Hotel Windham, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Towns Hotel, later known as the Hotel Windham, on the east side of the Square in downtown Bellows Falls, in the aftermath of an April 12, 1899 fire. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The rebuilt hotel around 1900-1912. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The hotel in the aftermath of a March 26, 1912 fire. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The hotel around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

This spot here, at the southeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, has been the site of a hotel since the early 19th century. During this time, though, these hotels have been affected by a series of devastating fires. The first hotel was built here in 1816, and it was originally known as Webb’s Hotel, although it later became the Bellows Falls Stage House. This building burned in 1860, and in 1873 a new one, Towns Hotel, was built here on the site.

The Towns Hotel, named for owner Charles W. Towns, sustained heavy damage in a fire on April 12, 1899. Guests in the building had begun smelling smoke around 7:30 in the evening, but the fire smoldered for more than an hour before it was located under the fourth floor hallway. At first, it seemed as though it had been extinguished, but it had begun spreading into the empty space under the roof, and it ultimately set the upper floors ablaze. As shown in the first photo, the fourth floor was almost completely destroyed, and the third floor and parts of the second floor were completely gutted. The ground floor was largely untouched by the fire itself, but the stores here were flooded by all of the water that was poured into the building.

Following this fire, the hotel was rebuilt and expanded as the Hotel Windham, with a total of 75 guest rooms by the time the second photo was taken in the early 1900s. Then, it burned again in the early morning hours of March 26, 1912. The fire started in the adjacent Union Block, which is visible on the far left side of the second photo. It was evidently caused by a discarded cigarette, and it completely gutted the Union Block while also spreading to the Hotel Windham on the right and the Arms Block on the left.

According to early estimates, the total damage to the three buildings was about $150,000 to $200,000, and it displaced about 20 businesses and professional offices. There were 30 guests in the hotel at the time of the fire, but they were all evacuated with the help of the hotel employees, and there were no fatalities from any of the buildings. Part of the challenge for the responding firemen was the cold temperatures, which reached as low as ten degrees below zero, making it difficult to get water to the scene. By the time the fire was extinguished, the burned-out ruins were covered in ice.

The third photo was probably taken soon after the ice melted. No work had been done on the buildings yet, although several of the stores had already posted signs above their doors. One of the signs, above the Collins & Floyd jewelry store, informs customers of their temporary location, and another, above the Richardson Brothers shoe store, reads “Biggest Fire Yet. Particulars and Prices Later.”

All three of the damaged buildings were subsequently rebuilt. Because of the extent of its damage, the Union Block was completely reconstructed, becoming the three-story, gable-roofed building on the left side of the last two photos. The Arms Block to the left of it had comparatively less damage, and it was repaired along with the Hotel Windham. The fourth photo was probably taken soon after this work was completed, and it shows that the exterior of the repaired hotel was nearly identical to its appearance before the fire.

The building stood here for the next two decades, but on April 5, 1932 the hotel was again destroyed by a catastrophic fire. It started a little after midnight, apparently in an unoccupied room on the second floor, and it subsequently spread throughout the entire building, leaving little standing except for some of the brick exterior walls. All 44 guests were able to leave safely, though, most with their belongings, and the fire was successfully contained to just the hotel, preventing it from spreading to the neighboring buildings.

This time, the remains of the old 1873 building were completely demolished, and a new, somewhat smaller hotel was built on the site. This three-story brick, Colonial Revival-style hotel opened just over a year later, on May 1, 1933, and it is still standing here on this site. It remained the Hotel Windham for many years, although it later became the Andrews Inn by the 1970s.

Today, the Hotel Windham remains an important feature in the center of Bellows Falls. It is no longer used as a hotel, but it still features stores on the ground floor. The exterior remains well-preserved in its early 1930s appearance, and it recently underwent a restoration. The other buildings further to the left of the hotel are also still standing, including the Arms Block, which dates back to before the first photo was taken. Today, all of these buildings here are part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (4)

The view looking east across the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Old North Bridge was discussed in more detail in an earlier post, which shows the view looking west across the bridge. However, this view shows the opposite side of the bridge, facing east from directly in front of the famous statue The Minute Man. The bridge was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in a skirmish in nearby Lexington.

Although the Battle of Lexington came first, it was almost entirely one-sided, and the British continued their march to Concord with only a single wounded soldier, compared to eight dead and ten wounded militiamen. As a result, it was here in Concord that the British first encountered significant resistance from the colonists. Prior to the battle, the British had secured the bridge during their search for hidden military supplies. However, as the colonial militiamen began assembling on the west side of the river, the outnumbered redcoats withdrew to the east bank, where the monument stands in the distance of this scene.

When the battle began, the militiamen were approaching the bridge from approximately where these photos were taken. At this point, some of the British soldiers began opening fire, evidently under the mistaken impression that their commanding officer had given the order. Two militiamen at the head of the line, Private Abner Hosmer and Captain Isaac Davis, were killed, but the colonists did not break ranks. Instead, they returned fire with a devastating volley that killed three redcoats and wounded nine more. This came to be known as “The shot heard round the world,” and it was the first time that American colonists killed British soldiers in battle. It also forced the British to retreat, marking the first American victory of the war.

The original bridge here across the Concord River was removed several years after the end of the war, and the roads were rerouted to a new bridge nearby. As a result, for many years there was little evidence of the brief but momentous battle that was fought here. The first memorial here on the battlefield was the obelisk in the distance of this scene, which was installed in 1836 and dedicated a year later. At the time, there was still no bridge here, so the monument was placed on the east bank, where it was more reality accessible from the center of town. A new bridge would not be constructed until 1874, in advance of the battle’s centennial celebration. As part of the centennial, the statue The Minute Man was dedicated here on the west side, marking the colonial position during the battle.

By the time the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the bridge had been replaced again after the 1874 one was destroyed in a flood. This one was, in turn, destroyed in a 1909 flood, and its replacement was a concrete bridge that was designed to resemble the original one. However, it sustained heavy damage in a flood in 1955, and it was subsequently replaced by the current one, which is a wooden replica of the original. Aside from the bridge, though, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few changes since the first photo was taken, and the battlefield is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.

Captain John Parker Statue, Lexington, Mass

The statue of Captain John Parker, on the Lexington Common at the intersection of Bedford Street and Massachusetts Avenuen, around 1900-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Lexington Common is famous for being the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, which occurred here on April 19, 1775. Early on that morning, a group of some 80 Lexington militiamen gathered here on the Common, in preparation for the arrival of a large British force headed for Concord. In the short skirmish that followed, the militiamen, under the command of Captain John Parker, exchanged fire with the British. The result was eight dead militiamen and another ten wounded, compared to only one wounded redcoat. The British continued on to Concord, but the confrontation here in Lexington marked the opening shots of the conflict that ultimately led to American independence.

Captain Parker survived the battle, although his cousin Jonas Parker was among the eight who were killed. However, the 45-year-old Parker was dying from tuberculosis at the time, and the disease ultimately took his life less than five months later. Despite his short service in the war, though, he is regarded as one of the heroes of the battles of Lexington and Concord, in part because of his famous—but possibly apocryphal—command to his men prior to the battle, instructing them to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

In 1884, these words were inscribed on a boulder on the Lexington Common, which marks the spot where his militia company stood during the battle. Then, in 1900 Captain Parker became the subject of another memorial here on the Common, which is shown in this scene. Officially known as the Hayes Memorial Fountain, it originally featured a water fountain and a watering trough for horses, and it was topped by a bronze statue of Captain Parker. The statue was the work of noted sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson, although Parker’s appearance was largely conjecture, as there are no surviving portraits of him.

The monument was dedicated on April 19, 1900, on the 125th anniversary of the battle. The ceremony included an address by town selectman George W. Sampson, who praised the egalitarian nature of its design, noting:

The drinking fountain itself, built of rough breastwork stone, is emblematical of the spirit of equality and democracy. Best of all, the figure itself carries us back to the historic past and teaches the lesson of April 19. The statue is true to life. No aristocratic figure surmounts yonder heap of rocks, and none were in the battle.

The first photo was taken sometime within a year or two after the dedication. It shows the fountain in the center of the scene, along with several other monuments on the Common. In the distance to the left is the stone pulpit, which marks the site of the town’s first three meeting houses. Just behind this pulpit is an elm tree that had been planted by President Ulysses S. Grant some 25 years earlier, as part of the battle’s centennial celebration. However, probably the most notable feature in the first photo, other than the statue, is the large 45-star flag that is flying above the Common.

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, the statue remains a prominent landmark in downtown Lexington. The fountain itself is no longer in use, perhaps because there is now far less demand for horse watering troughs, and the basin is now used as a flower planter. There are also now a number of shrubs planted around it, but otherwise the monument itself has not seen any changes. Further in the distance, the stone pulpit is also still there, although President Grant’s elm tree is long gone, having probably fallen victim to Dutch Elm Disease at some point in the mid-20th century.

Lexington Common, Lexington, Mass

Looking north on the Lexington Common from near the corner of Bedford Street and Harrington Road, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene around 1910-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show a portion of the Lexington Common, which is also known as the Lexington Battle Green. Nearly every New England town has some sort of a common in the center of town, yet this one in Lexington is one of the most famous. It was here, just after dawn on April 19, 1775, that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, and where eight Lexington militiamen were killed after a brief skirmish with British redcoats who were bound for Concord.

The British soldiers had departed Boston late in the previous evening, with the goal of seizing colonial military supplies that were being stored in Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, alerting the militia companies in the outlying towns. Here in Lexington, a force of about 80 militiamen assembled on the Common. They were led by Captain John Parker, who is said to have instructed his men to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Upon arrival, the British ordered the militiamen to leave, with Major John Pitcairn supposedly shouting “Disperse, ye villains! Ye rebels, disperse!” Along with Parker’s earlier command, this would become one of the most famous quotes of the war, although it is hard to say exactly how accurate either of these lines really are. This uncertainty may be due, in part, to the fact that both men died within less than five months after the battle, leaving future historians with little opportunity to verify their battlefield statements.

In any case, Captain Parker recognized that his men were vastly outnumbered, and he ordered them to disperse. However, few evidently heard him. Then, in the midst of this standoff, a shot was fired. The identity of the shooter remains unknown, with both sides generally placing blame on the other, but both the redcoats and the militiamen then began exchanging fire.

The British proved to be far more effective in their fire. By the time the brief battle was over and the redcoats had resumed their march to Concord, they left behind eight dead militiamen and ten wounded, compared to just one wounded British soldier. Among the dead was Jonathan Harrington, who lived in the house that is visible in the distant center of all three photos. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded after the battle, but he managed to crawl back to his doorstep, where he died in his wife’s arms.

Despite how short and one-sided the battle was, it marked the first armed resistance to British aggression, and the Lexington Common has become an important symbol of American independence. The common is now marked by several monuments, including the one here in the foreground of this scene. Dedicated in 1884, this boulder marks the line where the militiamen stood, and it is inscribed with Captain Parker’s famous—if possibly apocryphal—command to his men to stand their ground.

The first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and it shows the Harrington house as it appeared prior to a major renovation in 1910. This project, which was completed by the time the second photo was taken, involved the removal of a wing on the right side of the house, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. It was intended as a restoration, although the work appears to have been based more on early 20th century ideas about how a colonial house should look, rather than how the Harrington house actually looked during the colonial era.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. The boulder is still here marking the line of militiamen during the battle, and the Harrington house remains standing in the distance, with few major exterior changes since the 1910 alterations. The other house in this scene, visible further in the distance, also survives today, although it is somewhat younger than the Harrington house, dating back to 1820. The Common itself has also been preserved, serving as both a public park and a historic site, and in 1961 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, Mass

The house at the corner of Harrington Road and Bedford Street in Lexington, around 1896-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built sometime around the first half of the 18th century, although it has been altered over the years. It stands at the northern end of the triangular Lexington Common, and it is most famous for having been the home of Jonathan Harrington, one of the eight Lexington militiamen who were killed in the opening shots of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.

At the time of the battle, Harrington was about 30 years old, and lived here in this house with his wife Ruth and their son Jonathan. Just after dawn on April 19, Harrington and about 80 other militiamen assembled on the Common, less than a hundred yards directly in front of his house. Here, they confronted a much larger force of British redcoats who were on their way to Concord to seize supplies of colonial munitions. A standoff ensued until someone fired a shot on or near the Common, resulting in both sides opening fire.

The ensuing skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, although it was largely one-sided. It failed to stop the British advance, and only one redcoat was wounded, compared to eight dead militiamen and ten who were wounded. Of the fatalities, Jonathan Harrington is perhaps the best-known. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded during the battle, but he managed to crawl back here to his house, where he died in his wife’s arms on the doorstep.

Subsequent owners of this house included John Augustus, a shoemaker who lived here during the 1820s. He eventually moved to Boston in 1827, where he continued his career as a shoemaker. However, he is remembered today for his role in criminal justice reform when, in 1841, he began bailing criminals out of jail and taking them under his care, including finding employment for them. This eventually led to the establishment of probation as an alternative to incarceration in Boston, and the practice later spread throughout the state and the rest of the country.

Later in the 19th century, the house was owned by James Gould, and it remained in his family until at least the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, though, it was owned by Dr. Bertha C. Downing, a physician who had her practice here in the house. A native of Kennebunkport, Maine, Dr. Downing attended public school in Boston before graduating from Radcliffe College and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The 1899 town directory shows her living in this house, and her office hours were listed as being from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first photo was taken at some point during her time here, as the sign above the two front windows on the left has her name on it.

Dr. Downing moved out of here by 1902, and in 1910 the house underwent a major renovation that ostensibly “restored” it to its colonial-era appearance. The owner at the time was Leroy S. Brown, and he hired local architect Willard D. Brown (evidently no close relation) for the project. Part of the work involved removing the wing on the right side of the house, which does not appear to have been original anyway, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. Other less significant changes included the addition of a pediment above the front door, as shown in the present-day scene.

In retrospect, this restoration probably did more harm to the historic character of the house than if it had simply been left alone, but it did help to ensure its long-term preservation. Today, despite the early 20th century alterations, the house still stands as an important landmark in the center of Lexington. It is one of several surviving buildings on the Common that date back to the famous battle, and the house features two signs that attest to its historic significance. The one on the right tells the story of Jonathan Harrington’s death, while the one on the left identifies the building as having been the home of John Augustus.

The Minute Man, Concord, Mass

The Minute Man, a statue on the west side of the Concord River at the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The statue in 2018:

This statue, which was dedicated in 1875, marks the site of the Battle of Concord, which was one of the opening events of the American Revolution. It stands on the west side of the Old North Bridge, on the spot where the colonial militiamen assembled on April 19, 1775 and fired the famous “shot heard round the world” at the British redcoats on the east side of the river. This short skirmish lasted less than three minutes, but it forced the British to abandon their search for colonial military supplies and retreat to Boston. This was the first military victory of the war for the colonists, and it was also the first time that British soldiers were killed in combat during the war.

The first monument at the battlefield was a granite obelisk, which was installed in 1836 on the east bank of the river. It was dedicated a year later, and the ceremony included the singing of a poem, “Concord Hymn,” which Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote for the occasion. The poem is best known for its opening stanza, which reads:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The obelisk was placed on the east side of the river because, at the time, there was no longer a bridge across the river here, and the east side was more accessible from the center of Concord. However, this meant that the monument was actually on the spot where the British fought. This motivated one local resident, Ebenezer Hubbard, to bequeath money to the town for the construction of a new bridge and the creation of a new monument on the west side, where the militiamen had fired their famous volley.

This gift came only a few years before the 100th anniversary of the battle, so over the next few years the town prepared for a large celebration. Boston architect William R. Emerson designed a new bridge, and the town commissioned noted sculptor Daniel Chester French to create the statue. Both the bridge and the statue were completed in 1874, and the town also built two large tents in preparation for the event, which were located to the west of the statue, on the hillside in the distance of both photos. One tent was for orations, and it could fit about 6,000 people, while the other was a dinner tent that could seat 4,500 people.

The statue was formally unveiled at the centennial celebration, which was held on April 19, 1875. The festivities ultimately drew crowd of some 50,000 people to Concord, far exceeding the capacities of either tent. There were a number of dignitaries here at the event, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Henry Wilson, and four members of Grant’s cabinet: Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Secretary of War William W. Belknap, Postmaster General Marshall Jewell, and Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano. Grant’s former Attorney General, Concord native Ebenezer Hoar, presided over the event, which also included brief remarks by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the recitation of a poem by James Russell Lowell. The main orator for the day was George William Curtis, who spoke about the history of the battle and how its lessons can be applied to the present day.

The Minute Man was well-received by the public. An article, published in the Boston Globe on the day of the ceremony, provided the following description of the statue:

[I]t is of heroic measure, more than seven feet in height, generously proportioned, and represents a young man turning at the hurrying call of the messenger from his labors in the field, and instantly ready for duty. His left hand rests a moment on a handle of his abandoned plough, across whose upper brace his coat is flung, his right hand grasps the old flint-lock musket; he rests on his left foot, while his right is just leaving the ground behind—the whole attitude indicating a moment’s pause, as if to listen. The figure is attired in the traditional continental costume, and will preserve its details for future ages. . . .

The features are strongly marked and bear the energy, the self-command, the ready shrewdness, immediate decision, and, above all, the air of freedom that belong to the New England face. The frame is stalwart, the shoulders squarely held, the muscles of the bared forearm—the one that leans strongly on the plow, the one that strongly grasps the musket—are tense and unencumbered by flabby flesh; the great veins stand knotted on the strenuous hands. The man is alive from head to foot, and indeed we know not where there is better represented the momentary pause of vigorous action than in this noble statue.

The statue stands atop a 7 1/2-foot granite pedestal, which was cut from the same boulder as the older monument on the other side of the river. The east side of the pedestal, shown here in this view, has the first stanza of Emerson’s poem inscribed on it, and on the other side is the date of the battle and the date of its dedication. The site of the statue is 110 feet west of the bridge, in line with it and the other monument. This spot is said to be where Captain Isaac Davis fell during the battle, becoming one of the first colonists—and the first officer—to be killed in the American Revolution.

Today, nearly 150 years after it was unveiled here, and more than a century after the first photo was taken, the statue still stands guard over the Old North Bridge. The statue itself looks essentially the same as it did in the first photo, although the surrounding area has seen a few changes. At the time, the statue was surrounded by a hedge, which had originally been planted for erosion control. Another hedge of Japanese barberry was later planted here, although it was ultimately removed in the late 20th century. Other changes include the base of the statue. Concrete curbing was installed here in 1909, probably soon after the first photo was taken, and in the late 1950s it was replaced by new granite curbing, along with granite slabs at the front and back of the statue.

Over the years, The Minute Man has remained an iconic symbol of the American Revolution, as well as one of the most important works of 19th century American sculpture. French made a number of smaller copies of the statue, including one that is now held by the Smithsonian, and images of the statue have also appeared in a variety of other mediums. For the 150th anniversary of the battle in 1925, the statue was featured on the five cent commemorative stamp, as well as the Lexington and Concord commemorative half dollar, which was issued the same year. More recently, in 2000 it appeared on the Massachusetts state quarter, superimposed over an outline of the state. However, perhaps its most famous use is as the logo of the U. S. National Guard, where it represents the historic tradition of citizen-soldiers that was exemplified by the colonial minutemen of 1775.