Powers Institute, Bernardston, Mass

The Powers Institute on Church Street in Bernardston, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Massachusetts has long had a strong reputation for its educational system, with public schools dating back to the early days of the colonial era, but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that public high schools became common across the state. Prior to then, public high schools were typically only found in larger cities and towns, but many smaller towns were served by private schools, which were often founded by local benefactors. Here in Bernardston, the Powers Institute was established in 1857, two years after the death of Bernardston native Edward Eppes Powers. In his will, Powers gave the town 100 shares of the Franklin County Bank, which were valued at $10,000. Half of the income from this investment was to be used to support the town’s public elementary schools, while the other half was to be used to open a high school.

This Italianate-style school building was built in 1857 for the Powers Institute, on land that had been donated to the town by other benefactors. It served as a quasi-public high school throughout the 19th century, providing free education for Bernardston residents while charging tuition for out-of-town students. In 1860, Cushman Hall was built on the other side of Church Street, and was given to the town as a boarding house for tuition students. By the 1870s, the cost of tuition was $8 per term (around $180 today), and board was $4 per week, although students also had the option to self-board in furnished rooms that were provided for 35 cents per week.

During its peak in the 1860s, the school had several hundred students per year. However, the enrollment steadily dropped over the next few decades, eventually reaching just 61 students in 1891. By around the turn of the century, it had become more of a standard public school, and the state began subsidizing the tuition of out-of-town students, provided that they lived in a town that was too small to support its own high school. In this new role, the Powers Institute would continue to serve as the town’s public middle and high school for many years, but it finally closed in 1958, when Bernardston students began attending the Pioneer Valley Regional School in nearby Northfield.

After the Powers Institute closed, the old school building became the home of the Bernardston Historical Society, which runs a museum here. It is hard to tell from the first photo because of all the trees in the foreground, but the exterior of the building has not seen any significant changes over the years, and it stands as a rare example of a mid-19th century Italianate school building in the Connecticut River Valley. Because of this, the school building, along with Cushman Hall and the neighboring Cushman Library, is now part of the Powers Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Ira D. Sankey House, Northfield, Mass

The house at 68 Main Street in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The house in 2017:

This house was reportedly built around 1837 as the home of Oliver C. Everett, the pastor of the neighboring Unitarian Church. Everett served as pastor from 1837 to 1848, and during that time his perhaps most notable parishioner was a young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a world-famous evangelist. Born in Northfield in 1837, Dwight was the sixth child born to Edwin and Betsey Moody. However, Edwin died in 1841, and a month later his widow gave birth to twins. Destitute and with nine children to raise, Betsey received assistance from Reverend Everett, who helped her to raise the children and baptized them into his church.

The Moody family attended Everett’s church throughout the remainder of his time here in Northfield. However, he left in 1848, and later served for many years as the pastor of a church in Charlestown. The Moodys also left the church at some point soon after, and young Dwight’s religious education remained rudimentary until, as a teenager, he moved to Boston to work for his uncle in a shoe store. There, he attended church and Sunday school at the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, and was converted to evangelical Christianity, which helped to launch his eventual career as an evangelist.

In the meantime, this former house of Moody’s old pastor had several other owners during the 19th century, but was eventually purchased by Ira D. Sankey, who had an even stronger connection to Moody. Sankey was three years younger than Moody, and had grown up in Pennsylvania. He served in the Civil War, and later found a job with the Internal Revenue Service, but he was also a talented singer. It was this ability that brought Sankey to Moody’s attention, when the men first met at a YMCA in 1870. The evangelist has been in need of a vocalist for his revivals, and Sankey seemed to him like the perfect man for the job.

Not unlike Matthew, who had been a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Jesus, Moody insisted that Sankey leave his lucrative position with the IRS in order to join his ministry. Sankey took six months to decide, but ultimately accepted Moody’s offer. The two men went on to partner together for many years, traveling around the country and to the British isles as part of their evangelistic efforts. During this time, Sankey helped to pioneer the concept of gospel music. Although he did not write many of his own lyrics, he drew heavily from hymns and poetry, and he set them to tunes that were easier for people to sing than traditional church music. He also published a series of songbooks, titled Gospel Hymns, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies throughout the late 19th century.

Moody returned to his hometown in 1875, purchasing a house on the northern part of Main Street in Northfield. Four years later, he opened the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was followed in 1881 by the Mount Hermon School for Boys. Moody was involved on both of these schools for man years, and nearly a century later these two schools would be merged into the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. Sankey also moved to Northfield, along with his wife Fanny, and sometime in the early 1880s they purchased this house in the center of town. They were still living here when the first photo was taken a few years later, and during this time Sankey continued traveling with Moody while also publishing additional volumes of Gospel Hymns. However, the Sankeys later moved to Brooklyn, where he served as president of the Bigelow & Main hymnal publishing company until his death in 1908.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, Ira Sankey’s former home has not seen significant changes to its exterior. The 2017 photo was taken from a slightly different angle, since the tree on the left now blocks the view of the house from the original angle. However, the house still looks much the same as it did in the 1890s, and even the barn in the back is still standing. It is one of the many well-preserved early 19th century homes that still line Main Street, and it is now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Belcher Memorial Fountain, Northfield, Mass

The Belcher Memorial Fountain, at the corner of Warwick Road and Main Street in Northfield, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken within about a year of the installation of the Belcher Memorial Fountain, which was originally placed in the center of Warwick Road, at the corner of Main Street. The 16-foot-tall, 27.5-ton granite fountain was given to the town as a bequest from Mary and Eliza Belcher. The two elderly sisters never married, and were the last living members of the Belcher family in Northfield. They both died in 1907, seven months apart from each other, leaving money to the town to build a fountain here in the center of town, which was dedicated on September 14, 1909.

Aside from the fountain, the first photo shows two buildings in the background on Main Street. On the left is the Unitarian Church, which was built in 1871 to replace an earlier church building that had burned. It was the work of noted Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden, and features a Gothic Revival-style that was popular for churches of the era. Contrasting with the ornate style of the church is the modest Webster Block on the right. This two-story, wood-frame commercial building was built in the late 1800s, and housed a variety of businesses over the years, including a drugstore, a grocery store, a shoe store, and the village post office.

Today, this scene has not changed significantly. Both the church and the Webster Block are still standing, and neither have had any major alterations. The only real change between the two photos is the fountain itself, which was moved a short distance to the south of here in 1960 and now stands next to the town hall. Although originally intended to provide water for horses, as the first photo shows, this purpose became obsolete as cars replaced horse-drawn vehicles. The fountain likely became a hazard to vehicles, since it sat in the middle of the intersection, and it was subsequently replaced with a small traffic island marked by a flashing light.

Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the Northfield Chateau, at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, this mansion was built in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman. He and his wife Mary had begun visiting Northfield in 1890, and originally came here because of evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the nearby Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. After the death of his father in 1900, Francis inherited a considerable fortune, and used it to build this 99-room mansion. He hired noted architect Bruce Price, who designed the house in a Châteauesque style that gave it the appearance of a French castle, complete with plenty of turrets, arches, and other embellishments.

The house was part of a 125-acre estate that Schell owned here in Northfield, and the family regularly visited here for the next 25 summers, until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary outlived him by more than a decade, but she reportedly refused to stay in the house after his death, instead choosing to spend summers at the adjacent Northfield Hotel. The house was eventually acquired by the Northfield School, and was used as an annex for the hotel, as well as a venue for the school’s prom and other events. Along with this, the basement, which had previously been the servants’ quarters, was converted into a youth hostel. It was still owned by the school when the first photo was taken in 1963, but by this point the 60-year-old mansion was in poor condition, and was too costly for the school to maintain. It was demolished later in 1963, and today the site is an open field next to the Northfield Golf Club.

Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass

The Northfield Chateau at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Unlike many other parts of New England, the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts was never a major summer resort destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, the area saw few of the grand hotels and Gilded Age “cottages” that were built in places like Bar Harbor, the Berkshires, Newport, the North Shore, and the White Mountains. However, one of the exceptions was this 99-room Châteauesque mansion in Northfield, which was completed in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman.

Francis Schell and his wife Mary first came to Northfield in the summer of 1890, and stayed at the nearby Northfield Hotel. They originally came because of prominent evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, but the Schells soon fell in love with the town itself. They continued to return each summer, eventually purchasing a summer house. However, Francis’s father, Robert Schell, died in 1900, leaving him with a substantial fortune, and that same year the Schells began planning a massive house here in Northfield.

The house was designed by noted architect Bruce Price, and featured a style similar to his most famous work, the iconic Château Frontenac in Quebec. It would have blended in well in places like Lenox or Newport, but here in Northfield it stood out as garish and ostentatious, in the midst of a small farming community with otherwise modest houses. The house’s size and style did little to endear Schell to the town, nor did the fact that he enclosed his 125-acre estate with a fence to prevent locals from trespassing on the property. Schell did make at least one major contribution to the town, donating the nearby Schell Bridge over the Connecticut River, although even this was rather self-serving, since it gave him direct access from his house to the railroad station across the river.

The Schells spent many summers here in the house, from its completion in 1903 until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary would continue to visit Northfield after his death, although she reportedly stayed at the Northfield Hotel, being unwilling to return to the mansion without Francis. By this point, though, the house had little resale value, despite the extravagance that went in to its design and construction. The grand summer houses of the Gilded Age were falling out of fashion, a trend that was accelerated by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The house was eventually purchased by the Northfield School, and for many years it was used as the venue for the school’s prom, which became known as “The Chat,” after the chateau. It was also used as an annex for the Northfield Hotel, and at one point the basement was converted into a youth hostel. However, it steadily fell into disrepair, and by the 1960s it was becoming too expensive for the school to maintain. The first photo was taken in 1963, as part of a Historic American Buildings Survey study of the building, and it was demolished later in the year, just 60 years after its completion. Today, the site of the house is an open field adjacent to the Northfield Golf Club, which is located on the former site of the Northfield Hotel.

Revell Hall, Northfield, Mass

Revell Hall, near the corner of Main and Moody Streets in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies was founded in 1879 by Dwight Lyman Moody, a prominent Christian evangelist of the late 19th century. Moody was born just up the hill from here, in a house that still stands on Moody Street, and he grew up here in Northfield. As a teenager, Moody moved to Boston in the 1850s, where he worked in his uncle’s shoe store and subsequently converted to the Christian faith. From there, he went on to have a long career as an evangelist, holding revivals across the country and overseas, and becoming a 19th century predecessor to later evangelists like Billy Graham.

Moody returned to Northfield in 1875, purchasing a house on Main Street just to the north of here. Within a few years, he had begun planning for the Northfield Seminary, and in 1878 he and H. N. F. Marshall, a building supply dealer from Boston, purchased this property on the west side of Main Street. The following year, this brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building was constructed on the site. It was named Revell Hall, in honor of Moody’s brother-in-law, the publisher Fleming H. Revell, and it was the first purpose-built school building on the campus. However, since it would not be ready in time for the school’s opening in the fall of 1879, Moody’s house was temporarily used for both classroom and dormitory space, housing the school’s first 25 girls.

Upon completion, Revell Hall was used as classroom building, chapel, and dormitory, but it was soon joined by other building on the campus. H. N. F. Marshall, in his capacity as the school’s treasurer, oversaw the construction of these new buildings, and in 1885 he purchased Revell Hall from the school. He converted it into his house, and that same year he built a carriage house in the rear of the property, which can be seen on the right side of both photos. Over the next few years, he continued to be involved in the school’s growth, contributing his knowledge in construction, as well as his personal wealth, in order to help the Northfield Seminary expand. He would remain here until 1889, when he retired and sold the property back to the school.

The first photo was probably taken only a year or two after Marshall left. By this point, both Revell Hall and the carriage house had been converted into dormitories, and the latter was named Holton Hall in honor of Moody’s late cousin, Fanny Holton, who had been one of the first teachers at the school. Within 20 years, Revell Hall was expanded several times, with additions in 1904 and 1909. Both buildings continued to be used as dormitories until 1962, when Revell Hall was converted into administrative offices and Holton Hall became faculty apartments.

Aside from the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was later named the Northfield School for Girls, Moody also founded the Mount Hermon School for Boys, in the nearby town of Gill, Massachusetts. The two schools were closely connected, but remained separate institutions until 1972, when they finally merged to form the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. The combined schools continued to operate both campuses for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and the school was consolidated at Mount Hermon.

The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which gave it to the National Christian Foundation in 2012. This organization transferred the bulk of the campus to Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, but gave ten of the buildings – including both Revell Hall and Holton Hall – to the Moody Center, which hopes to carry on the legacy of D. L. Moody here on the former campus. Today, despite the early 20th century additions to Revell Hall, neither of these two buildings look much different from when the first photo was taken over 125 years ago, and they stand as well-preserved examples of 19th century school buildings.