Old Constitution House, Windsor, Vermont

The Old Constitution House on North Main Street in Windsor, Vermont, around 1927. Image from The Birthplace of Vermont; a History of Windsor to 1781 (1927).

The scene in 2019:

Vermont is one of several states that was arguably an independent nation prior to statehood. Although never formally recognized by any foreign nation, the lightly populated, mountainous land between New Hampshire and New York was a de facto country between 1777, when it declared its independence, and 1791, when it voted to join the United States as the 14th state. Since then, Vermonters have retained a high degree of independence, particularly when it comes to political thinking. However, Vermont’s 1777 independence had less to do with lofty political ideals, and more to do with practical necessities.

Prior to the American Revolution, both New Hampshire and New York claimed the territory that would become Vermont, and both issued land grants to settlers here. These grants often conflicted with one another, leading to conflict between the two groups of settlers. The British government recognized New York’s claims, but a band of New Hampshire-affiliated settlers, led by Ethan Allen, formed the Green Mountain Boys in 1770 to protect their interests. Over the next few years this led to instances of violence, most notably the Westminster Massacre, when two protesters were killed by a New York-affiliated sheriff at the Westminster courthouse in March 1775.

The settlers with New Hampshire grants ultimately gained control of much of the territory, and on January 15, 1777 they declared independence, at the same courthouse in Westminster where the massacre had occurred. In the declaration, the new state was named the Republic of New Connecticut, but several months later the name was changed to Vermont, which is based on the French name for the Green Mountains, les verts monts. From here, the next step was to draft a constitution to organize the new government. So, on July 2, 1777 the 72 delegates to the Vermont constitutional convention met here in Windsor, in the tavern of Elijah West. This building, which is shown in these two photos, was originally located on Main Street in the center of Windsor, although it has subsequently been moved twice over the years.

Unlike the United States Constitution, which took an entire summer to draft in 1787, the Vermont delegates created their constitution here in a week. They borrowed heavily from the Pennsylvania constitution, largely copying its structure and, in many cases, its exact wording. Among the features of the Vermont constitution was a declaration of rights, which guaranteed rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury, freedom from search and seizure, and free elections for all men in Vermont.

However, perhaps the most significant provision in the constitution’s declaration of rights—and one of the few not copied from Pennsylvania—was the first one, which abolished slavery among adults. This was the first constitution in the present-day United States to do so, although it proved difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, it was an important first step in ending slavery, and within less than a decade many other northeastern states had begun gradual abolition or, in the case of Massachusetts, outlawed it entirely.

The finished document was signed here in this building on July 8, 1777, and it went on to serve as Vermont’s constitution for much of the state’s time as a de facto independent nation. However, it was subsequently replaced by a new document in 1786, which was in turn followed by the current state constitution in 1793, two years after Vermont joined the union as the fourteenth state.

In the meantime, this building here in Windsor reverted to its primary use, and it remained a tavern until 1848. Then, around 1870 it was moved to a new location, where it was used first as a tenement house and then later as a warehouse. By the turn of the 20th century it was in danger of being demolished, but it was ultimately preserved and, in 1914, moved to its current location on North Main Street, just to the north of the village center.

The first photo was taken a little over a decade after the move. At the time, it was owned and operated as a museum by the Old Constitution House Association, which had been responsible for saving the building. Nearly a century later, very little has changed in this scene. The property was transferred to the state in 1961, but it continues to serve as a museum, and it stands as one of the oldest surviving  buildings in Vermont. Because of its significance as the birthplace of Vermont, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is also a contributing property within the Windsor Village Historic District, which was established four years later.

Boston Road from Coleman Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking west on Boston Road from near the corner of Coleman Street in Springfield, around 1924. Image from Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Springfield Massachusetts (1924).

The scene in 2019:

The primary subject matter of the first photo was intended to be the tree in the foreground, which is identified as Acer rubrum L. var. tridens Wood, a rare variety of red maple. However, the photo also captures a rare view of Boston Road as it appeared nearly a century ago, prior to its extensive commercial development. The view faces west along Boston Road from the corner of Coleman Street, right in the midst of what would soon become the center of the Pine Point neighborhood.

Throughout most of the 19th century, this section of Springfield was only sparsely settled, with the 1870 city map showing fewer than 20 houses along the entire 3.5-mile stretch of Boston Road from Berkshire Avenue to the Wilbraham town line. This began to change by the 1890s, though. Likely motivated by the recently-opened trolley line on nearby Berkshire Avenue, landowners in present-day Pine Point began subdividing their properties with new streets and house lots. By 1899 there were at least six houses on Coleman Street, and over the next two decades there would be further development, particularly on Denver and Jasper Streets.

Overall, though, the neighborhood maps of the early 20th century show far more vacant lots than houses, and it would take many years before most of the streets were fully developed. The first photo was taken during this period, when even Boston Road, the main thoroughfare through Pine Point, still had many empty lots and hardly any commercial development.

There are only two houses visible in the first photo. On the left, at the southwest corner of Boston Road and Coleman Street, is one of the oldest surviving houses in the area. It was built sometime around 1882, predating the modern street grid that was added about a decade later, and during the early 1880s it was the home of merchant William G. Pierce. Subsequent owners included tailor Julian Belanger, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1920s it was the home of civil engineer Albin M. Kramer, his wife Rose, and their three children.

The house on the right, at 168 Boston Road, is somewhat newer. It was built sometime between 1899 and 1910, and it appears to have been constructed as a two family home. During the early 20th century it had a number of different tenants, most of whom only stayed for a few years. Among these were my great grandparents, Frank and Julia Lyman, who lived here from about 1915 to 1917. Frank was a machinist who was originally from Wilbraham, and Julia grew up in New York City, where she worked for the New York World newspaper. They lived in the New York area for the first few years of their marriage, but they moved to Springfield around 1915. At the time they had two young children, Elizabeth and Edith, and their third child Evelyn, my grandmother, was born here in this house in 1917. Soon after, the family purchased a house nearby at 37 Coleman Street, and they were living there when this photo was taken at the end of their street a few years later.

By the 1920 census, one unit in the house at 168 Boston Road was occupied by painter Raymond L. Taft, his wife Alice, and their three young children. The other unit was the home of carpenter Frank E. Bowen, and his wife Edith, who had three children of their own. However, neither family appears to have remained here for very long; Alice Taft died in 1921, and by the following year Raymond was living elsewhere in Pine Point. The Bowen family had also moved out by then, and during the 1920s the house appears to have changed tenants very frequently, with most only appearing here in the city directory for one year.

Within just a few years after this photo was taken, this section of Boston Road developed into the commercial center of the Pine Point neighborhood. At some point around the late 1920s, the house on the right was altered with the addition of two storefronts, one of which was the home of Nora’s Variety Store for many years. Across the street from there, on the left side of the scene, a row of commercial buildings was constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The easternmost of these, visible just beyond the house on the far left, is best known as the location of the original Friendly’s restaurant, which opened there in 1935.

Today, nearly a century after the first photo was taken, very little in this scene has remained the same. The red maple is long gone, and all of the vacant lots here have since been developed. Boston Road is now a four lane road and one of the main east-west routes through the city, and it is almost entirely commercial, with very few remaining houses. However, both of the houses from the first photo have managed to survive, although the one on the left was heavily altered by the late 1920s storefront addition. The one on the right has remained much better preserved, though, and it stands as a rare Victorian-style house in an otherwise predominantly 20th century neighborhood.

Neil’s Bakery, Springfield, Mass

Neil’s Bakery, at 531 Main Street in Indian Orchard, around the 1930s. Author’s collection, gift of Linda Thayer.

The scene in 2019:

This photo shows one of the five storefronts that are located on the ground floor of a two-story building at the corner of Main and Parker Streets, in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard. The building was constructed in 1924, and the photo was probably taken within about a decade afterward. At the time, this particular storefront was the home of Neil’s Bakery, and the photo shows a variety of muffins, cookies, pies, cakes, and other baked goods on display behind the front windows.

According to a handwritten caption on the photo, the woman in the doorway is Caroline Neils. She was the daughter of Ludwig Neils, the owner of the bakery. Ludwig and his wife Aniela were both Polish immigrants, and they came to the United States as teenagers in the early 20th century. Caroline, their oldest child, was born in Springfield in 1912, and they had six other children, the youngest of whom was born around 1930.

The 1920 census shows Ludwig—who also went by the name Louis—working as a polisher in a machine shop, but by 1930 he had opened his bakery. It was still in business a decade later, during the 1940 census, and both Aniela and one of their sons were also listed as employees there. In both 1930 and 1940, the family was living just around the corner from here at 34 Parker Street, where they paid $17 per month in rent.

However, the bakery evidently closed soon after the 1940 census, and Ludwig returned to working as a machinist. According to the 1941 city directory, he was employed by the Van Norman Machine Company, and he subsequently worked there for many years. In the meantime, Caroline Neils married William Bak, and by the 1950s they were in Pittsfield. She lived there until her death in 2002, at the age of 90.

Today, the building where the Neils family once had their bakery is still standing. The storefront has been altered, and the interior was badly damaged by a fire in 1974, but there are still some subtle hints from the first photo. The bricks are the same in both photos, and as a result the building has the same arrangement of light- and dark-colored bricks, which is particularly noticeable in the vertical course directly above the storefront.

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool, Washington, DC (3)

The view of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, seen from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 20, 1925. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show nearly the same view as the ones in the previous post, but they were taken from the opposite side of the Lincoln Memorial steps. As discussed in that post, very little has changed in this scene in nearly a century since the first photo was taken. Both the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument remain iconic features of Washington, along with the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Castle further in the distance. However, there have been a few changes on the left side of the Reflecting Pool, where the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings once stood. Intended to be only temporary, these buildings were constructed as military offices during World War I, but they remained here until 1970, when they were finally demolished to create Constitution Gardens on the site.

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool, Washington, DC (2)

The view of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, seen from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 20, 1925. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show the view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, facing toward the Reflecting Pool,with the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol further in the distance. This angle is very similar to the photos in a previous post, but the first photo here was taken almost 20 years before the one in that post, and it gives a wider view of the surrounding area. Some of the other landmarks visible in the first photo include the Old Post Office in the distant center, the National Museum of Natural History to the left of the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Institution Building to the right of the monument. Closer to the foreground, beyond the trees to the left of the Reflecting Pool, are the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, a group of temporary buildings that were constructed during World War I.

Today, nearly a century after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. The trees around the Reflecting Pool are taller now, obscuring most of the Washington skyline, but the Old Post Office is still there, as is the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Building. Only the temporary World War I buildings are gone, having been demolished in 1970 and replaced by the Constitution Gardens. The Reflecting Pool has seen a few minor changes, including the addition of paved walkways along the perimeter in 2012. Otherwise, though, the only significant addition to this scene is the World War II Memorial. It was dedicated in 2004 on the former site of the Rainbow Pool, and it can be seen on the far end of the Reflecting Pool in the 2018 photo.

Abraham Lincoln Statue, Washington, DC

The statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, around 1921-1922. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

The statue in 2018:

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922,and over the years it has become one of the most recognizable features of Washington, DC. The monument is designed like a Greek temple, and on the interior is a 30-foot-tall marble statue of Lincoln, who is seated and facing east toward the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. It was designed by prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French, who had, nearly a half century earlier, designed the iconic Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. French would go on to create other important sculptures before his death in 1931, but this Abraham Lincoln statue would prove to be his magnum opus.

The first photo apparently shows a couple of workers putting the finishing touches on the statue, and it would have been taken sometime shortly before the memorial’s dedication. Nearly a century later, nothing of substance has changed in this scene. The statue is still here, as is the inscription above it, which was written by Royal Cortissoz. Elsewhere inside the memorial are inscriptions of Lincoln’s two most famous speeches: the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. As the 2018 photo shows, the Lincoln Memorial remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, drawing more than seven million visitors each year.