Louisburg Square, Boston

Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill in Boston, on July 5, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

The scene in 2021:

 

Beacon Hill is one of the best-preserved neighborhoods in Boston, and it generally consists of narrow streets lined with brick rowhouses. However, the one exception to these narrow streets is here at Louisburg Square, a long, narrow park that extends from Mount Vernon Street to Pinckney Street. The square was laid out as part of development of Beacon Hill during the 1820s, and the houses around it were constructed in the 1830s and 1840s. Like most of the other houses in the neighborhood, they are generally three or four stories tall, and many have bow fronts, including a row of eight bow-fronted houses on the left side of the scene.

As for the park itself, it was one of a number of small urban parks that were laid out in Boston during this period. Some have been lost over time, including the Tontine Crescent on Franklin Street and Pemberton Square just to the east of Beacon Hill, but Louisburg Square has remained largely unchanged since the mid-19th century. The park is privately owned and maintained by the residents of the square, and in 1846 they added the cast iron fence around the perimeter of the park, followed by statues of Aristides the Just and Christopher Columbus in 1850. The square also briefly had a fountain, which was installed in 1850 but removed in 1856.

Over the years, Louisburg Square has had a number of prominent residents, particularly in the literary world. The house at 10 Louisburg Square—the second bow-fronted house from the left in this scene—was the final home of Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson Alcott. They lived here for several years in the 1880s, until their deaths two days apart in March 1888. Also in the 1880s, novelist William Dean Howells lived at Louisburg Square, first at number 16 in 1882, and then at number 4 from 1883 to 1884. One of the houses near the end of the street, at 20 Louisburg Square, was the home of author and banker Samuel Gray Ward, who was also one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1852, prominent Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind married her husband, Otto Goldschmidt, in this house. Much more recently, prominent Louisburg Square residents include former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who lives in the house on the right side at the far end of the street.

By the time the first photo was taken in 1930, the houses on Louisburg Square were already nearly a century old, yet not much had changed here in the intervening years, aside from the addition of automobiles on the streets around the square. Today, nearly a hundred more years have gone by, and still Louisburg Square has remained well-preserved. It is the centerpiece of the Beacon Hill neighborhood, and all of the houses in this scene are now part of the Beacon Hill Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark district in 1962.

Mount Vernon Street, Boston

Looking west on Mount Vernon Street from near the corner of Walnut Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

For more than two centuries, Beacon Hill has been one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in Boston. During the colonial period, this area was primarily hilly pastureland on the outskirts of town, but in 1798 it became the site of the Massachusetts State House, which still stands at the southeastern corner of the neighborhood. Residential development soon followed, consisting largely of brick, Federal-style row houses. Over the years, many prominent people have lived here on Beacon Hill, and it remains a remarkably well-preserved early 19th century neighborhood.

These two photos show the view looking west on Mount Vernon Street from the corner of Walnut Street, near the crest of the hill. Nearly all of the buildings from the first photo are still standing more than 160 years later, with the exception of the one on the far right, which was demolished around 1905-1910 in order to build the current Tudor Revival-style building. Aside from this one, the other houses on the right side of the street in this scene all date back to the first half of the 19th century. The two closest to the foreground, just past the Tudor-style building, were both built in the 1830s, and the both feature a bowed front façade, which is a distinctive feature on many Beacon Hill homes.

On the left side of the street, the most distinctive houses are the two brownstone homes in the foreground at 40 and 42 Mount Vernon Street. These were among the first houses in the neighborhood to be built of brownstone rather than brick, and they were both designed by architect George Minot Dexter. Both were built for prosperous merchant Augustus Hemenway, who lived in the house at the corner, at 40 Mount Vernon Street. He was still living here when the first photo was taken around 1860, and both houses remained in his family until the early 20th century.

Just past these houses are three comparatively modest brick rowhouses, which were built around 1825, and further in the distance are three single-story buildings. These are probably the oldest buildings in this scene, dating back to 1804 when they were built as carriage houses for homes on nearby Chestnut Street. Despite their small size and humble origins, all three have survived to the present day, and have since been converted into residences.

Overall, with the exception of the present-day cars and paved roads, very little has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken. This is generally true throughout much of the neighborhood, and because of this level of preservation, Beacon Hill was designated as a National Historic Landmark district in 1962.

Middle Street, Hadley, Mass

The view looking north on Middle Street towards Russell Street in Hadley, around 1900. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

Hadley is one of the oldest towns in western Massachusetts, having been first settled by European colonists in 1659 and incorporated as a town two years later. Its terrain is mostly flat, and it is situated on the inside of a broad curve in the Connecticut River, giving it some of the finest farmland in New England. The main settlement developed in this vicinity, with a broad town common on what is now West Street. This common was the town center during the colonial period, and it was the site of three successive meetinghouses beginning in 1670.

The third meetinghouse, which is shown here in these photos, was completed on the town common in 1808. This location was a matter of serious contention, as by the turn of the 19th century much of the town’s development had shifted east toward what is now Middle Street. Tradition ultimately prevailed, and the third meetinghouse was built on the common. However, this proved to be only temporary, because in 1841 it was relocated. The intended location was to be a compromise, located halfway between the common and Middle Street, but the movers ignored this and brought the building all the way to Middle Street, to its current location just south of Route 9.

Architecturally, this meetinghouse reflects some of the changes that were occurring in New England church designs. Prior to the late 18th century, the region’s churches tended to be plain in appearance. Many did not have steeples, and those steeples that did exist tended to rise from the ground level on the side of the building, rather than being fully incorporated into the main section of the church. This began to change with prominent architects like Charles Bulfinch, who drew inspiration from classical architecture when designing churches and other buildings. Bulfinch’s churches tended to feature a triangular pediment above the main entrance, with a steeple that rose from above the pediment, rather than from the ground.

Bulfinch does not appear to have played a hand in designing Hadley’s church, but its builder was clearly influenced by his works. It has a pediment with a steeple above it, and it also has a fanlight above the front door, and a Palladian window on the second floor. Other classically-inspired decorative elements include pilasters flanking the front entrance and dentils around the pediment. As for the steeple itself, it does not bear strong resemblance to the ones that Bulfinch designed, but the builder likely took inspiration from other 18th century New England churches. In particular, it bears a strong resemblance the steeples of churches such as Old North Church in Boston and the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Aside from moving the church to this site, the other major event of 1841 that solidified Middle Street as the town center was the construction of a town hall here. Prior to this point, town meetings were held in the church, as was the case in most Massachusetts towns in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Massachusetts was slow to create a separation between church and state, and not until 1833 did the state outlaw the practice of taxing residents to support local churches. Here in Hadley, this soon led to a physical separation between the church and the town government, although as shown in this scene the two buildings stood side-by-side on Middle Street.

While the church features Bulfinch-inspired architecture, the design of the town hall reflects the Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century. This style was particularly popular for government and other institutional buildings of the period, as it reflected the democratic ideals of ancient Greece. The town hall is perhaps Hadley’s finest example of this style, with a large portico supported by four Doric columns, along with Doric pilasters in between the window bays on all four sides of the building.

The first photo shows Middle Street around the turn of the 20th century, looking north toward the church, the town hall, and Russell Street further in the distance. The photo also shows a house on the foreground, just to the right of the church. Based on its architecture, this house likely dated back to about the mid-18th century, but it was gone by 1903, when the current house was built on the site. This house was originally the home of Dr. Frank Smith, and it was designed by Springfield architect Guy Kirkham.

Today, the town of Hadley is significantly larger than it was when the first photo was taken more than 120 years ago. Russell Street is now Route 9, a major east-west thoroughfare that has significant commercial development thanks to Hadley’s position at the center of the Five Colleges region. Likewise, Middle Street is far from the dirt road in the first photo, and it is now Route 47. However, much of Hadley has retained its historic appearance, including its extensive farmland and its many historic buildings. Here on Middle Street, both the church and the town hall are still standing. They have seen few major exterior changes during this time, and the church is still an active congregation, while the town hall remains the seat of Hadley’s town government. Both buildings are now part of the Hadley Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Jayne Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Looking west on Chestnut Street between Bank and Third Streets in Philadelphia, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo shows the view looking west along the south side of Chestnut Street, from near the corner of Bank Street. The scene features a variety of commercial buildings, but the most prominent of these is the Jayne Building in the center of the photo. Built between 1849 and 1851, this eight-story building was far ahead of its time, predating the advent of modern skyscrapers by nearly half a century. As such, it is generally considered to be the first skyscraper in the city, and arguably the first in the entire country as well.

The Jayne Building was designed by local architect William L. Johnston, and it featured a Gothic Revival exterior of Quincy granite. In contrast to most of the neighboring buildings, its façade featured strong vertical lines that emphasized its height, a technique that would later become common for 20th century skyscrapers. However, the building also featured a two-story crenelated tower atop the roof, giving it an unusual combination of modern and medieval-style architecture.

The building was owned by Dr. David Jayne, a physician who made his fortune selling patent medicines. Although based in Philadelphia, he sold his products across the country. He even published a free almanac that was replete with medical advice, most of which involved taking one or more of his products. Among these were the Expectorant, which was intended for lung diseases, and the Alterative, which Jayne claimed could treat a wide range of ailments, including cancer, gout, rheumatism, scrofula, scurvy, syphilis, ulcers, and various skin disorders.

Architect William L. Johnston provided much of the vision for Jayne’s building, but he did not live to see it completed. He died of tuberculosis during the early stages of the construction, and another Philadelphia architect, Thomas Ustick Walter, oversaw the rest of the work. Walter also designed two six-story wings, one on either side of the main building, which were completed in 1851 and are visible here in the first photo. Also in 1851, Walter was appointed as Architect of the Capitol, and in this capacity he designed both the House and Senate wings of the US Capitol, along with the current Capitol dome.

David Jayne died in 1866 at the age of 66, but his family carried on the business for many years. However, just six years later this building was gutted by a massive fire on the night of March 4, 1872. The fire started around 9:00 p.m. in the rear of the third floor, but it soon spread up to the top of the building. Firefighting efforts were hampered by the height of the building, and also by the sub-zero temperatures, which caused the water to freeze into icicles on the exterior. However, firefighters succeeded in preventing the flames from spreading to the six-story wings, and most of the exterior walls remained standing, despite extensive damage to the interior.

The building was subsequently reconstructed around the old walls, albeit without the ornate two-story tower atop the roof. It would remain here for the next 80 years, but by the mid-20th century it was threatened by an urban renewal project related to the Independence National Historical Park. Planners envisioned a park area that would feature the city’s prominent Revolutionary-era landmarks surrounded by open space, rather than being crowded by more recent development. This meant the demolition of many 19th century buildings that, despite their architectural and historic significance, were not a part of the park’s mission.

In the case of the Jayne Building, it stood on the periphery of the park, three blocks away from Independence Hall. The mid-19th century proto-skyscraper clearly had no connection to the American Revolution, but some preservationists made an effort to have the building spared. Among these was Charles E. Peterson, who in 1951 published a theory that the Jayne Building had likely helped to influence the design of more modern skyscrapers, since prominent architect Louis Sullivan had once worked out of an office across the street from here. However, this appeal failed to convince the park planners to save the building, and it was ultimately demolished in the fall of 1957.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, there are no surviving landmarks from the first photo. Many of the older commercial buildings were likely replaced by newer buildings later in the 19th century, but anything that was still standing by the 1950s would have, like the Jayne Building, been demolished as part of the Independence National Historical Park. Here in the foreground, where the Jayne Building once stood, this site became a visitors center. This building was, in turn, demolished in 2014, and the site is currently occupied by the Museum of the American Revolution, which is shown here in the 2019 photo.

Main Street, Charlemont, Mass

Looking east on Main Street from the corner of North Heath Road in the center of Charlemont, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2020:

These two photos show the scene looking east on Main Street in the center of Charlemont. The town is situated along the Deerfield River, and this valley serves as the primary east-west route through the northern Berkshires. Charlemont was settled in the mid-1700s, and today the town features a number of historic buildings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some of which are visible here in this scene.

On the far left side of the scene is the former Charlemont Methodist Church. The exact origins of this building seem murky, with various sources listing it as having been built in 1840, 1820, or 1770. Regardless of its actual date of construction, it was originally built elsewhere in Charlemont, and it served as the town’s Unitarian church. However, this congregation subsequently disbanded, and in 1861 the Methodists purchased it to replace their own church building, which had been destroyed in a fire. They then moved the former Unitarian building to this site on Main Street. Prior to the move, they built the ground floor to house social rooms, and then placed the church on top of this structure.

Aside from the church, the first photo shows a number of houses on both sides of Main Street. Most feature modest Greek Revival-style designs, and they were likely constructed around the mid-19th century. One of the largest of these houses is the one in the center of the scene, just to the right of the church, which appears to have been enlarged several times during the 19th century. The main section of the house has two stories, and on the left is a one-story ell extending toward the church. There is another one-story addition in the rear of the house, which is connected to a barn.

The 1871 county atlas lists this house as the home of Robert R. Edwards, a local manufacturer who ran a small factory in Charlemont that produced scythe snaths. During the 1870 census, he was 52 years old and living in the town with his wife Lydia, presumably here at this house. At the time, his real estate was valued at $4,000, along with $1,000 for his personal estate, so his total net worth was somewhat higher than that of most of his neighbors. By 1879, his factory employed six workers, and produced a thousand snaths per week. Aside from his business, he served on the board of trustees for the neighboring Methodist Church, and he was also on the town’s library committee. He died in 1910 at the age of 92, so it seems plausible that he was still living here in this house when the first photo was taken.

The first photo depicts the scene here in Charlemont shortly before the dawn of the automobile age. Within just a few years, early “horseless carriages” would begin to make their appearances on the streets. One of the challenges for these pioneering motorists, though, was the generally poor condition of America’s roads. As shown in the first photo, Charlemont’s Main Street was a muddy dirt road, with plenty of ruts left behind by many horse-drawn wagons.

Because of conditions like these, by the early 20th century Massachusetts began upgrading its road network, including the creation of the Mohawk Trail, which was formally designated in 1914. This scenic route, which still exists today as the western part of Massachusetts Route 2, links the northern Connecticut River Valley with the northern Berkshires. Main Street in Charlemont became part of this route, and the town center is the approximate midpoint between Greenfield and North Adams.

Today, notwithstanding the upgrades to the road, this scene has remained well-preserved more than 125 years after the first photo was taken. The center of Charlemont retains much of its historic character, and many of the buildings in the first photo are still standing, including Robert Edwards’s house and the Methodist Church. The church building has undergone significant interior changes, having been converted into a house in the 1960s, but its exterior is mostly the same, aside from the missing belfry. Both the church and the house, along with the other surrounding buildings, are now part of the Charlemont Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

North Main Street, Fall River, Mass

Looking north on North Main Street from the corner of Bank Street in Fall River, around 1914-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

Throughout the 19th century, Fall River was a prosperous textile manufacturing center. The city saw dramatic population growth during this time, particularly in the post-Civil War period. Between 1860 and 1900, the city grew nearly eightfold, from 14,000 to nearly 105,000, and by the turn of the century it was the third-largest city in Massachusetts, behind only Boston and Worcester.

However, the same textile industry that had brought such prosperity also led to the city’s decline, as mills closed and businesses relocated to the south starting in the 1920s. This, combined with a catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the downtown area in 1928, both hurt the local economy, and these problems were only exacerbated by the stock market crash at the end of the decade.

The first photo was taken in the final years of the textile industry’s heyday in Fall River, probably sometime between 1914 and 1920. The earliest possible date is 1914, when the Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank building was built on the far right side of the scene, at the corner of North Main and Bank Streets. The neighboring building to the left of it was also built in 1914, and in the first photo it was occupied by the Fall River Electric Light Company.

Just beyond the electric company building is the Mount Hope Block, which was perhaps the oldest building in the first photo. It was built in 1845, in the aftermath of a large fire two years earlier, and it was originally known as the Mount Hope House. At the time, it was one of two hotels in Fall River, and in 1847 a state gazetteer declared that “in the erection and furnishing no pains have been spared to make it a desirable place for any one disposed to spend a few days.” Later in the 19th century it was known as the Narragansett Hotel, and by the early 20th century it was the Evans House. The building initially occupied the entire length of the block between Bank and Franklin Streets, but the southern portion was demolished to build the bank and the electric company buildings, leaving only the northern half as shown in the first photo.

Beyond the Mount Hope Block, on the other side of Franklin Street, the largest building in the first photo is the Hotel Mellen. It opened in 1888, and was the city’s finest hotel throughout the first half of the 20th century. The building survived the 1928 fire, but it was subsequently gutted by a fire in 1943, leaving only the brick walls still standing. The hotel was rebuilt inside the brick shell of the old building, although the new one was six stories in height, rather than five.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, there is very little that survives from the first photo, especially in the foreground. The bank is still standing at the corner, but the former electric company building and the Mount Hope Block are both gone. Both of these buildings were here when the Downtown Fall River Historic District was created in 1983, but they were demolished at some point after that, and the site is now occupied by a large wing of the bank building. This facility still serves as the main offices of the Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank, which is now branded as BankFive.

Further in the distance, the reconstructed Hotel Mellen is also gone. The hotel closed around the early 1960s, and the building was converted into a temporary city hall after the old city hall building was demolished to build Interstate 195. The current Brutalist-style city hall was completed in 1976, and the old hotel was then demolished soon after. Beyond the Hotel Mellen, there are several surviving buildings from the first photo, but for the most part this side of North Main Street has undergone signficiant changes, unlike the right-hand side of the street, which has been better-preserved over the years.