Thomas Wason House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 270 Liberty Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This brick Italianate-style house was built sometime around the early 1850s, and it was the home of Thomas Wason, the founder of the Wason Manufacturing Company. At the time, this area of Springfield to the east of Chestnut Street and north of the railroad tracks was sparsely developed, consisting primarily of upscale homes that were modeled on rural Italian villas. A number of these houses are visible in the first photo of an earlier post, which shows the view around 1882, before the area was transformed into the working-class Liberty Heights neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century.

Thomas Wason was born in New Hampshire in 1811, and he grew up in a family with 15 children. His father was a carpenter, so Thomas worked in the shop when he was young, and gained valuable skills that he would put to use after he and his younger brother Charles moved to Springfield in the 1830s. At the time, Springfield was a small but rapidly-growing manufacturing center, and it was also an important transportation hub that would soon become the crossroads of several important railroads.

The Wason brothers took advantage of this new method of transportation, and they started out by preparing timbers for railroad bridges and repairing railroad cars before starting a railroad car manufacturing business in 1845. The company started small, with the Wasons producing cars in a shed that was not even large enough for a single car. However, the rapid growth of the nation’s railroad system resulted in high demand for railroad cars, so the Wasons soon moved to a larger facility. Then, in 1848, they moved again, to the factory of the former Springfield Car and Engine Company, which was located in the block between Lyman and Taylor Streets in downtown Springfield.

Charles Wason ultimately left Springfield in 1851 and moved to Cleveland, where he established his own railroad car company. Thomas purchased his brother’s interest in their partnership here in Springfield, and he carried on the business for many years, turning it into one of the nation’s leading railroad car manufacturers. During that time, the Wason Manufacturing Company produced cars for most major railroads, and also had several overseas contracts, including a 161-car order that was sent to Egypt in 1860. The company also produced the nation’s first sleeping car in 1857, predating the more famous Pullman sleeping cars by several years.

The Wason company was one of the most important industries in Springfield during the second half of the 19th century, and the 1884 book King’s Handbook of Springfield declared that “no manufactory in Springfield has been more world-famed; and none has, during the past twenty years, handled so much money.” Thomas Wason himself also handled plenty of money, and by the mid-1860s he ranked among the city’s top earners, with an 1864 income of $17,944, equivalent to over $300,000 today.

Thomas Wason was around 40 years old when moved into this house in the early 1850s. He and his wife Sarah had two children, Jane and George, who would have been adolescents at the time. Like most affluent families of the period, they also employed servants who lived here in the house; the 1860 census lists 19-year-old servant Edwin Mehan, who was an Irish immigrant. A decade later, the family employed 18-year-old Annie Harris and 16-year-old Ellen Davis. Both were originally from Virginia, and Harris was listed as mulatto and Davis as black, so it is possible that the two may have previously been enslaved in Virginia.

In addition to manufacturing railroad cars, Thomas Wason’s business interests included being involved with several local banks. He was vice president of the Hampden Savings Bank, and he was also one of the directors of the First National Bank of Springfield. Wason was also active in local politics, serving at various times on the city council, the board of aldermen, and in the state legislature.

Thomas Wason died in 1870 at the age of 58, and he left behind an estate that was valued at nearly $450,000, or more than $9 million today. By far his largest asset was his ownership interest in Wason Manufacturing, which amounted to 760 shares worth a total of $200,000. He also held more than $60,000 in shares of companies like the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, the First National Bank, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad. Most of his remaining personal estate was in the form of bonds and promissory notes, which were valued at more than $112,000. Wason also owned $58,500 in real estate, including his house here on Liberty Street, which was assessed at $20,000.

Sarah Wason continued to live here in this house for at least five years after her husband’s death, but she had evidently moved out by 1876. The 1880 census shows her living next door at 284 Liberty Street, at the home of her daughter Jane and son-in-law Henry S. Hyde. However, her old house here at 270 Liberty Street would remain in the family for many years, although it appears to have been used primarily as a rental property. Starting around 1877, it was the home of Aaron Wight, a sawyer who sold wood to railroads. He was also the brother of Emerson Wight, the mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878. Aaron lived here in this house for the rest of his life, until his death in 1885 from typhoid malaria at the age of 63.

By the late 19th century, this part of Springfield had begun to change. As the city grew, the old estates here were steadily subdivided into new residential streets, and the neighborhood became predominantly working class, with a number of immigrants and second-generation Americans. The area also became more industrialized during this period, thanks to its proximity to the railroad tracks. The 1899 city atlas shows a rail yard directly across the street from the house, and nearby industries included a stone yard, a coal yard, and a boiler and iron works.

The house was still used as a residence in 1900, although it was apparently divided into multiple units. One of the residents in that year’s census was George K. Geiger, superintendent at the Springfield Steam Power Company. He was an immigrant from Germany, and he lived here with his wife Rosa and their two sons, George and Arthur. The other family living here at the time was Hector and Nell Davis, who lived here with their children Mabel, Fred, and Eugene. Hector was a conductor for the Boston and Maine Railroad, and Mabel and Fred both worked as clerks.

This property underwent a dramatic transformation around 1909, when the Central Storage Warehouse purchased it and built a brick warehouse behind and to the right of the old house. The building evidently functioned much in the same way as modern storage units, with the company advertising, “Storage rooms to let. For furniture and other goods in separate locked compartments.” The warehouse was subsequently expanded in the early 1910s, with a new wing that extended all the way to Liberty Street, as shown on the right side of both photos here.

George Geiger was involved with the company in its early years, working as mechanical engineer and superintendent. By the 1910 census, both he and the Davis family were still living here in the house, although the Davises moved out soon after, and the Geigers left in 1912, when George resigned from his position with the company. After the Geigers, the last long-term resident of this house appears to have been Linda Daniels, who was here from around 1912 until her death in 1921. During the 1920 census she was 60 years old, widowed, and lived in the house with three of her children.

By the mid-1920s, the property seems to have been exclusively commercial in use. During this period, the company frequently listed advertisements in local newspapers, which reflected an expansion of its services beyond just storage. One 1925 ad offered “Local and long distance moving, packing, crating, storage of household furniture, pianos, office effects, merchandise.” Another ad from the same year assured potential customers, “Don’t worry on moving day. Call R. 98 and your moving problems will be solved to your complete satisfaction; storage for household, personal and office effects in strictly fireproof building; skilled workmen, competent to pack and crate any article safely.” In addition to these ads, the company also frequently posted classified ads for auctions and other sales of furniture, antiques, and similar items.

Judging by the few advertisements that appeared in the newspaper for Central Storage Warehouse in the 1930s, the business was probably hurt by the Great Depression. The first photo was taken during this time, probably around 1938 or 1939, and the company’s only appearance in the newspapers in those years seems to have been a December 1939 classified ad listing female canaries for sale, which were “guaranteed singers.”

The company remained here as late as 1940, but its business license was revoked in the fall of that year, and in February 1941 the property was sold at a foreclosure sale to the moving and storage company Lindell & Benson. Within a few years Lindell & Benson became Anderson & Benson, and this moving company would go on to operate here for many years before it was acquired by Sitterly Movers in 1975.

Today, the house has come a long way since being the home of one of Springfield’s most prosperous 19th century industrialists, and it has seen some exterior changes since the first photo was taken, including the loss of the porches on the left and right sides of the house. It is now almost entirely surrounded by larger industrial and commercial buildings, and the vacant lot on the left side of the first photo is now a building that partially blocks the view of the house from this angle.

Otherwise, though, remarkably little has changed in this scene over the past 80 years. Despite the exterior alterations, the house is still standing as one of the few survivors of the once-numerous Italian villas in this area. The early 20th century warehouse next to it is also still standing, with the same “Furniture Storage” advertisement still visible at the top, although it is more faded than in the 1930s. This property is still owned by Sitterly Movers, which continues to use this location as its Springfield branch, and in 2016 both buildings were designated as a local historic district.

New York State Executive Mansion, Albany, New York

The Executive Mansion on Eagle Street in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This house underwent several different transformations during the 19th century, but the original structure was built in 1856 as the home of businessman Thomas Olcott, the longtime president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. At the time, it was a comparatively modest Italianate-style house, but it was extensively remodeled in the 1860s by its second owner, Robert L. Johnson. He added Second Empire-style details to the exterior, including a Mansard roof, bay windows, and a tower on one corner.

In 1875, toward the end of Johnson’s ownership, the house was rented by Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who worked a half mile away from here at the old state capitol. Tilden served as governor for two years, from 1875 to 1876, and he was also the Democratic nominee for president in the highly controversial 1876 election. Tilden won the popular vote, but the results from four states were contested. All of these states were ultimately awarded to his Republican challenger, Rutherford B. Hayes, giving him 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. To this day, Tilden remains the only presidential candidate to lose despite receiving an outright majority of the popular vote.

Tilden retired from politics after the election, and his successor here in Albany was Lucius Robinson. In 1877, during Robinson’s time as governor, the state purchased this house from Johnson and established it as the official residence of the governor. Then, in the mid-1880s, the state hired architect Isaac G. Perry to renovate the house. At the time, Perry was also supervising the construction of the new capitol, and his work here at the Executive Mansion involved an expansion of the house and a complete redesign of the exterior. The project was finished around 1887, giving the house a Queen Anne-style design that rendered it nearly unrecognizable from its previous appearances. The first photo, which was taken around the turn of the century, shows the exterior view of the house after this remodeling.

In the meantime, the house was occupied by several other notable governors during the late 19th century. From 1883 to 1884, just prior to Perry’s renovations, it was the home of Grover Cleveland. Like Tilden, he also ran for president while serving as governor, and he received the Democratic nomination in 1884. He proved more successful in the general election, though, defeating James G. Blaine to become president. Cleveland lost the following election in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison, but he won again in 1892 and served for another four years. In the process, he became the only president to serve non-consecutive terms, and he was also the only Democrat to be elected president in the half-century span between James Buchanan and Woodrow Wilson.

From 1895 to 1896, the executive mansion was occupied by Levi P. Morton, who had previously served as vice president under Benjamin Harrison. He was dropped from the ticket for Harrison’s unsuccessful bid for re-election in 1892, but this apparently did not hurt his political career, because he was elected governor of New York two years later. As a result, he is the only former vice president to hold a statewide elected office after the end of his vice presidency.

Morton was the first in a line of six consecutive Republican governors who were elected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among these, the most famous was Theodore Roosevelt, who served from 1899 to 1900. A native of New York City, Roosevelt had previously been to Albany as a state legislator in the early 1880s. He left politics soon after the death of his first wife Alice in 1884, and he went on to have a successful career as a writer, with most of his books focusing on either American history or hunting.

Roosevelt would continue writing for the rest of his life, but did not stay out of politics for very long. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York in 1886, where he finished a distant third in the general election, but he was subsequently appointed to the United States Civil Service Commission. From 1895 to 1897 he served as president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, and then he spent a year as Assistant Secretary of the Navy before resigning to join the famous Rough Riders regiment during the Spanish-American War.

Returning to New York as a war hero, Roosevelt easily received the Republican nomination for governor in 1898. He defeated Democrat Augustus Van Wyck in the general election, and began his term as governor on January 1, 1899. When he had last held elected office here in Albany 14 years earlier, he had been a 26-year-old widower with an infant daughter. Now, at the age of 40, he was remarried to his second wife Edith, and they had five more children, the youngest of whom was just a year old.

On his first night as governor, Roosevelt stayed out too late, and when he finally returned to the Executive Mansion he found that the servants, assuming he was already in bed, had locked the doors. Rather than awaken his family, he decided to break into the house by climbing through a window. Many years later, Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris would use this incident as a way of foreshadowing the disruptive effect that the new governor would have on state politics, particularly in his clashes with Thomas C. Platt, a state senator and boss of the state’s Republican Party.

As it turned out, Roosevelt’s political opponents here in New York would inadvertently advance his career, and less than three years after crawling through the window here in Albany he would find himself living in the White House. Resolving to rid New York of the controversial Roosevelt, Senator Platt had suggested him as William McKinley’s vice presidential candidate for the 1900 election. At the time, it did not seem to be a particularly risky move; no former vice president had gone on to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836, and Platt hoped that Roosevelt would fade into political obscurity just as almost every other vice president had done.

The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket went on to an easy victory against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, and Roosevelt was sworn in as vice president on March 4, 1901, just two months after his term as governor ended. Unfortunately for Platt and his wing of the Republican Party, McKinley was shot by an assassin on September 6, 1901, and died a week later. Roosevelt then assumed the presidency, and was subsequently elected to a second term in 1904.

After Roosevelt, the next New York governor to run for president was Charles Evans Hughes, a New York City attorney who served as governor here in Albany from 1907 to 1910. He resigned near the end of his second term when William Howard Taft appointed him to the United States Supreme Court, and Hughes served as an associate justice until 1916, when he resigned after receiving the Republican nomination for president. However, he lost the election to incumbent Woodrow Wilson, whose razor-thin margin of less than 4,000 votes in California determined the election. The loss cost Hughes his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, but he continued to have a successful political career, serving as Secretary of State in the Harding and Coolidge administrations before being reappointed to the Supreme Court in 1930, this time as chief justice.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, serving as governor of New York continued to be a major stepping stone to the presidency. In 19 presidential elections between 1876 and 1948, 13 of them featured a sitting or former New York governor at the head of at least one of the major party tickets. After Hughes’s loss in 1916, the next was Al Smith, who was governor from 1919 to 1920, and 1923-1928. He challenged Herbert Hoover in the 1928 election, but lost in a landslide, failing to even win his home state.

Smith’s successor as governor, who was also the next Democratic candidate for president, was somewhat more successful in presidential elections. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had previously run for vice president in 1920, served as governor here for four years, from 1929 to 1932. During this time, the Executive Mansion underwent some modifications to accommodate his disability, including the installation of wheelchair ramps and an elevator. In addition, the greenhouse was transformed into a pool, as Roosevelt believed that the therapeutic value of swimming in hot water would improve his condition.

Roosevelt’s first term as governor coincided with the start of the Great Depression, and he became a leading supporter of progressive policies at the federal level. His re-election in 1930 established him as a major presidential contender, although as the 1932 Democratic convention approached he faced opposition from here in his home state. Al Smith, a more conservative Democrat, hoped to block Roosevelt and gain the nomination instead, but the convention ultimately choose Roosevelt, who went on to win all but six states in the general election, defeating a very unpopular Herbert Hoover.

Roosevelt would go on to win an unprecedented four presidential elections, serving throughout the rest of the Great Depression and almost all of World War II. None of these elections were particularly close, but his most successful challenger, in terms of both the popular and electoral votes, was a fellow governor of New York, Thomas Dewey. He had been elected governor in 1942, becoming the first Republican to win the office since Nathan L. Miller in 1920, and two years later he ran against Roosevelt, receiving 99 electoral votes and nearly 46% of the popular vote.

Dewey was the Republican nominee again in 1948, when the Chicago Tribune famously but erroneously declared that he defeated Truman. Although most experts projected that he would win the election, he ended up earning a lower percentage of the popular vote than he had in 1944, and carried just 16 states. However, these two presidential losses did not hurt his career here in Albany, and he served as governor until 1954. His 12 years as governor were, at the time, the longest in the state’s history since George Clinton served 18 years from 1777 to 1795.

Since Dewey, no other New York governors have been nominated for president. However, several of his successors have gained national prominence, perhaps most notably Nelson Rockefeller. He was the grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, and he was first elected governor in 1958. He would go on to be re-elected three more times, surpassing the length of Dewey’s tenure, and he still remains the state’s longest-serving governor since Clinton. Rockefeller served here in Albany until 1973, when he resigned to join the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans. A year later, he was appointed vice president under Gerald Ford, after Ford assumed the presidency in the wake of Nixon’s resignation. He went on to serve as vice president until the end of Ford’s term in 1977.

During Rockefeller’s many years as governor here, the capitol area underwent a dramatic transformation. Most notably, this involved the construction of Empire State Plaza, a massive complex of government buildings that extends westward from the Capitol to the rear of the Executive Mansion. The mansion itself also saw changes during this time. In 1961, only two years into his time as governor, the mansion was heavily damaged by a fire. Some called for it to be demolished or for the state to purchase a new house elsewhere in the city, but Rockefeller preferred to preserve the fire-damaged building, and it was subsequently restored and, in 1971, added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In recent years, not all of New York’s governors have spent much time actually living here in the Executive Mansion, but it remains the state’s official residence of the governor. Today, the trees in the foreground hide most of the house from this angle, and the grounds now have much more security than when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. However, the exterior appearance of the house still looks much the same as it did back then, and it stands as one of the most important historic buildings in Albany, due to its association with so many of the most influential American politicians of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Ambrose O. Smith House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 178 Boston Road in Springfield, around 1938. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, Boston Road in Springfield was a sparsely-settled area prior to the turn of the 20th century. Most city maps throughout the 19th century show fewer than 20 houses along its entire 3.3-mile length from present-day Berkshire Avenue to the Wilbraham town line. This house, which was probably built around the mid-19th century, was one of those widely scattered houses, standing along Boston Road in what would eventually become the Pine Point neighborhood.

The early history of this house is difficult to trace because the outlying parts of the city did not have street numbers at the time, but a house appears near this spot on the 1835 map of Springfield. It was owned by John Butler, but it does not seem clear as to whether this is the same house from the first photo, because it is not shown on the 1855 county map. Probably the best indicator for the house’s age is its architecture, which features a blend of Greek Revival and Italianate elements. This style was particularly popular here in Springfield prior to the Civil War, so the house likely dates back to around the 1850s.

The first verifiable owner of this house was Ambrose O. Smith, who was living here by 1866. Born in Middlefield Massachusetts in 1829, Smith moved to Springfield in the mid-1860s, and during the 1870 census he was living here with his mother Nancy and his sister Mary C. Otis. He and his family lived here until at least 1872, but by 1873 he had moved to a house at 46 Walnut Street, where he was listed in the 1880 census as being a milk dealer. However, he continued to own this house for many years. He moved back here by the mid-1880s, and soon after he became one of the first landowners in this part of the city to subdivide his property into new streets and house lots.

Prior to the late 19th century, this area, which is located three miles east of downtown Springfield, was not a particularly desirable place to build houses. But, as the city grew in the post-Civil War era, developers began creating new residential neighborhoods to meet the increased demand for single-family homes. This was aided in part by the opening of trolley lines across the city, and by the 1890s one of these lines passed through modern-day Pine Point, connecting downtown Springfield to Indian Orchard.

Likely motivated by his land’s proximity to the trolley line, Ambrose O. Smith turned his Boston Road farm into a residential subdivision. His property extended behind this house as far north as Berkshire Avenue, and he also owned the land across the street on the south side of Boston Road, as far south as the North Branch of the Mill River. The 1899 city atlas shows a number of streets that had been laid out across his property, with Jasper Street on the north side, and Ambrose, Boyer, Coleman, Denver, Embury, and Falmouth (now Devonshire) streets on the south side. The land along these streets was divided into individual lots, although very few of them had been developed at this point. Aside from a handful of houses on Coleman Street, nearly all of these lots were still vacant in 1899.

Smith was still living in this house in 1899, but by the 1900 census he was on Lenox Street in Forest Park, and he died in 1904. The next long-term resident of this house was Joseph M. LaRiviere, who was living here as early as 1901. During the 1910 census he was 54 years old, and he lived here with his 44-year-old wife Evalena and their 23-year-old son Victor. Around this time, he sold postal cards in a shop on Main Street, while Evalena was a dressmaker and Victor worked as a clerk in Indian Orchard.

The LaRiviere family was still living here a decade later during the 1920 census, but by this point they had apparently divided the house into several different apartment units, because the census also shows two other families living here. They moved out soon after, though, because the 1921 city directory shows Joseph and Evalena living in a house on Douglas Street in the North End.

By the 1930 census, three families were renting apartments in this house, and their monthly rents ranged from $20 to $28. In one unit was Corinne LaTaille, a 36-year-old widow who lived here with her three children. Five years earlier, while living in a house on Denver Street, her husband Frank had committed suicide. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, this was likely caused by his recent two-month jail sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol, along with unspecified “family troubles.” The latter may have been related to the fact that, just two weeks after his death, Corinne gave birth to twin boys.

The other two families living here in 1930 included 44-year-old Charles and Annie Edson, who lived in an apartment with their six young children. Charles worked as a machine operator in a factory, and the family’s stay here was evidently short, because in 1929 they had been in a house on Denver Street, and within a few years they had moved elsewhere. The third tenant here in 1930 was George E. Miller, a 57-year-old radio mechanic who lived here with his 63-year-old wife Idella and their 29-year-old son George.

The first photo was taken in 1938, and two years later the 1940 census shows three more families living here. The rents had declined somewhat since 1930, likely because of the Great Depression, and all three tenants paid $20 per month. In one unit was John and Flora Kenney, in the second was Adele Rieck and her son Royal, and in the third was Arthur and Anna Allen and their young children Dorothy and George. Of all the residents here, Arthur was the only one who had been employed full-time in the previous year, earning $1,560 while working in a hotel laundry. During that same time, John Kenney worked for eight weeks as an inspector at the Armory, earning $203, while Royal Rieck earned $20 for two weeks as an elevator operator.

It is difficult to trace the subsequent fate of this house, but it appears to have still been occupied by residents as late as the early 1950s. However, by the mid-1950s this lot had become the junkyard of City Towing Service, although it seems unclear whether or not the house was still standing on the site. Then, in 1963 the property became the Pine Hill Motors car dealership. Its name has changed several more times since then, but this site continues to be a car dealership, and today the only surviving remnant from the first photo is the adjacent house on the far left at 168 Boston Road, which is still standing.

William G. Pierce House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 171 Boston Road, at the corner of Coleman Street in Springfield, on October 4, 1938. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The house in 2019:

Today, Boston Road a busy four-lane road, lined with gas stations, restaurants, shopping plazas, used car dealerships, and other commercial development for most of its 3.3-mile length from Pine Point to the Wilbraham town line. However, as discussed in a previous post, this section of Springfield was lightly populated prior to the early 20th century. While passing through here in 1789, George Washington had described the area as “an almost uninhabited Pine plain,” and not much would change for another century, despite being located on the main route from Springfield to Boston. Much of this had to do with the poor quality of the soil, which made the land undesirable for farming. Distance was also a factor in this; modern-day Pine Point is about three miles from downtown Springfield, which made it impractical to commute into the city on a daily basis.

However, things had begun to change by the late 19th century, when a number of Boston Road landowners began subdividing their properties with new streets and house lots. This was likely spurred by the opening of a trolley line nearby on Berkshire Avenue, which linked downtown Springfield to Indian Orchard. Residents here could now commute to either location, or take connecting lines to other destinations, and by the early 20th century Pine Point had been transformed into a working class suburban neighborhood.

Over the years, nearly all of the old homes here on Boston Road have been demolished, either to clear the way for a new subdivision or to repurpose the land for commercial use. This house, located at the corner of Boston Road and Coleman Street, appears to be the oldest surviving house on Boston Road, and probably the only one that predates the development of the modern street grids.

It is difficult to determine the exact date when this house was built, in part because houses in the outlying areas of the city generally did not have street numbers during the 19th century. Various maps show houses in this vicinity as early as 1835, but it is not easy to tell exactly which houses were which. The documentation on the state’s MACRIS database lists it as having been built around 1882, based on atlases and directories of the period, and this seems like a plausible date, particularly since its Queen Anne-style design matches with architectural tastes of the early 1880s. In many ways, its design resembles a smaller version of the much larger Queen Anne houses that were built in the city’s McKnight neighborhood around the same time.

The first recorded resident of this house was William G, Pierce, who appears in the 1882 city directory as a merchant of the firm William G. Pierce & Co. However, he is not listed in either the 1881 or 1883 directories, so his stay here at this house may have been short. The next 15 years of this house’s history are unclear, but by 1897 it was owned by Julien W. Belanger, a merchant tailor who lived here with his wife Corinne, their five children, and a servant. His tailor shop was located on Main Street in downtown Springfield, and he likely would have used the new trolley line to commute to work. He and his family were living here as late as 1900, but by 1901 they had moved to Adams Street, and by 1904 they had moved to Canada, where both Julien and Corinne had been born.

By 1905, this house was being rented by Michael and Mary Byrne, who lived here with their four children. Like the Belangers, they were also immigrants, with Michael from Scotland and Mary from England. In city directories of the period, Michael is listed as a papermaker, although according to the 1910 census he was an automobile machinist. The census also lists their son Adam as having the same occupation, while their daughter Mary was a saleswoman at a department store, and their son Charles was an assistant bookkeeper at a department store.

The Byrne family left Springfield soon after the 1910 census, and by 1912 this house was owned by Albin M. Kramer, a civil engineer who had immigrated to the United States from Germany as a young child in 1872. His wife Rose was also an immigrant, from England, and they had married within a few years after her arrival in 1899. During the 1920 census, they were living here in this house with their children Alwin, Frederick, Vincent, and Marguerite, who ranged in age from 10 to 16.

Of the four Kramer children, Alwin would probably go on to have the most noteworthy career. He was 16 years old during the 1920 census, and a year later he graduated from Central High School. From there he went to the U. S. Naval Academy thanks to an appointment by Springfield’s Congressman Frederick H. Gillett, who was at the time the Speaker of the House. Alwin went on to have a long career in the Navy, but he is best remembered for his role in the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1939, Alwin became the head of OP-20-GZ, which was involved in intercepting, decrypting, and translating coded messages sent by the Japanese government. He was particularly busy in early December 1941, when his office decrypted a series of 14 messages sent to the Japanese embassy in Washington D.C. The last of these, sent in the early morning hours of December 7, instructed the Japanese ambassador to end diplomatic relations with the United States. However, it did not specifically indicate that an attack or a declaration of war was imminent, and there were a number of delays in Washington before this information was finally sent to Pearl Harbor, arriving several hours after the attack.

Alwin Kramer would go on to serve with distinction in World War II, and was eventually promoted to captain. However, his actions in early December, and those of his colleagues and superiors, fell under increased scrutiny after the war, eventually leading to a Congressional inquiry in 1946. The hearings were likely politically motivated, in an attempt by Republicans to discredit the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, but Captain Kramer did himself no favors with his confusing and often contradictory testimony, and he ended up retiring from the Navy by the end of the year. Nonetheless, he was never formally assigned any blame, and his wartime promotions suggest that his superiors in the Navy did not find fault in his actions. He died in 1972 at the age of 69, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In the meantime, Kramer’s family continued to live here in his childhood home until around 1929, although by the 1930 census his parents and two younger siblings were living in a house at 127 Massachusetts Avenue. The next long-term residents here at 171 Boston Road were Walter and Mazie Spickler, who were here as early as 1933. They were both in their mid-40s at the time, and they lived here with their son George and his wife Edna. George and Edna subsequently moved to a house of their own on nearby Denver Street by 1937, but Walter and Mazie were still here on Boston Road when the first photo was taken in 1938. According to the 1940 census, they paid $37 per month in rent, and Walter earned $1,560 per year as a fireman at a cotton mill.

Walter Spickler died shortly after the census was taken, in September 1940, at the age of 54. Mazie continued to live here for at least a few more years, and the 1944 city directory shows her working as an inspector at Westinghouse. However, she moved by the following year, because the 1945 directory shows Franklin and Virginia Lewis living here. At the time, Franklin was working as a collector for the Springfield Union newspaper, and he later became the circulation supervisor for the Springfield Newspapers. He lived here until his death in 1969, at the age of 64. It seems unclear as to how much longer Virginia lived here, but she ended up outliving Franklin by more than 40 years, before her death in 2010 at the age of 104.

Today, more than 80 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. The property is now surrounded by a chain link fence, and the house appears to have a different paint scheme, but otherwise its exterior looks essentially the same as it did in the 1930s. The shed in the backyard on the far left is also still there, as is the brick building on the far right side. Although mostly hidden by trees in the first photo, this building was here in the 1930s, and it is best known as the site of the first Friendly’s restaurant, which opened here in 1935. In general, very few historic buildings have survived the various waves of development along Boston Road, but this house stands as an unusual reminder of what Springfield’s main commercial thoroughfare once looked like.

Boston Road from Coleman Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking west on Boston Road from near the corner of Coleman Street in Springfield, around 1924. Image from Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Springfield Massachusetts (1924).

The scene in 2019:

The primary subject matter of the first photo was intended to be the tree in the foreground, which is identified as Acer rubrum L. var. tridens Wood, a rare variety of red maple. However, the photo also captures a rare view of Boston Road as it appeared nearly a century ago, prior to its extensive commercial development. The view faces west along Boston Road from the corner of Coleman Street, right in the midst of what would soon become the center of the Pine Point neighborhood.

Throughout most of the 19th century, this section of Springfield was only sparsely settled, with the 1870 city map showing fewer than 20 houses along the entire 3.5-mile stretch of Boston Road from Berkshire Avenue to the Wilbraham town line. This began to change by the 1890s, though. Likely motivated by the recently-opened trolley line on nearby Berkshire Avenue, landowners in present-day Pine Point began subdividing their properties with new streets and house lots. By 1899 there were at least six houses on Coleman Street, and over the next two decades there would be further development, particularly on Denver and Jasper Streets.

Overall, though, the neighborhood maps of the early 20th century show far more vacant lots than houses, and it would take many years before most of the streets were fully developed. The first photo was taken during this period, when even Boston Road, the main thoroughfare through Pine Point, still had many empty lots and hardly any commercial development.

There are only two houses visible in the first photo. On the left, at the southwest corner of Boston Road and Coleman Street, is one of the oldest surviving houses in the area. It was built sometime around 1882, predating the modern street grid that was added about a decade later, and during the early 1880s it was the home of merchant William G. Pierce. Subsequent owners included tailor Julian Belanger, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1920s it was the home of civil engineer Albin M. Kramer, his wife Rose, and their three children.

The house on the right, at 168 Boston Road, is somewhat newer. It was built sometime between 1899 and 1910, and it appears to have been constructed as a two family home. During the early 20th century it had a number of different tenants, most of whom only stayed for a few years. Among these were my great grandparents, Frank and Julia Lyman, who lived here from about 1915 to 1917. Frank was a machinist who was originally from Wilbraham, and Julia grew up in New York City, where she worked for the New York World newspaper. They lived in the New York area for the first few years of their marriage, but they moved to Springfield around 1915. At the time they had two young children, Elizabeth and Edith, and their third child Evelyn, my grandmother, was born here in this house in 1917. Soon after, the family purchased a house nearby at 37 Coleman Street, and they were living there when this photo was taken at the end of their street a few years later.

By the 1920 census, one unit in the house at 168 Boston Road was occupied by painter Raymond L. Taft, his wife Alice, and their three young children. The other unit was the home of carpenter Frank E. Bowen, and his wife Edith, who had three children of their own. However, neither family appears to have remained here for very long; Alice Taft died in 1921, and by the following year Raymond was living elsewhere in Pine Point. The Bowen family had also moved out by then, and during the 1920s the house appears to have changed tenants very frequently, with most only appearing here in the city directory for one year.

Within just a few years after this photo was taken, this section of Boston Road developed into the commercial center of the Pine Point neighborhood. At some point around the late 1920s, the house on the right was altered with the addition of two storefronts, one of which was the home of Nora’s Variety Store for many years. Across the street from there, on the left side of the scene, a row of commercial buildings was constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The easternmost of these, visible just beyond the house on the far left, is best known as the location of the original Friendly’s restaurant, which opened there in 1935.

Today, nearly a century after the first photo was taken, very little in this scene has remained the same. The red maple is long gone, and all of the vacant lots here have since been developed. Boston Road is now a four lane road and one of the main east-west routes through the city, and it is almost entirely commercial, with very few remaining houses. However, both of the houses from the first photo have managed to survive, although the one on the left was heavily altered by the late 1920s storefront addition. The one on the right has remained much better preserved, though, and it stands as a rare Victorian-style house in an otherwise predominantly 20th century neighborhood.

John Hodges House, Salem, Mass

The house at 81 Essex Street, at the corner of Orange Street in Salem, around 1890-1914. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

The second half of the 18th century was a time of great prosperity for Salem because of its thriving maritime trade, and many of the town’s wealthy captains and merchants built fine houses such as this one. This house was built around 1750 by John Hodges, a ship captain who was about 26 years old at the time. Hodges had purchased this property a year earlier, the same year that he married Mary Manning. The couple subsequently raised eleven children here, four of whom died young. Of the surviving sons, five went on to become captains themselves, although two of them died at sea.

Their third child, Benjamin, became one of Salem’s leading captains in the late 18th century. He was a cousin of Elias Hasket Derby, one of the richest merchants in New England, and he frequently commanded Derby’s ships, including the Grand Turk and the Astrea, which were among the first American ships to trade with the far east. Later in his career, Benjamin Hodges was involved in the construction of the frigate USS Essex, the largest ship—and only warship—ever built in Salem. It was funded by subscription from residents of Salem, including Hodges, who also served on the building committee, and it was presented to the United States Navy in 1799. Also in 1799, Hodges was one of the founders of the East India Marine Society, which has since become the Peabody Essex Museum. He then became the organization’s first president, serving until his death in 1806.

Benjamin Hodges acquired this house from his father in 1788, and he lived here with his wife Hannah and their large family. Tragically, though, most of their children died young from tuberculosis, starting with an infant daughter in 1783. Their oldest child, Hannah, died of it in 1792 at the age of 13, followed by ten-year-old John in 1797, 12-year-old Margaret in 1803, 19-year-old Benjamin in 1804, and 14-year-old Sarah in 1812. Both parents also succumbed to the disease, with Benjamin dying in 1806 at the age of 52, and Hannah in 1814 at the age of 59. Only three of their children lived relatively long lives, and only one, Mary, married and had children.

Mary Hodges married William Silsbee in 1808, and the couple lived here in this house, possibly with Mary’s unmarried sisters Hannah and Elizabeth. Like Mary, William was also from a prominent Salem family. His older brother Nathaniel was a ship captain and merchant who later went on to have a successful political career, serving four years in the U. S. House of Representatives and nine years in the Senate. William was likewise a merchant, with ownership interests in a number of vessels. He and Mary had seven children, and he lived in Salem until his death in 1833 at the age of 53. Four years later, Mary and her sisters sold this house, and she died in 1851 at the age of 62.

The house was subsequently owned by Stephen Webb, the cashier of the Mercantile Bank in Salem. He is not to be confused with his contemporary, Stephen Palfrey Webb, whose unusual political career involved serving as mayor of Salem from 1842 to 1845, mayor of San Francisco from 1854 to 1855, and then mayor of Salem again from 1860 to 1862. The Stephen Webb who lived here was about 34 years old when he purchased the house in 1837, and he was still living here during the 1850 census, along with his wife Martha, their five children, and two Irish-born servants. The same census valued his real estate—which may have included more than just this house—at $8,100, equivalent to about $250,000 today.

Stephen Webb had apparently died by 1870, because that year Martha—who was identified on the deed as a widow—sold the house for $3,750 to Sarah Maria Benson, the widow of Captain Samuel Benson. She died two years later, and the 1872 city directory shows her son, George Wiggin Benson, living here. At the time, his household included his ten-year-old son Frank Weston Benson, who later went on to become a prominent Impressionist painter. The future artist would live in Salem for much of his life, but was apparently only in this house for a short time, because by the 1874 city directory his father had moved to a house on Forrester Street.

During the late 19th century the house was owned by Henry Meek, who served as city clerk and later owned a publishing company. He was 54 years old in the 1900 census, and he lived here with his wife Annie, his daughter Alice, and a servant. This was apparently Henry’s second marriage, since Annie was only five years older than his 24-year-old daughter. He died later in 1900, and in 1906 Annie and Alice sold this house to Emma J. Brady.

The first photo was likely taken at some point during or shortly after the Meek family’s ownership. It was taken by Frank Cousins, a Salem native and noted photographer who used his camera to document hundreds of historic buildings in Salem and elsewhere in the northeast. The exterior of the house appears to have been well-preserved at the time, and it would have provided Cousins with a good example of colonial-era Georgian architecture.

Unlike the previous owners, Emma Brady does not appear to have lived here in this house, and instead used it as a rental property. The 1910 census shows that, at the time, it was being rented by Charles M. Proctor, a 44-year-old meat salesman who lived here with his wife Mary, their children Harrison, Charles, Arthur, Clifford, Mildred, and Gladys, and Harrison’s wife Nina. Like his father, Harrison worked as a meat salesman, while Charles was a winder at an electric works and Arthur was a farm laborer.

By the 1920 census the house had changed hands again, and at this point it was being used as a four-family home. There were a total of 11 people listed here that year, four of whom were immigrants, with three from Quebec and one from Greece. Aside from two children, all of the residents were employed, including three leather workers, two cotton mill workers, two machinists, a cook, and a rooming house keeper.

Overall, this house saw a steady decline in the prosperity of its residents, as shown by the fact that the former home of one of Salem’s most prominent captains had become a four-family apartment building. This was a common occurrence throughout Salem during this period; it had peaked in its importance as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, when it ranked among the top ten most populous cities and towns in the country. However, Salem’s shipping industry was badly hurt by both the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812, and its merchants never fully recovered. This led to a long period of economic stagnation, and the city saw only moderate population growth during the second half of the 19th century.

From a historic preservation standpoint, though, this was not entirely a bad thing. The lack of economic or population growth led to little demand for new construction, resulting in the survival of many historic buildings. Today, one of Salem’s most visible assets is its large number of well-preserved late 18th and early 19th century homes, including the John Hodges House here on Essex Street. Although it has undergone many changes in ownership and use over the past quarter of a millennium, it stands as a reminder of the city’s historic maritime past, with few significant differences from its appearance more than a century ago when the first photo was taken. It is now one of the contributing properties in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.