Chester W. Chapin House, Springfield, Mass

The Chester W. Chapin House at 149 Chestnut Street, just south of Bridge Street, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).


The scene in 2016:

One of Springfield’s most prominent residents of the 19th century was Chester W. Chapin, a businessman and politician who lived here in this home on Chestnut Street for nearly 40 years. Chapin was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts in 1798, and was the youngest of seven children. The family soon relocated to Chicopee, at the time still part of Springfield, where his father died in 1806, just 10 days before Chester’s eighth birthday. As a young adult, he worked for $1.50 a day, building foundations for the cotton mills in Chicopee, and he later took a job as a clerk for his brother Erastus, who owned the old Parsons Tavern in Springfield.

Chapin soon went into business for himself, and in the early 1820s he opened a store in Chicopee. From here, he went on to make a series of  business investments, starting around 1826 when he purchased an interest in the Hartford to Brattleboro stagecoach line. His portfolio expanded in 1831 when he purchased a steamboat line from Springfield to Hartford, and along with this he also owned large interests in several other steamboat companies.

Stagecoaches and steamboats were soon to become largely obsolete, though, and in 1844 Chapin wisely sold his investments and purchased the Hartford & New Haven Railroad. In 1850, he became president of the Connectict River Railroad, which had just been completed from Springfield north to the Vermont border. With these two railroads, he controlled largely the same transportation corridor that had once been served by his stagecoaches and steamboats, but his most significant role as a railroad executive came in 1854, when he became president of the Western Railroad. Extending from Worcester to Albany, this line was later merged with the Boston and Worcester  Railroad in 1867 to form the Boston and Albany Railroad, and Chapin became the new company’s first president.

Aside from his railroad interests, Chapin founded the Agawam Bank in 1846, serving as its first president and later as a director. He was also a director of the New York Central Railroad, the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Springfield Gas Light Company, Chapin Bank, Parsons Paper Company, and a number of other companies. By the 1860s, he was among the wealthiest men in the city, as seen in his 1865 income of $78,886, equivalent to over $1.2 million today. Only two other residents of the city, pistol manufacturers Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, had a greater income that year.

Chapin built this house on Chestnut Street in 1844, the same year that he started investing in railroads. Like most of the other mansions on the street in this era, its design was heavily influenced by the Greek Revival style, but it also shows elements of Italianate architecture, such as the overhanging eaves and the cupola, which would become more popular by the middle of the century. Because this area of Springfield was still sparsely developed, the house was on a large lot that extended behind it, almost all the way to Spring Street.

During the time that he lived in this house, Chapin also served one term in the US House of Representatives, from 1875 to 1877, before being defeated in his re-election bid. He was one of only two Democrats to represent Springfield in the House prior to the mid-20th century. For years, Western Massachusetts was a Republican stronghold, and no other Democrats would be elected to Congress from Springfield’s district until Foster Furcolo in 1949.

Chapin died in 1883 at the age of 84, and the house was owned by his family for the next 30 years. By the early 1900s, though, the property, with its large backyard, was valuable commercial real estate. It was demolished in 1913, and Winter Street was developed through the lot. Here along Chestnut Street, the Willys-Overland Block was built on the left side, and another brick commercial block was built on the right side, where a parking lot is located today.

Daniel L. Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The Daniel L. Harris House at the corner of Chestnut and Pearl Streets, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).


The scene in 2016:

In the mid-19th century, Chestnut Street was Springfield’s most prestigious residential street. Running parallel to Main Street on a bluff overlooking downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River, it was lined with mansions of many prominent residents. Many of these homes were originally owned by members of the Dwight family, and this particular house, located at what would later become the corner of Pearl Street, was built in 1835 by William Dwight (1805-1880). He and his wife Eliza lived here with their seven sons, four of whom would go on to serve in the Civil War. Two, Wilder and Howard, died during the war, and another, General William Dwight, was badly wounded and left for dead after the Battle of Williamsburg. He survived, but was captured and spent time in a Confederate prison.

At some point before 1851, the house was moved slightly to the left of its original location in order to open Pearl Street through the property. At this point, the house was owned by Daniel L. Harris (1818-1879), a civil engineer who built railroads and bridges. He served as the president of the Connecticut River Railroad, and in 1859 he traveled to Russia as a consultant for the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railway. The following year, he served a term as mayor of Springfield, and at this point he was one of the wealthiest men in the rapidly-growing city. In 1866, the Springfield Republican published a list of the taxable income of residents from the previous year, and Harris had the ninth highest income, earning $24,117, or about $377,000 in 2016.

Harris lived here until his death in 1879, and the house remained in his family for nearly 50 more years. By the early 1920s, though, Chestnut Street was no longer the city’s preeminent neighborhood. Springfield’s commercial center had spread up the hill from Main Street, and one by one the 19th century mansions were replaced by 20th century development. Most of these homes disappeared during the 1920s, including the Harris house.

The land became the Apremont Triangle, a small park bounded by Chestnut, Pearl, and Bridge Streets, but the house itself was not completely lost to history. In 1923, it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island, where it was rebuilt to its original design. It was subsequently altered beyond recognition in 1970, including the removal of the second floor. However, it is still standing today at 215 Watch Hill Road, in a setting far different from where it had originally been built.

Kilroy House, Springfield, Mass

The Kilroy House at 63 Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2015:

As mentioned in an earlier post, this site was once the home of publisher George Merriam, the co-founder of Merriam-Webster. He died in 1880, and the house was demolished around the turn of the century. It was replaced with two houses, one of which was this Mission Revival style house, which was completed in 1905 for Dr. Philip Kilroy, an Irish-born doctor who had his home and office here. After his death, the house was owned by WSPR, a radio station that was broadcast from here from 1936 to 1981. It is now owned by the Springfield Library and Museums Association and is used as their offices.

Architecturally, this house is significant because it is one of only a few Mission Revival style houses in Springfield, and as the two photos show it has been well preserved over the years. It is also one of the last few surviving homes along this section of Chestnut Street, which was once a fashionable street for Springfield’s upper class.

Chestnut Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking south on Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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Chestnut Street in 2015:

This section of Chestnut Street runs atop a hill overlooking downtown Springfield, and in the first half of the 19th century it became home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents. The two houses in the foreground are the George Merriam House and the George Bancroft House, both of which have been featured in previous posts. The Merriam house on the left side was owned by George Merriam, who along with his brother Charles founded Merriam-Webster. The house in the center was owned by a series of prominent individuals, including George Bancroft, a historian and future Secretary of the Navy and Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Other owners included George Walker who was a prominent business executive, and William H. Haile, a politician who erved as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1890 to 1892.

Today, all of these houses are gone. The only building that has survived from the first photo is Christ Church Cathedral, which is barely visible in the distance. The Merriam house was demolished around 1905 and two new houses were built on the lot, including the 1905 Kilroy House on the far left. The Bancroft house was demolished by 1933, when the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts was built here, and the third house in the distance was also demolished in the early 20th century to build the church rectory, which is still standing today.

George Merriam House, Springfield, Mass

The George Merriam House at 55 Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The scene in 2015:

The house in the first photo was built in the mid-1820s, and was owned by several different members of the wealthy Dwight family, including Edmund Dwight and later his nephew, Jonathan Dwight III. By far the most significant resident of this house, though, was George Merriam, who purchased the house in 1848. George and his younger brother Charles moved to Springfield in 1831, and opened a publishing company, located at the Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Main and State Streets. In 1843, they purchased the rights to publish Noah Webster’s dictionary, which soon became a success. Five years later, George moved into this house on Chestnut Street, which at the time was home to some of the city’s most prominent residents. His brother Charles lived in an equally elegant house on Howard Street, in the city’s South End.

George lived here until his death in 1880, and the house remained in the Merriam family until around the turn of the century. It was demolished by 1905, though, and property was divided into two house lots. The one on the right has since been demolished, but the one on the left, known as the Kilroy House, is still standing. Both lots are now owned by the Springfield Library and Museums Association, and the Kilroy House now serves as offices.

George Bancroft House, Springfield, Mass

The George Bancroft House at 49 Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The scene in 2015:

The house in the first photo was built in 1836 by Jonathan Dwight, Jr., a prominent businessman and local politician. It was a gift to his daughter Sarah and her husband George Bancroft, who had moved from Northampton to Springfield a year earlier. However, Sarah died only a few months later at the age of 34, and in 1838 Bancroft left Springfield after being appointed Collector of Customs for the Port of Boston. He never returned to Springfield, but he went on to have a successful political career, serving as the Secretary of the Navy from 1845 to 1846 and as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1846 to 1849. In addition, he was a noted historian who published an extensive 12-volume history of the United States, which was written over a 30-year period from 1834 to 1874.

After Bancroft left this house, it was sold to his brother-in-law, Jonathan Dwight III, who lived here until he moved to Newport, Rhode Island in 1850. He, in turn, sold it to another brother-in-law of his, George Bliss, who then gave it as a gift to his daughter Sarah and her husband George Walker. Like the previous George who lived in this house, George Walker was also a nationally significant figure. He served a number of diverse roles; aside from his law practice and several terms in the state legislature, he was also influential in the banking industry. From 1860 to 1864 he served as the Massachusetts Banking Commissioner, and later on he was the founder and president of the Third National Bank of Springfield. He also served as the vice president of Western Union and as the vice president of the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, and from 1880 to 1887 he added diplomacy to his resume, serving as the US Consul-General in Paris.

The third prominent owner of this house was William H. Haile, a politician who served as the city’s mayor in 1881, a state senator in 1882 and 1883, the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1890 to 1892, and he was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor in 1892. He had previously lived in a townhouse on nearby Mattoon Street, but he was living here on Chestnut Street by the early 1880s, and he remained here until his death in 1901.

The first photo was taken during Haile’s ownership, and it shows some of the alterations that had been made to the house over the years. It was originally built in the typical Greek Revival style that was common in Springfield during the 1830s, with two stories and a front gable roof. By the time the first photo was taken, though, the old roof had been replaced by a mansard roof and a third story, reflecting the Second Empire style that was popular in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1902, the house was purchased by George Walter Vincent Smith, the prominent art collector whose collection formed the basis of the art museum that now bears his name. He died in 1923, and at some point soon after his wife’s death in 1928, the house was demolished. It was replaced by a second art museum, the Art Deco style D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, which now stands on the site of the old house.