Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts

Munroe Tavern in Lexington, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos show Munroe Tavern, one of several important buildings in Lexington that are connected to the start of the American Revolution. It was built in 1735 on the site of an earlier structure, and it was used as a tavern throughout much of its history. Early owners included David Comee, who likely built the structure, followed by John Overing and John Buckman Sr. Then, in 1768 William Munroe began leasing the tavern from Buckman, before purchasing it outright in 1770.

It was during Munroe’s ownership that the tavern came to prominence on April 19, 1775. Early that morning, the opening shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington Common, about a mile to the northwest of the tavern. After a brief skirmish with the Lexington militiamen, the redcoats on their march to Concord. At Concord, the redcoats and the colonial militiamen had another skirmish at Old North Bridge, and then in the afternoon the redcoats began their long march back to Boston, facing heavy fire from militiamen along the way.

By the time they reached Lexington that afternoon, a number of the redcoats had been killed or wounded, so Earl Percy commandeered the tavern for use as a temporary headquarters and field hospital. The redcoats remained here for about two hours, and during this time they killed the tavern’s temporary caretaker John Raymond, apparently while he was trying to escape. They also ate, drank, or destroyed much of the food and liquor in the tavern and damaged the furniture. On their way out they started a fire, although it was extinguished soon after they left.

William Munroe was not at the tavern during the battle, but he fought elsewhere with the Lexington militiamen over the course of the day. He subsequently served in the Continental Army during the war, and by the 1780s he had risen to the rank of colonel. He continued to operate the tavern for many years after the war, and his guests included George Washington, who dined here in November 5, 1789 during a visit to Lexington as part of his tour of the New England states.

William operated the tavern until around 1820, when his son Jonas Munroe took over. The building remained a tavern until around 1850, and during the second half of the 19th century it was used as a house. Jonas Munroe died in 1860, and his son William Henry Munroe subsequently inherited it. He modernized the house on both the interior and exterior, including altering the front façade. The original windows and front doorway were removed, and the number of windows was reduced from nine to five, as shown in the top photo.

The top photo was taken towards the end of William Henry Munroe’s ownership. He died in 1902, and then in 1911 the property was acquired by the Lexington Historical Society. In 1939, the organization restored the exterior to its pre-1860 appearance, including installing nine 6-over-9 windows on the front façade, along with a reconstruction of the original front doorway. This project also included some restoration work on the interior, including replacing the doors with period-appropriate ones and reinstalling wide floorboards in some of the rooms.

Today, the house is still owned by the Lexington Historical Society. It is one of several historic properties owned by the organization, along with Buckman Tavern and the Hancock-Clarke House. It is open to the public seasonally for tours, and most of the interior is interpreted the way that it would have looked in April 1775, with an emphasis on the British perspective of the battle. Because of its significance, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

For much more information on the history and architecture of the tavern, a great resource is Historic Structure Report: The Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts by Deane Rykerson and Anne A. Grady (2010).

Chester Center, Chester, Massachusetts

The original town center of Chester, Massachusetts, seen looking south on modern-day Skyline Trail from the corner of Bromley Road around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2024:

These two photos show the old town center of Chester, which was incorporated in 1765 and was originally named Murrayfield. Located in the far northwestern corner of Hampden County, Chester is one of the many hilltowns in the uplands region between the Connecticut River valley to the east and the Housatonic River valley to the west. Two of the branches of the Westfield River flow through Chester, with the West Branch in the western part of the town and the Middle Branch in the eastern section. The branches flow through narrow valleys, and in between them is a plateau of rolling hills.

It was this plateau that initially drew colonial settlers to Chester. The river valleys provided only a limited amount of potential farmland, but the hills were suitable for agriculture, particularly for raising livestock. As a result, the late 18th century development in the town was concentrated around this area on modern-day Skyline Trail, with this spot becoming the town center.

One of the first houses built here by colonists was the home of the town’s first pastor, the Reverend Aaron Bascom. Built in 1769, it is just out of view on the far left side of this scene, and it is still standing today, although it is vacant and badly deteriorated. The village here also included the town meetinghouse, along with a burial ground that is located in the distance on the left side of the road.

The population trends in Chester were consistent with what happened in many of the other hilltowns in this part of Western Massachusetts. It saw significant growth in the early 19th century, but subsequently declined in population as residents either moved west for better farmland or moved to industrial cities for greater opportunities. In Chester, the town’s population grew from 1,119 in 1790 to 1,542 in 1800, but it stagnated over the next few decades. The 1850 census marked the last time that the town ever recorded a population above 1,500, and since then it has generally fluctuated between about 1,000 and 1,400 residents.

Aside from the general decline in population during the mid-19th century, the town also saw changes in where people lived within the town. In 1841, the Western Railroad was built along the West Branch of the Westfield River. It passed through the southern and western parts of Chester, which helped to spur development in the river valley. This included the village of Chester Factories, which soon eclipsed the original town center here on what became known as Chester Hill.

The top photo was taken around 1892, showing the view looking south in the old town center. By this point the town’s population stood at about 1,300, and this was largely concentrated in the area around the railroad depot in the valley. Here on Chester Hill, the lack of population growth meant that things stayed essentially the same as they had been in the first half of the 19th century, with a handful of homes and other buildings clustered around the meeting house and burying ground.

The most prominent building in the top photo is the meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church. It was built in 1840, although it was constructed in part from timbers that had originally been used in the 1769 meetinghouse. It features a Greek Revival design, which was fashionable for church buildings of the period, and it was modeled after the meetinghouse in New Marlborough. As was often the case in small towns in Massachusetts at the time, it functioned as a house of worship but also as a space for town meetings, which were held in Chester Center through 1855, before the town meetings shifted to the settlement in the valley.

Across the street from the meetinghouse is the cemetery, with gravestones that date as far back as the 1760s. Next to the cemetery is the two-story district schoolhouse, which can be seen in the distance on the left side of the photo. It was built in 1796, and it was still in use as a school when the top photo was taken nearly a century later.

Aside from the meetinghouse and school, there are also two houses visible in the photo. On the far left side in the foreground is the Searle House, which was built in 1787 as the home of Zenas Searle. Across the street, on the far right side, is the Boies House, an elegant Federal-style house that was built in 1810 for the Rev. Bascom’s daughter Charlotte and her newlywed husband Dr. Anson Boies.

Today, more than 130 years after the top photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene, aside from the paved road in place of the dirt path. All four buildings are still standing with few alterations, and the village is a well-preserved example of a rural early 19th century town center. Along with the nearby Bascom House, these buildings are part of the Chester Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

John C. Lee House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 14 Chestnut Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the house at 14 Chestnut Street in Salem, which was built in 1834-1835 as the home of John Clarke Lee. It is one of the newer houses on Chestnut Street, as most of the other homes were built in the first few decades of the 19th century. As a result, it is architecturally different from most of the other homes. While the rest of the street consists primarily of symmetrical, three-story Federal-style homes with hipped roofs, this house is an early example of Greek Revival architecture. It features a gabled roof, and the front façade is decorated with four pilasters that give the house something of the appearance of an ancient Greek temple.

John Clarke Lee was a prominent merchant and banker who later became a partner in the Boston-based investment banking firm of Lee, Higginson & Co. He was about 30 years old when he moved into this house, and by this point he and his wife Harriet already had a large and growing family, with five young children. They subsequently had five more children, and in total all but one of their children lived to adulthood. Among their children was George Cabot Lee, whose daughter Alice Hathaway Lee became the first wife of Theodore Roosevelt.

The house remained in the Lee family for nearly a century. John died in 1877 and Harriet in 1885, but their son Francis inherited the house. He was living here when the top photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and he was responsible for adding the porch at the front door, as shown in the two photos. He died in 1913, and his widow Sophia subsequently sold the house in 1924.

The next owner of the house was Frank W. Benson, a prominent Impressionist painter from Salem. He was in his early 60s when he purchased the house, and by this point he had established himself as one of the leading American painters of the early 20th century. Benson was known for his portraits, along with en plein air landscapes of the seacoasts and mountains of New England. He lived here in this house until his death in 1951, at the age of 89.

Today, the house is still standing, with few exterior changes since the top photo was taken more than a century ago. Even the tree on the far left side of the scene appears to be the same one in both photos. Along with the rest of the street, the house is now part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

James B. Bott House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 18 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Bott Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the house at 18 Chestnut Street, which was built around 1800 or possibly earlier. It was originally owned by saddler James B. Bott, and according to the building’s Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) form, it was likely used as a multi-family residence. It had a number of occupants throughout the first half of the 19th century, but the most famous was author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived here with his family in 1846 and 1847 while serving as Surveyor of the the Port of Salem at the Custom House on Derby Street. This house was too small for the Hawthornes, though, and in 1847 they moved to a house on Mall Street, where Nathaniel would later write The Scarlet Letter.

The house was eventually converted into a single-family residence in the late 19th century, and the top photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century. It was taken by photographer Frank Cousins, who extensively documented the historic houses of Salem and other towns in the region. As the bottom photo shows, very little has changed about this scene since then. The house is still standing, as are the other surrounding homes, and Chestnut Street as a whole survives as one of the best-preserved historic streets in New England. The Bott House, along with the other homes on Chestnut Street, is part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Chestnut Street, Salem, Massachusetts (2)

The view looking east on Chestnut Street from near Pickering Street in Salem, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos were taken from near the same spot as the ones in the previous post, but facing the opposite direction. This view of Chestnut Street, looking east toward Cambridge Street, features a number of early 19th century homes. Starting in the foreground on the right side is a double house at 21-23 Chestnut Street, which was built in 1814-15 for John and Henry Pickering. They were the sons of Timothy Pickering, a prominent politician who served in several different Cabinet positions, including as Secretary of State under George Washington and John Adams.

Although built for the Pickering brothers, they evidently did not own these houses for long, because each properly changed hands several times over the next few decades. By the 1830s, the house closest to the foreground, at 23 Chestnut, was owned by Robert Stone, while the adjoining house at 21 Chestnut was owned by Elisha Mack. In 1833, during President Andrew Jackson’s visit to Salem, Robert Stone hosted a reception here at his house, which Jackson attended along with Vice President Martin Van Buren, several Cabinet secretaries, and other dignitaries.

Further in the distance on the right side of the street is 19 Chestnut, which is visible in the center of both photos. This three-story, wood-frame house was built around 1805, and it was originally the home of merchant Israel Williams. Later in the 19th century it was owned by another merchant, Henry W. Peabody, and then in the early 20th century it was owned by architect William G. Rantoul.

Today, more than a century after the top photo was taken, these houses are still standing, as are the other ones further in the distance on both sides of the street. Chestnut Street survives as a well-preserved example of Federal-style architecture, and it is the centerpiece of the Chestnut Street District on the National Register of Historic Places. However, this scene is also notable because of the elm tree that still stands in the foreground. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the street was lined with elms. Most of these were subsequently lost, likely due to hurricanes and Dutch Elm Disease, but this tree has survived, and it is still easily recognizable from its appearance in the top photo.

Quincy Mansion, Quincy, Massachusetts (2)

The Quincy Mansion, sometime around the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Image courtesy of the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The same scene in 2023:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, the house in the top photo was built in 1848 as the summer home of Josiah Quincy IV, who was at the time serving as mayor of Boston. Quincy died in 1882, and the house was subsequently converted into educational use. In 1896, Dr. Horace Mann Willard opened the Quincy Mansion School here in the house. This was a prestigious boarding school for girls, and he served as principal until his death in 1907. His wife Ruth then continued to run the school until 1919, when she closed it in the midst of declining health.

The property was then sold to Eastern Nazarene College, which relocated here from Rhode Island in 1919. The college used the old house as a dormitory and for classroom space, but the house was ultimately demolished in 1969 to make way for Angell Hall, a modern classroom building. This building is still standing here on the Eastern Nazarene campus, as shown in the second photo.