Sarah J. Bull House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 204 Longhill Street, directly opposite Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1908 for Sarah J. Bull, the oldest child of Smith & Wesson co-founder Daniel B. Wesson and his wife Cynthia. Born in 1848, Sarah was a child when her father established the pistol manufacturing company, but by the time she was a teenager he had become one of the richest men in Springfield. In 1870, Sarah married Dr. George J. Bull, a Canadian physician, and the couple moved to Worcester, where Sarah’s father built them a mansion at 55 Pearl Street as a wedding gift. They would go on have five children, whom they raised in the house: Florence, Maria, George, Harcourt, and Alice, although Alice died in infancy.

However, the house in Worcester was evidently not well-received by George, who saw it as a costly white elephant. According to a 1904 article in the Boston Post, George had objected to Daniel Wesson’s wedding gift, expressing concern about the expense of maintaining such a large, lavish mansion. To this, Wesson reportedly replied that “my daughter is accustomed to such surroundings and I am unwilling to allow this marriage to cause any unhappiness or inconvenience in her life.” But, despite – or perhaps because of – this mansion, their marriage was apparently not a happy one, and the couple divorced in 1883, an action that was almost unheard of in high society of the Victorian era. Soon after, George moved to Colorado, while Sarah returned to her parents’ house at 132 High Street in Springfield.

In 1899, Daniel and Cynthia Wesson moved into a new mansion at 50 Maple Street, perhaps the most elegant private home ever built in Springfield. Sarah moved with them, and was living there during the 1900 census, where her marital status was erroneously – but perhaps deliberately – listed as “widowed.” She remained here with her parents until their deaths in 1906, and she and her two surviving siblings inherited the mansion, which was valued at $1 million, or over $27 million today. However, none of them had any interest in living in the 20-room house, and they subsequently sold it to the newly-formed Colony Club in 1915.

In the meantime, Sarah built a mansion of her own in the fashionable Forest Park neighborhood, just to the south of downtown Springfield. Located on the west side of Longhill Street, it was in the most desirable section of the neighborhood, on a bluff above the Connecticut River, with expansive views of the river and surrounding countryside. The large house was completed in 1908, and she lived here alone except for two servants. The 1910 census listed two Irish-born servants, Mary and Bridget Millett, who were 30 and 24 years old, respectively. A decade later, her servants were immigrants from Finland: 35-year-old Ida Nordman and 43-year-old Signe Lindberg.

Sarah Bull died in 1928, and the house was sold to Edwin C. Gilbert, the general manager of the Chapman Valve Company in Indian Orchard. During the 1930 census the house was valued at $50,000 (over $730,000 today), and he lived here with his wife Elizabeth and their three young daughters: Jenn, Sarah, and Elizabeth. They also employed three servants, who were listed in the census as a butler, a cook, and a nurse. However, he Gilbert family did not live here for very long, because in 1933 Edwin sold the property and subsequently moved into a nearby house at 251 Longhill Street.

The next owner of the house was Hattie C. Long, a widow who was about 75 years old when she purchased the house from Edwin Gilbert. She moved here a few years after the death of her husband, Charles L. Long, a prominent lawyer and judge who had served as president of the city’s common council from 1885 to 1886 and as mayor in 1895. Charles and Hattie had only one child, Milton C. Long, who was born in 1882 and grew up in the family home at 42 Pearl Street. However, in 1912 Milton was returning home from a visit to Europe, and booked first class passage aboard the Titanic. He was among the 1,517 who died in the disaster, and his body was later recovered and buried in Springfield.

Hattie was still living here, alone except for two servants, when the first photo was taken. Despite already being in her 80s at this point, she lived here for well over a decade afterward, until her death in 1952 at the age of 95. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, with hardly any changes since the first photo was taken. It still stands atop the hill overlooking the Connecticut River, alongside a number of other historic early 20th century mansions. Together, these homes comprise part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Dwight W. Ellis House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 133 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Dwight W. Ellis was born in Monson, Massachusetts in 1885, and was the son of textile manufacturer Arthur D. Ellis. Arthur’s father, also named Dwight W. Ellis, had established a textile mill in Monson in 1871, and Arthur took control of it after his father’s death in 1899, adding a second factory in 1908. After Arthur’s death in 1916, the younger Dwight acquired the firm, which became A. D. Ellis Mills Incorporated in 1923. Over the years it made a wide variety of textiles, including uniform fabric for Annapolis, West Point, the Marine Corps, and the New York Police Department, as well as cloth for such diverse uses as billiards tables, caskets, and automobile upholstery. The mills produced upholstery for the White House cars, and also for the car used by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1952.

Although he spent much of his life in Monson, Dwight W. Ellis moved to Springfield in the late 1920s, along with his wife Marion and their three children. Here, he purchased property on Springfield’s exclusive Longhill Street, and built this Tudor Revival-style home, which was described in a 1980s city library pamphlet as “the most extravagant mansion ever built in the Forest Park neighborhood.” It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Chapman & Frazer, which specialized in Medieval-inspired designs such as this, and cost some $60,000 to build by the time it was completed in 1928.

The Ellis family was still living here when the first photo was taken a decade later, and Dwight’s mills were still prosperous. During the 1940 census, his income was listed as “over $5,000,” which was the highest income bracket on the census, and despite the Great Depression, the family could still afford to hire two live-in servants. However, by the middle of the century the New England textile industry was struggling, and the Ellis mills were no exception. In 1958, Dwight’s son, Dwight Jr., testified before a U.S. Senate hearing, explaining the company’s plight, which he blamed on stiff foreign competition and low tariffs. He told the senators about the company’s long history, their high-quality fabrics, and their state-of-the-art production methods, before explaining how they recently had to lay off half their workers and close one of the mills.

In the midst of the company’s financial problems, the older Dwight sold his house to the Melha Shriners in the mid-1950s. They expanded the house to use it as the organization’s headquarters, and the renovated building was dedicated in 1959. This included a large addition to the back, but the front of the house remained essentially unchanged, as the two photos show. Unfortunately, things did not end so well for Ellis or his mills. With both his company and his health failing, 75-year-old Dwight committed suicide in 1961, leaving Dwight Jr. to take over as president until the following year, when the nearly century-old firm finally closed.

Today, the house is one of the many early 20th century mansions that still stand on Longhill Street, and it is a contributing property in the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. It has remained as the headquarters of the Melha Shriners ever since Ellis sold the house in the 1950s, but earlier this year the organization announced plans to sell the property. Amid declining membership and high upkeep costs, the Shriners are looking to downsize in order to focus on their primary mission of supporting Springfield’s Shriner’s Hospital, so as of right now the fate of this building seems uncertain.

Robert Darling House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 215 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Most of Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when it became a popular place for Springfield’s wealthy residents to live. Prior to this, was only sparsely settled, with a small community centered around the corner of Longhill Street and Sumner Avenue, with the latter being referred to simply as “the X road.” A city map from 1870 shows about two dozen houses in the vicinity, plus a school, cemetery, and a few brick yards, but otherwise the area was still rural, despite being located just to the south of downtown Springfield.

All of this began to change at the end of the 19th century, however. Forest Park was established in the 1880s, and by the following decade trolleys were running to and from the park, making it easy to commute into the city from here. By the turn of the 20th century, most of the land near Longhill Street and Sumner Avenue had been subdivided, and new streets were laid out across previously undeveloped land. Nearly all of the older homes were ultimately demolished to build newer, more fashionable ones, and even the cemetery was replaced by the Sumner Avenue Elementary School.

This house, located on the east side of Longhill Street, just south of Sumner Avenue, is one of the few surviving remnants of the old neighborhood. Built around the early 1850s, it was once the home of Robert Darling, a Scottish immigrant who came to the United States in 1853 when he was about 20 years old. He was living in this house by at least 1870, and during the 1880 census he lived here with his daughter Elizabeth, his sister-in-law, and his nephew. He was a longtime employee of the Armory, and the 1900 census indicates that his job involved gas plumbing.

Around the same time that large-scale development began in the area in the late 19th century, Darling built a second house on his lot, located just to the south of here at 223 Longhill. Although still modest compared to the mansions that were soon to be built along the street, it was still larger than his old house, and by 1900 census he was living in this house along with Elizabeth, her husband Edward L. Janes, and their daughter Edith. He still owned the old house, though, and rented it to Appleton Greenwood, an elderly retired store clerk who lived here with his wife Eliza.

After Robert Darling’s death in 1912, Elizabeth and Edward inherited both houses, and continued to rent out 215 Longhill. By 1920, their daughter Edith was married and living with them at 223 Longhill with her husband Alvin W. Fuller, while Alvin’s mother, Martha, lived here at 215 Longhill with her brother Walter, sister Deborah, and Debora’s husband Austin. After Walter’s death in 1927, the other three continued to rent this house, paying $35 per month in 1930. However, all three of them died in the mid-1930s, shortly before the first photo was taken, and the house appears to have been empty during the 1940 census.

Very little has changed in the appearance of this house since then, and it survives as the oldest building in the area. It has seen the area transformed from a small farming community into a  wealthy suburban neighborhood, and its plain architecture contrasts with the elegant early 20th century mansions that now surround it on Longhill Street. Along with these other homes, though, it now forms part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

David C. Coe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 237 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1908, and was one of many upscale homes that were built on Longhill Street at the turn of the 20th century. It was originally the home of David C. Coe, a tailor who had a shop on Main Street here in Springfield. Originally from Kansas, where his father had been a merchant and a Civil War officer, David later came east with his father and settled in Springfield. In 1901, he married his wife, Laila Phelon, and they had three daughters, Mary, Carolyn, and Kathleen.

The Coe family was still living here into the 1930s, but Laila died in 1935 and David moved out soon after. By the time the first photo was taken a few years later, the house was being rented by Howard S. Stedman, the president and treasurer of the Dentists and Surgeons Supply Company. At the time, and his wife Marion paid $80 per month, and lived here with their two children, Barbara and John. In 1942, though, Howard purchased the house outright, and lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1958.

The house would remain in the Stedman family until it was finally sold in 1977. Since then, very little has changed, and the exterior of the house remains well-preserved as a good example of early 20th century Colonial Revival architecture. Like the other homes on Longhill Street and the surrounding 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.

Silas L. Kenyon House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 259 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This massive Colonial Revival-style home was one of many mansions built along Longhill Street at the turn of the 20th century. It was probably completed around 1906, when the address first appears in the city directory, and was originally owned by Silas L. Kenyon and his wife Ella. They were in their mid-50s when they moved into this house, and they lived here with several of their adult children, including their daughters Estella and Ruth. However, Ella died only a few years later in 1907, and in 1908 Silas married his second wife, Grace M. Pierce.

Silas Kenyon was the treasurer and manager of Fiberloid, a cellulose manufacturing company that had been founded in Newburyport in the late 1800s. This early type of plastic was used to manufacture a wide variety of consumer products, ranging from shirt collars to dolls’ heads to piano keys. Unfortunately it was also highly flammable, and the Newburyport factory was heavily damaged by a fire in 1904. The following year, the company moved to Springfield, where Kenyon and the other officers built a new facility in Indian Orchard, along the banks of the Chicopee River.

The Kenyon family moved to Springfield around the same time as Fiberloid, and Silas lived here in this house for the rest of his life, until his death in 1917. His company would go on to outlive him, and his son-in-law, Howard R. Bemis, would later succeed him as treasurer of Fiberloid. In the 1930s, the company was acquired by Monsanto, which operated the Indian Orchard facility until 1997. After several more ownership changes, the site is still used to manufacture plastics, although it is drastically different from when Fiberloid moved there over a century ago.

In the meantime, Kenyon’s house was sold shortly after his death, and by 1918 it was owned by Harold A. Ley, who lived here with his wife Anne and their four children. Harold was the president of Fred T. Ley & Co., a Springfield-based construction firm that he and his brother Fred had established in 1897. Early on, the company had primarily built trolley lines in and around western Massachusetts, but by the early 20th century the company had become one of the area’s leading building contractors, constructing prominent buildings in Springfield such as the Hotel Kimball, the old YMCA building on Chestnut Street, and the Masonic Temple on State Street.

By the time Harold moved into this house, the company had moved well beyond the Springfield area, with projects in Boston, New York City, and beyond. Among these was Camp Devens in Ayer and Shirley, Massachusetts, as well as the Boston Arena, an indoor ice rink that would go on to become the first home of both the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. By the mid-1910s, they were constructing luxury apartment buildings and other buildings in New York City, and by the end of the decade they were also involved in projects in Lima, Peru.

In 1919, the company moved its headquarters from Springfield to New York City, and went on to build a number of buildings there. Harold left the company two years later, though, in order to devote his time to the Life Extension Institute, a philanthropic organization that he had helped to found in 1913. As a result, he was not involved later in the decade when his brother’s firm took on its single most important construction project, the Chrysler Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1930.

Despite his growing ties to New York, Harold was listed in city directories as living here in this house until at least 1924. However, he subsequently moved to New York, and the 1930 census shows him and his family living in Yonkers. By 1927, this house was the home of Louis and Nell Bauer, who either owned or rented it until around 1929, when their own house was completed nearby at 386 Longhill Street.

The Bauer’s appear to have been the last residents of this house, because it is listed as being vacant in the 1929 city directory, as well as those of subsequent years. When the first photo was taken about a decade later, the house was still vacant, and it remained unoccupied for a few more years, until it was finally demolished in 1942. Nearly 80 years since then, most of the historic mansions on Longhill Street are still standing, but this house is one of the few exceptions. The property was never redeveloped, and today it remains a vacant lot within the Forest Park Heights Historic District.

Harold G. Duckworth House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 368 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

In the first half of the 20th century, the southern section of Longhill Street was one of the most desirable parts of Springfield, and was the home of many of the city’s wealthiest residents. Located just south of downtown Springfield, on a ridgeline above the Connecticut River, many of these homes enjoyed spectacular views, and were situated right next to Forest Park, the largest park in the city. In keeping with architectural tastes of the era, a number of the homes, including this one, had Tudor Revival-style designs, evoking the appearance of an aristocratic English country estate.

Nearly all of the mansions here on Longhill Street were built before the start of the Great Depression, and this house, completed in 1931, was among the last to be built. It was designed by the architectural firm of B. H. Seabury for Harold G. Duckworth, a chain manufacturer who had previously lived in a more modest home on Forest Park Avenue. He and his wife Alma had two children, James and Susan, and they were all living here when the first photo was taken later in the decade.

Harold died in 1961, and Alma lived in this house until 1983, when she sold the property. She was in her 70s at the time, but she would go on to outlive both of her children, and she died in 2003, just a few weeks shy of her 104th birthday. In the meantime, her former house has remained well-preserved, with no noticeable changes between the two photos. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.