Glendale Road, Wilbraham Mass

Looking north on Glendale Road in Wilbraham, toward the intersection of Monson Road, around 1914. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Glendale Road in 2015:


Topographically speaking, the town of Wilbraham is divided into two major sections: the western half of the town is part of the Connecticut River valley, and is mostly flat.  This was the area that was first settled in Wilbraham, as it provided decent farmland and a close proximity to Springfield.  However, the eastern part of the town is very different.  Just east of Main Street, the terrain abruptly rises, with a ridgeline over 500 feet above the center of town.  The land on the other side of this ridge is very different; it tends to be steeper, more rocky, and less arable than the valley, so this area was slow to develop.

It is this eastern section of town that is seen in these two views, an area known as Glendale.  When the 1914 photo was taken, it had a church, a cemetery, a school (out of view beyond the church), and a few farmhouses.  It was never really a village, just a crossroads.  The first photo was taken at a time when automobiles were beginning to become more common, but it’s unlikely that too many would’ve ventured out into this area, given the condition of the roads.  The ruts in the foreground indicate that the road probably got fairly muddy, and based on looking at the slope, it appears that this section of road would probably get washed out fairly easily in a rainstorm.

The only building in this scene is the Glendale Methodist Church, which was built in 1868 to serve the farmers in the eastern part of town, who would’ve otherwise had to venture up and down steep grades to reach the Methodist church in the town center.  Across Glendale Road from the church, on the left-hand side of the photo, is Glendale Cemetery, which is actually substantially older than the church itself; the earliest gravestone dates to 1787.  Today, the church building is still there, barely visible beyond the trees, but the congregation itself disbanded in 2006, and the building has been vacant ever since.  Glendale and Monson Roads are still there, although the grade of the intersection has been raised substantially by filling in some of the swampy area along the stream that passes under the roads.

Gebo’s Blacksmith Shop, Wilbraham Mass

Blacksmith shop of Theodore Gebo on Main Street in Wilbraham, in 1905. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:


The scene in the first photo recalls images of Joe Gargery in Great Expectations, but instead of Victorian England, it’s Main Street in Wilbraham, where Theodore Gebo (far right in the photo, wearing an apron) ran his blacksmith shop.  This shop was originally opened by Chauncey Peck in 1871.  Aside from being a blacksmith, Peck was also a Civil War veteran, a local historian, and the author of  The History of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, a book that I have used several photos from on this blog.  Peck sold the business to Gebo in the early 1900s; Gebo had been working out of a shop at the corner of Tinkham and Stony Hill Roads in Wilbraham, but Peck’s shop was closer to the center of town.

The sale was probably a good move for Peck, considering blacksmiths would soon become obsolete. However, as was the case with many other blacksmith shops, it became Gebo’s Garage, an auto repair shop.  By then, the original blacksmith shop was gone, but the property remains in commercial use, and as of 2015 was the home of FloDesign, an engineering firm.  A more detailed account of Theodore Gebo and his family can be found on the Wilbraham Public Library website.

Old Methodist Meeting House, Wilbraham Mass

The Old Methodist Meeting House at the corner of Main Street and Mountain Road in Wilbraham, probably around 1913. Photo from The History of Wilbraham, Massachusetts (1913).

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The building in 2015:


The old Methodist meeting house in Wilbraham hasn’t been used as a church for over 180 years, but some of its defining architectural features are still visible, including the long windows on the Main Street side of first floor.  It was built in 1793, as the first home of Wilbraham’s Methodist congregation.  It was used for 40 years, before being sold and renovated into a house.  As built, the church only had one floor, with windows that extended all the way up the side of the building.  When it was converted to a house, the second floor was added, and the windows were split, although the pattern is still noticeable here.

At the time that the church was built, Methodism was still in its infancy in New England.  Several important figures in Methodist history visited this church in the late 1700s and early 1800s, including Francis Asbury, who was one of the first bishops appointed by founder John Wesley, and Jesse Lee, who later became Chaplain of the US House of Representatives from 1809 to 1814, and Chaplain of the US Senate from 1814-1815.  During the first years of this church, the interior was rather spartan; the pews were just wooden benches, and a stove was not installed until 1815, after some 22 cold New England winters without any heat.  Something as novel as an organ would take even longer; the congregation didn’t purchase one until 1850, long after they had moved to a newer church building.

The Methodists built a new church across Mountain Road in 1833, and this was in turn replaced in 1870 by the stone church visible behind and to the left of the church in this photo.  Today, the building is one of the oldest existing church buildings in Western Massachusetts, and according to the 1963 History of Wilbraham book, it is the oldest existing Methodist church in New England.  Today, it is maintained as a museum by the Wilbraham Atheneum Society.

Soldiers’ Monument, Wilbraham Mass

The Soldiers’ Monument in Wilbraham, on Main Street opposite Springfield Street, in an undated photograph probably taken in the early 20th century.  Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The monument in 2015:


As mentioned in this post, the Soldiers’ Monument in Wilbraham was dedicated in 1894, in honor of the 228 men from Wilbraham who served in the Civil War.  According to the inscription on the monument, it is dedicated “To the men of Wilbraham who served their country in the war which preserved the Union and destroyed slavery.  This monument is erected to perpetuate the memory of their patriotic service.”  According to the records in the town clerk’s office, 29 Wilbraham men died in the war.  However, of those 29, only six were killed on the battlefield, a statistic that is not at all unusual for the Civil War, given that around two thirds of all deaths were a result of disease rather than battle.  One particularly notable Wilbraham veteran was Watson W. Bridge, who was the captain of Company F in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit that was depicted in the 1989 film Glory.

The monument was built on the site of the birthplace of Lucinda Brewer, the wife of paper manufacturer Zenas Crane, founder of Crane & Co. in Dalton, Massachusetts.  Their grandson, Winthrop M. Crane, attended the dedication ceremony in 1894.  Several decades earlier, he had secured a contract to produce the paper for US currency, something that the company continues to do today.  He would later go on to serve as Governor from 1900 to 1903, and represented Massachusetts in the US Senate from 1904 to 1913.

In the years since the first photo was taken, the land behind the monument has been developed, as seen in the 2015 view.  To the left is the former Wilbraham Post Office building, and directly behind the monument is the Wilbraham Public Library.  To the right, just outside of the view of the photo, is a commercial development.

Kibbe House, Wilbraham Mass

The Gideon Kibbe House on Main Street in Wilbraham, seen in an undated photo probably taken in the late 19th century.  Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The house in 2015:


This historic farmhouse on Main Street in Wilbraham was originally owned by Gideon Kibbe, a Revolutionary War officer who built the house in 1810 for his son, who was also named Gideon.  The younger Gideon married his first wife, Fidelia Munn, in 1809, so the house was likely a wedding gift for the young couple.  Gideon was a doctor, and practiced medicine in Wilbraham for neary 50 years.  He died in 1859 at the age of 80, but the genealogical record indicates that he experienced plenty of tragedies along the way.  Gideon and Fidelia’s first son was born in 1810, probably in this house, but died just over a month later.  Their other son was born and died in 1814, the same year that Fidelia died, possibly a result of childbirth complications.  In between, they had two daughters, both of whom died before their mid-30s.  Dr. Kibbe outlived all four of his children, and he also outlived his second wife Chloe.  They were married in 1815 and apparently had no children, and she died in 1858, around six months before Dr. Kibbe died.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house had gone through several owners since Dr. Kibbe’s son-in-law William Gilbert inherited it, but it probably looked very much the same then as it did when the young country doctor and his wife first moved in nearly a century earlier.  Today,  the exterior of the house remains nearly unchanged, and it is one of many historic 18th and early 19th century farmhouses along Main Street in Wilbraham.

Memorial Chapel, Wilbraham Mass

The Methodist Church in Wilbraham, around 1903. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The building in 2015:


The Memorial Chapel at the corner of Main Street and Mountain Road in Wilbraham is right next to the Wilbraham & Monson Academy campus, but it wasn’t always a part of the school.  It was completed in 1870, and was the third meeting house for Wilbraham’s Methodist Society.  The society was established in 1793, and their first meeting house was used until 1835, when it was converted into a private home.  It is still standing, directly across Mountain Road; I took this photo from right in front of it.  The church in this photo was used by the Methodists from 1870 until the 1920s, when they merged with the Congregational Church to form the Wilbraham United Church.  The Academy acquired the church in the 1930s, and now uses it as a library and as a venue for concerts and all-school gatherings.