Main and Court Streets, Springfield, Mass

The northwest corner of Main and Court Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This site, on the north side of Court Square, has long been an important commercial property in the center of Springfield. Court Square itself was established in 1821, and a year later Erastus Chapin, the former owner of Parsons Tavern, opened the Hampden Coffee House here. This hotel offered accomodations for travelers as well as “the choicest liquors,” as advertised at the time, but Chapin had little success and later sold the business, moving to Albany and then to St. Louis. The property changed hands several more times, and the hotel later became the starting point for a stagecoach line run by Erastus’s younger brother, the future railroad and banking tycoon Chester W. Chapin.

The hotel was later known simply as the Hampden House, and its guests included Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, who stayed here during their 1842 tour of America. Only 30 years old at the time, Dickens was already a prominent literary figure, and was a greeted as a celebrity almost everywhere he went. His subsequent book about his travels, American Notes for General Circulation, was an often scathing critique of American culture, but he made little mention of his stay in Springfield, other than to say that he took the railroad to Springfield, and then took a steamboat down the Connecticut River to Hartford.

The original Hampden House burned down in 1844, two years after Dickens’s visit, but the hotel was later rebuilt on the same site. This new building is seen in the 1930s photo here, but it was originally smaller with only four floors, as seen in an earlier post. It appears to have been competed sometime around 1858, with an advertisement proclaiming, “Hampden House. Redivivus. This new and elegant structure, reared upon the site of the original Hampden House, corner of Main and Court Sts., adjoining Court Square, is now open to permanent or transient guests, as a first class hotel.”

The building was used as a hotel for several decades, but starting in 1879 it was occupied by a long succession of department stores. The first of these, Smith & Murray, was established in 1879 by Scottish immigrants John M. Smith and Peter Murray, with their store occupying the ground floor and basement of the building. Just five years later, though, these “importers and dealers in foreign and domestic dry and fancy goods” were described in the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield as being “among the largest and most successful business houses of the city.” The store had already been expanded twice at that point, and by the turn of the 20th century it filled both this building and an adjacent one, with a total floor space of about 70,000 square feet.

John Smith died in 1898, but the company remained in business under the leadership of Peter Murray until it finally closed around 1915. The building did not remain vacant for long, though, and it went on to house department stores such as Poole Dry Goods Company, Stillman’s, and J.C. Penney. By the time the first photo was taken, the building had been significantly altered from its original mid-19th century appearance, with changes such as a fifth floor, new windows on the Main Street facade, and the replacement of the old arched windows on the first floor of the Court Street facade.

In the next few decades after the first photo was taken, the retail businesses of downtown Springfield entered a steady decline as shoppers began to favor suburban malls over Main Street stores. One by one, the landmark department stores of downtown Springfield closed and the buildings were demolished. This building became one of the first to go, closing around the late 1960s. A few years later, this entire block between Court and Pynchon Streets was demolished, including both the old department store and the adjacent Capitol Theatre. The site would remain vacant for the next decade, as a cavernous hole in the center of Springfield’s downtown commercial district, but it was ultimately redeveloped with the construction of the present-day One Financial Plaza, a skyscraper that was completed in 1983.

Market Street, Springfield Mass

Looking north on Market Street from East Court Street in Springfield, c.1892.  Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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Market Street in 2015:

Market Street once ran parallel to Main Street from State Street to Harrison Avenue, and these two photos show the northern section of the street toward Harrison Avenue.  This was never a major thoroughfare in the city – in fact, in the 1892 photo it looks more like an alley running behind the buildings on Main Street.  Today, the southern section of Market Street no longer exists at all; the section from State Street to East Court Street is now part of the MassMutual Center.  North of here, the street still exists, but it is a pedestrian-only walkway.

Most of the buildings from the first photo no longer exist.  On the right-hand side, F.B. Taylor once supplied builders with doors, windows, lumber, and paint; today this spot is occupied by the MassMutual Center.  In the distance is the steeple for Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, which once stood on Bridge Street.  Today, the congregation still exists at the large stone church on Sumner Avenue.  The only building in the first photo that survives today is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank building, seen on the far left.  The Main Street facade of this building has since been substantially altered, but from the rear it is still recognizable as being the same one.

Old High School, Springfield Mass

The old Springfield High School, on Court Street in Springfield, probably in the 1880s or early 1890s. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2015:


Springfield’s first public high school was established in 1828, and it was in several different location before this building on Court Street opened in 1848.  It served as the high school until 1874, when a new high school opened on the current location of Classical High School.  The old building was used as a primary school until at least the 1880s.  However, before the end of the century it was demolished and replaced by the Springfield Police Department headquarters, which can be seen in the first photo of this post.  However, the police station wasn’t there for too long, because the site is now occupied by the 1913 campanile tower between Symphony Hall and City Hall.

East Court Street, Springfield Mass

Looking east on East Court Street in Springfield, probably in the early 1890s. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The street, now called Falcons Way, in 2015:



The land that the MassMutual Center now sits on was once the site of dozens of assorted buildings.  Along the busy and prominent Main and State Streets, one could find banks, publishers such as G & C Merriam (of Merriam-Webster Dictionary fame), and the elegant YMCA building.  However, along Dwight and East Court Streets sat less glamorous, more utilitarian buildings, including ancient colonial buildings being used as laundromats.  Here on East Court Street, most of the occupations themselves are as obsolete as the buildings that once housed them here – the signs reveal that one could procure services from wagon and carriage makers, horse shoers, and farriers (although I’m not sure what the distinction is between a horse shoer and a farrier).  Within just a couple decades, these industries would go the same way of blacksmiths and coopers, and by the 1970s all of the dozens of buildings in the four square block area would be demolished to make way for the MassMutual Center.

Court Street, Springfield, Mass

Court Street in Springfield, sometime before 1905. Photo from author’s collection.


Court Street in 2014:


I came across the first photo in a 3-for-$1 bin at an antique store, and despite the odd coloring it provides an interesting view along Court Street from around the turn of the last century.  It is an albumen print, mounted on thick paper, and evidently colorized after processing.  There are no identifying marks on the photo, and the only way I was able to figure out the location was because I recognized the old police station and City Hall as being in Springfield.  My guess is that it was probably taken sometime in the 1890s, but it could’ve been anytime before 1905, when the old City Hall burned down.

To the left of City Hall, in the foreground of the first photo, is the old police department headquarters, which was later demolished to make way for the Springfield Municipal Group.  The new City Hall, which was completed in 1913, is still there, on roughly the same spot that its predecessor stood in the first photo.  The site of the former police station is now the area between City Hall and Symphony Hall, where the campanile tower is.  In the background, One Financial Plaza building looms over City Hall, between City Hall Plaza and Main Street.  The only building in the present-day scene that would’ve even existed when the first photo was taken is the former Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank building at the corner of Main and Court Streets, although its Main Street facade has been altered beyond recognition.

Springfield Municipal Group, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Municipal Group from across Court Square, probably around 1913.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The Municipal Group in 2014:


The first photo was taken shortly before the Springfield Municipal Group was completed, perhaps even on the same day as the first photo in this post.  In this photo, the buildings are still surrounded by a fence, and a sign for A.E. Stephens Co, the contractors, can be seen on a temporary shed on the right-hand side of the photo. In the ensuing 100 or so years in between the two photos, not much has changed in this scene.  City Hall, Symphony Hall, and Campanile tower are all still there, as is the Civil War monument and the Miles Morgan statue, which is barely visible in the distance in front of the bell tower.  One thing that has changed, though, is the way people get to City Hall.  In the first photo, a trolley can be seen on the far left, and no automobiles are visible anywhere in the scene.  Today, there are no trolleys to be found in Springfield, and instead Court Square is surrounded by cars, as seen in the 2014 photo.