Old Cathedral High School, Springfield, Mass

The old Cathedral High School building on Elliot Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2014:


Not much has changed in the exterior of the old Cathedral High School building on Elliot Street.  It was built in 1919 to meet the needs of a growing school population, and was used as a high school for 40 years until the opening of the Surrey Road campus in 1959, which was the home of the school until the June 1, 2011 tornado, which caused significant damage to the building.  In the meantime, the old Elliot Street building is still owned by the Springfield Diocese, and with the demolition of the “new” Cathedral High School this fall, the 95 year old building has now outlived its successor.

When this building was used as a high school, a number of notable people attended school here, including three future NFL players: Joe Scibelli, 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti.  Given the approximate date of the first photo, Bertelli was likely attending the school at the time – perhaps he was even sitting in one of the classrooms when the photographer took the picture.  In addition, former Postmaster General and NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien also went here, graduating several years before the first photo was taken.

Alexander House, Springfield, Mass

The rear of the Alexander House, taken from Elliot Street near the corner of State Street, around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The scene in 2014:


The first photo is the side view of the Alexander House, which is mentioned in this post.  Although it’s no longer on this location, the house still exists; it was moved just a short distance down Elliot Street when the federal courthouse was constructed.  It was actually the second time that the house was moved; its first move came in the 1870s, when it was moved several hundred feet on the same lot because of drainage issues.  Today, it sits just a little to the left of where these photos were taken, and it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Springfield.

29-31 Elliot Street, Springfield, Mass

The duplex at 29-31 Elliot Street, Springfield, around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The location in 2012:


It’s not too often that the building in the “now” photo is older than the one in the “then” photo, but that’s the case here.  The building in the second photo is the Alexander House, one of the oldest buildings in Springfield.  However, it wasn’t always at this location – originally it was on State Street, but was moved several times in its long history, most recently in 2003, when the new federal courthouse was built on its lot.

The house was built in 1811 for James Byers, for whom the historic 1835 Byers Block at Court Square is named.  He sold the house in 1820 to Colonel Israel E. Trask, who sold it to famed portrait artist Chester Harding (Harding’s grave is seen in this post about Springfield Cemetery).  However, Harding sold the property back to Trask in 1832.  Trask died in 1835, and his family owned the property until 1857, when it was sold to Henry Alexander, Jr., who named the house Linden Hall.  Alexander served as mayor of Springfield from 1864 to 1865, and the house remained in his family until 1938.  During Alexander’s ownership, the house was moved for the first time, during the 1870s.  Improvements to State Street had changed the grade of the street, which caused drainage problems for the house, necessitating a move of several hundred feet.

It was also around this time that Elliot Street was developed and the brick duplexes seen in the 1930s were built.  I don’t know what became of the duplex at 29-31 Elliot Street, but it was probably gone long before the Alexander House was moved to the site in 2003.  The duplex on the right is still there, though, although it was heavily damaged by a fire in 2008 and its future is in doubt.  The good news, though, is that the Alexander House has been preserved, and makes up part of Springfield’s Mattoon Street – Quadrangle Historic District.

25-27 Elliot Street, Springfield, Mass

The brick duplex at 25-27 Elliot Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2013:


This duplex on Elliot Street has clearly seen better days.  It was built in 1872 as one of several brick duplexes on the east side of Elliot Street, and today it is the last one still standing, although it may not be much longer.  In 2008, the building was damaged by a fire, which, among other things, completely destroyed the mansard third floor.  Since the fire, the Springfield Historical Commission has attempted to save the house from demolition, but at this point its future is still very much in doubt.  In September, the owners agreed to a four month deadline to either renovate or demolish it, so perhaps by next month we will have an idea what the future holds for the historic property.

George Ashmun House, Springfield, Mass

The former home of Congressman George Ashmun, at 297 Union Street, Springfield Mass, around 1893. Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893)


The building around 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The location in 2015:


The house in the first two photos is located at the corner of Union and School Streets, and was the home of lawyer and politician George Ashmun from 1838 to 1841.  Ashmun was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1833, at the age of 29.  He served there until 1837, then spent three years in the Massachusetts Senate before returning to the House and serving as Speaker in 1841.  He later represented the Sixth District of Massachusetts in Congress from 1845 to 1851.

However, his most significant political and historical moment came in 1860, when he served as the chairman of the Republican National Convention in Chicago.  Going into the convention, Senator William Seward had been the favorite to win the nomination, but in the end, the delegates chose Abraham Lincoln, a former colleague of Ashmun who served alongside him in the House.  As the chairman, he traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to inform Lincoln that he had received the nomination.

Ashmun worked with Lincoln throughout his presidency, meeting with him for the last time in the White House on the evening of April 14, 1865, shortly before Lincoln left to attend a play at Ford’s Theatre.  When they departed, President Lincoln promised to meet with him the next morning; this meeting obviously did not happen.

The house that Ashmun once lived in still stood at the corner of Union and School until around the mid 20th century; it was there when the WPA photo was taken in the late 1930s, but was probably demolished when the present-day school building was built in 1962.