William G. Pierce House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 171 Boston Road, at the corner of Coleman Street in Springfield, on October 4, 1938. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The house in 2019:

Today, Boston Road a busy four-lane road, lined with gas stations, restaurants, shopping plazas, used car dealerships, and other commercial development for most of its 3.3-mile length from Pine Point to the Wilbraham town line. However, as discussed in a previous post, this section of Springfield was lightly populated prior to the early 20th century. While passing through here in 1789, George Washington had described the area as “an almost uninhabited Pine plain,” and not much would change for another century, despite being located on the main route from Springfield to Boston. Much of this had to do with the poor quality of the soil, which made the land undesirable for farming. Distance was also a factor in this; modern-day Pine Point is about three miles from downtown Springfield, which made it impractical to commute into the city on a daily basis.

However, things had begun to change by the late 19th century, when a number of Boston Road landowners began subdividing their properties with new streets and house lots. This was likely spurred by the opening of a trolley line nearby on Berkshire Avenue, which linked downtown Springfield to Indian Orchard. Residents here could now commute to either location, or take connecting lines to other destinations, and by the early 20th century Pine Point had been transformed into a working class suburban neighborhood.

Over the years, nearly all of the old homes here on Boston Road have been demolished, either to clear the way for a new subdivision or to repurpose the land for commercial use. This house, located at the corner of Boston Road and Coleman Street, appears to be the oldest surviving house on Boston Road, and probably the only one that predates the development of the modern street grids.

It is difficult to determine the exact date when this house was built, in part because houses in the outlying areas of the city generally did not have street numbers during the 19th century. Various maps show houses in this vicinity as early as 1835, but it is not easy to tell exactly which houses were which. The documentation on the state’s MACRIS database lists it as having been built around 1882, based on atlases and directories of the period, and this seems like a plausible date, particularly since its Queen Anne-style design matches with architectural tastes of the early 1880s. In many ways, its design resembles a smaller version of the much larger Queen Anne houses that were built in the city’s McKnight neighborhood around the same time.

The first recorded resident of this house was William G, Pierce, who appears in the 1882 city directory as a merchant of the firm William G. Pierce & Co. However, he is not listed in either the 1881 or 1883 directories, so his stay here at this house may have been short. The next 15 years of this house’s history are unclear, but by 1897 it was owned by Julien W. Belanger, a merchant tailor who lived here with his wife Corinne, their five children, and a servant. His tailor shop was located on Main Street in downtown Springfield, and he likely would have used the new trolley line to commute to work. He and his family were living here as late as 1900, but by 1901 they had moved to Adams Street, and by 1904 they had moved to Canada, where both Julien and Corinne had been born.

By 1905, this house was being rented by Michael and Mary Byrne, who lived here with their four children. Like the Belangers, they were also immigrants, with Michael from Scotland and Mary from England. In city directories of the period, Michael is listed as a papermaker, although according to the 1910 census he was an automobile machinist. The census also lists their son Adam as having the same occupation, while their daughter Mary was a saleswoman at a department store, and their son Charles was an assistant bookkeeper at a department store.

The Byrne family left Springfield soon after the 1910 census, and by 1912 this house was owned by Albin M. Kramer, a civil engineer who had immigrated to the United States from Germany as a young child in 1872. His wife Rose was also an immigrant, from England, and they had married within a few years after her arrival in 1899. During the 1920 census, they were living here in this house with their children Alwin, Frederick, Vincent, and Marguerite, who ranged in age from 10 to 16.

Of the four Kramer children, Alwin would probably go on to have the most noteworthy career. He was 16 years old during the 1920 census, and a year later he graduated from Central High School. From there he went to the U. S. Naval Academy thanks to an appointment by Springfield’s Congressman Frederick H. Gillett, who was at the time the Speaker of the House. Alwin went on to have a long career in the Navy, but he is best remembered for his role in the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1939, Alwin became the head of OP-20-GZ, which was involved in intercepting, decrypting, and translating coded messages sent by the Japanese government. He was particularly busy in early December 1941, when his office decrypted a series of 14 messages sent to the Japanese embassy in Washington D.C. The last of these, sent in the early morning hours of December 7, instructed the Japanese ambassador to end diplomatic relations with the United States. However, it did not specifically indicate that an attack or a declaration of war was imminent, and there were a number of delays in Washington before this information was finally sent to Pearl Harbor, arriving several hours after the attack.

Alwin Kramer would go on to serve with distinction in World War II, and was eventually promoted to captain. However, his actions in early December, and those of his colleagues and superiors, fell under increased scrutiny after the war, eventually leading to a Congressional inquiry in 1946. The hearings were likely politically motivated, in an attempt by Republicans to discredit the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, but Captain Kramer did himself no favors with his confusing and often contradictory testimony, and he ended up retiring from the Navy by the end of the year. Nonetheless, he was never formally assigned any blame, and his wartime promotions suggest that his superiors in the Navy did not find fault in his actions. He died in 1972 at the age of 69, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In the meantime, Kramer’s family continued to live here in his childhood home until around 1929, although by the 1930 census his parents and two younger siblings were living in a house at 127 Massachusetts Avenue. The next long-term residents here at 171 Boston Road were Walter and Mazie Spickler, who were here as early as 1933. They were both in their mid-40s at the time, and they lived here with their son George and his wife Edna. George and Edna subsequently moved to a house of their own on nearby Denver Street by 1937, but Walter and Mazie were still here on Boston Road when the first photo was taken in 1938. According to the 1940 census, they paid $37 per month in rent, and Walter earned $1,560 per year as a fireman at a cotton mill.

Walter Spickler died shortly after the census was taken, in September 1940, at the age of 54. Mazie continued to live here for at least a few more years, and the 1944 city directory shows her working as an inspector at Westinghouse. However, she moved by the following year, because the 1945 directory shows Franklin and Virginia Lewis living here. At the time, Franklin was working as a collector for the Springfield Union newspaper, and he later became the circulation supervisor for the Springfield Newspapers. He lived here until his death in 1969, at the age of 64. It seems unclear as to how much longer Virginia lived here, but she ended up outliving Franklin by more than 40 years, before her death in 2010 at the age of 104.

Today, more than 80 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. The property is now surrounded by a chain link fence, and the house appears to have a different paint scheme, but otherwise its exterior looks essentially the same as it did in the 1930s. The shed in the backyard on the far left is also still there, as is the brick building on the far right side. Although mostly hidden by trees in the first photo, this building was here in the 1930s, and it is best known as the site of the first Friendly’s restaurant, which opened here in 1935. In general, very few historic buildings have survived the various waves of development along Boston Road, but this house stands as an unusual reminder of what Springfield’s main commercial thoroughfare once looked like.

Stetson Hardware, Springfield, Mass

Stetson Hardware at 162-164 Boston Road in Springfield, on October 12, 1938. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The scene in 2019:

This building was constructed around 1919, at the corner of Boston Road and Jasper Street in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood. At the time, Pine Point was in the process of being developed as a residential suburb, and this section of Boston Road was becoming its main commercial center. This was among the first commercial buildings in this area, and it was built of wood, unlike the brick ones that would be built across the street from here in the 1920s and 1930s.

The building originally consisted of two separate storefronts, with the one on the left at 162 Boston Road, and the one on the right at 164 Boston Road. In the fall of 1938, when the first photo was taken, the storefront on the left was vacant and available for rent, as indicated by the signs in the windows. On the right side, this storefront was occupied by Stetson Hardware, which was owned by Louis C. Stetson. During the early 1930s he had worked as a shipping clerk, but around 1936 he went into business for himself, with a hardware store on Orange Street. He moved his store here to Boston Road around 1937, and according to the sign in the photo he sold paints, varnish, glass, kitchenware, and novelties. However, his business evidently did not last, because it last appears in city directories in 1940, and by 1941 he was listed as working in a warehouse in West Springfield.

By the late 1940s, Stetson’s former store had become A. C. Winckel, a paint store owned by Adam C. Winckel. He died in 1951 at the age of 48, but his widow Ada carried on the business for many years, until at least the mid-1960s. Then, at some point in the second half of the 20th century, the building was heavily altered with a new front facade, along with vinyl siding on the rest of the exterior. Overall, though, it is still recognizable from the first photo, and it stands as one of the oldest surviving commercial buildings in Pine Point.

Boston Road from Coleman Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking west on Boston Road from near the corner of Coleman Street in Springfield, around 1924. Image from Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Springfield Massachusetts (1924).

The scene in 2019:

The primary subject matter of the first photo was intended to be the tree in the foreground, which is identified as Acer rubrum L. var. tridens Wood, a rare variety of red maple. However, the photo also captures a rare view of Boston Road as it appeared nearly a century ago, prior to its extensive commercial development. The view faces west along Boston Road from the corner of Coleman Street, right in the midst of what would soon become the center of the Pine Point neighborhood.

Throughout most of the 19th century, this section of Springfield was only sparsely settled, with the 1870 city map showing fewer than 20 houses along the entire 3.5-mile stretch of Boston Road from Berkshire Avenue to the Wilbraham town line. This began to change by the 1890s, though. Likely motivated by the recently-opened trolley line on nearby Berkshire Avenue, landowners in present-day Pine Point began subdividing their properties with new streets and house lots. By 1899 there were at least six houses on Coleman Street, and over the next two decades there would be further development, particularly on Denver and Jasper Streets.

Overall, though, the neighborhood maps of the early 20th century show far more vacant lots than houses, and it would take many years before most of the streets were fully developed. The first photo was taken during this period, when even Boston Road, the main thoroughfare through Pine Point, still had many empty lots and hardly any commercial development.

There are only two houses visible in the first photo. On the left, at the southwest corner of Boston Road and Coleman Street, is one of the oldest surviving houses in the area. It was built sometime around 1882, predating the modern street grid that was added about a decade later, and during the early 1880s it was the home of merchant William G. Pierce. Subsequent owners included tailor Julian Belanger, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1920s it was the home of civil engineer Albin M. Kramer, his wife Rose, and their three children.

The house on the right, at 168 Boston Road, is somewhat newer. It was built sometime between 1899 and 1910, and it appears to have been constructed as a two family home. During the early 20th century it had a number of different tenants, most of whom only stayed for a few years. Among these were my great grandparents, Frank and Julia Lyman, who lived here from about 1915 to 1917. Frank was a machinist who was originally from Wilbraham, and Julia grew up in New York City, where she worked for the New York World newspaper. They lived in the New York area for the first few years of their marriage, but they moved to Springfield around 1915. At the time they had two young children, Elizabeth and Edith, and their third child Evelyn, my grandmother, was born here in this house in 1917. Soon after, the family purchased a house nearby at 37 Coleman Street, and they were living there when this photo was taken at the end of their street a few years later.

By the 1920 census, one unit in the house at 168 Boston Road was occupied by painter Raymond L. Taft, his wife Alice, and their three young children. The other unit was the home of carpenter Frank E. Bowen, and his wife Edith, who had three children of their own. However, neither family appears to have remained here for very long; Alice Taft died in 1921, and by the following year Raymond was living elsewhere in Pine Point. The Bowen family had also moved out by then, and during the 1920s the house appears to have changed tenants very frequently, with most only appearing here in the city directory for one year.

Within just a few years after this photo was taken, this section of Boston Road developed into the commercial center of the Pine Point neighborhood. At some point around the late 1920s, the house on the right was altered with the addition of two storefronts, one of which was the home of Nora’s Variety Store for many years. Across the street from there, on the left side of the scene, a row of commercial buildings was constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The easternmost of these, visible just beyond the house on the far left, is best known as the location of the original Friendly’s restaurant, which opened there in 1935.

Today, nearly a century after the first photo was taken, very little in this scene has remained the same. The red maple is long gone, and all of the vacant lots here have since been developed. Boston Road is now a four lane road and one of the main east-west routes through the city, and it is almost entirely commercial, with very few remaining houses. However, both of the houses from the first photo have managed to survive, although the one on the left was heavily altered by the late 1920s storefront addition. The one on the right has remained much better preserved, though, and it stands as a rare Victorian-style house in an otherwise predominantly 20th century neighborhood.

Mascaro’s Cafe, Springfield, Mass

Mascaro’s Cafe at 752 Boston Road in Springfield, on March 21, 1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The scene in 2019:

This lot at the northeast corner of Boston Road and Harvey Street has been developed since at least 1910, when a house appears here on that year’s city atlas. By the mid-1910s, the property was owned by Pietro Mascaro, an Italian immigrant who lived here with his wife Lena and their sons Antonio and Frank. He died in 1916, but the family continued to own this property for many years, and they operated several different businesses here.

By the time the first photo was taken in 1939, the property had been expanded far beyond the original house, which is barely visible in the distance on the left, behind the Coca Cola sign. At some point around the 1920s, two storefronts were added to the front of the house, along with a gas station on the other side of it, which was run by Frank Mascaro. Then, probably sometime in the late 1920s or 1930s, this section was built further to the east of the house, at the corner of Sewall Street. Unlike the earlier storefronts on the far left of the first photo, which were built up to the sidewalk, most of this section was set back from the road. This was presumably done to allow room for parking, reflecting the growing importance of automobiles by this time.

Although there are no names of businesses visible in the first photo, this section of the building appears to have had at least two different occupants at the time. On the far right side is some sort of a convenience store, with advertisements for Philip Morris, Salada Tea, Orange Kist, and other products visible near the entrance. To the left of it, marked by a Hampden Ale sign, is a bar, which is also variously described as a cafe, a dance hall, a roadhouse, and a tavern in city directories and newspapers of the period. It had been in business as early as 1933, in the final year of Prohibition. Antonio Mascaro received a beer license in May of that year, a little over a month after the passage of the Cullen–Harrison Act, which legalized low-alcohol beer.

Just beyond the building on the far right side of the photo is the house at 22 Sewall Street. At the time it was the home of Antonio Mascaro, his wife Josephine, and their children Rosemary and Peter. He operated the bar, which came to be known as Mascaro’s Cafe, for many years, until his death in 1957 at the age of 67. His son Peter then took over the business and ran it for more than 25 years, before selling it to Mattie’s Cafe in 1984.

Today, more than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has undergone considerable changes. On the far left, the old house has long since been demolished, along with Frank Mascaro’s gas station and the two storefronts, and they were replaced by a more modern gas station. The former Mascaro’s Cafe building in the center of the scene is still standing, and it is still in use as Mattie’s Cafe, although it looks very different from its appearance in 1939. It is difficult to tell exactly when these renovations occurred, but they likely happened around the mid-20th century, and the work included bricking up the windows on the left side, along with adding a new brick facade to the front of the building. Overall, the only building that remains largely the same from the first photo is Antonio Mascaro’s former house on Sewall Street, which still stands on the far right side of the 2019 photo.

Burbank House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 330 Park Drive in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house is located in Colony Hills, an upscale residential neighborhood that was developed starting in the 1920s. The area is located just to the south of Forest Park, where it straddles the border of Springfield and Longmeadow. The Springfield side, where this house is located, is unusual in that it consists of two separate sections that are effectively enclaves of the city. They are surrounded on three sides by Forest Park, and on the fourth side by the Longmeadow border, so there is no direct road connection between Colony Hills and the rest of Springfield without passing through Longmeadow. As a result, the neighborhood is quiet and isolated from the rest of the city, making it a particularly desirable place to live.

About half of the houses on the Springfield side of the neighborhood are on Park Drive, which runs along part of the perimeter of Forest Park. Of these, this house has perhaps the most desirable location. The property lies in the center of a horseshoe-shaped curve, so it is almost entirely surrounded by wooded parkland, with no other homes visible from the front yard. The house itself was built in 1929, and it features a Tudor Revival design that was typical for upscale homes of this period. It was the work of Max Westhoff, a local architect who also designed similar homes on Maple Street and Longhill Street.

The original owner of this house was Daniel E. Burbank, a real estate investor whose properties included the Hotel Worthy in downtown Springfield. He ran a real estate business here in Springfield, but in 1932 he also became the real estate consultant for the Bickford’s restaurant chain, along with serving as one of the company’s directors.

Burbank was not living in this house during the 1930 census, but he and his family evidently moved in soon afterward. The first photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows Burbank living here with his wife Helen and their children Daniel Jr., Lyman, Barbara, and David. At the time, the house was valued at $50,000, or nearly $1 million today, and Burbank’s income was listed at over $5,000, which was the highest income level on the census.

Helen Burbank died in 1948, but Daniel continued to live here until his own death in 1960, at the age of 77. Later that year, the house was sold to Joseph J. Deliso, an industrialist who was, at the time, president and treasurer of the Hampden Brass & Aluminum Company, and president of the Hampden Pattern & Sales Company. Deliso has previously lived in a different Westhoff-designed house at 352 Longhill Street, and he went on to live here in this house on Park Drive for the rest of his life.

During this time, Deliso was instrumental in establishing Springfield Technical Community College after the closure of the Armory, and he was the first chairman of the STCC Advisory Board, serving from 1967 to 1981. He subsequently became the first chairman of the STCC Board of Trustees, and in 1992 one of the buildings on the campus was named Deliso Hall in his honor.

Deliso died in 1996, and a year later the house was sold to the Picknelly family, owners of the Peter Pan Bus Lines. The property is still owned by the Picknellys today, and the house remains well-preserved, with few exterior changes from this view aside from an addition on the far left side. It is now the centerpiece of the Colony Hills Local Historic District, which was established in 2016 and encompasses all of the historic homes on the Springfield side of the neighborhood.

Neil’s Bakery, Springfield, Mass

Neil’s Bakery, at 531 Main Street in Indian Orchard, around the 1930s. Author’s collection, gift of Linda Thayer.

The scene in 2019:

This photo shows one of the five storefronts that are located on the ground floor of a two-story building at the corner of Main and Parker Streets, in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard. The building was constructed in 1924, and the photo was probably taken within about a decade afterward. At the time, this particular storefront was the home of Neil’s Bakery, and the photo shows a variety of muffins, cookies, pies, cakes, and other baked goods on display behind the front windows.

According to a handwritten caption on the photo, the woman in the doorway is Caroline Neils. She was the daughter of Ludwig Neils, the owner of the bakery. Ludwig and his wife Aniela were both Polish immigrants, and they came to the United States as teenagers in the early 20th century. Caroline, their oldest child, was born in Springfield in 1912, and they had six other children, the youngest of whom was born around 1930.

The 1920 census shows Ludwig—who also went by the name Louis—working as a polisher in a machine shop, but by 1930 he had opened his bakery. It was still in business a decade later, during the 1940 census, and both Aniela and one of their sons were also listed as employees there. In both 1930 and 1940, the family was living just around the corner from here at 34 Parker Street, where they paid $17 per month in rent.

However, the bakery evidently closed soon after the 1940 census, and Ludwig returned to working as a machinist. According to the 1941 city directory, he was employed by the Van Norman Machine Company, and he subsequently worked there for many years. In the meantime, Caroline Neils married William Bak, and by the 1950s they were in Pittsfield. She lived there until her death in 2002, at the age of 90.

Today, the building where the Neils family once had their bakery is still standing. The storefront has been altered, and the interior was badly damaged by a fire in 1974, but there are still some subtle hints from the first photo. The bricks are the same in both photos, and as a result the building has the same arrangement of light- and dark-colored bricks, which is particularly noticeable in the vertical course directly above the storefront.