Old Meeting House, South Hadley, Mass

The Old Meeting House at the northern end of the town common in South Hadley, around 1930-1937. Image courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

The scene in 2019:

Although it is difficult to tell from its current appearance, this modest-looking colonial house is actually the original meetinghouse in South Hadley. It was built around 1732, when South Hadley was still a part of Hadley, and it is likely the oldest surviving church building in western Massachusetts. It is also one of the oldest in the entire state, dating back to a time when New England meetinghouses were typically built without steeples or bell towers.

Present-day South Hadley was first settled by European colonists around the 1720s. These early residents would have been expected to attend church and town meetings in Hadley, but this proved challenging. The town center was eight miles away along rough roads, and South Hadley was geographically isolated from the rest of the town by Mount Holyoke. As a result, the settlers soon requested a church of their own, which was established around 1732. This meetinghouse was constructed around this time, and the building was originally situated about 100-150 feet south of its current location, on what is now the town common.

The first meeting appears to have been held here in March 1733, and the first pastor of the church was Grindall Rawson, who was ordained on October 3, 1733. He was a recent Harvard graduate who was about 25 years old, and five years later he married Dorothy Chauncey, the daughter of Reverend Isaac Chauncey of the Hadley church. During this time, work continued on the interior of the meetinghouse. This was done in several stages, beginning with the installation of nine pews in 1733, and it was not completed until 1744, when the gallery was finished.

It was not uncommon for early 18th century pastors to remain with the same church for their entire ministry career, but this ultimately was not the case for Reverend Rawson. Described in the 1863 History of Hadley book as “eccentric, free-spoken, and rash,” he soon became a source of controversy here in South Hadley. In 1737 a council of local clergymen met to discuss Rawson. Few details survive from this meeting, including where it was held, but one of the attendees was Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor of the church in Northampton. He served as the scribe of the meeting, and in his memoirs he later wrote that the question at hand was “Whether Mr. R. was qualified for the work of the ministry as to his learning, his orthodoxy and his morals.” The council apparently found no issues with his qualifications, but this did little to appease his parishioners.

In February 1740, the congregation voted in favor of dismissing Rawson. However, he remained in that position for more than a year before, in March 1741, the church reaffirmed their decision and declared that “we have no further service for him in the office of a gospel minister, and that we expect he will refrain from any public acts in that office among us.” Rawson was apparently unfazed by this, though, and he continued to conduct services from the pulpit here throughout much of 1741. Finally, in October the church passed a resolution stating:

As Mr. Rawson has lately in an abrupt manner entered the meeting house and performed divine service, contrary to the mind of this precinct, the committee are directed and empowered to prevent Mr. Rawson from entering the meeting house on the Sabbath, by such means as they shall think best, except he shall promise not to officiate or perform service as a minister, and if Mr. Rawson shall offer to perform service as a minister, the committee shall put him forth out of the meeting house.

This still did not stop Rawson, who took to the pulpit a few weeks later. This time, though, a group of men seized him and forcibly carried him out of the building. The parish subsequently voted to appropriate 10 pounds as a legal defense fund, in the event that Rawson pressed charges against the men involved, but he did not, nor did he make any further attempts to preach here. He did, however, continue to live here in South Hadley for three more years, before accepting a position as pastor of a church in Hadlyme, Connecticut, where he served until his death in 1777.

In the meantime, South Hadley continued to grow in population, and this meetinghouse soon became too small for the parish. As early as 1751 the congregation voted to build a new church, but this caused a new controversy regarding its location. The residents here in the western part of the parish favored a site near the existing meetinghouse, while those in the eastern part—in present-day Granby—wanted the new church in a more central location on Cold Hill. After a decade of wrangling, the western faction finally prevailed, and the new church was built nearby in 1762. That same year, the eastern half of the district was established as a separate parish, and in 1768 it was incorporated as the town of Granby.

In the meantime, once the new church was completed the old building was moved northward to its current location, and it was converted into a house. This was a typical practice in New England during the 18th and 19th centuries, with thrifty Yankees generally preferring to move and repurpose old buildings instead of demolishing them. In the case of this meetinghouse, its relatively small size for a church—only 40 feet by 30 feet—made it well-suited for use as a house.

It is difficult to trace the ownership of the building in the early years after conversion to a house, but at some point in the first half of the 19th century it was owned by the Goodman family. It was then owned by Alfred Judd, who had been living there for “many years” by the time the History of Hadley was published in 1863. In a footnote, the author remarked that it was a “comely dwelling,” and that its old frame “may yet last a century.” More than 150 years later, this prediction that has proven to be a significant underestimate of the building’s longevity.

The 1860 census shows Alfred Judd living here with his daughter Irene, her husband Joseph Preston, and their two young children, Alfred and Joseph Jr. Alfred was 62 years old at the time, and he had just recently been widowed after his wife of 38 years, Mary, died in February 1860. He subsequently remarried to Sophia Preston in 1861, and he appears to have lived here until his death in 1878.

At some point afterward, Judd’s grandson Joseph Preston Jr. purchased the property to the right of the family home and built the Hotel Woodbridge, which later became Judson Hall, a dormitory for nearby Mount Holyoke College. In the meantime, the old house remained in the Preston family for many years. Joseph Jr. died in 1922, but his widow Elmina continued to own it until at least the 1930s, although it seems unclear as to whether Joseph or Elmina actually lived here during the early 20th century, or simply rented it to other tenants.

In any case, the first photo was taken at some point during Elmina’s ownership in the 1930s. By then, the building was the home of the Old Meeting House Tea Room, as indicated by the sign above the front door. It is difficult to determine exactly how much its exterior appearance had changed by this point, but it was clearly different from how it would have looked when it was moved here in the early 1760s. In particular, the wide pediment just below the roof and the pilasters in the corners are most certainly not original; these would have probably been added around the early 19th century, giving the old colonial meetinghouse a vaguely Greek Revival appearance.

In more than 80 years since the first photo was taken, this building has undergone some significant changes, including additions to the left, right, and behind the original structure. The front of the building has also been altered, particularly on the ground floor, but overall it is still recognizable from the first photo. Throughout this time, it has continued to be used as a commercial property, and it is currently the Yarde Tavern restaurant. The second floor of the building was damaged by a fire in April 2019, and these windows were still boarded up when the second photo was taken a few months later, but the restaurant itself was only closed for a few weeks.

Today, the building bears almost no resemblance to the Puritan meetinghouse that Grindall Rawson was dragged out of nearly 280 years ago. However, it despite these changes it still has significant historic value as one of the oldest buildings in South Hadley, in addition to being one of the few surviving early 18th century church buildings in this part of the state.

Burbank House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 330 Park Drive in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house is located in Colony Hills, an upscale residential neighborhood that was developed starting in the 1920s. The area is located just to the south of Forest Park, where it straddles the border of Springfield and Longmeadow. The Springfield side, where this house is located, is unusual in that it consists of two separate sections that are effectively enclaves of the city. They are surrounded on three sides by Forest Park, and on the fourth side by the Longmeadow border, so there is no direct road connection between Colony Hills and the rest of Springfield without passing through Longmeadow. As a result, the neighborhood is quiet and isolated from the rest of the city, making it a particularly desirable place to live.

About half of the houses on the Springfield side of the neighborhood are on Park Drive, which runs along part of the perimeter of Forest Park. Of these, this house has perhaps the most desirable location. The property lies in the center of a horseshoe-shaped curve, so it is almost entirely surrounded by wooded parkland, with no other homes visible from the front yard. The house itself was built in 1929, and it features a Tudor Revival design that was typical for upscale homes of this period. It was the work of Max Westhoff, a local architect who also designed similar homes on Maple Street and Longhill Street.

The original owner of this house was Daniel E. Burbank, a real estate investor whose properties included the Hotel Worthy in downtown Springfield. He ran a real estate business here in Springfield, but in 1932 he also became the real estate consultant for the Bickford’s restaurant chain, along with serving as one of the company’s directors.

Burbank was not living in this house during the 1930 census, but he and his family evidently moved in soon afterward. The first photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows Burbank living here with his wife Helen and their children Daniel Jr., Lyman, Barbara, and David. At the time, the house was valued at $50,000, or nearly $1 million today, and Burbank’s income was listed at over $5,000, which was the highest income level on the census.

Helen Burbank died in 1948, but Daniel continued to live here until his own death in 1960, at the age of 77. Later that year, the house was sold to Joseph J. Deliso, an industrialist who was, at the time, president and treasurer of the Hampden Brass & Aluminum Company, and president of the Hampden Pattern & Sales Company. Deliso has previously lived in a different Westhoff-designed house at 352 Longhill Street, and he went on to live here in this house on Park Drive for the rest of his life.

During this time, Deliso was instrumental in establishing Springfield Technical Community College after the closure of the Armory, and he was the first chairman of the STCC Advisory Board, serving from 1967 to 1981. He subsequently became the first chairman of the STCC Board of Trustees, and in 1992 one of the buildings on the campus was named Deliso Hall in his honor.

Deliso died in 1996, and a year later the house was sold to the Picknelly family, owners of the Peter Pan Bus Lines. The property is still owned by the Picknellys today, and the house remains well-preserved, with few exterior changes from this view aside from an addition on the far left side. It is now the centerpiece of the Colony Hills Local Historic District, which was established in 2016 and encompasses all of the historic homes on the Springfield side of the 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.

83-89 Walnut Street, Springfield, Mass

The apartment building at 83-89 Walnut Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

This apartment building was constructed in 1906 on the east side of Walnut Street, about halfway between the corners of Union and Oak Streets. Its design was typical for Springfield apartment blocks of the period, with four stories and a Classical Revival exterior that featured elements such as an ornate cornice, along with bows that projected from the building’s facade.

According to current city records, the building has 16 units, and this was likely the case throughout its history, with census records showing anywhere from 9 to 16 families living here during the first half of the 20th century. The 1910 census, for example, lists 13 different families. Some of these families had roomers living with them in their units, and there were a total of 42 residents here at the time. A few were employed at the nearby Springfield Armory, but most worked for private companies or individuals. These included several clerks and traveling salesmen, a physician, a dressmaker, a silk winder, a manicurist, a chauffeur, a real estate broker, and a locomotive inspector. However, the youngest employed resident here was nine-year-old Chester H. Scott, who worked as a newsboy in the days before child labor laws.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building was evidently filled to capacity, with the 1940 census showing 16 families and a total of 56 residents. Most paid between $30 and $40 per month in rent (about $550 to $750 today), and as was the case 30 years earlier, many took in roomers, presumably to help offset the cost of the rent. Despite the significant increase in the number of residents from 1910, though, there were actually fewer people here who were employed, with only 24 having an occupation listed on the census.

Most of those in the 1940 census who did work earned between $1,000 and $1,500 per year (about $18,500 to $27,700 today), and the highest-paid residents were railroad conductor William R. Braney and factory foreman Joseph Webber, who each earned $2,000. Other workers here included several machinists, a bartender, a truck driver, a radio repairman, a laundress, and a bookkeeper. Only two residents worked at the Armory, although this would likely have changed within a few years, as the Armory dramatically increased its workforce in order to meet wartime demand during World War II.

Today, around 80 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. The house on the far right side is gone, and there are no longer any horse-drawn wagons parked here on the street, but the building looks essentially the same, and it survives as a well-preserved example of an early 20th century apartment block.

Dennison O. Lombard House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 69-71 Walnut Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house was apparently built around 1900 by Dennison O. Lombard, an iron foundry foreman who had previously lived in an earlier house on this lot. Lombard had acquired the property around 1889, after the death of its prior owner, Elisha D. Stocking. He lived there for about a decade before building the current house, which features a Queen Anne-style exterior that was popular for Springfield homes during the late 19th century. The lot also includes a smaller house, visible behind and to the left of the main house. This may have been built at the same time, but it is also possible that it is actually the original house, which could have been moved to the rear of the property when the new one was built.

During the 1900 census, Lombard was 54 years old, and he was living here with four of his children and his father. He was listed as being married at the time, but his wife was evidently not living here. They may have been separated for some time, because Lombard’s name appears in the newspaper archives in 1895, when his wife Nellie sued him for support. The census also shows butcher Alonzo A. Baker living on the property, presumably in the rear house. A year earlier, he had married his wife Ida, and by 1900 he was living here with his wife Ida and her 16-year-old daughter Elsie B. Kennedy. It was the second marriage for both Alonzo and Ida, as they had each been previously divorced, which was unusual for the late 19th century.

Lombard moves out of Springfield by 1903, and he died a year later. By the 1910 census, there were two different families living here, evidently with one in the main house and the other in the rear house. The first family was headed by Mary E. Murphy, a 48-year-old widow who lived here with nine of her ten children. They ranged in age from 7 to 24, and the five oldest were all employed. Alice was a stenographer for an ice company, Edward was a salesman for a baker wagon, Grace did office work for an art company, Samuel was a stenographer for a blank book company, and Ruth did office work for a publishing company.

The other residents on this property in 1910 were Charles and Catherine Wright, who were 48 and 37 years old, respectively. They lived here with five children, ranging from their 16-year-old daughter Grace to their three-year-old son William. The Wrights had a sixth living child who had presumably moved out already, and they also had three other children who had died young. Charles was the only person in the household who was employed, and he worked down the hill from here at Smith & Wesson.

By the early 1910s, this property was sold to Mary C. Gerrard, an Irish immigrant whose husband James had recently died. She lived here for several years until her death in 1915, but the house would remain in Gerrard family for many decades afterward. The 1920 census shows two of her children, Raymond and Catherine, living here, with Raymond working as an assembler at the nearby Armory.

Catherine was still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. She evidently rented rooms to lodgers, based on classified ads that frequently appeared in the newspaper during the mid-20th century, but during the 1940 census she only had one lodger, 67-year-old Florence Barker. Otherwise, she appears to have lived in the house without any other family members during this time, and she resided here until her death in 1976 at the age of 83.

Today, about 80 years after the first photo was taken, the house does not look significantly different. The buildings on the far left and far right sides of the first photo are now gone, but both the main house and the building in the rear of the property are still standing, with only minor exterior changes such as the removal of the shutters and the replacement of the porch railing.

James W. Kirkham House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 265 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house was completed in 1883 as the home of James W. Kirkham, a banker who, at the time, worked as the assistant cashier for the First National Bank. It was built at a cost of $13,000, and he moved into the house in January 1883 along with his wife Fanny and their infant son William. They went on to live here for the next 15 years or so, before moving to Maple Street in the late 1890s. Kirkham remained involved with the First National Bank throughout this time, and eventually became its president in 1905. By then, the family had moved into the former home of Orick H. Greenleaf on Maple Street, where Kirkham lived until his death in 1927.

In the meantime, this house on State Street was sold to Robert W. Day, the treasurer of the Morgan Envelope Company. Day had been with the company since its early years, starting as a 20-year-old office boy before steadily moving up in the ranks. In fact, it was the company founder, Elisha Morgan, who suggested that Day purchase this property, as it was located directly adjacent to his own home at 273 State Street. Day followed this advice, and he made some alterations to the house, which originally had a very different roof. The front gable, for example, is not original to the house, and it was likely added as part of these renovations.

In 1898, around the same time that Day moved into this house, the Morgan Envelope Company merged with nine other manufacturers to form the United States Envelope Company. Headquartered in nearby Holyoke, this company controlled about 90 percent of the nation’s envelope production, and Day retained his position as treasurer of the company, although he would later become vice president. In addition, he was involved in other area businesses, serving as vice president of the Springfield National Bank and president of the United Electric Company and the Indian Orchard Company.

During the 1900 census, Robert W. Day was 48 years old, and he was living here with his wife Ida and their children Pauline, Robert, Winsor, and Morgan, who ranged in age from seven to 21. The family also employed four servants who lived here with them, including one who was a coachman. A decade later, only the two youngest children were still living here with Robert and Ida, but they still had four servants, who were listed in the census as a waitress, a cook, a chambermaid, and a butler. Robert lived here until his death in 1926, and Ida remained here until at least the mid-1930s, although she subsequently moved to a house on Maple Street.

The first photo was taken around 1938 or 1939, and the house was apparently vacant by this point. However, within a few years it would be converted into commercial use, and for most of the 1940s it was the home of the Wesmas Candy Corporation. Starting in 1949, Western Mass Theaters, Inc. was located here, and both the house and carriage house on the property had several other commercial tenants during the second half of the 20th century.

Both buildings were vacant by the 1990s and were badly deteriorated, but they were ultimately restored in an extensive project that was completed in 2006. Since then, the house has been used as law offices, and today there are few noticeable differences from the first photo. The house is one of the few surviving 19th century homes on this section of State Street, where it serves as a reminder of the days when this area was home to some of the city’s most affluent residents.