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.

Benjamin Daland House, Salem, Mass

The house at 23 Summer Street in Salem, around 1891. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

This house was built sometime between 1756 and 1760 by Benjamin Daland. He does not appear to have lived here for very long, though, because in 1760 he sold the property to Samuel Calley, who in turn sold it in 1762 to Captain George Dodge, a mariner from nearby Beverly. He was 35 years old at the time, and he and his wife Lydia and their seven children. They subsequently had two more children over the next new years, and Dodge owned the house until 1782. By this point Dodge was referred to in historical records as a merchant rather than a mariner, suggesting that he took the career path of many retired sea captains in Salem and went into business for himself as a merchant. Like many other Salem merchants, he was also involved in privateering during the American Revolution, owning several privateer ships that preyed on British shipping.

The next owner of the house was William Orne, who purchased it from Dodge in 1782 for 1,100 pounds. The historical records indicate that he was also a ship captain and later a merchant, but there appears to have been several William Ornes living in Salem during this period, so it seems difficult to determine which one owned this house. However, it may have been the same William Orne who was captured by the British during the War of 1812 and was being held prisoner aboard the HMS Guerriere during its famous battle with the USS Constitution.

Another area of uncertainty in tracing the history of this house is that, while Orne owned the house, it does not necessarily mean that he—or the other early owners of the house—personally lived here. In any case, though, Orne owned the house until 1807, when he sold it for $4,600 to Thorndike Deland, who then sold it for $4,500 in 1812 to his sister Eliza Osborn. Eliza was a wealthy widow whose husband, Captain George Osborn, had been swept overboard at sea in 1800. A year after acquiring this house she remarried to Abner Kneeland, a Unitarian theologian who would become a notable and controversial religious figure over the next few decades.

As with the previous owners, it does not seem clear how long Eliza actually lived here, because she and Abner only lived in Salem for a couple years after their marriage. However, the house would remain in her family for many years. It was owned jointly by George Osborn and Eliza Archer, her children from her first marriage, until 1863, when George became the sole owner. Neither sibling appears to have lived in the house, though, because city directories of the period list several other residents here, including grocer John Chamberlain, who was living in the house as early as 1846.

After George Osborn’s death in 1882, his daughter Eliza D. Shepard inherited the property. The first photo was taken about a decade later by Frank Cousins, a prominent photographer who documented historic buildings in Salem and other places in the northeast around the turn of the 20th century. Cousin’s caption identifies it as the “Doctor T.O. Shepard house,” indicating that Eliza Shepard’s son Thomas was living here at the time.

Thomas and his sister Sarah eventually acquired the house, and unlike some of the previous generations they definitely lived here on Summer Street. The 1910 census shows them living here together, unmarried and in their 40s. Thomas, who was an 1892 graduate of Harvard Medical School, was an oculist, and he had his practice here in the house. The Shepards also employed two live-in servants at the time, one of whom was listed as a cook in the census.

Thomas continued to live here until his death in 1935, and Sarah remained here for at least a few more years, but by the 1940 census she was living elsewhere. Then, in 1941 she sold this house on Summer Street to Marie Anne Cadorette. This marked the end of 135 years of ownership by the same family, which had spanned four different generations of Osborns and Shepards.

Today, well over a century after the first photo was taken, the house is still standing. It has seen some changes, including the loss of the shutters and the front entryway, and the outbuilding in the back of the lot is gone, but overall it survives as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th century homes in Salem. The neighboring John P. Peabody House, built in 1868 on the far left side of the scene, is also still standing, although the house on the far right side of the first photo has since been demolished.

Derby House, Salem, Mass

The Derby House on Derby Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and perhaps no family better exemplified this golden age than the Derby family. The family patriarch was Richard Derby, a ship captain who lived most of his adult life in a house nearby at the corner of Derby and Herbert Streets. Derby eventually retired from sailing in 1757, and he spent the next few decades as a merchant here in Salem. He owned a fleet of ships, and in 1762 he began construction of Derby Wharf, which would eventually become the largest wharf in the port.

Richard and his wife Mary had three sons and three daughters. Two of their sons became ship captains, and the other son, Elias, joined his father in the merchant business. In 1761, at the age of 21, Elias married Elizabeth Crowninshield, and that same year his father began constructing this house for the newlyweds. The house was completed a year later, and it features a brick exterior with Georgian-style details, including a gambrel roof, which was typical for homes of this era. The architect and builder is unknown, although Joseph McIntire—father of the famous Salem architect Samuel McIntire—was apparently involved in the construction, because in 1762 Richard Derby paid him 40 shillings for unspecified work.

The house is situated on the north side of Derby Street, opposite Derby Wharf, where it overlooks the harbor. From here, Elias could keep a close eye on the activity at the wharf, which included the arrival of merchant ships and, during the American Revolution, privateers. He owned or held shares in about half of all the Salem privateers that preyed on British shipping during the war, and he made a significant profit from their success, while simultaneously benefitting the American war effort. Then, at the end of the war, these privateering ships were well-suited for conversion to merchant ships. This put Elias in a good position to expand foreign trade networks, and he became one of the first Americans to trade with China and other ports in southeast Asia.

By the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, along with being the richest on a per-capita basis. Elias Hasket Derby played a significant role in this prosperity, and he was regarded as one of the wealthiest merchants in New England at the time. Many years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne would famously give him the moniker “King Derby” in his prologue to The Scarlet Letter, in which Hawthorne recounted the glory days of Salem and contrasted them with the mid-19th century decline of the port city.

However, Elias and his wife Elizabeth did not live here in this house for his entire merchant career. They lived here through at least the early years of the Revolution, and raised their seven children here, but they appear to have moved elsewhere by around 1778. They were definitely gone by 1782, when they moved into a house closer to the center of Salem, at what is now the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets. Then, in 1799 they moved again, this time to a newly-built house designed by Charles Bulfinch. However, both Elias and Elizabeth died that same year, and that house was ultimately demolished in 1815 to build a new town hall.

In the meantime, the Derby family continued to own this house here on Derby Street for most of the late 18th century, before ultimately selling it to Henry Prince in 1796. Price, who apparently had begun renting the house from the Derbys as early as 1784, was a successful sea captain who sailed for some of Salem’s leading merchants, including Derby. He also played a role in the career of famed navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch; Prince was the captain on Bowditch’s first voyage, departing Salem in 1795 aboard the Derby-owned Henry.

Like many prosperous captains, Prince subsequently became a merchant, and by the early 19th century he had ownership interests in a number of vessels, including the appropriately-named 219-ton ship Golden Age. However, by this point the golden age of Salem was already nearing its end. Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 severely damaged the American economy in general, but it was particularly devastating for Salem, which was dependent upon foreign trade. The War of 1812 caused further disruption to trade, and these financial hardships eventually forced Prince to sell both this house and his warehouse.

Various sources give somewhat different information as to when Prince lost his house, but in any case it was ultimately acquired by Henry Ropes, who married Henry Prince’s daughter Mary in 1821. Born in Salem in 1791, Ropes was the son of Captain George Ropes, who died at sea in 1807, and the brother of George Ropes Jr., a noted artist who specialized in maritime themes. Henry Ropes likewise became a ship captain, and made a number of voyages to India before retiring from the sea. He subsequently became involved in banking here in Salem, including serving for many years as the treasurer of the Salem Savings Bank.

Henry and Mary had nine children, three of whom died in infancy. Of their six children who survived to adulthood, most of them still died relatively young, with only two living past the age of 43. Henry died in 1861, but Mary continued to live her in her father’s old house until her own death in 1873. The 1870 census shows here with several generations of her family, including her only two living children, Joseph and Benjamin, who were both in their 30s and unmarried. She also shared the house with Priscilla, the widow of her oldest son George. Priscilla was 44 years old at the time, and she lived here with her daughters Priscilla and Mary, who appear to have been the only grandchildren of Henry and Mary Ropes who survived infancy.

Mary Ropes died in February 1873, and by late May the property, which was described in the Salem Register as consisting of a “two-story brick dwelling and other buildings and 22,000 square feet of land,” had been sold to Daniel Leahy for $6,700, or about $145,000 today. Leahy was an Irish immigrant who was about 26 years old at the time, and he moved in here with his wife Mary and their infant daughter Johanna. Just a few years earlier, during the 1870 census, the couple had been living in Peabody. According to the census, he worked as a laborer, had a personal estate of $150, and was unable to read or write.

The historical record does not seem to indicate how an illiterate immigrant laborer with $150 to his name in 1870 was able to, within three years, purchase a house that had once belonged to one of the wealthiest merchants in New England. However, this example serves to illustrate just how far Salem had fallen in prosperity since the days of “King Derby.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was no longer alive at this point, but if he had been he likely would have seen this as further proof of what he discussed in the prologue to The Scarlet Letter.

In any case, by the 1880 census Daniel and Mary were living here with a number of other family members. In addition to eight-year-old Johanna, they had a four-year-old son Thomas, and they also lived here with Daniel’s mother Johanna, his siblings Bartholomew, Michael, Mary, Catherine, and Margaret, and Bartholomew’s wife Catherine and infant son Patrick. Daniel and his two brothers all worked as stevedores, perhaps on the same wharves that Elias Hasket Derby had once built, and the three sisters worked in cotton mills. The family also had three young Irish women living here as boarders, all of whom also worked in cotton mills.

The Leahy family lived in this house until around the turn of the 20th century, but they continued to own the property for many years. The first photo was taken sometime around 1910, and that year’s census indicates that it was rented by two different families. In one unit was William and Annie Doyle, middle-aged Irish immigrants who lived here with their 11-year-old adopted daughter Agnes. In the other unit was John and Julia Szezechowicz, their four children, and John’s brother Bradislaw. They were all immigrants from Poland, arriving in the United States only three years earlier.

Over the years, the condition of the house steadily deteriorated, but it was ultimately acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1927. Now known as Historic New England, this organization restored the house to its original appearance, and then in 1937 transferred it to the National Park Service. A year later, the house became part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which was established that year as the first national historic site in the country.

Today, the Derby House is still part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. It is partially hidden behind the trees in the present-day view, but it stands as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th and early 19th century homes in Salem. In the rear of the house, the property also includes a formal garden, which is a recreation of the gardens that were typical for Salem merchants of this period. Just to the left of the house, outside of view in this scene, is the Benjamin Hawkes House, and beyond it is the Salem Custom House, both of which have likewise been restored as part of the national historic site.

Old Meeting House, South Hadley, Mass

The Old Meeting House at the northern end of the town common in South Hadley, around 1930-1937. Image courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

The scene in 2019:

Although it is difficult to tell from its current appearance, this modest-looking colonial house is actually the original meetinghouse in South Hadley. It was built around 1732, when South Hadley was still a part of Hadley, and it is likely the oldest surviving church building in western Massachusetts. It is also one of the oldest in the entire state, dating back to a time when New England meetinghouses were typically built without steeples or bell towers.

Present-day South Hadley was first settled by European colonists around the 1720s. These early residents would have been expected to attend church and town meetings in Hadley, but this proved challenging. The town center was eight miles away along rough roads, and South Hadley was geographically isolated from the rest of the town by Mount Holyoke. As a result, the settlers soon requested a church of their own, which was established around 1732. This meetinghouse was constructed around this time, and the building was originally situated about 100-150 feet south of its current location, on what is now the town common.

The first meeting appears to have been held here in March 1733, and the first pastor of the church was Grindall Rawson, who was ordained on October 3, 1733. He was a recent Harvard graduate who was about 25 years old, and five years later he married Dorothy Chauncey, the daughter of Reverend Isaac Chauncey of the Hadley church. During this time, work continued on the interior of the meetinghouse. This was done in several stages, beginning with the installation of nine pews in 1733, and it was not completed until 1744, when the gallery was finished.

It was not uncommon for early 18th century pastors to remain with the same church for their entire ministry career, but this ultimately was not the case for Reverend Rawson. Described in the 1863 History of Hadley book as “eccentric, free-spoken, and rash,” he soon became a source of controversy here in South Hadley. In 1737 a council of local clergymen met to discuss Rawson. Few details survive from this meeting, including where it was held, but one of the attendees was Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor of the church in Northampton. He served as the scribe of the meeting, and in his memoirs he later wrote that the question at hand was “Whether Mr. R. was qualified for the work of the ministry as to his learning, his orthodoxy and his morals.” The council apparently found no issues with his qualifications, but this did little to appease his parishioners.

In February 1740, the congregation voted in favor of dismissing Rawson. However, he remained in that position for more than a year before, in March 1741, the church reaffirmed their decision and declared that “we have no further service for him in the office of a gospel minister, and that we expect he will refrain from any public acts in that office among us.” Rawson was apparently unfazed by this, though, and he continued to conduct services from the pulpit here throughout much of 1741. Finally, in October the church passed a resolution stating:

As Mr. Rawson has lately in an abrupt manner entered the meeting house and performed divine service, contrary to the mind of this precinct, the committee are directed and empowered to prevent Mr. Rawson from entering the meeting house on the Sabbath, by such means as they shall think best, except he shall promise not to officiate or perform service as a minister, and if Mr. Rawson shall offer to perform service as a minister, the committee shall put him forth out of the meeting house.

This still did not stop Rawson, who took to the pulpit a few weeks later. This time, though, a group of men seized him and forcibly carried him out of the building. The parish subsequently voted to appropriate 10 pounds as a legal defense fund, in the event that Rawson pressed charges against the men involved, but he did not, nor did he make any further attempts to preach here. He did, however, continue to live here in South Hadley for three more years, before accepting a position as pastor of a church in Hadlyme, Connecticut, where he served until his death in 1777.

In the meantime, South Hadley continued to grow in population, and this meetinghouse soon became too small for the parish. As early as 1751 the congregation voted to build a new church, but this caused a new controversy regarding its location. The residents here in the western part of the parish favored a site near the existing meetinghouse, while those in the eastern part—in present-day Granby—wanted the new church in a more central location on Cold Hill. After a decade of wrangling, the western faction finally prevailed, and the new church was built nearby in 1762. That same year, the eastern half of the district was established as a separate parish, and in 1768 it was incorporated as the town of Granby.

In the meantime, once the new church was completed the old building was moved northward to its current location, and it was converted into a house. This was a typical practice in New England during the 18th and 19th centuries, with thrifty Yankees generally preferring to move and repurpose old buildings instead of demolishing them. In the case of this meetinghouse, its relatively small size for a church—only 40 feet by 30 feet—made it well-suited for use as a house.

It is difficult to trace the ownership of the building in the early years after conversion to a house, but at some point in the first half of the 19th century it was owned by the Goodman family. It was then owned by Alfred Judd, who had been living there for “many years” by the time the History of Hadley was published in 1863. In a footnote, the author remarked that it was a “comely dwelling,” and that its old frame “may yet last a century.” More than 150 years later, this prediction that has proven to be a significant underestimate of the building’s longevity.

The 1860 census shows Alfred Judd living here with his daughter Irene, her husband Joseph Preston, and their two young children, Alfred and Joseph Jr. Alfred was 62 years old at the time, and he had just recently been widowed after his wife of 38 years, Mary, died in February 1860. He subsequently remarried to Sophia Preston in 1861, and he appears to have lived here until his death in 1878.

At some point afterward, Judd’s grandson Joseph Preston Jr. purchased the property to the right of the family home and built the Hotel Woodbridge, which later became Judson Hall, a dormitory for nearby Mount Holyoke College. In the meantime, the old house remained in the Preston family for many years. Joseph Jr. died in 1922, but his widow Elmina continued to own it until at least the 1930s, although it seems unclear as to whether Joseph or Elmina actually lived here during the early 20th century, or simply rented it to other tenants.

In any case, the first photo was taken at some point during Elmina’s ownership in the 1930s. By then, the building was the home of the Old Meeting House Tea Room, as indicated by the sign above the front door. It is difficult to determine exactly how much its exterior appearance had changed by this point, but it was clearly different from how it would have looked when it was moved here in the early 1760s. In particular, the wide pediment just below the roof and the pilasters in the corners are most certainly not original; these would have probably been added around the early 19th century, giving the old colonial meetinghouse a vaguely Greek Revival appearance.

In more than 80 years since the first photo was taken, this building has undergone some significant changes, including additions to the left, right, and behind the original structure. The front of the building has also been altered, particularly on the ground floor, but overall it is still recognizable from the first photo. Throughout this time, it has continued to be used as a commercial property, and it is currently the Yarde Tavern restaurant. The second floor of the building was damaged by a fire in April 2019, and these windows were still boarded up when the second photo was taken a few months later, but the restaurant itself was only closed for a few weeks.

Today, the building bears almost no resemblance to the Puritan meetinghouse that Grindall Rawson was dragged out of nearly 280 years ago. However, it despite these changes it still has significant historic value as one of the oldest buildings in South Hadley, in addition to being one of the few surviving early 18th century church buildings in this part of the state.