First Church, Monson Mass

The First Church of Monson, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The church in 2015:

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The First Church of Monson was established in 1762, two years after the town separated from Brimfield.  The first meeting house was built on this hill overlooking the center of town, and was used until a more substantial building was completed in 1803.  This building was used until 1871, when it was sold and moved down the hill and across Main Street.  Known as Green’s Hall, it was used for commercial space and social gatherings until it burned in 1895.  It can be seen in the c.1892 photo in this post.

The present-day church was built in 1873, and has withstood several major disasters over the years.  In August 1955, the town sustained heavy damage from flooding, including a massive rockslide from Ely Road, which covered this entire area in front of the church in boulders.  A photograph of the scene, taken from around this spot, was published in newspapers across the country.  Just a little over 50 years later, photographs of the church again made national news when the June 1, 2011 tornado destroyed the steeple.  The original steeple seen in the 1892 photo had been partially destroyed in the 1938 hurricane, and the sections above the belfry were replaced with a similar, but not identical steeple.  The entire thing, however, was destroyed in 2011, and a new one was built virtually identical to the 1939 reconstruction.

The other major feature in both photos is the Soldiers’ Monument, which was dedicated on July 4, 1884 in honor of those who served in the Civil War.  It was designed by R.F. Carter and was given to the town by industrialist Cyrus W. Holmes.  It is made of granite that was quarried in Monson by Flynt Granite Company, and is 46.5 feet tall; the soldier on the top alone is literally larger than life at 7.5 feet tall.

Main Street, Monson Mass (1)

Looking south on Main Street in Monson, from Fountain Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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Main Street in 2015:

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Some of the buildings from the first photo no longer exist, but others survive today, despite over 120 years having passed, along with a direct hit from a tornado four years ago.  The Monson Free Library building is visible in the first photo, and is obscured by trees in the second but still there. Next to it is the Soldiers’ Monument, and then in the distance in the center of both photos are two 19th century houses that survive today.  These buildings all sustained some amount of damage from the June 1, 2011 tornado that swept through the center of Monson, and the path of the tornado can still be seen in the hillside in the distance; note the difference between the taller, dark green trees to the left and the shorter, light green trees to the right.

The left-hand side of Main Street, however, has completely changed since 1892, and it didn’t take too long.  The most prominent building in this scene is what appears to be a church.  In fact, it wasn’t a church at the time, but it used to be.  It was built in 1803, across the street and up the hill, and was the second building for the First Church of Monson.  When the time came to build a new building, the old one didn’t go to waste; it was moved down the hill and across the street in 1871, and was renovated with shops on the first floor and a meeting hall on the second floor, known as Green’s Hall.  It was used for a variety of social events until the building burned down in 1895.

Flynt Store, Monson Mass

The company store for Flynt Granite Company on Main Street in Monson, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2015:

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This location in Monson has been used for a variety of commercial purposes over the years, beginning in the 1860s when E.E. Towne opened a general store in the building in the first photo, which was known for some time as Towne’s Block.  By the time the first photo was taken, though, the store had changed hands, and was owned by Flynt Granite Company.  It was the company store for the quarry, which was located a little north of the center of town and was one of the town’s largest employers, with nearly 500 workers in 1900.  The original building burned in 1914, and the following year the store reopened in the present-day building.  It was owned by the granite company until 1935, when the quarry closed.  Since then, the building has been used as a tavern, bowling alley, and currently as an antique store.

The one thing that has remained the same since the first photo was taken is the Flynt Memorial Fountain, which was given to the town in 1882 by quarry owner William N. Flynt, as a watering trough for horses.  Today, it is still in the same location, at the intersection of Main and Fountain Streets, although it is now used for decoration rather than as a place for horses to drink water.

Monson Academy, Monson, Mass.

The old Monson Academy building, prior to the 1880s. Photo from Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts (1902).

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The second Monson Academy building, probably around 1900. Photo from Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts (1902).

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The same site in 2010:

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And one year later, following the June 1, 2011 tornado:

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Monson Academy was founded in 1804, when the building in the first photo was built. It served as the main building until 1886, when it was destroyed in a fire. It was replaced by the building in the second photo, which also burned, in 1953. Finally, in 1961, the building in the last two photos, Harper Gumnasium, was built on the site. Barely visible to the right of the Harper Gymnasium is the much-older Holmes Gymnasium, which was built in 1900. Both buildings were destroyed by the June 1, 2011 tornado, and were demolished the following year.

Holmes Gymnasium, Monson, Mass.

The Holmes Gymnasium, part of Monson Academy, taken between 1900 and 1902. Photo from Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts (1902).

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The building in 2006:

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The building in 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the June 1 tornado:

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Holmes Gymnasium was built as part of Monson Academy in 1900, on the hill overlooking downtown Monson.  Although the academy moved to Wilbraham in 1971 to merge with Wilbraham Academy, the building survived until 2011, when it had its entire upper floor sheared off by the June 1 tornado that devastated West Springfied, Springfield, Monson, Brimfield, and other Western Mass towns. The remains of the building were demolished the following year.