Crescent Hill, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Crescent Hill, from near the corner of Pine Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Crescent Hill is, as its name suggests, a curved ridgeline just to the southeast of downtown Springfield, near the corner of Maple and Pine Streets. Today, the area consists of several historic houses on two discontinuous streets named Crescent Hill, but it was originally developed in the second half of the 19th century as one of the city’s most desirable residential areas. The first house here was the Mills-Stebbins Villa, which was completed in 1851, and by the time the first photo was taken Crescent Hill consisted of seven large houses, all of which were connected by a network of paths such as this one.

The first view shows one of these houses, which is visible in the distance at the end of the road. Both it and the carriage house, which is seen on the left side of the photo, were completed in 1865, and were designed by the prominent New York architect Calvert Vaux. It was one of the finest homes ever built in Springfield, and enjoyed views overlooking the city and surrounding countryside from the top of the hill. Shortly after its completion, the house was mentioned in the 1866-1867 city directory, which gave the following description:

It stands on a sight which commands one of the finest outlooks on the Connecticut Valley, and the genius of its architect has let it every exterior grace and interior comfort to correspond with the beauty and quiet of of its location. The house is of brick, red mortar being used, with wooden cornices painted and sanded in the same color as Nova Scotia stone. The outside trimmings are elegantly moulded in graceful designs. The porch is inlaid with bay, butternut, and pine, unpainted. There is no paint in the interior of the house, but each compartment is finished with an ingenious arrangement of contrasted woods; as, for instance, mahogany is the prevailing wood in the library, black walnut and red cedar in the parlor and dining-room, butternut in the hall, kitchen and pantries. All the upper chambers are finished in black walnut and butternut. There are some exquisite frescoes to add to the charm of the interior, done in taste by Mohr of New York. The plans were designed by Vaux of New York. C. S. Ferry of this city did the wood-work, and R. Harrington the masonry. The building was commenced in the summer of 1864, and completed in September, 1865.

The original owner of this house was George E. Howard, an industrialist who was a partner in Howard & Bros., a firm that, according to the 1872 city directory, sold railroad and car builders’ supplies. However, the company later specialized in cotton waste, and by the late 19th century Howard was the president and treasurer of the Springfield Waste Company, which also dealt in cotton waste.

George Howard moved into this house with his wife Elizabeth, but she died of tuberculosis in 1869, at the age of 39. By the following year, George was living here alone in this house except for two servants, and the census listed his real estate value at $50,000, plus a personal estate valued at $100,000, for a total net worth of nearly $3 million in today’s dollars. He remarried in 1877, to Alice S. Graves. At 24 years old, she was less than half the age of the 52-year-old George Howard, and they had two children, George and Anna.

The Howard family lived here until the late 1880s, when they moved to a house nearby at 165 Mill Street. Their house here on Crescent Hill was later purchased by H. Curtis Rowley, the treasurer of the dictionary publishing company G. & C. Merriam. Rowley’s wife, Thirza J. Merriam, was the daughter of company president Homer Merriam, and her uncles, George and Charles, had been the original founders of the company. The Rowleys moved into this house around 1893, and by the 1900 census they were living here with their two sons, Harold and Arthur, plus H. Curtis Rowley’s sister Harriet and two servants.

At some point, either before or during the Rowley’s ownership, the house was named Wyndhurst. They purchased the property about the same time that the first photo was taken, and several years later they hosted president William McKinley, who visited the house with his wife Ida in 1899. Although more than 30 years old at this point, the 23-room mansion was still among the finest in the city, and the Rowleys continued to live here until around 1917, when they moved to a comparatively modest house at 24 Oxford Street.

In 1917 the Rowleys sold Wyndhurst to Alfred H. Chapin, the president and treasurer of the Moore Drop Forge Company. Chapin subsequently demolished the house and built a new, even larger house on the property. However, this house did not last for very long, ultimately falling victim to the Great Depression. It was demolished around 1940, and the site was vacant for many years, until it was finally redeveloped in the late 1980s with a condominium building. Named the Wyndhurst Condominiums, it is barely visible in the distance of the present-day photo. Also visible in the photo is the original 1860s Wyndhurst carriage house, which still stands on the left side of the scene. The only remaining feature from the first photo, survived the demolition of both houses on the property, and it has since been converted into a single-family residence.

Harriet A. Southworth House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 7 Crescent Hill, at the corner of Pine Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is one of the finest surviving examples of Shingle-style architecture in Springfield, and was built in 1888. It was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Hartwell and Richardson, and was originally the home of Harriet Southworth, the widow of paper manufacturer Edward Southworth. Her son Mase lived next door in a similar house at 6 Crescent Hill, and Harriet lived here until about 1905, when, according to that year’s city directory, she moved south.

Harriet Southworth apparently did not return to Springfield, but she owned this house until her death in 1910. In that same year’s census, the house was being rented by Charles H. Hall, a merchant who was the president and treasurer of Charles Hall, Inc. This store, which sold china, glass, silverware, lamps, furniture, and other high-end household goods, was established in Springgield in 1873 by his father, who was also named Charles. The son of former Vermont congressman and governor Hiland Hall, the elder Charles had moved to Chicago in 1871 to run a boot and shoe company, but lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire later that year. He moved to Springfield two years later, where his son Charles was born in 1874.

The younger Charles took over the company after his father’s death in 1907, and by the 1910 census he was living here in this house with his wife Grace and their three young children: Nichols, Hiland, and Elizabeth. Although they were renting at the time, Charles later purchased the house, and by the next census in 1920 they had a fourth child, Mary, along with three live-in servants. The family remained here until the early 1930s, but by 1933 they had moved to New York, where Charles and Grace lived until their deaths in 1959 and 1968, respectively.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Arthur M. Rowley, a salesman who lived here with his wife Earla, their son Douglas, their daughter Earla, and her husband, Parker Carlson. Arthur had grown up here on Crescent Hill, in a nearby house that had been demolished around the 1920s. His grandfather, Homer Merriam, had been president of G. & C. Merriam, the prominent Springfield-based dictionary publishers, and his father, H. Curtis Rowley, was the company’s treasurer. Arthur also worked for the company, and he lived with his father in his Crescent Hill house until the family relocated to Forest Park in the mid-1910s. However, he returned to Crescent Hill by the late 1930s, and rented this house until around 1943, when he moved to Suffield, Connecticut.

By the early 1950s the house was the home of Leonard and Jeanette Brown. Leonard was an insurance agent, and Jeanette was a librarian, but they were both also noted art patrons. Their collection included works of Abstract Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism, and they also amassed a significant archive of materials relating to these 20th century art movements, which Jeanette would later sell to the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1985. Their son, Jonathan Brown, also lived here in this house, and went on to become a noted art historian, specializing in Spanish art.

Jeanette and Leonard lived here in this house until Leonard’s death in 1970, and Jeanette subsequently moved to Tyringham, where she lived until her death in 1994. In the meantime, this house has remained well-preserved, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. Along with the other historic homes in the neighborhood, it is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Mills-Stebbins Villa, Springfield, Mass

The house at 3 Crescent Hill in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Italian villa-style house was completed in 1851 on Crescent Hill, atop a ridge near the corner of Maple and Pine Streets. It was the work of Henry A. Sykes, a notable local architect from Suffield, Connecticut. His career was cut short when he died in 1860 at the age of 50, but he was responsible for architecturally-significant houses, churches, and other buildings throughout the Connecticut River Valley. However, this house was perhaps his magnum opus. It reflected the Italian villa style that was just starting to become popular for upscale American homes, and it was later praised by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock as “one of the finest nineteenth century houses in America.”

The original owner of this house was John Mills, a lawyer and politician who was born in 1787 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He never attended college, but he studied law in Granville under future county sheriff John Phelps, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He subsequently lived in Southwick, and in addition to his law practice he also served in the state senate from 1823 to 1827, including as the senate president from 1826 to 1827. In 1826, he was also part of a six-man commission that established the current Massachusetts-Connecticut border, finally resolving a long-standing dispute that dated back to the 1640s.

One incident during Mills’s time in the state senate, which may be apocryphal, came in 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Massachusetts State House. Lafayette shook hands with each member of the state legislature and, upon reaching Mills, supposedly clasped his hands and declared, “My dear friend, I recollect you in the Revolution.” Mills, of course, was born five years after the war ended, and was the youngest of the state senators. However, he was also prematurely bald, which evidently made him look much older than he really was.

In 1835, Mills was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a position he held until 1841. During this time, in 1836, he moved to Springfield, where he lived in a house on Howard Street. He returned to the state senate in 1842, and then from 1843 to 1844 served as the state treasurer and receiver-general. In 1848, he was nominated for lieutenant governor by the newly-established and Free Soil Party, a third party that was mainly focused on preventing the spread of slavery. He and his running mate, Salem mayor Stephen C. Phillips, were roundly defeated in the general election by incumbent Whig governor George N. Briggs and lieutenant governor John Reed, Jr., but they managed to finish second in the three-way race, ahead of the pro-slavery Democratic candidate.

Around 1849, Mills commissioned Sykes to design this house, which was completed two years later. At the time, Crescent Hill and the neighboring Ames Hill were just starting to be developed, but by the end of the 19th century this area would become the city’s most prestigious neighborhood, with its proximity to downtown and its sweeping views of the river valley. John Mills was in his early 60s at the time, and was largely retired from public life by then. However, he did serve a single term in the state house of representatives in 1851, and in 1855 he became president of the Hampden Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

During the 1855 state census, Mills was living here in this house with his wife Emily and three of their children: John, Sarah, and Isaac. Isaac’s wife Ann and their daughter also lived here, and the family employed three Irish-born servants who lived here. However, John sold this house two years later, and he and Emily moved to Byers Street, where they lived with their daughter Sarah and her newlywed husband, Roswell G. Shurtleff. The Mills family did not entirely leave Crescent Hill, though, because in 1859 Isaac and Ann moved into a new house across the street from here, at the corner of Crescent Hill and Pine Street.

John Mills died in 1862 at the age of 74, by which point this house on Crescent Hill was owned by John B. Stebbins, a wealthy merchant who was a business partner of hardware store owner Homer Foot. Stebbins was a native of Springfield, and was among the original students at Springfield High School when it opened in 1828, but after leaving school he moved to Hartford, where he worked as a clerk in a grocery store. However, he soon returned to Springfield, and found work as a clerk in Homer Foot’s hardware store. After a few years here he moved again, this time to New York City, and worked as a clerk in another hardware store, but in 1839 he returned to Springfield for good, returning to his position with Foot, with the promise that he would be given an interest in the firm.

Homer Foot kept his promise, and in 1842 Stebbins became a partner in the company. A year later he married his wife Maria, and the couple first lived on Elm Street, and then at the corner of Main and Emery Streets, and finally on Byers Street before purchasing this house from John Mills in 1857. They had a total of seven children: John, Mary, Elizabeth, Annie, Fannie, Maria, and an unnamed child who died shortly after birth. Mary also died in infancy, but the five surviving children all lived here in this house with their parents.

Aside from Foot’s store, Stebbins was also involved in a number of other companies, serving as a director and, at various times, as president of the Springfield Institution for Savings, the Holyoke Water Power Company, the Ludlow Manufacturing Company, and the Hampshire Paper Company. In the process he became a wealthy man, with the 1870 census listing his real estate as being worth $73,000, plus a personal estate worth $30,000, for a total net worth of more than $2 million in today’s dollars. He was also involved in politics, serving as a city alderman in 1853, a member of the school committee from 1865 to 1869 and in 1873, and as a state legislator in 1883.

His wife Maria died in 1891, and John died in 1899, but this house remained in the Stebbins family for many years. Of the five children who survived to adulthood, neither Annie nor Maria ever married, and they lived here for the rest of their lives. The 1920 census shows them living here with their nephew, 48-year-old John, who was the son of their brother John. Maria died in 1928, and by 1930 Annie was living here alone, aside from two servants. She would remain here until her death in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken.

After Annie’s death, the house was inherited by her nephew Carl Stebbins, the oldest son of her brother John. He had grown up in this house with his parents and grandparents, but he later moved to Tacoma, Washington, before eventually returning to Springfield. By the 1940 census he was 70 years old, and was living here with his wife Grace, their daughter Grace, and his wife’s sister, Rebecca Birnie. He lived here until his death a decade later, and his wife remained here until her death in 1961, more than a century after the Stebbins family first moved into this house.

Their daughter Grace sold the property in 1962, and the house remained vacant for a number of years. During this time the interior was vandalized, but by the early 1970s it had new owners and was carefully restored. The house was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the following year it became part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which encompasses the many historic 19th and early 20th century homes in the neighborhood. Today, the house shows some changes from its 1930s appearance, including different first-floor windows on the left side, but overall it still stands as one of the grandest and most architecturally-significant houses in the city.

Isaac Mills House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 2 Crescent Hill in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1859, at the corner of Crescent Hill and Pine Street, and was originally the home of Isaac Mills. He was about 33 years old at the time, and was the son of John Mills, a prominent lawyer and politician who lived across the street in an elegant Italianate villa. John Mills held a number of political offices, including President of the Massachusetts Senate, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts.

However, Isaac did not follow his father into law or politics, and instead became a local businessman. In the late 1840s, he was a partner in the Springfield-based railroad car manufacturing company of Dean, Packard & Mills. This company proved short-lived, though, and by 1853 he was working for the coal company of his father-in-law, Edmund Palmer. During the 1855 census, he and his wife Ann were living in his father’s house on Crescent Hill, but by the end of the decade they had moved into this newly-built house across the street.

Isaac eventually took over his father-in-law’s coal company and ran it until his death in 1892. Ann died the following year, but their two daughters, Emily and Elizabeth, inherited this house and lived here for the rest of their lives. Neither of them ever married, and early 20th century census records show them living here alone except for a servant. Emily died in 1934, but Elizabeth was still living here when the first photo was taken, some 80 years after she moved here with her parents as an infant.

Elizabeth Mills died in 1944, but the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved since then. Most of the shutters are now gone, but otherwise the house looks essentially the same as it did almost 80 years ago. Along with the other 19th and early 20th century homes in the area, the house is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.