Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (2)

The Hotel Rockingham on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1895-1904. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this building dates back to 1883, when it was constructed by local businessman Leverett T. Lovell. Initially, it was used for retail and office space, but in 1895 it opened as the Hotel Rockingham. In these early years, much of the hotel’s business was from railroad travelers, as Bellows Falls was a busy railroad junction, and the hotel was located just a short walk from the passenger depot. However, the hotel also served long-term guests and boarders, with perhaps the most famous being Wall Street financier and Bellows Falls resident Hetty Green, who spent three or four weeks here during the summer of 1907.

Over time, the Hotel Rockingham eventually became primarily a rooming house, and it fell into decline by the mid-20th century. It finally closed in the 1960s, but it was later rehabilitated as the Canal House, with commercial storefronts on the ground floor and low-income elderly housing on the upper floors. This project included the restoration of the original hotel building, along with a large, six-story addition on the rear of the building, facing Canal Street.

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, not much has changed here on the Rockingham Street side of the hotel. It has survived a number of major fires that destroyed nearby buildings, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century hotel building. Several of its neighbors are also still standing further in the distance, including two wood-frame commercial buildings that were constructed around 1870. The only major addition to this scene since the first photo was taken is the fire station on the far right side of the present-day photo, which was built in 1904. All of these buildings, including the Hotel Rockingham itself, are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Hotel Rockingham, Bellows Falls, Vermont (1)

The Hotel Rockingham, on Rockingham Street in Bellows Falls, around 1900-1920.  Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The building in 2018:

This building was constructed in 1883 by Leverett T. Lovell, a local businessman whose name is still visible in the slate shingles of the mansard roof. It originally housed a mix of commercial tenants, and an 1885 map shows that it was occupied by a harness shop, a print shop, two millinery shops, and a dentist’s office. However, in 1895 the building became the Hotel Rockingham, as shown in the first photo, which was probably taken within about a decade or two after the hotel opened.

Not long after the hotel opened, manager Lewis T. Moseley, faced legal trouble as a result of the state’s prohibition laws. Long before nationwide Prohibition, Vermont became one of the first states to outlaw the sale of liquor in 1853, and these laws remained in effect throughout the rest of the 19th century. They were not often consistently enforced, though, and violations were evidently common. Here at the Hotel Rockingham, Moseley sold illicit liquor, but in December 1895 he was charged after several students at nearby Vermont Academy admitted to drinking here. The hotel was raided again just two weeks later, and officers discovered and seized several gallons of whiskey. However, Moseley argued that this was the same liquor that he had before the previous incident, and that he had not sold any since then and was planning on returning it to his supplier. This defense was apparently persuasive, because the court subsequently ordered the whiskey to be returned to him.

Aside from selling illegal alcohol to local students, the Hotel Rockingham was also popular as a railroad hotel. At the time, Bellows Falls was an important railroad junction, and many travelers stayed here, thanks to its proximity to the railroad station on the other side of the canal behind the hotel. However, the hotel also had some long-term guests, with the 1900 census showing six boarders who resided here. All were either single or divorced, and their occupations included two barbers, a veterinary surgeon, a dressmaker, and a railroad brakeman. In addition, eleven hotel employees lived here in the building, including a clerk, porter, chef, pastry cook, kitchen worker, three waitresses, two laundrywomen, and a young man who did “general work,” presumably as some sort of handyman.

A few years later, in 1907, the hotel had a particularly wealthy boarder in Hetty Green, the famous miser and financier who was the richest woman in America during the early 20th century. She owned a house nearby on Church Street, but during the summer of 1907 she and her daughter Sylvia spent about thee or four weeks living here at the Hotel Rockingham, rather than opening their house for a relatively short stay in town.

The Hotel Rockingham remained in operation throughout the first half of the 20th century. The village of Bellows Falls was hit by a number of catastrophic fires during this period, which destroyed many important downtown buildings, yet the hotel survived these threats. One such fire occurred on February 16, 1911, when a nearby store caught fire. The blaze spread from there, destroying three buildings and damaging two others, including the Rockingham. However, the damage was limited to $1,500, which was fully insured, and the hotel was soon repaired. Another major fire threatened the hotel on January 19, 1920. It began in a laundry at 63 Rockingham Street, and it destroyed two houses and a theater, causing about $75,000 in damage. The Hotel Rockingham was evacuated, but it sustained only minor damage from the flames.

Over time, the hotel fell into a decline, eventually becoming a rooming house before closing in the 1960s. However, the building was subsequently restored and expanded, with a six-story addition on the rear of the building facing Canal Street. Now known as the Canal House, it is a mixed-use property with commercial tenants on the first floor, and affordable housing for the elderly on the upper floors. From this view, very little has changed on the exterior besides the addition, and it stands as an important historic building in the village center, Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Robertson Paper Company, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Robertson Paper Company on Island Street in Bellows Falls, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the village of Bellows Falls was a thriving papermaking center, thanks to its position at a 52-foot drop in the Connecticut River. In 1802, a canal opened here, bypassing the falls and allowing riverboats to travel further upstream. Over time, this river traffic waned, but by mid-century the canal had been repurposed as a power canal, and a number of paper mills were built here.

Much of the industrial development was located on “the island,” a roughly 35-acre piece of land located between the river and the canal. This particular factory was built in 1891 for C. W. Osgood & Son, which produced papermaking machinery. The main floor of the building housed the machine shop, while the lower level, shown here in the foreground of this scene, was the company offices. The company went through several name changes, and over the next decade it was variously known as Osgood & Barker Machine Company and Bellows Falls Machine Company.

Then, in 1902, the owners of the Robertson Paper Company purchased the Bellows Falls Machine Company, and within a few years they had converted this building into a waxed paper factory. During the early 20th century, Robertson was one of the country’s leading producers of waxed paper, and this facility was steadily expanded with the construction of new buildings. By 1920, around the time that the first photo was taken, the factory included new buildings for shipping, storage, and the production of paper boxes, in addition to the original building here in this scene, which made the waxed paper.

The Robertson Paper Company remained in business here for many years, outlasting most of the other industries in Bellows Falls and becoming one of Vermont’s oldest paper manufacturers. However, the company ultimately closed in 1987, after more than 80 years here at this site. The factory buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and from 1992 to 2014 a portion of the property was used by another paper company.

The condition of the buildings steadily deteriorated over the years, though, with little maintenance or improvements. The town of Rockingham acquired the property in 2014, and by this point the buildings had missing bricks, lost mortar, rotting timbers, water damage, and deteriorating and collapsing roofs, along with other structural problems. The complex was still standing when the second photo was taken during the summer of 2018, but the buildings were ultimately demolished in the spring of 2019. The site is currently vacant, but it is slated for a redevelopment project involving a new commercial and industrial building here.

Brown Block and Elks Block, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The buildings at the northeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, around 1890-1905. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, downtown Bellows Falls suffered a series of devastating fires, many of which were located here at the Square. Many large brick buildings here, including the nearby Hotel Windham and the town hall on the other side of the street, have burned over the years. Ironically, though, the three wood-frame buildings visible in this scene have survived these fires, and they are still standing at the northeast corner of the Square, well over a century after they were built.

On the far left is the corner of a three-story commercial block that was built around 1820 and extensively modified in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, around the time that the first photo was taken, it was the home of Baldasaro’s Fruit Market. Just to the right of this building is the Exner Block, which is partially visible in this scene at 7-25 Canal Street. Built around the mid-19th century, it originally had two stories as shown in the first photo, but in 1905-1907 it altered and expanded to its current appearance.

The third wood-frame building here is the Brown Block, which occupies most of the left side of these photos. It was built in 1890 at 1-5 Canal Street, and it was originally owned by Amos Brown. It features distinctive Queen Anne-style architecture, which is uncommon for commercial buildings in Bellows Falls, including a turret on the right side of the building.

The Brown Block was heavily damaged by a fire that occurred here in the early morning hours of Christmas 1906. At the time, the building was occupied by a number of commercial tenants, including a fruit store, bakery, lunch room, a boot and shoe store, a cigar shop and restaurant, and a barber shop. In addition, there were several residents living in apartments on the upper floors. The fire gutted the Brown Block, but there was no loss of life, and the building was ultimately repaired.

Just to the right of the Brown Block is the Elks Block, which was built in the late 1880s or 1890s. By the time the first photo was taken it had a variety of tenants, as shown by the assortment of signs on the front of the building. These included a restaurant, a boot and shoe store, a drugstore, and a photographic studio. However, like its neighbor, this building would also be damaged by a fire. It was one of several buildings that burned on March 26, 1912, in the same fire that also destroyed the Hotel Windham. The building was gutted and the roof was destroyed, but it was subsequently rebuilt.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene still looks largely the same. The exterior of the Brown Block is particularly well-preserved, and even the ground-floor storefront has retained its original appearance. The two lower floors of the Elks Block also look the same today, although the ornate cornice at the top of the building is gone, having been replaced after the 1912 fire. The exterior of the third floor was also probably rebuilt after the fire, which would explain why the bricks are a different shade than the lower floors. Aside from the Brown Block and Elks Block, the other two buildings in this scene are also still standing today, and all four properties are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Bellows Falls Stage House, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Bellows Falls Stage House, at the northeast corner of Bridge Street and the Square in downtown Bellows Falls, around the 1840s or 1850s. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, Bellows Falls was the site of the first bridge across the Connecticut River, at a spot just to the east of here, where the river passes through a narrow gorge. The bridge opened in 1785, and by the early 19th century the village occupied an important position along the major trade routes from Boston to Montreal and other points to the north. This led to several different hotels here in the center of the village, in order to serve the stagecoach traffic that passed through here.

Among these hotels was the Bellows Falls Stage House, shown here in the first photo at the corner of Bridge Street and the Square. It was constructed by Colonel Ethan B. Webb and Solomon Snow in 1816, and it was known as Webb’s Hotel. However, they sold it just four years later to John Robertson, and it became Robertson’s Hotel. It would see several more name and ownership changes in the first half of the 19th century, but it was most commonly known as the Stage House, because of its popularity as a stop on the stagecoach routes.

The hotel originally had two stories, but a third story was added in 1834 after Colonel Russell Hyde purchased the property. According to the 1907 book History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont, the first photo was taken around this time, but this is highly improbably, since daguerreotypes were not even invented until 1839. In all likelihood, it was probably taken sometime around the late 1840s or early 1850s. The same book also names the people who are sitting on the front porch in the photo, as identified by Colonel Hyde’s daughter. These identifications probably came many years after the photo was taken, and may or may not be accurate, but according to the book they are, from left to right, “Hon. William Henry, Judge Horace Baxter, William ‘Fred’ Hall, Col. N. T. Sheafe and the boy ‘Jimmie’ Mead.

The last owner of the Stage House was Charles Towns, who purchased it in July 1859. He did not have it for very long, though, because it was destroyed in a fire on March 14, 1860. It began in a nearby drugstore, and it spread throughout much of the village center, burning a print shop, the post office, a lawyer’s office, and several stores, along with the hotel and its stables. It caused an estimated $40,000 in damage, about $1.1 million today, but there was evidently no loss of life in the fire.

Charles Towns later built a new, much larger hotel on this site. Originally known as the Towns Hotel, and later the Hotel Windham, it opened in 1873. However, it also suffered from a series of fires, burning in 1899, 1912, and 1932. After the last fire, the ruins were completely demolished. A new Hotel Windham was completed here in 1933, and it still stands here today. Although no longer in use as a hotel, it remains an important commercial block in the center of the village, and it is a contributing property in the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Hotel Windham, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Towns Hotel, later known as the Hotel Windham, on the east side of the Square in downtown Bellows Falls, in the aftermath of an April 12, 1899 fire. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The rebuilt hotel around 1900-1912. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The hotel in the aftermath of a March 26, 1912 fire. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The hotel around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

This spot here, at the southeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, has been the site of a hotel since the early 19th century. During this time, though, these hotels have been affected by a series of devastating fires. The first hotel was built here in 1816, and it was originally known as Webb’s Hotel, although it later became the Bellows Falls Stage House. This building burned in 1860, and in 1873 a new one, Towns Hotel, was built here on the site.

The Towns Hotel, named for owner Charles W. Towns, sustained heavy damage in a fire on April 12, 1899. Guests in the building had begun smelling smoke around 7:30 in the evening, but the fire smoldered for more than an hour before it was located under the fourth floor hallway. At first, it seemed as though it had been extinguished, but it had begun spreading into the empty space under the roof, and it ultimately set the upper floors ablaze. As shown in the first photo, the fourth floor was almost completely destroyed, and the third floor and parts of the second floor were completely gutted. The ground floor was largely untouched by the fire itself, but the stores here were flooded by all of the water that was poured into the building.

Following this fire, the hotel was rebuilt and expanded as the Hotel Windham, with a total of 75 guest rooms by the time the second photo was taken in the early 1900s. Then, it burned again in the early morning hours of March 26, 1912. The fire started in the adjacent Union Block, which is visible on the far left side of the second photo. It was evidently caused by a discarded cigarette, and it completely gutted the Union Block while also spreading to the Hotel Windham on the right and the Arms Block on the left.

According to early estimates, the total damage to the three buildings was about $150,000 to $200,000, and it displaced about 20 businesses and professional offices. There were 30 guests in the hotel at the time of the fire, but they were all evacuated with the help of the hotel employees, and there were no fatalities from any of the buildings. Part of the challenge for the responding firemen was the cold temperatures, which reached as low as ten degrees below zero, making it difficult to get water to the scene. By the time the fire was extinguished, the burned-out ruins were covered in ice.

The third photo was probably taken soon after the ice melted. No work had been done on the buildings yet, although several of the stores had already posted signs above their doors. One of the signs, above the Collins & Floyd jewelry store, informs customers of their temporary location, and another, above the Richardson Brothers shoe store, reads “Biggest Fire Yet. Particulars and Prices Later.”

All three of the damaged buildings were subsequently rebuilt. Because of the extent of its damage, the Union Block was completely reconstructed, becoming the three-story, gable-roofed building on the left side of the last two photos. The Arms Block to the left of it had comparatively less damage, and it was repaired along with the Hotel Windham. The fourth photo was probably taken soon after this work was completed, and it shows that the exterior of the repaired hotel was nearly identical to its appearance before the fire.

The building stood here for the next two decades, but on April 5, 1932 the hotel was again destroyed by a catastrophic fire. It started a little after midnight, apparently in an unoccupied room on the second floor, and it subsequently spread throughout the entire building, leaving little standing except for some of the brick exterior walls. All 44 guests were able to leave safely, though, most with their belongings, and the fire was successfully contained to just the hotel, preventing it from spreading to the neighboring buildings.

This time, the remains of the old 1873 building were completely demolished, and a new, somewhat smaller hotel was built on the site. This three-story brick, Colonial Revival-style hotel opened just over a year later, on May 1, 1933, and it is still standing here on this site. It remained the Hotel Windham for many years, although it later became the Andrews Inn by the 1970s.

Today, the Hotel Windham remains an important feature in the center of Bellows Falls. It is no longer used as a hotel, but it still features stores on the ground floor. The exterior remains well-preserved in its early 1930s appearance, and it recently underwent a restoration. The other buildings further to the left of the hotel are also still standing, including the Arms Block, which dates back to before the first photo was taken. Today, all of these buildings here are part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.