Mount Toby from South Sugarloaf Mountain, Deerfield, Mass

A panoramic view looking east from South Sugarloaf Mountain in Deerfield, toward Mount Toby in Sunderland, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2021:

These two photos were not taken from the exact same spot, as shown by the different angles of the bridges in the lower right, but they show the same general view of the Connecticut River, the town of Sunderland, and Mount Toby in the distance. Both were taken from near the summit of South Sugarloaf Mountain, a relatively small hill that forms the southern end of the Pocumtuck Range, which is part of the larger Metacomet Ridge. Sugarloaf is best known for its dramatic views of the valley to the south, but this eastern view is also offers impressive scenery.

South Sugarloaf is often referred to simply as Sugarloaf Mountain, although it is the smaller of the two summits that comprise the mountain. However, the northern peak, while nearly 200 feet higher in elevation, has only limited views from the summit, and is rarely visited. By contrast, the southern peak has long been a popular tourist destination. Rising to an elevation of 610 feet, it is about 500 feet higher than the Connecticut River, which passes just a third of a mile from the summit.

The first photo was likely taken from the Summit House, which was built here in 1864. These types of mountaintop hotels were popular in the northeast during the second half of the 19th century, and several others were located on nearby summits on the Metacomet Ridge, including the Prospect House on Mount Holyoke and the Eyrie House on Mount Nonotuck. Even Mount Toby briefly had a tower and hotel at the summit, but the buildings burned in 1882. This was a common fate for summit houses, given their isolated locations far above water sources, and the summit house on Sugarloaf Mountain would eventually be destroyed by a fire in 1966.

Mount Toby, which towers in the distance beyond the town of Sunderland, is geologically related to Sugarloaf Mountain. It is the highest peak on the Metacomet Ridge, and at 1,269 feet it is more than twice the height of South Sugarloaf. However, as the photos show, the mountain is not a single peak. Its rugged landscape has many different summits, the highest of which is on the northern side, on the far left side of both photos.

The mountain is said to be named for Elnathan Toby, supposedly the first white settler to climb it. In the 19th century, though, the prominent geologist Edward Hitchcock criticized this rather bland name. Hitchcock, who would later serve as president of Amherst College, published a report on the state’s geology in 1841. In it, he included Mount Toby, along with Sugarloaf and a number of other peaks, as part of a list of “uncouth and vulgar names” for Massachusetts mountains. Hitchcock tended to prefer Native American names, and he succeeded in renaming several peaks, including Hilliard’s Knob, which was renamed Mount Norwottuck in a large mountaintop ceremony in 1846. He made a similar attempt on Mount Toby three years later, naming it Mettawompe in honor of the Native American chief who had sold the surrounding land to white settlers. However, unlike Norwottuck, this name didn’t stick, apparently because of local opposition among Sunderland residents, and the mountain has continued to be known as Mount Toby.

Aside from the ill-fated attempts to operate a summit house on Mount Toby during the 19th century, the mountain has remained largely undeveloped, and today it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken around 1891. The town of Sunderland has also retained much of its rural appearance, and many of the houses along Main Street are still standing, as is the 1836 First Congregational Church, which is visible on the right side of both photos. Another town landmark in this scene is the Buttonball Tree. Although not identifiable from this distance, it stands near the center of the scene in both photos, about a quarter mile north of the church. With a girth of over 25 feet, this sycamore tree is one of the widest trees in the region, and it is estimated to be over 350 years old. Overall, probably the only easily-noticeable difference in these photos is the bridge over the Connecticut River. The one in the first photo was built in 1877, and it spanned the river until 1936, when a bridge further upstream was washed away in a flood and crashed into this bridge.

In the meantime, here on South Sugarloaf, the mountain continues to offer some of the finest mountaintop views in the state. It is now part of the Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation, and there is an auto road to the summit, along with several short hiking trails. In place of the 19th century summit house, the mountain is now topped by an observation tower with several different levels of platforms.

Deerfield River Valley, Charlemont, Mass

The view looking east along the Deerfield River in the western part of Charlemont, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the road heading toward the center of Charlemont, with the Deerfield River on the right and the distinctive summits of Mount Peak in the distance. Today, the road is known as the Mohawk Trail, and its route through the Berkshires offers some of the finest scenery in the state. However, the current road is largely an early 20th century creation, and its route over the mountains bears little resemblance to its predecessors.

The northern Berkshires have long been a major obstacle to east-west travel through the area. Unlike further south, there are no low-elevation mountain passes here. For a westbound traveler, heading in the opposite direction of where these photos are facing, the Deerfield River valley provides an easy route deep into the mountains. However, a few miles to the west of here, the narrow valley turns abruptly to the north at the base of the Hoosac Mountains. These mountains form a continual ridgeline for miles in either direction, with elevations exceeding two thousand feet.

In the pre-colonial period, Native Americans crossed the mountains by way of a footpath, but not until the 1750s did European settlers build a road across the mountain. This road was later improved and partially rerouted in the 1760s, and it appears to have followed the Deerfield River before ascending along the northern slope of Clark Mountain.  Then, in 1797, the Second Massachusetts Turnpike was incorporated to construct a toll road across the mountains. Rather than beginning the ascent at Clark Mountain, this road followed the river along present-day Zoar Road and River Road almost as far as the current site of the Hoosac Tunnel, before climbing up the mountain by way of Whitcomb Hill Road. However, many travelers chose to continue taking the older road in order to avoid paying tolls on the new turnpike, so the older road came to be known as a “shunpike.”

This information is relevant to this particular site here in Charlemont, because the rest area on the right side of the present-day photo is known as the Shunpike Rest Area. It features a historical marker, installed by the Mohawk and Taconic Trail Association in 1957, that reads:

To the Thrifty Travelers of the Mohawk Trail who in 1797 here forded the Deerfield River rather than pay toll at the Turnpike Bridge and who in 1810 won the battle for free travel on all Massachusetts Roads.

However, despite the claims of this sign, there seems to be little historical evidence to suggest that this spot in Charlemont was where shunpike travelers would ford the river. The turnpike bridge over the Deerfield River was some 3.5 miles further upstream from here, at the border of Charlemont and Florida. That bridge was also the eastern end of the turnpike; the company’s original charter allowed it to construct a turnpike over the mountain “from the west line of Charlemont.” In addition, that bridge was the point where the turnpike and the older road diverged, so it seems more likely that these “shunpikers” would have crossed the river somewhere near that bridge, rather than several miles downstream at this spot.

In any case, the first photo was taken sometime around the early 1890s, only a few decades before the road through the mountains was substantially upgraded with the construction of the Mohawk Trail. Heading west through Charlemont, it follows existing roads as far as this spot here, but just to the west of here, in the opposite direction of these photos, the Mohawk Trail crosses to south side of the Deerfield River. It then follows the steep, narrow gorge of the Cold River, a smaller tributary of the Deerfield, before making its final ascent to the plateau at the top of the ridgeline.

With its current route, the Mohawk Trail completely bypasses the earlier roads up the eastern side of the mountain, including both the turnpike and the earlier shunpike. It also does not go anywhere near the part of the Deerfield River where turn-of-the-19th-century shunpikers would have most likely forded the river. If that is the case, it raises the question of why this historically-dubious marker would have been placed here at this rest area.

The answer might have something to do with the date that this historical marker was installed here. The modern-day Massachusetts Turnpike, which bears no relationship to similarly-named roads of the 19th century, opened in 1957, the same year that this marker was installed. According to newspaper articles from the period, local residents along the Mohawk Trail were concerned that the new highway would hurt business here in the northern part of the state. So, the Mohawk and Taconic Trail Association created the slogan “Go turnpike—return shunpike” in the hopes of encouraging motorists to make a grand tour of western Massachusetts, rather than taking the turnpike in both directions.

Probably not coincidentally, this was the same association that, around the same time, dedicated this historical marker “To the Thrifty Travelers.” It would not have been possible to place such a marker on the Mohawk Trail at the seemingly more plausible site of the shunpike ford, since the road does not go there. Instead, the road’s promoters seem to have played fast and loose with the history in order to appeal to nostalgia and Yankee frugality, in order to boost tourism through here.

Regardless of the accuracy of the historical marker, though, this particular section of the Mohawk Trail has been part of the east-west route through the northern Berkshires since at least the 18th century, with maps as early as the 1790s showing it taking this same course eastward toward Charlemont. The road is very different from its appearance in the first photo, and the rest area now takes the place of the meadow next to the river, but the road is still in the same spot, and this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo because of Mount Peak in the distance.

William Cullen Bryant Homestead, Cummington, Mass

The William Cullen Bryant Homestead on Bryant Road in Cummington, around 1890. Image from Picturesque Hampshire (1890).

The scene in 2020:

These two photos show the childhood home—and later the summer home—of William Cullen Bryant, a prominent 19th century poet and newspaper publisher. The house was built in 1783 by his grandfather, Ebenezer Snell, who had moved to Cummington from North Bridgewater a decade earlier. At the time, Cummington was a small, remote settlement in the Berkshire Mountains, located along upper reaches of the north branch of the Westfield River. The first colonial settlers did not arrive here until 1762, and it was not formally incorporated as a town until 1779.

Ebenezer Snell and his wife Sarah were both in their mid-30s when they moved to Cummington. They brought four young children with them, including William Cullen Bryant’s mother Sarah, and they subsequently had a fifth child while living in Cummington. By the time they moved into this house in 1783, the younger Sarah was about 15 years old. She continued living here as an adult, and in 1792 the family took in a boarder, Dr. Peter Bryant. Like the Snell family, he was from North Bridgewater, and he he was a year older than Sarah.

According to tradition, Peter Bryant had fallen in love with Sarah while the Snells were still in North Bridgewater, and he subsequently followed them here to Cummington. This seems rather improbable or exaggerated, since he and Sarah were about five or six years old when the Snells left North Bridgewater. Either way, though, Peter and Sarah soon fell in love here in Cummington, and they were married in October 1792. They subsequently moved into their own house in town, where their first child, Austin, was born six months after their marriage.

Peter and Sarah’s second child was William Cullen Bryant, who was born at their home on November 3, 1794. Soon after, the family suffered financial trouble after Peter lost money in a risky investment. They lived in the nearby town of Plainfield for several years, and they ultimately moved in with Sarah’s parents here at their home in Cummington in the spring of 1799, when William Cullen Bryant was four years old.

The move here to the family homestead proved to be a transformative experience for the future poet. The house is located about two miles west of the town center, on a northeast-facing slope that overlooks the Westfield River Valley. The land around the house was mostly open fields and pastureland, but the outlying portions of the property were largely forested. Most famously, this included the Rivulet, a stream that flows past the house and through an old growth forest on the northeastern edge of the lot. This stream was a favorite childhood haunt of Bryant, who wrote some of his earliest lines of poetry along its banks, and he later memorialized it in his poem “The Rivulet.”

Writing many years later in 1872 in a letter to a friend, Bryant provided the following description of the landscape surrounding his childhood home:

The site of the house is uncommonly beautiful. Before it, to the east, the ground descends, first gradually, and then rapidly, to the Westfield River flowing in a dep and narrow valley, from which is heard, after a copious rain, in the roar of its swollen current, itself unseen. In the spring-time, when the frost-bound waters are loosened by a warm rain, the roar and crash are remarkably loud as the icy crust of the stream is broken, and the masses of ice are swept along by the flood over the stones with which the bed of the river is paved. Beyond the narrow valley of the Westfield the surface of the country rises again gradually, carrying the eye over a region of vast extent, interspersed with farm-houses, pasture-grounds, and wooded heights, where on a showery day you sometimes see two or three different showers, each watering its own separate district; and in winter-time two or three different snow-storms dimly moving from place to place.

Peter Bryant practiced medicine in an office here in this house, and during the early 19th century he achieved some success as a politician. In 1806 he was elected to a one-year term in the state house of representatives, and he subsequently served in that same capacity in 1808, 1809, and 1813, before serving in the state senate in 1818 and 1819.

Throughout this time, Peter Bryant was a staunch Federalist, and he instilled these political beliefs in young William. Although he would become famous for his nature poetry, some of William Cullen Bryant’s earliest poems were political. Among these was “The Embargo,” a satire that criticized Thomas Jefferson and the financial crisis caused by his infamous Embargo Act of 1807. Published in 1808 when Bryant was just thirteen, the poem is more than 500 lines in length. In one particularly scathing stanza, Bryant declared Jefferson to be “scorn of every patriot name, / Thy country s ruin and thy council s shame!” Bryant even alluded to the rumors about his affair with Sally Hemings, telling Jefferson to “sink supinely in her sable arms; / But quit to abler hands the helm of state.”

This poem and other similar politically-charged works would later become a source of some embarrassment for Bryant once he matured, but these poems earned him some notability as promising young poet. Although its reviewer disagreed with Bryant’s critical stance on Jefferson, the Monthly Anthology nonetheless admired his talents, declaring that “[w]e have never met with a boy of that age who had attained to such a command of language and to so much poetic phraseology.”

However, despite this early talent as a poet, Bryant’s career goal was to become a lawyer. To that end, he enrolled in Williams College in 1810 at the age of 16, but left at the end of the school year. He intended to continue his studies at Yale, but his father’s still-precarious financial situation forced him to change his plans. Instead, he read law—essentially a legal apprenticeship—with two different lawyers, and he was ultimately admitted to the bar in 1815.

Bryant began his legal career in Plainfield, but he continued to live here at the family homestead for a year, walking seven miles a day in each direction to get to his office. Then, around 1816 he moved to the much larger town of Great Barrington in the southwest corner of the state, where he practiced law for the next nine years. However, he was still publishing poetry during this time, including his most famous poem, “Thanatopsis.” Bryant had actually written the poem around 1811 when he was just 17, but it was published in 1817 and eventually became Bryant’s most significant contribution to the American canon of literature. The poem approaches death from a naturalistic perspective, describing how death is not something to be feared since the body becomes part of the natural world. The poem includes many vivid descriptions of nature, which were likely influenced by Bryant’s time here at the homestead in Cummington.

“Thanatopsis” would prove to be the high point of Bryant’s career as a poet, but he subsequently went on to achieve prominence as a newspaper editor. Having grown tired of Great Barrington, Bryant moved to New York City, where he worked as a magazine editor before becoming editor-in-chief of the New York Daily Post in 1829. He would go on to hold this position for the next half century, until his death in 1878. Throughout this time, the Post was one of the nation’s leading newspapers, and he used the paper to advocate for liberal causes such as abolitionism, organized labor, and immigrant rights. In 1860, he played an important role in Abraham Lincoln’s nomination, using his influence to generate support in the eastern states for the relatively obscure former congressman from Illinois.

In the meantime, the rest of the Bryant family also began to look beyond the old family homestead here in Cummington. Just as Ebenezer Snell had moved his family west from North Bridgewater in the 1770s, the later generations of his family also saw greater opportunities further to the west. Farming was difficult in the rocky, mountainous hill towns of western Massachusetts, and many families were drawn to the newly-formed territories and states, lured by promises of better farmland and greater opportunities. Many of these towns experienced population loss in the mid-19th century, including Cummington, which peaked in population in 1830 with 1,261 residents, before entering a 90-year decline. By 1920, the town had barely a third of its 1830 population, and experienced only moderate growth in the second half of the 20th century. Even today, the population of Cummington and many other hill towns is substantially lower than it was in the mid-19th century.

Among those who joined the exodus from Cummington were William Cullen Bryant’s younger brothers Arthur, John, and Cyrus, who moved away in the early 1830s and eventually made their way to Illinois. This left only the eldest brother Austin here at the homestead with their widowed mother Sarah, who continued to struggle financially and fell into debt. William helped with the interest payments on the loans, but Sarah and Austin ultimately decided to sell the property in 1835, much to William’s disappointment.

The new owner of the house was Welcome Tillson, a farmer who was in his mid-30s at the time. He lived here for the next 30 years, and at some point during this time he removed the wing that had once housed Bryant’s father’s office. This small piece of the building was, according to Bryant, subsequently moved down the hill to the banks of the Westfield River. During the 1860 census Welcome and his wife Sarah were in their late 40s, and were living here with their 28-year-old son Cyrus and his wife Elizabeth. He owned about 500 acres of improved land and 35 acres of unimproved land, and his agricultural output in 1860 consisted primarily of butter, cheese, wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, and maple syrup.

In 1865 Bryant, who was now 70, purchased the property from Tillson for use as a summer home. It was also intended to serve as a place of quiet rest for his wife Frances, who was in poor health. He soon set about making renovations, including adding a third story by raising the original section of the house and then constructing a new first floor underneath it. Bryant also added a replica of his father’s office to the southwest corner of the house. This one-story wing served as Bryant’s study, and it is visible on the left side of both photos here. However, Frances Bryant did not live long enough to see these renovations completed; she died in July 1866, just a year after her husband purchased the house.

Aside from these changes to the house, Bryant also made improvements to the grounds, including planting some 1,300 apple trees and a variety of other fruit trees. Immediately to the west of the house, in the distance of the first photo, Bryant planted a row of pine trees to act as a wind break, and further down the hill from here he built a small pond to serve as a source of ice that could be harvested and stored for the summer. In addition, he made two different additions to the barn on the other side of the street, first in 1866 and then in 1875. This barn had been built by Welcome Tillson after he purchased the property, replacing an earlier one that Peter Bryant had constructed on the same site in 1801.

Bryant continued to spend his summers here in Cummington for the rest of his life, generally arriving in late July and staying until early September. He died in New York City on June 12, 1878 at the age of 83, but this property remained in his family for several more generations. His younger daughter Julia inherited the house, and she owned it when the first photo was taken around 1890, although she spent most of her later years in Paris, where she lived with her cousin and presumed romantic partner, Anna Fairchild.

Julia died in 1907 and left this house to Anna Fairchild, who owned it until 1917, when she sold it to Julia’s niece Minna Godwin Goddard, who was the daughter of Bryant’s older daughter Frances. Minna then owned it until her own death in 1927, and in her will she left the property to the Trustees of Reservations, with the stipulation that her son Conrad would have life tenancy rights. The family also donated furniture and other items to the Trustees, and in 1931 Conrad built a caretaker’s house to the north of the main house, just out of view on the far right side of this scene.

Today, nearly a century after the Minna Goddard left this property to the Trustees and more than 230 years after her great-great grandfather Ebenezer Snell built the house, this house is still standing as an important historic landmark. As shown in these two photos, very little has changed here in this scene since the first photo was taken around 1890. Even some of the trees are still standing from the first photo. The three large maples in the foreground are the same ones from the first photo, and they were originally planted here in the early 19th century by the Bryant family.

The Bryant Homestead is still owned by the Trustees, which owns a number of other historic sites and conservation areas throughout Massachusetts. Here in Cummington, this property features not only the historic house but also nearly 200 acres of surrounding land. Several hiking trails wind through this landscape, including one that runs alongside the Rivulet, through the same old growth forest that first inspired Bryant more than two centuries ago. Overall, the homestead looks much the same as it did when Bryant acquired it in 1865, and it is one of the many important literary landmarks here in New England.

Old Bacon Academy, Colchester, Connecticut

The Bacon Academy building at 84 Main Street in Colchester, around 1896. Image from Connecticut Quarterly.

The building in 2020:

Bacon Academy is one of the oldest public high schools in the United States, and the second oldest in Connecticut. It was established in 1803 following the death of Pierpont Bacon, a Colchester resident who bequeathed $35,000 to maintain a school for the town’s residents. At the time, a high school education was rare in the United States, and few towns had a high school, even here in the relatively well-educated northeast. For Bacon Academy, the main purpose was to prepare boys for college, so the school offered what was, at the time, regarded as a well-rounded education. An 1803 newspaper advertisement declared that students would “be accommodated with suitable instruction in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, the learned Languages and Sciences.” Tuition in 1803 was $2.00 per quarter in the summer, and $2.50 per quarter in the winter.

The school opened on November 1, 1803, here in this brick, three-story Federal-style building. It is situated right in the center of Colchester, on Main Street directly opposite Norwich Avenue. Behind the school, visible in the distance on the left side of the scene, is the town’s old burying ground, which dates back to 1713. The opening of the school was widely reported in newspapers across the region, and the New York Morning Chronicle provided the following description of the building and its location:

A large and elegant brick building is erected for the accommodation of the scholars; being 75 feet in length, 34 feet in breadth, and three stories high. It is divided into a large hall, and convenient apartments for the different branches. . . . Colchester is a very healthy and pleasant town situated on the turnpike road leading from Hartford to New-London, being nearly equi-distant from each. A more eligible situation for an institution of this kind, could not have been chosen.

The first principal of the school was 31-year-old John Adams, a Connecticut native and Yale graduate who had previously taught at Plainfield Academy in New Jersey. He went on to become a prominent educator, serving here in Colchester until 1810, followed by 23 years as principal of Phillips Academy Andover. Later in life he moved west, serving from 1836 to 1843 as principal of Jacksonville Female Seminary, a school that would eventually be incorporated into Illinois College in the early 20th century.

During its first year, Bacon Academy enrolled 206 students. The majority of these were from Colchester, but 63 of them were from out of town. In its early years, the school even attracted students from out of state. Perhaps most notably, this included 11-year-old Stephen F. Austin of Missouri, whose father Moses Austin enrolled him in the school starting in the fall of 1804. Stephen Austin attended the school for the next three years, and he would eventually go on to become one of the founders of Texas and the namesake of its capital city.

Aside from Austin, Bacon Academy saw a number of its other students go on to achieve prominence in the 19th century. These included at least five future governors: William Larrabee of Iowa, Edwin D. Morgan of New York, Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, and William A. Buckingham and Morgan Bulkeley of Connecticut. With the exception of Larrabee, all of these men also served as U.S. senators, and Trumbull had a particularly distinguished career in the Senate, serving from 1855 to 1873. During this time, he co-authored the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Other distinguished Bacon Academy students included Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, who became the first president of Aetna Insurance Company, and Morrison Waite, who served as chief justice of the United States from 1874 to 1888.

By the mid-1830s, the school had grown to 425 students, including 137 who were from out of town and 32 from out of state. For the first few decades, the student body consisted of white males, with a separate school here in Colchester to educate African American children. However, at least one African American, the prominent educator Prince Saunders, was associated with Bacon Academy only a few years after it opened. He ran the African American students, and he is said to have taken courses at Bacon Academy, although it does not seem clear as to whether he was formally enrolled at the school, or was taught outside of school by some of its teachers.

In any case, by the 1840s Bacon Academy was racially integrated, and it had begun to enroll female students. This period in the mid-19th century was a high point for the school, which had aspirations of becoming a top-tier college preparatory school similar to Phillips Academy. However, the school ultimately saw a decline in enrollment, in part because of this deviation from its original mission. Unable to compete with the more established private schools, by the late 19th century Bacon Academy had settled into the role of the public high school for residents of Colchester.

The first photo was taken around the mid-1890s, showing the main academy building in the foreground. On the far right side is Day Hall, an Italianate-style building that was completed in 1858 as a church hall for the adjacent First Congregational Church. By this point, the exterior of the academy had seen a few changes from its original appearance, including the door hood above the main entrance and the octagonal cupola atop the building. The photo shows shutters on the windows and a balustrade along the roof, although these may not have been original either; an 1836 engraving of the building does not show either of these features.

This building remained in use by Bacon Academy until 1962, when the school relocated to a new facility. The school subsequently moved again in 1993, to its current site a few miles to the west of here on Norwich Avenue, where Bacon Academy remains the town’s public high school nearly 220 years after it was first established. In the meantime, the old building here on Main Street is still standing, as is the neighboring Day Hall, which was acquired by the school in 1929. The exteriors of both buildings have remained well-preserved over the years, and the only noticeable difference to the academy building in this scene is the lack of shutters or balustrade. Because of its architectural and historic significance, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. In addition, both it and Day Hall are contributing properties in the Colchester Village Historic District, which was added to the National Register in 1994.

Springfield Cemetery, Springfield, Mass (3)

A view looking east up one of the terraces in Springfield Cemetery, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2020:

As explained in the previous post, Springfield Cemetery was established in 1841 as one of the first rural cemeteries in the northeast. Inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Watertown, these types of cemeteries sought to create a pleasant, park-like atmosphere, in contrast to the older, gloomier Puritan-era graveyards in town centers. The cemetery was laid out in an area once known as Martha’s Dingle, located a little to the east of downtown Springfield. The land here consists of several steep-sided ravines, making it poorly suited for real estate development but ideal for a tranquil rural cemetery.

In developing the cemetery, some of the slopes were transformed into terraces, such as this one here. This particular view shows the view of the cemetery facing east from near its geographic center. In the foreground is the lower section, which had few interments during the 19th century, and further in the distance is the slope leading up to the upper section, which is adjacent to Pine Street. In general, the further up the hill that the gravestones are, the older they tend to be, culminating with the colonial-era stones along Pine Street, which were moved there from the old burying ground on Elm Street in 1848.

In this particular scene, most of the gravestones in the first photo date to the late 19th century, so they would have been relatively new when the photo was taken. Since then, many more burials have occurred here, but there are still some stones that are recognizable from the first photo. Near the center of the photo is a rectangular granite stone of businessman Warner C. Sturtevant (1809-1891), his wife Nancy (1811-1885), and several of their children and grandchildren. Just to the right of it, and a little closer to the foreground, is the marble stone of Samuel W. Fisher (1817-1884) and his wife Lorinda (1826-1885). In the distance beyond this stone is a large obelisk for the Merriam family, including dictionary publisher Charles Merriam (1806-1887), his wives Sophia (1808-1858) and Rachel (1824-1888), and several of their children.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, there are now many more gravestones here in this scene, most dating to the first half of the 20th century. Among the more notable burials here in this scene are George Walter Vincent Smith (1832-1923) and his wife Belle (1845-1928), who were both prominent philanthropists and art patrons. They amassed an extensive art collection that they subsequently donated to the city as the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, and they are buried here, just to the right of the tree on the left side of the scene.

Aside from the addition of more gravestones, some of the stones from the first photo are now gone, possibly having been replaced by newer monuments. Overall, though, this scene remains largely the same as it appeared in the late 19th century. Springfield Cemetery is still an active cemetery, and it continues to have the same natural, park-like appearance that its founders envisioned some 180 years ago. The city has since grown up around the cemetery, but from here it is hard to tell that these wooded ravines are right in the midst of one of the largest cities in New England.

Springfield Cemetery, Springfield, Mass (2)

A scene in Springfield Cemetery, facing the southern section of the cemetery, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2020:

Springfield Cemetery was established in 1841, and it was part of a trend that involved creating well-landscaped, park-like cemeteries on the outskirts of cities and towns, as opposed to the older, often gloomier Puritan-era graveyards in town centers. The first of these cemeteries was Mount Auburn Cemetery in the suburbs of Boston, which opened in 1831, and many other cities soon followed, including Springfield a decade later. Over the years, it would become the final resting place for many of the city’s prominent 19th century residents, and it remains an active cemetery today.

The cemetery is located in a ravine that was originally known as Martha’s Dingle. In transforming the area into a cemetery, the designers incorporated the natural features into the landscape by creating a series of terraces that were separated by wooded slopes. These were linked together by curving paths that followed the contours of the land. Overall, the intent was to create a place that would serve not only as a burial ground for the dead, but also as a quiet, peaceful place for the living to visit.

The view here in these two photos shows the upper section of the cemetery, facing south in the direction of Cedar Street. In the distance is the southernmost section of the cemetery, which, unlike the rest of the cemetery, lacks the winding paths and landscaped terraces. Instead, the lots here are laid out on flat ground, with few trees and with straight paths that intersect at right angles in a grid pattern. Most of the gravestones in that section date to the second half of the 19th century, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s it was already crowded with towering obelisks and other monuments.

By contrast, the slightly lower area here in the foreground was nearly devoid of gravestones when the first photo was taken. Of the two that are present near the foreground, the one in the lower center of the scene has apparently been removed or replaced, but the other one, further to the left, is still there. It features a veiled figure with an urn standing atop an Ionic column, marking the grave of James Abbe, who died in 1889 at the age of 66. He was a stove and tin merchant, and he was also a director for several local corporations, including serving as president of the Hampden Watch Company. In addition, he was a state legislator from 1876-1877, and he served as a trustee for the Springfield Cemetery Association.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, Abbe’s gravestone is still here, although it is now mostly hidden by a tree from this angle. Otherwise, the most significant difference here is the number of gravestones in the foreground. This section was mostly empty in the early 1890s, but it now features a number of 20th century gravestones. Perhaps the most prominent person buried in this section is Horace A. Moses, a paper manufacturer and philanthropist who was one of the founders of Junior Achievement. He died in 1947, and his gravestone is the bench-like monument on the far left side of the scene.

Overall, despite the increase in gravestones, this section of Springfield Cemetery has not changed much since the late 19th century. The level upper section in the distance is mostly hidden behind trees from here, but it still looks largely the same as it did in the first photo, with rows of large monuments. By contrast, even though it has more gravestones now than in the first photo, the area in the foreground still has much more of a rural, park-like appearance, with its winding roads and mature shade trees, as shown in the present-day scene.