Alexander House Staircase, Springfield, Mass

The main staircase of the Alexander House in Springfield, on December 2, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Alexander House is one of the oldest and most architecturally-significant houses in Springfield. It was built in 1811 by local contractor Simon Sanborn, based on designs by prominent architect Asher Benjamin, and it features an unusual floor plan with no front door. Instead, the house has two side doors, with a hallway running the width of the house between them. On one end of this hallway, at what was once the east entrance, is the main staircase, which is shown here. It is curved, with an elliptical appearance when viewed from the top, and it is perhaps the house’s single most striking interior feature.

The house had several important owners over the years, including famed portrait artist Chester Harding, who lived here in the early 1830s, and Mayor Henry Alexander, Jr., who lived here from 1857 until his death in 1878. The Alexander family remained here for many years, until his surviving child, Amy B. Alexander, died in 1938. The first photo was taken less than a year after her death, at a time when the house’s future was still uncertain. It was nearly moved to Storrowton Village on the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield, but instead it was purchased in 1939 by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which restored and preserved the house.

The Alexander House has been moved twice in its history. It was originally located on the north side of State Street, between Elliot and Spring Streets, but it was moved a few hundred feet on this lot in 1874 in order to remove drainage issues. The second move came in 2003, when it was moved around the corner to its current location on the east side of Elliot Street, in order to make room for the new federal courthouse on State Street. Because of this, these two photos were not taken in the same physical location, even though they show the same scene inside the house.

Today, the Alexander House is no longer owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, now known as Historic New England, sold the property soon after its 2004 move. It is now privately owned and used for office space, but it has retained its historic appearance on both the interior and exterior, including its distinctive staircase, which has hardly changed since the first photo was taken more than 80 years ago.

Alexander House Interior, Springfield, Mass

The east room on the first floor of the Alexander House in Springfield, on December 2, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

The room in 2019:

The Alexander House is one of the oldest surviving houses in Springfield, and perhaps the city’s best example of Federal style architecture. It was built in 1811, and it originally stood on the north side of State Street, between Elliot and Spring Streets. However, it has been moved twice over the years, first in 1874 when it was moved a few hundred feet because of drainage issues. Then, a more substantial move occurred in 2003, when it was moved around the corner to Elliot Street so that its old lot could be redeveloped as a federal courthouse. As a result, while these two photos show the same room, they were taken at different locations, with the first one on State Street and the second one at the house’s current lot on Elliot Street.

The original owner of this house was merchant James Byers, who lived here from 1811 until 1820, when he sold it to Colonel Israel Trask. The house was briefly owned by prominent portrait artist Chester Harding, but he sold it back to Trask in 1832. Trask died three years later, but his family owned it until 1857. The next owner, and current namesake of the house, was banker and local politician Henry Alexander, Jr. He was the president of Springfield Bank, and he also held a number of elected offices, including city alderman from 1857 to 1858, mayor from 1864 to 1865, and state senator from 1865 to 1868. Alexander named the house Linden Hall, and it was during his ownership that the house was moved for the first time. He lived here until his death in 1878, and the house remained in the Alexander family for the next 60 years, until the death of his last surviving child, Amy B. Alexander, in 1938.

The Alexander House was designed by prominent architect Asher Benjamin, and it was built by local contractor Simon Sanborn, who was responsible for many of the fine early 19th century homes in Springfield. In a rather unusual arrangement for a New England home, the house lacks a front door. Instead, it has two side entrances, which are connected by a hallway that runs the width of the house. At the front of the house are two parlors, one of which is shown here in these two photos. This particular room—located on the right side of the house when viewing it from the street—originally faced southeast towards the corner of State and Spring Streets, although in the house’s current orientation it faces southwest.

The first photo was taken less than a year after Amy Alexander’s death, as part of an effort to document the house for the Historic American Buildings Survey. At the time, the future of the house was still uncertain. One proposal would have involved moving it across the river to Storrowton Village at the Big E fairgrounds, but this was ultimately abandoned because of the challenges involved in such a move. Instead, in 1939 the house was acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Now known as Historic New England, this organization has restored and maintained many historic houses across the region, and it owned the Alexander House until shortly after the 2003 relocation. Since then, it has been privately owned and rented out for office space, but it retains its historic appearance on both the exterior and interior, and it stands as one of the city’s most historic and architecturally-significant houses.

Interior of The Cliffs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The living room inside The Cliffs in Philadelphia, in March 1932. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The previous post shows the exterior view of The Cliffs, before and after it was destroyed by a fire in 1986, and these two photos here show the interior of the now-gutted building. As explained in more detail in that post, The Cliffs was built in 1753 as the summer home of merchant Joshua Fisher. At the time, the present-day site of Fairmount Park was still sparsely settled, and several miles distant from the city center, making it an ideal place for Philadelphia’s wealthy families to escape to during the summer months. The Cliffs was one of many such homes built here during this time, although it was comparatively modest, with only two rooms on each floor and a simple design with minimal ornamentation on the interior and exterior.

The first floor of The Cliffs had a hall-and-parlor layout, which was typical for homes of this period. The hall, shown here in the first photo, was the largest room in the house, and it was where guests would be greeted, as both the front and back doors opened into it. It occupied slightly more than half of the space on the first floor, and it was located on the north side of the house. The adjoining room, the parlor, occupied the south side of the first floor. Like the hall, it had a fireplace, and it also had stairs connecting it to the kitchen in the basement and to the bedrooms on the second floor. By the time the first photo was taken in the 1930s, the hall and parlor had taken on more modern roles, as the living room and dining room, respectively.

The Cliffs was owned by the Fisher family for more than a century, although during part of the American Revolution it was rented to Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, Sarah “Sally” Franklin Bache. She was part of a women’s sewing group that would occasionally meet in the house—perhaps even here in this room—to sew clothes and bandages for Continental soldiers. Her time here may have coincided with the two years that Joshua Fisher’s son Samuel was imprisoned by colonial authorities because of suspected Loyalist beliefs.

Joshua Fisher died in 1783, the same year that the war ended, and after the war Samuel carried on the family business. He and his family continued to spend summers here at The Cliffs, including his daughter Deborah Fisher Wharton, who achieved prominence as a Quaker minister. She was active in the abolitionist movement, in addition to advocating for Native American rights and women’s suffrage. One of her children was Joseph Wharton, a wealthy 19th century industrialist and philanthropist who spent some of his childhood here at The Cliffs. He was one of the founders of Bethlehem Steel, and in 1881 he donated $100,000 to establish a school of business at the University of Pennsylvania, which became known as the Wharton School in his honor.

Starting in the mid-1800s, the city of Philadelphia began purchasing the old estates here along the Schuylkill River, in order to protect the drinking water supply from the encroaching development of the growing city. The city purchased The Cliffs in 1868, and it became part of Fairmount Park, which would eventually grow to encompass over two thousand acres on both sides of the river. The historic homes were generally preserved, and some, including The Cliffs, became housing for park employees.

The house was still occupied by park employees when the first photo was taken in 1932, and it remained in use until 1970. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places two years later, and photos from the nomination form show the house boarded up and tagged with graffiti. It would remain vacant for the next 14 years, before eventually being destroyed by an arsonist on February 22, 1986. The fire destroyed the entire house, leaving only the exterior masonry walls and chimneys still standing.

More than 30 years after the fire, the present-day photo is a haunting contrast to the first photo. The house was never rebuilt, and the ruins remain here, partially hidden by trees and weeds in a remote section of Fairmount Park. The interior and exterior walls are now covered in graffiti, with empty cans of spray paint littering the basement. Here on the north wall of what used to be the largest room in the house, the empty windows and damaged chimney give the north wall of the house an almost skull-like appearance, providing only a hint of what the house once looked like.

The Cliffs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Cliffs in Fairmount Park, in March 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, the present-day site of Fairmount Park was once a fashionable place for affluent Philadelphia residents to have country estates. These homes stood atop the banks overlooking the Schuylkill River, and they served as summer residences, enabling their owners to escape the heat, crowds, and disease of central Philadelphia. Most of these homes were built in the 18th or early 19th centuries, and many are still standing today, having been incorporated into Fairmount Park. However, this house, known as The Cliffs, is one of the exceptions, surviving only as a masonry shell after being gutted by a fire in 1986.

The Cliffs was built in 1753 by Joshua Fisher, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Perhaps because of his Quaker beliefs, the house was fairly modest, especially when compared its much larger, more elaborate neighbors. Its walls were made of rubble masonry, with very little exterior ornamentation. The interior was similarly plain, and featured just two rooms on each floor. On the first floor, the front door opened into the hall, the largest room in the house. It occupied slightly more than half of the first floor, and it was located on the right side of the house from this perspective. On the other side of the house was the parlor, which had a staircase connecting it to the kitchen in the basement and the bedrooms on the second floor.

The Revolutionary War was a difficult time for the Fisher family, as the war hurt their shipping business while also challenging their nonviolent Quaker beliefs. Joshua Fisher’s son Samuel was imprisoned for two years during the war because of suspected Loyalists beliefs, and for part of this time The Cliffs was rented to Sarah “Sally” Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin. While here, she was involved in a sewing group consisting of other local women who made clothes and bandages for soldiers in the Continental Army.

After the war, Samuel Fisher continued to use The Cliffs as a summer residence. His father died in 1783, but Samuel carried on the family mercantile business, which thrived in the late 18th century. He remained a bachelor for much of his life, but he ultimately married in 1793 at the age of 48, to 29-year-old Hannah Rodman of Newport, Rhode Island. They had three children who survived infancy, and probably the most notable was Deborah Fisher, who became a Quaker minister and civil rights activist, supporting causes such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and Native American rights. She married William Wharton, and among their children was Joseph Wharton, who was born in 1826. As a child he spent time here at The Cliffs, and he subsequently went on to become a successful industrialist. He was one of the founders of Bethlehem Steel, and he was also the founder and namesake of the Wharton School, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, the Cliffs was owned by the Fisher family until 1868, when the property was purchased by the city and incorporated into Fairmount Park. By this point, Philadelphia had grown considerably since the 18th century, and this area along the Schuylkill River was no longer as remote as it had once been. No longer as desirable of a location for summer retreats, the riverbanks instead attracted the attention of the city, which wanted to protect its public water supply. This had the side effect of creating a large, scenic urban park, and by the late 19th century the city had acquired many historic homes here.

For the next century, The Cliffs served as a residence for park employees. The first photo was taken during this time, in 1931, showing the east side of the house. Just beyond the house is the river, and in the distance is the west side of Fairmount Park, including the Letitia Street House, which is barely visible to the left of the tree on the left side of the scene. Although not as grand as many of the other historic homes in Fairmount Park, it was nonetheless a good example of Georgian architecture, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, two years after it was vacated by the city.

The house sat empty for many years, and it suffered from vandalism. It was ultimately destroyed by arson on February 22, 1986, leaving only the empty stone shell still standing. It was never rebuilt, and the ruins are still standing here today. Now overgrown with weeds and trees and covered in graffiti, the house bears little resemblance to its appearance in the first photo. As such, it provides a significant contrast to the other historic homes in Fairmount Park, which have been much better preserved over the years.

Walter Maranville House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 59-61 Cass Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

As of the 2020 season, at least 25 Major League Baseball players have been born in Springfield. Of those, few had particularly remarkable careers, with only three playing in the majors for more than ten years. However, one Springfield native, Walter “Rabbit” Maranville, became one of the most successful shortstops of the early 20th century. He played 23 seasons with the Boston Braves and several other National League teams between 1912 and 1935, and in 1954 he became the only Springfield-born player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Walter Maranville was born on November 11, 1891, and he was the son of Ward E. Maranville and Catherine E. Nolan. He grew up here in this house at 59-61 Cass Street, at the corner of Franklin Street in Springfield’s Liberty Heights neighborhood. It seems unclear as to exactly when he and his family moved in here, though. Ward Maranville and Catherine’s father James Nolan jointly purchased this property in 1891, but for most of the 1890s the city directories list the Maranvilles at 64 Cass Street, which is diagonally across the intersection. This may have been an error, though, or the street numbers may have changed in the late 1890s, because the present-day site of 64 Cass Street was not developed until the 1910s.

In any case, the Maranvilles and Nolans were definitely living here at 59-61 Cass Street by 1899. The following year’s census shows James and Mary Nolan—Catherine’s parents—living in the unit at 59 Cass Street, along with their adult children, Mary and John. In the other unit at 61 Cass Street, the Maranville household consisted of Ward and Catherine, who were 39 and 32 respectively, and their five children. Ward had previously worked as a brakeman for the Boston & Albany Railroad, but in the mid-1890s he began a long career as a police officer with the Springfield Police Department. Walter was eight years old at the time of the census, and the second oldest of the children. His older brother Ward was ten, and his younger siblings, May, John, and Frances, ranged in age from six to one.

As a child, Walter Maranville attended the Charles Street School, which was located about a quarter mile down Franklin Street from here, at the corner of Franklin and Charles Streets. He subsequently attended Chestnut Junior High School, and then spent a year at Technical High School, where he played catcher on the school’s baseball team. He left school at the age of 15 in order to take an apprenticeship as a pipefitter and tinsmith, but he was more interested in baseball. By 1909 he was playing semi-pro baseball at Forest Park for the Blue Labels of the local City Baseball League.

With Maranville as shortstop and team captain, the Blue Labels won the league pennant in 1910, and the following year he began playing professionally for the minor league New Bedford Whalers. He was recruited by the Whaler’s manager, Tommy Dowd, a Holyoke native who had been impressed by his performance with the Blue Labels. Maranville went on to have a successful year with the Whalers, despite a paltry .227 batting average with just two home runs. During that season, the Springfield Union published a description that of him had originally appeared in the Lawrence Eagle: “Maranville, New Bedford’s short fielder, is a nifty ball player. He handles himself well and if the small little youngster could only pick up a few notches in his stick work he would be a good man for the enterprising scouts to keep their eye on.”

Maranville was indeed small—at 5’5″ he was among the shortest players in major league history—but he did improve his hitting in 1912, and in September he was promoted to the Boston Braves. He joined a team that was hopelessly out of contention, in last place with a 39-90 win-loss record, and the Braves were also overshadowed by the far more successful Boston Red Sox, who were on their way to their second World Series championship at the time. He took over as starting shortstop for Frank O’Rourke, a rookie who had been abysmal as both a hitter and a fielder. Although Maranville continued to struggle at the plate, he was an above-average fielder, and a vast improvement over O’Rourke in both areas. As a result, he went on to start all 26 of the team’s remaining games in the fall of 1912.

Maranville retained the role of starting shortstop for the 1913 season, and he established himself as one of the best players in the league, finishing third in the MVP voting at the end of the year. Then, in 1914, he played an important role in the success of the Miracle Braves, as the team came to be known that year. At the time, the Braves had not had a winning season in over a decade, and they were not expected to be competitive in 1914 either.

The 1914 season began in predictable fashion, and by July 4 the Braves had a 26-40 record and were in last place, 15 games behind the league-leading Giants. However, the Braves then went on an improbable run for the rest of the season, winning 68 of their remaining 87 games. By the end of the year, they lead the league by 10.5, and they went on to win the World Series, sweeping the heavily-favored Philadelphia Athletics. It was the only World Series title that the Braves won while in Boston, and Maranville finished second in the MVP voting, behind his teammate and fellow infielder Johnny Evers.

Throughout these early years with the Braves, Walter Maranville continued to live here in this house during the off-season. In November 1914, less than a month after winning the World Series, he married his wife Elizabeth Shea, who lived just down the street from here at 25 Cass Street. They were married at Sacred Heart Church on Chestnut Street, and the reception was held at Elizabeth’s house, with over 100 guests present. The couple left for their honeymoon after the reception, and when they returned to Springfield they lived here in the Maranville family home.

However, 1914 was also marked by personal tragedy for the Maranvilles when, on July 11, Walter’s 17-year-old brother John died of chronic nephritis. Unfortunately, this was not the first untimely death in the family; his mother Catherine had died in 1900 at the age of 32, as a result of complications from a pregnancy, and his uncle John Nolan died in 1911 at the age of 38, after falling off an embankment at the east side of the South End Bridge.

Walter and Elizabeth were still living here in this house on Cass Street in 1915, but by the 1916 city directory they were at 45 Underwood Street, located on the spot where the westbound lanes of Interstate 291 now pass through the neighborhood. Their daughter, who was also named Elizabeth, was born in 1916, and by the 1917 directory they were at 318 Franklin Street, in a house that still stands a block away from here, at the corner of Leonard Street. However, Elizabeth Maranville died in March 1917, at the age of 22, from what contemporary newspapers only described as a “short illness.” Her funeral was subsequently held in the same church where where they had been married less than two and a half years earlier.

Walter continued to play shortstop for the Braves throughout this time, although he missed almost the entire 1918 season because of World War I. That year, he served in the navy as a gunner’s mate aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania, and his only appearances on the field for the Braves came in July, when he played in 11 games while on leave for two weeks.

The 1920 census shows Walter still living at 318 Franklin Street, along with his daughter Elizabeth, his father Ward, and his sister Frances. However, this appears to have been his last year in Springfield, because he is not listed in the 1921 or subsequent directories. The rest of the family remained in the city, though, and Ward continued to live at 318 Franklin Street for the next few years before moving back here to this house at 61 Cass Street in 1923.

By the 1930 census, Ward was living here on Cass Street with his daughter Frances, her husband John Sheehan, and their two young children, Eleanor and John. He owned the entire building, which was valued at $7,000, and at the time he was renting the unit at 59 Cass Street for $30 per month to telephone company worker Edmond Ross and his sister Clemence. At 71 years of age, Ward was still working as a police officer, but he died a few months later in July 1930, just an hour after returning home from his shift at the police station.

John and Frances apparently moved out of the house shortly after Ward’s death, but the house would continue to be owned by the family as a rental property for many years. The first photo was taken around the late 1930s, by which point the exterior of the house appears to have been covered in asbestos siding. This would not have been original to the house, and it was probably added sometime in the 1930s, when it became a common building material in place of wood clapboards.

The 1940 census, which was conducted shortly after the photo was taken, shows two different families living here at the time. At 59 Cass Street was a young couple, John and Helen Kawalec. In an unusual reversal of gender expectations for the period, John worked as a sales clerk for a florist shop, while Helen was an inspector for a chemical company. She was also paid at a much higher rate than he was; in 1939 she was earned $554 for 18 weeks of work, while John earned $1,040 in 52 weeks. The other unit, at 61 Cass Street, was occupied by Joseph and Mary Sobolewski. They were both immigrants from Poland, and they lived here with their children Joseph Jr., Adam, Edwin, and Regina. Joseph worked as a roofer, earning $1,500 in 1939, and paid $22 per month in rent.

By the time the first photo was taken, Walter Maranville was still involved in professional baseball. He had remained with the Braves through the 1920 season, and then spent the next four years with the Pittsburgh Pirates before joining the Chicago Cubs in 1925. The Cubs got off to a poor start that year, so midway through the season Maranville was appointed manager. He continued to play shortstop in addition to managing, but the team did not fare much better under his leadership, and he was dismissed as manager before the end of the year.

Maranville next went to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1926. He started the year as their shortstop, but his relatively poor performance on the field led to his release from the team in August. By this point he was 33 years old and his career seemed to be winding down. He spent almost the entire 1927 season in the minor leagues, before earning a September call-up to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, he became the Cardinals’ primary shortstop in 1928, and he was able to re-establish himself as one of the league’s best shortstops, finishing tenth in that year’s MVP Award voting. Then, in 1929 Maranville returned to the Boston Braves, where he spent three years as shortstop before moving to second base for the 1932 and 1933 seasons. He did not play at all in 1934, and his last season in the majors came in 1935, when he played 23 games for the Braves at the age of 43.

After the end of his playing career, Maranville transitioned to managing. His brief tenure with the Cubs in 1925 was the only time that he would manage in the majors, but he spent the rest of the 1930s as manager of several different minor league teams. In 1936 he was the player-manager of the Elmira Pioneers, and then he managed the Montreal Royals in 1937 and 1938, followed by the Albany Senators in 1939. His career ultimately came full circle in 1941, when he managed the Springfield Nationals here in his hometown. However, the Nationals finished with a dismal 50-85 record that year, and this proved to be his final role in professional baseball.

In his later years, Maranville was involved in youth baseball programs in several different cities, including in New York. He lived in New York City until his death on January 5, 1954, and his body was returned to Springfield for his funeral at Sacred Heart Church, followed by burial in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Then, just a few weeks later, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1954. He was the only player elected posthumously that year, but his Springfield family was well-represented at the subsequent induction ceremony in Cooperstown, including his second wife Helena, his daughter Elizabeth McGinnis, and his siblings Ward Maranville and Frances Sheehan.

The Maranvilles still owned this house on Cass Street at the time, and they would continue to own it until 1963, when Frances sold it more than 70 years after her father had purchased the property. Since then, the exterior of the house has not seen many changes, aside from some alterations to the front porch. The house appears to still have the same 1930s-era siding from the first photo, and it has retained some of what appear to be original 1890s decorative features, including the brackets under the eaves and the scalloped shingles on the sides of the porch. Overall, the house closely resembles the rest of the historic houses on Cass Street, which were all built around the same time with similar designs, and there are no plaques or other markings to indicate its significance. Regardless, though, the house is an important historic resource in Springfield, as the childhood home of one of the most accomplished athletes in the history of western Massachusetts.

Thomas Wason House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 270 Liberty Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This brick Italianate-style house was built sometime around the early 1850s, and it was the home of Thomas Wason, the founder of the Wason Manufacturing Company. At the time, this area of Springfield to the east of Chestnut Street and north of the railroad tracks was sparsely developed, consisting primarily of upscale homes that were modeled on rural Italian villas. A number of these houses are visible in the first photo of an earlier post, which shows the view around 1882, before the area was transformed into the working-class Liberty Heights neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century.

Thomas Wason was born in New Hampshire in 1811, and he grew up in a family with 15 children. His father was a carpenter, so Thomas worked in the shop when he was young, and gained valuable skills that he would put to use after he and his younger brother Charles moved to Springfield in the 1830s. At the time, Springfield was a small but rapidly-growing manufacturing center, and it was also an important transportation hub that would soon become the crossroads of several important railroads.

The Wason brothers took advantage of this new method of transportation, and they started out by preparing timbers for railroad bridges and repairing railroad cars before starting a railroad car manufacturing business in 1845. The company started small, with the Wasons producing cars in a shed that was not even large enough for a single car. However, the rapid growth of the nation’s railroad system resulted in high demand for railroad cars, so the Wasons soon moved to a larger facility. Then, in 1848, they moved again, to the factory of the former Springfield Car and Engine Company, which was located in the block between Lyman and Taylor Streets in downtown Springfield.

Charles Wason ultimately left Springfield in 1851 and moved to Cleveland, where he established his own railroad car company. Thomas purchased his brother’s interest in their partnership here in Springfield, and he carried on the business for many years, turning it into one of the nation’s leading railroad car manufacturers. During that time, the Wason Manufacturing Company produced cars for most major railroads, and also had several overseas contracts, including a 161-car order that was sent to Egypt in 1860. The company also produced the nation’s first sleeping car in 1857, predating the more famous Pullman sleeping cars by several years.

The Wason company was one of the most important industries in Springfield during the second half of the 19th century, and the 1884 book King’s Handbook of Springfield declared that “no manufactory in Springfield has been more world-famed; and none has, during the past twenty years, handled so much money.” Thomas Wason himself also handled plenty of money, and by the mid-1860s he ranked among the city’s top earners, with an 1864 income of $17,944, equivalent to over $300,000 today.

Thomas Wason was around 40 years old when moved into this house in the early 1850s. He and his wife Sarah had two children, Jane and George, who would have been adolescents at the time. Like most affluent families of the period, they also employed servants who lived here in the house; the 1860 census lists 19-year-old servant Edwin Mehan, who was an Irish immigrant. A decade later, the family employed 18-year-old Annie Harris and 16-year-old Ellen Davis. Both were originally from Virginia, and Harris was listed as mulatto and Davis as black, so it is possible that the two may have previously been enslaved in Virginia.

In addition to manufacturing railroad cars, Thomas Wason’s business interests included being involved with several local banks. He was vice president of the Hampden Savings Bank, and he was also one of the directors of the First National Bank of Springfield. Wason was also active in local politics, serving at various times on the city council, the board of aldermen, and in the state legislature.

Thomas Wason died in 1870 at the age of 58, and he left behind an estate that was valued at nearly $450,000, or more than $9 million today. By far his largest asset was his ownership interest in Wason Manufacturing, which amounted to 760 shares worth a total of $200,000. He also held more than $60,000 in shares of companies like the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, the First National Bank, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad. Most of his remaining personal estate was in the form of bonds and promissory notes, which were valued at more than $112,000. Wason also owned $58,500 in real estate, including his house here on Liberty Street, which was assessed at $20,000.

Sarah Wason continued to live here in this house for at least five years after her husband’s death, but she had evidently moved out by 1876. The 1880 census shows her living next door at 284 Liberty Street, at the home of her daughter Jane and son-in-law Henry S. Hyde. However, her old house here at 270 Liberty Street would remain in the family for many years, although it appears to have been used primarily as a rental property. Starting around 1877, it was the home of Aaron Wight, a sawyer who sold wood to railroads. He was also the brother of Emerson Wight, the mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878. Aaron lived here in this house for the rest of his life, until his death in 1885 from typhoid malaria at the age of 63.

By the late 19th century, this part of Springfield had begun to change. As the city grew, the old estates here were steadily subdivided into new residential streets, and the neighborhood became predominantly working class, with a number of immigrants and second-generation Americans. The area also became more industrialized during this period, thanks to its proximity to the railroad tracks. The 1899 city atlas shows a rail yard directly across the street from the house, and nearby industries included a stone yard, a coal yard, and a boiler and iron works.

The house was still used as a residence in 1900, although it was apparently divided into multiple units. One of the residents in that year’s census was George K. Geiger, superintendent at the Springfield Steam Power Company. He was an immigrant from Germany, and he lived here with his wife Rosa and their two sons, George and Arthur. The other family living here at the time was Hector and Nell Davis, who lived here with their children Mabel, Fred, and Eugene. Hector was a conductor for the Boston and Maine Railroad, and Mabel and Fred both worked as clerks.

This property underwent a dramatic transformation around 1909, when the Central Storage Warehouse purchased it and built a brick warehouse behind and to the right of the old house. The building evidently functioned much in the same way as modern storage units, with the company advertising, “Storage rooms to let. For furniture and other goods in separate locked compartments.” The warehouse was subsequently expanded in the early 1910s, with a new wing that extended all the way to Liberty Street, as shown on the right side of both photos here.

George Geiger was involved with the company in its early years, working as mechanical engineer and superintendent. By the 1910 census, both he and the Davis family were still living here in the house, although the Davises moved out soon after, and the Geigers left in 1912, when George resigned from his position with the company. After the Geigers, the last long-term resident of this house appears to have been Linda Daniels, who was here from around 1912 until her death in 1921. During the 1920 census she was 60 years old, widowed, and lived in the house with three of her children.

By the mid-1920s, the property seems to have been exclusively commercial in use. During this period, the company frequently listed advertisements in local newspapers, which reflected an expansion of its services beyond just storage. One 1925 ad offered “Local and long distance moving, packing, crating, storage of household furniture, pianos, office effects, merchandise.” Another ad from the same year assured potential customers, “Don’t worry on moving day. Call R. 98 and your moving problems will be solved to your complete satisfaction; storage for household, personal and office effects in strictly fireproof building; skilled workmen, competent to pack and crate any article safely.” In addition to these ads, the company also frequently posted classified ads for auctions and other sales of furniture, antiques, and similar items.

Judging by the few advertisements that appeared in the newspaper for Central Storage Warehouse in the 1930s, the business was probably hurt by the Great Depression. The first photo was taken during this time, probably around 1938 or 1939, and the company’s only appearance in the newspapers in those years seems to have been a December 1939 classified ad listing female canaries for sale, which were “guaranteed singers.”

The company remained here as late as 1940, but its business license was revoked in the fall of that year, and in February 1941 the property was sold at a foreclosure sale to the moving and storage company Lindell & Benson. Within a few years Lindell & Benson became Anderson & Benson, and this moving company would go on to operate here for many years before it was acquired by Sitterly Movers in 1975.

Today, the house has come a long way since being the home of one of Springfield’s most prosperous 19th century industrialists, and it has seen some exterior changes since the first photo was taken, including the loss of the porches on the left and right sides of the house. It is now almost entirely surrounded by larger industrial and commercial buildings, and the vacant lot on the left side of the first photo is now a building that partially blocks the view of the house from this angle.

Otherwise, though, remarkably little has changed in this scene over the past 80 years. Despite the exterior alterations, the house is still standing as one of the few survivors of the once-numerous Italian villas in this area. The early 20th century warehouse next to it is also still standing, with the same “Furniture Storage” advertisement still visible at the top, although it is more faded than in the 1930s. This property is still owned by Sitterly Movers, which continues to use this location as its Springfield branch, and in 2016 both buildings were designated as a local historic district.