In 1891 Dr. James Naismith, seeking a game to fill the winter months for his physical education class, had wooden baskets nailed to an elevated track ten feet above the Springfield YMCA gym floor and invented basketball. Dr. Naismith would never play the game that he devised, the only major sport invented in America, a game that would spread more rapidly than any sport in history. Today Springfield is famous as the home of basketball yet in the 1930s in the influential guidebook produced by the federal government, Massachusetts: A Guide To Its Places and People, the invention of basketball is never mentioned in the history of Springfield.
The city has never lacked for influential personalities, tracing back right to the founding of the town by a small group led by William Pynchon. The settlement was originally named Agawam Plantation, but in 1640 it was renamed Springfield after the village near Chelmsford, Essex in England where Pynchon was born. Pynchon guided the settlement through its early years, mostly by cashing in on the region’s beaver population. It is estimated that he exported between 4,000 and 6,000 beaver pelts a year between 1636 and 1652. When he was censured for his religious views in the early 1650s rather than retract his position he returned to England as a wealthy man.
George Washington cast the die for Springfield’s future when he selected the town as the site for the National Armory in the 1770s. The first ramification came when Daniel Shays presented the first armed challenge against the federal government in 1787 and picked the Armory as his target. Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran and farmer, and his “army” of 800 disgruntled taxpayers were repulsed by soldiers outside the walls of Armory, crushing the rebellion.
In the 1800s the Armory would be the catalyst for the industrialization of Springfield. The railroad came to town early and Springfield became an early leader n the manufacture of passenger coaches. Charles and Frank Duryea, built a gasoline powered automobile in their bicycle garage in town in 1893 and after the Duryea Motor Wagon’s first test was successful it became to be the first ever offered for sale. Beginning in 1929 the Granville Brothers (Zantford, Robert, Mark, and Edward) began building airplanes at the Springfield Airport. Their company lasted barely five years and they built only 24 planes but their sophisticated GeeBee planes set world speed records and made their names famous during the Golden Age of Flight in the 1930s.
Our walking tour will begin at the Armory that operated in Springfield for 174 years and is now a national historic site - and important for the walking tourist as a site of free parking for a visitor to the downtown of New England’s fourth largest city...
Springfield Armory National Historic Site
One of the first acts of the new federal government after the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1788 was to make provisions for an armed nation. The Springfield Armory was one of the first two federal armories in the country and the one responsible for the manufacturing of small arms. The famous “Springfield Rifle” came to refer to any of several types of guns churned out from the armory through the years. One hundred and seventy four years, to be exact, before the armory shut down. Today the grounds operate as a national historic landmark and some of the buildings have been converted to museums - the Springfield Armory collection of military firearms is the second largest in the world, dwarfed only by the British collection at the Royal Armouries.
WALK OUT THE ENTRANCE OF THE ARMORY ON FEDERAL STREET AND TURN RIGHT. ACROSS THE STREET IS A BOULDER MARKING THE CRUCIAL BATTLE OF SHAY’S REBELLION. TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
339 State Street
This stone temple has loomed over state Street since 1923 when it was constructed by the Springfield Masonic Hall Association to accommodates the meetings and activities of thirty-three lodges. Local architects McClintock & Craig shepherded the Classical Revival building to completion at a cost of$1,500,000. The Temple was fitted with lounge rooms, pipe organs and banquet hall. It has since been sold to the Holy Christian Orthodox Church and renamed the Basilica of the Holy Apostles.
U.S. Federal Court House
300 State Street
World renowned Israeli-born architect Moshe Sadfie designed the new Springfield Federal Courthouse, tagged with a budget of $53 million. The first expense was moving the historic Alexander House that sat on this lot around the corner.
TURN RIGHT ON ELLIOT STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS DOWN TO THE BACK OF THE COUR THOUSE.
70 Elliot Street
Tucked behind a white picket fence, this is one of the oldest surviving houses in Springfield and certainly the most prominent. This highstyle Federal mansion house was built in 1811 by Simon Sanborn, who would establish himself as one of the town’s leading builders in the first decades of the 1800s. The design, highlighted by a projecting portico, is derived from the work and pattern books of Asher Benjamin. This is the third location for the Alexander House. It was moved for the first time in 1874, when its owner, former Springfield mayor Henry Alexander, Jr., moved it two hundred feet from its original site to the corner of State Street and Elliot Street. To make room for the new federal courthouse, the 10,000 square foot home, owned by Historic New England since 1939, was jacked up and hauled down the street.
RETURN TO STATE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Saint Michael’s Cathedral
254 State Street
This is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield which is now comprised of 85 parishes and eight missions. It was constructed in 1860 on plans drawn - not surprisingly - by architect Patrick Keely. Irish-born Keely was the house architect for the Catholic church and is credited with designing nearly 600 churches. He is said to have designed every 19th century Catholic church in New England.
Classical High School
235 State Street
In 1874 when the Springfield High School was built on this block its next door neighbor was the Hampden County Jail. By the 1890s more students were pouring into the high school than inmates into the jail so the old jail was sacrificed for this newer high school, designed along classical lines by the Boston architectural firm of Hartwell, Richardson and Driver. The old high school soldiered on as the State Street Grammar School until it was razed in 1922. Springfield High School became Classical High School in 1934 and remained the jewel of the city’s school system until the coming of Central High School in 1986. The building was then refitted as condominiums.
Springfield City Library
220 State Street
The private subscription Springfield Library Company was lending out books as early as the 1790s but it would not be until 1885 that the city would have a lending library free to all. At that time the library operated from a red-brick Gothic style building on this site that had been built with private donations twenty years earlier. It would be replaced in 1912 with this Italian Renaissance showcase that was made possible when industrialist Andrew Carnegie donated $260,000 to the City Library Association to build a central library and three branch libraries. Architect Edward L. Tilton designed the new library with a pink granite base, surrounded by white Vermont marble, with a frieze of white terra cotta, and topped with a dark green tile roof. The second floor Rotunda, called “the Library’s grand center court,” displays Corinthian columns, balustrade, and an amber-tinted glass dome.
TURN LEFT ON MAPLE STREET.
South Congregational Church
45 Maple Street
The church organized on March 23, 1842. In 1875 William Appleton Potter designed this Victorian landmark with a 120-foot tower crowned by a pyramidal cap. The three distinct roof types are covered with matching alternating bands of colored shingles. The array of shapes andalternating granite and sandstone trim give the church an eye-catching appeal from the curb to the roofline.
RETURN TO STATE STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company/Community Music School of Springfield
127-131 State Street
The Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company incorporated in 1885. This rare example of an Art Moderne building was built in 1933. After enduring a parade of bank mergers and corporate takeovers the building was donated to the Community Music School of Springfield. Many of the building’s classic Art Deco details remain, including a well-preserved mural of The Modern Impulse Made Possible By Modern Banking by Carroll Bill, a Boston artist.
115 State Street at Main Street
There is little to betray this commercial building’s origins as a Masonic temple in the 1890s.
Century Investment Company/United Electric Light Company
73 State Street
Around about the winter of 1881 the short winter days were not giving Blair and Fiske Manufacturing Company, makers of lawnmowers, enough hours in the day to grow their business. They needed better light to work at night. They began with electric arc lights in the factory and then wired the roof to illuminate a neighboring ice skating rink. It wasn’t long before merchants up and down the street followed suit. By summer there was enough demand for electricity to incorporate the Springfield Electric Light Company who assumed the electric portion of Blair and Fiske’s business. In 1911 this Beaux Arts headquarters, resplendent with wrought iron, stained glass and finely veined marble, was constructed. It was renovated by Century Investment in the late 1970s.
Bacon & Wilson
33 State Street
George A. Bacon opened his law practice on June 17,1895. Although he built his practice in corporate and business law, Bacon no doubt had plenty occasion to take notice of this elegant French renaissance building constructed in 1910 directly across from the courthouse. In 1991 partners in the firm Bacon founded nearly a century before purchased the building and executed an award-winning restoration.
CROSS STATE STREET TO THE COURTHOUSE PLAZA AND MAKE YOUR WAY ACROSS THE PLAZA.
former Hampden County Courthouse
Court Square at Elm Street and State Street
This is the county’s second courthouse, constructed in 1871-74 to replace the original 1822 building. The cost was $214,068 and the designer was fabled architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The building, although somewhat obscured by later additions, shows some of the design features that would become hallmarks of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, including bold arches, rough-faced stone, in this case light gray Monson granite and a strong emphasis on vertical lines.
CONTINUE ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE PLAZA TO COURT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Springfield Municipal Group
34-36 Court Street
On the afternoon ofJanuary 6, 1905 fire was discovered in the large brick City Hall that had served Springfield since 1856. Five minutes later flamed burst from all parts of the building. In twenty minutes the roof fell in and in an hour nothing was standing except the walls and tower. According to reports, the fire was set by a pet monkey escaping from its cage and overturning a kerosene lamp in pursuit of food from an exhibition in progress in the hall. The people in the building all escaped but the monkey lost its life in the conflagration. Also lost were all the assessors’ records in the city; the monetary loss of $100,000 was uninsured. Ambitious plans were laid for the city’s second city hall. The grand municipal complex was to consist of two temple-like Greek Revival buildings flanking a 300-foot high Italianate Campanile clocktower. Completed in 1913, former President William Howard Taft officiated the opening ceremonies. Due to a height restriction in Springfield, the Campanile, with a carillon of twelve bells, remained the tallest structure in the city until 1973.
WALK INTO THE TREE-SPECKLED GREEN SPACE THAT IS COURT SQUARE.
First Church of Christ
midpoint of the Green in Court Square
The congregation organized in 1637, a year after settlement and by 1645 a meetinghouse was constructed on the southeast corner of Court Square. This is the fourth church building for the parish, designed in 1819 by Isaac Damon who opened the church to the square with a portico of Doric columns supporting a triangular pediment. The church provided a stop along the Underground Railroad and played host to famed statesman Daniel Webster and abolitionist John Brown. Upon his death in 1848, the body of President John Quincy Adams lay in State at Old First Church. First Church continued to be active as the oldest congregation in western Massachusetts and one of the oldest in America until 2007 when declining membership forced its disbandment. The building was purchased by the city and its contents auctioned off.
Miles Morgan Statue
Miles Morgan of Bristol, England, didn’t sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 1636 in search of religious freedom and he wasn’t a trader. If a passport thad been required the 20-year old Morgan might have listed his occupation as “adventurer.” Almost immediately upon arriving in Boston he set out for the wilderness along the Connecticut River. He built a fortified blockhouse on its banks and married a girl he met aboard ship, Prudence Gilbert. When the settlement of Springfield was sacked during King Phillip’s War the villagers took refuge in Morgan’s little fortress until relief could arrive. After the excitement on the frontier faded away, Morgan sailed back to Great Britain where he died in Wales at the age of 82. The bronze statue of Miles Morgan was erected by one of his descendants in 1883. Sculpted by Jonathan Scott Hartley, the frontiersman is depicted in huntsman’s dress, jack-boots, and cocked hat, with a rifle over his shoulder.
WALK OVER TO ELM STREET ON THE EAST SIDE OF COURT SQUARE.
Court Square Building
11 Elm Street, facing Court Square
Court Square received a near-seamless wall along its eastern flank in 1892 with the construction of this handsome commercial block, designed by hometown architect F.S. Newman. The building is constructed of red brick with a facade on two sides of buff-colored brick trimmed in granite, brownstone and terra cotta. It was most famous among Springfielders as the home of the Court Square Theater where the likes of Al Jolson, Will Rogers, George M. Cohan, the Barrymores and Sarah Bernhardt graced the stage. After a run as a Loew’s movie house, the Court Square theater was demolished in 1956. A sixth floor was added in the 1920s that became the Court Square Hotel, a ghost sign of which can still be seen on the rear brick wall.
TURN LEFT AND WALK OUT OF COURT SQUARE ALONG ELM STREET, TOWARDS MAIN STREET.
3-7 Elm Street off Court Square
This unassuming three-story building is the remains of the Byers Block that was constructed for James Byers in 1835 by noted architect Simon Sanborn. It is the oldest commercial building still standing in Springfield. Over the years many of the city’s most prominent men operated from the offices above the ground floor retail space: including historian George Bancroft, Gideon Welles who was Secretary of the Navy under Abraham Lincoln, George Ashmun who delivered the nominating speech for Lincoln in 1860, 12 Springfield judges and seven Springfield mayors.
Chicopee National Bank Building
Elm Street and Main Street
The Chicopee Bank organized in 1836 as the financial institution in town for the working stiff. There had been grumblings since the founding of the Springfield Bank in 1814 that the business of small traders and one-man shops was not welcome. The bank picked up momentum in 1865 when it gained a federal charter and by 1889 it was was ready to occupy this enviable corner at the center of town. Springfield architect F.S. Newman provided the Romanesque-style design around a prominent three-story corner oriel capped by a copper roof. The red brick one-time bank headquarters is splendidly trimmed with carved brownstone.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET. CROSS COURT STREET.
1351 Main Street
Marsden J. Perry of Providence was a pioneer in electric lighting industry in the 1880s which he parlayed into aninterurban electric trolley system which comprisedpractically all of Rhode Island railways. He invested his profits in a small local bank that by by 1894 had transformed into the Union Trust Company of Providence. As his empire expanded he tapped Boston architects Robert Swain Peabody and John Goddard Stearns, Jr. to create this impressive vault in the Beaux Arts style of limestone and marble in 1907. It would be one of Perry’s last triumphs as a run on his bank shortly thereafter crippled his financial world. Union Trust Company would go on to be the forerunner of Fleet National Bank and the Springfield building would eventually house Northwestern Mutual Life that traces its roots to the Civil War.
WALK BACK THE FEW STEPS TO COURT STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Mass Mutual Center
1277 Main Street at Court Street
The Springfield Civic Center opened in 1972 and with a $71 million upgrade the Mass Mutual Center offers an elegant ballroom, five fully-functional meeting rooms, a 40,000 sf. exhibit space, plus a totally renovated 8,000-seat arena. The tenants include the American Hockey League Springfield Falcons and the National Basketball Association Developmental League Springfield Armor.
TURN LEFT ON DWIGHT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON HARRISON STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
Christ Church Cathedral
35 Chestnut Street
While in command of the Springfield Armory Colonel Roswell Lee, a devout Episcopalian, initiated the first church services in town in an improvised chapel on the armory grounds in 1817. When a fire in 1824 orphaned the fledgling congregation it began a peripatetic existence around town until Colonel Lee’s son Henry established the first Christ Church in 1839. The current Norman-style church of Longmeadow brownstone was erected in 1876. the tower cracked almost immediately, however, and it would be fifty years before the vestry voted to rebuild it.
TURN LEFT AND WALK BEHIND THE CHRIST CHURCH INTO THE QUADRANGLE.
Quadrangle; 21 Edwards Street at State and Chestnut streets
The Springfield Museums are a collection of art, history and science museums clustered around the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield in 1904. The oldest building on the Quadrangle is the Italian palazzo designed for the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. Smith was born in Derby, Connecticut and made his fortune building carriages. He retired in 1867 at the age of 35 and afterwards traveled the world collecting art and objects. He married Belle Townley, a native of Springfield and moved here. When his collection was officially transferred to the museum in 1914 it was valued at over a million dollars and the transaction made the New York Times. The Springfield Science Museum was established in 1899 as the Springfield Ethnological and Natural History Museum, “a collection of specimens of natural history and a repository of arts and curiosities, a Museum in fact, of curious or instructive objects… ” Those curiosities were first displayed in City Hall in 1859 but four decades later the collection demanded it own building. Architects Tilton and Githens rebuilt the 1899 brick building with a clean limestone facing in the 1930s. The museum also features a planetarium - the first built in the United States. The Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts was erected in response to a bequest from Mr. & Mrs. James Philip Gray, who left their entire estate for the “selection, purchase, preservation, and exhibition of the most valuable, meritorious, artistic, and high class oil paintings obtainable.” The building is another by Tilton and Githens, from 1933, steel sheathed in limestone. On the south side of the Quadrangle the William Pynchon Memorial Building is a Georgian Revival effort from 1927 that houses the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum telling the tale of settlement since 1636.
WALK THROUGH THE QUADRANGLE OUT TO EDWARDS STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON ELLIOT STREET.
Elliot Street houses
At the quiet end of Elliot Street, away from the flow of through traffic is a collection of late 1800s eclectic Victorian houses. These include the Wright House from 1887, the Barton House from 1895 and the Elliot Apartments from 1887.
Hispanic Baptist Church
22 Salem Street at Elliot Street
he seminal architect of the post-Civil War period in America was Henry Hobson Richardson working out of Boston. Richardson designed three buildings in Springfield, the first of which, the Unity Church - his first ever commission - in 1866, was torn down in 1962. The others are the former Hampden County Courthouse on Elm Street, now serving as Juvenile Court, and this building. Richardson won the commission for the North Congregational Church in 1868 and worked up his design for a different location which was reworked when the congregation moved here in 1873. Constructed of red Longmeadow sandstone, this was one of Richardson‘s first works in the Romanesque style.
TURN RIGHT ON SALEM STREET. TURN LEFT ON SPRING STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PEARL STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE SPRINGFIELD ARMORY.