Cocoanut Grove, Boston (1)

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Piedmont Street in Boston’s Bay Village neighborhood, shortly after the November 28, 1942 fire. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2021:

The first photo shows the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the aftermath of the infamous fire that gutted the building and killed 492 people, making it the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history.  The building had been constructed in 1916 as a garage, and was opened as the Cocoanut Grove in 1927.  The tropical-themed nightclub became one of the most popular in Boston; owner Barney Welansky was well-connected with both the Mafia and with Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, and the club’s guests included many prominent Bostonians, and it regularly featured well-known entertainers.  Just a week before the fire, Irving Berlin performed here, and one of the fatalities from the night of the fire was movie star Buck Jones.

Although the cause of the fire is still unclear, it began in the Melody Lounge, a dimly-lit basement room located just below this section of the building.  The fire was discovered at around 10:15, and spread rapidly with the help of the flammable tropical decorations that covered much of the interior.  Within five minutes, the entire 10,000 square foot building was on fire.  Many people attempted to escape through the revolving door at this entrance on Piedmont Street, but the size of the crowd jammed the door.  The door visible to the left was at the top of the stairs to the Melody Lounge, but it was locked, along with several other exits in the building.

The aftermath of the fire led to a number of changes in both medicine and fire safety; Boston area hospitals developed new treatments for burn victims, and state and city governments enacted new laws regarding emergency exits, exit signs, and flammable decorations.  As a result of the number of deaths caused by the jammed revolving door, such doors today must have conventional, outward-opening doors on either side.

In the years following the fire, much of this neighborhood was extensively redeveloped.  This site along Piedmont Street would be used as a parking lot for many years, but as seen in the 2021 photo, there is now a condominium building here.

Springfield and Eastern Street Railway, Palmer Mass

A Springfield and Eastern Street Railway trolley in downtown Palmer, on Main Street opposite Bridge Street, in 1905. Image courtesy of the Palmer Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

The town of Palmer was once a major transportation hub, as indicated by its nickname, the “Town of Seven Railroads.” Although not all of these railroads were ever operational, at the time that the first photo was taken there were five different railroads operating in the town, but that didn’t include the many trolley lines that also served Palmer. The trolley line along Main Street belonged to the Springfield and Eastern Street Railway, and it connected Monson, Brimfield, and other points east to the city of Springfield, some 15 miles to the west. The line opened in 1898 as the Palmer and Monson Street Railway, and connected the two rapidly developing industrial towns. In 1901, the line was extended to connect with the Springfield Street Railway, and in 1905 the company was renamed to reflect its role in connecting Springfield to the towns to the east.

The first few decades of the 20th century were the heyday for trolleys, but as time went on they faced competition from buses and automobiles.  The line closed by the late 1920s, and today nothing from the first photo has survived., including the building directly behind the trolley in the 1905 scene.  It was the Converse Hotel, which at the time was conventiently located on the main road from Boston to Springfield.  Today, its former location at the corner of Main and Walnut Streets is now a parking lot.

Allis House and First Church, Wilbraham Mass (2)

Another Main Street view of the Allis House and the First Church, sometime in the 1880s or 1890s. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Main Street in 2015:

As mentioned in this post, both of these buildings in the first scene were destroyed in separate fires, not too long after the photo was taken.  The Allis House to the left was a hotel and tavern, offering accommodations for salesmen and other business travelers as well as providing food and entertainment for locals.  It burned in August 1896, but the 1964 History of Wilbraham book suggests that it may not have been accidental; business was apparently declining, and according to a local rumor the resident handyman ran out of the burning building yelling at Mrs. Allis for not telling him when she was planning on burning the place down.

Just under 15 years later the Congregational Church just to the right of the Allis House was also destroyed in a fire, although there was unquestionably no insurance fraud involved here; the steeple was struck by lightning and the church burned to the ground.  Today, Gazebo Park is located on the spot where the old church once stood, along with its two predecessors and its successor, before the present-day church was built in 1958 a short distance down Main Street.

Allis House and First Church, Wilbraham Mass (1)

The Allis House and the First Church on Main Street, seen from the intersection of Main and Springfield Streets, sometime around the 1880s or 1890s.  Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

This location on Main Street in the center of Wilbraham was the location of a series of fires between 1877 and 1911. In 1877, both the first and second meeting houses were destroyed in a fire, after which the Allis House hotel and the third meeting house were built, as seen in the first photo.  However, less than 20 years later the Allis House also burned, in a rather suspicious fire that conveniently occurred after business started declining in the 1890s.  The church survived the Allis House fire, but it burned in 1911 after being struck by lightning.  Today, the location of the church is part of Gazebo Park, at the corner of Main Street and Burt Lane.

Warriner’s Tavern, Springfield Mass

The former Warriner’s Tavern on State Street in Springfield, around 1893. Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)

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The location in 2015:


The scene in 2023:

The building in the first photo was built around 1773, and was originally located a half a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets. It apparently had a number of different names over its long lifespan, but it was built by Thomas Bates and operated as the Bates Tavern for many years. However, probably its most notable owner was Jeremy Warriner, and under his ownership starting in 1820, the tavern was variously referred to as the United States Hotel, Eagle Tavern, Warriner’s Tavern, and “Uncle Jerry’s.” He appears to have sold it by the 1840s, and in 1847 the building was moved to its location on State Street.

During Warriner’s ownership, when the tavern was still located on Main Street, it was one of Springfield’s premier taverns along the stagecoach lines, and hosted many distinguished guests, but it was also part of the Underground Railroad.  Many runaway slaves became employees here, and in 1907 the Springfield Homestead published the recollections of Julia Lee, the daughter of Mary Sly, who was one of the runaway slaves.  Lee’s narrative provides a fascinating account of the Underground Railroad and life in Springfield during the mid 19th century:

I don’t know just when I was born, but I know where I was born. I was born in the old Springfield house, as it is now called, Frank Foot tells me that Emil Wunsch is going to pull it down and put up a big block there. Frank says to me, “Julia, they ought to give you that old house.” Yes I was born there, when it used to stand on the corner of State and Main streets. It was the United States Hotel then and Uncle Jeremy Warriner used to run it. The Springfield house is only the front part of the old tavern, which was a great deal larger than the Springfield house. An Irishman, who lived over on Central street, bought the back part, and it used to run way to a Mr. Sykes’, when Uncle Jerry gave up keeping hotel there.

The way I happened to be born there, my mother, Mrs. Mary Sly, was a cook with Uncle Jerry. She came from Natchez, Miss. up here, and mother was born in New Orleans. Father was a West India man.  Uncle Jerry had all colored help men and women. Aunt Phoebe’s (Mrs. Warriner’s) aunt used to do the cooking. A colored girl, Emily, did all the pastry.  Jane Hall and I helped wait on table. I used to feel quite proud when some of those big folks would come in on the stage and when they’d sit down at the table would say, “Where’s Julia, I want Julia to wait on me.”  Those folks were generous about tipping, too.  They would leave money around under the plates, often 25 cents and sometimes as much as a dollar.

I used to know some of the biggest folks in the country.  Daniel Webster would stop over on his way to and from Boston. Webster always had a parlor and bedroom. I used to carry his meals up to his room.  He kept by himself a good deal and was always busy.  Rufus Choate used to come here, too. My! How that man would walk the floor.  Lots of brides used to come and we had bridal chambers for them.  They would send on ahead for rooms and sometimes Jerry would have the band come and serenade them at night. I couldn’t begin to tell all the people who would come.  Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe I remember and Mrs. Samuel Colt of Hartford, and Fanny Elsley, the great dancer, and Henry Clay, I most forgot him, and P.T. Barnum and Jennie Lind and Louis Kossuth.  After uncle Jerry gave up keeping the tavern and went over on Howard street to live I went with him, and Jenny Lind when she came here in 1851 stayed with Jerry and had her meals sent down from the hotel. There was Quincy, Harrison Gray Otis and Mr. Cabbot and lots of others.  I liked Jenny Lind the best of all. She was beautiful and the school children all came around to see her and she was so polite to everybody.  When Uncle Jerry went to what is Chandler’s hotel now I went too.  I stuck by the Warriners as long as they lived.

What good times we all had in those old days at the United States! Uncle Jerry had two or three spans of horses and used to take his guests around and then at night they would gather around the big fire places and go into the parlor and dance.  I was strictly temperate and Jane Hall and I used to march in the front of the cold water processions they used to have.  To be sure Uncle Jerry kept a bar but I didn’t see many getting full, same as they do now.

Uncle Jerry made lots of money, he kept such a good house.  People would come there and he would say he was full and they would say “Well Jerry, we are going to stay here anyway.” It was because he set such a good able you know.  People would room all around and come there to take their meals.  Jerry used to make a specialty of venison suppers, served with spiced gravy and jelly, with little chafing dishes placed around the table.  There was always something to drink, too.  Lots of Springfield people used to come there for suppers, too, Sam Bowles, Homer Foot, George Ashman, Judge Shurtleff and I can’t remember how many others.

Southern people used to be there and I will never forget one family and the time we had.  It was this way: Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte of Baltimore had a head waiter, William Gordon, who ran away and came up north.  Uncle Jerry always harbored all the slaves; In fact our house was one of the underground stations and would have eight or ten hid away sometimes.  Well, this Gordon, was in our house, when who should appear but Mrs. Bonaparte and her family.  They knew their waiter was up north somewhere and my! the fuss they made, but they didn’t get their slave.  Uncle Jerry was too smart for them.

After I got though here I went to Cincinnati and lived with a Mr. Hawkins, a Quaker who also kept runaway slaves escaping from Kentucky.

Uncle Jerry treated me with the best of any one I ever met and in summer he would take me to the summer resorts same as if I was one of the family.  All my relatives are dead and I feel as if I wished I could see the Warriners again.  You like my picture? Well I am sorry to disappoint The Homstead, but I had just one picture and some on stole that out of my album and I vowed then that I would never have another taken.

The event that prompted the publishing of this story was the planned demolition of the old tavern. Another 1907 article, this one appearing in the Springfield Republican, quoted a resident who lamented, “Oh the ceaseless march of improvements! they may soon build the tower of Babel again.” The building was demolished to make way for the United Electric Company building, which stands on the location today.  However, the “march of improvements” continues, and most of the building will soon be demolished to build the MGM Springfield casino, which will retain the State Street façade as an entrance, but is otherwise planning to take down the rest of it.

There is one other MGM connection to the old tavern, though. In her letter, Lee mentioned how Warriner left the old tavern and went to Chandler’s Hotel.  This was originally known as the Union House, and Warriner was the original owner after it was built in the mid 1840s. The building still stands today, at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets. It is one of the oldest commercial buildings in downtown Springfield, but it is scheduled to be demolished this year as part of the casino development.

2023 update: I have included a third photo, showing the scene following the construction of the MGM Springfield casino.

Hanging Around the Saloon, Chicopee Mass

A group of workers hanging around outside of the Cyran & Gierlasinski Cafe on Grove Street in Chicopee, on June 29, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

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The scene in 2014:


Social reformer and photographer Lewis Wickes Hine visited Chicopee several times in the 1910s, documenting child labor conditions in some of the city’s factories.  The first photo here shows a group of workers hanging around a saloon at the end of the workday.  It’s probably safe to assume that the cafe was Polish; the names of Cyran & Gierlasinski leave little room for doubt.  By the late 1800s, Chicopee had become an industrial center, and many of the workers were immigrants, either French-Canadian or Polish.  To this day, many Chicopee residents are of French-Canadian and Polish ancestry, some of whom are probably the descendants of the men in the 1916 photo.  Today, the Cyran & Gierlasinski Cafe might be gone, but the Polish influence is still present; the site is now the parking lot for the main offices of the Polish National Credit Union.