Saturday, June 28, 2008

In Defense of the Duryea

Whether it's the line at the deli or making a major technological advance, humans tend to want to be first. Heck, ever notice those people who put the hammer down to get to the next red light? Got there first, didn't they?

Most of the time, it's not that important to be first. Second or third spot in line at the deli isn't so bad if you're patient. Eventually you'll be first. Promise.

Sometimes being first can be dangerous. Like: "First hiker proves existence of mountain lions in Western Massachusetts. Funeral on Tuesday."

There are some firsts worth fighting for, though, if only to avoid the accusation of 'copycat' when you come out with the second or third of whatever it is you want to be first to create. Let's face it, you can't invent Velcro again.

Sometimes the fight to be first never ends, disputes and dissonance plaguing the history of many an important advance. The advent of the gas car is one example of controversy that continues on long after the minds of the men who raced to be first to fly on four wheels have turned to dust.

Found on the web site of the Library of Congress, the pamphlet below (originally printed on both sides of one sheet of paper and folded accordion-style) was published in 1937, and amounts to not only a brief, interesting history of the automobile, but a defense of the Duryea Motor Wagon's distinction as America's first gas car. Forty-five years after Charles Duryea's brain child rolled down Taylor Street in Springfield, on April 19, 1892, the battle to be first raged on.

For more on one of Springfield's most famous firsts, check out the previous EWM post, Postcards: Duryea Motor Wagon Company, or read my post The driving Duryea brothers, Springfield's automobile pioneers over at

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Pamphlet Source: Library of Congress, Printed Ephemera Collection, Digital ID:

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Walking the Path: Stanley Park, Westfield

When I was a child...

...there was a grassy hill alongside this park road.

My grandfather used to bring my brothers and I to play there...

...we would roll and jump and play king of the hill, grass staining patched-knee pants.

This nearby fountain was pure magic to a boy who could still believe in such a thing, changing colors - blue red green - as dusk swallowed day.

For the pennies within, I had a standing wish to swim in this fountain...

Instead, I fell headlong into this pond once, in pursuit of a polliwog.

The world was a much bigger place back then.

When I was a teenager...

...I carved the name of my first love inside this covered bridge.

There were benches here then, hidden by green. There were hands to hold and lips to kiss.

After hours, when the park was closed, we would sit quietly inside, backs to the stone wall and watch the stars take over the night.

But I wasn't ready for what she had to give, or what she wanted...

...and I set off on my own.

When I was a young man...

...I took my children to the park to feed the fowl... share the clues left by those who had come before.

I learned to stop and read the plaques along the way...

...and tried to take the long view of things.

But, within, I felt the bell's toll. Began to count the chimes...

Now I am here...

...watching the wheels spin, the water flow...

...grown tired of holding the umbrella against the pelting rain.

For me, there are bridges left to cross...

...stairs still to climb... journey and my destiny best traveled alone.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Main and Elm: The Corner on Springfield History

'Twould be difficult, indeed, forced to choose a sole vantage point from which to witness the unfolding of Springfield. A challenge to find a bit of land undeserving of a chapter or two extolling its own unique history, a parcel untouched by its own share of changes across the nearly 400 years of the settlement's birth. Take a moment to think about it: If you were to be rooted as a recorder of Springfield history, where would you choose to be planted?

The civic center of the city, Court Square, will certainly be on many folks' short list of choices. And deservedly so. 'Tis ground trod through a rich past and a present in progress. Here were presidents and parishioners, slaves and mechanics, rallies and rebellion - preceding receding wilderness witness to the metamorphoses wrought by human hands. Silent but for the treasures buried 'neath the till and the buildings planted atop: brick and board and granite and glass. Still the catalyst of change brews. The trees patiently grow, the lion fills the fountain's basin, the years pass. And as the circle turns, when those who left their footprints here are also but memories, they too will be bound in the silence: joined with a city's history.

The corner of Main and Elm Streets, bordering the central thoroughfare of the city and the park at Court Square would surely be a prosperous perch for a collector of observations. Likely one of the oddest sights to behold was the overland portage of the side-wheeled steamboat, the 'Vermont'. According to the 1902 book '"Our County and Its People": A History of Hampden County', edited by city resident Alfred M. Copeland, the boat was "built in Springfield in 1829 for a Brattleboro company, and...was drawn from the boat yard through Main and Elm Streets, to the foot of Harvard Street,* where it was launched."

The two photographs below illustrate the corner's own transformation.

Organized in 1836, the Chicopee Bank was a workingman's bank, created as an antidote to the 22-year old Springfield Bank, an institution thought inhospitable to folks of average earnings and employment. In addition to Chicopee Bank, the building in the above photograph was home to the offices of the Mutual Fire Assurance Company of Springfield, established in 1827. The company's sign is above the third door to the right. A tea company occupies the storefront to the building's far left. Springfield photographer E. J. Lazelle captured this undated image, which was scanned from the 1905 book, 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' and probably snapped by Lazelle in the fourth quarter of the 19th century. A gas lamp, first introduced to Springfield in 1849, can be seen standing ready to illuminate the corner of Main and Elm Streets. In the late 1700s, the corner was home to the newspaper offices of the 'Hampshire Chronicle' (renamed the 'Hampshire and Berkshire Chronicle' in 1790), owned by Isaiah Thomas and a Mr. Weld, who at one time had been Thomas's apprentice.

The corner of Main and Elm Streets today. Chicopee Bank gained status in 1865 as a federally chartered bank, changing its name to Chicopee National Bank. As the city grew, so too the institution, expanding its quarters with this magnificently carved sandstone building christened at the dawn of the 20th century. In the days when the copper topped edifice wore its crown like a shiny new penny, construction was booming throughout the city. The Museum of Fine Arts in 1895, Classical High School and the Science Museum in 1898, Forest Park School and the Museum of Natural History in 1899, the expansion of the Court Square Theatre building and construction of the Court Square Hotel in 1900, Chestnut Street Grammar School in 1903... It can be argued that the city's first renaissance occurred during this era. With the pending revitalization of Court Square growing closer to realization, a hint of promise once again electrifies the neighborhood: a cleansing dew sparkles in the first rays of light at the dawn of the new renaissance.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

*The author undoubtedly meant Howard Street rather than Harvard, Howard ending at the river, and Harvard well in the opposite direction, in the McKnight District of the city.

More on Springfield's Court Square from EWM:

Panoramic Photos: Court Square, Springfield, Mass. (c 1909),
Old First Church: In Search of Salvation,
Postcards: Main Street Springfield, Massachusetts,
A Century Apart: Photographs of a Building and a Statue, Springfield, Massachusetts,
Ashes in an Hour: Springfield's City Hall Fire of January 6, 1905,
'Springfield's Court Square Theatre.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"A Plan of West Springfield, By J. Lathrop, August 1831"

This 1831 map of West Springfield, Massachusetts is credited to J. Lathrop, with Boston firm, Pendleton's Lithogy, responsible for its printing and publishing. This map names names, revealing who lived where in West Side in 1831.

The most intriguing name may be that of the map's creator, J. Lathrop. The Reverend Joseph Lathrop, is said to have written nearly 5,000 sermons over 64 years as West Springfield's minister, the town's third. However, Rev. Lathrop passed in 1820, over a decade before the map's creation. Perhaps we are looking at the handiwork of one of the illustrious minister's descendants. No matter, 'tis a time capsule left for us to open. A present from the past.

"A Plan of West Springfield, By J. Lathrop, August, 1831"

This map and many others can be found in the Library of Congress's (LOC) Map Collections digital archive. Here's the link:

Personally, I find that viewing maps on the LOC web site is a bit limiting as far as ease of maneuverability and that it's also difficult to save large chunks of the images for later offline perusal. The best method I've found so far for getting the most out of these (mostly) public domain maps is to download them - they come in either JPEG2000 or MrSID formats - and use the free program, Irfanview (with plug-ins), to open, resize and convert them to other file formats, such as the JPEG up above. The LOC maps are usually large files, it takes a bit to download them, and one has to be patient with Irfanview as it loads the image.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Map source: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Digital ID:

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Westfield's Bridge Project: The Second Spring

Westfield's Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project continues apace, promising long-term gridlock relief at the cost of short-term enhanced gridlock aggravation. But isn't that the way all major traffic projects go? In the winter, folks grumble when construction projects stall. In the summer, they wonder who the joker was that scheduled major road work during vacationers' heaviest travel time. It's human nature. Even the most mild-mannered New Englander will get a bit ticked off when caught interminably in the leg trap of a small-city traffic jam. When it happens daily - Yikes! - Odds are good that you might even hear some colorful language tripping out of sweet, old Aunt Betsy's mouth.

I took a walk around the bridge area this gray morning and snapped a few photographs...

Look Mom: No sidewalk!

The temporary platform just downriver of the new bridge's footprint is an important hub of the construction site. Workers, supplies, and equipment rely on the integrity of this base of operations as they prepare steel forms sunk into the riverbed for the poured concrete buttresses that will support the sister span of the existing Great River Bridge. To see a couple of EWM photo series of the platform's growth, click here or here.

Scaffolding can be seen slung beneath the Great River Bridge, which spans the Westfield River. The bridge began serving the city in 1939 and the span is currently utilized by well over 30,000 vehicles a day. The truss-style bridge is slated for reconstruction upon completion of its downriver twin-sister structure. Part of the steel forms for the new bridge's pylons are visible in the foreground. The ladder climbing out of the enclosure gives one an idea of scale.

Let's hope that someday we'll be able to take a smooth traffic flow in and out of town for granite. Yeah. That was bad.

Pedestrians also pay the inconvenient price of progress.

Don't you just hate that particular sunken manhole? Westfield drivers know what I mean. It's like a suspension nightmare. On Elm Street. Try avoiding it. The darn thing moves. I swear.

Women's Temperance Park, on the north riverbank to the west of the bridge, has been temporarily commandeered for the construction cause. Finishing touches on the project will include several improvements to the park, with access to the anticipated Columbia Greenway Rail Trail one of the planned enhancements. In the late 19th century, a small portion of this 1/2 acre parcel of land between the river and the railroad tracks was occupied by George Beal's blacksmith shop and a neighboring cobbler shop whose proprietor was Rocco DePopolo. For you kids out there a cobbler is a person who repairs shoes. Yes, honest, folks used to get their damaged shoes fixed to make them last. A horse-shoer and a people-shoer in one convenient location: That's what I call one-step shopping.

The $55-65 million Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project entails raising the CSX railroad viaduct to an overall height of 14'5". Long a snare for distracted truckers, the clearance where North Elm Street passes under the tracks is now 11'5". Poor drainage issues beneath the viaduct, a recurring nuisance come heavy rain, will also be addressed.

The Great River Bridge is getting some much-needed attention. Walking across it while traffic is passing gives one the sensation of being atop a vibrating floor in a carnival fun house.

Going underground...

Historic splendor looms. Windows silent witnesses to days passed.

If not for the caution-orange barrels, this Union Avenue scene seen in black & white might be mistaken for Westfield, 1899, the year the Hotel Bismarck, the magnificent building on the left, was opened for business.

The north end of Union Avenue.

An empty North Elm Street under cloudy skies.

Hmm. Now there's a simple, low-tech way to tackle a sagging bridge problem...Just hope no train-hopping beavers decide to disembark.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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