Beecher Street School, Southington, Connecticut (1)

Students in front of Beecher Street School in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The school in 2015:

The first photo is one of several color photos taken by the Office of War Information of the people of Southington during World War II.  The original caption reads, “School children, half of Polish and half of Italian descent, at a festival in May 1942, Southington, Conn.”  As with the other photos in the collection, it was intended for a pamphlet, which would be distributed overseas in order to gain support for the American cause.  The mention of Italian and Polish students is probably deliberate, because at the time Italy was allied with Germany and Poland was under German occupation.

Built in 1911, the Beecher Street School was an elementary school for many years, and more recently it was used by the school department for their central offices.  As of 2015 it is vacant, and the overgrown weeds and cracked pavement paint a bleak picture, in stark contrast to the original photo.  However, last year the historic school was sold to a private company, who plans to convert it into housing units.

Post Office, Southington, Connecticut

The Post Office building on Main Street in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The building in 2015:

Like the nearby Town Hall, this building was fairly new when the first photo was taken.  It opened in 1940, and was one of over a thousand post office buildings in the country that were constructed during the New Deal era.  Intended to provide jobs as well as new buildings for communities across the country, many of these post offices are still in use today, including this one in Southington.  It was later expanded with a sizable addition in the back and to the left, but the exterior of the original 1940 section remains essentially unchanged from the first photo.  Even parts of the interior are the same, including a mural by Ann Hunt Spencer, which can be seen in this 1942 interior photo of the post office on the Library of Congress website.

Town Hall, Southington, Connecticut

Southington’s Town Hall, seen facing north toward the First Congregational Church in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The Town Hall in 2015:

Of all the photos taken by the Office of War Information in Southington during World War II, this scene is one of the few that shows almost no change over the past 73 years.  The church, which has stood there since 1830, is still there, although it is now partially hidden by the large oak tree in front of it.  This tree is the only prominent difference between the two photos; it appears in the 1942 scene as a small sapling, barely visible in the shadows to the left of the church.  It had been planted in 1935 by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1935 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Connecticut.

The Town Hall is the newest thing in the scene; it was dedicated on December 13, 1941, less than a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II.  Less than six months later, it was included in the OWI photo series with the caption, “Town hall, in which all of the people meet to make their own laws.”  Since this was intended for a pro-American propaganda pamphlet in Europe, the wording of the caption expresses both the democratic nature of the town meetings, as well as the egalitarian aspect of it, with the word all implying that every citizen has an equal voice in town government.  Today, the building is still used as the Town Hall, but Southington has since adopted a council-manager form of local government, meaning the citizens no longer “meet to make their own laws” here in an open town meeting.

First Congregational Church, Southington, Connecticut (2)

The First Congregational Church of Southington, seen from the town green in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The church in 2015:

As mentioned in this post, the First Congregational Church in Southington is one of several nearly identical church buildings in Connecticut that were built between 1817 and 1830.  This particular angle gives a good view of the Greek Revival style portico, which is supported by four tall columns.  This is a common feature on many early 19th century New England churches, from traditional wood-frame ones such as Old First Church in Springfield, to brick churches like the First Church of Christ in Hartford, and even some stone ones, as seen in Quincy Massachusetts and Portsmouth New Hampshire.  The style represents somewhat of a transition from the relatively plain, simple Puritan-influenced meeting houses of the 18th century, such as the one still standing in Rockingham Vermont, to the more elaborate Gothic Revival and Romanesque churches that would come later in the 19th century, such as the Central Congregational Church in Boston.

Today, the six nearly identical Connecticut churches are still standing, except for the oldest of the group, Old Lyme Congregational Church.  It burned in 1907 and was rebuilt as close to the original as possible.  Aside from that, the others have been well-preserved, including this one in Southington, for which the caption of the first photo reads: “Southington, Connecticut. The First Congregational church, oldest of the town’s eleven churches looks substantially the same as when it was erected in 1830.”  It was likely included in the Office of War Information photo series to illustrate the town’s long history of religious activity, with the reference to “eleven churches” probably a subtle hint about the religious freedom and diversity that Americans enjoy.

School Children in Southington, Connecticut

A group of children, made up of teenagers and younger children, on the town green in Southington in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

The caption of the first photo is “Southington school children staging a patriotic demonstration,” and it is probably related to the town’s Memorial Day observances.  It is part of a series of photos taken in Southington by the Office of War Information, to be published in a propaganda pamphlet overseas.  The intent of this photo was probably to show American sympathizers and other potential allies about the patriotism expressed even by young children, although the only overt display of patriotism in this particular scene is the American flag that the young girl on the tricycle is holding.

Today, the scene has not changed too much.  The two buildings in the background are still there: the town hall on the left, and a brick commercial building on the right.  The town hall opened less than six months before the first photo was taken, and it is still in use today, and the commercial building was probably built in the early 1900s.  The storefront once housed Southington’s post office, and in the 2015 photo it is apparently vacant and boarded up.  Both buildings can also be seen in this post, which was taken from a similar angle.

Main Street, Southington, Connecticut (1)

Looking north on Main Street in Southington from along the town green, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015

These two photos were taken less than 75 years apart, but over that time most of the east side of Main Street has changed.  The First Congregational Church on the far right is still there, but all of the buildings beyond it are gone.  To the left, the Soliders’ Monument is still visible in both photos,