Governor’s Office, Montpelier, Vermont

The governor’s office in the Vermont State House, around the 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The current Vermont State House was completed in 1859, and over the years it has remained remarkably well-preserved. On the interior, this includes the House and Senate chambers, along with the governor’s office, which is shown here in these two photos. The office is located on the second floor, in the northwest corner of the building, and it was originally occupied by Hiland Hall, who served as governor from 1858 to 1860.

The first photo was taken a little over a decade after the state house opened, and it shows the view from near the door that connects the office to the second floor lobby. The governor’s desk occupies the foreground, and in the lower left corner is the governor’s chair, known as the Constitution Chair. This chair was one of the original pieces of furniture in the room, having been given to the state in 1858 by Captain Horace B. Sawyer, a naval officer and Vermont native who had, many years earlier, served aboard the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812. The chair is made of timers from the famous ship, and it features the state seal, which is carved atop the chair.

Aside from the chair, another important feature in the first photo is the marble bust of Erastus Fairbanks, who served as governor from 1852-1853 and 1860-1861. It was the work of noted sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, and it was given to the state by Governor Fairbanks’s sons, Horace and Franklin, in 1872. Because of this, the sculpture’s presence here in the office provides an approximate date of the first photo. Both of the Fairbanks brothers were involved in state politics, with Franklin serving as Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives from 1872 to 1874. Then, from 1876 to 1878, Horace served as governor, where he was able to sit here at this desk, directly across from the bust of his father.

For more than a century, from before the Civil War until after World War II, the Republican Party dominated state politics here in Vermont. During this time, the state had fifty consecutive Republican governors, starting in 1855 with Stephen Royce, whose portrait hangs on the wall on the far right side of the first photo. Not until 1963, following the election of Philip H. Hoff, would the state have a Democrat as governor. Part of the reason for this long string of electoral successes was the Mountain Rule, an agreement within the party that nominations for governor would alternate every two years between candidates from the eastern and western halves of the state. This helped maintain party unity, while also ensuring a balance of power between Vermont’s two major regions.

Today, nearly 150 years after the first photo was taken, this room is no longer the governor’s primary office. Since 1971, the governor’s working office has been located in the Pavilion, a building adjacent to the state house. However, this office here in the state house continues to serve as the governor’s ceremonial office, and it typically used during legislative session. Overall, though, the room has retained its historic appearance throughout this time. The Constitution Chair is still here, as is the marble bust of Erastus Fairbanks. Even the portrait of Stephen Royce is still in the office, although it is slightly further to the right from its location in the first photo, and it lies just outside the frame of the 2019 photo.

Senate Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

The Senate chamber in the Vermont State House, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

Vermont originally had a unicameral legislature, but in 1836 the state added a senate, which consisted of 30 members elected from Vermont’s 14 counties. Each county was guaranteed one senate seat, and the remaining seats were allocated to the counties based on population. By contrast, the Vermont House of Representatives was comprised of one representative from each town, regardless of population, which gave a disproportionately large voice to the state’s many sparsely-populated towns. In this sense, representation in the Vermont state legislature was essentially the opposite of the U. S. Congress, where each state has two senators but a varying number of representatives.

The present state senate chamber, shown here in these two photos, has been in use since 1859, when the current state house was completed. It is located in the eastern wing of the building, and these two photos show the view looking down the central aisle from the rear of the chamber. Shortly after the state house opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published an article about the building, which included a lengthy description of the senate chamber:

The Senate Chamber . . . is elliptical in form, 46 by 38 feet, 22 feet high, adorned with Corinthian fluted columns, having carved capitals, supporting an entablature, from which springs a cove ceiling, continuing the outline of the ellipse.

This ceiling is moulded and enriched in panels, having counter curved heads ornamented in stucco, and bead and button mouldings in the beams, terminating in a moulded rim of elliptical form, surrounding yet other ornamental panels, with circular returns and ornaments in between, on the flat of the ceiling, converging to the centre piece, from which is hung a massive twelve light chandelier. The lobbies are adorned with fluted columns, having bases and Corinthian capitals, resting on a pedestal, and supporting an entablature and open balustrade of the gallery. In front of the balustrade and fitted between the rails and base is a neat marble-faced clock.

The lobbies are parallel to the curve of the room, returned by a quarter circle to the wall. The President’s desk is of solid black walnut, of highly ornamental pattern, designed by the Architect especially for the place, and made, as was also the Secretary’s table, and the furniture and upholstery of the entire building, by Blake & Davenport, of Boston, under the immediate direction of John A. Ellis. The desk is curved and irregular in outline, paneled and cvarved, and has at each projection in front a carved buttress, and in the centre panel the coat of arms of the State of Vermont is elegantly carved.

The Senators’ desks and chairs are designed and arranged so as to give ample space for the comfort and convenience of Senators. The furniture throughout the building is of black walnut. The carpeting, which was furnished by Lovejoy & Wood, of Boston, is excellent in quality and well adapted to the various rooms.

The first photo was taken within a decade or after this description was published. Like the nearby House of Representatives chamber, the Senate chamber has remained largely unchanged since then. In this scene, the only significant difference is the addition of two computer desks in front of the rostrum.

The Senate itself has also retained the same basic structure over the years, unlike the House, which was dramatically altered by reapportionment in 1965. The only major difference is that the Senate districts no longer strictly follow county lines; some districts include towns from neighboring counties, in order to ensure equal representation. In addition, two of the smaller counties, Essex and Orleans, have been combined into a single district, making 13 total districts. However, as was the case in the 19th century, these districts continue to have multiple members based on population. They range from the three smallest, which only have one senator each, to the largest, Chittenden, which has six senators in its district.

House of Representatives Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

The House of Representatives chamber in the Vermont State House, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The current Vermont State House opened in 1859, replacing an earlier building on the same site that had been gutted by a fire in 1857. The layout of the building consists of two floors, with most of the major government functions here on the second floor. The east wing of the building houses the Senate chamber, and the ceremonial governor’s office is on the opposite side of the building in the west wing. In the center of the building, located beneath the dome, is the House of Representatives chamber, which is shown in this scene looking down the central aisle toward the rostrum.

This building was used for the first time during the October 1859 session of the state legislature. Shortly after it opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published a lengthy article about the state house, including the following description of the House chamber:

The Representatives’ Hall is 69 9 by 67 feet, 31 feet high, and is in the form of the letter D. The walls are relieved by pilasters fluted, having bases supported by pedestals and carved capitals, of the Corinthian order, supporting an enriched entablature, from which springs a cove to the flat ceiling, terminating in a moulded border and stopped at each intersection by a moulded pendant. The panels of the cove and ceiling are double sunk, exceedingly well proportioned, moulded and ornamented, and are continued in curves parallel to that of the wall. The centre piece is very graceful in outline and is eighteen feet in diameter, and bears unmistakable signs of originality.

The rear end of this room is finished like the sides, but without the cove at the top of the entablature, and by the skilful treatment of the Architect, has not the heavy stolid appearance of the attic base usually accompanying the natural order of finish. It has neat plain panels proportioned to the place, and in the centre one, directly over the Speaker’s desk, is placed the Coat-of-Arms of the State, carved in wood, gilded and painted, with scroll work at base. It was executed by John A. Ellis of Cambridge, Mass., and is a piece worthy of any artist. The various cornices and panels in the ceiling of the room are enriched with stucco ornaments just sufficient for an easy relief and to give a graceful effect to the whole.

The rear of the Hall has a raised platform, 7 feet wide and 67 feet long, approached by a flight of four stairs on either side of the Speaker’s Desk, protected in front by a black walnut moulded rail rising 6 inches above the floor. The seats on this platform, for the use of the Senate in Joint Assembly, were designed for the place and are appropriate to it. The Bar of the House is 17 by 38 feet, and from it rises at each side the inclined plane, on which are secured the Representatives’ desks and chairs. These are placed on circles, corresponding to the shape of the room. By the arrangement of desks, each Representative has ample room for writing and speaking. The Speaker’s and Clerk’s desks, tho’ plainer in style than that of the President of the Senate, are well proportioned and beautiful in finish.

Although not specifically mentioned in this description, perhaps the most notable decorative feature in the chamber was the massive portrait of George Washington, which is seen here in these two photos. It was painted in 1837 by George Gassner, based on an earlier painting by Gilbert Stuart, and it had originally hung in the old state house. It was rescued from the building during the 1857 fire, and it was subsequently placed in the House chamber of the new state house, where it has remained ever since.

At the time of this building’s completion, the state had 239 representatives, with one representing each town, regardless of population. This meant that Burlington, with an 1860 population of 7,713, had the same representation here as Glastenbury, which had a population of 47. This system would remain in place for the next century, even as the imbalanced worsened, with the state’s cities growing larger, and the small towns getting smaller. Eventually, though, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in the 1960s that established the one man, one vote principle for state legislatures, requiring Vermont and many other states to reapportion their legislatures based on population.

The first photo was taken within about a decade or two after the building was completed, probably in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Perhaps the most notable representative during this period was John Calvin Coolidge, who represented the town of Plymouth from 1872 to 1878. At the time, Coolidge had two young children at home, including his son Calvin, the future president, who was born in 1872. Many years later, the elder Coolidge would serve in the state senate from 1910 to 1912, and his last government position was as a justice of the peace, in which capacity he swore in his son as president in 1923.

Today, around 150 years after the first photo was taken, the House chamber now has far fewer desks for representatives. This was the result of the 1965 reapportionment, when the state legislature reduced the size of the House from 246 to 150, with electoral districts that were based on population rather than town boundaries. Overall, though, the House chamber has remained remarkably well-preserved in its original appearance. It is still in active use by the Vermont House of Representatives, and it is one of the oldest state legislative chambers in the country that has survived without any major remodeling.

Alexander House Staircase, Springfield, Mass

The main staircase of the Alexander House in Springfield, on December 2, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Alexander House is one of the oldest and most architecturally-significant houses in Springfield. It was built in 1811 by local contractor Simon Sanborn, based on designs by prominent architect Asher Benjamin, and it features an unusual floor plan with no front door. Instead, the house has two side doors, with a hallway running the width of the house between them. On one end of this hallway, at what was once the east entrance, is the main staircase, which is shown here. It is curved, with an elliptical appearance when viewed from the top, and it is perhaps the house’s single most striking interior feature.

The house had several important owners over the years, including famed portrait artist Chester Harding, who lived here in the early 1830s, and Mayor Henry Alexander, Jr., who lived here from 1857 until his death in 1878. The Alexander family remained here for many years, until his surviving child, Amy B. Alexander, died in 1938. The first photo was taken less than a year after her death, at a time when the house’s future was still uncertain. It was nearly moved to Storrowton Village on the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield, but instead it was purchased in 1939 by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which restored and preserved the house.

The Alexander House has been moved twice in its history. It was originally located on the north side of State Street, between Elliot and Spring Streets, but it was moved a few hundred feet on this lot in 1874 in order to remove drainage issues. The second move came in 2003, when it was moved around the corner to its current location on the east side of Elliot Street, in order to make room for the new federal courthouse on State Street. Because of this, these two photos were not taken in the same physical location, even though they show the same scene inside the house.

Today, the Alexander House is no longer owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, now known as Historic New England, sold the property soon after its 2004 move. It is now privately owned and used for office space, but it has retained its historic appearance on both the interior and exterior, including its distinctive staircase, which has hardly changed since the first photo was taken more than 80 years ago.

Alexander House Interior, Springfield, Mass

The east room on the first floor of the Alexander House in Springfield, on December 2, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

The room in 2019:

The Alexander House is one of the oldest surviving houses in Springfield, and perhaps the city’s best example of Federal style architecture. It was built in 1811, and it originally stood on the north side of State Street, between Elliot and Spring Streets. However, it has been moved twice over the years, first in 1874 when it was moved a few hundred feet because of drainage issues. Then, a more substantial move occurred in 2003, when it was moved around the corner to Elliot Street so that its old lot could be redeveloped as a federal courthouse. As a result, while these two photos show the same room, they were taken at different locations, with the first one on State Street and the second one at the house’s current lot on Elliot Street.

The original owner of this house was merchant James Byers, who lived here from 1811 until 1820, when he sold it to Colonel Israel Trask. The house was briefly owned by prominent portrait artist Chester Harding, but he sold it back to Trask in 1832. Trask died three years later, but his family owned it until 1857. The next owner, and current namesake of the house, was banker and local politician Henry Alexander, Jr. He was the president of Springfield Bank, and he also held a number of elected offices, including city alderman from 1857 to 1858, mayor from 1864 to 1865, and state senator from 1865 to 1868. Alexander named the house Linden Hall, and it was during his ownership that the house was moved for the first time. He lived here until his death in 1878, and the house remained in the Alexander family for the next 60 years, until the death of his last surviving child, Amy B. Alexander, in 1938.

The Alexander House was designed by prominent architect Asher Benjamin, and it was built by local contractor Simon Sanborn, who was responsible for many of the fine early 19th century homes in Springfield. In a rather unusual arrangement for a New England home, the house lacks a front door. Instead, it has two side entrances, which are connected by a hallway that runs the width of the house. At the front of the house are two parlors, one of which is shown here in these two photos. This particular room—located on the right side of the house when viewing it from the street—originally faced southeast towards the corner of State and Spring Streets, although in the house’s current orientation it faces southwest.

The first photo was taken less than a year after Amy Alexander’s death, as part of an effort to document the house for the Historic American Buildings Survey. At the time, the future of the house was still uncertain. One proposal would have involved moving it across the river to Storrowton Village at the Big E fairgrounds, but this was ultimately abandoned because of the challenges involved in such a move. Instead, in 1939 the house was acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Now known as Historic New England, this organization has restored and maintained many historic houses across the region, and it owned the Alexander House until shortly after the 2003 relocation. Since then, it has been privately owned and rented out for office space, but it retains its historic appearance on both the exterior and interior, and it stands as one of the city’s most historic and architecturally-significant houses.

Governor Buckingham Statue, Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford

The statue of Governor William A. Buckingham in the west atrium of the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, around 1891. Image from Hartford Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2019:

William A. Buckingham served as governor of Connecticut from 1858 to 1866, including for the entire duration of the Civil War. During that time, he was instrumental in recruiting soldiers for the state regiments, in addition to raising money to equip them. In several instances, he even took out personal loans in order to ensure that Connecticut soldiers were paid in a timely manner. Because of his actions, he earned the respect of the state’s veterans, and he was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1869 until his death in 1875.

The current Connecticut State Capitol was completed in 1878, and the west atrium was designated as the Hall of Flags, to display the battle flags of the state’s various Civil War regiments. These flags were placed here on September 17, 1879—the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam—with a celebration that included a parade of more than ten thousand veterans. Then, five years later, the state installed this statue of Governor Buckingham, which was designed by Olin L. Warner, a prominent sculptor from Suffield, Connecticut. It was unveiled here on June 18, 1884 with similar fanfare, including a large parade of veterans and speeches by state dignitaries.

The first photo was taken around 1891, and very little has changed since then. The atrium is a little more crowded now, because of added security at the entrance, but the statue of Governor Buckingham is still here, as are most of the regimental flags. The capitol building was extensively restored during the 1980s, and during this time many of the flags were also restored. After being on display for well over a century, most were badly deteriorated, with some even falling off of their poles. Of the 110 flags, 73 were restored in the 1980s. Funding has been a challenge since then, but more flags have continued to be conserved over the years, and have been put back on display here in the Hall of Flags.