First Church, Deerfield, Mass

The First Church of Deerfield on Old Main Street, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

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The church in 2020:

Deerfield’s Old Main Street is a remarkably well-preserved New England village, with a number of historic homes and other buildings dating back to the 18th and early 19th centuries. The entire village is included in the Old Deerfield Historic District, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the most prominent buildings in the district is the First Church of Deerfield, also known as the Brick Church. Although not as old as many of the nearby homes, the church has been at the center of the village for nearly 200 years.

It was built in 1824 and designed by architect Winthrop Clapp, although it was virtually a copy of the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, which had been built in 1819 about three miles away. The Greenfield church had been designed by Isaac Damon, whose other works included churches in Springfield, Northampton, and Southwick. Although he did not actually design the Deerfield church, his influence is still evident, and it bears a strong resemblance his other churches.

Damon’s Greenfield church has long since been demolished and replaced with the present-day building, but the Deerfield church is still standing. Its interior was restored to its original appearance in 1916, and today the building still houses an active Unitarian-Universalist congregation. The brick exterior has remained essentially the same as it was when it was built, and its surroundings have also changed very little, with the village still retaining its appearance as a small, colonial-era community.

Old State House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Old State House in Hartford, seen from the Main Street side around 1907, during its time as Hartford City Hall. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The Old State House in Hartford is one of the oldest existing buildings in the city. It was completed in 1796, and its design is generally credited to prominent architect Charles Bulfinch as one of his early commissions. Just a few years later, he would design the present Massachusetts State House, and he would later play a role in designing the US Capitol.

At the time, Connecticut actually had two capital cities, with the legislature meeting alternately between Hartford and New Haven. It may seem somewhat unusual for one of the smallest, most densely-populated states in the country to have two capital cities, each complete with its own capitol building, but the arrangement was not unheard of. Similarly-sized New Jersey had two capitals in colonial times, and, not to be outdone despite its small size, Rhode Island had five capitals in the early 19th century, with the legislature rotating through each of the state’s five county seats.

Here in Connecticut, ease of transportation thanks to railroads meant that it was unnecessary to have redundant capitals just 35 miles apart, but the location of the capital city still carried significant symbolic value. In the end, Hartford won out over New Haven. In 1875, it was designated as the sole capital city, and three years later a new, much larger capitol building was completed at Bushnell Park.

When its days as a capitol ended, the old building became Hartford City Hall. It served in this role until 1915, when the current Municipal Building was completed. Since then, it has been threatened with demolition several times over the years, but it remains standing as a relic of Connecticut’s history, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

South Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut

The South Congregational Church at the corner of Main and Buckingham Streets in Hartford, around 1911. Image from Some Old Time Meeting Houses of the Connecticut Valley (1911).

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The church in 2016:

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Hartford’s Second Church of Christ was established in 1670 following a disagreement over how the First Church should be governed. The new congregation built their own meeting house at the corner of Main and Sheldon Streets in the southern part of downtown Hartford, and in 1754 they relocated to a new building at present-day Buckingham Street, where George Whitefield preached the first sermon in it.

The current church building was completed in 1827, with a blend of Federal and Greek Revival architecture that is very similar to the First Church building, which was built in 1807 about a third of a mile north of here on Main Street. Like the First Church, this historic building is still standing, with few changes to the exterior over the years. The nearly 350 year old congregation, now known as the South Congregational Church, still meets here, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Photo from author’s collection; gift of Barbara Shaffer.

 

The church in 2015:

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The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.

John Avery House, Springfield, Mass

The John Avery House at the corner of Main and Union Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

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This brick commercial building at the corner of Main and Union Streets does not look particularly noteworthy, but it is actually one of the oldest buildings still standing on Main Street, although it hides its age very well. It was built around 1825 as the home of John Avery, a blacksmith who lived here for almost 50 years until his death in 1874.In 1898, as this section of Main Street became more commercial, the building was expanded all the way to the edge of Main Street, with storefronts on the first floor.

When the first photo was taken, the original house was still largely intact and clearly visible. However, the rear section was demolished by around the 1970s, and in 2011 much of the house, including the original roof, was destroyed by the tornado that passed through the South End. Today, the only visible remnant of the old house from this angle is the wall on the Union Street side of the building, which includes a single window and a doorway.

First Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston

The First Harrison Gray Otis House, on Cambridge Street in Boston, on October 23, 1911. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The house in 2015:

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At the end of the 1700s, Cambridge Street was lined with the homes of wealthy Bostonians, including lawyer and politician Harrison Gray Otis. His house was designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1796 while Otis was serving as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. Later that year, he was elected to Congress, where he served two terms in the House of Representatives.

The house is an excellent example of Federal architecture, designed by one of the most prominent American architects of the era, but Otis only lived here for less than five years. In 1800, Bulfinch designed a second home for him, on Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill, but again he only lived there for a few years before moving into his third and final Bulfinch-designed home in 1806, on Beacon Street across from Boston Common. Likewise, Otis changed jobs almost as frequently as he changed houses. After two terms in the House of Representatives, he served in the Massachusetts state legislature from 1802 to 1817, including as the state Senate President for several of those years. From 1817 to 1822, he served in the U.S. Senate, and then from 1829 to 1832 he finished his political career as the mayor of Boston.

All three of his houses are still standing today, but the first one here on Cambridge Street has seen a number of changes, as the two photographs show. During the 19th century it became a boarding house, and a one-story addition was built for storefronts. Other more minor alterations included the removal of the original Palladian window and the lunette window above it, and the addition of dormers on the roof, a storm porch at the front door, and a bay window on the second floor.

A few years after the first photo was taken, the house was purchased by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which is now called Historic New England. They restored it and undid many of the 19th century alterations, and in 1924 the house was moved back 40 feet to its current location to allow for Cambridge Street to be widened. Since then, it has been restored further, and aside from serving as Historic New England’s headquarters, it is also open to the public as one of their many historic house museums. It is next to another historic landmark, the Old West Church, which was built just a few years after the house and can be seen on the right side of both photos.