Berkshire County Savings Bank, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Savings Bank building, at the northeast corner of North and East Streets in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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It is rare for the same building to house the same company in both the “then” and “now” photos, but Berkshire Bank has been located in this building since its completion in 1896. The bank itself is actually much older, having been established in Pittsfield in 1846 as the Berkshire County Savings Bank. Fifty years later, the bank moved into this building at Park Square, in a prominent location at the corner of North and East Streets. The six-story Renaissance Revival building was designed by Boston architect Francis R. Allen, and overlooks the center of the city, directly adjacent to the First Church on the right.

More than 170 years after it was founded, the bank’s name has since been simplified to Berkshire Bank. After a series of mergers, it is now the largest bank based in Western Massachusetts, but it is still based out of this building. The building itself still retains its original appearance, although it has grown over the years. At some point it was expanded to the left along the North Street side, replacing the smaller building in the first photo and making the building roughly square. The addition is barely noticeable at first glance, though, and seamlessly blends in with the original section.

There have been even fewer changes to the First Church on the right. This Gothic church was completed in 1853, and was designed by prominent architect Leopold Eidlitz. Both the church and the bank building are among the many historic 19the century buildings around Park Square, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Courthouse at Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The courthouse in 2016:

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For many years, the town of Lenox was the county seat of Berkshire County. However, by the middle of the 19th century, Pittsfield’s population growth had dramatically outpaced its small neighbor to the south, and in 1868 the county government shifted to Pittsfield. The old courthouse eventually became the Lenox Library, and still stands today, and a new courthouse was built here on East Street in Pittsfield, facing Park Square.

The courthouse was completed in 1871, and was designed by Boston-based architect Louis Weissbein. Its exterior was constructed of marble quarried from nearby Sheffield, and it originally had a mansard roof, giving it a distinctive Second Empire appearance. However, the courthouse was later renovated and a new roof was added, and an annex was built in the rear of the building. Otherwise, though, the building’s exterior looks much the same as it did over a century ago, and it is still in use as a county courthouse. In 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Hotel Wendell, Pittsfield, Mass

The Hotel Wendell, at the corner of South and West Streets in Pittsfield, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The first photo was taken less than a decade after the completion of the Hotel Wendell. Located right in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, it opened in 1898 to much fanfare, with dignitaries including Lieutenant Governor Winthrop M. Crane, the paper magnate from nearby Dalton who later served as governor and US senator. It was designed by local architect H. Neill Wilson, in a Renaissance Revival style that was fairly common for hotels at the turn of the century, and included 110 guest rooms and a 250-seat dining room. At the time, Pittsfield was the urban center of the Berkshires, the Gilded Age playground of New York’s rich and famous, and a hotel here was a wise investment.

There is an interesting contrast in the first photo, between the large, elegant, modern hotel and the motley assortment of shabby, early 19th century brick buildings to the left. They appear to have once been houses that were later stitched together into a semi-coherent mass of a commercial block. Either way, they did not last long in the growing city. By the 1920s, the Hotel Wendell was expanding to the left, replacing these old buildings with two large additions. Completed in 1930, these additions nearly tripled the size of the hotel and made it the largest in the city.

However, the Hotel Wendell was peaking just as inner-city hotels were about to enter a precipitous decline. The Great Depression had just started and World War II would soon follow, and after the war automobiles and interstate highways drew business away from city centers. Pittsfield, once an important stop on the way from Boston to Albany and points west, was completely bypassed by the Massachusetts Turnpike, which opened in 1956, more than 10 miles to the south.

The Hotel Wendell closed in 1965, and was demolished soon after. Its replacement was a 14-story Hilton hotel, which opened in 1971. Now the Crowne Plaza Pittsfield, it is still the tallest building in the city nearly 50 years later. As seen in the 2016 photo, the new hotel is set further back from the road. The actual site of the old Hotel Wendell is now a three-story commercial building, which is part of the hotel complex and includes storefronts on the first floor along the west side of South Street.

Central Congregational Church, Providence, RI

The Central Congregational Church on Angell Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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Established in 1852, the Central Congregational Church was originally located on Benefit Street, in the western part of the College Hill neighborhood. However, within 40 years the congregation had outgrown their first home, and in 1893 they moved into this building on Angell Street. This area is located on the opposite end of College Hill, furthest from downtown Providence, and was developed as a residential neighborhood in the last decades of the 19th century.

The new church building was designed by Carrère and Hastings, a prominent New York architectural firm who designed a number of prominent Beaux-Arts style buildings at the turn of the 20th century. Designing at the height of the Gilded Age, the firms’s works ranged from grand hotels in Florida, to mansions in Newport and the Berkshires, to the New York Public Library. However, their Renaissance Revival-style design for the Central Congregational Church was among their early commissions.

With yellow brick and plenty of terra cotta, it has a Mediterranean appearance that almost seems out of place in New England, but it has stood here for over 120 years. The original tops of the two towers were damaged in a hurricane in the 1950s, and were replaced with far less ornate ones, but otherwise the church’s exterior appearance has remained the same in both photos. Today, the building is still home to the Central Congregational Church, and it is a contributing property in the Stimson Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Providence Public Library, Providence, RI

The Providence Public Library on Washington Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The Providence Public Library was established in 1875 and first opened in 1878, in the second floor of the Butler Exchange building at Exchange Plaza. Not until 1900 did the library have its own permanent home, when this building opened at the corner of Washington and Greene Streets. It was designed by the Providence firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, and its architecture reflects the Renaissance Revival design that was popular for turn-of-the-century libraries. The style had been pioneered in Boston less than a decade earlier, and would be imitated in other New England cities, including here in Providence and in Springfield. Most of the construction costs were funded by John Nicholas Brown I, who died the same year that the building was completed.

The most significant change to the building’s exterior appearance came in 1954, with the completion of a large wing on the Empire Street side of the library. This addition is only partially visible on the far right side of the photo, but its modern architecture is a sharp contrast t the classical design of the original structure. Otherwise, though, the historic library looks essentially the same as it did 110 years earlier, and it is still used as the main branch of the city’s public library system.

Union Station, Providence, RI

The view looking across City Hall Park toward Union Station in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Both the park and the railroad station were relatively new features in downtown Providence when the first photo was taken. They were a part of the larger redevelopment plan of the late 19th century, which included the filling of the Cove basin and the construction of the new State House on Smith Hill. City Hall Park, located on the north side of Exchange Place, was dedicated in 1892 and landscaped in 1898, the same year that Union Station opened on the far side.

The station complex, as seen in the first photo, consisted of five buildings, and replaced an earlier station that had been damaged in an 1896 fire. Together with the new park and the nearby State House, the station provided a grand entrance for visitors to Providence. At a time when most inter-city travel was by rail, the railroad station was the first part of the city that most travelers saw. A good first impression was important, and with this new development, Providence had a station that was worthy of its status as an prominent, growing city.

As with other grand urban passenger stations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, the Union Station saw a period of decline by the 1950s. The easternmost building, seen on the far right of the first photo, burned down in 1941, and in the postwar era there was a sharp drop in rail travel with the advent of commercial airlines and interstate highways.

The building was badly neglected, and in 1986 it was rendered entirely obsolete. That year, the elevated tracks adjacent to the station were removed, and the railroad was rerouted a little further to the north. A new, smaller station opened just south of the State House, and the old station was left isolated, several blocks away from the tracks. The following year, it was badly damaged in a fire, but it was ultimately repaired. Even the destroyed easternmost building has since been rebuilt, and today the buildings have been restored and repurposed. From this view, the buildings are no longer visible because of the tall trees on the park, which is now known as Burnside Park. However, they are still there on the other side of the park, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.