Monday, October 31, 2011

Louis Prang

Louis Prang & Co. printing, Roxbury street. The building is still there.

Louis Prang Printing Company, Roxbury street (1884). Building marked with red star. The Prang house is shown at the back of the property, on Centre street.

This entry strays from Boston Proper to Roxbury Crossing to remember Louis Prang, printer, and father of the American Christmas card. And unlike the subject of many entries, this original building still stands. Born in 1824, Louis Prang was a German immigrant who came to Boston in 1850. After failed attempts to enter into business, Prang found work as a wood engraver.

Prang began his career in lithography printing in 1856, and in 1860 bought out his partner and formed L. Prang and Co. A trip to Europe during the 1860s allowed Prang to learn the chromolithography process, which would revolutionize the printmaking and advertising fields with it's bright colors. The company produced both copies of popular paintings and album cards, meant to be collected. In 1873, the company entered the British Christmas card market, and the next year introduced the product to the United States (see below).

L. Prang Christmas Card.

L. Prang chromolithograph print.

The Prang company brought art to the middle class home at a reasonable price, bright colors (and many of them) to advertisements, and the tradition of exchanging Christmas cards (and all the other holiday cards to follow) to the American public. Louis Prang himself also supported the training of art teachers in the United States. His business just off Roxbury Crossing was a national leader, and he lived right behind it on Centre street, as was common of businessmen/entrepreneurs of the time.

The company merged with another in 1897 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. Louis Prang died twelve years later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pi(e) Alley

Washington street, arched entrance of Pi(e) alley.

Newsboys assembled in Pi(e) alley.

There are two stories for the origin of the name Pi or Pie Alley. The first refers to printer's type, or pi. When printing was done by assembling individual pieces of metal with characters on the top (yes, there was a time before laser printers), a pile of loose letters or other characters was called pi, or pied type. The presence of many newspaper publishers in the area probably first suggested the name.

The other option comes from the presence of a restaurant that served pie and drinks to newsboys and pressmen. Feel free to take your pick .

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lost Train Stations: Old Colony

Old Colony Depot, Kneeland street.

Old Colony Depot, Kneeland street, on the right, 1883.

While Boston's earliest railroad lines were laid out in the 1830s, it wasn't until 1844 that the Old Colony line was built between Boston and Plymouth. The line quickly expanded to serve southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with criss-crossing lines serving Cape Cod to Provincetown and Woods Hole, the southeast coast to New Bedford and Fall River, as well as Newport and Providence in Rhode Island. After many mergers and the resulting expansion, the company was bought out by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which gained an effective monopoly on rail service in southern New England.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Link Time: Medieval Boston

I meant to add a link to this web page a while ago, but it got lost in the bookmarks. This link is to an internet forum thread titled Medieval Boston, which features great photos of Boston street scenes lost to urban renewal during the mid-20th Century. Rather than pinch the photos, I think it's better to send you to the thread and let you read the comments as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Boston Floating Hospital

Boston Floating Hospital, 1932 (landlubber version) BPL Flickr photo group.

Boston Floating Hospital ship postcard.

Once upon a time, the Boston Floating Hospital actually floated.

Nurses working on the first Floating Hospital ship.

Under the influence of minister/philanthropist/writer Edward Everett Hale and a similar facility in New York City, Reverend Rufus Tobey founded the Boston Floating Hospital in 1894. The facility began on a rented boat, with the intention of taking mothers and children from the tenements out of the city and into the fresh air of Boston harbor for medical exams and care. They also sought to teach poor mothers how to care for their children. This element - middle class WASPs concern with the ability of immigrants to raise their children properly - ran through late 19th Century and later Protestant philanthropy.

In 1906, the organization built their own dedicated boat/clinic for the treatment of children. They became known for their advances in the typical childhood diseases of the day, particularly gastroenteritis, which often came from unrefrigerated milk. During the 1920s, they expanded to an on-shore facility, and in 1927 when the ship burned, the decision was made to move permanently to land. In 1931, the Jackson Memorial building opened.

Floating Hospital, 1938 (click to enlarge).

My only connection to the Floating Hospital is shown above. As the Forest Hills elevated train went down into the tunnel portal on the way in town, the Floating Hospital could be seen to the right. Most of what you saw was the backs of brick buildings and weedy trees growing up through asphalt, so it was not an attractive sight.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Piano Hub of the Universe

Chickering building, Tremont street (BPL Flickr group).

Chickering Piano Factory, Tremont street, 1895.

During the 19th Century, Boston became a national leader in piano manufacturing. Skilled craftsmen, many from Germany, brought the needed knowledge and experience, and the city's established cultural community supported them. Most of the factories were established in the South End, while the companies usually had sales showrooms in the downtown retail district.

One of the earliest companies operated under the Chickering name. Jonas Chickering went into business with a partner in 1823, and by 1853 was knows as Chickering and Sons. The original factory was on Washington street in Boston (at a time there was no 'South End' yet), but a fire in the 1850s destroyed the building and sent then to Tremont street in the South End, where the building still stands, now converted to housing and artist space. During the mid-19th Century, Chickering was the largest piano manufacturer in the country, with one of the largest building in the nation, and it's quality was among the highest in the world. The plant was so large that the nearest train station on the Boston Providence line two blocks away at Camden street was named Chickering Station.

Emerson Piano Company.

Emerson Piano Company, Harrison avenue and Waltham street, 1908.

William P. Emerson founded his company in 1849. His pianos featured the finest exotic woods, expert woodworking and high quality sound. The company lasted until the start of World War II.

Hallet and Davis factory.

Hallet and Davis, Harrison avenue, 1902. Now a parking lot.

This company started as Brown & Hallet in 1835 on Washington street. Various partnerships were formed and dissolved, with Hallet the only consistent member. Like Chickering, they moved from Washington street to the South End, in this case Harrison avenue, where they produced high quality pianos during the late 19th and early 20th Century. They also produced fine player pianos during the early 20th Century.

Charles C. Briggs apprenticed with Boston piano makers, and opened his own business in 1868. He was followed in the business by his son, and like many other producers, the company was bought out and the name disappeared by the Depression. The listed address was at the corner of Washington and Dover streets in the South End. I assume this would have been the showroom and offices, as I found what looks like the factory on Albany street.

A. M. McPhail Piano Company.

The McPhail company was another producer of high quality pianos in Boston. The company was founded in 1837, and in the 1880s moved to Washington and Waltham streets in the South End.
McPhail was one of the few Boston piano companies to stay in business and independent through the Depression, surviving until the 1950s.

Bay State Organs, Albany street, 1902.

And let's not forget the piano's cousin the organ! Bay State Organ was founded in 1875. We think of organs being used in churches, but they were also popular home instruments. Before the development of the electric organ, domestic organs were foot-powered, the foot pedal used to fill bellows to blow air through reeds. Unfortunately, Bay State Organ left behind few traces to be found on the internet.

Smith American Organ.

Smith American Organ, Albany and East Brookline sts, 1883.

More organ love.