and Amelia, who grew up in this house. Walter attended M.I.T. and went on to become an architect, and later moved to New York, where he joined the firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell. Among his works was the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, which was completed here in Springfield in 1896. That same year, he became a partner in the firm, which was renamed Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen, but he died only a few years later in 1902, at the age of 38. In the meantime, Walter’s parents continued living here at this house, long after Walter moved to New York. Varillas died in 1897, and Maria went on to live here for the next 10 years, before moving to Long Island to live with Amelia and her husband, Dr. James Sullivan.

By 1910, the house was owned by Charles H. Barrows, a lawyer and author who lived next door at 375 Union Street, just across Mulberry Street from here. He apparently used this house as a rental property, because during the 1910 census he was renting the house to Cheney H. Calkins, a dentist who lived here with his wife Alice, their son William, and two servants. The family was still living here in 1920, but by the middle of the decade this house was the home of Frederick H. Clodgo, a salesman who lived here with his wife, Charlotte. They were living here as late as 1927, but by 1930 the city directory listed this house as being vacant.

This house appears to have only been sporadically occupied during the 1930s, but around 1936-1937 it was the home of George and Bertha Rand. During this time, they rented rooms to several other people, but they had moved out of here by 1938. The house appears to have been vacant around the time that the first photo was taken, but it has since been restored, and still stands here at the corner of Union and Mulberry Streets. It is probably the best-preserved example of residential Italianate architecture in Springfield, and it forms part of the city’s Ridgewood Local Historic District.

William Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on William Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, sometime around 1902-1915. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

William Street in 2017:

William Street, located in the South End of Springfield, was developed around the middle of the 19th century, as development of Springfield’s downtown area steadily moved southward. The area around this site had once belonged to Alexander Bliss, who operated a tannery on the site. His son, Elijah, inherited his father’s large estate after his death in 1843, and began subdividing the property. The 1851 city map shows a number of buildings here, all owned by Elijah, although the ones in the first photo were probably not built until around the 1860s or early 1870s.

The houses in the first photo were primarily rowhouses, with a larger wooden apartment block further in the distance and a few single-family homes interspersed among the larger buildings. The rowhouses feature Second Empire-style architecture, with the distinctive mansard roofs on the third floor, but their designs also incorporate elements of the earlier Italianate style, such as the curved window lintels and the decorative brackets under the eaves.

The South End has long been home to a variety of immigrant groups, many of whom were living here when the first photo was taken in the early 20th century. The 1910 census shows many different working-class residents living here in apartments and lodging houses, including French-Canadian and Irish immigrants along with native-born Americans. The house on the right side, for example, was a lodging house that was owned and operated by Abbie E. Neale, a 49-year-old widow who also owned the smaller house behind it. She rented the property to 14 lodgers, which included a mix of single people and married couples who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. They held a variety of working-class jobs, including several painters, a hotel bellman, a cotton mill spinner, and a machine shop laborer.

Around the corner on William Street, the three brick rowhouses on the left side of the photo were rented by three French-Canadian families during the 1910 census. The house closest to the camera, at 169 William Street, was rented by Ovide and Elmina Bouley, immigrants from Quebec who lived here with their infant daughter and Elmina’s father. The middle house was rented by Onesime Grise, a 65-year-old French-Canadian widow who lived here with her brother-in-law, three of her sons, her widowed daughter-in-law, and her young grandson. Furthest from the camera, the last of the three rowhouses was rented by another French-Canadian widow, 58-year-old  Alphonsie Archambeau. According to the 1910 census, she had 12 children, only one of whom was still alive. This child, 17-year-old Eva Tatro, was living here at the time, as were three lodgers who rented rooms from Alphonsie.

In the years after the first photo was taken, the South End shifted from predominantly French-Canadian to Italian, a legacy that remains in the neighborhood today, with many Italian restaurants, shops, and bakeries. However, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing here. The brick ones in the foreground appear to have been demolished prior to the late 1930s, because they were not among the buildings photographed as part of the 1938-1939 WPA project. The wooden apartment building in the distance was still standing at the time, but it has also since been demolished, and today this side of William Street is now primarily vacant lots, with a parking lot here at the corner.

Central Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on Central Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

Central Street in 2017:

In the 1880s, Springfield acquired the sobriquet of the “City of Homes,” thanks to the city’s abundance of fine single-family homes. Because such homes were the predominant residential construction of the 19th century, rowhouses were comparatively scarce, and were only built in a few parts of the city. Aside from a few small groups of homes on Temple and Maple Streets, only Mattoon and Central Streets have rowhouses in significant numbers, and this block of Central Street has, by far, the longest unbroken row of these homes.

In general, these rowhouses are less ornate than the ones on Mattoon Street, but they were built around the same time, over the span of about 10 years in the 1870s and early 1880s. They have similar Second Empire-style architecture, with two lower floors and a mansard roof on the third floor, and the western half of the block was built by B. F. Farrar, the same mason who was responsible for some of the homes on Mattoon Street.

The earliest of these houses are the five in the foreground, which were built in 1873 by Farrar. That same year, a financial panic hit the country, leading to a significant drop in demand for new houses, but despite the recession Farrar built nine more identical rowhouses in 1875, directly adjacent to his original five. The eastern half of the block, further in the distance, was built in 1882, and generally matches the design of Farrar’s original homes. However, many of the newer homes have bay windows, which contrast with the flat front facade of the earlier homes.

Although the entire south side of Central Street became a continuous set of rowhouses, the north side was never developed in a similar way. When the first photo was taken, the left side was lined with single-family homes, many of which would later be demolished to build a factory for the Springfield Knitting Company. This factory has, in turn, since been demolished, and today only one 19th century home still stands on the left side of the street.

Unlike the left side of the street, the right side of this photo has remained remarkably unchanged, 125 years after the first photo was taken. All of the historic rowhouses are still standing, after having been restored in the mid-1970s. The only significant change to this side of the street is the building on the far right, at the corner of Main Street. Known as The Central, this five-story Classical Revival building was built in 1908, with four stores on the first floor and 27 apartments on the upper floors. Like the neighboring rowhouses, the apartment building was restored in the 1970s, and it is still standing, with few changes from its original exterior appearance.

Samuel Bowles House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 182 Central Street in Springfield, probably sometime around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Italianate-style home was built in 1853, along the slope of Ames Hill near the corner of Maple and Central Streets. It was designed by Henry A. Sykes, an architect from Suffield, Connecticut, whose other Springfield works included the Mills-Stebbins Villa on nearby Crescent Hill, and it was originally owned by Francis Tiffany, the pastor of the Church of the Unity. Reverend Tiffany had become the pastor of the church in 1852, and he would go on to serve the congregation for the next 12 years. He and his wife Esther lived in this house throughout this time, and by the 1860 census they were living here with four young children.

In 1864, Tiffany left the church to take a position as an English professor at Antioch College in Ohio, and he sold the house to Samuel Bowles, who was a friend of his and one of the most influential men in the city. He was the son of Samuel Bowles II, a journalist who had founded the Springfield Republican as a weekly newspaper in 1824. The younger Samuel was born two years after the paper started, and began working alongside his father when he was 17. Around the same time, the Republican became a daily newspaper, and after his father’s death in 1851, Samuel took over control of the paper, when he was just 25 years old.

By the time Samuel Bowles and his wife Mary moved into this house, the Republican was one of New England’s leading newspapers, and as the name of the paper suggested, it generally supported Republican, anti-slavery policies before and during the Civil War. Bowles was also a friend of Emily Dickinson, and he published several of her poems in the Republican. These poems, which were heavily edited in order to conform with conventional poetic styles, were among the very few that were ever published during her lifetime, as most of her nearly 1,8000 poems were discovered and published posthumously.

Samuel and Mary Bowles raised ten children in this house, although during this time he frequently traveled. He suffered from poor health, which was attributed to over-working, so because of this he took a number of trips to the American West and to Europe in the 1860s and early 1870s, often publishing accounts of his travels. However, he died in 1878, at the age of 51, and the responsibility of running the newspaper fell to his son, Samuel Bowles IV, who was 26 years old at the time, just a year older than his father had been when he took over the paper in 1851.

By the end of the 19th century, the house had become part of the MacDuffie School, which had been founded in 1890 by John and Abby MacDuffie as a school for girls. The Bowles house became the school’s main classroom building, but over time the campus expanded, eventually encompassing many of the historic mansions on and around Ames Hill. The house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but in 1978 the school requested permission from the Historical Commission to demolish the house, claiming that it was in poor condition and that the land was needed for tennis courts. The Commission ultimately granted the request, and despite a court challenge by local preservationists, the house was demolished in 1980. However, the tennis courts were never built, and the site of the house remains vacant nearly 40 years later.

George W. Kyburg House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 6 Ames Hill Drive in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Ames Hill Drive is a short cul-de-sac street that was developed in the 1920s, at the top of the hill on Maple Street. It is located on the lot that had once belonged to David Ames Jr., and the street runs behind his former mansion, which still stands on Maple Street. There are only a few houses on Ames Hill Drive, but they were home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents. This particular one was built in 1927 for George W. Kyburg, a businessman who was the treasurer of the Package Machine Company. Like many of the other mansions of early 20th century Springfield, it has a Tudor Revival style, and it was designed by Max Westhoff, who was one of the city’s leading architects of the era.

During the 1930 census, George was living here with his wife Ellen and two servants, but he died just a year later, after living in this house for only about four years. By the following year, Ellen had sold the house to Harry H. Caswell, the general manager of W.F. Young, Inc. He served in this role from 1919 to 1956, during which time the company specialized in the horse linament Absorbine, as well as Absorbine Jr., which was made for human use. Caswell moved into this house with his wife Estelle and their daughter Patricia, although Estelle died only a few years later in 1934. He and Patricia were still living in the house when the first photo was taken, and he remained here until his death in 1964 at the age of 81.

Like many of the other mansions along this part of Maple Street, the house was eventually acquired by the MacDuffie School, as part of its campus. In 1974, it also became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has survived as an excellent example of Tudor Revival architecture. However, the MacDuffie School moved out of Springfield after the 2010-2011 school year, and on June 1, 2011 the entire campus was heavily damaged by a tornado, including this house. The damage to this house has since been repaired, though, and today it is part of Commonwealth Academy, which now owns the former MacDuffie campus.

Lewis E. Tifft House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 225 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Tudor Revival-style home was built in 1927 for Lewis E. Tifft, an investment banker who lived here with his wife Frances and their daughter Evelyn. A graduate of Williams College, Lewis had established the Tifft Brothers firm with his brother Charles in the early 20th century. He left the firm to serve in France during World War I, but after the war he returned to Springfield and continued working as a banker. During this time, he and Florence lived on Ridgewood Terrace, but they subsequently purchased this property near the top of the hill on Maple Street, and hired Boston-based architect John Barnard to design this house.

The Tiffts were still living here a decade later when the first photo was taken, and they would remain here for many years, until Frances’s death in 1961 and Lewis’s death in 1968. The property was then given to the adjacent MacDuffie School, a private school whose campus encompassed many historic mansions on the upper part of Maple Street. In 1974, the house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and it continued to be used by the MacDuffie School until 2011, when the school relocated to Granby. That same year, the school buildings were heavily damaged by the June 1 tornado, but the Tifft House has since been restored, and it is now part of Commonwealth Academy, which is located on the former MacDuffie campus.