Excelsior Carriage Company, White River Junction, Vermont

The Excelsior Carriage Company on North Main Street in White River Junction, around 1903. Image from The Gateway of Vermont: Hartford and its Villages (1903).

The scene in 2018:

When the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, this property was a carriage dealership run by Henry Miller, a native of nearby North Hartland. He was born there in 1850, and as a young man he began his business career by running a general store in his hometown. However, he subsequently entered the carriage business, becoming affiliated with the Excelsior Carriage Company of Watertown, New York. Then, in 1895 he moved to White River Junction, where he opened the New England branch of Excelsior here at this facility.

As it turned out, this was a rather inauspicious time to begin a carriage dealership, as by this point automobile pioneers were beginning to develop the first cars. However, Henry Miller’s teenage son Garfield “Dusty” Miller recognized the future potential of cars, and thanks to his involvement the company expanded into the automotive industry around 1903. Among the first cars sold here were Cadillacs, which were produced in Detroit starting in 1902 by fellow Vermont native Henry M. Leland.

In the early years, automobile sales occurred here alongside more traditional vehicles such as carriages and sleighs. Not everyone was quick to embrace the often-unreliable automobile, and Vermont was particularly challenging for early motorists, with its rough roads and limited number of gas stations. The first photo illustrates the coexistence of these two types of transportation, with the horse-drawn wagon in the lower center of the scene and the car in the lower right corner.

Nonetheless, the dealership prospered, and in 1907 the Millers established the Miller Automobile Company, with a new showroom a few blocks south of here on Gates Street. The new company retained ownership of this property on North Main Street until 1920, although during this time it it was only used for storage. In the meantime, the dealership became the largest Cadillac dealer in New England by 1910, and it remained in the Miller family for many years, with Dusty’s son William eventually taking over the business on Gates Street.

Today, nearly 120 years after Dusty Miller sold his first car, the company still exists as the Miller Auto Group, although it has undergone significant changes and is now based out of Lebanon, New Hampshire. Its original facility here in White River Junction also survives, as shown in the present-day scene. It too has seen many changes, yet it its appearance is still recognizable from the first photo. The building continues to be used as a commercial property, and it currently houses the Upper Valley Food Cooperative.

Philadelphia Bourse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Black Bear Tavern on South Fifth Street, seen looking south from near Market Street, in February 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Collection.

The scene around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo was taken in February 1859, showing the scene looking south on South 5th Street from near Market Street. In the foreground on the left is the Black Bear Inn, a four-story hotel that was built around 1816. The inn itself had been in operation since the 18th century, and it was originally located around the corner on Market Street before moving to this building. It was still in operation when the first photo was taken, and by this point the building had several other commercial tenants as indicated by the signs, including grocer Jeremiah Starr and wine and liquor dealers Schaffer & Montgomery.

Further down the street were several other early 19th century buildings. Among these was a group of rowhouses, visible to the right of the center of the photo with three dormer windows on the roof. The one furthest to the left, at 23 South 5th Street, was at the time the home of noted portrait artist Thomas Sully. Although born in England, Sully spent most of his life in Philadelphia, and he lived in this house for many years. During his long career he painted a number of prominent individuals, and he was responsible for the Seated Liberty coin design. Many years after his death, his work made another appearance on American money when his portrait of Andrew Jackson was incorporated into the design of the $20 bill.

The Black Bear Inn was ultimately demolished soon after the first photo was taken, and it was replaced by the Eastern Market, which opened here in November 1859. This building remained in use as a marketplace throughout the next few decades, but it was ultimately demolished in the early 1890s in order to construct the Philadelphia Bourse, which is shown here in both the second and third photos.

The Bourse was established in 1891 as a commodities exchange. Its founder, George E. Bartol, modeled it after the Bourse in Hamburg, Germany, and it was located in temporary quarters for several years while this building was under construction. The work was completed in 1895 after two years of construction, at a cost of about $2.4 million, equivalent to about $75 million today. It was designed by the noted Philadelphia architectural firm of G. W. & W. D. Hewitt, and it was one of the city’s first steel-frame skyscrapers.

When the building opened on October 1, 1895, its tenants included the Board of Trade, the Trades League, the Lumbermen’s Exchange, the Grocers and Importers Exchange, and the Hardware Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association. The Bourse soon became the commercial center of the city, and by the early 20th century it was also occupied by the Commercial Exchange, the Maritime Exchange, the Paint Manufacturers’ Club, and the Drug Exchange. Other tenants during this period included the Philadelphia offices of the Government Weather Bureau and the Navy’s Hydrographic Office, along with a variety of railroad and steamship agencies and other businesses.

In 1916, on the 25th anniversary of its establishment, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on the Bourse, in which it praised the effect that it has had on the city’s commerce, noting:

The Philadelphia Bourse is the only institution of its kind in the United States and in some of its features probably is better known outside of Philadelphia than by the people of this city. It is an application to Philadelphia of the European Bourse idea, a building in which merchants may meet to facilitate the transaction of business and which may house various commercial and business organizations, such as the Bourse du Commerce of Paris and the Bourses of Hamburg and Vienna. . . .

From a venture supported by farsighted and progressive business men in twenty-five years the Philadelphia Bourse has developed into an institution of national reputation. It has played a leading part in the development of the port and commercial life of this city and vicinity and within recent years it had taken an influential position in the commercial matters of the entire country.

The Bourse continued to function as a commodities exchange until the 1960s. Since then, it has been used for retail and commercial office space, and it now includes a food court on the ground floor. The building underwent a major $40 million renovation from 2016-2018, and today it remains well-preserved, with few exterior changes since the second photo was taken more than a century ago.

However, the Bourse is the only surviving building from the second photo. The buildings further in the distance were demolished a few years later to make room for the Lafayette Building, which was completed in 1907 and still stands at the corner of South 5th and Chestnut Streets. The building on the far left side in the foreground is also gone, as are all of the buildings on the opposite side of South 5th Street, which were demolished in the mid-20th century to create the Independence Mall.

Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (2)

The Hotel Rockingham on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1895-1904. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this building dates back to 1883, when it was constructed by local businessman Leverett T. Lovell. Initially, it was used for retail and office space, but in 1895 it opened as the Hotel Rockingham. In these early years, much of the hotel’s business was from railroad travelers, as Bellows Falls was a busy railroad junction, and the hotel was located just a short walk from the passenger depot. However, the hotel also served long-term guests and boarders, with perhaps the most famous being Wall Street financier and Bellows Falls resident Hetty Green, who spent three or four weeks here during the summer of 1907.

Over time, the Hotel Rockingham eventually became primarily a rooming house, and it fell into decline by the mid-20th century. It finally closed in the 1960s, but it was later rehabilitated as the Canal House, with commercial storefronts on the ground floor and low-income elderly housing on the upper floors. This project included the restoration of the original hotel building, along with a large, six-story addition on the rear of the building, facing Canal Street.

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, not much has changed here on the Rockingham Street side of the hotel. It has survived a number of major fires that destroyed nearby buildings, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century hotel building. Several of its neighbors are also still standing further in the distance, including two wood-frame commercial buildings that were constructed around 1870. The only major addition to this scene since the first photo was taken is the fire station on the far right side of the present-day photo, which was built in 1904. All of these buildings, including the Hotel Rockingham itself, are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (1)

The Hotel Rockingham, on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1900-1920.  Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The building in 2018:

This building was constructed in 1883 by Leverett T. Lovell, a local businessman whose name is still visible in the slate shingles of the mansard roof. It originally housed a mix of commercial tenants, and an 1885 map shows that it was occupied by a harness shop, a print shop, two millinery shops, and a dentist’s office. However, in 1895 the building became the Hotel Rockingham, as shown in the first photo, which was probably taken within about a decade or two after the hotel opened.

Not long after the hotel opened, manager Lewis T. Moseley, faced legal trouble as a result of the state’s prohibition laws. Long before nationwide Prohibition, Vermont became one of the first states to outlaw the sale of liquor in 1853, and these laws remained in effect throughout the rest of the 19th century. They were not often consistently enforced, though, and violations were evidently common. Here at the Hotel Rockingham, Moseley sold illicit liquor, but in December 1895 he was charged after several students at nearby Vermont Academy admitted to drinking here. The hotel was raided again just two weeks later, and officers discovered and seized several gallons of whiskey. However, Moseley argued that this was the same liquor that he had before the previous incident, and that he had not sold any since then and was planning on returning it to his supplier. This defense was apparently persuasive, because the court subsequently ordered the whiskey to be returned to him.

Aside from selling illegal alcohol to local students, the Hotel Rockingham was also popular as a railroad hotel. At the time, Bellows Falls was an important railroad junction, and many travelers stayed here, thanks to its proximity to the railroad station on the other side of the canal behind the hotel. However, the hotel also had some long-term guests, with the 1900 census showing six boarders who resided here. All were either single or divorced, and their occupations included two barbers, a veterinary surgeon, a dressmaker, and a railroad brakeman. In addition, eleven hotel employees lived here in the building, including a clerk, porter, chef, pastry cook, kitchen worker, three waitresses, two laundrywomen, and a young man who did “general work,” presumably as some sort of handyman.

A few years later, in 1907, the hotel had a particularly wealthy boarder in Hetty Green, the famous miser and financier who was the richest woman in America during the early 20th century. She owned a house nearby on Church Street, but during the summer of 1907 she and her daughter Sylvia spent about thee or four weeks living here at the Hotel Rockingham, rather than opening their house for a relatively short stay in town.

The Hotel Rockingham remained in operation throughout the first half of the 20th century. The village of Bellows Falls was hit by a number of catastrophic fires during this period, which destroyed many important downtown buildings, yet the hotel survived these threats. One such fire occurred on February 16, 1911, when a nearby store caught fire. The blaze spread from there, destroying three buildings and damaging two others, including the Rockingham. However, the damage was limited to $1,500, which was fully insured, and the hotel was soon repaired. Another major fire threatened the hotel on January 19, 1920. It began in a laundry at 63 Rockingham Street, and it destroyed two houses and a theater, causing about $75,000 in damage. The Hotel Rockingham was evacuated, but it sustained only minor damage from the flames.

Over time, the hotel fell into a decline, eventually becoming a rooming house before closing in the 1960s. However, the building was subsequently restored and expanded, with a six-story addition on the rear of the building facing Canal Street. Now known as the Canal House, it is a mixed-use property with commercial tenants on the first floor, and affordable housing for the elderly on the upper floors. From this view, very little has changed on the exterior besides the addition, and it stands as an important historic building in the village center, Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Brown Block and Elks Block, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The buildings at the northeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, around 1890-1905. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, downtown Bellows Falls suffered a series of devastating fires, many of which were located here at the Square. Many large brick buildings here, including the nearby Hotel Windham and the town hall on the other side of the street, have burned over the years. Ironically, though, the three wood-frame buildings visible in this scene have survived these fires, and they are still standing at the northeast corner of the Square, well over a century after they were built.

On the far left is the corner of a three-story commercial block that was built around 1820 and extensively modified in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, around the time that the first photo was taken, it was the home of Baldasaro’s Fruit Market. Just to the right of this building is the Exner Block, which is partially visible in this scene at 7-25 Canal Street. Built around the mid-19th century, it originally had two stories as shown in the first photo, but in 1905-1907 it altered and expanded to its current appearance.

The third wood-frame building here is the Brown Block, which occupies most of the left side of these photos. It was built in 1890 at 1-5 Canal Street, and it was originally owned by Amos Brown. It features distinctive Queen Anne-style architecture, which is uncommon for commercial buildings in Bellows Falls, including a turret on the right side of the building.

The Brown Block was heavily damaged by a fire that occurred here in the early morning hours of Christmas 1906. At the time, the building was occupied by a number of commercial tenants, including a fruit store, bakery, lunch room, a boot and shoe store, a cigar shop and restaurant, and a barber shop. In addition, there were several residents living in apartments on the upper floors. The fire gutted the Brown Block, but there was no loss of life, and the building was ultimately repaired.

Just to the right of the Brown Block is the Elks Block, which was built in the late 1880s or 1890s. By the time the first photo was taken it had a variety of tenants, as shown by the assortment of signs on the front of the building. These included a restaurant, a boot and shoe store, a drugstore, and a photographic studio. However, like its neighbor, this building would also be damaged by a fire. It was one of several buildings that burned on March 26, 1912, in the same fire that also destroyed the Hotel Windham. The building was gutted and the roof was destroyed, but it was subsequently rebuilt.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene still looks largely the same. The exterior of the Brown Block is particularly well-preserved, and even the ground-floor storefront has retained its original appearance. The two lower floors of the Elks Block also look the same today, although the ornate cornice at the top of the building is gone, having been replaced after the 1912 fire. The exterior of the third floor was also probably rebuilt after the fire, which would explain why the bricks are a different shade than the lower floors. Aside from the Brown Block and Elks Block, the other two buildings in this scene are also still standing today, and all four properties are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Baldasaro’s Fruit Market, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The building at the northern end of the Square, between Rockingham and Canal Streets in Bellows Falls, around 1904-1914. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the early 20th century, downtown Bellows Falls suffered a series of devastating fires that destroyed many of the 19th century buildings here at the Square. Throughout this time, though, this modest wood-frame commercial block has survived largely unscathed, with few significant changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago.

The building’s origins date back to around 1820, although it was heavily reconstructed around 1890, including the addition of a third floor. By about the turn of the 20th century, the storefront was occupied by Baldasaro’s Fruit Market, as shown in the first photo. The market was run by Pasquale “Patsy” Baldasaro, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States as a teenager in the mid-1880s. He spent some time working as a foreman for the Boston & Maine Railroad, but he subsequently came to to Bellows Falls, where he opened a fruit market on Canal Street before moving his store to this location.

Baldasaro ran the business until the early 1910s, when he sold it to two of his clerks, and he died in 1921 at the age of 48. However, he was still remembered many years later, and his store was mentioned in the 1958 book History of the Town of Rockingham Vermont, which provides the following reminiscence:

At the north end of the Square, now occupied by the Army & Navy Store which opened there in 1946, was once the fruit store where Patsy Baldasaro hung out great bunches of bananas, set out baskets of oranges and apples, watermelons and coconuts and whose peanut roasting maching [sic] whistled cheerfully on the edge of the sidewalk. Patsy was a well known figure in town for many years and every housewife rallied to his long-drawn call of “ba-na-nas, o-ran-ges,” as he rode his cart through the streets, seated like a Gargantua, his immense body making it a hazardous adventure to get up and down from his high perch. Youngsters saved their pennies to buy an orange as big as a croquet ball for a nickle and the last thing on Saturday afternoons, thrifty mothers could buy eighteen dead ripe bananas for a quarter. The pleasant ghost of Patsy still rides the summer streets along with the sprinkling cart, the ice wagon and the hot smell of tar sidewalks on a July day. His broad face always smiled but his whip was ready to reach out and flick the bare legs of any youngster who sneaked up behind to snitch a loose banana or coconut.

As mentioned in that excerpt, the building was used as an army and navy store during the mid 20th century, and since then it has seen a variety of other commercial tenants, including, in recent years, a cycling studio and an antique shop. Then, in 2017 it was purchased by Rockingham Roasters, and over the past few years the building has undergone a major restoration, including repairing the foundation and gutting the interior. The first photo was taken during the summer of 2018 in the midst of this work, and the project is still ongoing, although the coffee shop is projected to open at some point this year.

Overall, the historic building has remained well-preserved on the exterior, and the only significant difference since the early 20th century is the altered storefront on the ground floor. Several of the surrounding buildings are also still standing from the first photo, including the old fire station on the far left, which was built in 1904. Today, these buildings, along with the rest of the historic properties in the area, are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.