Odlin-Otis House, Newport, Rhode Island

The Odlin-Otis House at 109 Spring Street, at the corner of Mary Street in Newport, in 1924. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

The streets of downtown Newport are lined with many historic colonial-era buildings, including this house at the corner of Spring and Mary Streets. It was originally owned by John Odlin, who purchased the property in 1705 and evidently constructed the house shortly afterward. The house was subsequently expanded several times in the early 18th century, creating a long, narrow house with a highly asymmetrical Spring Street facade. Other early owners of the house included Jonathan Otis, a silversmith who was here around the time of the American Revolution.

At some point during the 19th century, the house was divided into two units, with two front entrances on the Spring Street side, as seen in the first photo. This arrangement continued throughout much of the 20th century, and at some point the exterior was covered in artificial siding. Despite these changes, the house remained as one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport, and in 1968 it became a contributing property in the Newport Historic District. Four years later, it was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that has been responsible for saving dozens of historic properties in the city. The Odlin-Otis House was restored in 1976-1977, and today it stands in far better condition than it was in when the first photo was taken nearly a century ago.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Wales Public Library, Wales, Mass

The Wales Public Library, at the corner of Main and Church Streets, around 1922-1925. Image courtesy of the Nevins Memorial Library.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Wales Public Library date back to 1897, when it began as a collection of books in the corner of a general store. The town had a population of a little over 700 at the time, with woolen mills employing many of its residents. However, these companies began to leave around the turn of the 20th century, and by 1910 the population had dropped by more than half, to just 345 residents in that year’s census. Throughout this time, the small public library continued to operate out of the general store, but around the early 1920s this house was donated to the town, in order to provide a more permanent home for the library.

The early history of this house seems difficult to trace. The state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings gives 1841 as the date of construction, while the library itself gives a date of 1825. Either way, it was apparently built by a Stephen Fisk, although maps from the mid-19th century show it as belonging to the Shaw family. By the second half of the century, the house was right in the midst of the town’s manufacturing center, and was directly adjacent to the woolen mill of the Shaw Manufacturing Company. Around 1875, the Wales Baptist Church relocated to this area, constructing a large church just up the hill from this house, which can be seen in the distance on the right side of the first photo.

At some point in the early 20th century, this house was acquired by the church, which, in turn, gave it to the town for use as a library. It opened in 1922, following a conversion that included changing the window configuration on the first floor. This helped to balance the building’s appearance, as it previously had one window on the left and two on the right, although the second floor windows were unchanged, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical front facade.

The first photo was taken soon after the library opened, and very little has changed in its appearance since then. The church in the distance is long gone, but this building remains in use as the Wales Public Library, with only minor exterior alterations. However, both the town’s population and the library’s collections have grown substantially in almost a century since the building opened, and today the library faces both overcrowding of its shelves and the structural deterioration of the building itself. Because of this, the library is in need of a new building, although to date there have been no definitive plans for relocating.

Jonathan Gibbs House, Newport, Rhode Island

The house at 181 Spring Street in Newport, around 1920. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

One of the remarkable features of modern-day Newport is the incredible number of colonial-era buildings that still stand in the city center. Some are grand 18th century mansions such as Hunter House and Vernon House, but the vast majority are plain, modestly-sized homes such as this one. Squeezed in sideways in a narrow lot about halfway between Mill and Pelham Streets, it was built around 1771 by Jonathan Gibbs, a housewright who owned it for about 20 years. Its design was fairly common for this period, and features a gambrel roof on the upper floor and two rooms on the first floor. According to the city’s property assessment, the house currently has just one bedroom, and a total of 776 square feet of living space.

Jonathan Gibbs does not appear to have personally lived here, and instead probably used it as a rental property. According to the Newport Restoration Foundation, in 1777 the house was the home of James Brattle, who lived here with four other people. Gibbs owned the house until 1782, and it was subsequently owned by John Bours in the early 19th century. By the time the first photo was taken there was a small addition to the back of the house, although otherwise its exterior appearance had not significantly changed since it was built.

By about 1925, shortly after the first photo was taken, this house was being rented by Bertha B. Chase, a widow who was in her mid-40s at the time. The 1930 census lists her as paying $19 per month in rent, and she lived in this house with her children Edward, Marion, and Lawrence, whose ages ranged from 17 to 22. A decade later, only Lawrence was still living here with Bertha, and they would remain here until the late 1940s, when they moved to Broadway.

About 20 years later, in 1969, the house was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation, an organization that had been founded the previous year by tobacco heiress Doris Duke in order to preserve Newport’s colonial architecture. The Foundation also purchased the neighboring Samuel Bours House on the right side of the photo, and both houses were restored in the early 1970s. Today, both of these properties are still owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation, and they form part of the Newport Historic District, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Gad Lane Tavern, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 1007 Halliday Avenue West in Suffield, around 1921. Image from Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).

The house in 2017:

Different sources identify this house as having been built in 1726, 1740, or 1744, but either way it is one of the oldest houses in Suffield, and was originally owned by Samuel Lane. Born in Hadley, Massachusetts, Samuel later moved to Suffield, where he married Abigail Hovey in 1709. In 1723, he purchased 23 acres of land here in the northern part of the town, and subsequently built this house at some point over the next two decades. At the time, Suffield was part of Massachusetts, but was part of a border dispute that was eventually resolved in 1749, when the two colonies established the present-day border, about a third of a mile north of Samuel’s house.

Samuel owned this house until 1765 when, a few years before his death, he transferred the property to his grandson, Gad. About 21 years old at the time, Gad’s father Samuel had died in 1748 when Gad was just a few years old. But, as the oldest son of Samuel and Abigail’s oldest son, he inherited the family home, along with 40 acres of land. The house was situated on the main road from Suffield to Westfield, Massachusetts, and for some time Gad operated a tavern in the walk-in basement on the left side of the house. Here, 18th century cattle and sheep drivers could satiate their hunger and thirst at the tavern, while their herds and flocks did the same in the surrounding pastures and at the stream that flows just to the left of the house.

In 1772, Gad married the curiously-named Olive Tree, and the couple had five children: Hosea, Gad, Comfort, Ashbel, and Zebina. However, in 1798 Gad filed for divorce, alleging that Olive had run off with another man and had stolen many of his possessions. A March 19, 1798 notice, published in the Hartford Courant, provides the details of her infidelity, with Gad stating that: “Olive formed an improper connection with one Joſeph Freeman: That ſhe has frequently and privately took and conveyed to ſaid Freeman, the petitioners bonds, obligations, papers, cloathing and other property: That ſaid Olive hath committed adultery with ſaid Freeman — hath eloped from the petitioner and now lives in a ſtate of adultery with ſaid Freeman.”

Gad subsequently remarried to Margaret Ferry, and in 1827 he gave the property to his son Ashbel. He owned the house for 20 years before selling it in 1847, and after changing hands several times the property was purchased by David Allen in 1849. He and his wife Mary went on to live here for nearly 40 years, running a modest farm that, during the 1880 census, consisted of eight acres of tilled land, plus six acres of meadows and orchards, and four acres of woodland. His primary crops were corn, oats, rye, potatoes, and apples, and his property had a total value of $2,500, plus $100 in farm machinery and $150 in livestock.

The Allen family would remain here until 1888, when David sold the property a few years before he and Mary died. The property changed hands several times over the next few decades, and by the time the first photo was taken the house had been significantly altered, including the addition of three dormers. Well into the 20th century, the house lacked modern conveniences such as heat and bathrooms, and by the late 1930s it was owned by Raymond Kent, Sr., a tobacco farmer who used the house as a residence for his field hands. However, in 1942 his son, Raymond Kent, Jr., restored the house, and today it still stands well-preserved as one of the oldest surviving houses in Suffield.

Samuel Bowles House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 182 Central Street in Springfield, probably sometime around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Italianate-style home was built in 1853, along the slope of Ames Hill near the corner of Maple and Central Streets. It was designed by Henry A. Sykes, an architect from Suffield, Connecticut, whose other Springfield works included the Mills-Stebbins Villa on nearby Crescent Hill, and it was originally owned by Francis Tiffany, the pastor of the Church of the Unity. Reverend Tiffany had become the pastor of the church in 1852, and he would go on to serve the congregation for the next 12 years. He and his wife Esther lived in this house throughout this time, and by the 1860 census they were living here with four young children.

In 1864, Tiffany left the church to take a position as an English professor at Antioch College in Ohio, and he sold the house to Samuel Bowles, who was a friend of his and one of the most influential men in the city. He was the son of Samuel Bowles II, a journalist who had founded the Springfield Republican as a weekly newspaper in 1824. The younger Samuel was born two years after the paper started, and began working alongside his father when he was 17. Around the same time, the Republican became a daily newspaper, and after his father’s death in 1851, Samuel took over control of the paper, when he was just 25 years old.

By the time Samuel Bowles and his wife Mary moved into this house, the Republican was one of New England’s leading newspapers, and as the name of the paper suggested, it generally supported Republican, anti-slavery policies before and during the Civil War. Bowles was also a friend of Emily Dickinson, and he published several of her poems in the Republican. These poems, which were heavily edited in order to conform with conventional poetic styles, were among the very few that were ever published during her lifetime, as most of her nearly 1,8000 poems were discovered and published posthumously.

Samuel and Mary Bowles raised ten children in this house, although during this time he frequently traveled. He suffered from poor health, which was attributed to over-working, so because of this he took a number of trips to the American West and to Europe in the 1860s and early 1870s, often publishing accounts of his travels. However, he died in 1878, at the age of 51, and the responsibility of running the newspaper fell to his son, Samuel Bowles IV, who was 26 years old at the time, just a year older than his father had been when he took over the paper in 1851.

By the end of the 19th century, the house had become part of the MacDuffie School, which had been founded in 1890 by John and Abby MacDuffie as a school for girls. The Bowles house became the school’s main classroom building, but over time the campus expanded, eventually encompassing many of the historic mansions on and around Ames Hill. The house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but in 1978 the school requested permission from the Historical Commission to demolish the house, claiming that it was in poor condition and that the land was needed for tennis courts. The Commission ultimately granted the request, and despite a court challenge by local preservationists, the house was demolished in 1980. However, the tennis courts were never built, and the site of the house remains vacant nearly 40 years later.