South Church, Springfield Mass

The old South Church building on Bliss Street in Springfield, probably around 1865-1875. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The location in 2015:


For many years, the First Church in Springfield was the only church in town; it wasn’t until the first half of the 19th century that other churches started to form.  Many of these were offshoots from the first church, some of whom left because of doctrinal differences, such as the Unitarian Church.  However, others left the church on better terms, in order to form new congregations to meet the needs of the growing town (and soon to be city).  The South Church was one of these.  They were formed in 1842, and originally met in the parish house of the First Church before building their own church a few blocks away on Bliss Street.

The first pastor was Noah Porter, who served from 1843 to 1846, when he accepted a position as a professor at his alma mater, Yale College.  He later went on to serve as president of Yale from 1871 to 1886.  Following Porter’s departure, Dr. Samuel G. Buckingham became the pastor, and served for 40 years.  Buckingham was also an author, and he wrote a biography of his brother William Alfred Buckingham, who was Governor of Connecticut from 1858 to 1866 and a US Senator from 1869 to 1875.

During Buckingham’s tenure as pastor, the church outgrew the building on Bliss Street, and in 1875 they moved to a new location on Maple Street.  South Congregational Church is still there, and still meets in the 1875 building.  Meanwhile, on Bliss Street, the old church was demolished by 1884, which was the year that the Women’s Christian Association built a boarding house on the site.  That building is still there as of 2015, serving as the home of the Springfield Rescue Mission, although it is scheduled to be demolished later in the year to make way for the MGM Springfield casino.

Jeremy Warriner House, Springfield Mass

The Jeremy Warriner house at 43 Bliss Street in Springfield, probably around 1893.  Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)

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The location in 2015:


Jeremy Warriner was a tavern owner in Springfield in the first half of the 19th century.  He operated Warriner’s Tavern at the corner of Main and State Streets, and he later opened the Union House, which is still standing as of April 2015, but is scheduled to be demolished later this year.  By the 1840s, Warriner was living in this house on Howard Street, just a block away from the Union House.  During his time here, he hosted at least one distinguished visitor.  In 1851, famed Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind traveled around the United States performing to enormous crowds, and one of her stops was Old First Church in Springfield.  While in Springfield, she stayed at Warriner’s home, and one of his employees, Julia Lee, gives an account of the visit in her letter that I included in this post.  I have included part of her description below:

After uncle Jerry gave up keeping the tavern and went over on Howard street to live I went with him, and Jenny Lind when she came here in 1851 stayed with Jerry and had her meals sent down from the hotel. There was Quincy, Harrison Gray Otis and Mr. Cabbot and lots of others. I liked Jenny Lind the best of all. She was beautiful and the school children all came around to see her and she was so polite to everybody.

Warriner’s house was still standing in 1905 when the Howard Street School was built two houses away, and it appears on city atlases as late as 1920, but it is not included among the 1938-1939 WPA photos of Howard Street, which suggests it was probably gone by then.  Most recently, the site has been used as a parking lot, but the 2015 photo shows construction equipment getting ready to begin work on the MGM Springfield casino.  The Howard Street School in the background will be demolished soon, pending final approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

French Protestant Church, Springfield Mass

The former French Protestant Church on Bliss Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The church in 2015:


This church on Bliss Street was built in 1887 as the French Protestant Church, thanks in part to the efforts of Daniel B. Wesson, whose Smith & Wesson factory was just on the other side of Main Street from here.  Many of his workers were French-Canadian Protestants, and he wanted them to have a French alternative to the Roman Catholic church.  However, the congregation disbanded in 1909, and several other churches used the building until 1919, when it was purchased by the First Spiritualist Society, who remained at the Bliss Street location until 2013.  The property was purchased by MGM Springfield, and while several historic buildings will be demolished to build the casino, the church will be moved to a new location on the MGM property and renovated as a restaurant.

Springfield Rescue Mission, Springfield Mass

The former WCA boarding house at 19 Bliss Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:


The building at 19 Bliss Street has had a variety of roles over the years.  It was built in 1884, as a boarding house for the Women’s Christian Association.  As Springfield’s population and economy grew in the late 19th century, so did the demand for workers.  The WCA provided a place for young, single women to live while working in the city, and this building served that purpose until the larger YWCA building was completed a block away on Howard Street in 1907.  The old building was then used as a private boarding house for many years, as seen in the first photo.  In 1962, the Springfield Rescue Mission acquired the building, and it has been used by them ever since.  There have been a few changes over the years, the most obvious of which is the removal of the front porch; the “shadow” of the porch can still be seen on the front of the building.  Another fairly recent change was the installation of new windows, which required some brick infilling of the window openings; this can be seen the clearest with the windows on the far left side.  It wasn’t planned this way, but notice how the cars in both photos are in essentially the same locations, representing changes in automobiles over the course of three quarters of a century.  Also of note is the tree in the foreground, which appears to be the same tree that was there in the first photo.

However, the historic building sits literally right in the middle of the planned MGM casino, so it is among the buildings that will be demolished.  In exchange for the building, MGM purchased a new location for the Rescue Mission, the former Orr Cadillac dealership on Mill Street, which will allow the organization to expand from 40 to 60 beds.  Currently, the Bliss Street property scheduled to be the last to be demolished, sometime in December of 2015.

Bliss Street Parking Garage, Springfield Mass

The garage at 16 Bliss Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:


Some then & now scenes are remarkable in how much they have changed, while others are remarkable in how little they’ve changed, like this scene on Bliss Street.  The two photos were taken over 75 years apart, yet nothing seems to have changed except for the cars.  Even the fence around the parking lot looks like it is the same one from the 1930s.  The building in the foreground is a parking garage, which was built in 1928, presumably to accommodate workers for the State Building, which was built in 1929 and can be seen behind the parking garage on the left-hand side of the photo.  The State Building at 95 State Street was built as the annex to 1200 Main Street, which at the time served as the main offices for MassMutual.

Although this particular scene has been virtually unchanged since before the Great Depression, it will be changing very dramatically this year.  All of the properties are within the footprint of the planned MGM casino, and the parking garage is currently scheduled to be demolished in June.  The State Building was originally slated to be demolished, but as of March 2015 it appears that it will be preserved as office space for MGM.  If the casino is finished according to the current plans, the location where this photo was taken will be part of the main gaming floor of the casino.