Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The former Second Bank of the United States, on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

The establishment of a national bank was one of the most controversial economic matters in the early years of the United States government, pitting Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton against Democratic-Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, who generally represented urban and northern interests, favored a strong central government in order to promote trade and industry, while the Democratic-Republicans, who were primarily southern and rural, saw such a government as a threat, instead preferring a decentralized, agrarian-based economy.

Over the objections of prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the First Bank of the United States was established in 1791. At the time, the national capital was here in Philadelphia, with Congress meeting in Congress Hall, adjacent to Independence Hall. As a result, the bank was also headquartered in Philadelphia, where it operated out of Carpenters’ Hall until 1797, when a new bank building was completed nearby on South Third Street. The national government subsequently relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1800, but the bank remained in Philadelphia, and it continued to operate until 1811, when its twenty-year charter expired and Congress declined to renew it.

The country was without a national bank for the next five years, but in 1816 Congress authorized a new bank, the Second Bank of the United States. Ironically, this legislation was signed into law by President James Madison, who had come to recognize the need for a national bank after his earlier misgivings about the First Bank. Like its predecessor, the Second Bank was privately owned yet subject to government oversight, and its important roles included regulating public credit and stabilizing the national currency. This was particularly important in the years during and after the Madison administration, as the country recovered from the War of 1812 and began a series of ambitious internal improvements.

As with the First Bank, the Second Bank was located in Philadelphia, and it began operations in 1817. It also used Carpenters’ Hall as its temporary home, but in 1824 the bank moved into this newly-completed building on Chestnut Street. Designed by noted architect William Strickland, it features a Greek Revival exterior that is modeled on the Parthenon, with a pediment and eight Doric columns on both the north and south facades. This was an early example of Greek Revival architecture in the United States, and this style subsequently became very popular across the country in the next few decades, particularly for government and other institutional buildings.

By the time the building was completed in 1824, the bank had already faced significant criticism for its role in the Panic of 1819, the first major financial crisis in American history. Although part of a larger worldwide recession, it was also a consequence of the lending practices here at the Second Bank of the United States. Along with its role as the national bank, it also made loans to corporations and private individuals, and during its first few years it extended too much credit to borrowers. Then, in an effort to correct this, the bank began restricting credit, causing a nationwide rise in interest rates and unemployment, and a drop in property values and prices of farm produce. This ultimately triggered a financial panic in 1819, which was followed by an economic recession that lasted for several years.

The bank’s first two presidents were largely ineffective, but in 1823 Philadelphia native Nicholas Biddle became the bank president. He oversaw a slow but steady expansion of credit, along with an increase in banknotes, and during his tenure he managed to rehabilitate the bank’s image in the general public. This building on Chestnut Street opened about a year into his presidency, and he would continue to run the bank here for the next 12 years, until it closed in 1836 after its charter expired.

During these years, the bank — including its 25 branches across the country — played an important role in the nation’s economic growth. However, despite the bank’s success, it continued to generate controversy, becoming a central political issue during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. First elected in 1828, Jackson had a distrust of banks in general and the Second Bank of the United States in particular. He was skeptical of both paper money and lending, and he also opposed the bank on constitutional grounds. Echoing the earlier opposition to the First Bank, he argued that, as the Constitution does not explicitly authorize Congress to establish a national bank, it was an infringement upon the rights of the states.

In 1832, Congress approved a renewal of the bank’s charter, which was due to expire in four years. However, Jackson vetoed the bill, and Congress was unable to gather enough votes to override it. A year later, Jackson removed federal deposits from the bank and placed them into various state banks. Biddle subsequently made another effort to renew the charter, but despite his financial abilities he lacked strong political skills, and the bank’s charter ultimately expired in February 1836.

The bank itself did not close at this time, instead becoming the United States Bank of Philadelphia, with Nicholas Biddle still at the helm. However, the lack of a national bank soon became a factor in the Panic of 1837, which led to a seven-year recession. It was the worst economic crisis until the Great Depression, and it triggered a number of bank failures, including the United States Bank of Philadelphia. At the start of the recession, it had been the largest bank in the country, yet it ultimately went bankrupt in 1841.

A year later, Charles Dickens came to Philadelphia as part of his 1842 trip to the United States. He had few positive things to say about the country in his subsequent book, American Notes for General Circulation, and he painted a particularly bleak picture of the scene here at the old bank building with the following description:

We reached the city, late that night. Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.

The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits.

As it turned out, the building did not remain vacant for very long. In 1845, it became the U. S. Custom House for the port of Philadelphia, and it was used in this capacity for far longer than it was ever used as a bank. It was still the Custom House when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, and this continued until 1934, when the present Custom House opened two blocks away. Then, in 1939, the old building was transferred to the National Park Service, which has owned it ever since.

The building has seen several different uses over the past 80 years, but it currently houses the Second Bank Portrait Gallery. It features a number of portraits by prominent late 18th and early 19th century artist Charles Willson Peale, including those of many important colonial-era leaders, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Most of the interior has been heavily altered since its time as a bank, although the exterior has remained well-preserved, with few changes from its appearance in the first photo. It is now part of the Independence National Historical Park, and in 1987 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (2)

The Hotel Rockingham on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1895-1904. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this building dates back to 1883, when it was constructed by local businessman Leverett T. Lovell. Initially, it was used for retail and office space, but in 1895 it opened as the Hotel Rockingham. In these early years, much of the hotel’s business was from railroad travelers, as Bellows Falls was a busy railroad junction, and the hotel was located just a short walk from the passenger depot. However, the hotel also served long-term guests and boarders, with perhaps the most famous being Wall Street financier and Bellows Falls resident Hetty Green, who spent three or four weeks here during the summer of 1907.

Over time, the Hotel Rockingham eventually became primarily a rooming house, and it fell into decline by the mid-20th century. It finally closed in the 1960s, but it was later rehabilitated as the Canal House, with commercial storefronts on the ground floor and low-income elderly housing on the upper floors. This project included the restoration of the original hotel building, along with a large, six-story addition on the rear of the building, facing Canal Street.

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, not much has changed here on the Rockingham Street side of the hotel. It has survived a number of major fires that destroyed nearby buildings, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century hotel building. Several of its neighbors are also still standing further in the distance, including two wood-frame commercial buildings that were constructed around 1870. The only major addition to this scene since the first photo was taken is the fire station on the far right side of the present-day photo, which was built in 1904. All of these buildings, including the Hotel Rockingham itself, are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (1)

The Hotel Rockingham, on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1900-1920.  Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The building in 2018:

This building was constructed in 1883 by Leverett T. Lovell, a local businessman whose name is still visible in the slate shingles of the mansard roof. It originally housed a mix of commercial tenants, and an 1885 map shows that it was occupied by a harness shop, a print shop, two millinery shops, and a dentist’s office. However, in 1895 the building became the Hotel Rockingham, as shown in the first photo, which was probably taken within about a decade or two after the hotel opened.

Not long after the hotel opened, manager Lewis T. Moseley, faced legal trouble as a result of the state’s prohibition laws. Long before nationwide Prohibition, Vermont became one of the first states to outlaw the sale of liquor in 1853, and these laws remained in effect throughout the rest of the 19th century. They were not often consistently enforced, though, and violations were evidently common. Here at the Hotel Rockingham, Moseley sold illicit liquor, but in December 1895 he was charged after several students at nearby Vermont Academy admitted to drinking here. The hotel was raided again just two weeks later, and officers discovered and seized several gallons of whiskey. However, Moseley argued that this was the same liquor that he had before the previous incident, and that he had not sold any since then and was planning on returning it to his supplier. This defense was apparently persuasive, because the court subsequently ordered the whiskey to be returned to him.

Aside from selling illegal alcohol to local students, the Hotel Rockingham was also popular as a railroad hotel. At the time, Bellows Falls was an important railroad junction, and many travelers stayed here, thanks to its proximity to the railroad station on the other side of the canal behind the hotel. However, the hotel also had some long-term guests, with the 1900 census showing six boarders who resided here. All were either single or divorced, and their occupations included two barbers, a veterinary surgeon, a dressmaker, and a railroad brakeman. In addition, eleven hotel employees lived here in the building, including a clerk, porter, chef, pastry cook, kitchen worker, three waitresses, two laundrywomen, and a young man who did “general work,” presumably as some sort of handyman.

A few years later, in 1907, the hotel had a particularly wealthy boarder in Hetty Green, the famous miser and financier who was the richest woman in America during the early 20th century. She owned a house nearby on Church Street, but during the summer of 1907 she and her daughter Sylvia spent about thee or four weeks living here at the Hotel Rockingham, rather than opening their house for a relatively short stay in town.

The Hotel Rockingham remained in operation throughout the first half of the 20th century. The village of Bellows Falls was hit by a number of catastrophic fires during this period, which destroyed many important downtown buildings, yet the hotel survived these threats. One such fire occurred on February 16, 1911, when a nearby store caught fire. The blaze spread from there, destroying three buildings and damaging two others, including the Rockingham. However, the damage was limited to $1,500, which was fully insured, and the hotel was soon repaired. Another major fire threatened the hotel on January 19, 1920. It began in a laundry at 63 Rockingham Street, and it destroyed two houses and a theater, causing about $75,000 in damage. The Hotel Rockingham was evacuated, but it sustained only minor damage from the flames.

Over time, the hotel fell into a decline, eventually becoming a rooming house before closing in the 1960s. However, the building was subsequently restored and expanded, with a six-story addition on the rear of the building facing Canal Street. Now known as the Canal House, it is a mixed-use property with commercial tenants on the first floor, and affordable housing for the elderly on the upper floors. From this view, very little has changed on the exterior besides the addition, and it stands as an important historic building in the village center, Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Robertson Paper Company, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Robertson Paper Company on Island Street in Bellows Falls, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the village of Bellows Falls was a thriving papermaking center, thanks to its position at a 52-foot drop in the Connecticut River. In 1802, a canal opened here, bypassing the falls and allowing riverboats to travel further upstream. Over time, this river traffic waned, but by mid-century the canal had been repurposed as a power canal, and a number of paper mills were built here.

Much of the industrial development was located on “the island,” a roughly 35-acre piece of land located between the river and the canal. This particular factory was built in 1891 for C. W. Osgood & Son, which produced papermaking machinery. The main floor of the building housed the machine shop, while the lower level, shown here in the foreground of this scene, was the company offices. The company went through several name changes, and over the next decade it was variously known as Osgood & Barker Machine Company and Bellows Falls Machine Company.

Then, in 1902, the owners of the Robertson Paper Company purchased the Bellows Falls Machine Company, and within a few years they had converted this building into a waxed paper factory. During the early 20th century, Robertson was one of the country’s leading producers of waxed paper, and this facility was steadily expanded with the construction of new buildings. By 1920, around the time that the first photo was taken, the factory included new buildings for shipping, storage, and the production of paper boxes, in addition to the original building here in this scene, which made the waxed paper.

The Robertson Paper Company remained in business here for many years, outlasting most of the other industries in Bellows Falls and becoming one of Vermont’s oldest paper manufacturers. However, the company ultimately closed in 1987, after more than 80 years here at this site. The factory buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and from 1992 to 2014 a portion of the property was used by another paper company.

The condition of the buildings steadily deteriorated over the years, though, with little maintenance or improvements. The town of Rockingham acquired the property in 2014, and by this point the buildings had missing bricks, lost mortar, rotting timbers, water damage, and deteriorating and collapsing roofs, along with other structural problems. The complex was still standing when the second photo was taken during the summer of 2018, but the buildings were ultimately demolished in the spring of 2019. The site is currently vacant, but it is slated for a redevelopment project involving a new commercial and industrial building here.

Brown Block and Elks Block, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The buildings at the northeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, around 1890-1905. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, downtown Bellows Falls suffered a series of devastating fires, many of which were located here at the Square. Many large brick buildings here, including the nearby Hotel Windham and the town hall on the other side of the street, have burned over the years. Ironically, though, the three wood-frame buildings visible in this scene have survived these fires, and they are still standing at the northeast corner of the Square, well over a century after they were built.

On the far left is the corner of a three-story commercial block that was built around 1820 and extensively modified in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, around the time that the first photo was taken, it was the home of Baldasaro’s Fruit Market. Just to the right of this building is the Exner Block, which is partially visible in this scene at 7-25 Canal Street. Built around the mid-19th century, it originally had two stories as shown in the first photo, but in 1905-1907 it altered and expanded to its current appearance.

The third wood-frame building here is the Brown Block, which occupies most of the left side of these photos. It was built in 1890 at 1-5 Canal Street, and it was originally owned by Amos Brown. It features distinctive Queen Anne-style architecture, which is uncommon for commercial buildings in Bellows Falls, including a turret on the right side of the building.

The Brown Block was heavily damaged by a fire that occurred here in the early morning hours of Christmas 1906. At the time, the building was occupied by a number of commercial tenants, including a fruit store, bakery, lunch room, a boot and shoe store, a cigar shop and restaurant, and a barber shop. In addition, there were several residents living in apartments on the upper floors. The fire gutted the Brown Block, but there was no loss of life, and the building was ultimately repaired.

Just to the right of the Brown Block is the Elks Block, which was built in the late 1880s or 1890s. By the time the first photo was taken it had a variety of tenants, as shown by the assortment of signs on the front of the building. These included a restaurant, a boot and shoe store, a drugstore, and a photographic studio. However, like its neighbor, this building would also be damaged by a fire. It was one of several buildings that burned on March 26, 1912, in the same fire that also destroyed the Hotel Windham. The building was gutted and the roof was destroyed, but it was subsequently rebuilt.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene still looks largely the same. The exterior of the Brown Block is particularly well-preserved, and even the ground-floor storefront has retained its original appearance. The two lower floors of the Elks Block also look the same today, although the ornate cornice at the top of the building is gone, having been replaced after the 1912 fire. The exterior of the third floor was also probably rebuilt after the fire, which would explain why the bricks are a different shade than the lower floors. Aside from the Brown Block and Elks Block, the other two buildings in this scene are also still standing today, and all four properties are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Bellows Falls Stage House, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Bellows Falls Stage House, at the northeast corner of Bridge Street and the Square in downtown Bellows Falls, around the 1840s or 1850s. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, Bellows Falls was the site of the first bridge across the Connecticut River, at a spot just to the east of here, where the river passes through a narrow gorge. The bridge opened in 1785, and by the early 19th century the village occupied an important position along the major trade routes from Boston to Montreal and other points to the north. This led to several different hotels here in the center of the village, in order to serve the stagecoach traffic that passed through here.

Among these hotels was the Bellows Falls Stage House, shown here in the first photo at the corner of Bridge Street and the Square. It was constructed by Colonel Ethan B. Webb and Solomon Snow in 1816, and it was known as Webb’s Hotel. However, they sold it just four years later to John Robertson, and it became Robertson’s Hotel. It would see several more name and ownership changes in the first half of the 19th century, but it was most commonly known as the Stage House, because of its popularity as a stop on the stagecoach routes.

The hotel originally had two stories, but a third story was added in 1834 after Colonel Russell Hyde purchased the property. According to the 1907 book History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont, the first photo was taken around this time, but this is highly improbably, since daguerreotypes were not even invented until 1839. In all likelihood, it was probably taken sometime around the late 1840s or early 1850s. The same book also names the people who are sitting on the front porch in the photo, as identified by Colonel Hyde’s daughter. These identifications probably came many years after the photo was taken, and may or may not be accurate, but according to the book they are, from left to right, “Hon. William Henry, Judge Horace Baxter, William ‘Fred’ Hall, Col. N. T. Sheafe and the boy ‘Jimmie’ Mead.

The last owner of the Stage House was Charles Towns, who purchased it in July 1859. He did not have it for very long, though, because it was destroyed in a fire on March 14, 1860. It began in a nearby drugstore, and it spread throughout much of the village center, burning a print shop, the post office, a lawyer’s office, and several stores, along with the hotel and its stables. It caused an estimated $40,000 in damage, about $1.1 million today, but there was evidently no loss of life in the fire.

Charles Towns later built a new, much larger hotel on this site. Originally known as the Towns Hotel, and later the Hotel Windham, it opened in 1873. However, it also suffered from a series of fires, burning in 1899, 1912, and 1932. After the last fire, the ruins were completely demolished. A new Hotel Windham was completed here in 1933, and it still stands here today. Although no longer in use as a hotel, it remains an important commercial block in the center of the village, and it is a contributing property in the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.