Soldiers’ Monument, Wilbraham Mass

The Soldiers’ Monument in Wilbraham, on Main Street opposite Springfield Street, in an undated photograph probably taken in the early 20th century.  Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The monument in 2015:

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As mentioned in this post, the Soldiers’ Monument in Wilbraham was dedicated in 1894, in honor of the 228 men from Wilbraham who served in the Civil War.  According to the inscription on the monument, it is dedicated “To the men of Wilbraham who served their country in the war which preserved the Union and destroyed slavery.  This monument is erected to perpetuate the memory of their patriotic service.”  According to the records in the town clerk’s office, 29 Wilbraham men died in the war.  However, of those 29, only six were killed on the battlefield, a statistic that is not at all unusual for the Civil War, given that around two thirds of all deaths were a result of disease rather than battle.  One particularly notable Wilbraham veteran was Watson W. Bridge, who was the captain of Company F in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit that was depicted in the 1989 film Glory.

The monument was built on the site of the birthplace of Lucinda Brewer, the wife of paper manufacturer Zenas Crane, founder of Crane & Co. in Dalton, Massachusetts.  Their grandson, Winthrop M. Crane, attended the dedication ceremony in 1894.  Several decades earlier, he had secured a contract to produce the paper for US currency, something that the company continues to do today.  He would later go on to serve as Governor from 1900 to 1903, and represented Massachusetts in the US Senate from 1904 to 1913.

In the years since the first photo was taken, the land behind the monument has been developed, as seen in the 2015 view.  To the left is the former Wilbraham Post Office building, and directly behind the monument is the Wilbraham Public Library.  To the right, just outside of the view of the photo, is a commercial development.

F.A. Gurney Delivery Wagon, Wilbraham Mass

The delivery wagon for F.A. Gurney’s Store, seen on Main Street in Wilbraham around 1903. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The same scene in 2015:

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The town of Wilbraham was originally part of Springfield, located on the far eastern end of Springfield’s original 1636 boundaries, where the relatively flat Connecticut River valley comes to an abrupt end at the hills seen in the distance.  When first settled in 1730, it was known as the “Outward Commons,” and even earlier a part of present-day Wilbraham was given the rather hyperbolic name of “World’s End,” which seems to give a rather dramatic idea of how remote this area was to Springfield’s Puritan settlers.

These two photos are taken in the town center, just across from Crane Park and the Soldiers’ Monument.  According to the information provided by the Wilbraham Public Library, the 1903 scene shows Frank Blodgett driving the delivery wagon for the F.A. Gurney Store, a general store that was located just behind the photographer.  The destination of his goods is Sixteen Acres, just across the city line into Springfield.  Today, Sixteen Acres is a suburban neighborhood in Springfield, but at the turn of the last century it was a rural farming community, and the photo appears to have been taken sometime in late winter as the snow was melting, so the goods on the wagon were probably headed for farmers who were preparing for the coming spring.

The only obvious landmark in both photos is the Soldiers’ Monument, which was dedicated in 1894.  One of the guests at the dedication was future Governor and Senator Winthrop M. Crane, whose grandmother Lucinda Brewer once lived in a house on this spot.  Lucinda Brewer married paper manufacturer Zenas Crane, the founder of Crane & Co. in Dalton, Massachusetts.  Winthrop himself was the company president, and in 1879 he obtained a contract to produce the paper for United States paper money.  The company has been producing paper for American currency ever since, and Wilbraham’s Crane Park is named for the family.

Springfield Municipal Group, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Municipal Group from across Court Square, probably around 1913.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Municipal Group in 2014:

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The first photo was taken shortly before the Springfield Municipal Group was completed, perhaps even on the same day as the first photo in this post.  In this photo, the buildings are still surrounded by a fence, and a sign for A.E. Stephens Co, the contractors, can be seen on a temporary shed on the right-hand side of the photo. In the ensuing 100 or so years in between the two photos, not much has changed in this scene.  City Hall, Symphony Hall, and Campanile tower are all still there, as is the Civil War monument and the Miles Morgan statue, which is barely visible in the distance in front of the bell tower.  One thing that has changed, though, is the way people get to City Hall.  In the first photo, a trolley can be seen on the far left, and no automobiles are visible anywhere in the scene.  Today, there are no trolleys to be found in Springfield, and instead Court Square is surrounded by cars, as seen in the 2014 photo.

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.

Samuel Chapin Statue, Springfield

The Samuel Chapin Statue at the Quadrangle, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same statue in 2012:

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Samuel Chapin, one of my ancestors, was an early settler in Springfield, one of several such founders memorialized in a statue in the city.  He served as the first deacon of the church, was on the first board of selectmen, and also served as a town magistrate.  In 1881, one of his descendants, businessman and Congressman Chester W. Chapin, commissioned noted sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens to create this statue.  It was finished in 1887, and was first situated at Stearns Park, but was moved to Merrick Park at the Quadrangle in 1899, shortly before the above photo was taken.  The statue, named The Puritan, became one of St. Gaudens’s most popular work, and it hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, although some of the buildings around it have.  The house directly behind it in the 1905 photo (I believe it’s the parsonage for Christ Church Cathedral) is long gone, as is the old library, which isn’t visible in the photo, but which was located just to the photographer’s right.  Note, however, the arches in the distance on the far right of the 1905 photo – those are from the art museum, which still exists – the arches aren’t visible from the angle of the 2012 photo, but the building itself is barely visible above the hedges.

Robert E. Lee Monument, New Orleans

Robert E. Lee Monument, New Orleans, about 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same monument in 2009:

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In a bit of a departure from my usual northeast locations, I came across the c.1906 photo of the same statue that I photographed in 2009 while in New Orleans.  The subject, given that it’s the south, is Robert E. Lee, and the statue has been there since 1884.