Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: Boston's Changeful Times: Origins of Preservation and Planning in America

I've just finished Michael Holleran's 1998 book on the evolution of the preservation movement in Boston and America. It started a bit dry and academic - no surprise there, given the subject - but it went on to be quite informative. Featured are the early battles over the old Brattle Square and Old South churches, the Old State House, and the loss of the Hancock house on Beacon Hill. Over time, we see questions of motivation arise - what is worth saving, and why? A chapter on parks and open spaces leads on to a exploration of the skyline and building height limits, with an emphasis on Copley Square and Beacon Hill and the State House. The book ends with the institution of zoning regulations around the time of the First World War.

All in all, an interesting entry in the story of Boston and how the past was integrated into the modern city.

Boston's Changeful Times: Origins Of Preservation and Planning in America, by Michael Holleran.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Taverns of Boston Town.

Lamb Tavern - site of the later Adams House, Washington street. First stage coach to Providence started there in 1767. Present during the Siege of Boston, pulled down in 1845 for the Adams House.

City Hotel, Brattle street, ca. 1860.

A stage coach terminus, the building was taken down in about 1868. It is reported that for almost 100 years, a cannon ball fired by Washington's troops sat lodged in it's wall.

The Province House

King's Head Tavern, North and Lewis (or Fleet) streets. Erected in 1691, This etching was drawn from an 1855 photograph. 

Green Dragon Tavern.

One of Boston's most famous tavern, frequented by patriots during the run-up to the Revolutionary War. Also the first Boston headquarters of the Freemasons, Joseph Warren being the Grand Master. The building was torn down when the street was widened in 1828. 

The Sun Tavern was built in 1690, opposite what would be Faneuil Hall. A James Day kept a tavern in the building in the 1750s, and the Portsmouth stage coach stopped there.

Hancock Tavern.

Province house, 1679, 1864 fire - residence of Royal Governors, Inn and boarding house, Mr T. Wait.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Roxbury Fire of 1894

Boston baseball grounds before the fire (BPL Leventhal Map Center).

Boston has suffered many disasters in her history, but most, putting aside a single big earthquake and the odd hurricane (and the molasses flood), have been fires. Colonial Boston was a city of wood frame buildings, and was swept repeatedly by fire. While the memory of these events are lost to all but the specialist, most Bostonians are familiar with the great fire of 1873, which left much of the warehouse district in ruins.  But gone from popular memory is the city's second largest fire, the great Roxbury fire of 1894.

The Heart Of The Fire From The Corner Of Tremont and Cabot Streets (From the Boston Globe, May 6, 1894).

The Boston Beaneaters were playing the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, May 15, 1894. The ball park had been built in 1871, and rebuilt and enlarged with new stands in 1888. After the end of the third inning, smoke was noticed coming from under the right field bleachers. Reports after the fire said that a small group of men saw the fire, and could easily have stomped it out, but a policeman told them to leave it alone, and that he would take care of it. When Beaneater right fielder Jimmy Bannon saw flames through the stands, he ran to put it out. A gust of wind fed the flames, and Bannon was driven back. Soon, the right field bleachers caught fire. From there, the outfield fence caught fire, and ran to the left field bleachers, engulfing them as well. Fans stood in the middle of the field to avoid the flames.

1890 map showing where the fire would occur.

 Observers later said that district fire chief Sawyer, present at the game, refused to call in the alarm until it was too late to prevent the spread of the fire from the bleachers to the grandstand and out into the surrounding neighborhood. The buildings that backed on Berlin street were soon burning. In an hour, twelve acres had burned, 200 buildings had been destroyed, and 1900 people were homeless. 

1895, showing lost buildings in the burned district.

From Berlin street, the fire spread to Burke, Cunard, Coventry and Walpole streets. driving people from their homes so fast that they didn't have time to save any of their property.

Looking At The Fire From Rear Of Ball Grounds.

Three Abandoned Engines on Tremont Street

The Burned District.

Scene At The Ruggles Street Church.

Friday, April 26, 2013

New Boston Blog: Retro Boston Remembered

Charles from Shopping Days in Retro Boston has a  new blog: Retro Boston Remembered. Make sure to check it out - Charles does a lot of work for his posts, and always comes up with great material .

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Boston's Film Debut: 1901-1905

I just wanted to share this link to four short films made in Boston at the very start of the 20th century, courtesy of the Boston Public Library. The quality isn't good, but then again it comes from the start of the cinema era. Enjoy.

Boston's first movies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Telegraph Hill

"View of Boston from Telegraph Hill, South Boston" by Bernard Spindler, 1854.

George Washington famously brought cannon to bear on occupied Boston from Dorchester Heights, and forced the British to evacuate the town.  In the early years of the 19th century, what had been Dorchester land was annexe to Boston, and the district of South Boston came into being. Dorchester Heights, so called, was a pair of adjacent hills,

Dorchester Heights, 1806. The left of the two adjacent hills became Telegraph hill.

This 1839 map (turned 90 degrees from normal orientation) shows Telegraph street, showing the earliest example of the name I can find.

When I decided to write a post about Telegraph hill, I assumed there would be a source giving the origin of the name.  In fact, there is no source I can find that gives the history of the name. Rather, the story comes roundabout from multiple sources. And like all such inventions, many people in many places contributed to what is now called a the telegraph. For our story, we can begin in France, where Claude Chappe developed a semaphore system in 1792 that eventually spread from city to city across the nation. Signals were sent by manipulating two flexing arms that could represent 196 characters. The arms were placed on towers in sight of each other, and could relay messages much faster than a man could travel.

Claude Chappe's telegraphe. Jonathan Grout's mechanism would have looked similar.

In 1801, Jonathan Grout, a Massachusetts, built the first such optical telegraph system in the United States, spanning 70 miles between Boston and Martha's Vineyard, to serve the commercial shipping business. Mechanisms similar to that used in France were built on hills running down the South Shore of Massachusetts and across Cape Cod to Woods Hole. Little is available on the actual system used, but apparently it differed somewhat from Claude Chappe's original design. Grout used the name telegraphe, so he must have known of the Frenchman's work.

Grout's system was not a money-maker, and went out of business by 1807. In 1822, John Rowe set up a similar system in Boston harbor, which remained in operation until the 1850s. The problem is that there is no reference I can find to the use of Dorchester heights in either Grout's or Rowe's system, although it certainly must have been so. There is a reference to Rowe's signals being transmitted from Boston to a harbor island, and from there to Hull, but I cannot find South Boston's Telegraph hill in any of the sources that are online. And unfortunately, the older books that may contain such citations are hidden away in libraries.

Of course, Boston has a place in the history of the electric telegraph as well, but that is a story for another blog post.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Old Girl's Trade High School

The Students of Girl's Trade High School, circa 1914 (all photos, taken from glass slides, courtesy of the City of Boston Archive).

In a previous entry, I posted a photo of Girl's Trade High School on Hemenway street.  At the time, I didn't know that Girl's Trade had an earlier home in the South End. Although the school may have had a still earlier home, I suspect that Girl's Trade started its life in the former Academy of the Sacred Heart on Chester Square.

Academy of the Sacred Heart, 1888. The name of the street was, from the Harvard bridge, West Chester Park, Chester Park, Chester Square, and East Chester Park to Edward Everett Square. In 1894, the name was changed to Massachusetts avenue throughout.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart was a Catholic school for girls, first located in Boston's South End. Wikipedia says it was founded in 1880, but an 1883 map doesn't show it present at the Massachusetts avenue site. The school moved to Commonwealth avenue, and then to Newton, where it continues today as the Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. 

Girl's Trade High School, 1928.The school has expanded into two adjacent buildings.

The city of Boston took over the property, and kept its use as a girl's school, in this case the Trade School for Girls. The city bought the two adjacent buildings as well, and expanded the school into them. 

Working out in the gymnasium.

I particularly like this photo, because it shows what I imagine would have been the chapel of the Sacred Heart school. I assume this was the back of the building that extended behind the Puritan Theatre, as shown in the map directly above.

A future draper, working on a dress.

The caption for this tinted photo describes this girl as doing draper's work. A draper was the highest level of dressmaker, working to fit the individual as she assembled the dress, rather than working for measurements. This would have been high end work, so these girls were not all being prepared for low-income drudge work. 

A costume design student sketching at the blackboard.

Apparently, senior students could study costume design and do real creative work. I love that hat.

Evening class students making themselves dresses.

In the early years of the 20th century, Boston had many evening school programs. Some were for young people who had to work during the day, and others must have been for adults. We can see we're in one of the bow-front rooms that can be seen in the first photo above. And of course we can also see that this school was integrated. Most of the day students shown in the photos are white, so this may have been particular to the evening school. 

Learning to use stitching machines.

This scene is more like what I'd expect out of a trade school - learning to use machinery to do factory work. Or course the factories may have been quite small, and the girls could have worked doing alterations, or even started their own businesses. I've seen quite a few listings for dressmakers that were located in private homes.

Addendum: I just stumbled on this video from a 1911 short film showing the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, and it immediately reminded me of the photos above.