Saturday, December 22, 2007

Photos: Time and Water Flow, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1905 - 1920

There's never a good time for a water main to break, but there can be worse times than others, as Springfield found out this past Tuesday, when a late-afternoon underground pipe-burst at Court Square snarled evening rush-hour traffic and set city crews to working around the clock to repair the break in frigid temperatures just one week ahead of Christmas. Every so often, our aging infrastructure reminds us that nothing lasts forever, sometimes with a gentle nudge, but more often with a slap upside the head that wakes us from our neglectful reverie. Steam pipes failing in Boston and New York, collapsing bridges...colonial-era levees giving their final groan against the encroaching sea: Despite the comfort of the modern age, man fights the perils of the laws of nature every day. That we have been successful thus far is evident in our common blissful unawareness of the machinations that stave off those forces that would have us dust. Unaware, that is, until we turn the tap on and no water comes out.

According to news accounts, the ruptured pipe was laid three years shy of a century ago, around the time the photographs below were taken. This is the city the ditch-diggers and pipe-fitters saw when they hopped on a streetcar for home at the end of the day. Part of the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company collection, the photo captions in quotes are from the LOC web site.

"Court Square and Municipal Group, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Eighty-two different designs were submitted to the 20 member Municipal Building Commission (appointed by Mayor Francke W. Dickinson in 1906) by architects far and near, competing to put their name on the plans for Springfield's new city offices, and their mark on the prosperous and growing municipality. Consisting of twin neoclassical-style buildings, one housing municipal offices and the other Symphony Hall and set apart by a 300-foot tall campanile, the handsome trio, designed by F. Livingston Pell and Harvey Corbett, and finally settled upon by the commission, remains one of the city's finest assets to this day and a wonderful example of art in architecture that modern structures so often sorely lack. Contracts for the construction of the municipal group were awarded in December of 1909 and by October, 1913, Springfield was home to one of the most distinctive civic centers in the nation, and indeed, the world. The municipal group was dedicated with much fanfare on December 8-9, 1913. The water pipe that recently burst was installed simultaneously with the construction of the municipal group.

"Maple St., Springfield, Mass." (c1905-15)

Springfield's population has more than doubled in the past 100 years, with about 72,000 residents in 1905, compared to the over 152,000 recorded in 2006. Two centuries ago, the picture was quite different, the town of West Springfield just across the Connecticut River boasting a larger population by nearly 350 souls, 3,109 residents in 1810 to Springfield's 2,767.

"Smith and Wesson factory, Springfield, Mass." (c1908)

Established by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson in 1856, Smith & Wesson enjoyed nearly immediate marketplace success due to the incorporation of the two men's innovative designs into the manufacture of their signature handguns. Expanding in 1860 to the four-story factory on Stockbridge Street pictured above, with a complement ranging between 500 to 600 employees, from the humble beginnings of a 25-person workforce housed on Market Street a mere four years earlier, the Smith & Wesson company was producing 10,000 handguns a month by 1905. A slowdown in sales after the U.S. Civil War caused the company to look for sales globally and resulted in Smith & Wesson becoming known worldwide for its fine craftsmanship and consistent quality. This marketing push in 1867 opened the door to contracts with Japan, China and Russia, along with several European and South American countries, ensuring Horace Smith & Daniel B. Wesson's place in the collective memory of the modern world.

"Main Street, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Visionary Charles Stearns was probably the first to propose a generalized waterworks system for Springfield to lessen the city's dependence on wells and the river for its water needs. In August of 1843, unable to convince other investors to join him in his scheme, Stearns alone began construction of a network of wooden pipes from Van Horn reservoir to Main Street, to provide a steady supply of water to the residences and businesses throughout the heavily populated and growing downtown area. In 1848, the same year the turtle fountain on Boston Common came alive with water piped from Long Pond (Lake Cochituate) in Natick, Stearns was joined by Festus Stebbins and George Hastings in the incorporation of the Springfield Aqueduct Company. The city took over the management of the public water supply in 1860.

"Court House, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Springfield's third county courthouse since the first was erected in 1722-23, this Henry Hobson Richardson-designed building was met with not a few grumbles upon its completion in 1874, with claims of inadequate thought given to the structure's intended purpose during its drafting and subsequent construction. A major remodeling of the building took place in 1906. Despite its alleged drawbacks, including a 'high' initial cost of $304,543, the 'Richardsonian Romanesque' building has served the public for about 134 years now and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since February 1, 1972.

"Union Station, Springfield, Mass." (c1905)

The first train rolled westward into Springfield in October of 1839, when the tracks of the Boston & Worcester railroad were linked to the Western railroad's on their planned journey to Albany and beyond. With a favorable study completed and entered on January 25, 1829, "on the practicability and expediency of a railroad from Boston to the Hudson river," enthusiasm for a gateway to the west ne'er waned, and by 1842, Boston and Albany were connected via steel rail, the average trip between the two points achievable in less than 11 hours, including stops. In 1844, the north-south Hartford & Springfield railroad began hauling freight and passengers, linking to the Western railroad in 1849 and opening the way for unfettered train travel between Boston and New York City via Springfield.

"Miles Morgan statue, Springfield, Mass." (c1908)

Miles Morgan (1616-1699), an important early settler of Springfield and ancestor of Justin Morgan, the breeder of the Morgan horse, and financier J. P. Morgan, founder of U.S. Steel, stands watch over Court Square, originally known as "meeting-house square." What is unusual about this photograph is the empty lot behind the statue of Morgan, which, until January 6, 1905, was the site of the city hall, which met its fate by fire on that date due to a monkey's carelessness with a kerosene lamp. Today, the Municipal Group (top photo) graces the lot.

"Massasoit House and R.R. Arch, Springfield, Mass. " (c1908)

The Massasoit House, operated by the Chapin family since its opening in 1843, was a favorite stop for weary travelers through and to the western Massachusetts hub of Springfield. Looking north, the building just beyond the railroad arch is the headquarters of the Boston & Albany railroad. Peter Pan Bus Terminal occupies the spot now. A Springfield Street Railway car can be seen making its way down Main Street. With its lines completely electrified by 1893, the Springfield Street Railway boasted 94 miles of track by 1904, with a ridership that year of 19,000,000.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care.

Photo 1 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 2 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 3 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 4 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 5 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 6 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 7 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 8 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:

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Meredith said...

Wonderful old pictures and a great source for springfield History. thanks so much for putting this together. A couple of detail corrections. the picture labeled Maple and Central is actually father north on Maple, north of Union St. You can see the corner of the fence in lower left that was for the Wesson Mansion at 50 Maple, some of the fence is still there. And wasn't it Carnegie who started US Steele, and JP Morgan the great financier and inverstment banker, originally from Hartford Ct. Grea job and thanks. Jim

Mark T. Alamed said...


Glad you enjoyed the post.

J. P. Morgan began U.S. Steel when he merged the Federal Steel Company (which he financed) with Carnegie Steel Company in 1901. Morgan was a master of business consolidation.

I have to admit, my wife and I puzzled over that photo of Maple Street for awhile. I must say that the buildings pictured certainly resemble the ones still standing at the intersection of Maple and Central. I relied on memory rather than hop in the car and drive out to Springfield, but with your observation adding to the inkling of doubt in my mind, I think I need to physically check it out.

Thanks for bringing the possible discrepancy to my attention!

Take care,


Jim Boone said...

Thanks for the clarification on Morgan, he was an amazing person. jim

sojourner said...

Great pictures--especially the Maple Street view!

Merry Christmas!

Mark T. Alamed said...


You were right about the Maple Street photograph. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It appears that the photo was taken from the corner of Cross and Maple Streets. I touched on it in my post today.

Thanks again and Merry Christmas!

* * *


Thank you!

You have a great Christmas too!


Anonymous said...

Outstanding,,,,,,I was moved to a place overlooking the history of the Sprinfield that I had left behind. You bring to light with your words alot of memories, and pictoral history of the Mass. area that I never new about. It was just awesome. Wish I had traveled the wooded areas and back roads and found the past. The roads that were once heavily traveled by horse and buggy and other conveyances. (fantastic job) I remember going to the huge museum in Springfield and seeing all wonderful pieces that were on display. Were they once the private property of the people that were once there, did they cross the oceans with them and at what cost. I wish they all could give a brief history. Sprinfield has a rich and wonderful history. I will pass this site along to many who wish to know about the great history. You bring to "light" Springfield and the surrounding communities history as no one else has.

As someone else said "Let us never forget".

Thanking you so much.


Mark T. Alamed said...

Thanks, David! It's readers like you that keep me going!