Main Street from Monument Square, North Adams, Mass

Looking west on Main Street from Monument Square in North Adams, around 1900. Image from Picturesque Berkshire County (1900).

The scene in 2019:

North Adams is one of the newest municipalities in Massachusetts, having been established in 1878, but this area was originally settled more than a century earlier, in the mid-1700s. It was incorporated as the town of Adams in 1778, and over the years it developed into two distinct villages, located about five miles apart along the Hoosac River. Both became important manufacturing centers, but the northern village, shown here in these photos, ultimately outgrew the southern one, and in 1878 it was partitioned off as the town of North Adams.

The first photo was taken around 1900, at the height of North Adams’s prosperity. Between 1880 and 1900 it more than doubled in population, growing from 10,000 to over 24,000 in just 20 years, and in 1895 it was incorporated as a city. This quarter-mile section of Main Street, between Eagle Street and the Hoosac River, became the city’s central business district, and many of the commercial buildings in the first photo were constructed during this time.

This scene would undergo further changes only a few years after the first photo was taken, most notably with the construction of the Dowlin Block and the New Kimbell Building, both of which were completed in 1902. Other buildings would be added over the next few decades, and today many of these buildings are still standing, as shown in the present-day scene.

Starting on the far right of the 2019 photo is the First Baptist Church, which was completed in 1880. At some point the tower on the corner of the building was removed, but otherwise the rest of the church survives with few exterior alterations. Past the church, on the other side of Eagle Street, the corner building in the first photo is either gone or heavily altered, and beyond it is the two-story Mohawk Theater, built in 1938.

From this perspective, the first of the major commercial buildings is the seven-story Dowlin Block, which features an ornate Renaissance Revival-style granite facade. To the left of it is the somewhat smaller Hoosac Savings Bank Building. This four-story block was built around 1884, and it appears in the first photo, where it was much more prominent before the construction of its taller neighbors. On the other side of the bank is the New Kimbell Building, which was built around the same time as the Dowlin Block in 1902. It has Renaissance Revival architecture that is similar to the Dowlin Block, and it stands six stories in height.

Barely visible further in the distance is the Gastlick Building, which was originally constructed in the late 19th century but altered in 1925. It stands next to the Second Blackinton Block, which is located at the corner of Holden Street. This four-story brick Romanesque-style building was completed in 1888, and it also appears in the first photo. Although not visible in either photo, this building is adjacent to the First Blackinton Block, a long Italianate-style commercial building that was built in 1873 and still stands today.

Perhaps the most significant building that no longer survives from the first photo is the Wilson Hotel, whose two towers are visible in the distant center of the scene. Built in 1866, this was the largest hotel in the city until the early 20th century, when it was destroyed by a fire on July 2, 1912. This site, at the northwest corner of Holden Street, is now occupied by the Empire Building, which was built later in 1912.

Overall, many of the buildings on the right side of the first photo are still standing today, alongside other historic building that were constructed within a few years afterwards. However, the left side, on the south side of Main Street, has completely changed. The old buildings here were all demolished by around the 1970s, and they were subsequently replaced by several different one-story commercial buildings and a seven-story hotel, which stands further in the distance at the corner of American Legion Drive.

Neil’s Bakery, Springfield, Mass

Neil’s Bakery, at 531 Main Street in Indian Orchard, around the 1930s. Author’s collection, gift of Linda Thayer.

The scene in 2019:

This photo shows one of the five storefronts that are located on the ground floor of a two-story building at the corner of Main and Parker Streets, in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard. The building was constructed in 1924, and the photo was probably taken within about a decade afterward. At the time, this particular storefront was the home of Neil’s Bakery, and the photo shows a variety of muffins, cookies, pies, cakes, and other baked goods on display behind the front windows.

According to a handwritten caption on the photo, the woman in the doorway is Caroline Neils. She was the daughter of Ludwig Neils, the owner of the bakery. Ludwig and his wife Aniela were both Polish immigrants, and they came to the United States as teenagers in the early 20th century. Caroline, their oldest child, was born in Springfield in 1912, and they had six other children, the youngest of whom was born around 1930.

The 1920 census shows Ludwig—who also went by the name Louis—working as a polisher in a machine shop, but by 1930 he had opened his bakery. It was still in business a decade later, during the 1940 census, and both Aniela and one of their sons were also listed as employees there. In both 1930 and 1940, the family was living just around the corner from here at 34 Parker Street, where they paid $17 per month in rent.

However, the bakery evidently closed soon after the 1940 census, and Ludwig returned to working as a machinist. According to the 1941 city directory, he was employed by the Van Norman Machine Company, and he subsequently worked there for many years. In the meantime, Caroline Neils married William Bak, and by the 1950s they were in Pittsfield. She lived there until her death in 2002, at the age of 90.

Today, the building where the Neils family once had their bakery is still standing. The storefront has been altered, and the interior was badly damaged by a fire in 1974, but there are still some subtle hints from the first photo. The bricks are the same in both photos, and as a result the building has the same arrangement of light- and dark-colored bricks, which is particularly noticeable in the vertical course directly above the storefront.

Monarch Life Insurance Company Building, Springfield, Mass

The offices of the Monarch Life Insurance Company at 365 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2019:

This building was constructed in 1938 as the home of the Monarch Life Insurance Company. Founded in 1901 as the Masonic Mutual Accident Company, it was one of several important insurance companies that were headquartered in Springfield during the early 20th century. The company originally had its offices on Elm Street, but later moved to two different locations on State Street before purchasing a house at 14 Maple Street and converting it into offices in 1924. However, it soon outgrew that building, and in 1937 the company began planning a new headquarters here on State Street, opposite the Springfield Armory.

Work began in June 1937, and the cornerstone was laid in November. The building was completed the following June, and the first photo was probably taken within about a year afterward. It was designed by Hartford architect Carl J. Malmfeldt, with an exterior that was vaguely Art Deco in its appearance. Although rather boxy and with little ornamentation, its appearance was praised by contemporary accounts in the Springfield Republican, which described it as “a building of pleasing proportions and simple lines, devoid of purposeless decoration.” Another article, published shortly before the building opened, provided the following description:

It is a distinct architectural asset to the old street. Its completion, with the outside embellishments of lawns and shrubbery in such excellent taste, dispels all doubt that may have been felt when the structure was but half finished. There may have been those who wondered what the State street of the 20th century was coming to, but it now appears that the Monarch building is the fair queen of the hill.

On the interior, the building included 35,000 square feet of space on three floors. The main floor housed the executive offices on the right side, and on the left side was the sales department, and auditorium, and training rooms. On the upper level was the general office, which extended the entire length of the building and included space for the various departments, private offices for the department managers and medical staff, and the tabulating machine that was used by the statistical department. The ground floor, which is largely hidden from view from the street, included the cafeteria, along with space for shipping, printing, and for supply storage.

Monarch Life Insurance ultimately remained here at this location for just 20 years, before merging with the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company in 1958 and moving into its offices further east on State Street. This building was then sold to the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. This company has owned it ever since, although it has undergone several mergers and name changes, and it is now Verizon New England, as indicated by the sign in the present-day photo. Aside from this change in use, though, the building’s exterior appearance remains largely the same as it looked when it was completed more than 80 years ago. From this angle, the only significant difference is the windows, but otherwise it stands as a well-preserved example of Depression-era architecture in Springfield.

423-427 State Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 423-427 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

It seems difficult to determine exactly when this building was constructed. City maps show buildings on this lot as early as 1851, although this particular building clearly does not date that far back, at least not in its current form. This property was sold at auction in 1890, and the classified ad for it described the building as a “Good two-tenement brick house, 12 rooms, also a small barn.” The current building seems much larger than just two units with 12 rooms total, so it was likely either built shortly after this sale, or significantly expanded. Either way, it had largely assumed its present appearance by 1892, as it is visible in the background of a photo taken of the neighboring Olivet Church. At the time, though, the building had a three-story porch on the right side, and there was no storefront here on the ground floor.

By this point, the building was owned by Frederick B. Taylor, a merchant who sold building materials such as doors, windows, blinds, and paint in his shop on Market Street. It does not seem clear as to how many apartments were in this building, but the 1900 census shows at least two different families living here, and contemporary classified ads suggest that there were least two other units that were vacant at the time of the census. Of the two tenants listed on the census, one was Dr. Delia L. Chapin, a physician who lived here and also had her medical practice in the building. She was 45 years old at the time, and lived with her younger sister Sarah, who worked as a nurse. The other tenant was Louisa E. Madison, a 48-year-old African-American woman who worked as a laundress. She lived here with her two teenaged sons, Walter and Lawrence.

The first photo was taken almost 40 years later in the late 1930s, and by then the porch on the right side had been removed, and two storefronts were added to the ground floor. The business on the left was the tailor shop of Joseph D’Aversa, and the one on the right was a shoe repair shop owned by Saverio Gozzi. During the 1940 census, there were at least four different families living on the upper floors, and they paid between $22 and $33 per month in rent. These residents held a variety of jobs, including a maintenance man at an apartment complex, a salesman, a waitress, and a milling machine operator and an assemblyman at Indian Motocycle. They all worked full-time, and their wages ranged from $480 per year for the waitress, to $1,200 per year for the salesman.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this building is still standing. According to city records, it currently has five apartment units, and on the ground floor it currently houses a barbershop. It has seen some changes over the years, including the removal of the early 20th century storefronts, and the brick exterior has been covered in stucco. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and it stands as one of several historic 19th century commercial buildings along this section of State Street.

429-435 State Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 429-435 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

This building was probably constructed sometime around the 1870s or 1880s, on the south side of State Street opposite the Springfield Armory. At the time, this block of State Street included a number of similar brick, three-story commercial buildings, and these generally had retail tenants on the ground floor, with apartments on the upper two floors. It is difficult to precisely date the building, but it was definitely here by the turn of the 29th century, when it appears in the city atlas as the property of Oscar F. Swift. At the time, it had at least three businesses on the ground floor, with grocer Charles H. Montgomery on the right, boot and shoe dealer Arthur O. Etienne in the middle, and locksmith Charles C. Spencer on the left.

The first photo was taken about 40 years later, in the late 1930s. By this point its tenants included launderer Charles Murphy on the right, barber Michael M. Sheehan in the middle, and antique dealer Harrison H. Bovee on the left. On the upper floors, the building had at least four families renting apartments, including Bovee, who lived here with his wife Agnes and their son Gerald. According to the 1940 census, they paid $17 per month in rent, and the other three families paid between $16 and $18.

The building was still standing here for at least a few decades after the first photo was taken, and perhaps its last retail tenant was DeMarco’s Wholesale Toy & Novelty, which was located here in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was ultimately demolished sometime around the 1970s, and the property subsequently became a parking lot adjacent to the now-vacant Kavanagh Furniture Company building, which stands on the left side of the scene in the present-day photo.

Kavanagh Furniture, Springfield, Mass

The Kavanagh Furniture store on State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

Until it closed in 2009, Kavanagh Furniture was one of the oldest businesses in Springfield, with a history that dated back to 1873. It began as the furniture company of Dennis Nelen, an Irish immigrant who had come to the United States only a few years earlier. He later formed a partnership with fellow Irishman William Kavanagh, and by the 1890s the two men were running the business at this location on State Street.

Nelen died in 1904, and it was around this time that Kavanagh acquired control of the company. Then, at some point in the early 20th century he constructed the two-story building that currently stands here on this site. He continued to run the store for the rest of his life, until his death in 1930. He left an estate of nearly $300,000, equivalent to over $4.5 million today, which included 1,987 of the 2,000 shares of the furniture company. Kavanagh apparently had no children, so he bequeathed these shares to his employees. The single largest beneficiary among the employees was Frank Nelen, the son of his former business partner, and he subsequently became the company president and treasurer.

The first photo was taken less than a decade later, showing the building as it appeared during the Great Depression. Nelen was still running the company at the time, but he died only a few years later in 1942. However, the company remained in the Nelen family for many years, with his son John D. Nelen carrying on the business into the 21st century. During this time, the building underwent some changes, including covering the second story windows, but Kavanagh Furniture continued to operate here until it went out of business in 2009. Since then, the building has remained vacant and boarded up, but it still stands here on State Street.