View from Citadel Hill, Halifax, Nova Scotia

The view looking east toward downtown Halifax from Citadel Hill, around 1900-1917. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The view in 2016:

It isn’t in New England, or even in the United States, but Halifax has long had close ties with New England, especially Boston. It is the closest major North American port to Europe, and as such it is the last stop for outgoing ships from Boston, and the first for incoming ships. This scene here shows part of the city’s massive harbor, which has been of strategic importance over the years. After the British occupation of Boston ended in 1776, their fleet took refuge here in Halifax while preparing for an assault on New York City, and many years later the harbor was used as a gathering place for eastbound Atlantic convoys in both world wars.

Through all of this, the strategically-valuable harbor has been protected by Fort George, a series of fortifications atop Citadel Hill. The hill stands just west of downtown Halifax, offering sweeping views of the city and harbor, and making it the ideal location for a fort to command the harbor and its approaches. The photos here were taken near the top of the hill, near the outer walls of the fort. On the left is one of Halifax’s oldest landmarks, the Town Clock, which was built at the foot of the hill. It faces down Carmichael Street, which leads to the Grand Parade three blocks down the hill, where City Hall and St. Paul’s Anglican Church are located.

The date of the first photo is somewhat unclear, but it was taken sometime soon before 1917, when Halifax experienced one of the deadliest disasters in history. Known as the Halifax Explosion, it occurred on December 6, 1917, when the harbor was filled with ships heading to and from Europe during World War I. Two such ships were the Norwegian SS Imo, which collided with French ammunition ship SS Mont-Blanc. The latter caught fire, and after about 20 minutes its cargo of high explosives detonated.

The Mont-Blanc was essentially vaporized, and the blast wave leveled much of the northern part of the city, to the left and out of view in the photos here. A few earlier posts, here and here, show scenes from the aftermath of the explosion, which killed nearly 2,000 people, injured around 9,000 others, and damaged or destroyed around 12,000 houses. The main commercial center of Halifax, seen in this view from Citadel Hill, escaped serious damage. Essentially every window in the city was shattered by the explosion, but most of the buildings in the first photo would have survived the disaster.

Despite being spared from serious damage, there is very little that is still recognizable from the first photo a century later. There are a number of 19th century buildings scattered throughout this section of the city, but the only one that is readily visible in both photos is the clock tower itself, which remains a prominent city landmark.

Today, Halifax remains an important port. It is the largest city in Canada’s Maritime provinces, and its downtown has been built up with skyscrapers, partially obscuring the view of the harbor from Citadel Hill. The shoreline across the harbor in Dartmouth has also changed dramatically in the past 100 years. In 1911, the community had a population of just over 5,000, but today it has over 67,000 people, and is a major suburb of Halifax as well as a commercial center in its own right.

Lost New England Goes West: Pismo Beach, California

The view looking north along the shore at Pismo Beach, California, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Panoramic Photographs Collection.

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Pismo Beach in 2015:


I couldn’t perfectly recreate the first photo, since it was taken a thousand feet or so in the air, but the second photo shows roughly the same view from the ground. The 1906 photo was taken by George R. Lawrence, an early pioneer of aerial photography. He developed what he called a “captive airship,” which was a kite-supported camera that could take pictures up to 2,000 feet in the air, all while being controlled remotely from the ground. In many ways, Lawrence’s invention was an early version of a drone, and like modern-day drones, it was seen as a potential surveillance tool for the military. However, it was also commercially valuable, as demonstrated by Lawrence’s most famous photo, which was taken in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He sold prints of this image for $125 each (over $3,000 today), earning around $15,000 from it, or close to $400,000 in 2016.

While he was in California, though, San Francisco wasn’t his only job. Hoping to promote tourism to their new resort, the El Pizmo Beach Company hired Lawrence to photograph Pismo Beach, especially their El Pizmo Inn in the lower right of the photo. The inn included the “Tent City,” which consisted of several block of tents that measured 14 feet by 18 feet and could be rented for $6 per week. Entertainment at the resort included the dance pavilion, which is the building in the lower center of the photo with the cylindrical-shaped roof.

In the 109 years between the two photographs, not much is left from the original image. The hills in the distance have not changed much,but Pismo Beach itself has become the resort city that the 1906 owners of the El Pismo Beach Company probably hoped it would be. In the years after the aerial photo was taken, the tent city continued to grow, attracting many visitors from San Francisco who sought warmer temperatures in the southern part of the state. By the early 1930s, most of the tents were replaced with more permanent cottages, and the dance pavilion burned down in 1945. There are few landmarks left to identify the original image, although, as a point of reference, the pier in the distance on the left side of the 2015 photo is at about the same spot where the dance pavilion once stood.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Russian Hill, San Francisco

The view of Russian Hill from the corner of Mason and Sacramento Streets in San Francisco, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The view in 2015:

Today, Russian Hill is probably best known for the zigzag section of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, and its excellent views of the city, as seen in this earlier post, also make it one of the San Francisco’s most expensive neighborhoods. However, when the first photo was taken 150 years ago, it was still sparsely populated, mostly with poorer residents who could not afford to live in a more convenient location. This began to change, though, soon after the photo was taken. Cable cars were introduced to San Francisco in 1873, allowing residents to easily move up and down the city’s many hills. As a result, wealthy residents who no longer had to worry about walking up the steep grades now found Russian Hill and nearby Nob Hill, where these photos were taken from, as appealing places to live.

As is the case with most of the other 19th century views of the city, most of this scene was completely destroyed by the fires caused by the 1906 earthquake. Much of Russian Hill now consists of modern condominium buildings, but there are a few surviving pre-earthquake homes near the top of the hill, especially along Green Street. At least one of these, the Feusier Octagonal House, was standing when the first photo was taken. It was built in the 1850s with an unusual octagonal design, and although the photo isn’t clear enough to identify the house, it would be located somewhere near the top of the hill on the left side.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: View From Russian Hill, San Francisco

The view looking east from the top of Russian Hill, looking down Vallejo Street and facing San Francisco Bay, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The view in 2015:

It was hard to get to the exact location of the original image, because most of Russian Hill is now covered in buildings. However, this view from the top of Vallejo Street just east of Jones Street was pretty close. The first photo was taken in the early years of San Francisco’s history, when the city was in the midst of a rapid population boom. By the mid-1860s, the initial Gold Rush was over, but the city continued its dramatic growth, increasing from about a thousand in 1848 to nearly sixty thousand in 1860. By 1870, the population was nearly triple that, and the section of the North Beach neighborhood seen here was completely developed.

The three streets in this view are, from left to right, Green Street, Vallejo Street, and Broadway Street. At the time, the area to the right of Broadway Street was part of the city’s infamous “Barbary Coast” – a red light district that attracted miners and sailors with drinking, gambling, prostitution, and entertainment. This continued until 40 years after the first photo was taken, when the entire area was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed.

Today, the only identifiable building remaining from the first photo is the Saint Francis of Assisi Church, on the left side of Vallejo Street at the corner of Columbus Avenue. It was built in 1860, and although the fires in 1906 gutted the building, the brick walls and towers remained standing. The interior was rebuilt and rededicated in 1919, and today it is the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Remarkably, though, despite all of the changes to the neighborhood, the church still stands out as a major landmark. Unlike the nearby Financial District to the right, the development in this area is still largely two and three story buildings, so the view really doesn’t look dramatically different from 150 years ago. The one major change, of course, is the Bay Bridge in the distance, which was completed in 1936, connecting San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island on the left and Oakland on the other side of the bay.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (5)

Another view looking north from the top of the Arsenal at the Springfield Armory, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

This scene shows the view looking just a little further to the right than this earlier post, and it shows how both the Springfield Armory and the Liberty Heights neighborhood in the distance has changed over the past century. Aside from the Armory’s Long Storehouse in the foreground, the first photo shows sporadic development throughout the area, with the most noticeable buildings being the factories on the left side. The factories were located along Warwick Street, with the Cheney Bigelow Wire Works on the far left, and the Taber Prang Art Company closer to the center. Beyond them, scattered houses illustrate the early stages of development in the Liberty Heights area, with Mount Tom as a backdrop in the distance.

In the 2015 view, the most obvious change is the building in the foreground. The Springfield Armory closed in 1968, and the grounds became home to Springfield Technical Community College. Most of the former Armory buildings were converted into classroom and office space for the college, but there were also a few new buildings that were constructed for the school, including Scibelli Hall, as seen here. Not much is visible in the distance in the 2015 view, but most of the old factories on Warwick Street from the first photo are still standing. One prominent Liberty Heights landmark that was built after the first photo was taken is the Our Lady of Hope Church, which was built in 1925 and can be seen in the distance just to the left of Scibelli Hall.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the earlier posts showing the view facing southwest, west, northwest, and south.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (4)

The view looking south from the top of the Arsenal tower at the Springfield Armory, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2015:

This scene in Springfield shows State Street in the foreground, with the South End in the distance. When the first photo was taken, this area on the slope of the hill consisted mainly of single-family homes for upper middle class professionals, who lived on streets like Union, Temple, High, and the lower part of Maple Street. The upper part of Maple Street, barely visible on the far left, was home to many of the city’s wealthiest citizens, and some of these Gilded Age mansions are still standing there today. Further in the distance, the South End was largely a working-class neighborhood, with a number of Italian immigrants moving into the area starting around the time that the first photo was taken.

Over 130 years later, much has changed in this view. As the population grew in the early 20th century, many of the single-family homes along the streets in the foreground were replaced with apartment blocks, as was the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church on the left side of the photo. Located at the corner of State and Myrtle Streets, it was demolished by 1901 to build the large apartment building that still stands there. Today, the only prominent landmark that is visible in both photos is the South Congregational Church, which was built in 1875 at the corner of Maple and High Streets. Another nearby building that opened around the same time was the old high school, which later became a grammar school when Classical High School was built next to it in 1898. The old high school, visible on the extreme right of the first photo, was demolished when Classical expanded in 1922, and Classical High School itself closed in 1986, but the yellow brick building on the far right is still standing after having been converted into condominiums.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing southwest, west, northwest, and north.