Theodore H. Nye House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 11 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2018:

This elegant Colonial Revival home was built in 1905, and was originally the home of Theodore H. Nye, who worked for George Nye & Co., a wholesale meat company located on Lyman Street in downtown Springfield. The company had been established by his father George, who lived next door from here, in the house on the right side of the scene. George died in 1907, and Theodore went on to hold several positions within the company, including treasurer, vice president, and ultimately president. He lived here with his wife Mary and their two daughters, Gertrude and Harriet, until around 1916, when the family moved to West Springfield.

The house was subsequently owned by Charles H. Angell, actuary for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. He and his wife Jessie lived here with their three sons: Irving, Theodore, and Charles, Jr. However, he died in 1926, and by 1929 Jessie and the boys were living in a more modest house nearby at 198 Saint James Avenue. In the meantime, this house on Ingersoll Grove was sold to William C. Taylor, a retired merchant who had previously owned Taylor’s Music House on State Street. He and his wife Emma were living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and he remained here until his death in 1942.

Today, some 80 years after the first photo was taken, not much has changed in this scene. In a neighborhood dominated by late 19th century Queen Anne-style homes, it is one of the few early 20th century Colonial Revival homes, and it stands as a well-preserved example of this architectural style. The neighboring George Nye house on the right side is also still standing, and both of these homes are now contributing properties in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Elizabeth Adams House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 28 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house on Ingersoll Grove in Springfield was built for Dr. Nathan Adams, a physician who died in 1888, shortly before the house was completed. However, his widow Elizabeth moved into the house and lived here for nearly 20 years, until her own death in 1908 at the age of 90. During this time, she was hardly alone in this big house, though. The 1900 census shows her living here with her son Lathom, daughter Ellen, Ellen’s husband John Egbert, and their four children. John was an Episcopalian minister who had, many years earlier, served as a curate at Christ Church in Springfield, where Dr. and Mrs. Adams were prominent members.

John Egbert died in 1905 at the age of 60, with the death certificate indicating “general paresis” as the cause of death. This condition is a psychiatric disorder usually caused by late-stage syphilis, and seems like a rather unusual cause of death for a clergyman. Two of John and Ellen’s children also died relatively young; William died of tuberculosis in 1901 at the age of 18, and Nathan died of an intestinal obstruction in 1913, at the age of 35. Ellen lived here along with her brother Nathan and daughter Ellen, until her death in 1917.

After being owned by the Adams family for over 30 years, the house was finally sold in the early 1920s, to James M. Gill. He was the son of James D. Gill, a prominent publisher and art dealer who later moved into the house across the street from here. The younger James was a businessman who started his career in the paper industry. He then entered the ice business, eventually becoming the president of the Springfield Ice Company. From 1913 to 1916 he served as the city’s police commissioner, and this experience gave him insight into yet another business opportunity. Recognizing the need for better handcuffs, he started the Peerless Handcuff Company in 1914 and served as the company president for many years. The company quickly became a leader in the industry, and is still in business over a century later.

James M. Gill lived in this house with his wife Josephine and their three children, Barbara, Clyde, and Marjorie. The two older children moved out in the 1930s, but Marjorie was still living here along with her parents when the first photo was taken. After James’s death in 1949, though, the house was sold. Like many other large homes in the neighborhood, it was divided up into multiple units in the early 1950s, and it later became a group home for deinstitutionalized patients from the Belchertown State School. However, it was subsequently restored as a single-family home, and today it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mary McKnight House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 79 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:


The McKnight neighborhood was largely developed by John and William McKnight, two brothers who were born in Truxton New York but later moved to Springfield. Here, they first worked as dry goods merchants, before ultimately entering the real estate business. John died in 1890, but his wife Mary continued to be involved in real estate, and built this home on Ingersoll Grove in 1896. Most of the other houses in the neighborhood have Queen Anne architecture, but because this house was built somewhat later, its design reflects the Colonial Revival style, which was coming into popularity at the end of the 19th century.

By 1900, Mary McKnight had sold this house to Cooper Robeson, who lived here with his wife Josephine and their children,  Rebecca, Dorothy, and James. They moved to Boston around 1910, and sold the house to woolen manufacturer Edwin H. Pinney. Originally from Stafford Springs, Connecticut, he was the son of Edwin C. Pinney, who was a state legislator and the president of a woolen company. When he and his wife Jennie moved to this house, they joined the many other business and industrial leaders who lived in the McKnight neighborhood, and they would remain here for many years. They were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and not much has changed in the house’s exterior appearance since then. Today, along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lyman Besse House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 29 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

The life of Lyman Besse was a classic Gilded Age rags-to-riches story, beginning with his birth in Wareham, Massachusetts in 1854. His father was a farmer, and died when Lyman was just 11, and five years later he left school and traveled to West Virginia, where he found work as a clerk in a general store. By the time he turned 18, he was back in Massachusetts, earning six dollars a week while working for a clothing merchant in Taunton. In 1876, he came to western Massachusetts to work for C. B. Harris & Company, but the following year, at the age of 23, he decided to go into business for himself.

Working with business partner J. E. Foster, he opened his first clothing store in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1877. The business was a quick success, and he soon began opening stores in other cities across the northeast. In 1879, he married his childhood friend, Henrietta Segee, and they lived in Bridgeport for the next nine years. However, as his business empire expanded, he decided to move to Springfield, which had a more central location. In 1888, he and his family moved into this newly-built house on Ingersoll Grove, in one of the most desirable locations in the McKnight neighborhood.

Like most of the other houses in the neighborhood, Besse’s mansion had Queen Anne-style architecture, although this has been somewhat altered over the years. The property also included a massive carriage house in the backyard, and a driveway that connected to both Ingersoll Grove as well as Clarendon Street behind the carriage house. The grounds were well-landscaped, and beyond the backyard was the McKnight Glen, a section of undeveloped parkland owned by the city. As described in an 1893 volume of The National Magazine, “Mr. Besse’s home is situated in the most picturesque section of the delightful and healthful ‘Highland’ region of Springfield, and is one of the most pleasant and attractive homes in the city.”

When the Besse family moved into the house, Lyman was just 34 years old, but he had already achieved considerable success in his clothing business. His company became known as the Besse System, and would ultimately include nearly 50 stores across the eastern United States. In the process, he helped to pioneer the idea of a chain retailer. The same article in The National Magazine declared that he had the largest clothing business in the world, and noted that his ability to buy in such large quantities from his suppliers gave him a considerable advantage over smaller competitors.

Lyman and Henrietta raised six children in this house, and they also regularly employed at least two servants who lived here with the family. After Henrietta’s death in 1926, their daughter Florence moved back to the house to care for her father. Florence was recently divorced from her husband, and she lived here with her two children, Mary Brewster and Kingman Brewster, Jr. Lyman died in 1930, and Florence and the children moved out soon afterward. Kingman, Jr., who was 11 when they left, would go on to gain prominence as the President of Yale University from 1963 to 1977, and then served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Carter administration, from 1977 to 1981.

At some point in the early 20th century, the house lost much of its original Queen Anne appearance. The exterior was covered in stucco, and the open wooden porches were rebuilt with granite and enclosed. The chimneys were also rebuilt of granite, and the front facade gained some symmetry when a dormer window on the left was converted into a gable, matching the original gable on he right side of the house. Otherwise, though, the basic structure of the house remained the same, and both the porte-cochere on the right and the carriage house in the distance have survived. In addition, the interior, with nearly 10,000 square feet of living space, has retained much of its 19th century appearance.

In the early 1930s, the house was sold to James D. Gill, a retired art dealer and bookseller who, among other things, had published King’s Handbook of Springfield in 1884. His wife, Emily Frances Abbey Gill, was a prominent philanthropist who, among other things, gave significant contributions to Springfield College to build a women’s dormitory, which is the current Abbey-Appleton Hall. James was already in his 80s when he moved into the house, and he died only a few years later in 1937. Emily was still living here when the first photo was taken, and she remained here until her death in 1950 at the age of 94.

Since Emily’s death, the house has been variously used as a dress shop and as a nursing home, but it is now a single-family residence again. Like many of the other  mansions in the neighborhood, the home has been well-preserved. Although the exterior has changed since it was first built in 1887, there is virtually no difference in its appearance from the first photo, and it is an important contributing property in the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.