Dwight L. Moody Gravesite, Northfield, Mass

The graves of Dwight and Emma Moody, at Round Top on the campus of the former Northfield School, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody was born here in Northfield, in a farmhouse that still stands just to the south of here, at the corner of Moody Street and Highland Avenue. Moody lived in Northfield until 1854, when, as a teenager, he moved to Boston and worked in his uncle’s boot and shoe store. He would not return to live permanently in Northfield until 1876, by which point he had become a world-renowned evangelist. He and his wife Emma subsequently purchased a house at the foot of this hill, on Main Street, and they lived there for the rest of their lives. During that time, Moody established the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, a private school for girls that was located on a campus behind his house.

Dwight L. Moody died on December 22, 1899, and was buried, in accordance with his wishes, on this knoll, known as Round Top. Located just 300 yards to the north of his birthplace, this spot provides dramatic views of the Connecticut River Valley and the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. Northfield is located at the tri-point of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, so all three of these states are visible from the hill, although it is the Green Mountains of Vermont that dominate the background of this particular scene. Moody was buried here on December 26, and his grave was marked with a headstone that reads “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” His wife Emma died four years later, in 1903, and was buried beside her husband on the right side of the photo, with an inscription on her headstone that reads “His servants shall serve him, and they shall reign for ever and ever.”

In 1912, only a few years after the first photo was taken, the Northfield Seminary acquired a one-quarter ownership of the gravesite, with Moody’s heirs owning the remaining three quarters. The school later merged with the nearby Mount Hermon School for Boys, which had also been founded by Moody, and became the Northfield Mount Herman School. Both campuses continued to be used for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and most of the property was sold. However, the school still retains its ownership interest in the plot here on Round Top, and very little has changed in this scene more than a century after the first photo was taken.

Dwight L. Moody Birthplace, Northfield, Mass

The house at the corner of Moody Street and Highland Avenue in Northfield, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The house in 2017:

During the late 19th century, Northfield underwent a transformation, shifting from a small New England farming community and into an important educational and religious center. This came as a result of the efforts of Dwight L. Moody, a Northfield native who went on to become a world-famous evangelist in the 1870s. Returning to his hometown, he established the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys in nearby Gill in 1881, and for many years he held major religious conferences here on the Northfield campus. In the process, Northfield became a summer colony for Christians from around the country, who came for the various conventions that were held each year.

Despite his influence later in life, Moody came from a humble background. He was born here in this house on February 5, 1837, and was the sixth child of Edwin and Betsey Moody. The house itself was built sometime before 1827 by Simeon Moody, a cousin and brother-in-law of Edwin, and was purchased by Edwin in 1828, the same year that he married Betsey. Edwin, like his father Isaiah Moody, was a brick mason, and he also ran a small farm here at his house. However, the family struggled financially, and the situation only got worse after Edwin’s sudden death in 1841, at the age of 40.

Betsey was left to raise seven children, the oldest of whom was 13, and a month after his death she gave birth to twins. Edwin had been heavily in debt, and after the funeral one of his creditors took most of the furniture in the house, along with a horse and buggy and livestock. However, Betsey was able to retain the house itself, and the four oldest boys were able to earn money by working at nearby farms. She also received assistance from Oliver C. Everett, the pastor of the Unitarian First Parish Church, and in 1843 she became a member of his church.

Dwight was just four when his father died, and was unable to join his four older brothers in supporting the family. He did attend school, although not always consistently, and in later years a close friend of his estimated that Moody only had the equivalent of a fifth grade education. Moody lived here in this house until 1854, when he was 17. That year, he moved to Boston, where he found a job with his uncle, Samuel Holton, who ran a boot and shoe store on Court Street. However, Holton did place one condition on Moody’s employment, requiring him to attend a church. Growing up in Northfield, Moody had never been particularly interested in religion, and had dreaded spending his Sundays at the Unitarian church. However, he complied with his uncle’s demand, and began attending the Mount Vernon Congregational Church.

It was through the church’s Sunday school that Moody ultimately converted to evangelical Christianity, beginning what would be a long career in the ministry. As a conscientious objector during the Civil War, Moody did not enlist to fight, but he did serve with the United States Christian Commission, and made many trips to the front to provide support for Union soldiers. After the war, he started a church in Chicago, and was present when most of the city – including his home and his church – was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He went overseas in 1872, where he spent the next few years holding revival meetings across Great Britain, often drawing crowds of thousands of people.

Moody’s tour of Britain helped to establish him as a major evangelist and an internationally-renowned figure. Upon his return to America, Moody came back to Northfield, purchasing a house just down the hill from his birthplace, where his mother and several of his siblings were still living at the time. Then, in 1879, he opened the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. The school was originally located in his new house, but over the next few years it expanded to include multiple buildings on a sprawling campus just to the north of his birthplace and to the northeast of his house. The Seminary was followed two years later by the Mount Hermon School for Boys in the neighboring town of Gill, and these two schools would eventually merge to form the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School.

In the meantime, Betsey Moody continued to live here in this house until her death in 1896, nearly 70 years after she moved in to the house, and more than 50 years after her husband’s untimely death. At some point during the 19th century, the house had been divided into two units, with Betsey living with her son Edwin, Jr. on the left side, and her son George on the right side. Edwin never married, but George had a large family, and lived in his half of the house with his wife Harriet and their eight children. During this time, he expanded his half of the house to accommodate his growing family, adding a porch on the right side and a wing on the rear of the house.

Dwight L. Moody outlived his mother by just three years, and his brothers George and Edwin died in 1905 and 1907, respectively. The house would remain in the family until it was sold in 1921 to Moody’s brother-in-law, the publisher Fleming Revell. He converted the house into a faculty retreat, and subsequently gave it to the Northfield School. It was later used as a museum as well, and it remained a part of the Northfield campus throughout the rest of the 20th century. In 2005, the Northfield Mount Hermon School closed the Northfield campus, consolidating their operations at Mount Hermon, and later sold most of the property. However, the school still retains ownership of this house, which has not seen significant changes in its exterior appearance in more than a century since the first photo was taken.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Northfield, Mass

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, on Main Street in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The church in 2017:

The Catholic church in Northfield was established as a mission of the church in Millers Falls, and originally held services in the town hall, until the construction of this church building on Main Street in the center of town. The small, wood-frame building featured Gothic Revival architecture, and included a clapboarded exterior, narrow windows with pointed arches, and a steeply-sloping roof. It was dedicated on December 5, 1886, and included an organ that had been donated by prominent evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was a native of Northfield.

The first photo also shows houses on either side of the church. On the right side is the elegant Greek Revival house that was built in 1840 for merchant Benjamin B. Murdock. Later in the 19th century, it was owned by Albert S. Stratton, a businessman who was reportedly the wealthiest man in Northfield at the time. Today, this house is still standing with few significant exterior changes, although it is hidden by trees in the 2017 photo.

The only major difference between the two photos is the house on the left. The house in the first photo was likely built in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and was owned by the Lord family around the time that the photo was taken. However, it burned sometime around the 1890s, and was replaced by the present-day house, which was built elsewhere in Northfield but was moved to this site around 1900. It now serves as the parsonage for the church, and, along with the church and the Murdock house, it is now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

First Parish Church, Northfield, Mass

The First Parish Church, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Avenue in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The church in 2017:

The origins of the First Parish Church date back to 1673, when Northfield was first settled by colonists. However, the town’s frontier location at the far northern end of the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts made it vulnerable to attack from Native Americans and their French allies, and it would be several more decades before Northfield was permanently settled. The church also had a somewhat nomadic existence during these years, with worship services usually being held in private homes until 1718, when the first meetinghouse was built in the middle of Main Street, right near where the present-day church is located.

The first meetinghouse stood here until 1767, when its replacement was built on the west side of the street, near site of the current church. This new church stood here for more than 60 years, and during this time the New England Congregational church experienced a major schism, between the theologically liberal Unitarians and the orthodox Trinitarians. Thomas Mason, who served as pastor from 1799 to 1830, was among the Unitarians, and during his pastorate the First Parish became a Unitarian church, with most of the congregation supporting him.

A third meetinghouse was built on the site in 1833, and was used by the church until it burned in 1870. During this time, the First Parish had perhaps its most famous congregant, the young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a prominent evangelist in the second half of the 19th century. Moody was born in Northfield in 1837, and was just four years old when his father died, leaving his mother Betsey Moody to raise nine children on her own. The pastor of the church at the time, Oliver C. Everett, provided support for the family, though, and Betsey and her children were subsequently baptized into the church. However, the family left the church after Everett’s departure in 1848, and many years later Dwight L. Moody would decline an invitation to speak here at the First Parish Church, citing the incompatibility between his orthodox views and their Unitarian beliefs.

The present church was built in 1871, standing on approximately the same site as its two predecessors. Its ornate Gothic-style design was the work of Elbridge Boyden, a prominent architect from Worcester, and it stands out in a town center that otherwise consists primarily of early 19th century Federal and Greek Revival-style homes. It was built at a cost of nearly $15,000 (a little over $300,000 today), and the interior of the church included an organ that had previously been installed in the old Unitarian church in Springfield. Originally built in 1842 by E & G. G. Hook of Boston, it was used by the Springfield church until its new building was completed in 1869, and was later given to the Northfield church.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, the exterior of the church has not seen any significant changes. It remains a well-preserved example of a wood-frame Gothic Revival church, and it is still in active use by the First Parish Church. The only significant difference between the two photos is the small building on the left side of the scene. This was built in 1901, about 10 years after the first photo was taken, and was originally a motorcycle repair shop. It was later used a printing shop, but it has since been converted into a house. Today, both this house and the church, along with the rest of the historic buildings along Main Street, are now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Ira D. Sankey House, Northfield, Mass

The house at 68 Main Street in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The house in 2017:

This house was reportedly built around 1837 as the home of Oliver C. Everett, the pastor of the neighboring Unitarian Church. Everett served as pastor from 1837 to 1848, and during that time his perhaps most notable parishioner was a young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a world-famous evangelist. Born in Northfield in 1837, Dwight was the sixth child born to Edwin and Betsey Moody. However, Edwin died in 1841, and a month later his widow gave birth to twins. Destitute and with nine children to raise, Betsey received assistance from Reverend Everett, who helped her to raise the children and baptized them into his church.

The Moody family attended Everett’s church throughout the remainder of his time here in Northfield. However, he left in 1848, and later served for many years as the pastor of a church in Charlestown. The Moodys also left the church at some point soon after, and young Dwight’s religious education remained rudimentary until, as a teenager, he moved to Boston to work for his uncle in a shoe store. There, he attended church and Sunday school at the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, and was converted to evangelical Christianity, which helped to launch his eventual career as an evangelist.

In the meantime, this former house of Moody’s old pastor had several other owners during the 19th century, but was eventually purchased by Ira D. Sankey, who had an even stronger connection to Moody. Sankey was three years younger than Moody, and had grown up in Pennsylvania. He served in the Civil War, and later found a job with the Internal Revenue Service, but he was also a talented singer. It was this ability that brought Sankey to Moody’s attention, when the men first met at a YMCA in 1870. The evangelist has been in need of a vocalist for his revivals, and Sankey seemed to him like the perfect man for the job.

Not unlike Matthew, who had been a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Jesus, Moody insisted that Sankey leave his lucrative position with the IRS in order to join his ministry. Sankey took six months to decide, but ultimately accepted Moody’s offer. The two men went on to partner together for many years, traveling around the country and to the British isles as part of their evangelistic efforts. During this time, Sankey helped to pioneer the concept of gospel music. Although he did not write many of his own lyrics, he drew heavily from hymns and poetry, and he set them to tunes that were easier for people to sing than traditional church music. He also published a series of songbooks, titled Gospel Hymns, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies throughout the late 19th century.

Moody returned to his hometown in 1875, purchasing a house on the northern part of Main Street in Northfield. Four years later, he opened the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was followed in 1881 by the Mount Hermon School for Boys. Moody was involved on both of these schools for man years, and nearly a century later these two schools would be merged into the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. Sankey also moved to Northfield, along with his wife Fanny, and sometime in the early 1880s they purchased this house in the center of town. They were still living here when the first photo was taken a few years later, and during this time Sankey continued traveling with Moody while also publishing additional volumes of Gospel Hymns. However, the Sankeys later moved to Brooklyn, where he served as president of the Bigelow & Main hymnal publishing company until his death in 1908.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, Ira Sankey’s former home has not seen significant changes to its exterior. The 2017 photo was taken from a slightly different angle, since the tree on the left now blocks the view of the house from the original angle. However, the house still looks much the same as it did in the 1890s, and even the barn in the back is still standing. It is one of the many well-preserved early 19th century homes that still line Main Street, and it is now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Belcher Memorial Fountain, Northfield, Mass

The Belcher Memorial Fountain, at the corner of Warwick Road and Main Street in Northfield, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken within about a year of the installation of the Belcher Memorial Fountain, which was originally placed in the center of Warwick Road, at the corner of Main Street. The 16-foot-tall, 27.5-ton granite fountain was given to the town as a bequest from Mary and Eliza Belcher. The two elderly sisters never married, and were the last living members of the Belcher family in Northfield. They both died in 1907, seven months apart from each other, leaving money to the town to build a fountain here in the center of town, which was dedicated on September 14, 1909.

Aside from the fountain, the first photo shows two buildings in the background on Main Street. On the left is the Unitarian Church, which was built in 1871 to replace an earlier church building that had burned. It was the work of noted Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden, and features a Gothic Revival-style that was popular for churches of the era. Contrasting with the ornate style of the church is the modest Webster Block on the right. This two-story, wood-frame commercial building was built in the late 1800s, and housed a variety of businesses over the years, including a drugstore, a grocery store, a shoe store, and the village post office.

Today, this scene has not changed significantly. Both the church and the Webster Block are still standing, and neither have had any major alterations. The only real change between the two photos is the fountain itself, which was moved a short distance to the south of here in 1960 and now stands next to the town hall. Although originally intended to provide water for horses, as the first photo shows, this purpose became obsolete as cars replaced horse-drawn vehicles. The fountain likely became a hazard to vehicles, since it sat in the middle of the intersection, and it was subsequently replaced with a small traffic island marked by a flashing light.