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Friday, June 24, 2011

Historic Boston

Going back to the United States, my upcoming case study is Boston, one of the oldest cities in the country, having been founded by Puritans in 1630. Long an intellectual capital of the nation, it had the first school and later university in the US (Harvard), and was at the forefront of the fight for independence. A notable nearby battle of the revolution is the Battle of Bunker Hill, today commemorated by a large monument in Charlestown. 

While Boston was once a center of the country, by the 19th century other more industrial cities expanded at a greater pace. For comparison, in 1890 the city's population was 450,000, compared to New York at 1.5 million, Philadelphia 1 million, and Chicago 1.1 million. Nonetheless, Boston has always punched above its weight. 

There is an abundance of historical photographs of the city available online, most either at the Library of Congress or the Boston Public Library. I highly recommend taking a look, especially as Boston was a center of the development of photography in America during the technology's early phases, led by John Adams Whipple and James Wallace Black. The first sharp aerial photograph of a city from a balloon was taken of Boston by Black in 1860 (Frenchman Nadar was the first in Paris in 1858 but his photos are rather blurry). Black's photo is of astonishing clarity, as you'll see below.

Images courtesy:
Library of Congress

Boston Public Library

Some of the larger bird's eye views best seen here.

A romanticized view of Boston, 1778, by Francois Habermann
Charlestown plan, around 1820
Boston harbor, 1833, by W.J. Bennett
1841, by Robert Havell. The "city on a hill" aspect, to quote John Winthrop, was once much more pronounced than it is today
Louisburg Square in the 1850's. Today this is one of the best addresses in the city, home to such notables as Senator John Kerry
Corner of Columbus Avenue and Dartmouth Street. It is much different today
Tontine Crescent, once a fashionable address downtown, demolished as far back as 1858
Also since demolished, Pemberton Square was built in 1835 before making way for a courthouse in 1885
The corner of Tremont and Boylston in 1859
Chauncy Street, 1860. A very pleasant mix of building scales and setbacks. Simply a beautiful streetscape
Dock Square, 1860
Here's the extraordinary balloon photo by J.W. Black, 1860
Park Street, which borders Boston Common. These buildings are still here, though much changed
Brattle Street in the 1860's, during some kind of celebration
Franklin Street in the 1860's, the new buildings which replaced Tontine Crescent, though soon destroyed by the 1872 fire 
John Hancock's home, built in the 1730's, before its demolition in 1863. What a tragic loss of the nation's history
Corner of Beacon and Bowdoin
Beacon Street in 1870. What a marvelous row of homes, benefiting greatly from the lack of asphalt and cars
Beacon again, a bit further west than the previous image
Court Square in 1870, not more than a back alley parking spot today
Commonwealth Avenue in the 1870's, in the early years of Back Bay's development
Masonic Temple at the corner of Boylston and Tremont. Very fairy tale-esque, unfortunately these buildings are now gone
Eastern end of Beacon Street in 1875
An 1875 celebration on Washington Street commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill
My favorite of the bird's eye views, by John Bachmann, 1877
Close-up. This must have taken forever to draw
1880, by H.H. Rowley
Close-up of the very geometric style of drawing
Dr. Flower's Hotel, corner of Holyoke Street and Columbus Avenue, around 1880. It no longer exists, replaced by a parking lot
Niles Building, School Street
Harvard Musical Association in Beacon Hill. The association is still there
The west side of Bowdoin Square
Beacon Street in 1887
Beacon Street in 1890
Post Office Square
Corner of Tremont and Park Streets
Boylston Street in 1891
Corner of Market and Court Streets in 1895. Must have been a hot day, judging by the awnings
Market Street, with Quincy Market on the left. What a visceral experience commerce once was
Tremont Street in 1895
Winter Street
Newbury Street in Back Bay, 1898
Arlington Street bordering the Public Garden, and the fresh new homes of the wealthy
Charlestown around 1900
Old State House. Surprisingly there are few Boston photochroms, but this one is fantastic. This is the oldest surviving public building in the city
Post Office in 1900, demolished around 1930 to make way for a high-rise
Parker House on School Street
Commonwealth Avenue in 1904
The wonderful Hotel Vendome. Subsequent renovations and a fire have greatly diminished its once fanciful roof
Summer Street
The Back Bay in 1905, looking almost like a toy town. I find it quite shocking these were built without back gardens
Boston in 1905, by F.D. Nichols. Already we see the dominance of high-rises downtown
Boston Common, looking south from the Massachusetts Statehouse
Adams House hotel on Washington Street, 1906
Mechanics Hall on Huntington Avenue, demolished in 1959
School Street in 1906
Tremont Street, once a center for theater, less so in recent years
Tremont again, with Parker House center
Washington Street, 1906
Washington again. Notice how the trolleys have pushed pedestrians to the sides, a trend that would grow with cars and is de facto now, unfortunately
Boylston Street in the 1910's. The architecture is beginning to look more modern, especially the roofs
Milk Street, and a car!
Boston Common from above
Pemberton Square in 1920. One can hardly recall the charming residential area it once was
Back Bay in 1925
Charlestown in 1929, in the center the Bunker Hill Monument
Downtown in 1930. Custom House Tower was the tallest building in the city until 1964
Looks like sprawl has been around for many years in Boston. Hard to imagine much of the city is infill land
The North End in 1944, as far as I can see completely devoid of trees
I hope you've enjoyed these images of Boston. Coming up, the first Boston case studies. 

7 comments:

  1. Great intro to your upcoming case study. One note - Harvard is located in Cambridge, not Boston.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Pete. You're right of course, it is in Cambridge. However, I was referring to the general context of its founding and founders, they being Boston ministers. Cambridge was simply a convenient location for a campus, plenty of land not far from the city. There was also a quote describing the then college as "a church in the wilderness", out on the edge of town, certainly intellectually in tune with Boston life and society more so than Cambridge, then just a tiny village.

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  3. I really appreciate the historical photos. It is difficult to come by such a large collection of important pieces of history. Having lived in Boston, I can admire how it has transformed but yet stayed true to its architecture in most cases. I have to say that the commerce is not as bustling today as the photos depict 100 to 150 years ago. The smokestacks are not as prevalent either.
    Thanks. Hanzo

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  4. Thanks for the kinds words, Hans. Historical photos are also a passion of mine and its always rewarding to come upon new ones.

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  5. Wonderful photos! I lived in Newburyport, Mass. at one time, and in the 1960's, the city intended to bulldoze its early 19th century market area and replace it with a concrete shopping mall; I remember a model of this being displayed in city hall. A small group of residents resisted, and the downtown was pretty much preserved, and is vibrant today. The mayor who championed the demolition of course later took credit for the preservation. New architecture and change can be good, but good grief - hold fast onto that which is old and beautiful. It connects us to heritage and gives us a sense of "place". I may not own the buildings that I see as I walk the streets of my town, but they are PART of that experience, and in a sense, belong to everyone.

    Hans (Not the same Hans as before! :)

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    1. I absolutely agree, Hans. Buildings may be private property, but they've been around longer than any of us, and owners should see themselves as stewards. They're our shared cultural heritage, history which belongs to all of us, and to destroy that verges on barbarism. Thanks for visiting and thanks for letting me know about Newburyport, it looks like you also have a lot of beautiful old buildings and pleasant streets. I'm very glad to hear it was saved.

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  6. These are, indeed, wonderful photos!
    I especially like the Adams House in 1906. You probably know that Calvin Coolidge stayed there when political office brought him to Boston. I was just looking in my Adams House file re: its demolition in April of 1931. Mayor Curley presided and decreed that the fireplace mantel from Coolidge's room #178 should be a gift to the former famous occupant.
    I've been searching for some time for a photo of another hotel - the Boston Tavern also on Washington Street near Bromfield.

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