Old Masonic Building, Springfield, Mass

The old Masonic Building in Springfield, around 1910, from The View Book of Springfield (1910).

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The same building in 2012:


The old Masonic Building at the corner of State and Main was built around 1893, and was used by the Masons until 1924, when they built a new temple further up State Street. At some point, the ornate sandstone facade was replaced with a more bland brick appearance, and the clock tower was either moved back or replaced entirely. However, there is a small surviving part of the original facade – the sandstone arch above the doorway on the left-hand side is still there, complete with a Masonic symbol above it.

Court Square, Springfield (5)

Court Square in Springfield, sometime in the 1860s or early 1870s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The same scene in 2013:


Court Square has been the center of activity in Springfield since its founding.  The first meeting house was built just to the left in the foreground, and all of the subsequent churches have been built on Court Square.  The square was established as a park in 1821, two years after Old First Church was built.

The building on the right-hand side of the photo is the old Hampden County Courthouse, which was built in 1821 and used as a courthouse until the 1874 courthouse was built just to the left of Old First Church. The 1874 structure is still in use as the juvenile and housing court, but the preesent-day courthouse is visible beyond and to the right of the church in the 2013 photo.  The old 1821 courthouse was later used as an Odd Fellows hall, and was demolished at some point in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The small building in between was the church’s chapel, which was replaced by the present-day brick structure in 1874.

Post Office & Customs House, Springfield

The northwest corner of Main and Worthington in Springfield, sometime before 1890. Photo from Springfield Present and Prospective (1905).


The same location, around 1905, after construction of the Post Office and Customs House. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2023:

The first photo shows the Wilcox Block, an old commercial building that likely dated back to the early 19th century. Located on the west side of Main Street between Worthington and Fort Streets, it was demolished in 1889 and replaced with the city’s first purpose-built post office. As seen in the second photo this building was an imposing, castle-like Romanesque structure, built of brownstone quarried from nearby Longmeadow. It housed a post office on the first floor, with customs and other federal offices on the second floor, but within a few decades the building was too small for the growing population of Springfield. In 1932, a new, much larger post office and federal building opened on Dwight Street, and the old building here was demolished the following year. In 1939, it was replaced with the present-day Art Deco building, which was originally home to the Enterprise department store.


Today, there are still several buildings standing from the earlier photos, though. The Homestead Building, completed in 1903, was once used as the offices for the Springfield Homestead newspaper, and it is visible on the left side of the 1905 and 2023 photos. On the far right side, the only building that appears in all three photos is the Fort Block. Built in 1858, it was heavily altered in the early 1920s, but it is still standing, and is best known today as the longtime home of the Student Prince restaurant.

Railroad Arch, Springfield

Looking north toward the Boston & Albany Railroad arch over Main Street in Springfield, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The railroad arch in 2018:


For many years, there was no bridge over Main Street, forcing the busy rail line to cross the busy road at grade.  Finally, in 1890, the stone arch was built, and survives to this day, even when none of the other buildings from the first decade of the 20th century have.  See the 1882 photo in this post for a view of Main Street before the arch was built.

Massasoit House, Springfield, Mass

The Massasoit House in Springfield, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated by James D. Gill (1882)


The same scene around 1908, with the stone railroad arch in the distance. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same scene in 2017:

This scene on Main Street in Springfield was prime real estate when the first two photos were taken.  The hotel building in those photos, the Massasoit House, opened in 1843, right next to the railroad depot (the building partially hidden by a tree in the right-center of the 1882 photo), just four years after the railroad came to Springfield.  It was the perfect place for a hotel, because the railroad depot made this location the transportation hub of the city, and the building was soon expanded, first with a wooden wing to the south along Main Street in 1847, and then a brick wing to the rear of the original building in 1853. Then, in 1857 the wooden section here on Main Street was demolished and rebuilt in brick. The first two photos show the original 1843 section of the hotel, which stands in the distance in the center of the photos. On the left side of both photos is the 1857 expansion, with its Italianate-style architecture.

With these additions, the Massasoit House had 130 guest rooms. It was one of the premier hotels in the region, and over the years it had many prominent visitors. Among these were authors such as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Civil War generals William T. Sherman and George B. McClellan; abolitionist John Brown; prominent politicians such as Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, William Seward, and Daniel Webster; and at least four US presidents: Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s visit occurred right around the time that the first photo was taken, when he and his first wife Alice spent their wedding night here in 1880.

Also around the time that the first photo was taken, the Massasoit House hosted a series of meetings that helped to establish many of the important rules of football. This sport had become popular in the post-Civil War era, especially in Ivy League schools, but there were few standardized rules; some schools played a sport that was similar to modern soccer, while others had rules that were similar to rugby. Because of the need for unified rules, delegates from various schools gathered here at the Massasoit House in 1876 to iron out the details. The result was the adoption of 61 new rules, which helped form the basis for modern American football. Similar meetings would occur here on a regular basis through 1882, giving Springfield a strong claim to having been the birthplace of modern football, in addition to its more famous role as the birthplace of basketball.

In the meantime, the exterior of the hotel saw few changes between the 1882 and 1908 photos. However, within a few years it would undergo dramatic changes. In 1912, the Main Street façade of the building was rebuilt with a Classical Revival design, as shown in the present-day scene. It would remain a hotel until 1926, and then the building was again altered. The hotel rooms were converted into offices, and in 1929 the Paramount Theater was added behind the building. It was one of the finest movie theaters in the area during its heyday, but by the 1960s it was in decline. It was later renamed the Julia Sanderson Theater, and then in 1999 it became the Hippodrome nightclub.

Today, despite the many additions and alterations over the years, portions of the old 19th century hotel still stand behind the newer façade, although it is hard to tell in this scene. In recent years, the building has seen only sporadic use, aside from the ground floor storefronts along Main Street, but it nonetheless stands as an important landmark in downtown Springfield. As was the case nearly 180 years ago, it still enjoys a close proximity to the railroad station, being just a short walk away from the newly-restored Union Station. This building has likewise been the subject of revitalization plans, although none of these have quite come to fruition yet.

One thing lacking in the 1882 photo is the iconic stone arch, which wasn’t built until 1890. It helped to alleviate congestion on Main Street by elevating the railroad, and it also coincided with the opening of a new Union Station just a short walk away on Lyman Street. By the 1908 photo, the railroad arch is there, and the scene captures an interesting combination of transportation modes. Along with the railroad in the distance, it shows trolleys alongside a roughly equal number of automobiles and horse-drawn carriages, during the period of transition from draft animals to internal combustion engines.  Today, as seen in the 2017 photo, buses have replaced the trolleys, and automobiles clearly won out over horses; not a single horse-drawn carriage is to be seen on Main Street anymore.

Hotel Worthy, Springfield

The Hotel Worthy, at the corner of Main and Worthington in Springfield, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2017:


Unlike many of the other views of downtown Springfield from the turn of the last century, almost nothing has changed in this scene.  Taken from the corner of Main and Worthington, with Worthington to the left and Main to the right, most of the buildings in this photo have survived.  The only exception is the building to the immediate right of the Hotel Worthy, which is now a public square.  The historic hotel itself is now an apartment building, and the buildings beyond it to the left down Worthington Street now house a variety of bars and restaurants.  One of these, Smith’s Billiards, has actually been open since before the 1908 photo was taken, and it is supposedly the oldest pool hall in the United States.