Joel Norcross House, Monson, Mass

The Joel Norcross House on Main Street in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The building in 2015:

This house was built in the early 1830s, and aside from its architectural significance as an excellent example of Greek Revival style, it is also notable as the home of Joel Norcross, the maternal grandfather of poet Emily Dickinson.  The Norcross family was prominent in Monson’s early history; Joel’s father William built a large home and tavern on nearby Cushman Street in the late 18th century, and Joel himself became a successful farmer and merchant.  He married Betsey Fay in 1798, and the couple had nine children, including Emily Norcross, the mother of Emily Dickinson.

Betsey died in 1829, and at some point after that (one source says 1830, another says 1835) Joel had this house built.  He remarried in 1831 to Sarah Vaill, just a few weeks after Emily Dickinson’s birth.  Sarah became a grandmother figure to Emily, who undoubtedly visited them in this house during her childhood.  Joel died in 1846 and Sarah in 1854, and the house went to Joel’s son Alfred.  After Alfred’s death in 1888, his son Arthur D. Norcross inherited it.  Arthur attended Monson Academy, and in 1871 he was one of the 27 students in the first graduating class at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, which would later become UMass Amherst.  Like the three generations before him, he was a prominent Monson citizen, and he served on the water commission, the school committee, the board of selectmen, and a number of other town offices.  He also represented the town in the state House of Representatives from 1904 to 1906, and the state Senate in 1908 and 1909.

Arthur’s son, Arthur, Jr., was born in Monson 1895, probably in this house, but he spent most of his life in New York City, where he founded the Norcross Greeting Card Company in the 1920s.  He did, however, continue to play a role in the town, and in 1939 he established the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Monson and the neighboring town of Wales.  When he died in 1969, he left much of his estate to the Norcross Wildlife Foundation for the continued operation of the sanctuary, which now consists of around 8,000 acres in Monson and Wales.

The old Norcross house, meanwhile, is still standing on Main Street, and it is one of the few surviving examples of a columned Greek Revival home in Monson.  A similar neighbor, which was probably built around the same time, was the Solomon F. Cushman, Jr. House, located just to the right of here.  It was demolished sometime in the mid 20th century, and it is now a shopping plaza.  As seen in the second photo, the Norcross House now has a jewelry store (on a personal note, I bought my wife’s engagement ring here), along with several other commercial tenants.  Thankfully, its exterior has been well-preserved, and despite the change in use, it still looks the same as it did during Emily Dickinson’s visits over 160 years ago.

Solomon F. Cushman, Jr. House, Monson, Mass

The home of Solomon F. Cushman, Jr., on Main Street in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The site of the house in 2015:


This Greek Revival style house was once the home of Solomon Cushman, Jr., the son of one of Monson’s prominent industrial leaders of the 19th century. His father, Solomon Cushman, Sr., was born in 1826 in Monson, Maine, a small town in central Maine.  After working in farms and lumberyards near his hometown, he became a store clerk, and later moved to Palmer, and then to Monson, Massachusetts, where he became a bookkeeper for the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company, a textile company with a factory on present-day Cushman Street.

Cushman eventually became the owner of the company, and renamed it S. F. Cushman & Sons in 1877.  The Cushmans grew the company, purchasing a branch factory in 1883 at the corner of Maple and Elm Streets, and rebuilding the main factory on Cushman Street after a fire in 1886.  Solomon, Jr. was born in 1861, and he graduated from Monson Academy in 1880 and from MIT in 1882.  He also attended the Lowell School of Design, and later returned to Monson, where he was put in charge of the branch mill.  When the elder Cushman died in 1900, his five sons took over the company, but they soon began selling it.  The branch mill was sold in 1901, and the main factory operated under the Cushman name until 1912, when it was sold to a hat company.  The building has since been abandoned for many years, but it is still standing on Cushman Street over 125 years after the Cushmans opened it.

The house in the first photo was purchased by Solomon, Jr. sometime between about 1884 and 1894, but the house was much older than that.  Architecturally, it is very similar to the nearby Joel Norcross House, which was built in 1830 and is still standing today.  This house was probably built around the same time, and according to the 1857 county atlas, it was owned by Horatio Lyon, one of the owners of the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company who first employed Cushman, Sr.  It was later the home of yet another factory owner, Cyrus W. Holmes, who lived here until his much more elegant Holmbrook mansion was completed just up the hill from here around 1870.

Several of the Cushman brothers lived nearby, including the oldest sibling, Edward, whose house on Main Street is now the Monson Senior Center.  I don’t know how long Solomon, Jr. lived here in this house, but he died in 1932 at the age of 70, and the house was subsequently demolished in 1957.  Today, the former Cushman property is a shopping plaza with the Adams supermarket, a Rite Aid drugstore, and several smaller businesses.

Senior Center, Monson, Mass

The Edward Cushman House on Main Street in Monson, which later became the Monson Senior Center, probably around 1916-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The building in 2015:

The present-day Monson Senior Center was built around 1850, and it is one of the many historic Greek Revival homes along this section of Main Street.  It was originally a private residence, with maps in 1857 and 1870 showing it belonging to a Mrs. L. Keep and a Mrs. Flynt, respectively.  Later in the 1800s, it was owned by Edward Cushman, the son of local industrialist Solomon F. Cushman, who owned a woolen mill on Cushman Street.  Edward and his brothers took over control of the company when their father died in 1900, and they ran it together until 1912, when they sold it to a local hat manufacturer, the Heimann and Lichten Company.

Edward Cushman died in 1915, and as part of his will the house became Monson Home for the Aged, a boarding house for elderly residents in town.  According to the house’s listing on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, the house was enlarged and the tower was added during this conversion in 1916; if accurate, it helps provide the earliest possible date for the first photo.

The building was a boarding house until 1975, and since then it has been used as the Monson Senior Center.  It was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado that passed directly over it, but today it is in excellent condition and it is still serving the elderly residents of the town, a century after Edward Cushman’s death.  Incidentally, his father’s factory on Cushman Street is also still standing, although it is in poor condition and has been abandoned for many years.

Post Office, Monson, Mass

The post office at the corner of Main and State Streets in Monson, around 1893. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The scene in 2015:

The building in the first photo was built in 1855 for the recently-established Monson National Bank.  In 1872, Monson Savings Bank was also created, and the two companies shared the same counter, tellers, and vault within this small building until 1893, when a larger one was completed just a short walk down Main Street from here.  That same year, the nearby Central Block, which housed the post office, was destroyed in a fire, so the post office was moved to the recently-vacated bank building.  It later moved back to the Central Block location when a new building was completed on the site.

I don’t know exactly when it was demolished, but it would have been sometime before 1925, when the original Monson High School was built here.  The school building was converted into the town offices in the early 1990s, but it sustained heavy damage in the une 1, 2011 tornado, and it was demolished in 2013.  A new town office building, seen to the right in the 015 photo, was completed earlier in the year.

Southwick Congregational Church, Southwick Mass

Southwick Congregational Church on College Highway in Southwick, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The church in 2015:

If this historic church in Southwick resembles a scaled-down version of Springfield’s Old First Church, there is good reason for that – both were designed by Northampton architect Isaac Damon, and out of all of his surviving work, Southwick is probably the closest thing to a twin of Springfield’s.  The belfry design on the two churches is nearly identical, and the rest of the steeple design here in Southwick looks like a miniature of the one on Old First Church.  Both churches also have a triangular portico supported by four columns, although again Southwick’s is on a smaller scale.  Some of Damon’s other churches included the old Northampton church, which burned in 1876, the First Congregational Church in Blandford, and Southwick’s Methodist Episcopal Church, both of which still exist.  Southwick’s church was founded in 1773, and the present-day building was built in 1824 to replace the first, which had burned the year before.  Nearly two centuries later, it has survived with few alterations, and it doesn’t look much different from its appearance in the early 1890s.

Old Church and Courthouse, Northampton, Mass

Looking up Main Street from Pleasant Street in Northampton, toward the old church and courthouse in 1864. Photo from Reminiscences of Old Northampton (1902).

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The location in 2018:

The 1864 photo is one of the oldest existing photographs of downtown Northampton, and none of the buildings from that scene survive today, 151 years later.  To the left in the 1864 photo is the old church, which was built in 1812.  It was Northampton’s fourth meeting house, and it replaced the 1737 building that had been built during the pastorate of Jonathan Edwards.  It was from here that the influential pastor and theologian helped to spark the Great Awakening revival that spread across the American colonies and in Europe, but by the turn of the century the town was in need of a new building.  The 1812 church was designed by Northampton architect Isaac Damon, who just a few years later would design Old First Church in Springfield, 15 miles to the south.  However, while Old First Church survives to this day, the Northampton church seen in the 1864 photo burned in 1876, and was replaced two years later by the current brownstone church.

On the far right of the 1864 photo is the old Hampshire County Courthouse.  I don’t know when it was built, but it is virtually identical to the 1821 Hampden County Courthouse, seen on the far left of the 1882 photo in this post.  Because of its similar appearance, the Hampshire County Courthouse was probably built around the same time, shortly after some major changes to the county’s borders.  Originally, Hampshire County included all of Western Massachusetts, but it was steadily broken up into multiple counties, beginning in 1761 when Berkshire County was established to the west.  Then in 1811, Franklin County was created in the northern part of the Connecticut River Valley with Greenfield as the county seat, and a year later Hampden County split off to the south, with Springfield as the county seat.  I don’t know what happened to the old courthouse seen here, but it was gone by 1886, when the present-day Hampshire County Courthouse opened on roughly the same spot at the corner of Main and King Streets.

In between the two prominent buildings in the 1864 scene is a relatively small commercial block, the Whitney Building.  The photograph was actually commissioned by George D. Eames, the owner of the building, and was probably intended to advertise the building’s prominent location in town.  Part of the building housed the offices of the Hampshire Gazette, and the newspaper was published in the basement.  This is evidently the reason for the large sign on the building that reads “Caloric Printing Establishment.”  The Whitney Building was demolished in 1876, and a bank building was put in its place.  Today, the 1916 Northampton Institute for Savings building occupies the site where the Whitney Building once stood.