View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (2)

The view looking west from the top of the Arsenal tower at the Springfield Armory, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated (1882)

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

At first, this view looking toward the North End of Springfield does not appear to have seen many dramatic changes. In contrast to the downtown view in the previous post, the scale of this scene remains largely the same, with mostly low-rise commercial and industrial buildings. However, most of the buildings from the first photo have since been demolished. There is a group of surviving Victorian-era buildings on the far left in the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which includes the North Congregational Church and the nearby townhouses on Mattoon Street. The rest of the buildings in the scene, though, are mostly gone. Probably the most significant change happened in the 1960s, when most of the buildings on the right side of the photo were demolished as part of the North End urban renewal project. Much of this area now includes the interchange between Interstates 91 and 291.

Although little survives from the 19th century in this scene, this section of Springfield still includes a number of historic buildings. Just to the left of the center is the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which includes historic early 20th century buildings such as the 1910 Hotel Kimball building, which is visible just beyond the steeple of the North Congregational Church. To the left of it is the 1916 YMCA Building, and to the right is the 1924 Tarbell-Waters Building. Another historic building in this scene is the 1916 Willys-Overland Block, which is the boarded-up building just to the left of the center, and just beyond it on Dwight Street is the old 1932 post office.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing southwest, northwest, south, and north.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (1)

Looking southwest toward downtown Springfield from the Arsenal tower, around 1882. Photo from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

When the first photo was taken around the early 1880s, Springfield was in the midst of a period of rapid growth. In the previous 20 years, the city’s population had more than doubled to 33,340 people by 1880, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Armory where the photo was taken. The Main Street corridor in the distance had become a major commercial center for the entire region, and the slope in the the foreground at the base of the Armory hill had developed into an affluent residential area. Most of the buildings in the first photo were built in the 1860s or 1870s, including most of the houses seen here. Other major landmarks visible here include St. Michael’s Cathedral, which is easily visible on the left side, and St. Michael’s Hall, in the center. Just to the left of St. Michael’s Cathedral is the tower of the old library building, and to the left of it is the steeple of the Church of the Unity. Further in the distance, beyond St. Michael’s, is the Hampden County Courthouse, with the steeple of Old First Church barely visible to the right of it, along with the tower of the old City Hall building in approximately the upper center of the photo.

As dramatic as the population increase had been by the time the first photo was taken, the growth would continue at an even more dramatic pace over the next 50 years, with the population reaching almost 150,000 by 1930, almost 4.5 times the 1880 population. Much of this growth was in the suburban parts of the city, but the downtown area also saw significant development. However, unlike many other comparably-sized cities in the northeast, Springfield’s skyline did not see many dramatic changes until later in the 20th century. From 1908 to 1970, a state law prohibited any buildings taller than the 125-foot steeple of Old First Church, with the exception of the Springfield Municipal Group Campanile tower. Since 1970, though, downtown Springfield has grown upward, starting with the 29-story Baystate West, now named Tower Square, which is visible on the far right of the photo. Other skyscrapers soon followed, including the Chestnut Park apartment building on the left side of the photo, and Monarch Place, just to the right of the center.

Many of the historic structures from the first photo are now gone, including the old library, the Church of the Unity, and St. Michael’s Hall. Many of the Victorian single-family homes and duplexes are also gone, having been replaced by apartment blocks as the city grew in the first half of the 20th century. Some, however, are still standing, including the two brick houses on Byers Street in the foreground that have towers on their roofs. A few blocks further down the hill, mostly hidden by the trees, is the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which includes many buildings that were standing when the first photograph was taken. The Armory itself, including the Arsenal tower where these photos were taken, is also a historic site. It closed in 1968, and is now the home of Springfield Technical Community College as well as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing west, northwestsouth, and north.

Springfield Armory Entrance, Springfield Mass

The entrance to the Springfield Armory at the corner of State Street and Byers Street, around 1907. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The entrance in 2015:


This gate at the southwestern corner of the Armory grounds was opened in the 1870s, when the grade of State Street was lowered and the previous main entrance became unusable.  This became the main entrance for many years, but the advent of automobiles and trucks made the narrow gate and fairly steep grade impractical.  So, around 10 years after the first photo was taken, a new main entrance was opened on Federal Street; this continues to function as the main entrance for Springfield Technical Community College, which now uses the Armory grounds.  In the distance of both photos is the Arsenal, which was completed in 1851 and is discussed further in this post.

Main Arsenal, Springfield Mass

The Main Arsenal at the Springfield Armory, seen around 1910-1920. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Arsenal in 2015:


Springfield had long been a center of production for US military firearms, beginning in 1777, during the American Revolution.  The need arose for a suitable location to manufacture and store arms and ammunition, and several sites in New England were considered, including Brookfield Mass. and Hartford.  However, in the end General Henry Knox recommended Springfield, and George Washington agreed.  Perhaps Knox had recalled passing through Springfield in early 1776 while bringing cannon from Ticonderoga to Boston, but either way he determined that it was the best location.

The location of Springfield was particularly valuable, as it was along several major roads, leading to Boston, Albany, Hartford, and other points south.  The Connecticut River and several major tributaries were also an advantage, although unlike at Hartford the river was not navigable by ocean-going vessels at this point.  This had been one of the strongest arguments in favor of Hartford, but it was also one of the main weaknesses of the Hartford plan – British ships could easily sail up the river and attack.  Springfield’s location, some 20 miles north of the head of navigation, meant that the town was secure from British naval attacks.  Another important feature in Springfield is the hill that the Armory is located on.  Situated on a broad plateau above the downtown area, the Armory is only three quarters of a mile from the river, but is about 150 feet higher in elevation.  In the unlikely event that Springfield was attacked, this would have been an easy position to defend.

However, while the Armory itself dates back to the 1700s, most of the buildings on the site date to the mid 1800s, including the main arsenal seen in these photos.  This building was built between 1847 and 1851, and it served as a storehouse for the weapons produced at the Armory.  It was built during the Mexican-American War, and it played a vital role in the Civil War just a decade later.  Springfield had been one of two federal arsenals prior to the war, with the other being at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Since this facility was lost early in the war, Springfield became the primary manufacturing center for Union firearms.  It continued in this role throughout World War I, World War II, and even into the Vietnam War before its closure in 1968.  Today, the Armory is National Historic Site, and is also home to Springfield Technical Community College.  The arsenal today hasn’t changed much since its completion in 1851, although today it serves as a museum run by the National Park Service.