William B. Walker House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 305 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

It is difficult to determine exactly when this house was built. There is a building here on this site as early as the 1835 map of Springfield, but it was unlikely to have been this on. Based on its architectural features, the current building probably dates to around the 1880s, with later Tudor Revival-style details added to the front facade around the early 20th century. It has grown in size too, as the wings on the front and rear of the building in the first photo are also not original.

As early as 1870, this property was owned by Timothy M. Walker, a prominent oil and paint merchant. He lived next door to here, in a house that once stood at the corner of State and Spring Streets, but he owned a significant amount of real estate, which was valued at $200,000 in the 1870 census, or over $4 million today. This particular house at 305 State Street was likely built sometime around 1882, when Timothy’s son William B. Walker married Florence L. Jenks and moved into the house.

Along with his father and his brother Edward, William was involved in the family business, which was located on Market Street, on the present-day site of the MassMutual Center. In addition, he served for a term on the city council in 1881, and he was a director of the Chicopee National Bank. Both his father and brother died in the early 20th century, leaving William as the sole owner of the company, until his own death in 1911 at the age of 62. Throughout this time, William and Florence lived here in this house. They had no children, and the only other residents here in this house in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses were two servants.

After William’s death, Florence moved to a house on Maple Street, and this property was sold to the Dickinson-Streeter Company, undertakers who were previously located down the street from here at 190 State Street. Its origins dated back to 1861, with the formation of Pomeroy & Fiske. It was subsequently acquired by Elijah W. Dickinson, with his son Francke W. Dickinson later joining the firm. Then, in 1910 Francke formed a partnership with George W. Streeter, and a year later they purchased the former Walker residence and converted it into their new funeral home.

At the time, it was common for funerals to be held in private homes; for example, William Walker’s funeral was here at his house, officiated by the Reverend Augustus P. Reccord of the Church of the Unity. Dickinson-Streeter recognized the demand for a home-like funeral parlor, and this large house served their purpose well. Although such funeral homes would later become common, they were rare at the time, with a 1911 Springfield Republican article describing it as “a modern mortuary establishment of a style hitherto unknown in this vicinity.”

Dickinson-Streeter aimed to keep the house relatively unaltered on both the interior and exterior, although at some point in the early 20th century the house underwent some changes, including the addition of a one-story wing at the front. The original Queen Anne-style exterior was also altered around the same time, giving the front of the house a Tudor Revival appearance.

In 1919, George Streeter purchased Francke Dickinson’s half of the partnership, and Dickinson died three years later. However, Streeter retained the Dickinson-Streeter name, and he was still running the funeral home when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. He would ultimately outlive his former business partner by nearly half a century, before his own death in 1968 at the age of 94.

The funeral home remained in business here throughout the 20th century. During this time, the building did see some changes, including an addition on the right side. The gable on the right side of the original house has also changed since the first photo was taken, but overall the building is still easily recognizable from its 1930s appearance. Dickinson-Streeter ultimately closed at some point around 2013, more than a century after its founders had moved here, and the building is now used as offices, as shown in the present-day view.

Elisha Morgan House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 273 State Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2019:

This house was built around 1881 as the home of Elisha Morgan, the founder of the Morgan Envelope Company. Born in Northfield, Massachusetts in 1834, Morgan began working at the age of 13 in his father’s store, where he gained valuable business experience. From there he spent several years as a grocery store clerk in Greenfield, then began working for the Connecticut River Railroad. He steadily rose in the ranks of the railroad, beginning as a bookkeeper and subsequently working as clerk, assistant paymaster, paymaster, general freight agent, and then general ticket agent by the time he was 25.

In 1861, Morgan married Sara Grant of Manchester, Connecticut, and they moved into a house on Salem Street, where they had four children. In the meantime, he only remained with the railroad for a few more years. In 1864 he left and went into business for himself, manufacturing envelopes in the firm of E. Morgan & Company. Then, in 1872, the company was incorporated as the Morgan Envelope Company, with future mayor Emerson Wight becoming president and Morgan becoming its treasurer. The company originally operated out of a building at the corner of Hillman and Dwight Street, but later moved to a new site between Worthington and Taylor Streets, where it remained until the early 1880s.

Perhaps the single most important step that the company took was in 1873, when it outbid 14 competitors to obtain a federal contract to produce the first government-issued postcards in the United States. Unlike later postcards, these did not have pictures; instead, they were mostly blank, with space on one side for the address and on the other side for a short message. They also included prepaid postage that was printed onto the card. For postal customers, the main advantage to these postcards was that they were cheap to mail, costing only one cent, as opposed to three cents for a regular letter.

Morgan’s winning bid was $1.39⅞ per 1,000 cards, and his factory produced the initial order of 51 million cards in just 90 days. The business continued to grow from there, and in 1883 it moved into a new facility on Harrison Avenue. By the late 19th century it had a capacity of 2.5 million envelopes, while also producing a wide range of boxes. Of all things, the envelope company was also the world’s leading producer of toilet paper, with an output of about a thousand tons per year.

During the late 19th century, many companies across the country were consolidating into trusts in an effort to monopolize their respective industries, and the envelope industry was no exception. In 1898, Morgan Envelope merged with nine other manufacturers to form the United States Envelope Company. This trust controlled 90% of the country’s envelope production, and it was headquartered here in Springfield, with Morgan as its vice president. In that same year, a group of paper manufacturers formed a similar trust, the American Writing Paper Company. This was headquartered nearby in Holyoke, and Morgan became the company’s president.

Aside from his involvement in the paper industry, Morgan served as the president of several other local corporations, including the United Electric Company and the Real Estate Improvement Company. From 1888 to 1890 he was the chairman of the Republican City Committee, and in 1888 he was one of 14 presidential electors from Massachusetts, casting his vote for Benjamin Harrison. Then, from 1892 to 1893 he served as a member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council.

Throughout this time, Morgan was living here on State Street, where he had moved with his family around 1881. It featured ornate Stick-Style details, and appears to have been brick on the first two floors, with wood on the third floor. The lot extended all the way back to Temple Street, and it included a massive three-story carriage house, which had architecture that matched the main house. At the time, this section of State Street was still largely residential, and the house was flanked by two other homes, as shown in the first photo.

Elisha Morgan died in 1903, and his widow Sara continued to live here until around 1908 before moving to Hazardville, Connecticut. By 1909 she had sold the house to Wilbur F. Young and his wife Mary Ida Young. They were the founders of W.F. Young, P.D.F., an animal care product company best known for making the Absorbine horse liniment. The Youngs lived in this house with their children, Sadie and Wilbur Jr., Wilbur’s brother Frank, and three servants, and they operated the business out of the carriage house in the rear of the property. There, they produced Absorbine and its human equivalent, Absorbine Jr., along with other medications, such as Taroleum Ointment for foot diseases, Young’s Kidney and Nerve Powders, Young’s Fattening and Conditioning Drops (“For fitting horses for market or races”), and Young’s Colic and Indigestion Cure.

Wilbur Young lived here until his death in 1918, and his 20-year-old son subsequently took over as company president. Then, in 1923 the company moved to a new location on Lyman Street, and around the same time Mary Ida Young moved to a house in Longmeadow, where she lived until her death in 1960 at the age of 90. She took over as president of the company after her son’s death in 1928, and she ran it until 1957, more than 60 years after she and her husband had founded it. The company has remained in the family ever since, and it is still operated locally, with its current headquarters in East Longmeadow.

In the meantime, the house here on State Street became a rooming house called The Pickwick by the late 1920s. A 1928 classified ad in the Republican described it as “Large rooms, running water, suitable for one or two people. Meals optional, all home cooking, centrally located.” The building also included “Ye Pickwick Tea Room,” which was described in another 1928 advertisement as being a place “Where your Social or Bridge Party can be as successfully achieved as in your own home and without any of the wearisome responsibility.”

The house was ultimately demolished around 1937. The carriage house was still standing a few years later, but it too is now gone, and the site of the house is a modern two-story commercial building, which was constructed around 1955. However, the houses on either side are still standing, although the roof on the house to the right is significantly different from its appearance in the first photo. The other surviving remnant from the first photo is the low brownstone retaining wall in front of the house on the right, which is missing a few pieces but otherwise still intact today.

Lenox Library, New York City

The Lenox Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York City, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene on December 20, 1913. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The modern concept of a public library in the United States began in the second half of the 19th century, and many such libraries had their origins in private libraries that were run by organizations or by wealthy benefactors. Here in New York City, these included the Astor Library and Lenox Library. Both were open to the public—with restrictions, particularly here at the Lenox Library—but they were intended primarily for researchers, and the books did not circulate. However, these two libraries formed the basis for the New York Public Library, which was established upon their merger in 1895.

The Lenox Library was the younger of the two institutions, having been established in 1870, although its founder, James Lenox, had begun collecting rare books several decades earlier. The son of wealthy merchant Robert Lenox, James inherited over a million dollars after his father’s death in 1839, along with a significant amount of undeveloped farmland in what is now the Upper East Side. He had studied law at Columbia, although he never actually practiced, instead spending much of his time collecting books and art.

For many years Lenox kept his collection in his house, which became increasingly overcrowded and disorganized. As a result, he created the Lenox Library in 1870, and that year he hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a suitable building, which would be located on Lenox-owned land here on Fifth Avenue, opposite Central Park between 70th and 71st Streets. It was one of the first major commissions for Hunt, who would go on to become one of the leading American architects of the late 19th century.

The building, shown here in the first photo, was completed in 1877. It was a combination library and art museum, featuring four reading rooms plus a painting gallery and a sculpture gallery. Admission was free of charge, but for the first ten years patrons were required to obtain tickets in advance by writing to the library, which would then send the tickets by mail. In any case, the collections here at the library would not have been of much interest to the casual reader. Because of Lenox’s focus on rare books, the library was, in many ways, more of a museum of old books than a conventional library. In addition, its holdings were far less comprehensive than most libraries, with a narrow focus on the subjects that Lenox was personally interested in.

Despite these limitations, though, the library was valuable for researchers searching for hard-to-find volumes. Perhaps the single most important book in its collection was a Gutenberg Bible, which Lenox had acquired in 1847. It was the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States, and it is now owned by the New York Public Library, where it is on display in the McGraw Rotunda. Other rare works included Shakespeare’s First Folio and the Bay Psalm Book, which was the first book published in the American colonies. Aside from books, the library also had important documents, including the original manuscript of George Washington’s farewell address, and its art collection featured famous paintings such as Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole, and a George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Overall, James Lenox contributed about 30,000 books to the library, which continued to grow after his death in 1880. By the 1890s, it had over 80,000 books, thanks to a number of significant donations and purchases. These additions helped to broaden the scope of the collection, making it more useful to the general public. However, the library struggled financially during the late 19th century, as did the Astor Library, and in 1895 they merged with the newly-created Tilden Trust to form the New York Public Library.

The new library subsequently moved into its present-day location at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in 1911, and the former Lenox Library was sold to industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who demolished it to build his mansion on the site. A longtime business associate of Andrew Carnegie, Frick was the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, and by the 1910s he was among the richest men in the country. In 1918, for example, the first Forbes Rich List ranked him second only to John D. Rockefeller, with a net worth of around $225 million.

Frick had purchased the library property in 1906 for $2.47 million, but he had to wait until the library had moved its collections to the new building before he could take possession of the land. He ultimately acquired it in 1912, and demolished the old library that same year. His new home was then built here over the next two years, with a Beaux-Arts exterior that was designed by Thomas Hastings, a noted architect whose firm, Carrère and Hastings, had also designed the New York Public Library. The second photo shows the house in December 1913, in the midst of the construction. The exterior was largely finished by this point, but it would take nearly a year before Frick moved into the house with his wife Adelaide and their daughter Helen.

Like James Lenox, Frick was a collector, using his vast fortune to amass a variety of artwork and furniture. Upon his death in 1919, he stipulated that his house and its contents would become a museum, although Adelaide would be allowed to live here for the rest of her life. She died in 1931, and over the next four years the house was converted into a museum, opening to the public in 1935 as the Frick Collection.

Today, despite its changes in use, the exterior of the building from this view is not significantly different than it was when the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It still houses the Frick Collection, with the museum receiving around 300,000 visitors per year. Although not as large as many of the other major art museums in New York, it features a high-quality collection of paintings and furniture, including a good variety of works by the European Old Masters. The building itself is also an important work of art in its own right, and in 2008 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its architectural significance.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II House, New York City (2)

The house at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and West 58th Street in New York City, around 1905-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Perhaps no family is more closely associated with the Gilded Age than the Vanderbilts, who rose to prominence in the mid-19th century. The family patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) gained his wealth through dominance of first the steamboat and then the railroad industries, and he left nearly all of his fortune to his son, William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-1885), who managed to double its value in just eight years before his death. At the time, he had a net worth of about $200 million, which was divided among his eight children.

While the first two Vanderbilt generations had grown the family fortune, the third generation primarily spent it. This included the construction of lavish mansions here on Fifth Avenue and summer homes in resort communities such as Newport. William Henry Vanderbilt had built homes a little south of here on Fifth Avenue in the early 1880s for himself and two of his daughters, but his children outdid him in their massive, costly houses.

One of his sons, William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849-1920) built the Petit Chateau on Fifth Avenue, along with Marble House in Newport, and his youngest child, George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862-1914) built the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, the largest private home ever constructed in the United States. However, it was his eldest child, Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899) who built two of the most memorable Gilded Age mansions, with The Breakers in Newport, and his primary residence here on Fifth Avenue, between West 57th and West 58th Streets.

After the death of his grandfather in 1877, the younger Cornelius had inherited over $5 million, and in 1883 he used some of this money to built this five-story home. It was designed by architect George  P. Post, featuring a Châteauesque design with a red brick exterior and limestone trim. It was completed in 1883, and it was intended to surpass his younger brother’s Petit Chateau, which had been built a year earlier. At the time, the house was situated at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and West 57th Street (a photo in an earlier post shows a better view of that side of the house), and it was considerably larger than that of his brother’s.

However, this house was not large enough for Cornelius. He inherited nearly $70 million from his father in 1885, and he soon set about expanding his home. In 1887 he purchased five houses along West 58th Street and demolished them, clearing the way for an addition that would extend his mansion along the length of the entire block. This $3 million project was done to prevent any other mansions from rivaling it in size, and it was evidently successful, because the 130-room house remains the largest private residence ever built in New York City.

The work on the house was finished in 1893, two years before The Breakers was completed in Newport. However, Vanderbilt did not get to enjoy either house for very long, because he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1896 and died three years later, at the age of 55. His wife Alice (1845-1934) outlived him by many years, though, and she continued to live here well into the 20th century, alternating her time between here and Newport. The first photo was taken sometime within about a decade after Cornelius Vanderbilt’s death, showing the northern side of the house from Grand Army Plaza, near the southeast corner of Central Park. The part of the house in the foreground is the 1893 addition, with the original house partially visible in the distance on the left.

By the early 20th century, this section of Fifth Avenue had become increasingly commercialized, and many of the Gilded Age mansions were being demolished and replaced with new skyscrapers as New York’s elite moved northward into the Upper East Side. However, Alice Vanderbilt resisted moving, remaining here in the house until she finally sold it in 1926 for $7 million. She then belatedly joined the northward migration, moving about ten blocks uptown to East 67th Street.

The new owners of the property had no intention of keeping the house here. It had never been a particularly practical residence to begin with, as it was built more for show than for comfort. It was also expensive to maintain, requiring more than 30 servants just to care for the house and its sole occupant. Adding to this was the fact that, by the 1920s, this land had become far more valuable as commercial property. So, the house was demolished later in 1926, and the flagship Bergdorf Goodman department store was built here in its place.

The department store, completed in 1928, is still standing here, and it is still the home of Bergdorf Goodman. However, almost nothing remains from the first photo, as all of the other low-rise 19th century buildings on the surrounding blocks have also long since been demolished. The only surviving building from the first photo is the present-day Peninsula New York hotel, visible a few blocks away on the far left side of the scene. Built in 1905 as the Gotham Hotel, it was one of the early skyscrapers along this section of Fifth Avenue, and it looms over the mansions as an ominous sign of the commercial development that was steadily making its way uptown.

Overlook, Hartford, Vermont

The Overlook house in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The scene in 2018:

This house, which was known as Overlook, was built at some point during the 19th century, probably around the 1870s based on its Second Empire-style architecture. For many years it was the home of Alfred E. Watson, a noted businessman and local politician. He was born in 1857 and he grew up in Hartford, where his father, Edwin C. Watson, manufactured agricultural tools in the firm of French, Watson & Co. Alfred attended nearby Dartmouth College, graduating in 1883, and that same year he married Mary Maude Carr of Montpelier.

Alfred Watson was primarily involved in the insurance business, but he was also a director and treasurer of the White River Savings Bank, director of Hartford National Bank, and director of the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railway. In addition, he was involved in politics, holding a number of different offices. He served as Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs during the administration of fellow Hartford native Governor Samuel E. Pingree, and he was subsequently elected to both houses of the state legislature, along with serving on the state’s Board of Railway Commissioners.

Alfred and Mary Watson had two children. Their son Cedric died in 1890 before his first birthday, but their daughter Margery lived to adulthood. The first photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century, and the 1900 census shows that they were living here with Margery, who was 12 years old at the time, Mary’s father Walter S. Carr, and Alfred’s nephew, Carl W. Cameron. The latter moved out sometime before the 1910 census, but the rest of the family was still here during that year. Walter subsequently died in 1915 at the age of 82, and Margery evidently moved out of the house by the time of her marriage in 1917.

Mary died in 1948 at the age of 83, and Alfred continued to live here until his death in 1950 at the age of 93. They both outlived their daughter Margery, who died in 1940. With no surviving heirs, and with little demand for such a large single-family home during the mid-20th century, the house was ultimately divided into apartments. At some point, the house underwent some significant changes, including the removal of the barn on the left side and the large front porch. Many of its other Victorian-era exterior details are similarly lost, having been replaced by modern siding. Overall, though, the house, which is now known as Hillcrest Manor, is still standing, and it is still recognizable from the first photo. It recently underwent a major renovation shortly before the present-day photo was taken, and it now consists of nine affordable housing units.

 

Mary d.1948, age 83

Louis S. Newton House, Hartford, Vermont

The house at 1683 Maple Street in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The house in 2018:

This Greek Revival-style cottage was built around 1859, and its earliest recorded owner was George Brockway, a chair manufacturer who was listed here as the owner in the 1869 county atlas. It does not indicate whether he personally lived here or just owned the property, but it seems likely that this was his home, and the 1870 census shows him living in Hartford with his four young children, who ranged in age from three months to four years old. He ultimately sold the property for $1,400 to John H. French in 1871, and he died two years later at the age of 43.

In 1884, the house was purchased by Almira L. Newton, who lived here for many years along with several other family members, including her sister Caroline and her brother Louis. None of the three siblings evidently ever married, although Almira raised her adopted son Bradleigh here. All three of the Newtons were living at the house during the 1900 and 1910 censuses, but Louis appears to have moved elsewhere in town by 1920, and in 1921 he relocated to Burlington.

Louis S. Newton was a noted local architect. Here in Hartford, he is perhaps best remembered for his 1903 remodeling of the historic Second Congregational Church, and he also did some work here on his sister’s house, adding Colonial Revival-style details around 1900. Elsewhere, his other works consisted of a variety of houses and commercial buildings, including both renovations and new construction. He designed the Occom Ridge houses at nearby Dartmouth College at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1914 he restored the Old Constitution House in Windsor, which is regarded as the birthplace of Vermont.

The house remained in the Newton family until at least the early 1940s, and it has since changed ownership many times over the years. However, its appearance has remained remarkably unchanged throughout this time, with few exterior changes more than a century after the first photo was taken. Today, the house is part of the Hartford Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.