Junction House, White River Junction, Vermont (2)

The Junction House, at the corner of South Main Street and Gates Street in White River Junction, around 1900. Image from The Gateway of Vermont : Hartford and its Villages (1903).

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, the first Junction House was built here in 1849. It was located on land that had previously been the farm of Samuel Nutt, but his property became far more valuable in the late 1840s, when this area became one of the most important railroad crossroads in northern New England. Anticipating the need for a hotel, Nutt purchased the Grafton House in nearby Enfield, New Hampshire, dismantled it, and rebuilt it here in the newly-created village of White River Junction.

This original building stood here for nearly 30 years, and during this time it provided meals and accommodations for rail travelers, while also serving as a meeting place for locals. However, like many wood-frame hotels of the period, it was vulnerable to fire, and it ultimately burned on August 10, 1878, after a fire began in the kitchen and spread throughout the structure.

The owner at the time, Asa T. Barron, quickly rebuilt the hotel with the building shown in the first photo. It was completed in 1879, and it was about one and a half times larger than its predecessor, with four floors and a capacity of about 200 guests. The exterior design was somewhat of a blend of Second Empire and Queen Anne styles, and it was topped by a Mansard roof and towers on either end of the main facade.

Upon completion, the new hotel was praised by the Green Mountain Freeman of Montpelier, which declared that it will “take rank among the best of our many first-rate Vermont hotels.” In the same article, the newspaper provided the following description of the building:

The front is shaded by a fine wide piazza, which gives a comfortable lounging place or a fine promenade. On the first floor is a reception room, hall, billiard room, wash room, office and proprietor’s private office, a boot and shoe store, drug store and watch-maker’s shop. Leaving the office for the dining room one enters a fine, large room, lighted on both sides, finished in brown ash (carefully selected for its beauty) finished in Eastlake style, joining which is a perfectly appointed kitchen. A broad, handsome stairway leads to the next story, where are reception room, ladies’ parlor, bath room, closets, etc., besides rooms in suites and handsome single rooms. The rooms on each of the other floors are of the same size, furnished in the same style, and all are furnished with black walnut, marble-topped chamber sets, and the excellent spring beds are furnished with 40 pound pure hair mattresses and nice blankets.

Within a year after the new hotel opened, it was again threatened by fire, this time from an attempted arsonist in July 1880. The perpetrator, who was apparently never identified, ignited rags and shavings in the basement in the middle of the night. However, it was extinguished soon after the night clerk discovered it, and it caused minimal damage to the building.

In 1887, the Junction House played a role in the aftermath of a far more serious disaster. At 2:10 a.m. on February 5, a northbound passenger train departed the depot here in White River Junction, across the street from the hotel. It was headed for Montreal, but just ten minutes later the four rear cars were derailed by a broken rail at a bridge less than five miles northwest of here. The cars fell off the bridge, landed on the thick ice over the White River, and caught fire when the coal stoves and kerosene lamps toppled over. The fire subsequently ignited the wooden bridge, and the burning timbers began raining down on top of the cars.

About 115 people were in these cars, and many found themselves trapped within the burning wreckage. Further compounding the problem was the air temperature, which was 20 degrees below zero, meaning that those who survived the flames were then at risk of hypothermia. Ultimately, an estimated 37 people died in the disaster, many of whom were burned beyond recognition. Among the dead was Frank L. Wesson of Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Smith & Wesson co-founder Daniel B. Wesson.

Of the survivors, about 50 were injured, and the Junction House became a temporary hospital, along with the Pease Hotel in the nearby village of Hartford. Frank Wesson’s sister-in-law, Emily Lovell, was brought here to the Junction House, but she had only minor injuries, so she spent most of her time here tending to others. Some of the more seriously hurt passengers here at the hotel included Andrew Wheeler of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, whose injuries were described as “a bad cut over his eyes, bruised all over and somewhat burned, although not fatally hurt.” Another Fitchburg resident, Joseph Jacques, was also here at the hotel, with “a broken leg, a broken nose and serious bruises on the body,” in addition to frostbite on one of his feet.

Even as the injured were still recovering here, the state was already beginning its investigation. Just two days after the disaster, the Vermont Railway Commission convened here at the Junction House. The commission was chaired by former Governor Samuel E. Pingree, and the sessions here were also attended by then-Governor Ebenezer J. Ormsbee and Lieutenant Governor Levi K. Fuller. They heard testimony from various railroad employees and expert witnesses, and concluded that the broken rail had been defective. This, combined with the extremely cold temperatures and the fact that it was located at a slight curve in the tracks, caused it to break as the train passed over it. The commission also faulted the Central Vermont Railroad for using stoves and kerosene lamps, and reasoned that many of the victims would have otherwise survived the disaster if not for this practice.

Following this disaster, the Junction House continued to operate as an important railroad hotel, and in 1901 it was purchased by Lyman A. Gibbs and Nathaniel P. Wheeler for $50,000. The first photo was taken around this time, and it was published in the book The Gateway of Vermont : Hartford and its Villages in 1903, which provided the following description of the hotel:

The two hundred rooms of the house are maintained in perfect order, and the hotel’s cuisine, table, service and general accommodations are of a character that have won for the house a reputation throughout New England and the east. So many are the hotel’s daily guests that it in effect constitutes a community in itself, larger indeed than many a village. This daily assembly is preeminently a gathering of commercial men and representative of the country’s chief business interests. The management of the house is considerate, business-like and above all tactful. Large as it is and great as are the number of its guests there is that atmosphere about the house that causes the guest to feel at home, whether he be millionaire or commercial traveler on his initial trip. The house has every requisite of a hotel as respects heating, lighting, billiard room, barber shop, local and long distance telephones, and all else, but this does not mean that it has a bar for it has none, nor ever has had under its present management.

Under the ownership of Gibbs and Wheeler, the Junction House nearly doubled in size, bringing its total to 340 guest rooms. Then, in 1919, Gibbs sold his share of the business to Wheeler, who became the sole owner. A few years later, in January 1925, he renamed it the Hotel Coolidge, in honor of his close friend John C. Coolidge, a resident of Plymouth, Vermont whose son Calvin had just been re-elected as president.

However, only weeks later the building caught fire, on the evening of January 29, 1925, after an oil heater exploded on the second floor. All of the nearly 200 guests were safely evacuated, but the wood-frame hotel was quickly engulfed in flames and was a total loss. The fire caused the village’s electrical system to short circuit, leaving White River Junction in darkness, and it posed a serious threat to the surrounding buildings. The Boston Herald noted that local fire and police officials had initially called it a “1000 to 1 chance” of saving the rest of the village, but the responding firefighters, including crews from across the river in Hanover, Lebanon, and West Lebanon, New Hampshire, were ultimately able to prevent the flames from spreading.

Within a matter of weeks, Nathaniel Wheeler began construction on a new Hotel Coolidge building here on the same spot. Like the two previous hotels, it was built of wood, although it had a brick veneer on the South Main Street facade. In order to expedite its reopening, the front portion of the hotel was originally only two stories in height, with three stories along the Gates Street side of the building. It opened later in 1925, and in 1926 the front of the building was completed, with the addition of a third floor and two towers that echoed the appearance of its predecessor.

At the time, White River Junction was still a thriving railroad center, and the new Coolidge remained its leading hotel. A 1927 newspaper advertisement listed the room rates at $2.50 per night, or $3 for a room with a bath. According to another ad a few years later, the hotel had a total of 175 rooms, including 60 with tub baths and 40 with shower baths. During this time, its guests included President Coolidge himself, who visited here in May 1929 and spent a few nights at the hotel while on a fishing trip, two months after the end of his second term as president.

Both White River Junction and the Hotel Coolidge owed their existence to the railroads that brought prosperity to this village, but by the mid-20th century passenger rail travel was in a steep decline across the country. The village was also bypassed by the interstate highway system, with Interstates 89 and 91 meeting about a mile to the west of here. However, throughout this time the Hotel Coolidge has remained open, and it has retained much of its historic appearance on both the interior and exterior. Very little has changed in this scene since the mid-1920s, and the hotel’s neighbor to the right—the 1890 Gates Block⁠—is also still standing, as the only surviving building from the first photo. Both it and the hotel, along with many other buildings in the village, are now part of the White River Junction Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (4)

Looking south along the east piazza of the Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As shown in the previous post, perhaps the most distinctive feature of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is the piazza here on the east side of the mansion, although it is not original to the house. The house was constructed in several stages, starting around 1734 when the future president’s father, Augustine Washington, built a small house here. This was later expanded twice by George Washington, first in 1758 with the construction of a full second story, and then in 1774 with additions on both the north and south sides, along with the piazza on the east side.

The mansion sits on a bluff about 125 feet above the Potomac River, and from here the piazza offers expansive views of the river and the Maryland shoreline on the opposite side. Following the American Revolution, George Washington had envisioned that the river would serve as the primary gateway to the west, with all of the resulting east-west traffic literally passing by his front door. He was even involved with establishing the Patowmack Company, which made navigational improvements further upstream. The river ultimately did not become the great trade route that he had hoped, but it did become the site of the new national capital of Washington, D. C., which was built only 15 miles upstream on Mount Vernon.

After George Washington’s death in 1799 and his widow Martha’s in 1802, Mount Vernon remained in the Washington family for more than 50 years. It steadily declined during this period, though, and by the late 1850s the piazza was in danger of collapsing, with ship masts being used to support the roof. Then, in 1858 the last Washington owner, John Augustine Washington III, sold the property to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This organization restored the mansion, and opened it to the public and a museum in 1860, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country.

Very little has changed here at Mount Vernon since then. The first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, showing at least nine visitors, mostly women, on and around the piazza. More than a century later, it looks essentially the same as it did then, with even the same style chairs still lined up here. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and it remains open to the public as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Virginia.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (3)

The Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, seen from the east side around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, which shows the house from the west side, Mount Vernon was the estate of George Washington, who lived here from 1754 until his death in 1799. This property had been in the Washington family since 1674, when it was acquired by John Washington. His grandson, George Washington’s father Augustine Washington, later owned the land, and around 1734 he built the original portion of this house, on the banks overlooking the Potomac River.

In 1739, Augustine Washington gave the property—which was then known as Little Hunting Creek—to his oldest son Lawrence. He subsequently renamed it Mount Vernon, in honor of his former commanding officer Admiral Edward Vernon, and he lived here until his death in 1752, when he was in his early 30s. Lawrence and his wife Anne had four children, although all of them died young, and shortly after his death she remarried to George Lee and moved out of the house.

Under the conditions of Lawrence’s will, Anne owned Mount Vernon for the rest of her life, at which point his brother George would inherit it. With the house vacant, though, Anne began leasing it to her brother-in-law starting in 1754, when George Washington was about 22 years old. In 1758 he expanded the house by adding a second story, and then in 1761 he gained ownership of the property upon Anne’s death.

In the meantime, in 1759 Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow who was a year older than him. They never had any children together, but Martha had two surviving children from her first marriage, and they grew up here at Mount Vernon. This was also around the time that Washington became involved in politics. He had served with distinction as a colonel in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War, and in 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until the beginning of the American Revolution.

Washington further expanded the mansion here at Mount Vernon in 1774, with two-story additions on either side of the original house. The large piazza here on the east side was also added as part of this project, and it would later become perhaps the most recognizable feature of the house. However, Washington did not get to enjoy the enlarged house for very long, because in 1775 he traveled north to take command of the Continental Army, and he was away from Mount Vernon for eight years before the war ended.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission in the Continental Army and returned to civilian life here at Mount Vernon. His retirement did not last for long, though, because in 1789 he was elected president. For the next eight years, Washington spent most of his time in the temporary capital cities of New York and Philadelphia, before eventually returning to Mount Vernon at the end of his second term in 1797. He lived here for the last two and a half years of his life before his death in 1799, and Martha Washington died in 1802.

With no biological children, George Washington left Mount Vernon to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, who was a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. After his death in 1829, his nephew John Augustine Washington II inherited it, followed by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III. He was the last member of the Washington family to own Mount Vernon, and in 1858 he sold the estate to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which preserved it and turned it into a museum.

By the time the association acquired the property, the mansion was in poor condition. As with many other southern planters, the Washington family owned vast amounts of land, but had relatively little cash. Consequently, the house suffered from many years of neglect, to the point that by the 1850s ships’ masts were being used as makeshift supports for the piazza roof, which was in danger of collapsing. However, the house was subsequently restored, and it opened to the public in 1860.

The first photo was taken about 40-50 years later, showing the mansion’s appearance at the turn of the 20th century. As shown in the second photo, very little has changed since then, aside from the removal of the small porch on the left side and the balustrades over the piazza, neither of which existed during George Washington’s ownership. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and open for public tours, and it remains a popular tourist attraction, drawing an estimated one million visitors here each year.

Great Hall, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (2)

The Great Hall at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, around 1897. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Great Hall at the Library of Congress was previously featured in an earlier blog post, although these photos here show a different angle, facing east toward the entrance to the Main Reading Room. As with the rest of the building, the Great Hall features ornate Beaux-Arts architecture, and it is decorated with symbolic carvings and paintings.

Starting at the bottom of this scene are three arches, which lead to the Main Reading Room. The central arch was designed by sculptor Olin L. Warner, and it features two male figures: one young, representing the search for knowledge, and the other old, representing wisdom and reflection. Above these figures is a tablet inscribed with the names of the people involved in the construction of this building, and the tablet is flanked by a pair of eagles.

On the second floor, the ceiling is supported by pairs of Corinthian columns, connected by more arches. Above each pair of columns in the foreground is a small tablet with the name of a prominent author. From left to right in this scene, they are Cervantes, Hugo, Scott, and Cooper. Further in the distance is another row of columns, and above these are painted figures of women, personifying the different genres of literature. In this scene, from left to right, they are Lyrica, Tragedy, Comedy, and History, and they were all painted by artist George Randolph Barse Jr. Beyond these, at the top of the stairs in the center of the scene, is a mosaic of Minerva, representing learning and wisdom. At 15.5 feet in height, the mosaic is more than double life size, and it was the work of artist Elihu Vedder.

The first photo was taken around 1897, the same year that this building opened. More than 120 years later, hardly anything has changed in this scene, and the Library of Congress remains one of the capital’s great architectural masterpieces, in addition to its role as one of the world’s largest libraries. Most of its collections are only accessible through the Main Reading Room, which requires a Reader Identification Card to enter. However, some of its most important items are on display here in the public parts of the building, including its copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which the library acquired in 1930. It is one of only five complete Gutenberg Bibles in the United States, and one of only 21 worldwide, and it is currently on display here in the Great Hall, just beyond the arch in the lower right corner of the present-day photo.

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

The Main Reading Room at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post on the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Library of Congress is one of the largest libraries in the world, with over 167 million items located in four different buildings in and around Washington, D.C. The original building, which is now named the Thomas Jefferson Building, is here on Capitol Hill, directly opposite the Capitol and adjacent to the Supreme Court Building. The building was completed in 1897, and today it stands as both an important research library and also a significant architectural landmark, with a highly ornate Beaux-Arts design on both the interior and exterior.

The centerpiece of the building is the Main Reading Room, shown here in these two photos. The room is octagonal, with desks arranged in concentric circles and the circulation desk in the center of the room. It is 125 feet in height from the floor to the top of the dome, and the room is surrounded by eight large columns that support the arches beneath the dome.

Above each of these columns is a 10 1/2-foot-tall plaster statue, with each representing a different branch of knowledge. These eight allegorical female figures are Art, Commerce, History, Law, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, and Science. Just below the tops of the columns is a balustrade that encircles the room, featuring sixteen bronze statues of men who were recognized for their accomplishments in one of these eight fields. They are arranged so that the statues on each side of every column correspond to the representative figure atop the column.

In this particular view, the two allegorical statues are Philosophy on the left, created by sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt; and Art on the right, by Francois M. L. Tonetti-Dozzi. The bronze statues on either side of Philosophy are Plato on the left and Bacon on the right, both by John J. Boyle. On the left side of Art is Michelangelo by Paul Wayland Bartlett, and on the right is Beethoven by Theodore Baur.

The first photo was taken around 1904, less than a decade after this building opened. Since then, the library has significantly expanded, with three additional buildings to house its growing collections, but the Thomas Jefferson Building has remained essentially the same. There have been hardly any changes here in the Main Reading Room in more than a century, and the room remains one of the most impressive interior spaces in Washington.

Today, the Main Reading Room is open only to those who have a Reader Identification Card, which are available for free to researchers over the age of 16. These researchers can only use the materials here in the reading room, though, as only high-ranking government officials are permitted to check out books. Other parts of the building, including the Great Hall, are open to the public, and visitors can also view the Main Reading Room from the gallery where these two photos were taken.

Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Christ Church, seen from North Second Street in Philadelphia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

The city of Philadelphia was established in 1682 by William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. Although Penn and his followers were Quakers, the colony was tolerant of other religions, and they were soon joined by settlers of other faiths, including Episcopalians, who established Christ Church in 1695. A small wooden church was built here on this site a year later, and it remained in use throughout the early 18th century.

However, in 1727, the parish began construction of a much larger church building. It took the next 17 years to build, and it was one of the grandest churches in the colonies at the time, in sharp contrast to the city’s plain, modest Quaker meeting houses. It featured Georgian-style architecture, with a design that was based on the London churches of famed architect Christopher Wren. The church itself was completed in 1744, although it took another ten years before the steeple was built. When finished, the steeple stood 196 feet in height, making it the tallest building in the American colonies at the time. It would continue to hold this record for more than 50 years, until the completion of Park Street Church in Boston in 1810.

During the 18th century, many of Philadelphia’s leading citizens were members of Christ Church. The most notable of these was Benjamin Franklin, who had even organized a lottery to help finance the completion of the steeple. Several other signers of the Declaration of Independence were also members, including Francis Hopkinson, Robert Morris, and Benjamin Rush. Even colonial governor John Penn—grandson of the Quaker William Penn—was a member. Given Philadelphia’s role as the seat of the Continental Congress, and later as the temporary national capital, a number of other founding fathers also attended services here, including George Washington and John Adams.

Throughout most of the American Revolution, the rector of Christ Church was the Reverend William White, who also served as chaplain of both the Continental Congress and later the United States Senate. After the war, Reverend White played an important role in the formal separation of the Episcopal Church from the Church of England. The first General Convention of the Episcopal Church was held here at Christ Church in 1785, and in 1787 White was ordained as the first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. He subsequently became the first presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, serving in 1789 and from 1795 until his death in 1836. During this time, he continued to serve as rector of Christ Church, serving in that role for a total of 57 years.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, Christ Church was already more than 150 years old. Its interior had been remodeled several times by then, but the exterior remained largely unchanged in its 18th century appearance. Around this time, in 1908, the steeple was damaged in a fire caused by a lightning strike, but this was subsequently repaired.

Since then, there have been few changes to this scene, aside from the trees in the foreground, which partially hide the church in the present-day photo. The angle is a little different between the two photos, though, because the first one was evidently taken from the upper floors of a building across the street, allowing for a wider view than from street level on the narrow street. During this time, Christ Church has remained standing as both an active Episcopalian parish and as a major tourist attraction. It is one of the most important surviving works of Georgian architecture in the country, and in 1970 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.