Wells Fountain, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Wells Fountain, at the corner of Putney Road and Linden Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Wells Fountain has been a feature here in the center of Brattleboro since 1890, when it was given to the town by William Henry Wells, a New York businessman who had grown up in Brattleboro. The fountain was originally located about 20 feet from here, but it was moved to its current site in 1906. The first photo appears to have been taken shortly before this move, because the photo shows it closer to the street than it is now, so the original location was probably on the far left side of the present-day photo.

The fountain was the the work of William Rutherford Mead, a noted architect who, like Wells, was a Brattleboro native who moved to New York as an adult. Mead was a cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes, whose family also had roots in Brattleboro, and he was a partner in the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Mead did not have the same architectural genius of his two partners, Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White, and he designed few works on his own. Instead, his talents were as an office manager, serving as a stable, practical-minded counterbalance to the more fanciful McKim and White. Under his leadership, the firm became one of the country’s leading architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, with commissions such as the Boston Public Library, the Rhode Island State House, and Penn Station, along with many other public buildings and Gilded Age mansions.

The original location of the fountain marked the spot where Mead’s older brother, Larkin Mead, had created an eight-foot-high snow sculpture in 1856. The Recording Angel, as it was called, stood here for about two weeks, and the subsequent publicity helped to launch his career as prominent sculptor. He would later go on to design works such as the statue atop the Vermont State House, a statue of Ethan Allen in the United States Capitol, and the statues on Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. He died in Florence, Italy in 1910, and his grave was topped with a replica of his original Recording Angel sculpture.

Today, the Wells Fountain still stands here at the corner of Linden Street and Putney Road, although its surroundings have changed significantly. The trolley tracks in the foreground of the first photo are long gone, as are many of the surrounding buildings. The land just up the hill behind the fountain was once privately owned, with a house that once stood just out of view to the right. However, this land is now a small public park in front of the courthouse, and part of the foundation of the old house can still be seen on the far right side of the present-day photo.

George J. Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vermont

The George J. Brooks Library on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

George Jones Brooks was born in 1818 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but when he was three years old his family relocated to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, directly across the river from Brattleboro. He grew up there, and subsequently worked at a store in Brattleboro, before heading west around the age of 20. He first settled in Hillsboro, Illinois, where he was a farmer for about 12 years. Then, in 1850, he joined the thousands of other young men who were flocking to San Francisco after the discovery of gold in California.

Unlike most of the other migrants, though, Brooks was not looking to get wealthy through gold, but rather through paper. His brother, Horace Brooks, was a wholesale paper manufacturer in New York, and he suggested that George open a business in San Francisco. Like almost every other commodity, paper was in short supply in the still-primitive boomtown, and in later years Brooks would tell of times when every scrap of paper on the west coast was located in his store. This scarcity, combined with his virtual monopoly, earned him significant profits, and by the time Brooks left the paper business in 1862 he had become a wealthy man.

Brooks eventually returned to Brattleboro, where he built the elegant Brooks House hotel, which still stands just a little south of here. Then, in 1885, he purchased the former Francis Goodhue House here on Main Street, in order to build a library on the site. The old house was soon demolished, and construction began on the first permanent home of Brattleboro’s public library, which had previously been located in the Town Hall. Upon completion, the building was presented to the town as a gift, but unfortunately Brooks did not live to see it finished; he died on December 23, 1886, just weeks before the dedication ceremony.

Like many other public buildings of the era, the George J. Brooks Library featured Romanesque Revival architecture. It was the work of Maine architect Alexander Currier, and the building was actually larger than it appears in the first photograph. As built, the front section included a ladies’ reading room on the right side, a men’s reading room on the left, and a vestibule and lobby in the center. The library itself was located in a large wing on the rear of the building, which was nearly the same size as the front section, and included the main floor plus a balcony. The basement originally housed a natural history museum, but this was later converted into a children’s library.

It did not take very long for the library to outgrow the original space, though, and in the early 20th century it was expanded with a large addition in the rear. Following this expansion, it continued to be used for many years, but by the 1960s the building was again overcrowded, and the adjacent post office wanted the property in order to build a parking lot. So, a new Brooks Memorial Library building opened just to the north of here in 1967, and the old building was demolished four years later. The parking lot is still here today, and the only surviving remnant from the first photo is the First Baptist Church on the far left, which is still standing on the other side of the Masonic Lodge.

Francis Goodhue House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Francis Goodhue House on Main Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1870-1885. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1815, and was originally the home of Francis Goodhue, a businessman who had previously lived in Swanzey, New Hampshire, and Weathersfield, Vermont. In 1811, when he was about 43 years old, Goodhue moved to Brattleboro, which at the time was still a small town of fewer than 2,000 residents. He built this house a few years later, and went on to become a prominent local figure. He had a wide variety of business ventures, and was also involved in a proposed canal that, if constructed, would have linked Brattleboro New Haven by way of Northampton, Massachusetts.

An 1880 biographical sketch in Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont describes how Goodhue “carried on a wool-carding, cloth-dressing, saw and grain mill, cotton spinning, distilling, and a large store of such goods as were sold from country stores at that time. He was also erecting a building of some kind every year, and largely, at the same time, engaged in farming, yet his note was never worth less than 100 cents on the dollar.”

Francis Goodhue lived here with his wife Mary and their three children: Joseph, Lucy, and Wells. In 1834, Francis gave this house to Joseph, and he and Mary moved to a house across the street, where they lived until Francis’s death in 1839 and Mary’s death a decade later. In the meantime, Joseph lived here in the old family home with his wife Sarah until his death in 1862. Sarah outlived Joseph by more than two decades, and was presumably still residing here until she died in 1883, at the age of 87.

The first photo was probably taken during Sarah’s lifetime or soon after her death, because around 1885 the house was demolished by businessman and philanthropist George Jones Brooks, in order to build a public library on the site. Brooks had grown up in the Brattleboro area, but made his fortune as a merchant in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Later returning to Brattleboro, he built the landmark Brooks House hotel in 1871, and in 1885 began work on a permanent home for the town’s public library. Brooks was the older brother of Mary E. Goodhue, whose husband was Francis J. Goodhue, the son of Joseph and Sarah, so Brooks likely acquired the property through this connection.

The George J. Brooks Library was dedicated in January 1887, only a few weeks after its benefactor’s sudden death, and it was used as the Brattleboro public library for about 80 years. However, by the 1960s the building was overcrowded, and the neighboring post office needed the room to expand. As a result, in 1967 the current library building was completed just to the north of here, and the old building was demolished in 1971. Today, there are no surviving traces of either the Goodhue House or the library that had replaced it, and the site is now a parking lot for the post office, which can be seen on the right side of the photo.

Jonathan Hunt House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The house near the northwest corner of Main and High Streets in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was the home to a number of notable Brattleboro residents throughout the 19th century, starting with Jonathan Hunt, Jr., a lawyer and politician who served several terms in Congress. Born in 1787 in the nearby town of Vernon, Hunt was the son of Jonathan Hunt, Sr., the first lieutenant governor of the state of Vermont. The elder Hunt was one of the early settlers of Vermont, arriving in the area in the mid-18th century, and he became the patriarch of a prominent family.

The younger Jonathan Hunt was an 1807 graduate of Dartmouth College, and subsequently became a lawyer here in Brattleboro. At some point in the early 19th century, he built this elegant house here on Main Street. It was reportedly the first brick house to be built in the area, and Hunt lived here with his wife, Jane Leavitt, who came from a prominent family in Suffield, Connecticut. The Hunts raised their five children here, and Jonathan went on to have a successful political career, serving in the state House of Representatives in 1811, 1816, 1817, and 1824, before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826. He was re-elected two more times, and served in Congress until 1832, when he died from cholera while in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Hunt’s death left Jane with five young children, all under the age of 10. Soon after his death, Jane and the children left this house, moving first to New Haven before going to New York and then to Boston. In the subsequent decades, three of her sons would go on to achieve fame as artists. The oldest, William Morris Hunt, was a prominent painter in Boston, while his brother, Richard Morris Hunt, was one of the most celebrated architects of the Gilded Age, designing mansions such as The Breakers and Marble House in Newport, along with the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The youngest child, Leavitt Hunt, was an attorney like his father, but he also became a noted photographer, and during an 1851-1852 tour he took some of the earliest photographs of the Middle East.

Later in the 19th century, this house was owned by George Howe. Like Jonathan Hunt, he was also a Vernon native who went on to become a lawyer and politician. He was an 1847 graduate of Harvard Law School, and later that year he was admitted to the bar and began his practice here in Brattleboro. From 1858 to 1860, he served as state’s attorney for Windham County, and from 1861 to 1864 he was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont. He also served in the Vermont state Senate from 1874 to 1875, and was a delegate to the 1876 Republican National Convention. He moved out of Brattleboro in 1880, after being appointed to a position in the Pension Department, and he died eight years later in Vernon.

By the time the first photo was taken around the early 1890s, this house was owned by yet another prominent Brattleboro resident, Colonel George W. Hooker. A Civil War veteran, Hooker was 23 years old when he enlisted as a private at the start of the war. However, he quickly rose through the ranks, and by the end of the war he was a lieutenant colonel. During this time, he was noted for his heroism in combat, particularly at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap in 1862, when he single-handedly captured 116 Confederate soldiers at one time. He had been riding ahead of his men, and stumbled into the midst of the Confederate unit. Despite being alone, he demanded the colonel’s surrender, who complied and gave Hooker his sword, and Hooker was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Later in the war, Hooker was badly wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, where he was shot five times. However, he recovered from his wounds, and after the war he resumed his peacetime occupation as a traveling salesman. Then, in 1876 he moved to Brattleboro, where he began a career in politics. He was Governor Redfield Proctor’s chief of staff in 1878, a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880, and the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1881 to 1883. He also served in the Vermont state House of Representatives, and he lived here in Brattleboro until his death in 1902.

Despite its connection to many important Brattleboro residents, this house was demolished sometime in the early 20th century, and the property was redeveloped for commercial use. The current buildings on this site date back to 1929, so the house was probably demolished shortly before then. However, there is one building that remains from the first photo. On the far right is the First Baptist Church, which was completed in 1870, just to the right of the Hunt-Howe-Hooker House. It is still standing today, although from this angle it is mostly hidden by buildings and trees.