Connecticut River and Mount Tom from Mount Holyoke, Hadley, Mass

The view looking south from the Mount Holyoke Summit House in Hadley, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019

One of the most important geological features in the Connecticut River Valley is the Metacomet Ridge, a long narrow traprock formation that runs roughly parallel to the river. It passes through central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, running from Long Island Sound to just south of the Vermont border. Its peaks are relatively low in elevation compared to the mountains of the Berkshires further west, with few reaching above a thousand feet, but the ridge stands out in the landscape because it rises so high above the surrounding low-lying river valley.

Because of this prominence, the Metacomet Ridge offers expansive views from atop its steep traprock ledges. However, perhaps none of these views are as celebrated as those from Mount Holyoke, which sits on the border of Hadley and South Hadley, Massachusetts. The 935-foot mountain is in the middle of a ten mile section that features some of the highest elevations of the entire ridgeline. This section is bookended by the two highest peaks of the Metacomet Ridge, with the 1,200-foot Mount Tom at the southern end and the 1,106-foot Mount Norwottuck to the east.

Although Mount Holyoke is comparatively lower in elevation, it has a unique position. Here, the ridge takes a sharp 90-degree turn across the Connecticut River, forming two perpendicular ranges bisected by the river. Mount Holyoke is located directly east of the river, so the top of the mountain provides dramatic views of the river as it winds its way through the surrounding farmland. Most famously, these scenes inspired 19th century artist Thomas Cole to paint The Oxbow, one of the most iconic landscape paintings in the history of American art.

The view captured in The Oxbow is not the same direction as the two photos shown here in this post. Cole’s painting faces almost due west, while these two photos were taken facing south, looking downstream on the river with the city of Holyoke in the distance on the left and Mount Holyoke on the right. Unlike the views to the west or north from the summit, this southern view is not nearly as celebrated in paintings or photographs. Part of this might be because the viewer is typically facing into the sun in this direction, creating a backlit scene. Another reason might be because the mountain has a much more gradual southern slope, so the landscape seems more distant when compared to the views from atop the steep northern and western cliffs.

Either way, the scene in the first photo shows some interesting contrasts. The jagged spine of the Metacomet Ridge runs across the horizon of the photo, parallel to the gently curving Connecticut River in the center of the scene. Further to the left, the prosperous industrial city of Holyoke in the distance contrasts with the open fields and scattered farmhouses of the foreground. The view is somewhat different in the present-day scene, as the trees now obscure most of the foreground, but both the river and the ridgeline remain dominant features in the landscape.

Both of these photos were taken from the porch of the Summit House, which was built in 1851 and expanded several times in the second half of the 19th century. At the time, mountaintop hotels were particularly popular, and the Summit House here on Mount Holyoke was just one of three in the vicinity; the others included the Eyrie House atop Mount Nonotuck, and the Summit House on Mount Tom, which is visible in the distance on the right side of the first photo.

It is difficult to tell, but the Mount Tom hotel in the photo appears to have been the first of three successive hotels at the summit. This one burned in 1900, probably soon after the photo was taken, and it was subsequently rebuilt twice in the early 20th century. The Eyrie House likewise burned in 1901 and was never rebuilt, yet the Mount Holyoke hotel has managed to avoid such a fate, and the building is still standing today as a museum.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, and nearly two centuries after Thomas Cole made the mountain famous, much has changed in the view from Mount Holyoke. The land is actually far more forested now than it was at the turn of the 20th century, so in some ways there are actually fewer obvious signs of human development. However, the abundance of trees also makes very clear the swath that Interstate 91 cuts across the modern-day landscape, about halfway between the river and the mountains.

Despite these changes, though, the view from Mount Holyoke remains perhaps the most impressive landscape view in southern New England. Although overnight guests no longer stay at the Summit House, the mountain remains a popular destination, with visitors driving up the auto road or climbing the relatively short hike from the base. In 1939, the summit and the surrounding land became the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park, after its namesake donated the land to the state. Much of the remaining land along the Holyoke and Mount Tom ranges has similarly been preserved, and the area affords some of the best hiking and other outdoor recreation opportunities in the Connecticut River Valley.

Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy, Mass

The Thomas Crane Public Library on Washington Street in Quincy, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The library in 2019:

The Thomas Crane Public Library was established in 1880 by Albert Crane as a memorial to his late father, Thomas Crane. Born in 1803, Thomas grew up in Quincy and began working here as a stonecutter in the granite quarries. He later moved to New York, where he had a successful business career selling Quincy granite in the rapidly-growing city. However, he did not forget Quincy, often spending his summers here, and after his death in 1875 his son decided that a public library would be an appropriate way of honoring his memory.

The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the nation’s preeminent architects of the 19th century. Richardson pioneered a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque, which typically featured rounded arches, tall narrow windows, and rough exterior walls with contrasting light and dark stone. The vast majority of Richardson’s works were public buildings, including a number of churches and railroad stations, and he also designed several libraries. Despite its relatively small size, this library is generally regarded as one of his finest works, with architectural historian and Richardson biographer Henry-Russell Hitchcock declaring it to be “without question the best library Richardson ever built.”

The library was completed in 1882, with the formal dedication on May 30. Albert Crane and other members of his family attended the event, and he ceremonially handed over the keys of the building to Charles Francis Adams Jr., the grandson and great grandson of Quincy’s two famous presidents. Adams then gave the keynote address, in which he recounted the life of Thomas Crane, with a particular emphasis on his humble origins and his strong personal character and morals.

The building’s architecture was well received, and the Boston Journal published a glowing review of its design as part of its coverage of the dedication ceremony:

It is built in what may be termed free Romanesque style of architecture, and is in the form of a parallelogram, 84 by 41 feet in dimensions. The outer material is of Easton pink-tinted granite trimmed with Longmeadow brown stone. The interior above the basement is occupied by one lofty story and a low studded attic. The southern portion is devoted to a reading room. There are in the large hall 16 alcoves with a capacity of 40,000 volumes, and a small room is specially devoted to books and manuscripts pertaining to local history. The effect of the interior is pleasing. There are seven large windows beautifully decorated in stained glass by La Farge. In the east window of the reading room are the suggestive words; “And his leaves shall not wither.” The principal light is a remarkable piece of work, the design of which is by La Farge, and represents in vivid hues an old philosopher holding a roll in his hand. The finish of the interior is of Southern pine, beautifully decorated. The cost of the structure was $40,000, and the expense of grading and embellishing the grounds will probably reach $10,000 or $15,000 additional.

Despite the large capacity of the original library building, though, it was soon in need of expansion. The first addition came in 1908, with a wing in the rear of the library. Richardson had died more than 20 years earlier, but one of his former employees, William Martin Aiken, designed the addition, which matched the appearance of the original building. A second, more substantial expansion came in 1939, with the construction of a new building immediately to the southeast, connected to the older building by an L-enclosed walkway that is partially visible on the far right side of the present-day scene. As with Aiken’s wing, the architecture of this addition copied Richardson’s style. Then, the last expansion occurred in 2001, with a substantial addition to the east of the 1939 wing that doubled the size of the library.

Today, despite these many additions, the original 1882 Richardson portion of the library has remained essentially unchanged from this view. Its surroundings have changed, and the tower of the 1927 Bethany Congregational Church now looms above the building in the distance, but the old library has survived as an important work by one of the greatest architects in American history. Because of its architectural significance, the library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and 15 years later it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of federal recognition for a historic property.

Widener Library, Cambridge, Mass

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, around 1914-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The library in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, Harvard’s first purpose-built library was Gore Hall, which opened here on this site in 1841. Although architecturally-impressive, this Gothic Revival building proved too small for the school’s growing collections of books. It was expanded several different times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was ultimately demolished in 1913 to build the Widener Library, which is shown here in these two photos.

The construction of the Widener Library actually came as a result of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Among the ship’s passengers were wealthy businessman George Dunton Widener, his wife Eleanor, and their son Harry, who had graduated from Harvard five years earlier. Both George and Harry died in the sinking, but Eleanor survived and soon began planning an appropriate memorial for her late son.

In his will, Harry had asked that his rare book collection be donated to the school. However, his mother went far beyond that, and instead of simply giving his books to the existing library, she built an entirely new library for all of the school’s books. Eleanor Widener was closely involved with the details of the building, including choosing its architect, Horace Trumbauer, and she likely spent around $3.5 million on its construction.

Work on the new library began after the demolition of Gore Hall in 1913, and it was completed two years later with a dedication ceremony on June 24, 1915. The first photo was apparently taken before this, probably in 1914 or 1915. The exterior of the building was essentially complete by this point, but the interior was likely still under construction, as indicated by the pile of debris on the right side, and the “Geo. F. Payne & Co. Builders” sign on the far left.

When it opened, the library had more than 50 miles of shelves, and a total capacity of over 3 million books. Even this would not be enough for the school’s ever-growing collection. By mid century its holdings were doubling approximately every 17 years, leading to the opening of new libraries around campus that specialized in particular fields. Then, in the 1980s the school constructed the Harvard Depository in Southborough, allowing for off-campus storage of library materials.

Throughout this time, the exterior of the Widener Library has remained essentially unchanged in more than a century since the first photo was taken, and it remains the central library at Harvard. Perhaps its single most famous work here is one of only 23 known complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book to be printed on a printing press. Like the library building itself, this Bible was a gift of the Widener family, who donated it to Harvard in 1944. However, it is only one of around 3.5 million books that are housed here in the Widener, making it one of the largest libraries in the world, and the largest university library.

Memorial Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Memorial Hall on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Harvard’s Memorial Hall was built between 1870 and 1878, in honor of the Harvard students and graduates who had fought for the Union cause during the Civil War. Its construction was primarily funded by an alumni committee that raised $370,000 in contributions, in addition to a separate bequest of $40,000 from 1802 graduate Charles Sanders for the construction of a theater. As a result, the building featured three distinct parts: a large dining hall on one side, the Sanders Theatre on the other side, and the Memorial Transept between them.

The building was designed by Harvard graduates William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, and it is generally regarded as an architectural masterpiece and one of the country’s finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture. This style reached its peak of popularity in the late 1860s and early 1870s, when it was nearly ubiquitous for schools, churches, government buildings, and other public buildings. Memorial Hall incorporates many of the typical features of this style, including tall windows with pointed arches, steep roofs with multi-colored tiles, a tall tower, and a red brick exterior with contrasting light-colored stone trim.

Construction began in 1870, and it was marked by the laying of the cornerstone on October 6. Many dignitaries attended the event, including Governor William Claflin, Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, and General George Meade, who had led the Union victory at Gettysburg seven years earlier. U. S. Attorney General Ebenezer Hoar, a Massachusetts native and Harvard alumnus, gave the dedication address, and the ceremony also included the singing of a hymn written for the occasion by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

The various parts of the building were completed in different stages, and both the dining hall and the Memorial Transept were finished in 1874. The dining hall occupies the majority of the building, including everything to the left of the tower from this scene. It measured 164 feet in length, 60 feet in width, and 80 feet from the floor to the top of the roof. The hall had room for over a thousand people to sit at the tables, although the actual number of Harvard students who ate here in the late 19th century was generally much lower, with around 450 to 650 students in any given year.

The Memorial Transept is located just to the right of the dining hall, inside the main entrance on the right side of this scene. It spans the entire width of Memorial Hall, separating the dining hall from the theater, and it has a similar entrance on the other side of the building. Inside, the transept measures 112 feet in length in 30 feet in width, and it features marble tablets on the walls, which contain the names of 136 Harvard students and alumni who died in the war. Only Union soldiers are recognized here; many Harvard graduates also died fighting for the Confederacy, but their names are not included in the transept.

On the other side of the transept, and barely visible from this angle, is the Sanders Theatre, which was completed in 1875. Originally it could seat 1,500 people, and it was used as a venue for commencement exercises, along with a number of other events, including concerts and lectures. The theater continued to be used for commencements until 1922, and during this time perhaps the most famous graduate here was Theodore Roosevelt, of the class of 1880. Many years later, he would return here as a guest speaker in the same theater, and over the years other notable speakers have included Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr.

From the exterior, the most distinctive feature of Memorial Hall is its 200-foot tower. However, this has been altered and rebuilt several times, beginning in 1877 when the original architects made some changes to its original appearance. Then, in 1897 a clock was added to the top of the tower, with one face on each of the four sides. The first photo was taken soon after this, and the building retained this appearance until 1956, when the upper portion of the tower was destroyed in a fire.

In the meantime, the use of Memorial Hall also changed in the 20th century. The dining hall closed in 1926, and for the next 70 years this space was used for a wide variety of events, ranging from banquets to blood drives. Then, in the 1990s this space underwent an extensive renovation, and it was restored to its original use as a dining hall. It was renamed Annenberg Hall in 1996, and since then it has been used as the primary dining hall for Harvard freshmen.

Along with the interior work, the exterior of the building was also restored in the 1990s, most notably with the reconstruction of the top of the tower. The top had been missing ever since the 1956 fire, but it was rebuilt in 1999, using the designs from the 1877 work on the tower. As a result, the exterior of Memorial Hall probably more closely resembles its 19th century appearance today than it did when the first photo was taken in the early 1900s.

Other than the changes to the tower, the only significant difference between these two photos is Cambridge Street in the foreground. In the first photo it was an unpaved street with several trolley tracks running down the middle, but in the 1960s it was lowered to build a long underpass, with a pedestrian mall atop it. This allowed direct access from Harvard Yard to the sections of the campus north of Cambridge Street, although it also had the consequence of significantly changing the streetscape here in front of Memorial Hall.

Austin Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Austin Hall at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, around 1890-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Austin Hall was completed in 1884 as the home of the Harvard Law School, and it was built thanks to a gift from Edward Austin, a Boston businessman who donated $135,000 in memory of his late brother Samuel. The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the most influential American architects in history, and it features his distinctive Romanesque Revival style. Richardson had previously designed Sever Hall on the Harvard campus, and his other commissions in the area included Boston’s Trinity Church.

As was typical for Richardson’s works, it has a polychromatic exterior, with the dark Longmeadow brownstone contrasting with the lighter-colored Ohio sandstone. The main entrance is marked by three rounded arches, and to the right of them is a short turret with an interior staircase. Just below the roofline is an inscription from Exodus 18:20, which reads “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk and the work that they must do.”

Upon completion, the interior of the building consisted of two smaller lecture rooms on the first floor, with one in each of the two wings to the left and right, along with a large lecture room in the rear of the building. The rest of the first floor consisted of a central hall, several offices for professors, and a room that was designated as the students’ room. Most of the second floor was occupied by the library, but there was also a dean’s room and a professors’ room.

The first photo was taken about a decade or two after the building opened, and not much has changed in its exterior appearance since then, although the foreground is very different, with a parking lot in place of the trees and dirt walkways. Harvard Law School has since expanded far beyond just this one building, but Austin Hall remains in use by the school today. On the interior, it has been renovated over the years, and it now houses classrooms, offices, and the Ames Courtroom, where law students hold moot courts. This courtroom is on the second floor, where the library reading room was originally located. Overall, though, the building retains much of its historic appearance, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Longfellow House Staircase, Cambridge, Mass

The main staircase in the Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, this house was built in 1759 for John Vassall, a wealthy sugar plantation owner who fled Cambridge just prior to the start of the American Revolution because of his loyalist sympathies. The patriot government then confiscated his property, and from July 1775 to April 1776 it was the residence and headquarters of George Washington, who had been given command of the Continental Army just before coming to Cambridge. Much of his strategic planning during the Siege of Boston was done here in the house, including his move to fortify Dorchester Heights in March 1776, which ultimately led to the British evacuation of Boston.

Aside from Washington, the other famous resident of this house was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He moved in here in 1837 as a boarder, when he was a 30-year-old Harvard professor and still a relatively obscure writer. His future father-in-law, Nathan Appleton, later purchased it as a wedding gift for Longfellow and his wife Fanny in 1843, and he went on to live here for the rest of his life. In total, he spent 45 years in this house, and most of his major works were written here, including Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and “The Village Blacksmith.”

This staircase is located just inside the front door, so it would have been the first thing that guests of both Washington and Longfellow would have seen upon arriving in the house. Both of these famous residents had a number of notable visitors here, and for Washington these included his subordinate generals such as Horatio Gates, Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene. Many of Longfellow’s prominent visitors were fellow literary figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Although not visible in this scene, the entry hall also features two doors at the base of the stairs, with one on the left and one on the right. The door to the left leads into the room at the southwest corner of the house, which was used by Washington as his reception room for his visitors, and by the Longfellows as their parlor. To the right, at the southeast corner, is where Washington had his dining room, and where he would have held his councils of war with his other generals. This room was later used by Longfellow as his study, and he wrote many of his famous works there.

Longfellow appreciated the history of his house and its association with Washington. When the general first arrived here in July 1775, the patriot leaders had great confidence in his abilities, but at that point his leadership had not yet been tested in battle. However, by the time Longfellow moved in more than 60 years later, Washington was revered as the father of his country, and he was the subject of countless works of art. In 1844, to recognize Washington’s time here in this house, Longfellow purchased a bust of Washington, which he placed here in the entry hall. It was a copy of one made by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785, and, as these two photos show, it is still here next to the stairs, nearly 180 years later.

Longfellow’s daughter Alice had a similar respect for history and historic preservation, so after his death in 1882 she was careful to maintain both the interior and exterior appearances of the house. As a result, the first photo, which was taken around the 1910s, when Alice was still living here, probably reflects how it would have looked during Longfellow’s lifetime. Aside from the bust of Washington, the photo also includes several other antiques and works of art. On the left side are three paintings, and above them is a print of Washington on horseback that Longfellow acquired in 1864. In the upper center of the scene, on the landing, is a grandfather clock that he added there in 1877, five years before his death. As shown in the 2019 photo, all of these objects are still in the same location today.

For much of the 20th century, this house was run by the Longfellow House Trust. However, in 1972 the organization gave the house and its contents to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow House National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, but, as these photos show, not much else has changed here, and the house is open to the public for ranger-guided tours.