Sunday, July 13, 2008

Then & Now: Main Street, Springfield

For better or worse, things change. Some change occurs imperceptibly: trees grow in, stones weather. Other change is more 'in your face': a skyscraper in place of a tri-level, an empty lot where a skyscraper was. Nature's adjustments tend to be of the former, more subtle, imperceptible style. Man's style - well, we rip and tear and build and are never quite satisfied with the result - so we knock things down and rip and tear and build some more. In your face, Mother Nature.

Of course, Nature is not without her own wrecking crew: Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes at her disposal. It is a constant battle between flesh and Nature to control the rate at which the Earth is altered. Is either entity ever really in charge? Nature dances at the whim of the Gods, Man to his own perpetual dissatisfaction. 'Tis an interesting show, with an audience of billions.

Here, let me catch you up...

What does a century look like? This series of photographs gives one an idea. The black & white scans are from the book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' published in Springfield in 1905. The color photographs were snapped within the past couple of weeks.

The top photograph's caption readily gives up a clue of one change in the landscape of the city, referencing Main and Hillman Streets as the photographer's location at the time of the shot. Long cut off by the TD Banknorth building at 1441 Main, Hillman now right-angles to meet Bridge Street to the north instead. The corner of Main and Hillman is just a memory.

The bottom photograph was snapped from Main and Bridge Streets, a block or so north of where Hillman would have come out and the corner that the Fuller Block - in the top photo, the building's distinctive minarets drawing the appreciative eye - has occupied since 1887. Don't look for the minarets atop the building today though, they've been missing from the Springfield skyline for some time now. Ah, changes. The Worthy Hotel, opened in 1905, is the building just to the right in the bottom photo and what we'll all probably start calling the 'old' Federal Building (although it is as modern-looking as all get out: See photo at left), now that the 'new' Federal Building is up on State Street, is on the opposite corner. The first set of traffic lights you see is the intersection of Main and Worthington Streets, the next set, Taylor and Main. The railroad arch, a city stalwart, is in the northern distance.

The bottom photograph, taken a block north from the spot the top one was snapped, leaves this image to the imagination: All of the buildings in the top photograph - left and right, up to the Fuller Block - are many a day razed; pulled like props from the stage and replaced by the backdrop of the current scene. The Mass Mutual Building, the 'old' Federal Building, a park where Steiger's was...This is the organized disarray we act in now.

Again, the photographs don't perfectly line up, the photographer standing near the northwest corner of Worthington and Main Streets as he captured the top image over a century ago, the bottom photo snapped a block north, at the intersection of Main and Hampden Streets. I really have to start scanning (and printing) these old photographs before I go wandering around downtown. 'Course, then I'll have to actually remember to bring them with me. Sometimes I miss those brain cells I so easily sacrificed in my youthful quest for enlightenment.

The Worthy Hotel can be used as a landmark in each photograph. In the top photograph, it is the 8-story building on the left. In the bottom photograph, it is the tallest building - with just a corner of its roof peeking out - a block (or two traffic lights) down on the left. The Fuller Block is also represented. In the top photograph, the architecturally-adventurous crowns of the bustling hive of commerce serve as beacons of identification; in the bottom photograph, a sliver of the brick and sandstone structure can be seen just past the Worthy Hotel.

Streetcars and surreys, pedestrians and pedal bikes kick up the daily dust of living in turn-of-the-century Springfield, captured for the ages in the top image by photographer A. D. Copeland. In that photograph, The Phoenix Building, the six-story structure to the right of the Worthy Hotel, still stands: As real to Copeland in his day as the park that now occupies its footprint is in ours. The empty space where the Phoenix once stood is well-illustrated in the photograph to the right, with the Fuller Block in the left foreground and the Worthy Hotel just up the street a bit. The Post Office referred to in the caption can be seen two photographs below.

The three above photographs show how just one street corner can go from 'eh' to magnificent to 'eh' again in under a century. Which building do you prefer decorating the northwest corner of Main and Worthington Streets?

One thing that never changes is the graceful simplicity and stone solidity of 'The Arch,' the architecturally under-appreciated span that for decades has borne the burden of carrying the east-west railroad tracks that bi-sect the city across Springfield's Main Street. Walking under it today, one ponders limestone stalactites measuring time with their slow reach toward the pavement below. One feels admiration for the capable hands that laid the stone.

Witness to the upheavals and downturns of the passing population, the Massasoit House, established in 1843, is in each photograph on the left before the arch. The Massasoit House was run with considerable reputation for many years by the Chapin family, and is considered to be the oldest hotel established in Western Massachusetts, although it is presently not used as such.

Here is what J. Frank Drake, writing in the aforementioned book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' had to say about the Massasoit House (ironically, as I read the passage, I see that the wistful reference to change is being made even back in 1905 - it's all been done - hasn't it?):

"The Massasoit House is the oldest and perhaps the most widely known hotel in western Massachusetts, and though time changes all things the spirit of change has not yet come over the reputation of this well-known hostelry. Travelers will come and go, but as of yore this house registers the most prominent families of those who make Springfield a brief sojourn. Erected in 1843, the hotel has since been considerably enlarged so that it is now more than three times its original size. The interior appointments have always been of luxurious character, and they have suffered no deterioration, while the cuisine maintains its old-time high reputation. The present proprietor, W. H. Chapin, is a nephew of M. and E. S. Chapin, and has been connected with the house about thirty years."

In 1929, the Massasoit House became home to the Paramount Theater, which became the Julia Sanderson Theater and is now the Hippodrome. For theater and old building buffs alike, there is an excellent web site called 'Cinema Treasures' that is chock-full of information on many local movie houses of historical significance. Here is a link to the site's Paramount/Hippodrome page:

The building on the left - just beyond the arch in the top two photographs - was home to the offices of the Boston & Albany Railroad. Today the spot is occupied by the much less decorative Peter Pan bus terminal.

And how about that banner in the second photograph? Brown taking the gridiron versus Dartmouth at Hampden Park on a crisp November Saturday the weekend before Thanksgiving. Anyone catch the score?

Back to square one, Court Square that is, where it all began. That is, after it all began on the Agawam side of the river first, before the settlers got their feet wet with the Spring floods on the low western plain along the Connecticut River, prompting the move east.

Trees now obscure the Old First Church, a bus shelter has sprung up, Main Street wears a skin of pavement 'stead of cobblestones. But the water keeps flowing through Leo, the soldier stares straight ahead and the kernel of a soul born on Saturday, July 15, 1636, with the purchase of a paradise keeps growing; and, for better or worse, keeps changing.

For more on Springfield 'then and now,' take a look at these past EWM posts:

Main and Elm: The Corner on Springfield History, June 21, 2008
Springfield's Court Square Theatre, March 28, 2008
A Century Apart: Photographs of a Building and a Statue December 24, 2007

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Scanned photo credits: 1, 5, 7, Clifton Johnson; 2, 6, A. D. Copeland; 3, E. J. Lazelle; 4, Unattributed; Springfield Present and Prospective; Eugene Gardner et al; 1905; Pond & Campbell Publishers; Springfield, Mass.

Top photo: The Fuller Block

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Mary E.Carey said...

What a great idea to compile these then-and-now shots, Mark.

sojourner said...

I have wondered about the demise of the old post office at Main and Worthington. It was a remarkable building and looked quite solid. Does anyone know how and why it disappeared? Mark, you have again created a fascinating photo essay.

Anonymous said...

This is neat. a few months ago I found photos my grandfather took in 1940's around springfield and I was thinking about doing a scapbook of then and now - this is a really nice way to showcase it. Thank you for making it availibe for people to see!

AdamH said...

The trees in Court Square...doesn't anyone else remember how they were replaced in the 80s, probably for the 1986 350th celebration? In the "then" pictures, the trees are elms. Now they are oaks.

Keep up the good work. This is a great blog and I really enjoy it.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Terrific photos, and great post. Thanks.

Ted said...

Thanks for the history lessons Mark. You put in a lot of time and effort to bring that one to us. I enjoyed your "missing brain cells" comment. Many a time I put my notes, photos on my clipboard and then top it with my camera and glasses so I don't forget them and then when I get to the site I am exploring...Yup you guessed it, no clipboard, camera or glasses. I too miss those brain cells.

Justin said...

Very well-written post. I really appreciate the history.

As you write about Mother Nature -- yes, she can be just as ruthless as man , (if not more so,) as Springfielders and area residents witnessed on June 1, 2011.

The trees that have obscured Court Square for years have been taken down at Mother Nature's insistence.

The tornado was, of course, a tragedy. The city we love, however, can be rebuilt better than before -- with hard work, careful planning, cooperation, and team work... I already see it taking place in our city and region.

Thank you for the blog. Soon I plan to start my own to update people on Springfield's present and potential(ly very bright) future.

Springfield is my favorite city on Earth - and I've traveled all over the States and Europe. It's heartening to read comments from people who love it too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for scanning and publishing the 1905 photos.

They were just what I needed to orient a photo of the 1893 fire. The Fuller Block was the key to the identification, as it is visible through the smoke and steam in the background of my photo, which shows the two burning building fronts facing Main Street.

The fire destroyed several of the older brick buildings that occupied an area of sixty thousand square feet from the northeast corner of Main and Worthington. This type of construction had much interior wood, which fire departments still see as a potential problem in older urban areas. This was enhanced by the burning stock of two rag merchants on Worthington Street.

The building originally right at the northeast corner was Wight's Block, which housed The City National Bank, and other tenants. The historic Worthy Hotel, completed in 1895, made use of this land cleared by the fire. They built it using an iron frame. Guess why!

A contemporary newspaper account stated that "the final stand was made at Fuller's Block, which was saved by a sudden favorable change in the wind, the same change that made it so difficult to save the Union Block." So one old building survived,although it suffered the amputation of its onion domes.

It is interesting to note that even the street numbers have changed. What was 293 to 305 Main Street is now 1571 Main Street.