First Methodist Church, Westfield, Mass

The First Methodist Church on Court Street, seen from Park Square in Westfield around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

The origins of Westfield’s Methodist church date back to 1794, when the first Methodist services were held in a village in the southwest corner of the town that came to be known as Mundale. The first Methodist church in the center of Westfield was constructed on Main Street in 1833, and it was followed a decade later by a new building at the northwest corner of Elm and School Streets. This one was used by the church for the next 33 years, and it actually still stands today, albeit in an almost unrecognizable condition.

In 1875, the church began construction on a new, much larger building, which was located on the south side of Court Street, just west of Park Square. The cornerstone was laid on June 3 of that year, in a ceremony that featured remarks by at least four former pastors of the church, including Jefferson Hascall, who had begun his pastorate here in Westfield back in 1829. Another was Mark Trafton, who had served as pastor for several different stints in the 1840s and early 1850s before being elected to a single term in Congress in 1854, as a member of the Know-Nothing Party.

According to an account that was published in the Springfield Republican, Trafton’s speech “was interrupted by a half-crazy woman, who wanted all to know “that Jesus didn’t order the building of that church, and Moses was the one to whom the stones were given.” However, she was escorted away by the police, and the ceremony continued. Trafton was followed by the singing of a hymn, and then a box was placed under the cornerstone. It contained newspapers, church member and donor lists, and other documents for posterity. The current pastor of the church, Dr. John Hanson Twombly, then said a few words before laying the cornerstone. Twombly had been pastor of the church more than two decades earlier, from 1851 to 1853, but he returned to Westfield in 1874, after having served as president of the University of Wisconsin for the previous three years.

The church took about 10 months to complete, and it was dedicated on April 4, 1876. Unlike its wooden, Greek Revival predecessor, this church building was constructed of brick, and it featured an ornate High Victorian Gothic-style exterior. As was typical for this style of church, its front façade was asymmetrical, with a shorter tower on the left side and a taller one on the right. It was built at a cost of $80,000, although it does not seem clear as to whether this was just for the building itself, or the furnishings as well. In either case, these furnishings included a new organ, which was presented to the church by the young people’s society, who purchased it for $7,000, or about $170,000 today.

Dr. Twombly was still the pastor of the church when this building was completed, and he gave brief remarks at the dedication ceremony. However, the keynote speaker of the day was Bishop Matthew Simpson of Philadelphia. He had risen to prominence during the Civil War, giving pro-Union speeches and even serving as a friend and advisor to Abraham Lincoln. He gave a eulogy at Lincoln’s funeral in Springfield, Illinois, and three years later he officiated the wedding of the president’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Here in Westfield, the well-known clergyman spoke for almost two hours to a crowd of about 1,500 people, and the Republican noted that his topics included “the progress and growing power of Christianity,” and that “he believed in building costly churches, and said that one church like the one he stood in did more for good morals than a dozen jails ,or a hundred policemen.”

The first photo shows the church about 15 years later, in the early 1890s. In the foreground of the photo is Park Square, and in the distance on the left side is the Morgan Block, a commercial building that was constructed in the late 1810s. In front of this building, and visible in between the trees of the first photo, is Westfield’s Civil War monument, which was dedicated in 1871 in memory of the 66 Westfield residents who died during the war. Further to the right, in the center of the photo, both the Morgan Block and the monument are dwarfed by the Methodist church, which would stand here as a prominent landmark in downtown Westfield for many years.

The church building remained in use for nearly a century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1967, and a new church was completed on this site a year later. The new building is much shorter than its predecessor, and its modernist architecture bears no resemblance to the Gothic style of the old building, but its design did incorporate several salvaged elements, including chandeliers and a window. Because of its shorter height, the church is barely visible from this angle in the present-day scene. Only the large cross atop the church is noticeable, and it can be seen just to the right of the Morgan Block, which remains largely unaltered since the first photo was taken some 125 years earlier.

Church of the Atonement, Westfield, Mass

The Church of the Atonement, on King Street in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

Westfield’s Episcopal church was established in 1863, and ten years later it became the Church of the Atonement. During its early years, its parishioners worshiped in several temporary locations, including in the Universalist church, but in 1880 the church broke ground on this building here on King Street, just west of Washington Street. The cornerstone was laid on May 15 of that year, in a ceremony that was officiated by Benjamin Henry Paddock, the Bishop of Massachusetts, and the work was completed eleven months later.

The church was first used on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1881. The Springfield Republican, in an article published two days earlier, declared it to be “one of the prettiest specimens of Gothic architecture in the town,” and provided the following description of the building:

The building is of brick with a slate roof, and has a tower at the northeast corner to which it is intended at some future day to add 50 or 75 feet and put in a chime of bells. The main entrance is from the east side of the tower, but admission may also be gained by the door in the wing or vestry leading into the chapel. The church has a seating capacity of 200, and is 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, not including the vestry, 15 by 18 feet. The interior, including casings and ceilings, will be handsomely finished in butternut, while the chancel trimmings and altars are to be of black-walnut. All the windows are of richly-stained glass, and the chancel and nave windows are beautiful specimens of art.

The first photo was taken about a decade later, and it shows the east side of the building, including the short tower at the main entrance. Despite the intentions of the parish, the planned bell tower had not been added by this point, and it would ultimately remain unbuilt, as the present-day photo shows. By the mid-1890s, though, the parish had grown to 50 families, with a total of 250 people, which must have put a strain on the building’s seating capacity of just 200.

The Church of the Atonement remained here in this building into the early 20th century. During this time, the house on the left side of this scene was constructed, evidently as a rectory. However, in 1924 the church moved to its current location at the corner of Court and Pleasant Streets, and sold this King Street property to Westfield’s First Church of Christ, Scientist. This congregation used the church throughout most of the 20th century, and the house was used as a Christian Science reading room.

The Christian Scientists sold the church and house in the early 1990s, and today both buildings are owned by the Christian Church of New Jerusalem. The exterior of the church remains largely unchanged since the first photo was taken, although it is somewhat difficult to tell, because the adjacent house now blocks part of the view of the church from this angle.

Memorial Church, Springfield, Mass

The Memorial Church, at the corner of Main and Plainfield Streets in Springfield, around 1905. Image from Springfield Present and Prospective (1905).

The church in 2018:

Springfield’s Memorial Church was established in 1865 as a nondenominational Christian church. It was named in honor of “the memory of the deceased ministers of New England,” and, according to one of its early resolutions, it welcomed “to its membership and communion all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, and who agree with it concerning the essential doctrines of the Christian religion, by whatever name they may be called.” Many of its founding members had come from North Congregational Church, but the first pastor was Mark Trafton, a noted Methodist clergyman who had previously served a term in Congress.

The two leaders in establishing the Memorial Church were George M. Atwater and Josiah G. Holland. Both men were prominent Springfield residents; Atwater was a businessman who, a few years later, would establish the city’s streetcar system, and Holland was a nationally-renowned author, poet, and editor. Holland also served as the leader of the choir and the superintendent of the Sunday school, but he left Springfield in 1868 and eventually moved to New York, where he became one of the founders of Scribner’s Monthly.

During its first few years, the church met in a school building, but in 1869 this new building was completed at the corner of Main and Plainfield Streets, in the city’s North End. It was constructed with granite from nearby Monson, with contrasting brownstone trim, and its Gothic Revival design was the work of New York architect Richard Upjohn and his son, Richard Mitchell Upjohn. The elder Upjohn was one of the leading church architects in the United States during the mid-19th century, and his other notable works included Trinity Church in New York City. He had also previously designed George Atwater’s house, Rockrimmon, here in Springfield, which is probably how he ended up with the commission for Atwater’s church. The younger Upjohn was also a successful architect in his own right, and he subsequently designed the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford.

Also in 1869, William T. Eustis was installed as pastor of the church. He had been the pastor of Chapel Street Congregational Church in New Haven since 1848, but he left there in order to accept this position here in Springfield. Eustis would go on to serve as pastor of the Memorial Church for nearly 20 years, until his death in 1888, and during this time the church saw significant growth, with around 350 members and 400 Sunday school students by the mid-1880s. Eustis’s replacement was John L. R. Trask, formerly of the Second Congregational Church in Holyoke, who remained here until his retirement in 1904.

The first photo was taken around the same time that Reverend Trask retired, and it depicts a winter scene, with snow on the ground and even some patches of snow clinging to the steep roof. At the time, the church was situated on the southern end of Round Hill, a roughly triangular-shaped raised ground bounded by Main, Plainfield, and Arch Streets. Although the rest of the North End was largely working class, Round Hill featured several large mansions, one of which is visible in the distance on the right side of the church. Constructed around 1868, this was the first of the houses to be constructed here, and it was originally the home of Dr. William G. Breck, a local physician.

The Memorial Church remained an active congregation here until 1940, when it sold the property to the Church of St. George, a Greek Orthodox parish that had previously worshiped in several other buildings nearby in the North End. This church became the St. George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church, and the interior was remodeled to meet the needs of its new congregation. Only a few years later, in 1944, the rear of the building was severely damaged by a fire, but it was restored by the following year.

Round Hill was all but obliterated by the 1960s, when Interstate 91 was constructed through the area, just to the west of the church. All of the mansions were demolished by then, and most of the hill was leveled to create an interchange with Route 20. The site of the Breck house is now a McDonald’s, and today the church is the only surviving 19th century building on Round Hill. It was nearly vacated in the 1970s, when St. George explored the possibility of relocating to Longmeadow, but the parishioners ultimately voted to remain here. The church was subsequently renamed St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and around the same time it acquired the former Memorial Square Branch Library, which was converted into the Greek Cultural Center. St. George is still here today, and the building stands as an important architectural landmark in Springfield, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago.

First Central Baptist Church, Chicopee, Mass

First Central Baptist Church, at the corner of Broadway and East Streets in Chicopee Falls, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2018:

The first Baptist organization in Chicopee was established in 1828, back when this area was still part of Springfield. The congregation constructed its first church building in 1832, and it was located just a block away from here at the corner of Maple and Belcher Streets. Chicopee was incorporated as a separate town, and the church became the First Baptist Church of Chicopee. Two years later, the building was moved down the hill to Market Street and enlarged, and the congregation worshiped there for the next 28 years.

In 1878, the First Baptist Church moved back up the hill, constructing this brick High Victorian Gothic-style church building on Broadway. The pastor at the time was Rufus King Bellamy, who had served in this capacity since 1848. He would continue as pastor until 1882, but he would probably be remembered best as the father of novelist and journalist Edward Bellamy, who was one of the most successful American authors of the late 19th century.

Following Reverend Bellamy’s retirement, none of the next few pastors here at First Baptist came close to matching his longevity. By the time the first photo was taken a decade later, the church had seen three new pastors, and it would have two more by the turn of the 20th century. However, this kind of pastoral turnover was not uncommon for churches of the period, and Bellamy’s 34 years in the pulpit was unusually long, even compared with other churches in Chicopee.

In 1931, the First Baptist Church merged with Central Baptist Church, which had been located in the center of Chicopee at the corner of School and Cabot Streets. Central Baptist sold that property, and the united congregation continued to worship here in this church on Broadway, becoming the First Central Baptist Church. Since then, the building has been expanded with an addition to the rear that was built in 1965, but otherwise the historic church is still standing with few alterations to its original exterior. It remains an active church, although it has been renamed again, and it is now the First Central Bible Church.

St. Stephen’s Church, Boston

Looking north on Hanover Street in Boston, with St. Stephen’s Church in the center of the scene, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show the view looking north on Hanover Street from about the corner of Tileston Street, in Boston’s North End. The most prominent building here in this scene is St. Stephen’s Church, which is located directly opposite the Paul Revere Mall. Although it is currently a Roman Catholic church, it was constructed in 1804 as a Congregational church. It was originally known as the New North Church, as opposed to the more famous Old North Church less than 200 yards away, and it was the work of prominent architect Charles Bulfinch, who was responsible for designing many important buildings in early 19th century Boston.

This church was built around the same time that Unitarian theology was causing divisions within Congregational churches across New England. In 1813, New North became Unitarian, as did a number of other Congregational churches in Boston. That same year, 25-year-old Francis Parkman became its pastor. He would go on to serve the church for the next 36 years, and he was also the father of Francis Parkman Jr., who went on to become a noted historian and writer.

By the mid-19th century, the demographics of the North End had changed. As new, more desirable neighborhoods were developed in other parts of the city, affluent North End residents had steadily left the area. These largely Protestant, native-born residents were replaced by Irish Catholic immigrants, who settled in large numbers here in the North End. With its congregants leaving the increasingly crowded and impoverished neighborhood, the New North Church was ultimately sold in 1862 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, becoming St. Stephen’s Church.

The church building subsequently underwent some changes, including alterations to the original cupola. In 1870, it was moved back 16 feet when Hanover Street was widened, and it was also raised six feet on a new, higher foundation, in order to create a lower level. The interior was also modified, and it saw further changes after being damaged by fires in 1897 and 1929.

The first photo shows the church, and its surroundings on Hanover Street, around the turn of the 20th century. By this point, the North End was no longer predominantly Irish. Instead, the neighborhood was filled with newer immigrant groups, particularly Italians, and the North End was well on its way to becoming known as Little Italy. However, some of the Irish parishioners maintained their connections to St. Stephen’s Church, including John F. Fitzgerald, who was a congressman and mayor of Boston. His daughter Rose – the mother of John F. Kennedy – was baptized here in 1890, and her funeral was held here 104 years later, in 1995.

Out of the five churches that Charles Bulfinch designed in Boston, this church is the only one that survived into the 20th century. By the 1960s it was also one of his few remaining churches anywhere, and it was recognized for its historic and architectural significance. From 1964 to 1965, it underwent a major renovation, which included lowering the building to its original level and restoring the cupola. The interior was also restored during this time, although it is somewhat different from Bulfinch’s original plans.

Today, St. Stephen’s Church is still an active Roman Catholic parish, and the restored building stands as an important architectural landmark in the North End. The surrounding streetscape has seen some changes since the first photo was taken around 120 years ago, with the most obvious being the three buildings on the right side, which were constructed around 1905. Overall, though, this scene has maintained the same scale since the late 19th century, which still consists primarily of four-story brick commercial blocks, and the North End remains a remarkably well-preserved section of Boston.

Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Mass

Trinity Methodist Church on Bridge Street in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Trinity Methodist Church was established in 1844 with about 40 members, many of whom had left the Union Street Methodist Church. The following year, the congregation moved into its first building, which was located on Pynchon Street, across the street from where City Hall is now located. However, as the city grew in the mid-19th century, so did the church membership, and within less than 25 years the Pynchon Street building had become too small for the church.

In 1869, Trinity Methodist relocated to this building here on Bridge Street, as shown in the first photo. Its exterior featured a Romanesque-style design, which was the work of local architectural firm Perkins and Gardner, and it measured 122 feet long and 74 feet wide, with a steeple that rose 185 feet above the street. The entire cost, including the land, was $73,000, which is equivalent to about $1.4 million today. By 1883, the membership had grown to 447 people, and the church also had a Sunday school that was staffed by 38 teachers, and had 377 students.

However, for such a large, elegant church, this site was a rather unusual location, tucked away on a side street with commercial buildings on one side and modest houses on the other. As downtown Springfield continued to grow, the church would become increasingly out of place here on Bridge Street. By the turn of the 20th century, it was the only church on or near Main Street in the mile between Court Square to the south and Memorial Square to the north, with the rest of this corridor becoming almost exclusively commercial.

Around the same time, residents were beginning to move away from the city center. Trolleys, and later automobiles, made it easy for people to live on the outskirts of the city and commute into downtown, and by the mid 20th century many of the downtown churches had followed their parishioners into the suburbs. Among these was Trinity Methodist, which moved out of this building on Bridge Street in the early 1920s, and into a new Neo-Gothic church that still stands on Sumner Avenue, in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood.

The Bridge Street church was demolished in 1922, barely 50 years after its completion, and it was replaced by a three-story commercial block. Named the Trinity Block in recognition of its predecessor, it still stands today, and it is visible on the right side of the 2018 photo. The only other historic building in the present-day scene is the Fuller Block, on the left side of the photo. It was completed in 1887, and both it and the Trinity Block are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.