Quincy City Hall, Quincy, Mass

The Quincy City Hall on Hancock Street in Quincy, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The building in 2019:

The city of Quincy is probably best known and the birthplace and home of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They were born 32 years and 75 feet apart from each other, in adjoining houses less than a mile south of here. As such, Quincy is one of only two cities in the country—along with New York City—to have been the birthplace of two presidents. However, at the time Quincy was neither a city, nor was it even its own municipality. Throughout the colonial era, present-day Quincy was the northern part of the town of Braintree, before being split off as a separate town in 1792. From there, it would be nearly a century before Quincy was incorporated as a city in 1888.

During this time, Quincy saw significant growth. From a population of just over a thousand in 1800, it had grown to nearly 3,500 by 1840, and in 1844 the town began construction on a new town hall, which was completed later in the year. It was designed by prominent architect Solomon Willard, who is best-known for the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. Like the Bunker Hill Monument, it was constructed out of locally-quarried Quincy granite, and it was built only a year after the monument’s dedication in 1843.

Overall, the exterior of the town hall is a good example of Greek Revival architecture, which was common for public buildings of this era. The front facade, shown here in these two photos, features a triangular pediment above four Ionic pilasters. The main entrance is located between the two central pilasters, with the inscription “Town Hall Erected A.D. 1844” inscribed above it. Originally, the ground floor included two storefronts, although these were altered later in the 19th century.

Quincy became a city in 1888, and the old town hall building here became city hall instead. The changes to the front of the building came afterward, and included the addition of a “City Hall” sign above the entrance. The first photo was also taken sometime after these changes occurred, probably around the turn of the 20th century. In this scene, four men stand outside the entrance, with a uniformed police officer standing to the left at the corner of the building. Aside from the modifications to the building, another sign of progress was the trolley line running in front of the building, with the tracks visible in the street and the electric wires above them.

Today, this building remains in use as Quincy City Hall, although it has been significantly expanded with a modern addition behind and to the right of the original structure. Most recently, the building underwent a major restoration that began in 2013. It was damaged by a fire during the project, but the work was ultimately completed in early 2016. This project also coincided with the closure of the portion of Hancock Street in front of city hall, creating a pedestrian-only plaza between it and the United First Parish Church across the street from here. Today, the exterior of the building is not significantly different from its appearance in the first photo, and it stands as a well-preserved example of a mid-19th century municipal building.

Elisha Morgan House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 273 State Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2019:

This house was built around 1881 as the home of Elisha Morgan, the founder of the Morgan Envelope Company. Born in Northfield, Massachusetts in 1834, Morgan began working at the age of 13 in his father’s store, where he gained valuable business experience. From there he spent several years as a grocery store clerk in Greenfield, then began working for the Connecticut River Railroad. He steadily rose in the ranks of the railroad, beginning as a bookkeeper and subsequently working as clerk, assistant paymaster, paymaster, general freight agent, and then general ticket agent by the time he was 25.

In 1861, Morgan married Sara Grant of Manchester, Connecticut, and they moved into a house on Salem Street, where they had four children. In the meantime, he only remained with the railroad for a few more years. In 1864 he left and went into business for himself, manufacturing envelopes in the firm of E. Morgan & Company. Then, in 1872, the company was incorporated as the Morgan Envelope Company, with future mayor Emerson Wight becoming president and Morgan becoming its treasurer. The company originally operated out of a building at the corner of Hillman and Dwight Street, but later moved to a new site between Worthington and Taylor Streets, where it remained until the early 1880s.

Perhaps the single most important step that the company took was in 1873, when it outbid 14 competitors to obtain a federal contract to produce the first government-issued postcards in the United States. Unlike later postcards, these did not have pictures; instead, they were mostly blank, with space on one side for the address and on the other side for a short message. They also included prepaid postage that was printed onto the card. For postal customers, the main advantage to these postcards was that they were cheap to mail, costing only one cent, as opposed to three cents for a regular letter.

Morgan’s winning bid was $1.39⅞ per 1,000 cards, and his factory produced the initial order of 51 million cards in just 90 days. The business continued to grow from there, and in 1883 it moved into a new facility on Harrison Avenue. By the late 19th century it had a capacity of 2.5 million envelopes, while also producing a wide range of boxes. Of all things, the envelope company was also the world’s leading producer of toilet paper, with an output of about a thousand tons per year.

During the late 19th century, many companies across the country were consolidating into trusts in an effort to monopolize their respective industries, and the envelope industry was no exception. In 1898, Morgan Envelope merged with nine other manufacturers to form the United States Envelope Company. This trust controlled 90% of the country’s envelope production, and it was headquartered here in Springfield, with Morgan as its vice president. In that same year, a group of paper manufacturers formed a similar trust, the American Writing Paper Company. This was headquartered nearby in Holyoke, and Morgan became the company’s president.

Aside from his involvement in the paper industry, Morgan served as the president of several other local corporations, including the United Electric Company and the Real Estate Improvement Company. From 1888 to 1890 he was the chairman of the Republican City Committee, and in 1888 he was one of 14 presidential electors from Massachusetts, casting his vote for Benjamin Harrison. Then, from 1892 to 1893 he served as a member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council.

Throughout this time, Morgan was living here on State Street, where he had moved with his family around 1881. It featured ornate Stick-Style details, and appears to have been brick on the first two floors, with wood on the third floor. The lot extended all the way back to Temple Street, and it included a massive three-story carriage house, which had architecture that matched the main house. At the time, this section of State Street was still largely residential, and the house was flanked by two other homes, as shown in the first photo.

Elisha Morgan died in 1903, and his widow Sara continued to live here until around 1908 before moving to Hazardville, Connecticut. By 1909 she had sold the house to Wilbur F. Young and his wife Mary Ida Young. They were the founders of W.F. Young, P.D.F., an animal care product company best known for making the Absorbine horse liniment. The Youngs lived in this house with their children, Sadie and Wilbur Jr., Wilbur’s brother Frank, and three servants, and they operated the business out of the carriage house in the rear of the property. There, they produced Absorbine and its human equivalent, Absorbine Jr., along with other medications, such as Taroleum Ointment for foot diseases, Young’s Kidney and Nerve Powders, Young’s Fattening and Conditioning Drops (“For fitting horses for market or races”), and Young’s Colic and Indigestion Cure.

Wilbur Young lived here until his death in 1918, and his 20-year-old son subsequently took over as company president. Then, in 1923 the company moved to a new location on Lyman Street, and around the same time Mary Ida Young moved to a house in Longmeadow, where she lived until her death in 1960 at the age of 90. She took over as president of the company after her son’s death in 1928, and she ran it until 1957, more than 60 years after she and her husband had founded it. The company has remained in the family ever since, and it is still operated locally, with its current headquarters in East Longmeadow.

In the meantime, the house here on State Street became a rooming house called The Pickwick by the late 1920s. A 1928 classified ad in the Republican described it as “Large rooms, running water, suitable for one or two people. Meals optional, all home cooking, centrally located.” The building also included “Ye Pickwick Tea Room,” which was described in another 1928 advertisement as being a place “Where your Social or Bridge Party can be as successfully achieved as in your own home and without any of the wearisome responsibility.”

The house was ultimately demolished around 1937. The carriage house was still standing a few years later, but it too is now gone, and the site of the house is a modern two-story commercial building, which was constructed around 1955. However, the houses on either side are still standing, although the roof on the house to the right is significantly different from its appearance in the first photo. The other surviving remnant from the first photo is the low brownstone retaining wall in front of the house on the right, which is missing a few pieces but otherwise still intact today.

Hampden County Jail, Springfield, Mass

The Hampden County Jail on State Street in Springfield, Mass, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2019:

Throughout the colonial period, Springfield was the seat of Hampshire County, and consequently it was home to both the county courthouse and the jail. However, the town was located in the southern part of the county, which at the time included all of present-day Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties, and by the 1790s Springfield was only its sixth-largest community. So, in 1794 the county seat shifted to Northampton, which was both larger and more centrally-located than Springfield.

The old jail had been located on Main Street in the South End, on the current site of the MGM casino. It was in use from the late 1600s until 1794, and it was subsequently sold to a private owner, who used it until the early 19th century, when it was demolished to open Bliss Street through the property. In the meantime, though, Springfield again became a county seat in 1812, when the southern third of Hampshire County was partitioned off, becoming Hampden County. With the old jail unavailable, this meant that the new county would need to construct a new facility here in Springfield.

The location selected for this new jail was here on State Street, on the site of what later became Classical High School. At the time, this section of Springfield was still only sparsely developed, with most of the downtown area centered along the Main Street corridor, and the county purchased the one-and-a-half acre property in 1813 for just $500. It then built the jail here, which was completed in 1815 at a cost of $14,000. This jail would be steadily expanded over the years, but it remained in use throughout most of the 19th century, and it is shown here in the first photo, which was probably taken shortly after it closed.

The first inmate here was David Cadwell, a Wilbraham resident who had been arrested for assault on June 17, 1815. His stay was short, though, because he paid his fine and court costs and was released on the same day. Other prisoners had different means of leaving, including Jesse Wright of Springfield, who became the first to break out of the jail when he escaped on February 12, 1816.

Aside from confining prisoners, the county jails of Massachusetts were also used for executions during the 19th century. These were rare occurrences here in Springfield, and the first person sentenced to death in Hampden County was Robert Bush of Westfield, who murdered his estranged wife Sally on September 29, 1827. At the time, she and her two children had been living with another family, and Bush went to this house, shot her with a shotgun, and then attempted suicide by overdosing on opium. He was saved when someone administered an emetic, but Sally died four hours later. The trial was held a year later at the Springfield courthouse, and Bush was found guilty and sentenced to death. His execution was set for November 14 here at the jail, but he managed to obtain opium a second time, and committed suicide on the night of November 12.

The first execution that was actually carried out here at the jail was that of Alexander Desmarteau of Chicopee, who was hanged on April 26, 1861 for the 1858 rape and murder of seven-year-old Augustine Lucas. He was among the first to be tried under the state’s new law that created different degrees of murder, and his lawyers appealed the case, arguing that the law was unconstitutional. This delayed his execution until his case reached the Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld his conviction of first degree murder.

The execution occurred here in the prison yard, which appears to have been the area on the right side of the building in the first photo. About 125 people were allowed into the yard to witness the execution, including most of the city and county officials, but many more spectators attempted to view it from outside the prison walls by climbing to the tops of nearby buildings. During his time in jail, Desmarteau had converted from Catholicism to the Episcopalian faith, and the Reverend George H. McKnight of Christ Church accompanied him and preached a sermon here prior to the execution. He spoke on the grievous nature of Desmarteau’s crimes, along with his subsequent remorse and religious awakening, and Desmarteau was then given the opportunity to say his last words, which were reported by the Springfield Republican as “I don’t know as I desire to say anything, except to bid you all farewell. I hope to meet you all in a better world.”

Another condemned criminal who was executed here was Albert H. Smith of Westfield, whose 1873 execution made headlines in newspapers across the country. The previous summer, 22-year-old Smith had been working as a switchman for the Boston & Albany Railroad when he met 25-year-old Jennie Bates. He soon fell in love with her, and according to Smith they were engaged to be married. However, Jennie claimed that they were only acquaintances, and by the fall of 1872 she was engaged to 40-year-old Charles D. Sackett. Believing that he had been betrayed, Smith shot both of them on the evening of November 20, 1872, while the couple was walking home together after watching a play. He shot Jennie three times, including once in the head, and Charles was hit once, with the bullet puncturing his lung. Despite her injuries, Jennie made a full recovery, and Charles seemed to be improving until infection set in, and he died 13 days after the shooting.

Smith’s lawyers used the insanity defense, arguing that, in his mind, he and Jennie were married. Because of this delusion, he believed that his actions were those of a jealous husband trying to save his marriage, rather than an act of revenge perpetrated by a spurned lover. The argument seemed persuasive to many spectators at the trial, but the jury nonetheless found him guilty of first degree murder, and the death sentence was carried out here on June 27, 1873.

In the hours before his execution, Smith apparently showed no emotion or regret, with the Republican observing that “His eye was bright, his manner easy and cordial,” and “it was hard to realize that he was the one most interested in the approaching execution and had scarce an hour to live.” The only hint of emotion came in the form of a slight tremor in his voice, when he spoke of Jennie. He spoke at length to the newspaper reporter, who wrote about his cell here in the jail in his account of the execution:

His cell had the same neat and almost pleasant appearance that it has always worn since he has been its occupant. The narrow but tidy bed occupied the whole of the right side, a small stand filled the niche and the head, while a common stool in the front corner nearest the office completed the furniture of the narrow apartment. But the walls were tastily brightened with a number of pictures cut from illustrated papers, arranged by Smith, while the stand was almost hidden by the beautiful floral offerings, some of which came from ladies in this city and Westfield, who had never seen the unfortunate man. Half-hidden in the midst of these, and yet plainly visible from the door, was placed a photograph of the girl, and the frequent glances of the prisoner to it proved that he considered it the chief ornament of the room.

The reporter then went on to contrast this with the grim realities of the day, which Smith seemed oblivious to:

At the lower extremity of the corridor, and in plain view from the cell, stood the gallows, with the fatal noose dangling in the air. Just opposite the prisoner, across the landing, sat Turnkey Norway, who for 36 hours has remained constantly at his post, while directly above the latter’s head a clock was heartlessly ticking off the last moments of the doomed man’s life. Further on was the open grating leading to the office, and behind this jostled a crowd of curious reporters, eager to get one glimpse at the murderer or to catch a single syllable of his last words. But he paid no attention to them, and was equally unmindful of the gallows. His pleasant eyes were turned toward his caller, whom⁠—as always when talking with any one⁠—he looked straight in the face, and with whom he conversed freely, calming and interestingly.

During the interview, Smith expressed that the only thing bothering him was the fact that he would not be able to see Jennie one more time before his death. Even then, he was not bitter. He evidently believed that she truly wanted to be there, and regarding her absence he said, “But I don’t blame her. There is too much influence to keep her away. And yet, I think she ought not to be so much influenced by them. But I have her picture and a lock of her hair in my pocket, and they will be buried with me.”

Smith remained calm and composed throughout the execution proceedings. The jail chaplain, Reverend William Rice, read a passage from Psalm 51, which was followed by the singing of a hymn and then a prayer. Smith then spoke for about three minutes, reiterating his earlier statements about Jennie and had not acted out of revenge when he killed Sackett. He ended with “Farewell. Farewell,” which, according to the Republican, was “uttered in a clear, loud voice, and without a perceptible tremor.”

The reporter went on to describe how “Then followed the strange, sad spectacle of a man, standing in the very shadow of death, madly kissing the picture of the woman he had loved, to his ruin.” The picture was then returned to his pocket, to be buried with him, and his legs were bound, the rope adjusted, and a hood placed over his head. The sheriff then shook his hand, and he was executed at 10:44 a.m., with the rope breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

At least one other execution took place here at the jail in 1883. The prisoner, Joseph B. Loomis of Southwick, had been convicted of the December 1, 1881 murder of David Levett in Agawam. Loomis, who was about 22 at the time, had been a childhood friend of Levett, and the two had gone to school together. From there, however, their paths had diverged, with Levett becoming a successful shopkeeper in Springfield, while Loomis worked as a laborer and had, according to the Republican,  had “a fondness for drink” and “had “long borne an unenviable reputation.”

On the day of the murder, Loomis visited his friend at his confectionery shop on Main Street in Springfield. The two spent much of the evening together, and at some point Loomis devised a plan to rob and kill his friend. He deliberately stayed until after the last train home had left Springfield, and then asked Levett if he could hire a carriage to bring him home. Levett agreed to do so, and even offered to accompany him, which Loomis had evidently counted on him doing.

They left Springfield sometime after 9:30 p.m., with Levett driving the carriage. As they were crossing the covered bridge over the Westfield River, where the sound of the wagon wheels on the planks would drown out any noise, Loomis produced a pistol and shot Levett in the head. He then covered up Levett’s body and rode to a deserted area, where he took all of his friend’s valuables before abandoning the carriage and the body.

The body was found the next day, and Loomis soon became the prime suspect, since he had been the last person seen with Levett. He was found to be in possession of one of Levett’s gloves, along with a handkerchief. These items would later become significant when, about four months later, Levett’s gold watch was found on the side of the road in Westfield, wrapped in a matching handkerchief and glove. Loomis had evidently placed it there for safekeeping, intending to return later for it, but at the trial he claimed that Levett had given it to him to take to Westfield for repairs, and that he must have lost it along the way. The jury was apparently skeptical of this explanation, and he was found guilty of murder, largely on the basis of this circumstantial evidence.

The execution took place on March 8, 1883, here at the Hampden County Jail. He ate veal steak for his last meal, and then spent much of the morning writing farewell letters to friends. On the gallows, he read a prepared statement for his last words, in which he confessed to the crime and asked for forgiveness. He thanked the officers at the jail for their kindness, and he concluded by declaring, “Let it be known to you all, and to coming generations, that rum nerved my arm to strike down my friend David Levett, and has been the inspiration of what has been wicked in my career to the gallows.”

By the time of Loomis’s execution, the jail was nearly 70 years old, and despite several additions over the years it was very overcrowded. King’s Handbook of Springfield, published in 1884, noted that some prisoners had to be sent to neighboring counties because of the conditions here, and declared that “The county is indictable for not providing better accommodations, and the time is not far distant when a new jail must be built.”

Two years later, the Republican expressed similar concern in an exposé titled “Certain Facts About the Jail.” In this article, the newspaper revealed that the prison contained 116 cells for men and 28 for women, yet at the time its inmates included 175 men and 27 women. The additional 59 men were housed in various makeshift quarters, including 15 who lived in a 250-square-foot attic space with just one window and no ventilation. Elsewhere in the jail, the small hospital room has 17 inmates, with the healthy and sick sleeping side-by-side, and another 22 were kept in poorly-ventilated room that measured less than 300 square feet.

Aside from the overcrowded conditions, the newspaper also noted the poor sanitation, writing:

About 100 of the men confined in the house of correction are employed in a work-room 50 by 60 feet square, making cane-chair seats; and here also, the breathing-room is pitifully inadequate. . . . Every week they have to take a bath, but there are only two bath-tubs, and two men have to go through the same water and sometimes four. The prisoners march down the hall each morning to the closet with soil-buckets in hand. These are emptied into a funnel connecting directly with the sewer and though the iron doors are closed the stench is fearful; the more so as it is added to the foulness of the air that results from overcrowded sleeping apartments. A man is employed all the time in whitewashing the walls, but that is a pitifully inadequate provision for sanitation. . . . The law requires that jail inmates shall be given access to the open air. This is out of the question on the present premises; the men have no yard, the women have a kind of pit, only open toward the sky, and usually hung full with washing.

The interior of the prison was not the only source of complaints during the 1880s, though. By this point this section of State Street had gone from being on the outskirts of downtown to becoming the cultural center of the city. As a result, the jail had become increasingly out of place here. It was directly across State Street from St. Michael’s Cathedral, adjacent to the high school, and its other neighbors included the Church of the Unity, Christ Church, and the city library, along with a number of fine homes. Overall, the jail was an unwelcome relic from an earlier era, and according to King’s Handbook it was “an inharmonious object in an otherwise pleasing view.”

The jail ultimately closed in 1887, upon the completion of the York Street Jail along the banks of the Connecticut River in the South End. The building was then used temporarily as a militia armory, until the completion of a new armory on Howard Street in 1895. At some point in the next few years, the old building was then demolished, and the land became the site of a new high school building, which was completed in 1898 as Central High School. Later renamed Classical High School, the building was converted into condominiums after the school closed in 1986, and it is still standing here today.

In the meantime, the York Street Jail served as the county jail for over a century, even longer than its predecessor here on State Street. However, it ultimately faced the same problems of overcrowding. Originally designed for 256 inmates, it had more than 700 by the 1980s, leading to repeated calls from Sheriff Michael Ashe for a new facility. Faced with apathetic bureaucracy, in 1990 Ashe took the drastic step of commandeering the National Guard armory on Roosevelt Avenue in order to house prisoners. To do so, he invoked an obscure 17th century law that empowered sheriffs to take necessary actions in the event of “imminent danger of a breach of the peace.” Given the dangerously overcrowded conditions at the jail, he argued that there was such an imminent danger. His actions quickly earned him national attention, highlighting a problem that state officials had long ignored, and it ultimately lead to the construction of the present Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, which opened in 1992.

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.