US Capitol, Washington, DC (3)

The view of the Capitol from the west side, around 1880-1897. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This scene shows the west portico of the Capitol, the side of the building that faces the Mall and the Washington Monument. As discussed in an earlier post, which shows the view from the east side, the Capitol has been in use since 1800, although it has undergone significant changes during this time. The building was burned by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812, and it was subsequently rebuilt. This work was completed in 1826, but the Capitol was much smaller at the time, consisting of only a low dome and the two small wings on either side. The north wing, visible immediately to the left of the dome in this scene, housed the original Senate chamber, while the House of Representatives was located in the south wing.

By the mid-19th century, Congress had outgrown the building, so in the early 1850s work began on a major expansion, with two new wings that extended the Capitol further to the north and to the south. The project included new chambers for both the House and the Senate, which opened in 1857 and 1859, respectively. These wings are only partially visible in this scene, with the present-day Senate chamber on the far left, and the House chamber on the far right. Aside from these wings, the project also included a new, much larger dome, which was completed in 1863 and topped with the 19.5-foot bronze Statue of Freedom, as shown in these photos.

With the completion of the dome, the Capitol largely assumed its present-day appearance. The first photo was taken several decades later, around the 1880s or 1890s, and very little has changed in this view since then. Today, the west portico is probably best known as the site of the presidential inauguration, which occurs here every four years on January 20. However, for most of the building’s history the event was held on the east portico, and it was not until the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan that it was held here on the west side. This was done in part as a cost-saving measure, and also as a way to allow for more spectators, with the mile-long Mall providing plenty of open space and views of the Capitol. With the exception of Reagan’s second inauguration, which was held in the Capitol Rotunda, every ceremony since then has been held here. Of these, Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 reportedly drew the largest crowd, with an estimated 1.8 million visitors gathering on the Mall.

Great Hall, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (2)

The Great Hall at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, around 1897. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Great Hall at the Library of Congress was previously featured in an earlier blog post, although these photos here show a different angle, facing east toward the entrance to the Main Reading Room. As with the rest of the building, the Great Hall features ornate Beaux-Arts architecture, and it is decorated with symbolic carvings and paintings.

Starting at the bottom of this scene are three arches, which lead to the Main Reading Room. The central arch was designed by sculptor Olin L. Warner, and it features two male figures: one young, representing the search for knowledge, and the other old, representing wisdom and reflection. Above these figures is a tablet inscribed with the names of the people involved in the construction of this building, and the tablet is flanked by a pair of eagles.

On the second floor, the ceiling is supported by pairs of Corinthian columns, connected by more arches. Above each pair of columns in the foreground is a small tablet with the name of a prominent author. From left to right in this scene, they are Cervantes, Hugo, Scott, and Cooper. Further in the distance is another row of columns, and above these are painted figures of women, personifying the different genres of literature. In this scene, from left to right, they are Lyrica, Tragedy, Comedy, and History, and they were all painted by artist George Randolph Barse Jr. Beyond these, at the top of the stairs in the center of the scene, is a mosaic of Minerva, representing learning and wisdom. At 15.5 feet in height, the mosaic is more than double life size, and it was the work of artist Elihu Vedder.

The first photo was taken around 1897, the same year that this building opened. More than 120 years later, hardly anything has changed in this scene, and the Library of Congress remains one of the capital’s great architectural masterpieces, in addition to its role as one of the world’s largest libraries. Most of its collections are only accessible through the Main Reading Room, which requires a Reader Identification Card to enter. However, some of its most important items are on display here in the public parts of the building, including its copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which the library acquired in 1930. It is one of only five complete Gutenberg Bibles in the United States, and one of only 21 worldwide, and it is currently on display here in the Great Hall, just beyond the arch in the lower right corner of the present-day photo.

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.

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.

Railroad Station, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The railroad station on Depot Street in Bellows Falls, around the late 1800s. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The village of Bellows Falls, which is located within the town of Rockingham, developed into an important transportation crossroads during the late 18th century. Here, the Connecticut River drops 52 feet as it passes through a narrow gorge. This was an impediment to river navigation, requiring a canal here to bypass the falls, but the width of the gorge also made it an idea spot for a bridge. For most of the 18th century, there were no bridges over the Connecticut River at any point along its 400-mile course, but the first opened here at Bellows Falls in 1785. This made it easier to travel between Vermont and New Hampshire, and it was an important link on the trade routes from Boston to Montreal.

With the development of railroads during the first half of the 19th century, Bellows Falls became the junction of several different railroads. The first to arrive were the Sullivan County Railroad and the Cheshire Railroad, which opened in 1849. At the time, though, there was no railroad bridge across the river, so passengers bound for Bellows Falls had to disembark across the river in Walpole, New Hampshire and cross the covered bridge on foot. Later in 1849, the Rutland and Burlington Railroad was opened to Bellows Falls, followed in 1851 by the Vermont Valley Railroad.

The first railroad station here in Bellows Falls was built on this site, on a triangular plot of land just south of where the four railroads converge. The railroads formed an “X” here, with the Vermont Valley Railroad heading southwest, on the far left side of the scene; the Cheshire Railroad heading southeast, on the far right side; the Sullivan County Railroad to the northeast; and the Rutland and Burlington Railroad to the northwest. This original station was used for a few years, but around 1852 it was replaced by a more substantial brick building, which is shown here in the center of the first photo.

Over the years, these various small railroads were eventually consolidated into much larger ones through a series of mergers and leases. By the 1870s, all but the Cheshire Railroad were controlled by the Central Vermont Railroad, although the Central Vermont subsequently leased the Sullivan County and Vermont Valley to the Boston & Maine Railroad by the early 1880s, and ended its own lease on the Rutland Railroad in 1896. Then, in 1900, the Boston & Maine acquired the Cheshire, which gave them control over most of the rail traffic in Bellows Falls. However, the Central Vermont retained trackage rights through Bellows Falls, and continued to operate trains here.

At some point around the turn of the 20th century, the railroad station was evidently remodeled, as period postcards show it with a very different roof than the one in the first photo. However, the old station remained in use until 1921, when it was destroyed by a fire on a cold December night. The fire started in the restaurant kitchen, and within a half hour the building was gone, thanks in part to the interior wood paneling that helped to fuel the flames. In addition, the responding firefighters had to contend with sub-zero temperatures and 60-mile-per-hour winds. One of the nearby hydrants was completely frozen, and by the time they were able to get water flowing from another hydrant it was of little use; there was no saving the station at that point, and, in any case, the strong winds only blew the water back toward the firefighters.

The present-day railroad station was completed on the same site in 1923, although it is a much more modest building than its predecessor, with only one story topped by a very low roof. It continued to be used by passengers throughout the next few decades, but inter-city rail travel saw a steep decline across the country after World War II. With more travelers preferring automobiles or airplanes, railroads steadily shrank their passenger service. The last privately-run passenger train that stopped here in Bellows Falls was the Montrealer, which ceased in 1966. However, the service was subsequently revived after Amtrak was created, and the Montrealer returned to Bellows Falls again in 1972.

Today, nearly a century after this building opened, it remains in use as a railroad station, although there is far less passenger traffic than there had been here in the 1920s. The Montrealer was eventually replaced by Amtrak’s Vermonter, which runs one northbound and one southbound train each day between St. Albans, Vermont and Washington, D.C. These two daily trains are the extent of passenger rail service in Bellows Falls today, but the historic station still stands here as reminder of the village’s railroad legacy. Another historic building here is the Railway Express Agency building, on the far right side of the scene. Built around 1880, it is the only surviving building from the first photo, and both it and the railroad station are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (4)

The view looking east across the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Old North Bridge was discussed in more detail in an earlier post, which shows the view looking west across the bridge. However, this view shows the opposite side of the bridge, facing east from directly in front of the famous statue The Minute Man. The bridge was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in a skirmish in nearby Lexington.

Although the Battle of Lexington came first, it was almost entirely one-sided, and the British continued their march to Concord with only a single wounded soldier, compared to eight dead and ten wounded militiamen. As a result, it was here in Concord that the British first encountered significant resistance from the colonists. Prior to the battle, the British had secured the bridge during their search for hidden military supplies. However, as the colonial militiamen began assembling on the west side of the river, the outnumbered redcoats withdrew to the east bank, where the monument stands in the distance of this scene.

When the battle began, the militiamen were approaching the bridge from approximately where these photos were taken. At this point, some of the British soldiers began opening fire, evidently under the mistaken impression that their commanding officer had given the order. Two militiamen at the head of the line, Private Abner Hosmer and Captain Isaac Davis, were killed, but the colonists did not break ranks. Instead, they returned fire with a devastating volley that killed three redcoats and wounded nine more. This came to be known as “The shot heard round the world,” and it was the first time that American colonists killed British soldiers in battle. It also forced the British to retreat, marking the first American victory of the war.

The original bridge here across the Concord River was removed several years after the end of the war, and the roads were rerouted to a new bridge nearby. As a result, for many years there was little evidence of the brief but momentous battle that was fought here. The first memorial here on the battlefield was the obelisk in the distance of this scene, which was installed in 1836 and dedicated a year later. At the time, there was still no bridge here, so the monument was placed on the east bank, where it was more reality accessible from the center of town. A new bridge would not be constructed until 1874, in advance of the battle’s centennial celebration. As part of the centennial, the statue The Minute Man was dedicated here on the west side, marking the colonial position during the battle.

By the time the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the bridge had been replaced again after the 1874 one was destroyed in a flood. This one was, in turn, destroyed in a 1909 flood, and its replacement was a concrete bridge that was designed to resemble the original one. However, it sustained heavy damage in a flood in 1955, and it was subsequently replaced by the current one, which is a wooden replica of the original. Aside from the bridge, though, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few changes since the first photo was taken, and the battlefield is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.