Drewry’s Bluff, Chesterfield County, Virginia

The view looking down the James River from Drewry’s Bluff, in 1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in 2012:

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When the top photo was published on a stereo card in 1865, the caption was “One reason why we did not go to Richmond.”  Indeed, this gun was perhaps the reason why Richmond wasn’t taken until the very end of the Civil War.  As seen in the photos, the gun overlooks a long, downstream section of the James River.  Built as part of Fort Darling, it was located downstream of Richmond, so any attacking Union naval force had to contend with this and two other guns at the fort in order to reach the capital.  An attempt was made in 1862, and five navy ships, including the famed USS Monitor, headed upstream.  At Drewry’s Bluff, the wooden ships were unable to advance, so the ironclad Monitor did.  However, the Monitor’s guns didn’t elevate enough to reach the top of the 90-foot cliff, so the Union forces had to retreat.  Another attempt was made in 1864 to capture the fort, but this too failed, and the fort remained in Confederate hands up until the final days of the war.

Today, the site of the fort is preserved by the National Park Service, and the cannon in the 2012 photo is an original cannon, although not necessarily the same one in the 1865 photo.  The carriage beneath the cannon, however, is a modern reproduction.

Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument, Washington DC

The view of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922, the day that it was dedicated, from the Washington Monument. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection.

The scene in 2021:

Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool are iconic images of Washington DC, but in 1922 they were brand new features on previously swampy, vacant land.  Today they remain largely the same, but the surrounding area has changed. Across the river, the city of Arlington has been built up, and two bridges are now visible in the scene, connecting it to Washington, D.C.  In D.C. itself, one obvious difference is the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, which are on the right-hand side of the photo.  The “temporary” buildings were built in 1918, but they remained in use until 1970, when they were demolished and replaced with the Constitution Gardens as seen in the 2006 photo.

Boston Skyline

The view of Boston from the harbor, in the early 1930s. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The view in 2013:

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Boston’s skyline has changed a lot in the past 80 years, but there are still some recognizable buildings in both photos.  The Custom House Tower, the lonely skyscraper in the first photo, is still among the tallest buildings in downtown Boston, but it no longer stands out like it did from when it was built in 1915 until the 1970’s.  Part of the reason why Boston’s skyline got off to a slow start was because, for many years, the city had a 125 foot limit on any buildings; the Custom House was able to skirt these requirements because it was a federally-owned structure.  One of the other prominent building in the 1930’s photo is the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, another federally-owned building that is still standing, but barely visible in the 2013 photo.  The building was built between 1930 and 1933, which establishes the earliest that the photo could have been taken.

John Hancock Memorial, Boston

John Hancock’s grave in the Granary Burying Ground, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same site in 2009:

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Although John Hancock died in 1793, his grave wasn’t memorialized until 1896, about 2 years before the first photo, when the monument was dedicated.  The graveyard itself remains much the same as it was in 1898, down to the fence between it and the surrounding buildings, but the buildings themselves are very different from the ones at the end of the 19th century.

Back Bay, Boston

The view of the Back Bay, from the top of the State House, in 1857. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The same view from the same spot, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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This post is a bit unusual, since I don’t have a modern-day view of the scene, but I thought that the differences between these two photos, taken only about 50 years apart, was particularly compelling, and illustrates just how much of Boston is built on reclaimed land.  If I did have a present-day photo, it would show the John Hancock Building, the Prudential Tower, Hynes Convention Center, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston.  Yet, less than 160 years ago it was just a heavily polluted mud flat.

To help identify a few prominent locations in the swamps of 1857, the row of trees at the end of the water is present-day Arlington Street, and the road built across the water is Beacon Street, originally built in 1814 as a dam and toll road.  The dam was intended to use the power of the outgoing tides for factories in the area, but it had the unintended consequence of preventing the mud flats from being washed out twice daily by the tides, leading to a shallow basin filled with sewage, garbage, and other pollution. Another dam connected Beacon Street to the point of land in the distance on the left.  The left-hand side of the dam ended at the present-day intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.  In the extreme distance of the 1857 photo, Beacon Street reaches the mainland at present-day Kenmore Square.

Most of the Back Bay up was filled in only a short time after this photo was taken, and completely filled in by 1882.  The Fenway section (so-called because of the swamps, or “fens” in the area) was mostly finished by 1900, putting the finishing touches on the Boston that we now know today.

Corner of State & Maple, Springfield

The corner of State Street and Maple Street in Springfield, between 1900 and 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same street corner in 2013:

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These photos were taken from the opposite side of State Street from the photos in this post, and show some of the changes that the Quadrangle area has undergone in the past 100+ years.  Some things remain – Christ Church Cathedral and the statue of Samuel Chapin are the two obvious ones.  Even minor details such as the short, bowling pin-looking granite posts on either side of the sidewalks are still there.  But, the big difference, aside from the traffic lights and complete lack of cobblestone in the 2013 photo, is the main Springfield Library building.

The library building in the early 20th century photo was built in the 1860’s as the first public library in Springfield.  Very shortly after this photo was taken, however, construction began on the new library (this happened in 1909, thus establishing the upper limit of the date range for the photo).  But, rather than demolishing the old structure, and to allow the library to function while the new building was being constructed, the old one was moved directly back, into the present-day Quadrangle.  The new library was dedicated in 1912, and the books were moved to the old one.  Whether the old building was demolished right after that, or whether it was used for something else in the intervening years, I don’t know at this time.