Old Manse Main Staircase, Concord, Massachusetts

The main staircase at the Old Manse in Concord, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos show the view looking up the main staircase from the front door at the Old Manse in Concord. This house, which was featured in more detail in an earlier post, was built in 1770 as the home of William and Phebe Emerson. William was the pastor of the church in Concord, but he died in 1776 while serving as a chaplain in the Continental Army. His widow Phebe subsequently remarried his successor, the Reverend Ezra Ripley, and the house would remain in their family well into the 20th century.

During this time, the house had several notable residents. William Emerson’s grandson was the prominent Transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he lived here for about a year from 1834 to 1835. He was not yet a famous author at this point, but he wrote one of his early works, the essay “Nature,” here in this house, in his study at the top of the stairs on the right side of the hall.

Ezra Ripley died in 1841, and his son Samuel inherited the house. However, he did not immediately move in, and instead rented the house to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his newlywed wife Sophia. They spent their wedding night here on July 9, 1842, and they lived here for the next three years. Like Emerson before him, Hawthorne was an aspiring yet largely unknown writer. He also used the same upstairs room for his study, and he wrote a number of short stories there, which would later be published in 1846 as the book Mosses from an Old Manse. However, Hawthorne struggled financially during this time and was unable to pay rent for the house, so he and his family ultimately moved out in 1845.

Another prominent resident here was Sarah Bradford Ripley, wife of Samuel Ripley. She and her husband moved into the house after the Hawthornes left in 1845, but Samuel died just two years later. Sarah was a self-taught scholar and educator, and after her husband’s death she earned an income by tutoring Harvard students here at the house.

Sarah Ripley died in 1867, but the house remained in her family for several more generations. The top photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century, during the ownership of Sarah’s daughter Sophia Thayer. By this point the house was already a famous landmark, largely because of its association with Emerson and Hawthorne, and it had become known as the “Old Manse” because of the title of Hawthorne’s book that he wrote here.

In 1914, Sophia Thayer’s daughter Sarah Ames inherited the house. Sarah was the great granddaughter of Ezra and Phebe Ripley, making her the fourth consecutive generation to own the property. She died in 1939, and her husband subsequently donated the house, including all of its contents, to the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation and historic preservation organization.

Today, the house still looks largely the same as it did when the Ripley family and their descendants lived here. The wallpaper here in the stairway hall has changed since the top photo was taken, in order to reflect the style of wallpaper that was here earlier in the 19th century. Otherwise, though, not much is different from the top photo, and even the sofa appears to be the same in both photos. The house is still owned by the Trustees, and it is open to the public for guided tours.

Sargent Gallery, Boston Public Library (3)

The Sargent Gallery in the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

As explained in more detail in an earlier post, this gallery on the third floor of the McKim Building features a mural by prominent artist John Singer Sargent. Titled Triumph of Religion, the mural features scenes relating to Christianity, Judaism, and other ancient religions of the Near East. It was a long-term project for Sargent, who completed the mural panels in stages between 1895 and 1919.

The first photo was taken in 1896, shortly after the first installation of panels. Starting on the ceiling in the distance is Pagan Gods, featuring the goddess Astarte and the god Moloch. The large lunette at the top of the north wall in the distance is Israelites Oppressed, showing the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians and the forced exile of the Israelites by the Assyrians. Beneath this panel is Frieze of Prophets, a three-panel set that depicts the various Old Testament prophets.

Over the next few decades, Sargent would add more panels to the gallery. This process is explained in more detail in the previous post, but it involved installing panels on the south wall in 1903, followed by the lunettes at the tops of the side walls in 1916. The last installation occurred in 1919, with the addition of Church in the foreground on the right side of the second photo, and Synagogue further in the distance on the right. In between these is a large blank space on the wall, where Sargent had intended to put the final panel, Sermon on the Mount. However, he died in 1925, before its completion, and the space has remained empty ever since.

Sargent Gallery, Boston Public Library

A view of the murals in the Sargent Gallery on the third floor of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, around 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

This building serves as the main branch of the Boston Public Library, and it is also an important architectural and artistic landmark, both on the exterior and interior. The building itself was designed by Charles Follen McKim, a prominent architect of the firm of McKim, Mead & White, but he also worked with a number of other leading artists of the period. Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens carved the seals above the main entrance, and his brother Louis carved two lions at the base of the grand staircase. Other sculptural works included the bronze statue Bacchante and Infant Faun, by Frederick William MacMonnies, which originally stood in the courtyard before being moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In addition, the interior includes murals by three major artists: Pierre Puvis de Chavannes in the grand staircase, Edwin Austin Abbey in the book delivery room, and John Singer Sargent, here on the third floor.

Sargent was born in Italy in 1856, but his parents were originally from Massachusetts. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and by the late 19th century he had become one of the leading portrait painters of the Gilded Age. For this mural at the Boston Public Library, McKim gave him discretion over the theme, and Sargent chose Triumph of Religion, with images that focused on the history of Christianity and Judaism, along with other ancient Near East religions. This became a long-term project, with sections of the mural being installed in four different stages between 1895 and 1916.

The mural panels in this scene, located on the northern end of the gallery, were part of the original 1896 installation, and the first photo was taken the following year. The panel on the ceiling is titled Pagan Gods, and it features the goddess Astarte on the right side, and the god Moloch on the left. Beneath them, on the top of the north wall, is Israelites Oppressed, which depicts the Israelites being attacked by an Egyptian pharaoh on the left and an Assyrian king on the right. This represents the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians, along with the conquest and forced exile of the Israelites by the Assyrian empire. The last three panels, which are located directly above the doors, feature various Old Testament prophets. From left to right, the panel on the left depicts Zephaniah, Joel, Obadiah, and Hosea; the panel on right depicts Micah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah; and the central panel depicts Amos, Nahum, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elijah, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Jonah, Isaiah, and Habakkuk.

The rest of the panels are not visible in this view of the gallery, but they were installed in 1903, 1916, and 1919. The final panel in the project was never completed because of Sargent’s death in 1926, and that space on the wall in the gallery remains blank. Overall, this particular view here at the north end of the gallery has changed very little since the first photo was taken over 125 years ago. The mural was extensively restored in 2003 and 2004, and this space is now known as the Sargent Gallery, in honor of the artist.

Hotel Kaaterskill Lobby, Hunter, New York

The lobby of the Hotel Kaaterskill, around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The first photo shows the lobby of the Hotel Kaaterskill, which was built in 1881 as a resort hotel atop South Mountain in the Catskills. Said to have been the largest mountaintop hotel in the world, the Kaaterskill was a popular destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and during this time it had a number of prominent guests, including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Chester A. Arthur. The hotel stood here for over 40 years, before it was destroyed by a fire in 1924.

This photo was taken from just inside the front entrance, facing northwest. On either side of the lobby are stairs leading to the upper floors, and between these staircases is the door to the dining room. To the right is the eastern wing of the building, which had a reception room, parlors, a smoking room, and a barber shop on the first floor. In the center of the scene is a counter that appears to have sold souvenirs and possibly food. The exposure time was probably a few seconds long, as indicated by the moving rocking chair on the left side and the blurred figures on the far right.

The hotel was never rebuilt after the fire, and today the forest is steadily reclaiming the site of the hotel. There is very little left of the massive building, aside from the stone foundations and scattered debris like rusted metal and shards of broken glass and chinaware. The 2021 photo was particularly difficult to line up with the old one, since there are no surviving features from the first photo. However, it was taken from approximately the same spot as the first photo, and facing the same direction, as indicated by the hotel’s floor plans and the remnants of the foundation.

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.