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 2017:

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, and the roof of the front porch appears to be in poor condition, 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.

Thomas O. Bemis House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 128 Maplewood Terrace, at the corner of Forest Park Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1902 as the home of Thomas O. Bemis, a coal dealer whose father, Stephen C. Bemis, had been the founder of the Bemis & Call Tool Company. The company was probably best known for purchasing the patent for the first monkey wrench, which Bemis & Call produced for many years, along with other tools. However, Stephen C. Bemis’s business interests also included selling coal, and upon his retirement in 1868 his sons, Arthur and Thomas, continued the coal business with the firm of Bemis & Collins.

Thomas was still selling coal by the turn of the 20th century, and in 1902 he and his wife Sarah moved into this newly-built house in the fashionable Forest Park neighborhood. They were both in their early 60s at the time, and they moved here with their two daughters: Mabel, who was unmarried; and Emma, who lived here with her husband Charles A. Blodgett and their young daughter Miriam. However, Thomas did not get to enjoy his new home for very long; he died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1903, at the age of 62.

Sarah and the rest of her family continued to live here following Thomas’s death, and after her own death in 1916 her daughters inherited the property. Charles, Emma, Miriam, and Mabel were all living here during the 1920 census, with Charles working as a treasurer of a shoe company and Mabel working as a clerk in the city assessor’s office. Mabel died a few years later in 1925, but Charles and Emma remained here until the mid-1930s. The 1934 city directory listed him at this house, and at the time he was working as the president and treasurer of the McIntosh Company, and the treasurer of the M.T. Shaw Shoe Company of New England. However, Emma died in 1935, and by the end of the decade Charles was living in Longmeadow with Miriam and her husband.

When the first photo was taken around 1938 or 1939, this house had become the Randolph Club, and the 1940 census shows eight men, all single and in their 20s or early 30s, living here. Their occupations included two managers, two salesmen, a heating engineer, a machinist, and a factory superintendent, and earned wages that ranged from $1,350 to $2,600 per year. Curiously, one of the men, Carl Hogland, apparently did not cooperate with the census taker, who wrote “will not answer any questions” on Hogland’s line of the census form. Along with these eight men, the house also included a housekeeper, who was paid $600 per year, and a houseboy, who was 24 years old but had neither an occupation nor any annual income listed on the census.

The house later reverted to a single-family home, and today it remains well-preserved. There have been a few minor changes, such as removing the right side of the front porch and enclosing the small porch on the right side, but overall it has retained most of its original architectural details, including the balustrade over the front porch and the ornate scroll pediments above the dormer windows. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the house is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

John B. Phelps House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 114 Maplewood Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1904, and was originally the home of John B. Phelps, the treasurer and clerk of the Hampden Savings Bank. He was about 43 years old at the time, unmarried, and lived here with his widowed mother Ellen and his sister Genevieve, who was also unmarried. John had been in the banking industry since he was in his early 20s, first working as a bookkeeper for the Agawam National Bank in the early 1880s before, by the middle of the decade, becoming a teller at Hampden Savings Bank. During this time, he and Genevieve lived with their mother on High Street, but by the early 20th century the family had joined many of Springfield’s other middle class residents in moving to the fashionable, newly-developed Forest Park neighborhood.

All three members of the family would end up spending the rest of their lives here. Ellen died in 1920, and John in 1936, but Genevieve was still here when the first photo was taken around 1938 or 1939. She died in 1956, at the age of 90, after having lived in the house for over 50 years. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, with only a few significant changes, most notably the loss of the balustrades above the front porch and atop the roof. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the house is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Nathan H. Harriman House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 162 Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1892, and was among the first homes to be built in the Forest Park Heights development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally the home of Nathan H. Harriman, a Baptist pastor and evangelist, but he did not live here for very long. Around 1895, he moved to Tacoma, Washington to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church, although he only held this position until early 1897, when he resigned after a period of erratic behavior.

According to a January, 1897 Boston Globe article, Harriman “startled his congregation Friday by announcing to them that he would not preach to them again until they had cast out the demons that were in them.” During this time, Harriman spent about 10 days “fasting on crackers and cheese and walking the floor nights wrestling with the devil,” and many believed that the fasting had caused his mind to become “unbalanced,” resulting in the strange behavior. Regardless of the cause, though, Harriman ultimately resigned from the church about a month later, and subsequently returned to New England.

In the meantime, this house was sold to Robert W. Smith, a boot and shoe dealer who operated a store in the Masonic Building at the corner of Main and State Streets. He was 38 years old during the 1900 census, and lived here with his wife Laura and their four children: Linda, Robert, Walter, and Edith. However, they were only here for a few years, because they sold the house in 1901 and moved to a home on Riverdale Street in West Springfield.

The next owner of the house was Theodor Geisel, a brewery owner who is best known today as having been the paternal grandfather of Dr. Seuss. Born in Germany in 1840, Geisel became a jeweler, and he later immigrated to the United States in 1867. He settled in Springfield, and worked for a time for the Rumrill Chain Company before entering the brewing industry in 1876. At the time, Americans were just beginning to develop a thirst for German lager-style beer, and many German immigrants across the country – including such figures as Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, and Frederick Pabst – found brewing to be a lucrative business.

Here in Springfield, Geisel partnered with fellow German native Christian Kalmbach, and they purchased the brewery of Oscar Rocke – yet another German immigrant – on State Street, at the present site of the MassMutual headquarters. The original brewery had a capacity of about a thousand barrels per year, but Kalmbach and Geisel soon expanded the facility, which was producing some 40,000 barrels a decade later. Then, in 1893, Geisel purchased Kalmbach’s share in the brewery, renaming it the Highland Brewing Company. Geisel, in turn, sold the company to the Springfield Breweries Company in 1898, although he remained there as a manager until 1901.

Theodor Geisel married his wife, Christine Schmaelzle, in 1871, and they had seven children, two of whom died in childhood. The family lived on Boston Road near the brewery for many years, but they finally moved in 1901, around the same time that Theodor left his position as a manager. The Geisels then purchased this house on Sumner Avenue, where Theodor and Christine lived with their two youngest surviving children: Adolf and Christine. Dr. Seuss’s father, Theodor R. Geisel, does not appear to have lived here in this house with them, since the move occurred the same year that he married his wife, Henrietta Seuss.

In 1902, the elder Theodor and his son Theodor established a new brewery, the Liberty Brewing Company, located near the corner of Liberty and Chestnut Streets. That same year, Theodor Seuss Geisel, the future Dr. Seuss, was born at his parents’ house on Howard Street. Then, in 1906, Theodor and Henrietta moved to Forest Park, to a house on Fairfield Street only a few blocks away from here. Young Dr. Seuss would have undoubtedly made many visits to his grandparents house here on Sumner Avenue, although his grandmother Christine died in 1908 when he was just six years old.

After his wife’s death, Theodor continued to live here in this house, along with his daughter Christine and her husband, James L. Wallace, whom she married in 1910. They had two children, Theodor and Richard, and Christine also served as a caretaker for his father as he got older. He retired from the brewery business in the early 1910s, selling Liberty Brewery to Springfield Breweries, in what turned out to be fortuitous timing on his part. The Eighteenth Amendment, which established nationwide prohibition on alcoholic beverages, was ratified in 1919, bringing about the demise of the vast majority of America’s breweries. As for Theodor himself, he did not live long enough to see Prohibition enacted; he died on December 5, 1919, at the age of 79, just six weeks before Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920.

James and Christine inherited the house after Theodor’s death, and they continued to live here with their sons. They were still here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, with James working as a manager for a paper company in Holyoke, Theodor working as a civil engineer, and Richard working as a switchboard operator. The two sons later moved out, but James and Christine lived here for the rest of their lives, until Christine’s death in 1961 and James’s in 1965.

After more than 60 years in the Geisel family, this house has seen few significant changes, and it looks essentially identical to its appearance when the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago. For the most part, the other surrounding houses have also been well-preserved, including the William May House on the left, and today these houses make up part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.