290-294 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Mass

The apartment building at 290-294 Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This four-story apartment block was constructed in 1917, in a desirable location across Sumner Avenue from the main entrance to Forest Park. According to newspaper advertisements of the late 1910s, the building consisted of four and five-room apartments, and by the 1920 census there were 15 families living here, with a total of 46 residents. These families were generally upper middle class, and included occupations such as a wholesale merchant of automobile supplies, a physician, an insurance agent, a bakery manager, a civil engineer, and a furniture store manager.

The first photo was taken almost 20 years later, in the late 1930s. The 1940 census shows that there were 18 different families living here, with rents that ranged from $39 to $49 per month. Based on their occupations, these residents appear to have been somewhat less affluent than the tenants here in 1920, but they were still solidly middle class. These included a lumber mill engineer, a die sinker at a tool factory, an electrician, a stenographer, a pharmacist, a nurse, an accountant, a librarian, and several teachers. Many of these workers earned over $2,000 per year (about $37,000 today), and the highest-paid resident was the die sinker, Emil J. Hedeen, who earned $3,000 (about $55,000 today) working for the Moore Drop Forging Company.

Interestingly, the majority of the residents were not natives of Springfield, with only 17 of 47 having been born in Massachusetts. Few were immigrants, though; instead, most were out of state, with quite a number of states represented here. The residents were also a mix of those who were single, married, and widowed, but most households were small, with only 2 children under the age of 18 who lived here. However, some of the tenants did sublet space in their apartments to one or two lodgers, who would have helped to offset the cost of the rent.

Today, some 80 years after the first photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. The exterior of the building has remained well-preserved during this time, and it serves as a good example of the many upscale apartment blocks that were built in Springfield during the early 20th century. The building continues to be used as apartments, with city records indicating that it has a total of 20 units.

Nathan H. Harriman House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 162 Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1892, and was among the first homes to be built in the Forest Park Heights development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally the home of Nathan H. Harriman, a Baptist pastor and evangelist, but he did not live here for very long. Around 1895, he moved to Tacoma, Washington to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church, although he only held this position until early 1897, when he resigned after a period of erratic behavior.

According to a January, 1897 Boston Globe article, Harriman “startled his congregation Friday by announcing to them that he would not preach to them again until they had cast out the demons that were in them.” During this time, Harriman spent about 10 days “fasting on crackers and cheese and walking the floor nights wrestling with the devil,” and many believed that the fasting had caused his mind to become “unbalanced,” resulting in the strange behavior. Regardless of the cause, though, Harriman ultimately resigned from the church about a month later, and subsequently returned to New England.

In the meantime, this house was sold to Robert W. Smith, a boot and shoe dealer who operated a store in the Masonic Building at the corner of Main and State Streets. He was 38 years old during the 1900 census, and lived here with his wife Laura and their four children: Linda, Robert, Walter, and Edith. However, they were only here for a few years, because they sold the house in 1901 and moved to a home on Riverdale Street in West Springfield.

The next owner of the house was Theodor Geisel, a brewery owner who is best known today as having been the paternal grandfather of Dr. Seuss. Born in Germany in 1840, Geisel became a jeweler, and he later immigrated to the United States in 1867. He settled in Springfield, and worked for a time for the Rumrill Chain Company before entering the brewing industry in 1876. At the time, Americans were just beginning to develop a thirst for German lager-style beer, and many German immigrants across the country – including such figures as Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, and Frederick Pabst – found brewing to be a lucrative business.

Here in Springfield, Geisel partnered with fellow German native Christian Kalmbach, and they purchased the brewery of Oscar Rocke – yet another German immigrant – on State Street, at the present site of the MassMutual headquarters. The original brewery had a capacity of about a thousand barrels per year, but Kalmbach and Geisel soon expanded the facility, which was producing some 40,000 barrels a decade later. Then, in 1893, Geisel purchased Kalmbach’s share in the brewery, renaming it the Highland Brewing Company. Geisel, in turn, sold the company to the Springfield Breweries Company in 1898, although he remained there as a manager until 1901.

Theodor Geisel married his wife, Christine Schmaelzle, in 1871, and they had seven children, two of whom died in childhood. The family lived on Boston Road near the brewery for many years, but they finally moved in 1901, around the same time that Theodor left his position as a manager. The Geisels then purchased this house on Sumner Avenue, where Theodor and Christine lived with their two youngest surviving children: Adolf and Christine. Dr. Seuss’s father, Theodor R. Geisel, does not appear to have lived here in this house with them, since the move occurred the same year that he married his wife, Henrietta Seuss.

In 1902, the elder Theodor and his son Theodor established a new brewery, the Liberty Brewing Company, located near the corner of Liberty and Chestnut Streets. That same year, Theodor Seuss Geisel, the future Dr. Seuss, was born at his parents’ house on Howard Street. Then, in 1906, Theodor and Henrietta moved to Forest Park, to a house on Fairfield Street only a few blocks away from here. Young Dr. Seuss would have undoubtedly made many visits to his grandparents house here on Sumner Avenue, although his grandmother Christine died in 1908 when he was just six years old.

After his wife’s death, Theodor continued to live here in this house, along with his daughter Christine and her husband, James L. Wallace, whom she married in 1910. They had two children, Theodor and Richard, and Christine also served as a caretaker for his father as he got older. He retired from the brewery business in the early 1910s, selling Liberty Brewery to Springfield Breweries, in what turned out to be fortuitous timing on his part. The Eighteenth Amendment, which established nationwide prohibition on alcoholic beverages, was ratified in 1919, bringing about the demise of the vast majority of America’s breweries. As for Theodor himself, he did not live long enough to see Prohibition enacted; he died on December 5, 1919, at the age of 79, just six weeks before Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920.

James and Christine inherited the house after Theodor’s death, and they continued to live here with their sons. They were still here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, with James working as a manager for a paper company in Holyoke, Theodor working as a civil engineer, and Richard working as a switchboard operator. The two sons later moved out, but James and Christine lived here for the rest of their lives, until Christine’s death in 1961 and James’s in 1965.

After more than 60 years in the Geisel family, this house has seen few significant changes, and it looks essentially identical to its appearance when the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago. For the most part, the other surrounding houses have also been well-preserved, including the William May House on the left, and today these houses make up part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Nathan Nirenstein House, Springfield, Mass

The house at the corner of Washington Road and Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is one of the newest in the Forest Park Heights neighborhood, dating back to 1931, only a few years before the first photo was taken. It was built in a Tudor Revival style that was popular for upscale homes of the era, and was originally the home of real estate dealer Nathan Nirenstein. A native of Russia, Nirenstein immigrated to the United States as a boy and subsequently entered the real estate business. In 1925 he established the Nirenstein National Realty Map Company, which published high-quality real estate maps of locations throughout the United States, and he was also involved in several other companies, including the Kellogg Buildings Realty Trust Company, the Harrison Realty Corporation, and the Bowles Lunch Company.

Nirenstein built this house around the same time as his marriage to his wife Tessie, and the couple had two children, David and Judy, who were born a few years later. They would continue to live here for many years, until around the early 1970s. Since then, the house has been well-preserved, with no noticeable differences between the two photos. It still stands as one of the many fine early 20th century homes in the area, and it is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Faith United Church, Springfield, Mass

Faith United Church, at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Fort Pleasant Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:

The origins of Faith United Church date back to the 1860s, when a chapel was established in the area, affiliated with the South Congregational Church. At the time, the present-day Forest Park area was only sparsely settled, with a small community centered around the corner of Longhill Street and Sumner Avenue. A small, wood-frame church was built here on this site in 1872, and served the needs of the residents for several decades. Finally, in 1894, with the congregation was organized as an independent church, becoming Faith Congregational Church.

This move coincided with the beginning of the large-scale development of Forest Park, which would become one of the city’s most desirable residential areas by the turn of the 20th century. With this rapid expansion, however, the old wooden church was no longer suitable for the growing neighborhood, and in 1912 it was replaced with the present-day church building. The new church was built on the same site of the original, and was designed by the Springfield architectural firm of Gardner & Gardner and built by the Springfield-based contractors Fred T. Ley & Co.

The Neo-Gothic Revival exterior of the church has not seen any substantial changes in over a century since it was completed. It looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and today the only noticeable difference between the two photos is the newer building in the distance on the left. Along with this, the building is still in use by the same church, although the name has changed slightly. In 1977, Faith Congregational Church merged with Hope Congregational Church, becoming Faith United Church, and this combined church continues to worship here in this building more than 40 years later.

C. Frank Reed House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 44 Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1908 and was among the many fine Colonial Revival-style homes that were built on Sumner Avenue at the turn of the 20th century. It was originally owned by C. Frank Reed and his wife Susan, who were both in their mid-30s at the time. Frank was a real estate broker, and he and Susan lived here with her father, Robert Cox, and his second wife, Alice. The family only lived here for a few years, though, because the 1914 city directory indicates that they had moved south, and by the 1920 census they were living in West Palm Beach, Florida.

By 1914, their house here on Sumner Avenue was the home of Herman Adaskin, a Russian immigrant who had come to the United States as a young boy. His father, Adolph Adaskin, had been a clothing merchant in Russia, but in 1892 he came to Springfield, along with his wife and their children, to escape anti-Jewish persecution. Unfortunately, Adolph was killed in an accident two years later, and it fell upon Herman, who was just 11 years old at the time, to help provide for the family.

Herman Adaskin held a variety of jobs in his youth, including working as an auctioneer, salesman, and grocer, before entering the furniture business. Still in his early 20s at the time, he opened the Adaskin Furniture Company in 1906, operating out of a store on Main Street. The business soon prospered, and later expanded to include stores in Holyoke, Fall River, and Providence, and by the early 1920s he was said to have been one of the largest furniture dealers in Massachusetts.

Adaskin lived here in this house with his wife Sadie, whom he married in 1909, and their four daughters: Adelaide, Naomi, Viola, and Leah. Herman lived here until his death in 1935, but Sadie was still living here a few years later, when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. The 1940 census shows her living here with Adelaide, her husband Alfred Lindbergh, two grandsons, and two servants. By this point Sadie had succeeded her husband as president of the Adaskin Furniture Company, and Adelaide also worked for the family business, earning $2,000 per year as a store manager.

Sadie lived here until the 1940s, and subsequently moved to a house on Oxford Street, before moving to Florida and then to Longmeadow, where she died in 1990 at the age of 104, having outlived her husband by 55 years. In the meantime, though, her former home on Sumner Avenue underwent some dramatic changes, both in its use and its exterior appearance. Sometime in the 1940s it was converted into a nursing home, and in 1954 it became the Harold R. Ascher Funeral Home.

Now the Ascher-Zimmerman Funeral Home, this house has been a funeral home for longer than it had been a single-family home. In the process, the exterior has been significantly altered. The house was expanded with a large brick addition in the rear, the front porch was enclosed, and at some point the wood clapboards were replaced with modern siding, eliminating most of the original architectural details in the process. However, despite these changes, the house still stands as one of the historic early 20th century homes on Sumner Avenue, and it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Charles C. Spellman House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 80 Sumner Avenue, at the corner of Fort Pleasant Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Architect G. Wood Taylor designed many of the homes in Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood, including this one, which was completed in 1895. It is an excellent example of Colonial Revival architecture, and was even featured in the April 1900 Scientific American Building Edition. With a prominent gambrel roof, dormer and Palladian windows, and shingled exterior, it incorporates many common Colonial Revival elements, and it bears resemblance to some of Taylor’s subsequent Forest Park designs, including one on Maplewood Terrace that was also featured in Scientific American.

The house was built for attorney Charles C. Spellman and his wife Jennie. Born in nearby Wilbraham, Spellman attended Yale, later graduated from Harvard Law School, and then began practicing law in Springfield in 1868. During his time as a lawyer, he also served in several different public offices, including serving for many years as clerk of the police court in Springfield. In 1887, he served a one-year term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the following year he served in the Massachusetts Senate.

A year after the family moved into this house, Charles and Jennie’s son Charles graduated from Yale. He was subsequently admitted to the bar, and he became his father’s law partner in the firm of Spellman & Spellman. He lived here with his parents until around the time of his marriage to Alice M. Malley in 1903, and by the 1910 census Charles and Jennie were living alone in this house. Charles died in 1920 and Jennie in 1925, and by 1930 the house was the home of Harris L. Judelson, a Russian immigrant who owned a meat market.

At some point in the mid-20th century, the house was covered in asbestos siding, and the porch was altered. It was later converted into medical offices, and today it is still used as a chiropractor’s office. However, the exterior has since been restored, with wood shingles replacing the old siding. Like the other surrounding houses, it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.