North Wilbraham Station, Wilbraham, Mass

The North Wilbraham Station on the Boston & Albany Railroad, around 1890. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

Although Wilbraham is a fairly small town, it lies on one of the primary east-west transportation corridors in New England.  In the 1630s, the Bay Path crossed what would later become the northern edge of the town, connecting Boston and Springfield.  Later, this route was incorporated into one of three branches of the Boston Post Road between Boston and New York.  So, when railroads were beginning to be developed in the 1830s, this same route along the Connecticut River was a logical choice for a railroad line.  Heading west from Boston, railroads reached Worcester in 1835, and four years later the Western Railroad was completed, connecting Worcester to Springfield.  These companies would later be consolidated into the Boston & Albany Railroad.

One of the original stations on the Western Railroad was here in Wilbraham, although it was located almost three miles west of here, at the present-day Stony Hill Road underpass.  In 1851, though, this station was moved about a mile west into Springfield, to Oak Street in Indian Orchard.  A new Wilbraham station here at North Wilbraham was established around the same time, and the station seen in the 1890 photo was built in 1872.  By the time the first photo was taken, there were four to five scheduled trains in each direction that stopped in North Wilbraham.  As the sign indicates in the photo, it was the station for Wesleyan Academy, which was later renamed Wilbraham Academy and is now Wilbraham-Monson Academy.   From here, travelers would board a stagecoach for the remaining two miles to the academy.

However, with the decline of passenger rail in the mid-1900s, train stops in Wilbraham were gradually reduced until 1957, when the station was closed.  It was demolished the following year, and today no trace remains of it or any of the associated buildings.  The old Boston & Albany line is now owned by CSX, and as seen in the 2015 photo it has been reduced from two tracks to one between Springfield and Palmer.  The only passenger train that still operates through here is Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, which runs daily from Boston to Chicago without stopping in Wilbraham.

Collins Inn Livery Stable, Wilbraham, Mass

The livery stable at the Collins Inn on Boston Road in North Wilbraham, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

This is the same building seen in the previous post, just from a different angle and several years later.  Although the photo is undated, there is at least one clue that gives a good indication of when it was taken.  Just below the large “Livery” sign, there are posters for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, which was performing in Springfield on “Thursday, May 23.”  There appears to have been a performance in Springfield on that day in 1895, and it was a Thursday, so the photo was probably taken around that time.

In the days before automobiles, livery stables such as these would have provided stabling and feed for horses, and the carriages out front show a variety of horse-drawn carriages that would have been used at the time.  One of the carriages has two young children sitting in it, so perhaps the man posing with the horse is about to hitch it to that carriage.  He is presumably an employee of the stables, which was operated as part of the Collins Inn next to it.

At the time that the first photo was taken, cars were just starting to be developed, but within about 20 years they would essentially replace horses, putting livery stables like these out of business.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Collins Inn closed in 1915.  I don’t know when the stables were demolished, but it seems fitting that the modern equivalent, a gas and repair station, now stands on the site.

Collins House and Livery Stable, Wilbraham, Mass

The Warren Collins home and livery stables, on Boston Road in North Wilbraham, possibly around 1872. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

These buildings can be seen in the distance of the c.1900 photo in the previous post, which explains the history of the Collins Inn that once stood nearby.  This location was directly across the street from Wilbraham’s only railroad station, and it was from here that Warren L. Collins operated a stagecoach line to the center of town, two miles away.  The livery stables in the background were probably used to house the horses for this line.  Given the nature of livery stables, it probably would have also been used to care for the horses of the inn’s guests.

The one thing that is in question about this photo is the date. A copy of this image can be found online here, which is where the 1872 date comes from.  However, that date might be a little too early; the 1873 atlas of Hampden County includes an inset map of North Wilbraham, which was labeled as Collins Depot.  Neither of these buildings appear on the map, and a different building on the other side of the street is labeled as the livery stables.  Additionally, the Collins Inn was not built until 1874, and the 1964 History of Wilbraham book suggests that Collins built this livery stable at some point after opening the inn.  So, it seems more likely that the photo was taken either a little later in the decade or maybe in the 1880s.

Either way, there is not much left from the old photo.  Both the stables and the small house in the foreground are gone, but the basic business model is still going on here today.  Instead of feeding and caring for horses, the present-day business performs a very similar function, providing fuel and repairs for cars.  There also appears to be at least one surviving element from the original photo; the building on the far left looks like it is the same one that was standing there.

Collins Inn, Wilbraham, Mass

Collins Inn at the corner of Boston Road and Chapel Street in North Wilbraham, probably in the 1890s or early 1900s.  Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

The historic center of the town of Wilbraham has always been along Main Street in the town’s approximate geographic center.  When it was first settled in the 1700s, this was the ideal place for farming, but as changes in industrialization, transportation, and communication came about in the 1800s, the village of North Wilbraham gained prominence.  Its location on the banks of the Chicopee River and along the main road from Springfield to Boston made this area an important spot for industry and transportation.  In 1839, the Boston & Albany Railroad opened through here, with the North Wilbraham railroad station being located right across the street from here.

The building in the foreground of the first photo was the Collins Inn, which was opened in 1874 by Warren L. Collins.  It sat directly across Boston Road from the railroad station, and across Chapel Street from the Hollister Block, which at the time was used as a drugstore and post office.  In addition to the inn, Collins also operated a livery stable on the site, and ran a stagecoach line from here to the center of Wilbraham, about two miles away.

Aside from transportation, though, the Collins inn also offered Wilbraham another connection to the outside world – the telephone.  The telephone was invented in 1876, and within just four years a line was established from here to the center Wilbraham, at a cost of $30 per year for subscribers.  However, a few years later the cost increased to $100 per year (equivalent to over $2,400 today), and the service was discontinued because of a lack of families willing to pay.  When phone service was re-established in 1904, the Collins Inn became the town’s telephone exchange office for the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, serving 21 customers in Wilbraham.

The telephone exchange remained here until 1914, when it moved to a different building across the street.  Around the same time, the Collins Inn closed, although the building itself remained standing for some time.  The 1964 History of Wilbraham book indicates that it was still standing at the time, although today its former location is now a parking lot.

Samuel Warner House, Wilbraham Mass

The Samuel Warner House on Stony Hill Road in Wilbraham, on September 3, 1923. Image from Register of the Ancestors of Samuel Warner and his Descendants (1924).

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The house in 2015:


This house on Stony Hill Road was probably built in the late 1700s, and for many years it was home to some of my ancestors, starting with Samuel Warner Jr., my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.  He was a veteran of two wars, having served with his father in the French and Indian War, where they fought at Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point in New York.  He returned to Ticonderoga several decades later, when he was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga in 1776-1777 during the American Revolution.  His son, Samuel Warner III, later took over the farm, and lived here his entire life.  He died in 1824 and his son, Samuel Warner IV, my great-great-great grandfather, acquired the property following his marriage in 1827.  He was a fairly prominent citizen of Wilbraham, serving as a town selectman in 1857 and as a member of the Wesleyan Academy Board of Trustees from 1848 until 1858.  He died in 1859, and the house was later owned by two more generations until 1893, when it was sold to someone outside the family for the first time in probably over a century.

The first photo was taken during a family reunion for the Samuel Warner Association, which consists of descendants of the third Samuel Warner, who lived from 1763 to 1824.  Several of my family members are visible in the photo, including my great grandmother, who is standing 6th from the right, in the white outfit.  Her three daughters are seated together in the front row on the right, and my grandmother is the one furthest to the left, just to the right of the tear in the paper.

Today, the house is still there, but with significant modifications.  It now serves as offices for the Country Club of Wilbraham, which is located on the former Warner property.  There have been some significant additions behind and to the right of the house for dining and banquet facilities, but overall the historic house itself is still relatively intact on the exterior.

Main Street, Wilbraham Mass

Looking north on Main Street from Springfield Street, probably around 1900. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Main Street in 2015:

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This scene along Main Street in the center of Wilbraham hasn’t changed much in the past century or so.  At least one of the buildings from the first photo is gone, and Main Street is now paved, but overall the center of Wilbraham retains much of its 19th and early 20th century character.  The first photo shows several historic buildings that survive today.  On the far left is the steeple of the Memorial Chapel, built in 1870 and now part of the Wilbraham & Monson Academy campus.  In front of it is the 1793 Old Methodist Meeting House, and in the left-center of both photos is the 1836 Rev. John W. Hardy House.  The house in the right-center of the first photo is no longer there, and the store on the far right looks like the one in the present-day scene, but there are some differences.  Either it is a completely different building today, or it has been expanded, because it appears to be much close to the Hardy house than in the first view.