Elihu H. Cutler House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 84 Westminster Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Elihu H. Cutler was born in 1856 in Ashland, Massachusetts, and was the son of grist mill owner Henry Cutler. Like his father, Elihu was involved in the grain business as a young adult, but he was more interested in mechanical engineering. Despite having just a high school education, in 1887 he became the treasurer and general manager of the Brooklyn-based Elektron Elevator Company, where he worked under the prominent inventor and company president Frank A. Perret.

In 1891, Perret moved the company to a new facility on Wilbraham Road in Springfield. Cutler also moved to Springfield, along with his wife Hattie and their three children, and they purchased this newly-built house in the fashionable McKnight neighborhood, just a short walk from the Elektron factory. At the time, Queen Anne style architecture was popular for upscale homes, and their house included many of the style’s common features, including an irregular design, a large front porch, a turret, and a variety of siding materials.

One of Cutler’s apprentices at Elektron was Harry A. Knox, a student at the neighboring Springfield Industrial Institute. Before he was even out of school, Knox had already begun designing and building automobile prototypes, and a few years later in 1900 he founded the Knox Automobile Company. Cutler was apparently impressed with Knox, because he joined the new company as vice president, and he and Knox put their mechanical engineering abilities to work in developing early automobiles.

A few years later, Cutler left the elevator business in order to focus on automobiles. He sold his interest in Elektron to the Otis Elevator Company, and ultimately ended up as the president of Knox, whose main factory was located directly across the street from the Elektron facility on Wilbraham Road. Knox was just one of the many new companies in the rapidly-growing automobile industry, and some of these companies formed the  Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. Cutler went on to become the association’s president, and in this capacity he was involved in an unsuccessful legal dispute over patent rights with an upstart rival, Henry Ford.

As it turned out, the Knox and Ford companies were on two completely different trajectories, and by 1915 Knox had discontinued its production of automobiles. Cutler ultimately left the industry and returned to his roots in the grain business, serving as vice president of the Cutler Company, a wholesale grain firm. He and Hattie lived here in this house until 1927, when they moved to New York City.

By 1930, the house was owned by Mary A. Burke, a 59-year-old widow who had immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a child. She lived here with five of her adult children, all of whom were unmarried. Two of her daughters, Mary and Katherine, worked for a lumber company, and her other two, Angela and Frances, were teachers. Her son, Thomas, also lived here, and he worked as a lawyer. Mary died in the 1930s, but her children were sill living here when the first photo was taken at the end of the decade.

The Burke children sold the house in 1950 to Reverend James H. Hamer, who lived here for many years and served as pastor of Faith Baptist Church. During this time, the house has been well-maintained, and the exterior has hardly changed since the Cutler family moved in over 125 years ago. The adjacent apartment building, completed in 1901, is also still standing, and is one of a handful of apartment buildings in a neighborhood that is predominantly single-family and two-family homes. Today, both buildings, along with the rest of the neighborhood, are now part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Westminster Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Westminster Street from the corner of Bay Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

When brothers John and William McKnight entered the real estate business in the early 1870s, they began by purchasing the 22-acre farm of Josiah Flagg, which was located between State and Bay Streets. They laid out Thompson, Westminster, Buckingham, and Sherman Streets roughly perpendicular to State Street, and began subdividing the property into individual house lots. Because of a nationwide recession, development was slow in the 1870s, but began in earnest in the early 1880s. Most of the homes on Westminster Street to the south of Bay Street were built during this time, but the development soon extended to the north of Bay Street.

These two photos show the northern half of Westminster Street, from the corner of Bay Street. These homes were mostly built in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and construction was largely complete by the time the first photo was taken, although a few homes on the left side were built later in the 1890s. By the early 20th century, the entire McKnight development would go on to include some 800 homes for some of the city’s leading residents. The northern part of the neighborhood, primarily around Worthington Street and Dartmouth Terrace, became a wealthy enclave with massive Queen Anne-style mansions, but other parts of the neighborhood, such as here on Westminster Street, remained more middle class, with residents who worked as teachers, insurance agents, ministers, contractors, factory managers, and similar middle-class professions.

Architecturally, the houses on this street have similar, but not identical Queen Anne-style designs, reflecting the prevailing architectural tastes of the 1880s and early 1890s. To ensure a consistent appearance throughout the neighborhood, the McKnights included deed restrictions on the properties that they sold, mandating setbacks from the street, prohibiting fences in the front yards, and setting minimum construction costs. These policies produced streetscapes like this, with unique houses yet a uniform appearance, and made McKnight a desirable neighborhood for the city’s upper middle class.

Over time, the McKnight neighborhood entered a decline. By the mid-20th century, large numbers of middle class residents were leaving for the suburbs, and many of the large homes were converted into cheap rooming houses. Queen Anne architecture, with its eclectic style and often excessive ornamentation, had fallen out of favor, and many of these homes were renovated with plain exteriors of aluminum siding or asbestos shingles. However, the neighborhood remained one of the largest concentrations of Victorian homes in New England, and in 1976 part of it, including this section of Westminster Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the McKnight Historic District. Since then, the neighborhood has undergone somewhat of a revitalization, and many of the homes have been restored to their original appearance, including most of the ones here on this block of Westminster Street.

Evan Bateman House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 130-132 Westminster Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This two-family home was built in 1887, and was originally own by Evan and Ruth Bateman. It seems unclear whether they actually lived here, though, because the house was primarily used as a rental property throughout its history. Like the rest of the neighborhood at the time, the residents here were primarily middle class professionals. In the early 1890s, Anna L. Goodenough lived here, and worked a few miles away at the school in Sixteen Acres. By the turn of the 20th century, Edwin C. Spear lived here, and worked as the treasurer of the Springfield-based Cheney Bigelow Wire Works. Other early residents included engineer Elbert E Lochridge, lumber company manager Howard B. Field, and meat market salesman William M. Byrnes.

By the time the first photo was taken, the unit at 130 Westminster was rented by car salesman Irving E. Baker, while the other unit was rented by chiropodist James E. Delaney. In the years that followed, though, the house was altered, including covering part of the exterior in aluminum siding and enclosing the front porch. In 1976 the house became part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was completely gutted in a fire in September 2004, and was demolished the following year.

However, unlike most of the other fire-damaged properties in McKnight, this lot did not stay vacant for long. A new house was soon built on the site, bearing some resemblance to the original home and fitting in seamlessly with the Queen Anne-style of the neighborhood. It is one of the few new homes in the area, and in 2007 it was recognized by the Springfield Preservation Trust, who presented an award to the owner for an architecturally appropriate new construction.

Lewis Bates House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 134 Westminster Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1887, and according to the state’s MACRIS database it was originally owned by a Lewis Bates. However, he evidently did not live here for long, because by the 1890s it was owned by James and Mary Allen. James was a dry goods merchant, and he and Mary lived here with their two daughters, Anna and Susan, plus Mary’s sisters, Elizabeth and Edith. Susan was a piano teacher, and Edith also taught, working at the nearby Buckingham Primary and Grammar School at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Wilbraham Road.

James died in 1904, and two years later Mary sold the house to Charles and Mary Van Vlack. Originally from Albany, they moved to Springfield in the late 1860s, joining the many people who came to the city in the post-Civil War economic boom. Charles began his career as a printer, but later went into the electrotyping business, establishing the Charles Van Vlack Electrotyping Company soon after his arrival in Springfield. In 1892, he began a second company, the Springfield Photo Engraving Company, which he co-owned with his son William.

Charles and Mary were living in this house during the 1910 census, along with William, who was 38 at the time. They also hired a live-in servant, and they rented a room to Susan Milliman, a teacher who worked in the Springfield public school system. However, Mary died of cancer two years later, and in 1913 Charles sold his electrotyping company. He died a year later, from Bright’s disease, and soon afterward William sold the house.

The house was purchased by Ralph and Mabel Fowler, a newlywed couple who moved in after their marriage in 1916. By the 1920 census, they had a young son, Frank, and they also hired a live-in servant. Ralph worked as a buyer for a paper company, and his family lived here until at least the late 1920s. Neither the family nor the house appears in the 1930 census, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s the house had changed hands again, and was owned by John B. Lewis. An elderly widower, Lewis was the pastor of the Union Congregational Church in Springfield, and he lived here with his daughter Olive, her husband John Radebaugh, and their three children. Reverend Lewis lived here until he moved out of Springfield around 1957, and, on a personal note, he also performed the wedding ceremony for my grandparents here in this house in 1953.

Like many of the other houses in the McKnight neighborhood, at some point in the mid-20th century the original clapboard exterior was replaced with siding. However, the house has since been restored to its 19th century appearance, complete with a multi-color paint scheme that highlights the Queen Anne-style details. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is now part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

William M. Hoag House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 152 Westminster Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Queen Anne-style house in the McKnight neighborhood was built in 1888 for William and Mary Hoag, a couple in their late 50s who had previously lived nearby on Saint James Avenue. William was variously listed as a contractor, carpenter, and builder, and he likely found plenty of work here in McKnight, which was seeing large-scale development in the 1880s. He and Mary lived here for about a decade, but Mary died in 1898, and by 1900 William had moved to the house nearby at 112 Westminster Street.

During the 1900 census, this house still owned by Hoag, but was being used as a rental property. James Dunbar, who worked as a freight agent, lived here with his wife Minnie, their son Risley, and Minnie’s parents. However, the house was later sold to Samuel C. Hall, a local shoe manufacturer. A widower, he lived here with his brother James and James’s wife Mary. Samuel died in 1917, but James and Mary remained here for many years, with James working as a traveling salesman.

The first photo was taken a year or two after Mary’s death in 1937, but James was still living here at the time, and he remained here until his death in 1943. At some point soon after, the exterior of the house was remodeled, with asphalt shingles replacing the original clapboards. However, the exterior has since been restored, and today the only noticeable difference between the two photos is the loss of the house next door at 162 Westminster, which burned down in 1966.

William L. Richards House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 166 Westminster Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1894 as part of the late 19th century development of the McKnight neighborhood. By 1899, it was owned by William and Marion Richards, who were in their mid-30s at the time. Like many of the other McKnight residents of the era, William was a middle class professional, working as an insurance agent for a life insurance company, probably Mass Mutual. He and Marion owned the house for many years, and they also lived here with William’s mother, Phebe. His father, who was also named William, had been killed in action in 1864 during the Civil War, leaving Phebe with two young children to raise. After William and Marion purchased this house, Phebe moved in with them, and lived here until her death in 1916.

William and Marion lived here until the late 1920s, and sold the house in 1931 to Arthur and Clarissa Sedgwick. A retired Congregational minister, Arthur was originally from Lenox, Massachusetts, but later went on to serve churches in Iowa and Virginia. He and Clarissa were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and he remained here until his death in 1948. Clarissa later moved to Pennsylvania, and sold the house in 1957. Since then, the exterior of the house has seen some changes, but it still stands as one of the many 19th century homes that form the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.