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School for Christian Workers Building (Original School Building) (RG 111)

An image of the original School for Christian Workers building located in Springfield, Massachusetts, ca. 1886-1896. The original building of the School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College) was built on the corner of State and Sherman streets. The building has been known by many different names over the years including the Winchester Square building, the Mason Square building and the Armory Hill building.

School for Christian Workers (Original School Building)

The building has been known by many different names over the years, including the Winchester Square building, Mason Square building and the Armory Hill building. The reasons for the variety of names are as follows; the building was constructed adjacent to the Hope Church (formerly Hope Chapel) on Armory Hill on the corner of State and Sherman Streets in the Winchester Square section of Springfield (also known as Winchester Park or Triangle). The area was named after Springfield’s mayor at that time, Charles A. Winchester.

In 1987 Winchester Square was changed to Mason Square, after Primus Mason who originally owned the land during the mid 1800s. Primus Mason (1817-1892) was an influential African-American businessman who invested his money in real estate in Springfield. By 1888 he was one of the wealthiest citizens of the city and when he died in 1892 he left his money to found the Springfield Home for Aged Men which is now the Mason-Wright Retirement Community on Walnut Street.

The School's leaders were determined in December 1884 that $22,500 should be raised to fund the construction of its own building at Winchester Square. At the February 23, 1885 Board meeting, trustees voted to purchase the lot of land from John and William McKnight on the corner of Sherman and State Streets for $5,500, and a building committee was created to propose a plan for the School for Christian Workers building. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Francis R. Richmond and B. Hammett Seabury and built by E.W. Shattuck Co.

From the time the School began in January of 1885 until the time the building was completed, classes were held in the Hope Church where David Allen Reed (the School’s founder and first president) was the minister. In March of 1886, students moved into their rooms in the new building and on April 1 of that year construction was completed. The School for Christian Workers building was officially dedicated on June 1, 1886.

According to the November 7, 1885 issue of the Springfield Daily Union and a 1923 copy of The Springfield Student, the building consisted of several spaces: a reading room (26 X 18 feet), a gymnasium (49 X 41 feet), a recitation room for evening classes (16 X 20 feet), an amusement room for quiet games (14 X 20 feet), a parlor, and the secretary's cozy room (14 X 16 feet). The building also contained 50 sleeping rooms designed to comfortably accommodate 75 students on the third and fourth floors. In May of 1886, the Armory Hill YMCA began renting rooms in the building and utilizing the gymnasium. Jacob Bowne, chair of the Armory Hill YMCA and head of the School's YMCA department, donated his volumes as the nucleus for a library and the kitchen at the time was located in Hope Church.

In his third annual report on September 1886, Jacob Bowne included a detailed list of the gymnastics equipment on site: punching bags; chest developers; wrist, forearm, and abdominal machines; chest and rowing weights; giant and floor pullies; horizontal, parallel, and breast bars; climbing ropes and poles; quarter circle rope ladder; spring board and leaping standards; flying rings and Indian clubs; wooden and iron dumbbells; two spirometers; two dynamometers as well as 100 dressing boxes, three tubs and a shower bath. Modeled after that at the Boston YMCA, the gymnasium also contained a running track, gymnastics apparatus, bathrooms and water closets, and dressing rooms.

The School for Christian Workers consisted of two departments; a YMCA department and a Sunday school department. The Young Men’s Christian Association Training School, established in 1887, included a Secretarial Department, preparing students for secretary work in the YMCA, as well as a Physical (Gymnasium) Department, preparing students to become physical directors in the YMCA. The second department of the School was a Sunday School Workers’ Training School which prepared Christian laymen for the work either of a Sunday School Missionary, Pastors’-Helper, or Sunday School Superintendent.

On June 10, 1890 the departments of the School for Christian Workers separated into two separate schools: the School for Christian Workers and the Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College). Both schools continued to share the building in Winchester Square until 1896, when the Training School moved to its present location on Massasoit Lake (formerly Watershops Pond). Initially, according to the September 19th, 1890 trustee records, it was agreed that the YMCA Training School would purchase the original school building from the School for Christian Workers. On January 9, 1891, during the International YMCA Training School Trustee Meeting, that decision was rescinded because land on Alden Street became available that was more suited for the needs of the Training School. The thirty acres of land were purchased from two prominent Springfield families looking to settle an estate. Soon after, the School purchased the adjoining land from William R. Purple which added another 450 feet to the school’s waterfront. In 1894, the first building on the new land, Judd Gymnasia was constructed and in 1896 the first dormitory. In 1896 the transfer of the International YMCA Training School to the new campus was complete. In 1897 the School for Christian Workers became the Bible Normal College and moved to Hartford, Connecticut to share the resources of the Hartford Seminary.

The original School for Christian Workers building has significant historic value as it is where the game of basketball was invented by James Naismith and the site of the first game in 1891. In 1965 the building was torn down and the land paved to create a parking lot. In 1995 the land was purchased by the McDonald’s Corporation who was unaware of the significance of the property. When construction began on the new restaurant, the site was excavated exposing the original cellar and bricks of the School for Christian Workers building. The McDonald’s restaurant that now stands on the corner of State and Sherman streets has a monument commemorating the site and is decorated with NBA pennants from most NBA teams as well as portraits donated by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Scope and Contents of the Collections

This collection documents the first school building for Springfield College, at the time the School for Christian Workers, located on the corner of Sherman and State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. Included in the collection are photographs and negatives of the outside of the building dating from around 1885 to 1946. Interior shots of the building, including one of the few photographs of the gymnasium where James Naismith created basketball as well as pictures of the early library and dorm rooms in the building, are included. There is also a newspaper article that talks about the removal of the original steps and their donation to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and an article that talks about Frank Wolcott’s, Springfield College Faculty member and long-time Gymnastics Coach, retrieval of bricks from the basement of the building of which one is in this collection. There are two bricks from this retrieval within the collection. Materials, including the printed text and copies of the murals and photographs of the Monument for the creation of Basketball erected at Mason Square in the summer of 2010 and some newspaper articles on the monument, are represented in one folder. Within the folder about the original bricks are also photographs (included ones with Coach Frank Wolcott), newspaper articles, correspondence, and invitations on the dedication of the McDonald’s at Mason Square. And within the photographs are some images of the McDonalds that now sits on the site of the Original School Building. Finally there are a group of letters from alum and supporters of the school regarding donations for the furnishing of the rooms for the students from 1885-1888.