Mount Vernon, Virginia (3)

The Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, seen from the east side around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, which shows the house from the west side, Mount Vernon was the estate of George Washington, who lived here from 1754 until his death in 1799. This property had been in the Washington family since 1674, when it was acquired by John Washington. His grandson, George Washington’s father Augustine Washington, later owned the land, and around 1734 he built the original portion of this house, on the banks overlooking the Potomac River.

In 1739, Augustine Washington gave the property—which was then known as Little Hunting Creek—to his oldest son Lawrence. He subsequently renamed it Mount Vernon, in honor of his former commanding officer Admiral Edward Vernon, and he lived here until his death in 1752, when he was in his early 30s. Lawrence and his wife Anne had four children, although all of them died young, and shortly after his death she remarried to George Lee and moved out of the house.

Under the conditions of Lawrence’s will, Anne owned Mount Vernon for the rest of her life, at which point his brother George would inherit it. With the house vacant, though, Anne began leasing it to her brother-in-law starting in 1754, when George Washington was about 22 years old. In 1758 he expanded the house by adding a second story, and then in 1761 he gained ownership of the property upon Anne’s death.

In the meantime, in 1759 Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow who was a year older than him. They never had any children together, but Martha had two surviving children from her first marriage, and they grew up here at Mount Vernon. This was also around the time that Washington became involved in politics. He had served with distinction as a colonel in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War, and in 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until the beginning of the American Revolution.

Washington further expanded the mansion here at Mount Vernon in 1774, with two-story additions on either side of the original house. The large piazza here on the east side was also added as part of this project, and it would later become perhaps the most recognizable feature of the house. However, Washington did not get to enjoy the enlarged house for very long, because in 1775 he traveled north to take command of the Continental Army, and he was away from Mount Vernon for eight years before the war ended.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission in the Continental Army and returned to civilian life here at Mount Vernon. His retirement did not last for long, though, because in 1789 he was elected president. For the next eight years, Washington spent most of his time in the temporary capital cities of New York and Philadelphia, before eventually returning to Mount Vernon at the end of his second term in 1797. He lived here for the last two and a half years of his life before his death in 1799, and Martha Washington died in 1802.

With no biological children, George Washington left Mount Vernon to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, who was a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. After his death in 1829, his nephew John Augustine Washington II inherited it, followed by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III. He was the last member of the Washington family to own Mount Vernon, and in 1858 he sold the estate to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which preserved it and turned it into a museum.

By the time the association acquired the property, the mansion was in poor condition. As with many other southern planters, the Washington family owned vast amounts of land, but had relatively little cash. Consequently, the house suffered from many years of neglect, to the point that by the 1850s ships’ masts were being used as makeshift supports for the piazza roof, which was in danger of collapsing. However, the house was subsequently restored, and it opened to the public in 1860.

The first photo was taken about 40-50 years later, showing the mansion’s appearance at the turn of the 20th century. As shown in the second photo, very little has changed since then, aside from the removal of the small porch on the left side and the balustrades over the piazza, neither of which existed during George Washington’s ownership. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and open for public tours, and it remains a popular tourist attraction, drawing an estimated one million visitors here each year.

Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Christ Church, seen from North Second Street in Philadelphia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

The city of Philadelphia was established in 1682 by William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. Although Penn and his followers were Quakers, the colony was tolerant of other religions, and they were soon joined by settlers of other faiths, including Episcopalians, who established Christ Church in 1695. A small wooden church was built here on this site a year later, and it remained in use throughout the early 18th century.

However, in 1727, the parish began construction of a much larger church building. It took the next 17 years to build, and it was one of the grandest churches in the colonies at the time, in sharp contrast to the city’s plain, modest Quaker meeting houses. It featured Georgian-style architecture, with a design that was based on the London churches of famed architect Christopher Wren. The church itself was completed in 1744, although it took another ten years before the steeple was built. When finished, the steeple stood 196 feet in height, making it the tallest building in the American colonies at the time. It would continue to hold this record for more than 50 years, until the completion of Park Street Church in Boston in 1810.

During the 18th century, many of Philadelphia’s leading citizens were members of Christ Church. The most notable of these was Benjamin Franklin, who had even organized a lottery to help finance the completion of the steeple. Several other signers of the Declaration of Independence were also members, including Francis Hopkinson, Robert Morris, and Benjamin Rush. Even colonial governor John Penn—grandson of the Quaker William Penn—was a member. Given Philadelphia’s role as the seat of the Continental Congress, and later as the temporary national capital, a number of other founding fathers also attended services here, including George Washington and John Adams.

Throughout most of the American Revolution, the rector of Christ Church was the Reverend William White, who also served as chaplain of both the Continental Congress and later the United States Senate. After the war, Reverend White played an important role in the formal separation of the Episcopal Church from the Church of England. The first General Convention of the Episcopal Church was held here at Christ Church in 1785, and in 1787 White was ordained as the first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. He subsequently became the first presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, serving in 1789 and from 1795 until his death in 1836. During this time, he continued to serve as rector of Christ Church, serving in that role for a total of 57 years.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, Christ Church was already more than 150 years old. Its interior had been remodeled several times by then, but the exterior remained largely unchanged in its 18th century appearance. Around this time, in 1908, the steeple was damaged in a fire caused by a lightning strike, but this was subsequently repaired.

Since then, there have been few changes to this scene, aside from the trees in the foreground, which partially hide the church in the present-day photo. The angle is a little different between the two photos, though, because the first one was evidently taken from the upper floors of a building across the street, allowing for a wider view than from street level on the narrow street. During this time, Christ Church has remained standing as both an active Episcopalian parish and as a major tourist attraction. It is one of the most important surviving works of Georgian architecture in the country, and in 1970 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Lexington Common, Lexington, Mass

Looking north on the Lexington Common from near the corner of Bedford Street and Harrington Road, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene around 1910-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show a portion of the Lexington Common, which is also known as the Lexington Battle Green. Nearly every New England town has some sort of a common in the center of town, yet this one in Lexington is one of the most famous. It was here, just after dawn on April 19, 1775, that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, and where eight Lexington militiamen were killed after a brief skirmish with British redcoats who were bound for Concord.

The British soldiers had departed Boston late in the previous evening, with the goal of seizing colonial military supplies that were being stored in Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, alerting the militia companies in the outlying towns. Here in Lexington, a force of about 80 militiamen assembled on the Common. They were led by Captain John Parker, who is said to have instructed his men to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Upon arrival, the British ordered the militiamen to leave, with Major John Pitcairn supposedly shouting “Disperse, ye villains! Ye rebels, disperse!” Along with Parker’s earlier command, this would become one of the most famous quotes of the war, although it is hard to say exactly how accurate either of these lines really are. This uncertainty may be due, in part, to the fact that both men died within less than five months after the battle, leaving future historians with little opportunity to verify their battlefield statements.

In any case, Captain Parker recognized that his men were vastly outnumbered, and he ordered them to disperse. However, few evidently heard him. Then, in the midst of this standoff, a shot was fired. The identity of the shooter remains unknown, with both sides generally placing blame on the other, but both the redcoats and the militiamen then began exchanging fire.

The British proved to be far more effective in their fire. By the time the brief battle was over and the redcoats had resumed their march to Concord, they left behind eight dead militiamen and ten wounded, compared to just one wounded British soldier. Among the dead was Jonathan Harrington, who lived in the house that is visible in the distant center of all three photos. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded after the battle, but he managed to crawl back to his doorstep, where he died in his wife’s arms.

Despite how short and one-sided the battle was, it marked the first armed resistance to British aggression, and the Lexington Common has become an important symbol of American independence. The common is now marked by several monuments, including the one here in the foreground of this scene. Dedicated in 1884, this boulder marks the line where the militiamen stood, and it is inscribed with Captain Parker’s famous—if possibly apocryphal—command to his men to stand their ground.

The first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and it shows the Harrington house as it appeared prior to a major renovation in 1910. This project, which was completed by the time the second photo was taken, involved the removal of a wing on the right side of the house, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. It was intended as a restoration, although the work appears to have been based more on early 20th century ideas about how a colonial house should look, rather than how the Harrington house actually looked during the colonial era.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. The boulder is still here marking the line of militiamen during the battle, and the Harrington house remains standing in the distance, with few major exterior changes since the 1910 alterations. The other house in this scene, visible further in the distance, also survives today, although it is somewhat younger than the Harrington house, dating back to 1820. The Common itself has also been preserved, serving as both a public park and a historic site, and in 1961 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, Mass

The house at the corner of Harrington Road and Bedford Street in Lexington, around 1896-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built sometime around the first half of the 18th century, although it has been altered over the years. It stands at the northern end of the triangular Lexington Common, and it is most famous for having been the home of Jonathan Harrington, one of the eight Lexington militiamen who were killed in the opening shots of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.

At the time of the battle, Harrington was about 30 years old, and lived here in this house with his wife Ruth and their son Jonathan. Just after dawn on April 19, Harrington and about 80 other militiamen assembled on the Common, less than a hundred yards directly in front of his house. Here, they confronted a much larger force of British redcoats who were on their way to Concord to seize supplies of colonial munitions. A standoff ensued until someone fired a shot on or near the Common, resulting in both sides opening fire.

The ensuing skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, although it was largely one-sided. It failed to stop the British advance, and only one redcoat was wounded, compared to eight dead militiamen and ten who were wounded. Of the fatalities, Jonathan Harrington is perhaps the best-known. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded during the battle, but he managed to crawl back here to his house, where he died in his wife’s arms on the doorstep.

Subsequent owners of this house included John Augustus, a shoemaker who lived here during the 1820s. He eventually moved to Boston in 1827, where he continued his career as a shoemaker. However, he is remembered today for his role in criminal justice reform when, in 1841, he began bailing criminals out of jail and taking them under his care, including finding employment for them. This eventually led to the establishment of probation as an alternative to incarceration in Boston, and the practice later spread throughout the state and the rest of the country.

Later in the 19th century, the house was owned by James Gould, and it remained in his family until at least the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, though, it was owned by Dr. Bertha C. Downing, a physician who had her practice here in the house. A native of Kennebunkport, Maine, Dr. Downing attended public school in Boston before graduating from Radcliffe College and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The 1899 town directory shows her living in this house, and her office hours were listed as being from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first photo was taken at some point during her time here, as the sign above the two front windows on the left has her name on it.

Dr. Downing moved out of here by 1902, and in 1910 the house underwent a major renovation that ostensibly “restored” it to its colonial-era appearance. The owner at the time was Leroy S. Brown, and he hired local architect Willard D. Brown (evidently no close relation) for the project. Part of the work involved removing the wing on the right side of the house, which does not appear to have been original anyway, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. Other less significant changes included the addition of a pediment above the front door, as shown in the present-day scene.

In retrospect, this restoration probably did more harm to the historic character of the house than if it had simply been left alone, but it did help to ensure its long-term preservation. Today, despite the early 20th century alterations, the house still stands as an important landmark in the center of Lexington. It is one of several surviving buildings on the Common that date back to the famous battle, and the house features two signs that attest to its historic significance. The one on the right tells the story of Jonathan Harrington’s death, while the one on the left identifies the building as having been the home of John Augustus.

Orchard House, Concord, Mass

Orchard House, at 399 Lexington Road in Concord, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The earliest portion of this house dates back to sometime around the early 18th century, but its present-day appearance was the result of an extensive expansion and renovation that occurred in 1857. In that year, the property was purchased by Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher, writer, and philosopher who is best remembered today as the father of author Louisa May Alcott. He was a part of Concord’s Transcendentalist movement, and during the early 1840s he was one of the founders of Fruitlands, a short-lived utopian commune in Harvard, Massachusetts. However, this experiment failed in just seven months, and in 1845 the Alcott family moved to Concord, where they lived in a house on Lexington Road that they named Hillside.

At the time, the family consisted of Bronson Alcott, his wife Abigail, and their four daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and Abigail. They lived at Hillside for several years before moving to Boston in 1848, but they ultimately returned to Concord in 1857 and purchased this house. It was located immediately to the west of their old house, which had been acquired by Nathaniel Hawthorne five years earlier and renamed The Wayside. Bronson Alcott soon began renovating his house, which he named Orchard House after the large apple orchard that was located on the property. The work was completed the following year, and the Alcotts moved in during the spring of 1858, only a few weeks after the death of their 22-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

Louisa May Alcott was 25 years old when she moved into this house with her parents and sisters, and she went on to reside here for much of her early literary career. She was already a published author at the time, following the 1854 publication of her first work, Flower Fables, but she had not yet become widely known. Over the next few years, she wrote several novels and short stories, including Hospital Sketches, which was published in 1863. It was based on her own experiences as a Civil War nurse in Georgetown, where she served for six weeks during the war before falling ill with typhoid fever.

However, Alcott’s literary breakthrough came in 1868 with the publication of Little Women, which she wrote here in this house. This novel was largely autobiographical, with the March sisters in the book representing the four Alcott girls, and much of the plot was inspired by her own experiences. The book is set at a fictional version of Orchard House, although most of the real-life events in the book had actually occurred at Hillside, where Alcott lived during her teenage years.

Aside from the improvements to the main house, the Alcotts also built the structure on the left side of the scene. Originally known as the Hillside Chapel, it was later renamed the Concord School of Philosophy. Here, Bronson Alcott ran a school that was modeled on Plato’s Academy, with a series of lectures and readings that were based on Transcendentalism and other contemporary philosophies. Bronson was nearly 80 years old when he started the school, but he continued to oversee it for the next nine years, giving lectures here while also inviting guest speakers

In the meantime, Louisa May Alcott continued to live here until 1869, when she moved to Boston, but she continued to visit her family here in Concord. Then, in 1877 she purchased Henry David Thoreau’s former house on Main Street, and both she and her father subsequently lived there. Bronson sold Orchard House in the early 1880s, and he eventually moved to a house on Louisburg Square in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where he died on March 4, 1888 at the age of 88. Only two days later, Louisa suffered a stroke—possibly a long-term effect of mercury medication that she had taken to treat her typhoid fever some 25 years earlier—and she died at the age of 55.

The first photo shows the front of the house at some point around the turn of the 20th century. It was already recognized as an important landmark, as this photo was taken by a major postcard company, but at the time it was still a private residence. However, in 1911 the Concord Woman’s Club formed the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, which purchased the property and, starting in 1912, opened it to the public as a museum.

The house has remained as a museum ever since, and it continues to be open for guided tours, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It is one of the many important literary sites in Concord, and in 1962 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. More recently, the house gained attention with the release of the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, much of which was filmed in Concord. However, this house itself was not included in the movie; instead, the producers constructed a replica home elsewhere in Concord, which was used for filming and subsequently dismantled.

Old Manse, Concord, Mass (2)

The view of the Old Manse facing the southeast corner of the house, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Old Manse is an important historic landmark in Concord, with connections to the American Revolution and to two of the most important 19th century American writers. It was built in 1770 as the home of William Emerson, the pastor of the First Parish Church. Only five years later, the American Revolution started quite literally in his backyard, when the Battle of Concord was fought at Old North Bridge, which was located just 150 yards behind the house. Emerson subsequently joined the Continental Army as a chaplain, although he fell ill and died in 1776 while serving in the army. However, the house remained in his family for many years, and its later residents included his grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived here for about a year from 1834 to 1835.

In the meantime, William Emerson’s widow Phebe remarried in 1780 to Ezra Ripley, who had become the new pastor of the church after Emerson’s death. Phebe died in 1825, but Ezra lived here until his death in 1841, and his son Samuel then inherited the property. For several years, Samuel rented the house to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his newlywed wife Sophia. They lived here from 1842 to 1845, and during this time Hawthorne wrote Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of short stories that was published in 1846 and named for this house. However, by 1845 Samuel Ripley decided to return here to live in his childhood home, and the Hawthornes subsequently relocated to Salem.

Samuel Ripley died less than two years later in 1847, but his widow Sarah continued to live here. After her death in 1867, her daughter Sophia Thayer inherited it, and she still owned it when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. The photo shows the southeast view of the house, revealing its elegant Georgian-style architecture with its large gambrel roof. The Old North Bridge over the Concord River is located just beyond the house, although it is hidden from view by the trees in the distance.

By the early 20th century, the Old Manse was used primarily as a summer residence, and after Sophia’s death in 1914 the property went to her daughter, Sarah Ames, the wife of Boston architect John Worthington Ames. She owned it until her death in 1939, and her husband subsequently sold the house and its contents to the Trustees of Reservations. This organization, which focuses on historic preservation and land conservation, owns a number of historic properties throughout Massachusetts, although the Old Manse is perhaps one of its most important ones. More than 80 years later, the Trustees still own the house, which is open to the public for guided tours. During this time, the house has remained well-preserved, and there are few differences between these two photos aside from the large tree on the right side, which hides much of the house in the present-day view.