William Allen House, Agawam, Mass

The William Allen House on Main Street in Agawam, around 1895-1896. Image courtesy of the Agawam Historical Association.

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The house in 2015:

The William Allen House is one of several similar houses along Main Street, including the Rufus Colton House and the Captain Charles Leonard House.  All three houses were built around 1800 (this one is a little older, having been built around 1795), and all three may have been designed by, or were at least based on the designs of noted architect Asher Benjamin.  The most distinctive feature on the houses is the Palladian window above the front door, but the Allen House is a little different from the others because of its gabled roof, as opposed to the hip roof on the Colton and Leonard houses.

The Allen House, like the other two, was built for a militia officer, Lieutenant William Allen.  By the time the first photo was taken, it was the home of Frank E. Campbell, a farmer who grew tobacco in his fields behind the house.  The fields have long since been subdivided and developed into houses, but the old farmhouse still stands on Main Street, without a whole lot of changes in the past 120 years.  The only major change was a 1960s restoration, which returned the house to its early 1800s appearance by, among other things, removing the Victorian-era front porch.

Rufus Colton House, Agawam, Mass

A view of Main Street in Agawam from the corner of Elm Street, with the Rufus Colton House in the distance on the left, seen around 1895-1896. Image courtesy of the Agawam Historical Association.

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The scene in 2015:

Built in 1806, the Rufus Colton House is architecturally similar to the nearby Captain Charles Leonard House, which was built a year earlier.   Both are believed to have been designed by Asher Benjamin, and like the Leonard House it was built for a local militia officer, Lieutenant Rufus Colton.  Beginning around 1830, it was owned by Martin King (not Martin Luther King, just Martin King), who operated a tavern here for some time.  Main Street was once part of the Boston Post Road, connecting Boston to New York and points south, so it is likely that a good part of King’s business was from travelers on the road.

Today, Main Street is busier, with paved streets replacing the dirt roads of the 1890s, but the Rufus Colton House remains well-preserved after over two centuries.  It may or may not have been designed by Asher Benjamin, but either way it is an excellent example of Federal architecture, and it retains many of its original elements, including the hip roof, the fan window over the door, and the Palladian window in the center of the second floor.  In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Agawam Center Historic District.

Captain Barnes House, Portsmouth, NH (1)

The Captain Barnes House on Islington Street in Portsmouth, on May 14, 1936.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

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The same building in 2015:

Although the term “adaptive reuse” didn’t exist in the 1930s, the Captain Barnes House would certainly be an extreme version of that concept.  It’s hard to tell today, but the auto repair shop in the 2015 photo is the same Federal style mansion from the 1936 photo, just altered beyond recognition.  The house was built in 1808 for Samuel Chauncy, one of the many merchant ship captains who lived in Portsmouth in the early 1800s.  In 1813, he sold the house to Lewis Barnes, a Swedish immigrant who was also the captain of a merchant ship.  Barnes, for whom the house is named, lived here until his death in 1856, and the house remained in the family until 1908.

Between 1908 and 1936, the house changed hands four times, steadily falling into disrepair in the process.  The sign out front advertises “Rooms for Tourists,” but given the condition of the building at the time, these would have likely been very low-budget rooms, hardly comparable to more reputable hotels of the time, such as the Rockingham Hotel.  By the time the first photo was taken, the building was probably already a candidate for reconstruction, because within a year it was completely gutted, cut down to two stories, and converted into a Sunoco station.  Today, it is an auto repair shop, with post-1930s additions on either side of the building.  Thankfully, the house was carefully documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey prior to its conversion, and a number of photos and architectural plans are available here through the Library of Congress.

Old Library, Portsmouth, NH

The old Portsmouth Public Library building at the corner of Islington and Middle Streets in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

This building was built in 1809 as the home of the Portsmouth Academy, a private college preparatory school.  It was used by the academy until 1868, and then it was leased to the city to use as a public school.  In 1896, it was extensively renovated into a permanent home for the Portsmouth Public Library, which previously had gone through a somewhat nomadic existence between several different locations in the city.  The historic building was used by the library for the next 110 years, before moving to a new location on Parrott Avenue in 2006.  Today, the building is used by the Portsmouth Historical Society for their Discover Portsmouth center.  Although it was heavily altered in the 1896 library renovation, it still has considerable historical significance as an example of an early 19th century school, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Market Square, Portsmouth, NH

Looking northeast in Market Square in Portsmouth, facing Market Street, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Market Square in 2015:

These views show part of Portsmouth’s historic Market Square, which as the photos suggest hasn’t changed much in well over a century.  In fact, it would require going back nearly 200 years, before the invention of photography, to notice much of a difference here.  The area around Market Square has been the commercial center of Portsmouth since the 1700s, when the seaport town was rapidly growing as a major port and shipbuilding center.  Its heyday came in the early 1800s, with many historic buildings surviving from this time period, including much of this scene here.

Portsmouth was hit with several disastrous fires in the early 1800s, including one in 1802 that destroyed most of Market Square.  The area was soon rebuilt with brick commercial blocks, many of which survive today, including the Portsmouth Athenaeum building on the far left.  The distinctive building was completed in 1805 as the home offices of the New Hampshire Fire & Marine Insurance Company, but the company went bankrupt just eight years later because of the effect that the War of 1812 had on the New England shipping industry.  The Athenaeum, a private library and museum, purchased the building in 1823, and it has been there ever since as one of the few remaining private membership libraries in the country.

Today, Portsmouth is no longer a major shipping center, and hasn’t been for a long time.  With the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s, much of New Hampshire’s industry moved from shipping to manufacturing, and the inland mill towns became the state’s centers of economic activity.  By 1900, the population of Concord and Nashua was five and ten times larger, respectively, than it had been in 1830.  In Manchester, the increase was even more dramatic, growing from 877 people in 1830 to over 56,000 in 1900. Meanwhile in Portsmouth, the population had grown by just 32%, with virtually no population change at all between 1850 and 1890.  However, little population change also meant little development projects, which is part of the reason why the Portsmouth of today has so many historic early 1800s buildings, including virtually the entire scene here.  By my count there are 14 buildings in the first photo, and all 14 still exist today, which is exceedingly rare to find in a 113 year old street view of the commercial center of a city.  The only building that doesn’t appear in the 2015 scene is the one on the far right, at the corner of Pleasant and Daniel Streets.  It is still there, but I couldn’t fit it in the frame of my camera.

Captain Charles Leonard House, Agawam Mass

The Captain Charles Leonard House on Main Street in Agawam, around 1895-1896. Image courtesy of the Agawam Historical Association.

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The house in 2015:

This house on Main Street in Agawam hasn’t changed much in the past 120 years, nor had it changed much between its construction in 1805 and the 1890s photo.  It is a very well-preserved example of early 19th century Federal architecture, designed by noted architect Asher Benjamin for Captain Charles Leonard, a local militia officer who operated a tavern out of the building.  At the time that the first photo was taken, it was owned by George Fowler, and in the 1930s it was purchased by Minerva Davis and restored to its early 19th century appearance.  Since then, it has been owned by the nonprofit Captain Charles Leonard House Corporation, and has been rented for weddings, banquets, receptions, and a variety of other gatherings.