Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass (2)

Another view of Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, taken around 1886. Image from Harvard and Its Surroundings (1886).

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The building in 2016:

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As explained in more detail in the previous post, Massachusetts Hall is the oldest building still standing at Harvard, and has housed many notable figures over the years, including future president John Adams. While the previous post shows the south side of the building, this scene is of the north side, with the Johnston Gate partially visible in the distance. The building was originally a dormitory, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted into offices and lecture rooms. Today, the exterior looks the same, as does the section of Matthews Hall visible on the far left. Inside, though, the first three floors are now used for administrative offices, including those of the university president, and the top floor is a dormitory for 14 students. Like the rest of the dorms at Harvard Yard, it is used exclusively for freshman housing.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

This building, which was completed in 1720, is the oldest surviving building at Harvard and the second oldest academic building in the United States. When it opened, it housed 64 students, and some of its colonial-era residents included young future Founding Fathers such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, and James Otis. During the American Revolution it was used as barracks for the Continental Army, with George Washington using Cambridge as his headquarters while laying siege to the British across the river in Boston.

The soldiers caused considerable damage to the interior of the building, and since then it has been substantially renovated several times. In the 1800s, the building was converted into other uses, such as offices and lecture rooms, and then converted back to dormitories in 1924. Then, in 1939, the lower three floors became offices, leaving only the top floor for students. Today, the offices of the Harvard President and other high-ranking administrators are located in Massachusetts Hall, but the fourth floor retains its original purpose as a dormitory, with rooms for 14 freshmen who live here.

Simon Colton House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Simon Colton House, as seen from the Longmeadow town green on September 21, 1918. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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When the first photo was taken almost a century ago, this house was already a historic building, as one of the oldest surviving houses in the town. It was built in 1735 by Simon Colton, who married Abigail Burt a year later. They raised their 12 children in this house, and after Abigail’s death in 1760, Colton married Rebekah Hale. Colton was a prominent resident of Longmeadow, and in addition to serving as a town selectman for nine years and as a captain in the French and Indian War, he also operated a tavern out of the house.

He lived here until his death in 1796, and his son Luther lived here with his wife Thankful and their eight children. Thankful died only a year later, though, and in 1799 Luther remarried to Mehitable Deming, a widow who had four children of her own. She accepted his proposal under the condition that he build her an addition to the house, seen on the right side in this view, where she could go if she needed time away from the 12 children. Luther and Mehitable ended up having two more children of their own, making their household an 18th century version of Yours, Mine and Ours. Luther died in 1804 at the age of 47, but Mehitable lived nearly twice as long, remaining in the house until her death in 1856 at the age of 93.

The house remained in the Colton family for 200 years, until it was transferred to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1935. The organization, which is now Historic New England, has since sold the house, but with the stipulations that the front facade not be changed, and that it remains painted red. Today, the house has not changed much since the first photo was taken 98 years ago, and it is flanked by two other historic buildings. The Justin Colton House on the right, and the 1857 church parsonage, which does not appear in the 1918 scene because it was moved here around 1921, is on the left. All three buildings, along with the rest of the historic buildings around the town green, are part of the Longmeadow Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Incidentally, the Colton House is not the oldest object in the first photo. According to photographer Paesiello Emerson, the elm tree that is partially blocking the view of the house was 300 years old, which, if accurate, would mean that the tree predated even the arrival of the Mayflower. However, it is unlikely to have survived more than a couple decades after the photo was taken, as both the 1938 hurricane and Dutch Elm Disease took a heavy toll on the large elms that once lined the streets of New England.

Thomas Bliss House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Thomas Bliss House on Longmeadow Street, on May 5, 1910. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is so old that it was actually built in Springfield, years before Longmeadow became a separate town. It is one of many historic 18th century homes still standing in Longmeadow, and although its exact date of construction is uncertain, it was built sometime between 1714 and 1758 for Thomas Bliss, on the opposite side of the street. When Bliss died in 1758, his son Henry sold it to Nathaniel Ely, who operated a tavern out of here. It was used as a tavern until 1833 , and was later moved across the street to its present location.

One of the subsequent owners was Dr. Lester Noble, a dentist who played a role in the high-profile 1849 murder of Dr. George Parkman. Along with fellow Longmeadow dentist Dr. Nathan Keep, Noble used dental records to identify Parkman’s badly mutilated body, making it one of the first trials to use dental evidence. Dr. Noble died a few years before the first photo was taken in 1910. At this point, the house was owned by Cora M. Page, and it featured a porch on the front and side, along with several outbuildings behind it. The porch is partially gone now, as are the barns/sheds in the background, but the historic house is still standing, and at possibly 300 years old it is one of the oldest buildings in Longmeadow.

Phelps-Hatheway House, Suffield Connecticut

The Phelps-Hatheway House on South Main Street in Suffield, around 1920. Image from Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).

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The house in 2015:

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The present-day view of this historic house is dominated by a massive sycamore tree that is even older than the house itself. The tree is estimated to be about 300 years old, while the house was built sometime in the mid 1700s. Sources seem to indicate either 1736 or 1761, but either way the house predates the American Revolution. It was originally owned by Abraham Burbank, and subsequently by his son, Shem, who was a wealthy Tory businessman during the American Revolution. Following the war, his loyalty to the British cost him a lot of his business, so his subsequent financial issues forced him to sell the house to Oliver Phelps. The new owner did not hold the property for too long, though, before he had his own monetary problems; Phelps sold the house around 1800 after losing money in a failed land investment.

The new owner was Asahel Hatheway, whose family owned the house for the rest of the century.  During this time, an addition was made to the north (right) side, to go along with the previous addition that Phelps had built in 1794. The house has been well-preserved over the years, even down to the rare 1794 French wallpaper that is still on the walls. Today it is owned by Connecticut Landmarks and open to the public as a museum, providing a glimpse into the 18th and 19th century life of the upper class in the Connecticut River Valley.

Tremont Street and King’s Chapel, Boston

Looking south on Tremont Street in Boston, toward School Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2021:

These photos were taken from right across the street from the ones in this post, although the “then” photo here was taken nearly 50 years after the one in the other post.  Aside from King’s Chapel, which predates the first photo by about 150 years, a few other buildings survive from the 1906 scene.  The most obvious one is the Tremont Temple, the third building on the left after King’s Chapel.  It was built in 1896 and continues to serve as a Baptist church.