Florida Baptist Church, Florida, Mass

The Florida Baptist Church, seen looking north on Church Road in Florida, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893).

The scene in 2020:

The origins of the name of Florida, Massachusetts are murky, but there seems to have been a certain level of irony to it, since the town has little in common with its southern namesake. Located high in the Hoosac Range of the northern Berkshires, just south of the Vermont state border, Florida has cool weather and high elevations. The town center, shown here, is nearly 1,900 feet above sea level, and the town’s lowest point, located along the Deerfield River, is nearly twice the elevation of the highest point in the state of Florida. Because of this remote, mountainous location, the area was not settled until around 1783, and it was not incorporated as a town until 1805, when it acquired the name of Florida.

In the vast majority of New England towns, incorporation was soon followed by the establishment of a Congregational church. However, here in Florida, the town’s first church was a Baptist church, which was established in 1810 with about 20 members. The first church building was constructed in 1824, and it was used until 1861, when the building here in this scene was completed. The old building was then sold and converted into a house, and it still stands just a little to the north of here, at the present-day corner of Church Road and the Mohawk Trail.

Architecturally, the new building featured a Greek Revival-style exterior, similar to the other small church buildings in the hill towns of western Massachusetts during this period. Writing many decades later in 1907, the North Adams Transcript described how, in the shadow of the impending Civil War, “the whole parish made many sacrifices and literally bared their backs to the burden, considering personal labor, and economy in wearing apparel, thus erecting a new house of worship at the cost of $1,800.” At the time, the church had 51 members, and it had two different pastors who served here in 1861. Rev. J. M. Mace was the pastor for at least part of the year, but he was succeeded by Rev. John Fairman, who served from 1861 to 1865.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Florida’s economy was largely agricultural, although the lumber industry was also prosperous here, with at least 14 sawmills in the town by the mid-1850s. However, during the 1860s the town saw a population boom as a result of construction on the Hoosac Tunnel. This 4.75-mile railroad tunnel was built between 1851 and 1873, and most of it, including the eastern portal and the central shaft, is located within the town of Florida. The tunnel runs about a half mile to the north of the church, and about a thousand feet underground. The eastern portal is just under a mile away from here, although the actual travel distance is about 3.5 miles by way of steep, winding mountain roads.

The influx of workers in Florida led to a brief but substantial rise in population, more than doubling in residents from 645 in 1860 to 1,322 in 1870. Much of this growth appears to have been concentrated in the area around the eastern portal along the Deerfield River, so it seems unclear as to what effect this influx had on church membership. Given that many of the workers were Irish, and thus presumably Catholic, it seems unlikely that many would have been interested in making the long uphill climb to attend services at a rural Baptist church.

In any case, the tunnel workers left as quickly as they had arrived, and by the 1880 census the town was down to 459 residents. However, while the town itself experienced a net loss of more than a quarter of its residents between 1860 and 1880, the church saw a substantial increase during this time, growing to 79 members by 1885. During this time, in 1883, the building underwent renovations and repairs, including wallpaper, paint for the pews, and repairs to the chimney. The total cost for the project was about $400. Just after it was completed, the newly-repaired chimney was struck by lightning, but the damage to the building was minimal, and the repair costs were estimated at under five dollars.

The first photo was taken around a decade after these renovations occurred. It shows the view looking north, with the church in the center and a small cemetery next to it. In the foreground, the road is a muddy, heavily rutted path that is lined by a stone wall on the right side and some sort of drainage ditch on the left. Further in the distance, Spruce Mountain provides a dramatic backdrop to the scene. Its peak, on the left side of the photo, rises more than 2,700 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest mountains in the state.

The church was renovated again in 1907. This work was apparently limited to the interior, and it was done by Daniels & Canfield of North Adams. The dedication ceremony was held on September 15, 1907, and the event included guest speaker James McCullough from Savoy, whose grandfather Nathaniel McCullough had been the pastor of the Florida church in the early 1830s. Rev. Willard E. Waterbury of Springfield delivered the sermon, which was based on Isaiah 52:1—”Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments.”

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, parts of this scene have undergone significant changes. Perhaps the most ominous sign of the passage of time is the much-enlarged cemetery next to the church. Other changes include the old Florida Town Hall, which was built in 1923 across the street. The road itself has gone from a muddy dirt path to a paved road, but the most significant transportation change to this scene is the Mohawk Trail, which opened in the early 20th century. The Mohawk Trail made it easy for cars to pass over the Hoosac Range, and over the years it has served as a popular route for scenic road trips.

Throughout this time, the Florida Baptist Church has remained a distinctive landmark for travelers as they approach the road’s high point at Whitcomb Summit. Its exterior appearance has changed somewhat over the years, including a 1980 renovation that involved alterations to the front entryway an addition to the rear, but overall it survives as a good example of a mid-19th century rural New England church.

Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont (2)

The Vermont State House, seen from State Street in Montpelier, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As explained in more detail in an earlier post, the current Vermont State House was completed in 1859, replacing an earlier building that stood here on this same site. The older state house had been built in 1838, and was designed by prominent architect Ammi B. Young. It burned in 1857, leaving only the outer granite shell still standing, and it was subsequently reconstructed by architect Thomas Silloway, who incorporated the columned portico and portions of the old walls into the new building.

The first photo was taken within about a decade or two after the building was completed. In front of the building is State House Park, which featured a liberty pole, as shown in the foreground. Behind the state house is Hubbard Hill, which provides a pastoral backdrop for the smallest capital city of any state in the country.

Today, around 150 years after the first photo was taken, the state house remains in use as the seat of Vermont’s government. The liberty pole is long gone, and Hubbard Hill is now far more forested than it had been in the 19th century, but the state house itself has seen few changes. The dome was gilded in the early 20th century, and the statue of Ceres above the dome has been replaced several times, but overall the building remains well-preserved on both the exterior and interior.

Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont

The Vermont State House in Montpelier, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The State House in 2019:

With a population of under 7,500, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the United States, but it has served as the seat of the Vermont state government since 1805. Up until that point, the state had no formally designated capital, so legislative sessions were held in a variety of locations, including at least 13 different towns over the years. The government finally found a permanent home here, and in 1808 the first state house was completed in Montpelier. It was used for the next 30 years, but in 1838 it was replaced by a new, more substantial capitol. Designed by noted architect Ammi B. Young, it featured a granite exterior with a Doric portico, and it was topped by a low, rounded dome.

This second state house stood here until January 6, 1857, when it was destroyed in a fire that had originated in the building’s heating system. By the time it was discovered, the fire had already spread throughout much of the building underneath the floors, and firefighting efforts were further hampered by the below-zero temperatures, which froze water before it could even reach the fire. Many of the books in the state library, along with a number of other important documents were saved, as was a large portrait of George Washington. However, the building itself was completely gutted, leaving only the granite walls and portico still standing by the time the flames were extinguished.

In the aftermath, there was talk of moving the capital elsewhere. The citizens of Burlington wasted no time in throwing their hat in the ring, and within two weeks they had selected a location for a new state house and had pledged $70,000 towards its construction. Ultimately, though, the state legislature chose to remain in Montpelier, and the state house was reconstructed around the surviving walls and portico of the old building. The architect for this project, Thomas Silloway, retained the same basic appearance of the State House, although he expanded it with an extra window bay on either side of the building, along with a larger dome above it. The dome was topped by a gilded wood statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, which was designed by noted Vermont sculptor Larkin Mead.

The new State House was constructed at a cost of $150,000, or about $4.4 million today, and it was completed in the fall of 1859. The beginning of Governor Hiland Hall’s second term coincided with the opening of the building, and he acknowledged the occasion in his inaugural address on October 14:

We meet also for the first time in the new State edifice, and can hardly fail to be favorably and agreeably impressed with its fine proportions and the beautiful style of its finish, and also with the convenience of its arrangements, and the appropriate fitness of its furniture and appendages. The building is indeed a noble and imposing structure, and we may justly be proud of it as our State Capitol. I congratulate you on its completion, and I doubt not you will concur with me that much credit is due to those who have been concerned in its erection, as well for the rapidity with which the work has been pushed forward, as for the neat and substantial manner in which it appears to have been executed.

Upon completion, the first floor of the building housed a mix of offices and committee rooms, along with exhibition space for a natural history collection. The second floor housed the Senate chamber in the east wing, on the right side of the building in this scene, with the House of Representatives chamber in the center beneath the dome, and the governor’s office in the west wing on the left side of the building. The library was also located on the second floor, as were offices for state officials such as the clerk of the house, secretary to the governor, and secretary of state.

The first photo was taken a little under 50 years after the building was completed. By this point, it had been expanded several times, with additions to the rear in 1888 and 1900, as shown in the distance on the left side. Another addition would eventually be constructed in 1987, but overall this view of the state house has hardly changed in more than a century since the first photo was taken. Aside from the dome, which was gilded in the early 20th century, and the statue atop it, which was replaced in the 1930s and again in 2018, the state house has had few exterior alterations. The interior has also remained well-preserved, including both legislative chambers, and the building remains in use as the seat of the Vermont state government.

Merchants’ Exchange Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Merchants’ Exchange Building, seen from the corner of Walnut and South Third Streets in Philadelphia in 1898. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, John C. Bullock Lantern Slide Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Merchants’ Exchange Building is an important architectural landmark in Philadelphia, and it is also significant for having been the financial center of the city for many years. It was completed in 1834 as the first permanent home of what would become the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Prior to this time, brokers and merchants met in a variety of coffee houses and taverns. However, by 1831 the city’s business leaders had recognized the need for a permanent, central location for a stock exchange, and began planning such a building.

The Exchange was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was heavily inspired by classical Greek architecture. The shape of the lot also contributed to the building’s design; although most of Philadelphia features a rectangular street grid, the Exchange was built on a triangular lot that was created by the diagonally-running Dock Street. As a result, the two main facades of the building are very different. Here at the west end of the building on Third Street, it has a fairly standard Greek Revival exterior, with Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment. However, on the east side of the building, facing Dock Street, Strickland designed an elaborate semi-circular columned facade that was topped by a tower. This tower, which is partially visible in the upper right corner of the 2019 photo, was inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, which dates back to the fourth century B. C.

The cornerstone of the building was laid on February 22, 1832, on the one hundredth anniversary of George Washington’s birth. It was completed two years later, opening to the public in March 1834. A contemporary article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, republished from Bicknell’s Reporter, provides the following description:

It is built entirely of marble— occupies ninety-five feet front on Third street, and one hundred and fifty feet on Walnut. The basement story is fifteen feet high, and has twelve doorways on the Third Street front and flanks. The largest room in the lower floor, which is 74 by 36 feet, is occupied as the Philadelphia Post Office, at the west end of which is a hall or passage, designed for the shelter of persons while receiving or delivering letters. Beyond this hall to the west, and fronting Third street, is a large and commodious room, which has been fitted up as a Coffee Room, is now in the occupancy of Mr. J. Kerrison, a gentleman every way qualified to conduct a respectable establishment of the kind. South of the Post Office and the Coffee Room, is a large passage which runs from Dock to Third street, and further south again, a number of offices; which are to be occupied generally as Exchange and Insurance Offices. They open upon Walnut and Dock streets. No. 2 of this range will be occupied by the proprietor of this paper, as a Stock, Exchange and Publication Office.

Proceeding up stairs, the large Exchange Room, capable of containing several thousand persons, first arrests attention. It occupies an area of 83 superficial feet, fronts east, and extends across the whole building. The reading Room is oa [sic] the second floor, immediately over the Post Office, and is nearly of equal capacity. It is fitted up in the most appropriate manner, and is under the charge of Joseph M. Sanderson, Esq. assisted by Mr. J. Coffee. Both gentlemen are well know to our citizens, and are alike respected for urbanity of manner, intelligence, and attention to the duties entrusted to their care. Both have for several years been connected with the Merchants’ Coffee House of this city, Mr. Sanderson as Principal and Lessee of that establishment, and nothing can more fully show the estimation in which he is held by the Merchants than the fact of his unanimous election to the New Exchange.

The attic story is of the same height as the basement, 15 feet, contains six large rooms; the roof is of copper, and the ornaments on the semicircular portion over the front colonnade are very beautiful.

The building went on to serve as the city’s stock exchange for more than 40 years, in addition to housing other tenants such as the post office. However, in 1876 the stock exchange moved to the Girard Bank, located less than a hundred yards north of the Merchants’ Exchange on the opposite side of Third Street. This building was the home of the stock exchange until 1888, when it relocated to the Drexel Building a few blocks away. In a somewhat surprising move, though, the stock exchange then returned here to the Merchants’ Exchange at the turn of the 20th century, shortly after the first photo was taken. It remained here until 1913, when it moved into a new building at 1411 Walnut Street, near the corner of Market Street.

The Merchants’ Exchange Building was ultimately acquired by the National Park Service as part of the Independence National Historical Park. Although many other historic buildings within the park’s boundaries were demolished during this time, this building was preserved and restored, and it is now used as the park headquarters. It stands as the only surviving building in this scene from the first photo, and in 2001 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historical and architectural significance.

Mercantile Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Mercantile Library at the corner of Fifth Street and Library Street in Philadelphia, in December 1858. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Prior to the second half of the 19th century, public libraries were essentially nonexistent in the United States. Instead, most cities had library organizations that were open to subscribing members. Among the first of these was the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, but by the early 19th century Philadelphia had several other libraries, including the Mercantile Library. It was established in 1821, and it was originally intended to serve primarily merchants and merchants’ clerks. However, its membership eventually expanded beyond the mercantile industry, and it became a popular library among the general public.

The library was housed in a series of different locations during its early years, but in 1845 this building was completed here at the corner of Fifth and Library Streets. It was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William L. Johnston, and it featured a Greek Revival exterior, including a columned portico here on the Fifth Street side of the building. The building was dedicated on September 6, 1845, with a ceremony that included a keynote speech by Congressman Joseph Reed Ingersoll, who would later become the United States Minister to Great Britain.

The first photo shows the building a little over a decade later, in 1858. By this point the library had around two thousand members, and around 20,000 books in its collection. Its most popular items were novels, which accounted for 60 percent of the books checked out in 1858. As described in the 1884 History of Philadelphia, the library focused on developing its collection of novels, as the librarians saw it as “their duty to gratify popular tastes, taking care, however, not to furnish material for abnormal or morbid appetites.” Because of this, the novels were carefully curated, to avoid any “immoral or pernicious works” in the library.

By 1868 the library had grown to a membership of 6,387, and a total of 52,000 books. The following year, the library sold this building and relocated to a new facility on Tenth Street. It continued to prosper throughout much of the 19th century, but then in 1894 the Free Library of Philadelphia opened, which provided a free alternative to subscription libraries. The Mercantile Library was ultimately absorbed into the public library system, with its Tenth Street location becoming a branch library.

In the meantime, the old building here on Fifth Street was converted into offices. By the early 1870s it was owned by Horatio N. Burroughs, and it became known as the Burroughs Building. It was ultimately demolished around 1925, and this site is now open parkland as part of the Independence National Historical Park.

Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Chestnut Street Theatre on the north side of Chestnut Street, just west of Sixth Street in Philadelphia, on April 30, 1855. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, James McClees Philadelphia Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

During the colonial era, theater was not a significant part of American culture, particularly in the northern and middle colonies. In New England, the Puritans saw plays and acting as immoral, and here in Philadelphia the Quakers similarly disapproved, believing that going to theaters was a frivolous use of time and money. Some colonies, including Pennsylvania, even outlawed plays. However, this trend began to change after the American Revolution, and one of the first purpose-built theaters in the country was the Chestnut Street Theatre, which opened here in 1794. 

At the time, Philadelphia was the capital city of both the United States and Pennsylvania, and the theater was located in the midst of these governmental buildings. The national capitol, Congress Hall, was diagonally across the street from the theater, and just beyond Congress Hall was Independence Hall, the seat of the state government. The Supreme Court met in a building on the other side of Independence Hall, and a block to the north of the theater was the President’s House, home of George Washington and later John Adams.

The original Chestnut Street Theatre burned in 1820, but it was rebuilt two years later. This new building, which is shown here in the first photo, was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was responsible for many important buildings in the city during the early 19th century. On the exterior, the theater featured classically-inspired elements such as the arched entryways on the ground level and the four columns on the upper floor. The columns were flanked by a pair of statues, representing Tragedy and Comedy, that were carved by sculptor William Rush. The interior of the theater featured three rows of boxes arranged in a semi-circle around the stage, and it could accommodate around 2,000 people. It was built with fire safety in mind, including large stairways and multiple exits with outward-swinging doors, and it was said that a full crowd could evacuate the building in under three minutes.

The theater opened on December 2, 1822, and the occasion was marked by the reading of a letter from poet Charles Sprague, followed by a performance of the comedy The School for Scandal. Several days later, the National Gazette reported on it, observing that it opened “to a crowded, brilliant and good humoured house. The spectators and the actors appeared to be in the best spirits and both performed their respective parts in the best manner.” The article went on to say that “Everything went on and off swimmingly and satisfactorily” and that “Several gentlemen who had been abroad, and some foreigners, were heard to say that the Theatre was the prettiest they had ever seen.”

The new Chestnut Street Theatre, which came to be known as “Old Drury,” remained a popular venue for plays and concerts throughout the first half of the 19th century. During this time, perhaps the most famous performer was Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who toured America from 1850 to 1852. The tour was organized by P. T. Barnum, who used his showman skills to generate fanfare for her performances. She arrived in New York in September 1850, and a month later she came to Philadelphia, where her first performance in the city occurred here at the Chestnut Street Theatre on October 17. In order to meet the anticipated demand, the tickets were auctioned off. The first one sold for the astronomical price of $625, equivalent to around $20,000 today, but prices quickly dropped for the subsequent tickets. The second one sold for just $15, and before long they were selling for under $10. In the end, about 1,700 tickets were sold at the auction, at an average of $7 each.

The day after the concert, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of the event, including a description of the crowd inside the theater:

A more brilliant audience never assembled within its walls, and this is saying a great deal, for “Old Drury” ranked for many years as the very temple of taste, fashion, dramatic and musical triumph. The spectacle was, indeed, fairy-like. The splendid dresses, the bright eyes, the flushed cheeks, the eager expectation depicted on every countenance, the brilliant gas-lights, and the whisperings and buzzings of many voices, served to produce an unwonted excitement; and thus, long before the hour for the commencement of the entertainment, the blood seemed to flow more rapidly through the veins, even of the most passionless.

The excitement of this event notwithstanding, by the 1850s the Chestnut Street Theatre was past its prime. Its location was no longer as desirable as it had once been, and the building was considered too small by this point. The first photo was taken on April 30, 1855, a day before its final performance, as indicated by the playbills at the main entrance, which indicate that it will be the “last night but one” for the old theater. That evening’s entertainment consisted of the burletta The Loan of a Lover, followed by the comedy Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady and the drama Sixteen String Jack. The leading performer was 21-year-old Philadelphia native Julia Daly, whose name appears prominently on the playbills. According to newspaper advertisements, admission started at 12.5 cents for the gallery. General admission was 25 cents, and reserved seats for 37.5 cents. Orchestra and private box seating was 50 cents, and the “Colored Gallery” was 25 cents.

Somewhat more ominously than the playbills, the first photo also includes several visible posters advertising for the public sale that would take place on May 2, the day after the final performance. The sale would include the theater’s scenery, wardrobe, machinery, and other items, along with building materials such as doors, windows, rafters, roofing, and even the marble facade. This included the four marble columns, which sold for $25 each.

The theater was demolished soon after the sale, and it was replaced by a commercial building. All of the other buildings in the first photo have since been demolished as well, and the site of the theater is now a bank, which was built in 1965. It was originally the First Pennsylvania Bank, but after a series of mergers it is now a Wells Fargo branch. Further in the distance, on the other side of Sixth Street, is part of the Independence National Historical Park, and just out of view on the far right is Congress Hall and Independence Hall.