Old New York State Capitol, Albany, New York

The old New York State Capitol, on the north side of State Street a little east of Eagle Street, around 1860-1880. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The scene in 2019:

Albany has been the capital of New York since 1797, but for the first decade or so the state legislature met in City Hall, which served as the temporary capitol building until a new one was built. Construction on the first purpose-built capitol, shown here in the first photo, began around 1806. It was designed by prominent Albany architect Philip Hooker, and it featured a brownstone exterior with marble trim. Its Federal-style design included a portico with Ionic columns here on the east facade, and a cupola atop the three-story building. On the top of the cupola was an 11-foot wooden statue of Themis, with a sword in her right hand and a balance in her left.

Overall, though, despite being the capitol of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country, this building was decidedly modest in its appearance, especially when compared to its contemporaries in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut. This was likely dictated more by budgetary constraints than to Hooker’s talent as an architect, but one major criticism of his design was the awkward inconsistency between the apparent two-story east facade, and the three stories on the other sides of the building. Aside from the portico and cupola, the rest of the exterior was largely devoid of ornamentation. Even then, many of these decorative elements were cheaply-made. Like the statue of Themis, the pediment and entablature was made of wood, and even the columns were deceptive in their appearance; instead of solid marble, they were brick with marble veneers. In total, the capitol only cost around $115,000 to build, equivalent to less than $2 million today.

The capitol was completed in 1809, and it served as the seat of the state government for the next 70 years. For the first few decades it also housed Albany’s city government, before a new city hall—which was also designed by Philip Hooker—was built nearby in 1831. However, it did not take long for the state to outgrow the capitol, even with the extra space after the city government moved out. In 1842, State Hall—now known as the New York Court of Appeals Building—was built nearby on Eagle Street to provide additional room for state offices, and in 1854 a separate State Library building was added behind the capitol.

Even with these expansions, though, the capitol was still generally considered to be inadequate, in terms of both aesthetic appearance and practical use. One legislator even went as far as to declare it to be “an offense to the eye and a reproach to the state.” There was clearly a need for a new capitol, but the issue also raised the question of whether Albany should even remain the capital city. Many other cities, including New York City, made overtures in hopes of becoming the new capital, but in the end the state legislature decided to remain in Albany, and in 1865 voted to acquire land for the construction of a new capitol building.

The new capitol was to be located directly behind the old one, and it would be everything that the old one was not: massive, architecturally grand, and expensive. It also took much longer to build; construction started in 1867, and it was not completed until 1899, after many delays and cost overruns. In the end, it cost $25 million to build, or about 400 times the cost of the old capitol, after adjusting for inflation. Because of these delays, the state legislature remained here in the old capitol for more than a decade after construction began, before moving into the new partially-completed building in 1879. The old building continued to be used for state offices for several more years, though, before finally being demolished in 1883.

Today, this scene bears no resemblance to its appearance when the first photo was taken about 150 years ago. The site where the old capitol once stood is now part of East Capitol Park, and in the background is its replacement, which continues to be used as the state capitol today. However, there are several surviving remnants from the old building, although they are not located in the present-day scene. During the demolition, the four Ionic capitals at the top of the columns were saved and given to Governor David Hill, who displayed them on the grounds of his estate on the outskirts of Albany. The property later became Wolferts Roost Country Club, but the capitals remained there until around the 1970s, when they were unceremoniously dumped into a ravine. Three of these were ultimately recovered in 2014, and at the time there was talk of returning them here to East Capitol Park, although this proposal does not appear to have been carried out yet.

Mount Holyoke Summit, Hadley, Mass

A group of visitors sitting on the rock ledges near the summit of Mount Holyoke in Hadley, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, Mount Holyoke is a traprock mountain on the Metacomet Ridge, which runs roughly south to north from Long Island Sound to near the Massachusetts-Vermont state line. Although relatively low in elevation compared to the mountains of the nearby Berkshires, the ridge runs through the middle of the Connecticut River Valley providing dramatic views from atop the steep rocky cliffs. At 935 feet in elevation, Mount Holyoke is a few hundred feet lower than the highest peaks on the ridge, but it offers perhaps the most impressive views of any mountaintop in southern New England. Here, the Connecticut River flows through a narrow gap between Mount Holyoke to the east and Mount Nonotuck to the west, and the river is visible for miles in both directions.

The river takes a meandering course through the flat river valley to the north of Mount Holyoke. The most famous of these meanders is the Oxbow, a three-mile-long U-shaped bend in the river at the base of the mountain. This prominent natural feature was the focal point of Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting The Oxbow, which portrays the scene from near this spot at the summit. His work went on to become one of the most important 19th century American landscape paintings, but the actual view here from Mount Holyoke changed dramatically only a few years later. In 1840, a flood cut through the narrow neck of land in the middle of the bend, and the main current of the river shifted to the new shorter route, turning the Oxbow into a side channel.

The first photo was taken only a few decades later, and it shows the wide river passing through the lower right side of the scene, with the circular Oxbow beyond it in the distance. By this point, Mount Holyoke was a popular destination for visitors, including the well-dressed group of women sitting on the rocks in the foreground. Directly behind them, barely visible on the far left side, is the corner of the Summit House, also known as the Prospect House. This hotel was built in 1851, replacing an earlier building on the site, and it provided accommodations and refreshments for guests who either hiked up or took the inclined railway to the summit. The man in the center of the photo could very well be hotel owner John French or one of his employees, as the hotel provided telescopes for mountaintop visitors.

The hotel steadily expanded during the second half of the 19th century, and at some point a porch was added to the northern side of the building, as shown in the present-day photo. However, by the early 20th century mountaintop hotels had passed their heyday. Thanks to modernization efforts of Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner, the Summit House remained viable for many years, but it ultimately closed after sustaining heavy damage in the 1938 hurricane. A large wing of the building, which had been added in 1894, was demolished after the hurricane, and in 1939 the property was donated to the state, becoming the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.

Today, this scene at the summit of Mount Holyoke is still easily recognizable from the first photo, despite a conspicuous lack of women in hoop dresses. The Summit House is still standing, after having been restored in the 1980s, and it is now open seasonally as a museum. Further in the distance, the Oxbow is still there, although somewhat less prominent than in the first photo.

Part of the reason for this might be because of the increased tree growth along its banks, but also because the Oxbow has been heavily altered in the 20th century. It is now closed off from the upstream side, with only a narrow channel on the downstream side to link it to the Connecticut River. Along with this, Interstate 91 now passes directly over it, and a large chunk of the land inside the curve has been carved out to create a marina. As a result, it bears little resemblance to the undisturbed natural feature that Cole painted nearly 200 years ago, but it remains an important landmark that has long been associated with this view from Mount Holyoke.

United First Parish Church, Quincy (2)

The United First Parish Church on Hancock Street in Quincy, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The church in 2019:

Quincy’s United First Parish Church was previously featured in one of the first blog posts on this site, which shows the building from the southwest corner. These two photos here show a similar view of the church, but from the northeast side, from directly in front of Quincy City Hall.

The church was completed in 1828, and it is constructed of locally-quarried Quincy granite, most of which was taken from quarries owned by the Adams family. It features a Greek Revival-style design that was common for New England churches of the era, including columns and a portico at the main entrance, and a multi-stage steeple above it. The design was the work of prominent Boston architect Alexander Parris, who is perhaps best remembered for Quincy Market, which had been completed two years before the church and shares some similar design elements.

At the time of its completion, the most notable parishioner of this church was President John Quincy Adams, whose family had help to finance its construction. His father, President John Adams, had also been a member of the same congregation, although he died in 1826, a year before construction began on this building. Both John and Abigail Adams were subsequently interred here in 1828, in a crypt beneath the church. Then, in 1852, John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa were also interred in the crypt, giving the church the unusual distinction of being the final resting place of two United States presidents.

The church was formally dedicated on November 12, 1828, less than two weeks after John Quincy Adams lost his re-election bid to Andrew Jackson. Contemporary newspaper accounts observed that the crowd at the dedication ceremony was smaller than expected due to the “uncommon tempestuousness” of the weather, but the Boston Courier nonetheless noted that:

The house was well filled, and the exercises were such as might be expected from the gentlemen who took part in them. The choir were well versed in their pieces, and performed with gratifying precision.

A number of local clergymen participated in the ceremony, and Quincy’s own pastor, the Reverend Peter Whitney, gave the sermon on Genesis 28:17, “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Among the hymns was one written by noted Boston poet and clergyman John Pierpont, who is probably best remembered today as the grandfather and namesake of Gilded Age financier John Pierpont Morgan. Reverend Pierpont’s hymn included many references to the late John Adams, particularly the final two stanzas, which read:

Here the water of salvation
Long hath gushed a liberal wave;
Here, a Father of our nation
Drank, and felt the strength, it gave.
Here he sleeps, his bed how lowly!
But his aim and trust were high;
And his memory, that is holy;
And his name, it cannot die.

While beneath this Temple’s portal
Rest the relics of the just,
While the light of hope immortal
Shines above his sacred dust,
While the well of life its waters
To the weary here shall give,
Father, may thy Sons and Daughters
Kneeling round it drink and live!

The first photo shows the church as it appeared sometime during the second half of the 19th century, probably around the late 1860s or 1870s. Since then, there have been some changes to this scene. The building in the distant right of the first photo was demolished at some point in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, and in 1924 the old Quincy Patriot Ledger building was constructed on the site. More recently, in the 2010s this section of Hancock Street in front of the church was closed to traffic, and it was reconstructed as a pedestrian-only plaza, as shown in the present-day scene.

Overall, though, remarkably little has changed with the church in the intervening 140 to 150 years, aside from an 1889 addition to the rear of the building, which is not visible in this view. It is still an active Unitarian Universalist congregation, and the building remains well-preserved on both the interior and exterior. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and since 1976 the church has been opened to the public for guided tours, including visits to the Adams family crypt.

Windsor House, Windsor, Vermont

The Windsor House on Main Street in Windsor, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

This hotel was built in 1836 in the center of Windsor, an important town located along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vermont. At the time, Windsor was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was one of the largest towns in the state by population, with over 3,000 residents during the 1830 census. By the following decade, it was also one of the first towns in the state with a railroad connection, when the Vermont Central opened in 1849 between Windsor and Hartford.

The Windsor House was one of the finest hotels in the area during the mid-19th century. In 1840, the Boston Traveler published a glowing letter to the editor by an anonymous writer who praised the hotel with the following description:

The Windsor House is a handsome brick edifice, 3 storys high. It contains 90 rooms; 10 private parlors, 6 of them having 2 sleeping rooms attached; 2 large parlors on the first floor; a dining hall; a reading room; 1 office. The halls on each floor are 15 feet wide. Besides the above rooms, there is a wing containing 30 sleeping rooms, and in the 4th story of the house is a large hall. The whole house is well furnished, and in the latest style, and will easily accommodate 150 persons.

The politeness of Mr. S. A. Coburn, the host, who for 7 or 8 years had charge of the Merrimack House, Lowell—the activity of his head clerk, Mr. Mitchell, (who was formerly attached to one of the first houses in New York,) the general attention of the domestics, and all the internal arrangements will insure a liberal public patronage. As a summer residence its location contains many advantages, which it might be well for such travellers as seek for a spot where they can breathe the pure mountain air, personally to make enquiry into. To all who have occasion to pass through that pleasant country, we can only say, that at the Windsor House they will find every attention and comfort which can be desired.

By the early 1840s, the hotel had evidently changed hands, as it was being run by Jehiel H. Simonds, who subsequently owned it for many years. During this time, the hotel apparently catered to both travelers and long-term residents, with the 1850 census showing 43 people living here, including Simonds himself and his wife Harriet. It is difficult to determine how many of these were hotel staff, but one of the resident employees here was Henry Parks, a 30-year-old African American who worked as a groom. He would later go on to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American units in the Civil War.

Simonds was still living here and running the hotel when the first photo was taken sometime around the 1870s. The 1880 census is much more helpful in determining the occupations of the people who lived here around this time. That year, there were a total of 17 people living here. Two were Jehiel and Harriet Simonds, and seven more were hotel employees, including a chambermaid, cook, porter, two waiters, and two laborers.

Of the eight boarders who were listed here during the 1880 census, five were from the Richards family, originally from Charlestown, New Hampshire. They included 60-year-old Harriet Richards and her son Jarvis, along with E. Jane Richards, who was the wife of Harriet’s son DeForest. DeForest, who would later become governor of Wyoming, was not living here at the time, but his two young children, Inez and J. DeForest, were here at the Windsor House with their mother, uncle, and grandmother. J. DeForest was five years old at the time, and he eventually went on to become an accomplished college football player at the University of Michigan, where he played halfback and quarterback during the mid-1890s.

In the meantime, Jehiel Simonds operated the Windsor House until his death in 1885 at the age of 83. The hotel remained in business for many years afterward, and it has long been a prominent landmark in downtown Windsor. It was threatened by demolition in the early 1970s, but it was ultimately preserved and repurposed, with a variety of commercial tenants. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is still standing today, nearly two centuries after it was completed. The neighboring 1824 Pettes-Journal Block on the far left side of this scene is also still standing, and there have been few exterior changes to either this building or the Windsor House since the first photo was taken.

Junction House, White River Junction, Vermont

The Junction House on South Main Street in White River Junction, around 1865-1878. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The village of White River Junction is located within the town of Hartford, Vermont, on the New Hampshire border at the confluence of the White River and Connecticut River. Hartford’s original town center is located about a mile to the west of here, along the banks of the White River, but by the second half of the 19th century much of the town’s commercial activity had shifted here to White River Junction, thanks in large part to the advent of rail travel.

The late 1840s saw a frenzy of railroad construction in Vermont, and this site became an important hub in the state’s rail network. By the end of the decade, four rail lines converged here, with the Vermont Central Railway from the northwest, the Connecticut River Railroad from the south, the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad from the north, and the Northern New Hampshire Railroad from the east. A fifth railroad, the short 14-mile Woodstock Railroad, subsequently opened to the west of here in 1875, connecting White River Junction to Woodstock, Vermont.

Prior to the construction of these rail lines, this part of Hartford was sparsely populated, with only a few farms and a one-room schoolhouse. One of these farmers was Samuel Nutt, who had lived here since 1817 and owned about 500 acres of land. The rail lines met right near his house, and he was quick to recognize the strategic location of this property. By 1849 he had purchased the Grafton House hotel in nearby Enfield, New Hampshire, dismantled it, and rebuilt it here in White River Junction, as shown in the first photo. It was named the Junction House, and it thrived on business from the railroads, providing both meals and overnight accommodations for travelers.

Throughout the 1850s, advertisements for the Junction House regularly appeared in local newspapers, promising “Meals in readiness on the arrival of each train of Cars” along with “Horses and Carriages to Let.” One newspaper, the Independent Democrat of Concord, New Hampshire, published glowing remarks about the hotel in 1852 while describing a short layover here at White River Junction:

Here, being informed that we had half an hour’s waiting to do for the up-river train, most of our company—ourself in particular—went over to the Junction House, situated a few rods from the Depot, where we found a well-set and well-furnished table, at which we replenished the inner man to our hearts’—perhaps we should say bowels’—content. The Junction House is a new, commodiously built house, kept by Mr. H. F. Willis, who understands himself and the wants of his guests.

Three years later, the Vermont Phoenix of Brattleboro provided similar praise:

The “Junction House” at White River Junction, is one of the neatest and best managed hotels we have ever visited in Vermont; and, what is of more consequence to the proprietor, it does a capital business. Being favorably located for public travel it receives and entertains the travellers of three trains which have their terminus nightly at the Junction. Col. Samuel Nutt is the popular landlord who does the honors of the house, and he is very efficiently assisted by Mr. Wm. H. Witt, formerly of this village. The journey to Montpelier is made exceedingly pleasant and convenient by stopping over night under such care and with such excellent keeping.

Along with serving travelers, though, the hotel was also a meeting place for locals. During the 1850s and 1860s it was used for a variety of events, including railroad shareholder meetings, agricultural society meetings, public auctions, and nominating conventions for political parties. Most of these political conventions were for local and congressional district races, but the 1856 Republican state convention was held here in White River Junction, in a tent near the hotel. The event drew over two thousand attendees, but not all approved of the location, with the Middlebury Register writing:

We regret to close by hoping that the people of this state will never be called again to White River Junction for a similar purpose. The location is absurdly inconvenient, and a good many complaints of petty extortion at the Junction House, have reached our ears. One dollar for a hard dinner, at a Mass Convention of plain farmers, is cutting it rather fat.

By this point, Samuel Nutt was no longer running the hotel. He sold it earlier in 1856 to C. S. Hambleton, who was evidently responsible for making the attendees pay a dollar for dinner. Although it seems trivial now, this was a substantial amount of money at the time, equivalent to nearly $30 today. This controversy aside, the hotel continued to prosper in the years that followed.

However, in 1863 the owner at the time, Asa T. Barron, faced some legal trouble, first when one of the boarders accused him of assault. He was ultimately absolved after it was discovered that the boarder had instigated the disturbance and Barron had acted out of self defense. Just a few months later, though, Barron faced more serious trouble when he sold liquor here despite the state’s strict prohibition laws. He was found guilty of 36 violations, for which he was fined $360.

Barron continued to run the Junction House throughout the 1860s and 1870s, and the first photo was almost certainly taken during his ownership. It shows the view from near the railroad depot, looking southwest across the tracks. The village was still only lightly developed at the time, and the photo shows a gravel bank on the side of the hill beyond the hotel. An 1869 map of the village shows only a handful of buildings along this section of South Main Street, and most of these appear to have been houses, with the exception of the Junction House and a nearby store that was operated out of a converted farmhouse.

The original Junction House stood here until 1878, when it was destroyed by a fire on the morning of August 10. The fire began in the kitchen, and it soon spread throughout the building. Without any local fire companies, it took about an hour for firemen and equipment to arrive by train from Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire. By this point, the hotel was beyond saving, but the firemen were able to prevent it from spreading to other nearby structures.

The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damage to the property, only about half of which was insured. Apparently, not everyone saw the fire as a tragedy, though. Writing just over a decade later in History of Hartford, Vermont, July 4, 1761-April 4, 1889, author William Howard Tucker argued that “It was a den of wickedness and its destruction should have been regarded by the senior proprietor thereof as the natural sequence of the unrestricted looseness that characterized his system of running this public house.”

Such disapproval notwithstanding, the Junction House was soon rebuilt. The new building was completed in 1879, and it was about one and a half times larger than the old one, featuring room for about 200 guests and a hall that could seat about a thousand. It was four stories in height, and it had two towers, which were located on either end of the front facade. Asa Barron still owned the hotel at the time, but he sold the property within about a year of the completion of the new building.

The new Junction House remained an important hotel into the 20th century. It was eventually expanded to 340 rooms, and in 1925 it was renamed the Hotel Coolidge in honor of the owner’s close friend, John C. Coolidge, the father of then-President Calvin Coolidge. Many evidently assumed that it had been named for the president, and the Caledonian Record of St. Johnsbury humorously observed that the change was done “probably in the hope that it will be quieter at night,” in reference to Calvin Coolidge’s famously silent demeanor.

Only a few weeks later, though, the newly-renamed hotel also burned. This time, it was caused by an oil heater that exploded on the second floor. As with the fire nearly a half century earlier, crews from New Hampshire arrived to fight the flames, but the building was a total loss. The fire also destroyed eight stores on the ground floor, but all of the guests were safely evacuated from the hotel and there was no loss of life.

As before, the hotel was quickly rebuilt, and this time it had a brick facade. Its exterior lacked the ornamentation of the previous hotel, but it featured two towers that echoed those of its predecessor. This building has now stood here for longer than the two earlier ones combined, and it remains the Hotel Coolidge nearly a century after it was completed. During this time, it has even hosted its namesake president in May 1929, when Coolidge spent several days at the hotel while on a fishing trip, several months after leaving the White House.

Today, with the decline of rail travel, White River Junction is no longer the bustling railroad hub that it once was. The area is still at the juncture of two major transportation routes, with Interstates 89 and 91 crossing just to the west of here, but the highways bypass the village itself. However, many of the historic buildings in the center of White River Junction have survived over the years, including the Hotel Coolidge and the surrounding commercial buildings, such as the large 1890 Gates Block on the right side of this scene, and the c.1910 Greenough Block, located beyond the hotel on the left side. All of these buildings, along with a number of others in the area, are now part of the White River Junction Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Willey House, Hart’s Location, New Hampshire (3)

The view looking north in Crawford Notch in the White Mountains, with the Willey House in the distance on the left, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show the view looking north in Crawford Notch, a long, narrow valley through the heart of the White Mountains. For many years, it was the only east-west route through the mountain range, and since the late 18th century it has been a vital transportation corridor. As explained in more detail in an earlier post, the first road through the notch was opened in 1774, and over the years it was steadily improved, eventually becoming part of the Tenth New Hampshire Turnpike in 1806.

To serve these travelers in the midst of the northern New Hampshire wilderness, a series of inns were opened in and around the notch. The first building within the notch itself was a house that was constructed in 1793. Later known as the Willey House, it stood in the left-center of the first photo, where the peak of its gabled roof is barely visible beyond a much larger three-story hotel that was constructed in 1845.

The house served as both a residence and a small inn, and it had several different owners in the early 19th century before being acquired by Samuel Willey in 1825. It was an isolated location in the middle of the notch, several miles away from the nearest neighbor, but Willey moved here in the fall of 1825, along with his wife Polly and their five young children. He spent much of the fall improving the property and preparing it for the long, cold northern New England winter, and the result was a modest but comfortable place for travelers to stop for food, drink, or shelter.

As the Willeys would soon discover, though, the house’s location at the base of a steep cliff made it susceptible to landslides. One occurred in June 1826, and it narrowly missed the house. Then, two months later, another one occurred during a heavy rainstorm on the night of August 28. This time, the house was completely encircled by the debris, although the house itself survived unscathed thanks to a low ledge just above it, which split the flow into two channels.

Unfortunately, though, the Willey family attempted to flee the house in the midst of the storm, evidently fearing that the house would be destroyed. However, in the darkness they unknowingly ran directly into the path of the slide, and all seven were killed, along with two hired hands who lived here with them. Searchers subsequently found six of the bodies, some of them badly mangled, but three of the Willey children were never recovered.

The sudden deaths of nine people, more than half of whom were children under the age of 13, quickly gained national attention. This helped to spur tourism to the White Mountains, and over the next few years many curious visitors came to Crawford Notch to see the Willey House, the aftermath of the landslide, and the surrounding wilderness. The story also became the subject of a now-lost painting by noted artist Thomas Cole, and a short story, “The Ambitious Guest,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

By the mid-19th century, the area was a popular destination thanks in large part to the publicity generated by the Willey disaster, and there were many hotels in the vicinity of Crawford Notch. These included the Willey House itself, which had been purchased by Horace Fabyan in 1845. He constructed a new, much larger hotel building adjacent to the old house, and it can be seen on the left side of the first photo. Both buildings stood here until nearly the end of the 19th century, but they were ultimately destroyed by a fire in September 1899.

Today, the site of the house and hotel is now the visitor center and park headquarters for the Crawford Notch State Park. There is little evidence of the buildings that once stood here, although the location of the Willey House is now marked by a small stone monument. The road has also changed significantly since the first photo was taken some 150 years ago, and the narrow dirt path is now U.S. Route 302. Overall, the only thing from the first photo that has not changed is the surrounding landscape, which has been preserved as part of the state park. This includes the most prominent feature in both photos, the 2,804-foot Mount Willard, which dominates the background of the scene and marks the northern end of Crawford Notch.