Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass (3)

Another view of the interior of the Eastern States Coliseum, in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.


The scene in 2016:

As with the photos in the two previous posts, the first photo here was taken during the 1936 Eastern States Exposition. This annual agricultural fair, better known today as the Big E, has been held at the fairgrounds in West Springfield since 1916. Among the buildings here is the Coliseum, which was hosting a cattle judging event when the first photo was taken. A century after it was built, the Coliseum remains well-preserved in the 2016 scene, and the historic building is still used for many different events. See this earlier post for more details on the Coliseum’s varied history.

Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the interior of the Eastern States Coliseum, in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.


The scene in 2016:

Like the photo in the previous post, the first photo here was taken by photojournalist Carl Mydans during his time with the Farm Security Administration. During the Great Depression, the agency employed a number of prominent photographers who traveled around the country, documenting conditions of rural areas across the country. Many of these photos showed the harsh conditions that farmers endured, including Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo, and have become iconic representations of the Great Depression.

During his travels, Carl Mydans, who was a Massachusetts native, took a series of photographs at the 1936 Eastern States Exposition, including some inside the Coliseum. Built in 1916 when the annual exposition began, the arena was used for everything from professional hockey to equestrian shows, and the first photo shows a cattle judging event that was happening when Mydans visited.

Today, although 80 years have passed, very little has changed inside the Coliseum since Mydans photographed it. The present-day photo was taken during the 2016 exposition, when both the agricultural fair and the building itself turned a century old. There were no events happening at the time that the photo was taken, but the Coliseum is still regularly used at the Big E every fall, as well as other times throughout the year.

Eastern States Coliseum, West Springfield, Mass

The interior of the Eastern States Coliseum during a cattle show in September, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.


The Coliseum in 2016:

The Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E, began in 1916 as an agricultural fair for the six New England states. A century later, it is still held every September on the same site in West Springfield, and one of the centerpieces of the fair has been the Coliseum, seen here in these two photos. It opened in 1916 for the first exposition, and since then it has been used for a variety of events.

The first photo was taken during a cattle judging event at the 1936 exposition, and was photographed by Carl Mydans. He would go on to become a prominent photographer during World War II, and even spent two years as a prisoner of war to the Japanese. In 1936, though, he was working for the Farm Security Administration, traveling around the country and documenting rural life during the Great Depression, and his work can be seen on the Library of Congress website.

Aside from agricultural-related events at the Big E, the Coliseum has also been used as a sports venue, especially hockey. Starting in 1926, it was home to the Springfield Indians, a minor league professional hockey team. A few years after the first photo was taken, the team was purchased by Eddie Shore. A retired Bruins player who was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Shore played here for three seasons and owned the team for nearly 40 years. In 1972, Shore and the Indians moved across the river to the newly-built Springfield Civic Center, and four years later he sold the team.

The Coliseum was last used for professional hockey a few years later, when the major league New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association briefly used it while their permanent home, the Hartford Civic Center, was nearing completion. After this, it continued to be used for high school hockey games until 1991, when the ice plant was dismantled.

Today, although hockey games are no longer played here, the Coliseum remains in use during the Big E as well as other times throughout the year. With a seating capacity of 5,900, it is still one of the largest arenas in Western Massachusetts, and as the two photos show, the interior has been well-preserved over the years. The windows along the exterior walls have since been covered, but overall the Coliseum is an excellent surviving example of an early 20th century indoor arena.

First Congregational Church, West Springfield, Mass

The First Congregational Church on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1912. Image from Picturesque Springfield and West Springfield (1912).


The church in 2016:

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, few issues caused as much controversy in some New England towns as the location of the meetinghouse. West Springfield experienced this in 1802, owing in part to its unusual geography. This area along the common has long been the social and commercial center of the town, but geographically it is located in the southeastern corner of the present-day borders. In the days when everyone in town was expected to attend the same church, this was an inconvenient location for the farmers who lived in the northern and western parts of the town, so when a new meetinghouse was proposed at the turn of the 19th century, it caused considerable debate.

The result was a compromise of sorts. Rather than favoring those in the town center or the farmers in the outskirts, a site was chosen that was equally inconvenient for all, on Elm Street opposite Kings Highway. Located nearly a mile north of the center, on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River, this meetinghouse was completed in 1802. Its construction costs were paid by John Ashley, a farmer in the northern part of the town who stipulated that the First Congregational Church needed to remain there for at least 100 years.

Hamstrung by Ashley’s conditions, the church could do little but count down the years, but nothing prevented town residents from forming a new church society, Park Street Congregational Church, which they established in 1870. Two years later, their brick Gothic-style church opened here on Park Street, providing a new, more elegant building in a prominent location for the residents of downtown West Springfield.

Architecturally, the new building was part of a trend in post-Civil War New England, which eschewed the more traditional plain white church buildings of previous generations. The actual design was copied from Springfield’s Church of the Unity, which had been completed three years earlier. The Church of the Unity was the first major commission of Henry Hobson Richardson, who later became one of the most influential American architects of the 19th century. His works inspired many imitations, perhaps the first of which was this church here in West Springfield. Although it hardly compares to the architectural grandeur of the Church of the Unity, this scaled-down brick copy shows the influence that, even as a young architect, Richardson’s works had on his contemporaries.

The Church of the Unity was demolished in the early 1960s and its site is now a parking lot opposite the Springfield Public Library, but the Park Street Congregational Church is still standing today, just with a different name. In 1909, with the century-old limitations now expired, the First Congregational Church was able to move from its old meetinghouse, and they merged with the Park Street church here in this building, where they remain today. The old 1802 meetinghouse, although no longer used as a church, is also still standing on Elm Street, providing West Springfield with two historic church buildings that represent two very different 19th century architectural styles.

Josiah Day House, West Springfield, Mass (3)

One more view of the Josiah Day House on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2016:

This view of the Josiah Day House is similar to the previous one, showing what it looked like around the time that the Ramapogue Historical Society acquired it as a museum in the first decade of the 20th century. Since then, the area around the house has changed, and West Springfield’s town common is no longer lined with the tall trees that appeared in the first photo. However, the Day House is still standing, and remains a museum, with an interior furnished with 18th and 19th century antiques, many of which belonged to the Day family, who lived in this house for four generations from 1754 to 1897. For more information on the history of the house, see this earlier post.

Josiah Day House, West Springfield, Mass (2)

Another photo of the Josiah Day House on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The house in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous post, the Josiah Day House is the oldest building in West Springfield, dating back to 1754. This angle of the house shows the wooden 1810 addition, which was built for Aaron Day, Jr. and his wife Anne. Aaron was the grandson of the home’s original owner, and he and Anne raised their six children here in the first half of the 19th century.

The last of their children, Lydia, died in 1897. She was the last of four consecutive generations of Days to live in the house, and in 1902 the family put the property up for sale. It was purchased by the Ramapogue Historical Society, who preserved it as a museum. Today, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of West Springfield’s historic treasures. For more details on the history of this house, see the previous post.