Dr. Seuss Childhood Home, Springfield, Mass

The house at 74 Fairfield Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1903, as part of the turn-of-the-century development of Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood. Previously a sparsely-settled area in the southern part of the city, the neighborhood was connected to downtown Springfield via trolley lines in the 1890s, and developers soon followed. Here in the western section of the neighborhood, known as Forest Park Heights, upper middle class families moved into these newly-built homes, including Henry B. Russell, the associate editor of the Springfield Homestead newspaper, who purchased this house after its completion.

However, Russell did not live here for very long, because in 1906 the house was purchased by Theodor R. Geisel, a brewery manager who had previously lived on Howard Street in the South End. He was about 26 years old at the time, and he worked for the Liberty Brewing Company, which was owned by his father, Theodor Geisel. He and his wife Henrietta had been married in 1901, and by 1906 they had three young children: four-year-old Margaretha, two-year-old Theodor (“Ted”), and newborn Henrietta. However, Henrietta, who was born the same year that the family moved in, died of pneumonia in 1907, when she was just 18 months old, and her funeral was held here in this house.

Aside from Theodor and Henrietta Geisel, several other members of the family moved to the Forest Park neighborhood around this time. Theodor’s parents, Theodor and Christine, had moved to a house nearby on Sumner Avenue in 1901, where they also lived with their two youngest children, Adolf and Christine. Henrietta’s mother, Margaretha Seuss, moved to Forest Park around 1908, purchasing a house just down the street from here at 20 Fairfield Street, and she lived there with her daughter Bertha and Bertha’s husband, William H. Klein.

It was in this setting that young Ted – who would grow up to become the author Dr. Seuss – spent all but the first two years of his childhood. He often visited nearby Forest Park, and he attended the neighborhood schools, including the Sumner Avenue School for elementary school and the Forest Park School for middle school, both of which were within easy walking distance of the family home. He subsequently attended Central High School from 1917 to 1921, and lived here with his parents until leaving for Dartmouth College in the fall of 1921.

In the meantime, Theodor Geisel continued to work for Liberty Brewing Company, which later merged with the Springfield Breweries Company in 1913. He became the general manager of the company, and in 1920 became president. However, by this point there was serious doubt about the long-term viability of the brewery, since Prohibition went into effect in January of that year. Geisel tried to adapt to the new law by producing nonalcoholic beer, root beer, and other soft drinks, but none of these were able to save the company, which went out of business several years later.

It was around this same time that Ted enrolled in Dartmouth, where he graduated in 1925. He subsequently attended Lincoln College at Oxford, although he did not graduate, and he returned to the United States in 1927. Ted lived here with his parents for a short time in 1927, where he drew cartoons and submitted them to magazines. One of his cartoons was ultimately published by the Saturday Evening Post on July 16, 1927, making it his first nationally-published work. He received $25 for it, and used the money to leave Springfield and travel to New York, where he found work with the humor magazine Judge.

While Ted’s literary career was just beginning, tragedy struck in his family in 1931, when his mother died at the age of 52 from a brain tumor. That same year, though, his father Theodor began a new career when he was appointed as the city parks superintendent. He had been involved in the city’s park system since 1909, when he began serving on the parks commission, and he would go on to serve as superintendent for 30 years, until his retirement in 1961.

At the time of Henrietta’s death in 1931, Theodor was still living in this house, along with Margaretha and her daughter, Margaretha “Peggy” Dahmen. Margaretha had an accomplished academic career that included an undergraduate degree from Smith College, a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, and a doctorate (she, unlike her more famous brother, actually earned the title of doctor) in German from Radcliffe College. She married her husband, Lloyd Dahmen, in the 1920s, and they had one child, Peggy, but they divorced soon after and Margaretha and Peggy were living here in Springfield by 1930.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, Theodor, Margaretha, and Peggy were still living here in this house. Ted was still in New York at this point, along with his wife Helen, and he had just begun to publish children’s books. His first, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, had been published in 1937, and it was also the first of many of his books that drew inspiration from his childhood here in Springfield. He also wrote several other books around this time, including The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, The Seven Lady Godivas (which was most certainly not a children’s book), The King’s Stilts, and Horton Hatches an Egg, before the outbreak of World War II led him to focus his efforts on drawing propaganda cartoons.

The Geisel family continued to live in Ted’s childhood home until 1943, and since then the exterior has not changed significantly. The balustrade on top of the roof is gone, but overall it has retained its historic appearance. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is a part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is now owned by the Springfield Museums, which purchased the property in 2015.

Charles Seymour House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 50 Fairfield Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1902, and according to the state MACRIS database it was originally owned by a Charles Seymour. There is no record in the city directories of a Charles Seymour living here, but the house may have been used as a rental property, because it had a number of different residents during the first decade of the 20th century. In an eight year span from 1903 to 1910, city directories showed a new tenant almost every year, and included a variety of middle class professionals.

Starting in 1903, the residents included traveling salesman Douglas Clarke, dentist Walter S. Moody, C. B. Wire Works salesman William H. Miller, city board of assessors chairman George B. Smith, American Express route agent Herbert F. Millard, Faith Congregational Church pastor Frank W. Merrick, and finally, in 1910, Metropolitan Life insurance Company agent William F. Manning. Aside from Manning, who would go on to live here for many years, all of these men lived here for just a year or two before moving elsewhere.

William Manning purchased this house around 1909, when he was about 42 years old. Originally from Ireland, he came to the United States as a teenager in the 1880s and subsequently married his wife, Annie, in 1889. By the time they moved into this house they had four children: Frederick, William, Jr., Evelyn, and Everett. The children ranged in age from one to 20, and the oldest, Frederick, worked as a machinist in a machine shop during the 1910 census.

By the 1920 census the two oldest children had moved out, but Evelyn and Everett were still living here with their parents as late as the 1930 census. William died later in 1930, but Anna was still living here in the house when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. Her younger children had moved out at this point, but William, Jr. had returned home and was living here with Anna and was working as a dentist. They would continue to live here until around 1950, but by the 1951 city directory Anna had moved to Boston and William to East Longmeadow.

Nearly 80 years after the first photo was taken, the house has not significantly changed, with the most noticeable difference being the loss of the balustrade above the front porch. Although they served no functional purpose, these decorative balustrades were common design elements on early 20th century Forest Park homes, but most have since been lost. Overall, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the house is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

William F. Clark House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 14 Fairfield Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Nearly all of the homes in the Forest Park Heights neighborhood have unique designs, although often this involves similar houses that have only minor variations from one another. However, this house, located opposite the small Garfield Triangle park, is truly unique among the houses of Forest Park, with a three-story cylindrical tower, Dutch gables, and an exterior that is completely covered in shingles. It was built in 1902, and was originally the home of William F. Clark, the owner of the Clark Engraving Company. However, he evidently did not live here for very long, because by the 1905 city directory he was listed as living in Blandford.

The house was subsequently purchased by Edward C. Page, who was about 37 years old at the time. He had co-founded the Page-Storms Drop Forge Company several years earlier, and he lived here for a few years, along with his wife Charlotte and their sons Donald and Reginald. However, they moved out around 1909, and over the next decade the house would have several more residents, including Arthur K. McGinley, an attorney for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company; Horace D. McCowan, a bookkeeper for the Springfield Safe Deposit & Trust Company; and H. Anthony Treadwell, a real estate agent.

By 1920 it was the home of Salvatore Mazzraferro and his wife Maria, although he died in 1923. Maria was still living here a few years later, but by 1929 the house was owned by Ettore Capecelatro, an Italian-born physician. Along with his wife Margherita and their son Achille, Ettore had immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1920, and they were living here in this house during the 1930 census. However, like all of the previous residents, they only remained in this house for several years, and by 1933 Ettore was practicing medicine in Albany.

Around the time that the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by James F. Tucker, a tire salesman who lived here with his wife Nellie and three children: Kathleen, Barbara, and James, Jr. They were still living here as late as the mid-1940s, making them perhaps the longest-tenured residents of the house in its first 50 years of existence. Despite these many changes in ownership, though, the house remained well-preserved throughout the first half of the 20th century. Since then, the exterior has retained its original appearance, and today the house is one of the many turn-of-the-century homes in the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

H. D. Graves House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 20 Fairfield Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1901, and its original owner was H. L. Graves, although it seems unclear as to exactly who this person was. He, or perhaps she, did not live here for very long, though. By 1908 the house was owned by Margaretha Seuss, the maternal grandmother of Theodore Geisel. Better known in later years by his pen name of Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel was a young child when his grandmother lived here, and he lived just a few houses away on the same street.

Margaretha lived in this house with her daughter Bertha and Bertha’s husband, William H. Klein. He was a former lieutenant in the Massachusetts Militia, and in the 1910 census he was listed as a bookkeeper in a brewery. Margaretha died in 1913, but the Kleins remained here for many years. They had two sons, George and Frederick, and they were still living here by the 1930 census. However, at some point in the 1930s they moved to nearby Keith Street, where they rented half of a two-family home.

By the 1940 census, this house on Fairfield Street was rented by Harry J. Talmage, who worked as a manager for the New England Milk Producing Association. He lived here with his wife and three teenaged children, and in 1940 they were paying $45 in monthly rent. They were only here for a few years, though, because by around 1942 they had moved to a different house in Forest Park. However, their former house has changed very little since the first photo was taken, and the property is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.