City Hall, Albany, New York

City Hall on Eagle Street in Albany, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image from Albany Chronicles (1906).

The scene around 1900, with a new City Hall. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

City Hall in 2019:

Albany is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and over the years its municipal government has occupied several different buildings, starting with the Stadt Huys in the 17th century. Dutch for city hall, this name—and building— survived long after the English took control of the former Dutch colony. A new Stadt Huys was built in 1740, and it remained in use until the early 19th century. It also temporarily functioned as the state capitol, from 1797 until Albany’s first purpose-built capitol was completed in 1809.

The city government followed the state government to the new building, and for several decades it served as both the state capitol and as city hall. However, its small size soon became inadequate for the two governments, and in 1832 the city built a new City Hall nearby, on the east side of Eagle Street roughly diagonal to the capitol. The building, which is shown in the first photo here, was designed by prominent local architect Philip Hooker. The exterior was built of white marble, and it featured a Greek Revival design, with Ionic columns supporting the pediment above the front entrance and a dome at the top of the building. It was one of Hooker’s last commissions, and was completed just four years before his death. Over the course of his long career he designed a number of important buildings in Albany, including the First Church, the 1809 capitol, and the Albany Academy, which stands across the street from here.

This City Hall remained in use for nearly a half century, but it was ultimately destroyed in a fire on February 10, 1880. The city subsequently hired famed architect Henry H. Richardson to build a new City Hall here on the same spot. Richardson was, at the time, also involved in the construction of the new state capitol building. He was one of several architects who worked on the capitol over the span of 31 years, and its final design reflected this mix of styles. However, his design for City Hall was entirely his own, and it stands as an excellent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style that he pioneered.

Thanks to Richardson’s influence, Romanesque architecture was popular for public buildings during the 1880s, and City Hall includes many of the style’s typical features. These include narrow windows, rounded arches above the windows and entryway, asymmetrical facades with a tower in the corner, and a rusticated exterior with contrasting light and dark-colored stones. The majority of City Hall’s exterior is granite from Milford, Massachusetts, and the trim is brownstone from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, which was one of Richardson’s preferred building materials. Overall, the most distinctive feature of city hall is the 202-foot tower, which rises above the southwest corner of the building. Although Romanesque in its appearance, some architectural historians have viewed the tower as an early hint of modern architecture, with its emphasis on vertical lines.

The new building was completed in 1883, and it is shown in the second photo a few decades later, around the turn of the 20th century. The photo was taken from the grounds of the recently-finished state capitol, presumably from one of the walkways, since the sign in the foreground warns pedestrians to keep off the grass. On the far left side of the photo is State Hall, a state office building that was built in 1842. It is also visible in the first photo, and its Greek Revival design echoes that of the old City Hall. On the far right side of the photo, opposite Maiden Lane (now Corning Place), is a four-story brick commercial block that was likely built around the 1860s or 1870s.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. City Hall is still standing with few exterior alterations, and it is still in use by the city government. From this angle, perhaps the only noticeable difference is near the top of the tower, where clock faces were added around the 1920s. The neighboring buildings on either side of the photo are also still standing today, although State Hall was extensively renovated in the early 20th century and is now occupied by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. Because of their historical and architectural significance, both this building and City Hall were added to the National Register of Historic Places, in 1971 and 1972 respectively.

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.

Mount Holyoke Summit House and Inclined Railway, Hadley, Massachusetts

The inclined railway leading up to the Summit House on Mount Holyoke, around 1867 to 1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, the summit of Mount Holyoke was the site of one of the first mountaintop hotels in the United States. At just 935 feet in elevation, it is not a particularly tall mountain, yet it rises high above the surrounding landscape in the otherwise low, flat Connecticut River valley. It is part of the Holyoke Range, a narrow ridgeline that runs east to west for about eight miles. This, in turn, is a sub-range within the much longer Metacomet Ridge, a traprock ridge that extends from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to just south of the Massachusetts-Vermont border.

Mount Holyoke is not the highest peak in the Holyoke Range, as it stands nearly 200 feet lower than Mount Norwottuck. However, it forms the western end of the ridge, with the Connecticut River passing through a narrow gap between Mount Holyoke and the Mount Tom Range. This prominent location makes it a major landmark for travelers in the river valley, and it also means that the summit has nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

The combination of dramatic views and proximity to large large population centers made Mount Holyoke a popular destination in the 19th century, and the first building at the summit was built in 1821. In the spirit of a traditional barn raising, it was built with the help of nearly 200 townspeople who climbed to the summit to lend a hand. Consuming, as one 19th century account described it, “a little water with a good deal of brandy in it,” the group completed the summit house in just two days. It was a modest structure, measuring just 18 by 24 feet, but it was dedicated with much fanfare, including a speech by Northampton native and U. S. Senator Elijah H. Mills.

This first building was soon joined by a rival establishment nearby, but the two buildings were consolidated under the same ownership in 1825. The business operated here for several more decades, and during this time the view from the top of the mountain was made famous by Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting The Oxbow, long regarded as a masterpiece of 19th century American landscapes.

However, despite the mountain’s growing popularity, the accommodations at the summit remained primitive until mid-century. This began to change in 1849, when Northampton bookbinder John French and his wife Frances purchased the property. They soon began making improvements, most significantly a new hotel at the summit, which was completed in 1851. It was named the Prospect House, and it had two stories, with a dining room, sitting room, and office on the first floor, and six guest rooms on the second floor. Above the second floor was a cupola, which was equipped with a telescope. The hotel was later expanded several times, but this original 1851 structure still survives as part of the present-day building.

In addition to constructing a more substantial building, French also improved access to the summit. Prior to his ownership, it was relatively easy to reach the spot where these two photos were taken, whether on foot or by carriage. In terms of elevation, this spot is more than halfway up the mountain, but from here the slope becomes significantly steeper, as is made particularly evident in the first photo. The only options for visitors during the first half of the 19th century were either to take the long, winding, narrow carriage road to the summit, or hike the short but steep path up the mountainside, gaining over 350 feet in elevation in just 600 horizontal feet.

Neither option was ideal for most visitors, and the situation also made it difficult for French to bring supplies up the mountain. Even water had to be either carted or carried up to the summit, requiring him to sell it for around three to five cents per glass, or about $1.00 to $1.50 today. However, in 1854 he solved both problems with the construction of an inclined railway. It began here at this spot, next to French’s residence, which was known as the Halfway House, and it rose to the top of the mountain. It was originally powered by a stationary horse here at the base, although in 1856 French switched to steam power. The railway itself was rebuilt several times, but it had largely assumed its final form by 1867, as shown in the first photo. By then, the railway had two tracks, was completely enclosed, and brought its passengers directly into the basement of the hotel.

In the meantime, the hotel also grew, with the first major addition coming in 1861, when it was expanded to ten rooms. Then, in 1871 French sold the property to South Hadley businessman John Dwight. However, John and Frances French remained here to manage the hotel, and they continued in that role until their deaths in the 1890s. Then, the hotel was expanded even further in 1894, with the addition of a large wing on the south side of the building. This increased the hotel’s capacity to 40 guests, along with a dining room that could seat 200 people.

By then, the hotel had several local competitors on the nearby Mount Tom Range, with the Eyrie House atop Mount Nonotuck, and the Summit House on Mount Tom. However, both of these were plagued by fires, which was a constant danger for wood-frame buildings on isolated mountaintops. The Eyrie House, built in 1861 and later expanded, burned in 1901, and the same fire also destroyed the partially-built structure of what would have been a new hotel. The Summit House on Mount Tom faced similar problems, with the original 1897 one burning in 1900, and its replacement suffering the same fate in 1929.

However, although older than the other nearby summit houses and built of similar materials, the hotel here on Mount Holyoke managed to avoid catastrophic fires. It faced different challenges, though, most significantly the declining popularity of mountaintop hotels in general. John Dwight died in 1903, the property was subsequently acquired by a group of prominent locals, including Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner. The new owners made significant improvements, including electricity and modern plumbing. The railway was also electrified, and the first automobile road to the summit opened in 1908.

Skinner would ultimately acquire full ownership of the hotel, and he continued to modernize it throughout the early 20th century. It continued to face challenges though, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression, but the hotel was ultimately closed after the September 1938 hurricane. The older section of the building survived, but the storm destroyed the large 1894 addition. A year later Skinner donated the property to the state, and it became the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.

Both the hotel and the inclined railway deteriorated after the park was established, and much of the roof over the railway was destroyed in a heavy snowstorm in 1948. The remains of the railway were removed in 1965, and the hotel itself was also threatened with demolition around this time. Despite many years of neglect, though, the building was ultimately restored in the 1980s, and it is now a museum.

Today, nearly all of the historic 19th century mountaintop hotels in the northeast are gone, most having been lost to fire, neglect, or both. However, the Summit House on Mount Holyoke is still standing as one of the few surviving examples. This scene has changed considerably since the first photo was taken around 150 years ago, including the loss of the railway and the significant tree growth on the previously bare slopes, but the Summit House is still visible from this spot.

Mount Holyoke Halfway House, Hadley, Mass

The Halfway House on the northern slope of Mount Holyoke in Hadley, around 1867-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

For the past two centuries, the view from the top of Mount Holyoke has been one of the most celebrated mountaintop scenes in New England. Although only 935 feet above sea level, the traprock mountain rises abruptly from the low valley floor, providing nearly 360-degree views of the Connecticut River and the surrounding countryside. As a result, the mountain has drawn countless visitors over the years, and its view has been the subject of many works of art, including one of the most iconic American landscape paintings, Thomas Cole’s The Oxbow.

During the Romantic era of the early 19th century, a new emphasis on nature helped to spur interest in landscapes and scenery. Mountains, which had previously been regarded as impediments to travel, became destinations in their own right, leading to a proliferation of mountaintop hotels, particularly here in the northeast. Among the first of these was a small cabin that was built at the summit of Mount Holyoke in 1821. A second, rival structure was built a few years later, but it would be another three decades before a real hotel was built at the summit.

In 1849, Northampton bookbinder John French and his wife Frances purchased the property at the summit, and soon began construction on a new, more substantial structure. Completed in 1851 and named the Prospect House, the hotel was two stories in height, with a dining room, sitting room, and office on the first floor, and six guest rooms on the second floor.

French originally intended to live in the hotel year-round, but the windswept summit proved too cold and isolated in the winter, so in 1852 he and his family moved into a house on the northern slope of the mountain, shown here in the upper right side of both photos. It was known as the Halfway House, and in terms of elevation it is just over halfway from the valley floor to the summit. However, beyond here the climb becomes significantly more difficult. Up to this point, it is a steady but moderate ascent, but after the Halfway House the most direct route to the summit is up a steep slope, gaining over 350 feet in elevation in just 600 feet.

When the Prospect House opened, the only way up to the hotel from the Halway House was either by riding along a winding, narrow carriage road, or by climbing the short but steep path to the summit. Not only was this challenging for visitors to reach the hotel, but it also made it difficult for French to bring supplies. With no springs anywhere near the summit, water was a particularly scarce commodity, as it all had to be carted or carried up these same routes. As a result, visitors were charged for the water that they drank, paying between three and five cents per glass, or about $1 to $1.50 today. In addition, other liquid refreshments sold for considerably higher on the mountain than elsewhere.

In order to solve these problems, in 1854 French built an incline railway from here at the Halfway House to the summit. It was originally powered by a stationary horse, but two years later French replaced it with a steam engine. The entire railway was 600 feet in length, and by the late 1860s it was completely enclosed by a wooden shed. These two photos were taken from around the spot where the railway began, and from here it brought visitors directly into the basement of the Prospect House, allowing them to reach the hotel without even stepping outside.

John French expanded the hotel in 1861, and in 1867 he added a second track to the railway. Throughout this time, he and Frances resided at the Halfway House. The 1870 census shows them here with their 21-year-old daughter Frances. At the time, they also had three employees who lived here with them, including a clerk, a domestic servant, and a teenager who was listed as a “boy of all work.” The census listed the value of French’s real estate at $20,000, plus a personal estate valued at $8,000, for a total net worth equivalent to around $575,000 today.

French ultimately sold the hotel a year later in 1871 to South Hadley businessman John Dwight. However, Dwight retained John and Frances to manage the hotel, and they continued to live here in this house. The 1880 census lists them here along with a number of employees, including a telegraph operator, two cooks, a waiter, and an engineer. However, it seems unlikely that they would have all lived together in this small house, so they may have lived in other nearby buildings, or perhaps even in the hotel itself.

John French lived here until his death in 1891, and Frances until she died in 1899. By then, the hotel had been expanded even further. with an 1894 addition that gave the building a capacity of 40 guests. However, despite this growth the hotel entered a decline in the early 20th century. It was eventually acquired by wealthy Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner in 1915, and he set about modernizing the building. Despite these improvements, though, the the heyday of mountaintop hotels had passed, and the Great Depression further compounded the problem. Then, the 1938 hurricane caused substantial damage to the hotel, requiring the demolition of the 1894 addition.

Skinner ultimately donated the hotel and its property to the state in 1939, with the land becoming the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park. However, the state showed little interest in the buildings on the property, which were largely neglected for many years. The inclined railway was last used in the early 1940s, and it was badly damaged after the roof of the shed collapsed in a heavy snowstorm in 1948. The remains of the railway were ultimately removed in 1965, and the hotel itself was also nearly demolished in the second half of the 20th century. However, it was instead restored, and it now serves as a museum.

Today, despite the loss of the railway, the Halfway House itself is still standing. It has been enlarged since the first photo was taken, with the addition of a second story above the rear part of the building, but otherwise it is still recognizable from its 19th century appearance. Although there are no longer any overnight accommodations at the summit, Mount Holyoke remains a popular destination. Most visitors still pass by the Halfway House on their way up the mountain, either by way of the auto road on the left side of the scene, or the hiking trail that crosses the road here before ascending steep slope to the summit.