While no one likes an old run down, dilapidated town, it is sad to see America's oldest structures be given over to the elements and time without restoration. Such is the case with "The Leonard Block" in Taunton, Massachusetts. According to the Taunton Gazette, the site was once the home of the Taunton Leonard family. (It is located 2.5 miles from the James Leonard house located at 3 Warren Street in Taunton). James and Henry Leonard, brothers and iron masters, who were induced to build and operate a bloomery (ironworks) in Taunton in 1652.
"It was at a town meeting conferred and agreed upon between the inhabitants of Taunton and Henry Leonard of Braintree: Imprimis It was agreed and granted by the town to Henry and James Leonard, his brother, and Ralph Russell, consent to come hither and join with certain of our inhabitants to set up a Bloomery Work on the Two Mile River. It was also agreed and granted by a free rote of the town, that such particular inhabitants as shall concur together with the said persons in this design, shall have free liberty from the town so to do, to build and set up this work, and that they shall have the woods on either side of the Two Mile River, wheresoever it is common on that side of the river, to cut for their cord wood to make coals, and also to dig and take moine or ore at Two Mile Meadow, or in any of the commons appertaining to the town, where it is not now in propriety.” Oct. 21, 1652 (From "Ancient Iron Works in Taunton", by J. W. D. Hall, of Taunton, Mass.)
A large red brick Victorian building was built at 107-111 Main Street in 1870 for George J. Leonard, who ran a grocery store in the front while he and his family lived in back. If he was a descendant of James or Henry, this could imply that the property was in the Leonard family for over 218 years.
The structure's facade was unique in the way it curved to conform with the street. It was built next to City Hall, which had been built in 1848, but was later rebuilt in 1896. An arsonist recently set fire to the attic of City Hall, prompting a complete restoration.
Since the construction of the Leonard Block, after serving as the home of Leonard's grocery store, it was used for various commercial purposes including The Leonard's Gymnasium, J.M. Wells furniture distributor, The Taunton-Herald News, Goldstein & Antine's clothing store, B. E. Stanton's clothing store, and finally, the home of The Star Theater. In 2002, the building sold for $154,000 and fell into disrepair. Becoming a hazard, It was demolished in December of 2014.
Fortunately, a street view image was taken for Google Maps in 2009, shown here. Use this interactive tool to have a look around!
Star Theater demolition smoother than expected, (Taunton Gazette, Dec. 24, 2014) [Link]
Past attempts to restore Taunton's Star Theater ended in 1990s, (Charles Winokoor, Taunton Gazette, Dec. 13, 2013 [Link]
Old Colony History Museum Liberty & Walking Tour [Link]
Halls of Bristol County [Link]