Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Photo from author’s collection; gift of Barbara Shaffer.


The church in 2015:

The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.

Elm Street Grammar School, Springfield Mass

Looking west on Elm Street from in front of the Hampden County Courthouse, around 1892.  Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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Elm Street in 2015:

The Elm Street Grammar School was built in 1867, and it stood on Elm Street just to the west of the old Hampden County Courthouse and across the street from Old First Church.  It served as the modern-day equivalent of a middle school for the children in the downtown and South End area until around the turn of the century; it appears in the 1899 atlas but was demolished sometime in the first decade of the 20th century and replaced with the Springfield Institution for Savings building by 1910.  Today, the Hampden County Hall of Justice is located on the site.  One of the school buildings that replaced Elm Street Grammar School was the Howard Street School, which opened in 1905 as a primary and grammar school, and covered part of what was once Elm Street’s territory.  The Howard Street School is still around, but not for long; the vacant, tornado-damaged building is going to be demolished soon to make way for the MGM Springfield casino.

These two photos were taken from nearly the opposite direction as the ones in this post, which show Elm Street facing east.  As mentioned in that post, the massive elm tree in front of the school (seen here on the far right of the 1892 photo) is believed to be the one referenced by Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, in which he writes “Beautiful and stately she is beyond all praise.”  The tree was later cut down, and a cross-section of it is now on display in the Springfield Science Museum.

Elm Street, Springfield Mass

Looking east on Elm Street in Springfield, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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Elm Street in 2015:


Elm Street still appears on city maps, although today it isn’t much of a street.  While it used to extend from Main Street to the Connecticut River, today it is a pedestrian walkway and parking lot for courthouse employees that dead-ends in front of the Hampden County Courthouse.  This area has gone through several major changes, the first of which came soon after the first photo was taken.  In the first decade of the 1900s, all of the buildings between Elm Street and Court Street were demolished in order to extend Court Square down to the river; only Old First Church was spared.  Later on, Columbus Avenue was built across this area, and in the 1970s the Hampden County Hall of Justice was built, with part of the building’s footprint covering what used to be Elm Street.

Despite all of the changes, several important buildings have survived from the first photo.  On the left, the steeple of Old First Church is still there, although the brick addition behind it was extensively modified in the 1940s.  To the right, the old Hampden County Courthouse is still there, although it isn’t visible from this angle.  Beyond it, the Court Square Theater was under construction in the first photo, and was added on to in 1900.  It can still be seen in the distance, along with the adjacent Byers Block and Chicopee Bank Building, which existed in the first photo although they aren’t really visible.  One prominent landmark, however, that has not survived is the massive elm tree on the right side of the street.  It was located in front of the Elm Street Grammar School (barely visible on the far right), and is believed to be the tree referred to by Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.  Referring to notable elm trees that he has seen, he writes that,The queen of them all is that glorious tree near one of the churches in Springfield. Beautiful and stately she is beyond all praise.”  When the tree was finally cut down, a cross-section of it was saved and is now on display at the Springfield Science Museum.

Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass

The interior of Old First Church in Springfield, around 1915. Photo from The First Church, Springfield, 1637-1915; Milestones Through Twenty-Seven Decades (1915).


The church in 2015:


Old First Church was featured in the first post on this blog, and it is probably my favorite historic building in Springfield.  It is also the oldest church building in the city, having been completed in 1819, and it is one of the oldest buildings of any type in Springfield. Although the exterior of the church hasn’t changed much in the past 195 years, the interior has gone through some changes, as the two photographs show.

As built, the church had different pews, which had tall backs and were not particularly comfortable. These were replaced with the current pews in 1864.  Also at this time, the high pulpit was replaced with a platform, and the arch was constructed over it. The first organ was installed in 1849, but it was on the balcony in the back of the sanctuary; it wasn’t until 1881 that the organ was moved to the front, and the current organ has been there since 1958.  Since the 1915 photo was taken, most of the major changes to the interior came in 1924, when it was renovated to early 19th century designs.  This included modifying the arch over the organ and adding the two columns, changing the curve of the ceiling, and adding decorative scrollwork to the ceiling.

The church was dedicated in a special ceremony on August 19, 1819, with Reverend Samuel Osgood preaching on the occasion.  Osgood had been the pastor of the church since 1809, and would continue in that capacity until 1854.  During the ceremony, Colonel Solomon Warriner led the performance of four songs.  Warriner was the director of music for the First Church from 1801 to 1838, and served as a colonel in the Massachusetts Militia during the War of 1812.

In the years that followed, the sanctuary at Old First Church has hosted a number of notable guests, including Secretary of State and Senator Daniel Webster, abolitionist John Brown, singer Jenny Lind, and evangelist D.L. Moody.  I don’t know if any living presidents have ever visited the church, but in 1848, the body of John Quincy Adams lay in state in the center aisle when his body was being brought back from Washington, D.C. to Quincy.  Far more recently, several other notable politicians have spoken at Old First Church, including former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador Ray Flynn.

The church congregation disbanded in 2007, after 370 years of existence, as a result of declining membership and the increasing costs of upkeep.  The City of Springfield purchased the building and uses it for various functions.  It is, however, still used as a church – WellSpring Church leases the building from the city for Sunday services and church offices.

Old City Hall, Springfield, Mass

The old City Hall building in Springfield, viewed from across Court Square, between 1865 and 1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Court Square hasn’t changed much in the past 130-150 years, but the buildings beyond it have.  The first photo shows the old City Hall building, which as mentioned in this post was built in 1855, shortly after Springfield was incorporated as a city, and burned in 1905, allegedly as a result of a monkey overturning a kerosene lamp.  I don’t know the circumstances surrounding a primate having access to open flames in City Hall, but that’s how the story goes.  The present City Hall was completed in 1913, and has managed to survive for over a century without any problems from arsonist apes.

Springfield Institution for Savings, Springfield, Mass

The Springfield Institution for Savings building on Elm Street in Springfield, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The site in 2014:


The first photo shows the former home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, one of Springfield’s first banks.  Today, the building no longer exists, and neither does the company.  SIS is now part of TD Bank, and the site of the building is now part of the Hampden County Courthouse.  Even the street that the bank was once on, Elm Street, no longer really exists.  It used to extend from Main Street to present-day East Columbus Avenue, but the construction of the new courthouse in the 1970s caused the street to be truncated, and today it is a street in name only, as the section along Court Square is gated off, and the section next to Old First Church is essentially a parking lot for courthouse employees.

What really interested me in this picture, though, is the car parked outside.  Here is a close-up of it:


Along with giving us a clue as to the date (the license plate appears to read “1910”), it also shows an intriguing and long-forgotten part of Springfield history.  The car was made by Springfield-based Knox Automobile Company, who made cars in the city from 1900 until 1914, and trucks until 1924.  Their factory was on Wilbraham Road in the Mason Square neighborhood, right across the street from the Indian Motorcycle factory.  The Knox building is still there, although it is in pretty rough shape and was included in the 2014 list of Springfield’s most endangered buildings.

I am fairly certain that the car in the photo is a 1909 Model “O,” although I am no expert on early 20th century automobiles, so if someone more knowledgeable than me knows otherwise, let me know. Assuming it was a Model “O,” though, it would’ve been $3,000 car 1909.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $75,000 in 2014 dollars, so the owner would’ve been a fairly wealthy person.  Today, though, cars don’t look like that, as the pickup truck and station wagon bear witness to in the 2014 photo.  However, at least one 1909 Knox Model “O” still exists today; this article explains the process of restoring the car and includes plenty of post-restoration photos.