Governor’s Office, Montpelier, Vermont

The governor’s office in the Vermont State House, around the 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The current Vermont State House was completed in 1859, and over the years it has remained remarkably well-preserved. On the interior, this includes the House and Senate chambers, along with the governor’s office, which is shown here in these two photos. The office is located on the second floor, in the northwest corner of the building, and it was originally occupied by Hiland Hall, who served as governor from 1858 to 1860.

The first photo was taken a little over a decade after the state house opened, and it shows the view from near the door that connects the office to the second floor lobby. The governor’s desk occupies the foreground, and in the lower left corner is the governor’s chair, known as the Constitution Chair. This chair was one of the original pieces of furniture in the room, having been given to the state in 1858 by Captain Horace B. Sawyer, a naval officer and Vermont native who had, many years earlier, served aboard the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812. The chair is made of timers from the famous ship, and it features the state seal, which is carved atop the chair.

Aside from the chair, another important feature in the first photo is the marble bust of Erastus Fairbanks, who served as governor from 1852-1853 and 1860-1861. It was the work of noted sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, and it was given to the state by Governor Fairbanks’s sons, Horace and Franklin, in 1872. Because of this, the sculpture’s presence here in the office provides an approximate date of the first photo. Both of the Fairbanks brothers were involved in state politics, with Franklin serving as Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives from 1872 to 1874. Then, from 1876 to 1878, Horace served as governor, where he was able to sit here at this desk, directly across from the bust of his father.

For more than a century, from before the Civil War until after World War II, the Republican Party dominated state politics here in Vermont. During this time, the state had fifty consecutive Republican governors, starting in 1855 with Stephen Royce, whose portrait hangs on the wall on the far right side of the first photo. Not until 1963, following the election of Philip H. Hoff, would the state have a Democrat as governor. Part of the reason for this long string of electoral successes was the Mountain Rule, an agreement within the party that nominations for governor would alternate every two years between candidates from the eastern and western halves of the state. This helped maintain party unity, while also ensuring a balance of power between Vermont’s two major regions.

Today, nearly 150 years after the first photo was taken, this room is no longer the governor’s primary office. Since 1971, the governor’s working office has been located in the Pavilion, a building adjacent to the state house. However, this office here in the state house continues to serve as the governor’s ceremonial office, and it typically used during legislative session. Overall, though, the room has retained its historic appearance throughout this time. The Constitution Chair is still here, as is the marble bust of Erastus Fairbanks. Even the portrait of Stephen Royce is still in the office, although it is slightly further to the right from its location in the first photo, and it lies just outside the frame of the 2019 photo.

Senate Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

The Senate chamber in the Vermont State House, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

Vermont originally had a unicameral legislature, but in 1836 the state added a senate, which consisted of 30 members elected from Vermont’s 14 counties. Each county was guaranteed one senate seat, and the remaining seats were allocated to the counties based on population. By contrast, the Vermont House of Representatives was comprised of one representative from each town, regardless of population, which gave a disproportionately large voice to the state’s many sparsely-populated towns. In this sense, representation in the Vermont state legislature was essentially the opposite of the U. S. Congress, where each state has two senators but a varying number of representatives.

The present state senate chamber, shown here in these two photos, has been in use since 1859, when the current state house was completed. It is located in the eastern wing of the building, and these two photos show the view looking down the central aisle from the rear of the chamber. Shortly after the state house opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published an article about the building, which included a lengthy description of the senate chamber:

The Senate Chamber . . . is elliptical in form, 46 by 38 feet, 22 feet high, adorned with Corinthian fluted columns, having carved capitals, supporting an entablature, from which springs a cove ceiling, continuing the outline of the ellipse.

This ceiling is moulded and enriched in panels, having counter curved heads ornamented in stucco, and bead and button mouldings in the beams, terminating in a moulded rim of elliptical form, surrounding yet other ornamental panels, with circular returns and ornaments in between, on the flat of the ceiling, converging to the centre piece, from which is hung a massive twelve light chandelier. The lobbies are adorned with fluted columns, having bases and Corinthian capitals, resting on a pedestal, and supporting an entablature and open balustrade of the gallery. In front of the balustrade and fitted between the rails and base is a neat marble-faced clock.

The lobbies are parallel to the curve of the room, returned by a quarter circle to the wall. The President’s desk is of solid black walnut, of highly ornamental pattern, designed by the Architect especially for the place, and made, as was also the Secretary’s table, and the furniture and upholstery of the entire building, by Blake & Davenport, of Boston, under the immediate direction of John A. Ellis. The desk is curved and irregular in outline, paneled and cvarved, and has at each projection in front a carved buttress, and in the centre panel the coat of arms of the State of Vermont is elegantly carved.

The Senators’ desks and chairs are designed and arranged so as to give ample space for the comfort and convenience of Senators. The furniture throughout the building is of black walnut. The carpeting, which was furnished by Lovejoy & Wood, of Boston, is excellent in quality and well adapted to the various rooms.

The first photo was taken within a decade or after this description was published. Like the nearby House of Representatives chamber, the Senate chamber has remained largely unchanged since then. In this scene, the only significant difference is the addition of two computer desks in front of the rostrum.

The Senate itself has also retained the same basic structure over the years, unlike the House, which was dramatically altered by reapportionment in 1965. The only major difference is that the Senate districts no longer strictly follow county lines; some districts include towns from neighboring counties, in order to ensure equal representation. In addition, two of the smaller counties, Essex and Orleans, have been combined into a single district, making 13 total districts. However, as was the case in the 19th century, these districts continue to have multiple members based on population. They range from the three smallest, which only have one senator each, to the largest, Chittenden, which has six senators in its district.

House of Representatives Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

The House of Representatives chamber in the Vermont State House, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The current Vermont State House opened in 1859, replacing an earlier building on the same site that had been gutted by a fire in 1857. The layout of the building consists of two floors, with most of the major government functions here on the second floor. The east wing of the building houses the Senate chamber, and the ceremonial governor’s office is on the opposite side of the building in the west wing. In the center of the building, located beneath the dome, is the House of Representatives chamber, which is shown in this scene looking down the central aisle toward the rostrum.

This building was used for the first time during the October 1859 session of the state legislature. Shortly after it opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published a lengthy article about the state house, including the following description of the House chamber:

The Representatives’ Hall is 69 9 by 67 feet, 31 feet high, and is in the form of the letter D. The walls are relieved by pilasters fluted, having bases supported by pedestals and carved capitals, of the Corinthian order, supporting an enriched entablature, from which springs a cove to the flat ceiling, terminating in a moulded border and stopped at each intersection by a moulded pendant. The panels of the cove and ceiling are double sunk, exceedingly well proportioned, moulded and ornamented, and are continued in curves parallel to that of the wall. The centre piece is very graceful in outline and is eighteen feet in diameter, and bears unmistakable signs of originality.

The rear end of this room is finished like the sides, but without the cove at the top of the entablature, and by the skilful treatment of the Architect, has not the heavy stolid appearance of the attic base usually accompanying the natural order of finish. It has neat plain panels proportioned to the place, and in the centre one, directly over the Speaker’s desk, is placed the Coat-of-Arms of the State, carved in wood, gilded and painted, with scroll work at base. It was executed by John A. Ellis of Cambridge, Mass., and is a piece worthy of any artist. The various cornices and panels in the ceiling of the room are enriched with stucco ornaments just sufficient for an easy relief and to give a graceful effect to the whole.

The rear of the Hall has a raised platform, 7 feet wide and 67 feet long, approached by a flight of four stairs on either side of the Speaker’s Desk, protected in front by a black walnut moulded rail rising 6 inches above the floor. The seats on this platform, for the use of the Senate in Joint Assembly, were designed for the place and are appropriate to it. The Bar of the House is 17 by 38 feet, and from it rises at each side the inclined plane, on which are secured the Representatives’ desks and chairs. These are placed on circles, corresponding to the shape of the room. By the arrangement of desks, each Representative has ample room for writing and speaking. The Speaker’s and Clerk’s desks, tho’ plainer in style than that of the President of the Senate, are well proportioned and beautiful in finish.

Although not specifically mentioned in this description, perhaps the most notable decorative feature in the chamber was the massive portrait of George Washington, which is seen here in these two photos. It was painted in 1837 by George Gassner, based on an earlier painting by Gilbert Stuart, and it had originally hung in the old state house. It was rescued from the building during the 1857 fire, and it was subsequently placed in the House chamber of the new state house, where it has remained ever since.

At the time of this building’s completion, the state had 239 representatives, with one representing each town, regardless of population. This meant that Burlington, with an 1860 population of 7,713, had the same representation here as Glastenbury, which had a population of 47. This system would remain in place for the next century, even as the imbalanced worsened, with the state’s cities growing larger, and the small towns getting smaller. Eventually, though, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in the 1960s that established the one man, one vote principle for state legislatures, requiring Vermont and many other states to reapportion their legislatures based on population.

The first photo was taken within about a decade or two after the building was completed, probably in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Perhaps the most notable representative during this period was John Calvin Coolidge, who represented the town of Plymouth from 1872 to 1878. At the time, Coolidge had two young children at home, including his son Calvin, the future president, who was born in 1872. Many years later, the elder Coolidge would serve in the state senate from 1910 to 1912, and his last government position was as a justice of the peace, in which capacity he swore in his son as president in 1923.

Today, around 150 years after the first photo was taken, the House chamber now has far fewer desks for representatives. This was the result of the 1965 reapportionment, when the state legislature reduced the size of the House from 246 to 150, with electoral districts that were based on population rather than town boundaries. Overall, though, the House chamber has remained remarkably well-preserved in its original appearance. It is still in active use by the Vermont House of Representatives, and it is one of the oldest state legislative chambers in the country that has survived without any major remodeling.

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.