Charles Merriam House, Springfield, Mass

The former Charles Merriam house at 61 Howard Street in Springfield, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The location in 2015:


This house on Howard Street was built around the 1830s, and was the home of Charles Merriam. He and his brother Charles had grown up in West Brookfield, but in 1831 they moved to Springfield and, the following year, opened a publishing company called G. & C. Merriam. A few years later, the Merriams purchased the rights to Noah Webster’s dictonary, which turned out to be a wise business move. Merriam-Webster, as the company is now known, is still headquartered in Springfield, and their famous dictionary is still being published today.

Charles married his first wife, Sophia Warriner, in 1835, and the couple had five children. She died in 1858, and two years later he remarried to Rachel Capen, a 36 -year-old widow. They continued living here in this house, and Rachel became involved in charitable efforts in the city, which included being one of the founders of the Home for Friendless Women. It was established in 1865 with Rachel as its first president, and provided shelter and services for needy women and children.

The original building for the Home for Friendless Women was located on Union Street, essentially in the Merriams’ backyard. Within a few decades it was too small to meet the growing needs, though. Shortly after Charles’s death in 1887, Rachel donated the home to the organization, who was using it by the time the first photo was taken. However, within a few years they built a new building on William Street, and the Howard Street property was sold.

By the 1890s, Howard Street was hardly the upscale residential street that it had once been when Charles Merriam moved in more than 60 years earlier. The 1900 census shows that the street was predominantly French-Canadian, a fact emphasized by the presence of St. Joseph’s Church, a French Catholic church visible in the extreme right of the first photo. The former Merriam house was at this point owned by Napoleon Byron, a French-Canadian undertaker who lived here with his wife Emily, their seven children, and three boarders.

The old house did not remain here for much longer, though. It was demolished by 1905, when the Howard Street School was built to serve the growing population of the South End.  This school later became the Zanetti School, and was used up until 2009.  Two years later it sustained significant damage in the tornado that passed through Springfield, and as of April 2015 it is scheduled to be demolished, pending final approval from the state historical commission.  The current MGM Springfield casino plans call for the construction of a parking garage on the spot of the school.

Howard Street School, Springfield Mass (2)

Howard Street School in Springfield, seen from Union Street around 1938-1939. Courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:


Another view of the Howard Street School, seen from the Union Street side (see this post for a view from Howard Street).  As mentioned in the other post, the school was built in 1905 and was severely damaged in the 2011 tornado.  It is scheduled to be demolished by MGM Springfield as soon as the Massachusetts Historical Commission gives them the green light, and the MGM parking garage will be built on the site.  It shouldn’t be too controversial, though; even if not for MGM, there would be no saving the building – the tornado left it damaged beyond repair, and it was never seen as a particularly historic structure to begin with.  The second photo was taken on March 24, 2015, the day of the official groundbreaking ceremony that took place on the other side of the school.

Howard Street School, Springfield Mass (1)

The Howard Street School, seen from Howard Street, around 1938-1939. Courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:


The Howard Street School was built in 1905, and was one of many school buildings built in Springfield around the turn of the 20th century, which included Forest Park School, Classical High School, Chestnut Junior High School, and the Technical High School. This school was used for over 100 years, and was most recently known as the Zanetti School.  The Zanetti School moved to a new location in 2009, and two years later the 2011 tornado caused substantial damage to the building.  It has been vacant ever since, and it is now slated to be demolished to make way for a parking garage for the planned MGM Springfield casino.  The 2015 photo was taken on March 24, the day of the ceremonial groundbreaking, and the old school building is to be the first building demolished, once the Massachusetts Historical Commission signs off on it.

Dwight House, Springfield Mass

The Dwight House on Howard Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2015:


The scene in 2023:

This scene is soon to change even more dramatically than it did between the first two photos – all of the buildings in the 2015 scene are within the footprint of the planned MGM casino.  Most of the buildings will be demolished, except for the old MassMutual building in the background.  Strangely enough, the building in the old photo will end up outliving almost all of the ones in the present-day photo; its former site is now a parking lot across Howard Street from Red Rose Pizzeria, but the building itself was dismantled and moved to Deerfield, where it sits on Old Main Street in Historic Deerfield.

The house in the first photo, the Dwight House, was built in 1754.  It was originally owned by Colonel Josiah Dwight, and later by his son, Colonel Timothy Dwight.  It was originally located on Main Street, but was moved to Howard Street around 1890, where it was photographed in the first view here.  By the 1930s view, it was divided into a duplex and was used as a tenement, and at this point was probably the oldest building in the city.  However, developers were eyeing the property, so in 1950 it was dismantled and moved to Deerfield, as seen in the photo on the Historic Deerfield website.  This arrangement preserved the building, but it also creates the odd situation of a city’s oldest building being located over 30 miles from the city.

2023 update: The casino was built on this site soon after the second photo was taken, as shown in the third photo.

State Armory, Springfield, Mass

The Armory on Howard Street in Springfield, around 1910. Photo from View Book of Springfield (1910).


The building in 2014:


The State Armory in Springfield (not to be confused with the much larger, more prominent federal Springfield Armory) was built in 1895 for the Massachusetts Militia, and later the Massachusetts National Guard.  The building included both the castle-like structure facing Howard Street, as well as a massive drill shed that extended the width of the block to Union Street.  After the National Guard left, it became the South End Community Center, but it sustained significant damage from the June 1, 2011 tornado, which completely destroyed the former drill shed.  Like the former YWCA Building, the old Armory is right in the middle of the planned casino development, and the current plan is to demolish all but the facade, which will be incorporated into the casino.

YWCA Building, Springfield, Mass

The YWCA building on Howard Street in Springfield, around 1910. Photo from View Book of Springfield (1910).


The building in 2014:


The scene in 2023:

The building’s appearance hasn’t changed much over the past century, but its use has.  It was built in 1907 as a residential building for the YWCA, after the organization moved from its old location a block away on Bliss Street.  It continued to be used by the YWCA until at least the 1980s, but today it is the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center, a minimum security facility for alcohol-related offenders.  However, it probably won’t be for long – Howard Street is right in the middle of the planned casino development, so the days appear to be numbered for the historic building.

2023 update: The building was demolished soon after the second photo was taken, and the site is now part of the MGM Springfield casino. A replica of the building façade was incorporated into the casino design, although not in its original orientation, as shown in the third photo.