First Congregational Church, Westfield Mass

The First Congregational Church and the old Town Hall in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The buildings in 2015:


The scene at the rotary in downtown Westfield is very different from over 120 years ago, but several historic buildings have survived, including the First Congregational Church and the Town Hall.  The Town Hall in the foreground is actually the older of the two, having been built in 1837.  It served a variety of roles since then, first as a town hall and later as a city hall, when Westfield was incorporated as a city in 1920.  However, it was also used for high school classrooms from 1855 until around 1868, and later as a police station and district court.  It was used as city hall until 1962, when the city offices were moved up Broad Street to the former State Normal School building.  The building has seen some changes over the years, with the most obvious being the removal of the cupola, which happened in 1912.  However, it otherwise retains much of its historic exterior appearance, and today it is used as offices for a mental health agency.

Beyond the old Town Hall is the First Congregational Church.  The original church was established in 1679, with Edward Taylor serving as the town’s first pastor.  He had first come to Westfield in 1671 and began serving as pastor before the church was formally established, and he would continue until his death in 1729 at the age of 87.  However, today he is probably best known as one of the first American poets, although his works weren’t published until over 200 years after his death.

His original church building is long gone, and the one that stands on the site today was built in 1860.  The original steeple was destroyed in a storm in 1886, and I’m not sure if the first photo was taken before or after that.  It was published in 1892, but the photo itself could date to much earlier than that. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, “Several smaller steeples were in use until 1962 when a tall steeple was erected similar to the original one.”  The steeple in the first photo doesn’t appear to be a “small steeple,” yet the present-day one also doesn’t bear much resemblance to the first one, so I’m not sure which one is shown in the first photo.  In any case, though, otherwise the brick exterior of the church is well preserved, and it continues to be used by the same congregation that Edward Taylor began serving in 1671.

Green District School, Westfield Mass

The Green District School in Westfield, at the corner of Washington and School Streets, probably around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The location in 2015:

The Green District School was a public school in Westfield, but for a time it was also used as the observation school of the Westfield Normal School, located directly across School Street and visible in the background in the first photo.  Here, prospective teachers at the Normal School could get in-classroom experience analogous to present-day student teaching.  The Normal School later built their own training school in 1900, on the spot of the old Normal School building.  This building is still there today, in the background of the 2015 photo.  The Green District School continued to be used as a public school long after its affiliation with the Normal School ended, but today the Westfield Police Department headquarters occupies the school’s former location.

Normal School, Westfield Mass

Westfield Normal School at the corner of Washington and School Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The scene in 2015:

The present-day Westfield State University has gone through a number of changes in name and location since it was founded in Barre, Massachusetts in 1838 as a training school for teachers. In 1844, the school moved to Westfield, becoming the Westfield Normal School. Two years later, the building in the first photo was completed, and it housed the school for the next 46 years, until a new, larger school building was constructed nearby on Court Street. During the time that this building was in use, its notable graduates included geneticist Nettie Stevens and Cabinet secretary George B. Cortelyou, who served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Treasury during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.

When the school relocated to the Court Street building in 1892, the old building here was demolished and in 1900 replaced with the State Normal Training School.  From then until 1956, this school was used to train prospective teachers from the Normal School, and it was later used by the City of Westfield as a regular elementary school.  Today, the building has been renovated into apartments for students at Westfield State University, which is now located several miles west of downtown.