St. Stephen’s Church, Boston

Looking north on Hanover Street in Boston, with St. Stephen’s Church in the center of the scene, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show the view looking north on Hanover Street from about the corner of Tileston Street, in Boston’s North End. The most prominent building here in this scene is St. Stephen’s Church, which is located directly opposite the Paul Revere Mall. Although it is currently a Roman Catholic church, it was constructed in 1804 as a Congregational church. It was originally known as the New North Church, as opposed to the more famous Old North Church less than 200 yards away, and it was the work of prominent architect Charles Bulfinch, who was responsible for designing many important buildings in early 19th century Boston.

This church was built around the same time that Unitarian theology was causing divisions within Congregational churches across New England. In 1813, New North became Unitarian, as did a number of other Congregational churches in Boston. That same year, 25-year-old Francis Parkman became its pastor. He would go on to serve the church for the next 36 years, and he was also the father of Francis Parkman Jr., who went on to become a noted historian and writer.

By the mid-19th century, the demographics of the North End had changed. As new, more desirable neighborhoods were developed in other parts of the city, affluent North End residents had steadily left the area. These largely Protestant, native-born residents were replaced by Irish Catholic immigrants, who settled in large numbers here in the North End. With its congregants leaving the increasingly crowded and impoverished neighborhood, the New North Church was ultimately sold in 1862 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, becoming St. Stephen’s Church.

The church building subsequently underwent some changes, including alterations to the original cupola. In 1870, it was moved back 16 feet when Hanover Street was widened, and it was also raised six feet on a new, higher foundation, in order to create a lower level. The interior was also modified, and it saw further changes after being damaged by fires in 1897 and 1929.

The first photo shows the church, and its surroundings on Hanover Street, around the turn of the 20th century. By this point, the North End was no longer predominantly Irish. Instead, the neighborhood was filled with newer immigrant groups, particularly Italians, and the North End was well on its way to becoming known as Little Italy. However, some of the Irish parishioners maintained their connections to St. Stephen’s Church, including John F. Fitzgerald, who was a congressman and mayor of Boston. His daughter Rose – the mother of John F. Kennedy – was baptized here in 1890, and her funeral was held here 104 years later, in 1995.

Out of the five churches that Charles Bulfinch designed in Boston, this church is the only one that survived into the 20th century. By the 1960s it was also one of his few remaining churches anywhere, and it was recognized for its historic and architectural significance. From 1964 to 1965, it underwent a major renovation, which included lowering the building to its original level and restoring the cupola. The interior was also restored during this time, although it is somewhat different from Bulfinch’s original plans.

Today, St. Stephen’s Church is still an active Roman Catholic parish, and the restored building stands as an important architectural landmark in the North End. The surrounding streetscape has seen some changes since the first photo was taken around 120 years ago, with the most obvious being the three buildings on the right side, which were constructed around 1905. Overall, though, this scene has maintained the same scale since the late 19th century, which still consists primarily of four-story brick commercial blocks, and the North End remains a remarkably well-preserved section of Boston.

Congress Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The view looking west on Chestnut Street, toward the corner of 6th Street in Philadelphia, around the late 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The building on the left side of this scene is Congress Hall, which stands just to the west of Independence Hall on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Although smaller and less well-known than its neighbor, this building played an important role in the early history of the United States government, housing Congress for ten years from 1790 until 1800, when the national capital moved to Washington, D.C.

Philadelphia had been the de facto capital city throughout the American Revolution, with the Continental Congress meeting in Independence Hall from 1775 until 1783. However, Congress fled the city in 1783, after being threatened by a mob of soldiers who were demanding payment for their wartime service, and it subsequently met in Princeton, Annapolis, and Trenton, before eventually moving to New York City in 1785. New York served as the capital for the next five years, but Pennsylvania’s inability to protect Congress from rioters had convinced the federal government that it needed a capital city that was not within any state.

In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which established Washington, D.C. as the permanent national capital, but designated Philadelphia as a temporary capital for the remainder of the 18th century. The building here on the left side had been completed a year earlier, in 1789, and it was originally intended as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. It was the work of architect Samuel Lewis, and its brick exterior reflected Federal-style architecture, which was popular during this period, particularly for public buildings. On the interior, the entire ground floor was occupied by the House of Representatives chamber, while the second floor housed the smaller Senate chamber, along with several other rooms.

Congress convened here for the first time on December 6, 1790, and the building went on to serve as the national capitol for the next decade. These were important formative years in the nation’s history, and Congress Hall was the site of many historic events. George Washington’s second inauguration was held here in 1793, in the Senate chamber on the second floor, and it was here that he gave his inaugural address. At just 135 words in length, it remains the shortest inaugural address in presidential history. John Adams was also inaugurated in this building four years later, although the ceremony was held downstairs in the House chamber, and it featured a much longer address by Adams.

During its time in this building, Congress passed a number of important pieces of legislation. The First Bank of the United States, the Post Office, the United States Mint, and the Navy were all established here, and the states of Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee were admitted to the Union here, becoming the first states added to the country after the original thirteen. The 1791 liquor tax, which incited the Whiskey Rebellion, was passed here, as were the similarly controversial Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Several treaties were also ratified by the Senate here, including the Treaty of Madrid, the Jay Treaty, and the Treaty of Tripoli. In addition, the Bill of Rights, which had been submitted to the states in 1789, was ratified by the requisite number of states in 1791, and was formally added to the Constitution here at Congress Hall.

This building was last used by Congress on May 14, 1800, and six months later Congress convened in Washington, D.C. for the first time. Here in Philadelphia, Congress Hall reverted to its originally intended use as a county courthouse, and the nearby Supreme Court building – which was completed in 1791 with an exterior that was nearly identical to Congress Hall – became the Philadelphia City Hall. Both buildings were subsequently threatened with demolition in the late 19th century, but this was never carried out, and Congress Hall was restored between 1895 and 1913. Upon the completion of this project, the building was rededicated by President Woodrow Wilson, who gave a speech here on October 25, 1913.

Congress Hall was the oldest building in this scene when the first photo was taken, and it is also the only one that has survived to the present day. Just beyond it, on the other side of 6th Street, was a Second Empire-style commercial block that was completed in 1867 as the offices of the Public Ledger newspaper. This was demolished in 1920, and it was replaced by a new building for the newspaper, which spanned the entire length of the block. The Public Ledger has been defunct since 1942, but its former office building is still standing here in the background of this scene.

Today, Congress Hall is part of the Independence National Historical Park, which was established in 1948. From this angle, the exterior has not changed much since the first photo was taken some 150 years ago, although the interior is very different, thanks to the turn-of-the-century restoration project. The building is now open to the public, with National Park Service rangers providing free guided tours of both the first and second floors.

Lyceum, New Haven, Connecticut

The Lyceum, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo was the work of noted photographer William Henry Jackson. Although best known for his late 19th century views of the American West, Jackson later became the president of the Detroit Publishing Company, a leading postcard company of the turn of the 20th century. During his time with the company, he continued to photograph sites around the country, including a visit to New Haven around 1901, where he took the first photo, showing the Old Campus of Yale University.

The dramatic changes at Yale during the late 19th century have been discussed in earlier blog posts, but perhaps no view better illustrates this transition than the first photo, which contrasts the old, soon-to-be-demolished Lyceum on the right, and the new Phelps Hall on the left. The Lyceum was built in 1803 as part of the Old Brick Row, a group of seven brick buildings that once comprised most of Yale. It was originally designed as a recitation hall, but it also served other functions over the years, including housing the school library from 1804 until 1824. In addition, the building received several distinguished visitors in the early 19th century, including the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 and President Andrew Jackson in 1833.

In 1870, Yale adopted a new campus plan, which called for new buildings along the perimeter of the Old Campus, and a quadrangle in the center. The Old Brick Row stood in the middle of this proposed quadrangle, so the old buildings were steadily demolished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to clear the site. By the time the first photo was taken, many of these buildings were already gone, including North Middle College and the Second Chapel, which had stood in the foreground before being demolished in 1896.

The Lyceum was still standing when the first photo was taken, although the modest Federal-style building looked very out of place in a setting that was otherwise dominated by large, Gothic-style buildings. These included Phelps Hall on the left, which was completed in 1896 with a design that resembled a medieval gatehouse. To the right of Phelps Hall was Welch Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1891, and in the distance on the far right side was Vanderbilt Hall, another dormitory that was built three years later.

The Lyceum was ultimately demolished in 1901, along with the nearby North College. This left South Middle College, which was located directly south of the Lyceum, as the only remaining building from the Old Brick Row. It too was threatened with demolition in the early 20th century, but it was ultimately preserved, undergoing a major restoration in 1905. Although hidden from view behind the Lyceum in the first photo, it is now visible on the right side of the scene in the 2018 photo. Renamed Connecticut Hall, it now stands as the oldest building on the Yale campus, and it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Jonathan Mix House, New Haven, Connecticut

The house at 155 Elm Street in New Haven, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This section of Elm Street features a row of three historic houses that date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Furthest in the distance, at the corner of Temple Street, is the brick Ralph Ingersoll House, which was built in 1829. To the left of it is the 1767 John Pierpont House, which is one of the oldest houses in New Haven, and closest to the foreground is the 1799 Jonathan Mix House. Together, these three homes are among the few survivors of Quality Row, a term that was once given to the many fine mansions that lined Elm Street along the northern end of the New Haven Green.

Jonathan Mix, the original owner of the house in the foreground, was a New Haven native who was born in 1753. He served in the American Revolution, and spent time as a prisoner of war on the notorious British prison ship Jersey, before returning to New Haven at the end of the war. He and his wife Anna raised a large family, with ten children who were born between 1778 and 1797, at least one of whom died young. Anna died in 1799 at the age of 40, and the following year Jonathan married his second wife, Elizabeth, with whom he had one child.

This house was evidently built around the time of his second marriage, but it does not seem clear how long Jonathan Mix actually lived here. One Mix family genealogy from 1886 indicates that he “lived in the house on Elm street . . . now occupied by Dr. Carmalt” [175 Elm Street], and that he “built the house now owned by Eli W. Blake” [here at 155 Elm Street]. This probably suggests that Mix lived at present-day 175 Elm Street until around 1799, and then moved into this house upon its completion. However, he would not remain in New Haven for much longer, because in 1808 he relocated to New York, where he died in 1817.

As mentioned in the description from the Mix genealogy, this house was later owned by Eli Whitney Blake. He was a nephew of inventor Eli Whitney, but Blake was also a noted inventor in his own right, with innovations such as a mortise lock and a stone-crushing machine. The latter was a particularly important contribution to 19th century America, because it enabled the construction of paved roads. Blake also had connections to the Mix family, which may have been how he acquired this house. His older brother, Elihu Blake, married Jonathan Mix’s youngest child, Adeline, and one of their children was William Phipps Blake, a prominent geologist who also wrote the 1886 Mix genealogy book.

The 1870 census shows Blake living here with his wife Eliza and their son George. His occupation was listed as “Inventor of the Stone Crusher,” but at the time he was also involved with Blake Brothers, a hardware manufacturing company in the New Haven neighborhood of Westville. Among their many products was an early corkscrew, which had been invented by his brother Philos. By this point, Eli was a fairly wealthy man, and the 1870 census values his real estate at $20,000, plus a personal estate of $10,000, for a net worth equivalent to about $600,000 today.

Eliza died in 1876, and Eli continued to live in this house until his death in 1886, at the age of 91. The house was subsequently owned by his daughter Mary, who lived here with her husband George Bushnell, a Congregationalist minister. He died in 1898, but Mary was still here during the 1900 census. She lived until 1916, but in 1901 she sold the property to the Graduate Club, a New Haven social club that had been founded in 1892.

The first photo was taken sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, as part of a WPA survey to document historic buildings across Connecticut. Not much has changed since then, and all three of these historic Elm Street homes are still standing. The other two homes are owned by Yale, but the Jonathan Mix House continues to be used as the clubhouse for the Graduate Club, although the organization was renamed the Elm City Club following a 2012 merger with the Quinnipiack Club.

Ira Atwater House, New Haven, Connecticut

The building at 218-224 College Street, at the corner of Crown Street in New Haven, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The building in 2018:

This large Federal-style house was built around 1817 as the home of Ira Atwater, a local architect, builder, and carpenter. He evidently built the house himself, and its completion coincided with his marriage to Roanna Buckingham. The couple would go on to have ten children, and Ira had a successful career as a builder, which included constructing the historic First Congregational Church in nearby Guilford. However, he died in 1849 from injuries he sustained after falling from the roof of his house. Historical records do not specify whether he was living at this same house at the time, although it seems likely that he was.

At some point around the early 20th century, the house was converted into commercial use, and the ground floor was altered with the addition of two storefronts. By the time the first photo was taken, the building was occupied by Phillips Restaurant on the left and Star Shoe Repair on the right, and a sign above the front door advertises for “Rooms,” suggesting that the upper floors were used as a boarding house. Many of these rooms were likely occupied by Yale students, as the campus lies just a block north of here.

Today, not much has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken. Despite the ground floor alterations, the Federal-style architecture of the house is still easily recognizable, and it is one of the oldest surviving homes in this part of downtown New Haven. It stands adjacent to another historic home, the Thomas Merwin House, which was built around 1840 on the right side of the scene. Its ground floor has likewise been altered over the years, but the two upper floors have survived intact. Both of these houses are now contributing properties in the Chapel Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

United Church, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

The United Church, at the corner of Temple and Elm Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, the United Church – also known as the North Church – was completed in 1815. It was the second in a row of three churches that were built along Temple Street on the New Haven Green, and it featured Federal-style architecture that was very similar to the neighboring Center Church, which had been built a year earlier. However, unlike Center Church, which had been designed by two of the most influential early 19th century architects, United Church was evidently designed by Ebenezer Johnson, Jr., a local shoemaker who was a member of the congregation. Noted architect David Hoadley is generally credited with overseeing the construction, though, so he may have had a hand in the final design as well.

The United Church itself predates the construction of this church by nearly 75 years, with the origins of the congregation dating back to 1742. At the time, New England was in the midst of the Great Awakening, causing a rift between the “New Lights,” who were influenced by the preaching of men such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, and the “Old Lights,” who were wary of the ongoing revival. The New Lights of New Haven ultimately separated from the First Church in 1742, forming the White Haven Church, with a meeting house that was located a block away from here, at southeast corner of Church and Elm Streets.

Probably the most prominent early pastor of the church was Jonathan Edwards the Younger, who was the son of Jonathan Edwards. He was installed in 1769, but this decision proved controversial, and many members left and formed a new church, known as the Fair Haven Church, and constructed a meeting house here at the site of the current church. These two congregations remained separate throughout Reverend Edwards’s tenure, but he left in 1795, and the churches were reunited the following year as the Church of Christ in the United Societies of White Haven and Fair Haven. This rather unwieldy name was eventually simplified, and was variously to as either the United Church or the North Church, given its location at the northern end of the Green.

Following the reunification, the congregation worshiped in both meeting houses, alternating on a monthly basis. This arrangement continued for some time, but by the early 1810s the church had seen significant growth, and the old buildings were in poor condition. As a result, in 1813 construction began on a new brick church, which was built on the site of the former Fair Haven building. Twenty church members were involved in the actual construction work, and their payment was in the form of the two old buildings,, along with the former property of the White Haven Church. The new church was dedicated in December 1815, although the finishing touches would not be completed for another two years.

During the Antebellum period, this church and its members contributed to the growing Abolitionist movement in New England. Perhaps most significantly, one of its members was Roger Sherman Baldwin, an attorney who represented the African defendants in the Amistad case. Baldwin was successful in the trial, which was held across the Green from here on the present-day site of City Hall, but the outcome was then appealed to the Supreme Court. There, Baldwin again spoke in favor of the kidnapped Africans, as did former president John Quincy Adams, and the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision to free the men. Baldwin would subsequently go on to have a successful political career, serving as governor of Connecticut from 1844 to 1846, and as a U. S. senator from 1847 to 1851.

Aside from its connection to the landmark Amistad case, the North Church was also involved in the controversy over whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a free state or slave state. Since this issue was to be decided by a vote among its residents, this caused an influx of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, with each side hoping to tip the balance in their favor. This inevitably resulted in violence between the two sides, and on March 20, 1856 the prominent abolitionist and pastor Henry Ward Beecher spoke here at the church, in support of a group of New Haven residents who were moving to Kansas. As the New York Times recounted several days later,

The object of the meeting was to raise money for the purpose of providing the colonizing party with proper weapons of self-defence against the attacks of the Border Ruffians, and also to give them something with “lock, stock and barrel,” to point at the wolves of the prairie who may encroach upon their camps.

The price of admission was fixed at twenty-five cents, but, notwithstanding the equivocal politeness of inviting a subscription party out of an evening, on such conditions, the Church was filled – floor and galleries – with an audience of the most prominent citizens of New-Haven, including a large number of clergymen of various denominations, and a full quorum of Professors from the Faculty of Yale College.

As the keynote speaker of the event, Reverend Beecher spoke about slavery, its effect on the country, and the current situation in Kansas. Following his speech, the audience sang a hymn, “Song of the Kansas Emigrant,” and then Yale professor Benjamin Silliman came forward and asked the people to purchase Sharps rifles, at a cost of $25 each, for the departing settlers to bring with them. Samuel W. S. Dutton, the pastor of the church, was among the first to pledge money for a rifle, standing and declaring that “One of the deacons of this church, Mr. Harvey Hall, is going out with the Company, and I, as his pastor, desire to present to him a Bible and a Sharpe’s rifle.” This was met with great applause, and at one point Reverend Beecher pledged that his church would give 25 rifles, if the assembly could match the contribution. They eventually reached this number, with some contributing multiple rifles, and finished the meeting with a total of 27 rifle pledges from the assembly. This, combined with the admission fee, resulted in a collection of about a thousand dollars for the Kansas settlers, or about $28,000 in today’s dollars.

The church went through another merger in 1884, when it joined with the Third Congregational Church. The combined congregation continued to worship here in this building, which had seen few exterior changes by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1900s. Two other historic buildings are also visible in the photo, which predate the church. On the far right side of the photo, at 149 Elm Street, is the John Pierpont House, which was built in 1767, and just to the left of it is the Jonathan Mix House, built in 1799. Today, remarkably little has changed in more than a century since the photo was taken. Both of these houses are still standing, with the Pierpont House now serving as the Yale Visitor Center. The church has also remained well-preserved during this time, and it is now a contributing property in the New Haven Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.