Second Congregational Church, Hartford, Vermont

The Second Congregational Church in the center of Hartford, around 1903-1910. Image from The Old and the New.

The church in 2018:

The present-day town of Hartford consists of five distinct villages, spread out across nearly 50 square miles of land. During the first half of the 19th century, this village here along the banks of the White River developed into the de facto town center. It was known as White River Village, and in in 1827 the Congregational Society of White River Village—later renamed the Second Congregational Society of Hartford, Vermont—was established here, with the intent of constructing a meeting house here.

This building, which is shown here in these two photos, was completed in late 1828, and it was formally dedicated on January 8, 1829. It was constructed by Jedediah Dana of Lebanon, New Hampshire, with a design that was typical for New England churches of the period, including a tower and belfry above the main entrance. On the interior, the church could seat 400 people, with pews on either side of two aisles, along with a gallery in the rear of the church.

As was often the cases in churches at the time, parishioners purchased their pews. Prices started at $52, a considerable sum for the 1820s, and the more desirable pews carried a premium. Individual families decorated and furnished their pews according to their tastes, and in the early years only pew owners could vote in church meetings, with the voting power determined by the number of pews that the person held. In all, 61 pews were sold when the church was completed, for a total of $3,788.50, which nearly covered the $4,297 that it cost to construct the building.

The church remained in use throughout the 19th century, but by the turn of the 20th century it was in need of a major renovation. This work, which was done in 1902-1903, included converting the gallery into a meeting room, replacing the heating and ventilation systems, installing new carpet and upholstery, and reducing the seating capacity to 300. Both the interior and exterior were also remodeled with Colonial Revival-style features, which were added by local architect Louis S. Newton.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after these renovations were completed. Since then, very little has changed here on the exterior. Aside from the lack of shutters in the present-day view, the church looks the same as it did more than a century ago, and it remains in use as an active church, now known as the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ. Along with the other buildings here in the village center, it is now part of the Hartford Village Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Anthony’s Church, White River Junction, Vermont

St. Anthony’s Church on Church Street in White River Junction, around 1900. Image from The Gateway of Vermont: Hartford and its Villages (1903).

The church in 2018:

During its early history, Catholicism was not particularly common in Vermont, where the majority of its settlers had English ancestry. However, the arrival of railroads in the mid-19th century led to an influx of Irish railroad workers to places such as White River Junction, which had become an important rail hub. As a result, a Catholic parish was established here in 1869 as St. Anthony’s Church, and in 1898 the parish constructed this High Victorian Gothic-style church on Church Street, near the corner of Gates Street.

The church was built of brick and trimmed with granite, and it was constructed at a cost of $30,000. It  was dedicated on October 30, 1898 by Bishop John Stephen Michaud of Burlington, in a ceremony that was attended by about a thousand people. The pastor of the church, William N. Lonergan, also participated in the services, and the sermon was delivered by the Reverend D. J. O’Sullivan of St. Albans.

The first photo here was taken within a few years after the church was completed. More than a century later, the church is still standing, although it has seen a few exterior changes during this time. From this angle, the most notable change is the ground floor of the front facade. The central doorway is now flanked on either side by two smaller doors, and the steps in front of it have been enlarged. The doorways at the base of each tower have also been reconstructed, and the doors are now at ground level, without the steps or the pointed arches above the doors. Otherwise, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the church is still in use as an active Roman Catholic parish.

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.

Church Street, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The view looking north on Church Street from the corner of Westminster Street in Bellows Falls, around the early 1900s. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the house on the left side of this scene was once the home of Hetty Green, a Gilded Age financier who was well-known for both her business acumen and her extreme frugality. The house itself dated back to 1806, when it was the home of merchant William Hall, and it was later owned by Nathaniel Tucker, who operated the nearby Tucker Toll Bridge over the Connecticut River. In 1879, Tucker’s grandson, Edward Henry Green, purchased the house, and he lived here with his wife Hetty and their two children.

The first photo was probably taken at some point during their ownership of the house, prior to Hetty’s death in 1916 at the age of 81. By then, she had accumulated a fortune of over $100 million, equivalent to over $2 billion today, which made her the richest woman in the country at the time. However, she lived a very modest lifestyle, wearing plain, old clothing and eating only inexpensive food, and reportedly foregoing both heat and hot water here in her house.

Just to the right of the Green house in the first photo is another brick house, which was the home of flour mill operator Edward Arms. He died in 1900, but the house remained in his family for many years. The 1910 census, which was probably done around the same time that the first photo was taken, shows his widow Josephine living here with their daughter Caroline, who was 31 years old. Caroline continued to live here until at least the early 1950s, although in her later years she apparently used it primarily as a summer residence.

On the far right side of the scene is the First Baptist Church of Bellows Falls, which stands at the top of the hill at the corner of Church and School Streets. The congregation was established in 1854, and this building was completed in 1860. It originally featured a tall, narrow spire atop its roof, and throughout the 19th century it was referred to as the needle spire. However, the building was renovated in 1899, including the removal of the spire and an addition to the right side, including a new tower on the corner. The first photo was probably taken soon after this work was completed, as it shows the church in its altered appearance.

Today, more than a century after this photo was taken, much of this scene has changed. Hetty Green’s daughter Sylvia owned the house on the left throughout the early 20th century, but in 1940 she gave the property to the town. The old house was subsequently demolished, and the site is now a bank. The Arms house next door is also gone, and in its place is Hetty Green Park. As a result, the Baptist church is the only surviving building from the first photo. Its exterior is not significantly different, although the tower is hidden from view by the trees, and it remains in use by the same congregation that constructed it more than 150 years ago.

First Parish Church, Concord, Mass

The First Parish Church on Lexington Road in Concord, around 1895-1900. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Concord’s First Parish Church was established in 1636, just a year after the town itself was incorporated, and over the years it has occupied several different meetinghouses here in the center of town. The first two were built in the 17th century, and the third in 1712. This one would subsequently undergo several major reconstructions, but it was otherwise still standing when the first photo was taken sometime in the late 1890s.

When it was built in 1712, this church had neither a tower nor portico, and it was set on a different foundation. Despite its modest appearance, though, it served as Concord’s church for many years. Perhaps most significantly, it was temporarily used as the de facto colonial capitol building in October 1774. At the time, the British government had just disbanded the colonial legislature through one of the so-called Intolerable Acts. However, the elected representatives of the various towns ignored this decree and met here at the church in Concord, where John Hancock presided over the assembly, which was known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. The pastor of the church at the time was William Emerson, who served as the chaplain of the congress. He subsequently died during the American Revolution in 1776, but he is perhaps best known today as the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The original appearance of this church was fairly typical for New England meetinghouses of the period, with their plain, unadorned style reflecting Puritan beliefs about worship. However, by the late 18th century these ideas about church architecture had begun to change, giving rise to the iconic white-steepled churches that have long been a defining characteristic of small-town New England. However, traditional Yankee frugality still played a role in decision-making, and many of the old churches were simply remodeled instead of being demolished and rebuilt.

Such was the case here in Concord, where the old 1712 building was expanded by 12 feet and a 90-foot tower was added to it in 1792. An even more dramatic change came in 1841, though, when the church hired noted Boston architect Richard Bond to redesign the church in contemporary Greek Revival style. The result was the exterior that appears in the first photo, with its tower and front portico with four large Doric columns. This project also involved rotating the church so that it faced Lexington Road, and constructing a new, six-foot-high granite foundation. All of this work was done at a total cost of $8,300, equivalent to a little over $200,000 today.

The renovated church continued to be a prominent landmark in downtown Concord throughout the 19th century. During this time, Concord was at the height of its importance as a literary center, and its membership included Ralph Waldo Emerson, along with the family of Henry David Thoreau. However, Thoreau himself was not a member, and he made a point of refusing to pay the municipal tax that, at the time, helped to support the church. Despite this, Thoreau’s funeral was held here in the church in 1862, followed by Emerson’s 20 years later.

In 1900, the interior of the church underwent another remodeling, this time to prepare it for the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Concord. This included repainting the interior, adding decorative woodwork, and installing electric lights. The whole project took several months, but it was essentially completed by the night of April 11, at a cost of $2,500. However, the building caught fire in the early morning hours of April 12, probably from the spontaneous combustion of rags that the painters had left behind. None of the other surrounding buildings were damaged by the fire, but the church was a total loss, leaving only a few salvageable items by the time the fire was extinguished.

In the aftermath of the fire, the church soon began efforts to replace it with a near-identical replica. Using the original 1841 plans, the architectural firm of Cabot, Everett and Mead designed a new church on the same site. There are a few minor differences between the two designs, including the slope of the roof and the details of the tower, and the new one has a vestibule behind the front portico. Overall, though, it was a a very faithful reproduction of the old church, and at first glace the two buildings are nearly identical. This 1901 church building is still standing today, and it continues to serve as an active Unitarian congregation nearly four centuries after the church was established.

Main and Elm Streets, Westfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Elm Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

These two photos show the scene at the northwest corner of Park Square, in the center of downtown Westfield. For the most part, these buildings were constructed in the mid-19th century, when Westfield was in the midst of a long, steady growth in its population. The town had a population of 4,180 in 1850, and it would continue to increase throughout the rest of the century, reaching nearly 10,000 by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point, Westfield was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was particularly well-known for buggy whips, with the town’s firms ultimately controlling about 99% of the world’s production by the early 20th century.

All of the buildings in this scene were constructed as commercial blocks, with the exception of the three-story, wood-frame building on the far left. Located at the corner of Elm and School Streets, this was built in 1843 as the First Methodist Church. The congregation worshiped here in this building for the next 33 years, and during this time the church had several notable pastors. These included Mark Trafton, who served several stints here in the 1840s and early 1850s before being elected to Congress in 1854, and John Hanson Twombly, who served as pastor here from 1851 to 1853. He later went on to become president of the University of Wisconsin from 1871 to 1874, before returning here to this church in 1874. It was also in this building, in 1862, that Russell H. Conwell gave his first lecture. Although he never served as pastor here, he would go on to become a prominent Baptist minister, and the founder and first president of Temple University.

In 1876, during Reverend Twombly’s second pastorate, the church moved into a new, much larger building nearby on Court Street. The old church was then converted exclusively into commercial use. It had been constructed with storefronts on the ground floor, and its tenants included several different grocery stores. However, after the church relocated, the post office moved into this building, and it remained here until 1912, when a purpose-built post office was constructed on the other side of Park Square.

At some point, the original tower and belfry were removed from the building, but otherwise it still retained much of its Greek Revival exterior by the time the first photo was taken. It would remain largely the same until the 1940s, when it was dramatically altered by the removal of the third floor and gable roof. Now down to two stories, the old church is still standing here today on the left side of the photo, although it is barely recognizable from its historical appearance.

To the right of the church in the first photo is a row of three brick commercial buildings. Furthest to the left was the home of the First National Bank of Westfield. This is the only building from the first photo that no longer exists in any form, as it was demolished around 1930 to build the present-day bank on the lot. To the right of it is another two-story building at 32-34 Elm Street, which was built around 1860. For more than a century, it was occupied by Conner’s, a book, stationery, and gift shop that had been founded in 1867. It moved to this location by the mid-1890s, and it would remain here until it finally closed in 2007. Although Conner’s is gone, the building itself still stands, relatively unaltered from its appearance in the first photo.

Further to the right, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets, is Whitman’s Hall, also known as the Music Hall and the Opera House. It was built in 1855, but it was subsequently expanded in 1870 and renovated again in 1888 and 1904. As the names suggest, the three-story building originally included a public hall. This was used for many different kinds of events over the years, including balls, lectures, concerts, operas, and even prize fights. The building is still standing today, but like the old church it has been heavily altered. The third floor was removed around 1940, and the remaining portion of the building is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance.

On the far right side of both photos is the oldest building in the scene, and possibly the best-preserved of all these historic buildings. It was built in 1842 as the Westfield House Hotel, a boarding house that occupied the upper floors until 1894. The ground floor was used for shops and offices, throughout this time, and during the early 20th century the second floor housed the Westfield District Court. Today, the building stands relatively unaltered on the exterior, and it remains an important landmark on the north side of Park Square.

Overall, despite some significant alterations, most of the buildings from the first photo have survived to the present day in some form. Elsewhere in downtown Westfield, there are a number of other historic commercial buildings that are still standing, and the area is now part of the Westfield Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and expanded in 2013. Because of how heavily they were altered, neither the old church nor Whitman’s Hall are considered to be contributing properties, but both the Conner’s building and the Westfield House Hotel are listed as such, as is the 1930 First National Bank of Westfield building.