A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

R.I.P. Haile Carriage House

Today the carriage house on Edwards Street was razed.

There's a fair chance that I know more about the carriage house at this point than anyone else in the city. Neither the archivist at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, nor the chairman of the Historical Commission, nor anyone else I ever spoke with about it had accurate information. This is what I learned from poring over old maps, city directories, and clipping files in the research room of the Museum:

The house and "stable" on Edwards Street were constructed in 1902 for Amelia Chapin Haile and her son, Henry Chapin Haile, at a cost of about $10,000β€”an expensive house for the time. She was the widow of William Henry Haile, one of the leading citizens of Springfield. William had been Mayor of Springfield, twice Lt. Governor, and came closer than any other citizen of Springfield, before or since, to becoming Governor of the Commonwealth. His father had been Governor of New Hampshire. William was first a manufacturer and then a banker, in addition to his political career. William had constructed a brick rowhouse at 41 Mattoon Street in 1871. That house is still standing, has a plaque on it identifying it as "Haile House,"and is one of the most lavish homes on Mattoon Street. The family's next residence, described as a "mansion," was at 49 Chestnut Street, where George Walter Vincent Smith later lived until his death. Two years after Smith's widow, Belle Townsley Smith, died, the mansion was razed (I believe to make room for the Museum of Fine Arts).

In 1902, after William's death, the Edwards Street house was built on land belonging to the Haile family. Henry followed his father's footsteps, learning first the wool trade, and then becoming vice-president of Hampden Trust. He was an incorporator of the Springfield Hospital, the Springfield Boys Club, and the Springfield Institution for Savings, and a great benefactor of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, among many other things.

George Walter Vincent Smith, as everyone interested in Springfield history knows, bequeathed his entre art collection to the city of Springfield on the condition that they build a museum to house it. Not everyone remembers that he made his considerable fortune in the carriage-building trade, having bought a failed business in New York City and turned it into a flourishing enterprise, Stivers and Smith, from which he was able to retire at age 35.

As for 28 Edwards Street, it saddens me that the beautiful home of so illustrious a citizen of Springfield was torn down, along with several other homes, to make a parking lot. I believe that the then-owner spared the carriage house only because he intended to move it onto his property in Falmouth, but was denied permission by the City. I'd warrant there are very few carriage houses unmoored from their residences, stuck in the middle of downtown parking lots. At the same time, it's serendipitous that it was on land leased to the Springfield Museum Association. I had a vision of the entire lot being acquired (somehow!) by the SMA or by a non-profit organization which would transform it into a carriage house museum, thereby linking it to the legacy of George Walter Vincent Smith, and illuminating an important aspect of transportation history in the Victorian era.

Last week, The Republican reported that the city of Springfield was going to get behind preservation of its wonderful historic properties in a big way. Oh, please. Excuse me while I vomit.

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