Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.
Enrique Ortiz nodded politely as he backed his black van against the curb on East Pearl Street. The roses at his mother Ellie’s home were in full bloom and tied up to help them climb the front of No. 16, the apartment building she owns, where they live. The yellow paint was peeling from detail work along the roof line, the rest of the home covered in vinyl siding. I watched and nodded, too, perched about 15 inches on a granite curb that would prove to be an important detail in my search for the soldiers making their way down the cobbled street in a photo made in May 1898.
A chance meeting while on another assignment had me back on that street after just about giving up on finding the location of a great Nashua image.
The week before, I waited for a demolition crew to arrive across town to take down the creaky remains of 45-47 Chestnut St. The building had burned in a fire in April of 2011 and was finally slated to come down to make room for a Habitat for Humanity home. Waiting, I met Carrie Shena, who works for the Community Development Division in Nashua. Because I also have a similar shot of soldiers marching on Chestnut Street, I was giving this old place a good going over just in case this was in it. The roof looked right. The porch and windows looked right. The foundation, though, didn’t. I needed brick. This one was granite. While we were killing time, she mentioned a woman who had spent a good amount of time cataloging old homes in Nashua and perhaps she could help. With demolition postponed a day, we parted ways after exchanging contact information.
Enter Renee Reder.
Carrie told Renee, who works at Carrie’s office, about me looking for the spot where those soldiers were photographed. Renee and I exchanged emails, and I forwarded her copies of the old photos. She gave the Chestnut and East Pearl streets shots a good going over. She noticed some things, including a far-off church steeple, circled them in red, and provided her thoughts on where exactly these spots might be.
Over the last few weeks, I had made a few trips to this area. Driving wasn’t cutting it so I parked and got out on foot. I even thought that maybe the photo wasn’t correctly marked and headed out to Temple Street but a few things weren’t making sense, particularly that steeple in the top left of the frame.
In earlier trips to the street, I had originally thought it was on the south east side, and I began my search based on arrangments of doorways and windows on existing buildings. One day, I dropped in to a business on East Pearl. A group of us passed around my mobile phone, looking at a copy of a similar Ingalls frame that had what I thought was their building in it. I wasn’t positive it was it. Neither were they. The lot wasn’t right. The building on the left wasn’t correct. They told me their building used to be a funeral home at one point, but it just wasn’t the one in my shot. So after getting their permission to poke around the building lot a bit, I moved on. That steeple. That steeple was key.
When I first saw this photo, I thought perhaps it was the top of St. Casimir, but after putting a few things together, I decided that it wasn’t. It had to be the old Olive Street Church that stood near where the Indian Head Plaza is now.
I had seen another photo of the same company of soldiers being sent off by a large crowd from Union Station, a grand depot that graced the spot where the Nashua Diner now operates. Notes on the photo said they were marching to the Concord station. That’s downhill from the center of Nashua. Downhill meant east, and that meant the other side of the street from where I started my search. Notice, too, how the angle is somewhat downward. Was the photo shot from a porch? Window? Steps? It wasn’t made from the sidewalk. It wasn’t made from the street.
So, here are the pieces I had gathered. A photo made from an angle looking downward of soldiers marching from the center of the city to the Concord Depot. At left is a duplex. Another home with a unique footprint and an expansive lot and a hip-roofed building behind it. Time for the map.
Sanborn maps plotted buildings in thousands of American cities from the 1860s to 2007, mainly for fire insurance reasons. Renee had sent me copies of a few.
One she sent showed a promising spot. I was looking for a large L shaped building, a large lot and a hip-roofed place behind it if looking northwest. To the left, evidence of a door-window-window-door two-family home had to be supported.
Back on the road and to a parking spot in front of Enrique’s rose-covered home. His neighbor’s granite steps really brought it together- a 10-foot-long piece of granite that separated the sidewalk from the tiny front lawn at 18 E. Pearl St. Two granite steps eased people from the street, up about 15 inches. That was all I needed.
Across the street was the Liakos Cos. building and another commercial property right next door. In my camera’s viewfinder I fit in that long gone two-family, split left from right, the L-shaped home with the porch and steps, the picket fence that separated the yard from the sidewalk. And rows of young soldiers headed off to fight in the Spanish American War. Years ago you would have been able to see the Olive Street Church steeple.
It was all there, right where it should be.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).