Chestnut Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking south on Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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Chestnut Street in 2015:

This section of Chestnut Street runs atop a hill overlooking downtown Springfield, and in the first half of the 19th century it became home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents. The two houses in the foreground are the George Merriam House and the George Bancroft House, both of which have been featured in previous posts. The Merriam house on the left side was owned by George Merriam, who along with his brother Charles founded Merriam-Webster. The house in the center was owned by a series of prominent individuals, including George Bancroft, a historian and future Secretary of the Navy and Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Other owners included George Walker who was a prominent business executive, and William H. Haile, a politician who erved as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1890 to 1892.

Today, all of these houses are gone. The only building that has survived from the first photo is Christ Church Cathedral, which is barely visible in the distance. The Merriam house was demolished around 1905 and two new houses were built on the lot, including the 1905 Kilroy House on the far left. The Bancroft house was demolished by 1933, when the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts was built here, and the third house in the distance was also demolished in the early 20th century to build the church rectory, which is still standing today.

George Merriam House, Springfield, Mass

The George Merriam House at 55 Chestnut Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The scene in 2015:

The house in the first photo was built in the mid-1820s, and was owned by several different members of the wealthy Dwight family, including Edmund Dwight and later his nephew, Jonathan Dwight III. By far the most significant resident of this house, though, was George Merriam, who purchased the house in 1848. George and his younger brother Charles moved to Springfield in 1831, and opened a publishing company, located at the Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Main and State Streets. In 1843, they purchased the rights to publish Noah Webster’s dictionary, which soon became a success. Five years later, George moved into this house on Chestnut Street, which at the time was home to some of the city’s most prominent residents. His brother Charles lived in an equally elegant house on Howard Street, in the city’s South End.

George lived here until his death in 1880, and the house remained in the Merriam family until around the turn of the century. It was demolished by 1905, though, and property was divided into two house lots. The one on the right has since been demolished, but the one on the left, known as the Kilroy House, is still standing. Both lots are now owned by the Springfield Library and Museums Association, and the Kilroy House now serves as offices.

Old Corner Bookstore, Springfield Mass

Springfield’s Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Main and State Streets, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The scene in 2023:

Not to be confused with the more famous Old Corner Bookstore in Boston,this was never a gathering place for prominent 19th century authors, but the building did play a significant role in American literary history.  The building was built in 1834, and a year later George and Charles Merriam opened up a bookstore.  At first, they printed law books, Bibles, and other books, but they gained prominence after 1843, when they purchased the rights to Noah Webster’s dictionary.  By the time the first photo was taken, the company had moved directly across Main Street.  Today, the company is still in business, as Merriam-Webster, and their headquarters are still in Springfield, on Federal Street.

As for the building itself, it continued to be used as a bookstore and for publishing, even after the Merriams moved.  Around 1871, James L. Whitney and W. F. Adams took over the bookstore, and sold everything from blank stationery to school textbooks.  In 1884, King’s Hanbook of Springfield gave the business a glowing review, declaring that “The success of this house is largely due to the straightforward and honorable policy by which their affairs ever have been and are now conducted.”  The statement was likely made in all sincerity, too, since King’s Handbook of Springfield was published by one of their Springfield competitors, publisher James D. Gill.

Irrespective of their “straightforward and honorable” nature, however, the bookstore went out of business in 1894, and the building became home to the Old Corner Wall Paper Company.  The old building was demolished sometime between then and 1927, when the Shean Block seen in the present day photo was built.  The only building that can be seen in both photos is the Hampden County Courthouse; the top of the tower can be seen in the distance in the left center, between the chimneys in the 1892 photo and behind the Court Square Hotel today.

Corner of Main & State Streets, Springfield

The northeast corner of Main and State in Springfield, sometime in the 19th century.  Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The same location, around 1892. Photo from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The corner in 2014:


Many of these Springfield street scenes follow a predictable pattern over the past 150 years or so – first, a pre-Civil War Federal style commercial block, followed by a larger, more ornate building in the latter part of the 19th century, and finally some sort of modern, 20th century structure.  In this case, we clearly see all three generations of commercial development at the corner of Main and State, culminating with the MassMutual Center of the 1970s.  Of particular interest is the building in the second photo – above the entrance is a sign that reads “G. & C. Merriam & Co Publishers,” the publishers of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Today, the company is still headquartered in Springfield, just up the hill on Federal Street.  See this post and this post for a few other angles of the neighborhood that is now the MassMutual Center.