Monday, January 21, 2013

Alger's Gun Works

Cyrus Alger, 1827.

Cyrus Alger was born in West Bridgewater Massachusetts in 1781, and learned metal casting from his father. He set up a foundry in  Easton, and in 1809 moved to South Boston, recently stolen (legally, of course) from Dorchester and annexed to Boston . One source has him supplying cannon balls to the government during the War of 1812.

Cyrus Alger mortar, cast in 1863, currently located on the grounds of the North Carolina State Capitol (Wikimedia Commons).

Alger's Iron Foundry, South Boston, 1852.

In 1816, Alger bought from the South Boston Land Association most of the land west of the Dorchester Turnpike (now Dorchester avenue), and soon began filling in the mudflats of the South Bay. Here, he built his foundry, and made a name for himself as one of the leading metallurgists of his time. Alger developed a process for purifying cast iron, producing a much stronger material, and produced the first rifled gun in the nation. He personally supervised the pouring of the Columbiad, the largest gun to be produced up until that time.

From the Boston Directory, 1848-49. Although now known for his cannons, Alger's company supplied castings for many commercial uses. He had patents for improving both stoves and plows.

The red 'X' marks the 1855 location of the Alger foundry in South Boston, and shows both water and railroad access (BPL map collection). Much of the land at the site marked above was created by Alger.

Closeup map view of Cyrus Algers' Boston Iron Works, Iron (later Foundry) street, South Boston, 1852. The South Boston (Dover street) bridge crosses the South Bay on the left, and the Turnpike to the right.The site had both water and rail access - note Alger's Wharf  and the tracks of the Old Colony railroad.

Alger's gun yard, end of Sixth street, at the outer edge of South Boston (red), United States gun yard (blue) 1852. Cannon were tested by the batch. Samples would be taken from each batch, and fired into earthen walls repeatedly to test for defects. If there were no failures, the batch would be shipped.They also fired guns from Nut island, Quincy towards a target on Peddock's island.

Cyrus Alger was also active in the community. He served on Boston's Common Council and as an Aldermn.  He paid to have sidewalks laid and trees planted along Dorchester avenue. He is said to have kept his workers on half time when they weren't needed, and introduced the 10 hour day to South Boston industry. When he died, stores closed along the route of his funeral, and factories all over South Boston shut down. Today, Alger cannons sit in front of Town Halls and on village greens all over the country, and are bought and sold by collectors as pieces of American history.

Sources: Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, Nancy S. Seasholes.

 A genealogical history of that branch of the Alger family which springs from Thomas Alger of Taunton and Bridgewater, in Massachusetts. 1665-1875

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Boston's Depots and Terminals

When I set out to cover the old train depots of Boston on this blog, I didn't know that there was a book that covered the same subject.  I recently came across a reference to it online, and was able to access it from within my suburban library network. It is exactly what you'd expect - photos, prints, maps, schedules and posters, along with short histories of each line. There are quite a few images you won't find online, appendices, and a bibliography. Definitely worth a look for anyone interested in 19th (and 20th) century Boston and in the railroads that served it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Disappearance of General Joseph Warren

General Joseph Warren statue, 1904, with the Hotel Warren in the background.  (BPL Flickr photo group).

(edited to add a link to a Boston Globe article and contemporary photo of the statue, 1/11/2013)

Staying in Roxbury, we're going to honor the memory of General Joseph Warren, lament the loss of Warren square, and consider the, ahem, relocation of his statue.  Joseph Warren was born in Roxbury in 1741. He became a doctor, and played an active role in events leading up to the American revolution. Warren authored the Suffolk Resolves and served as President of the Massachusetts Provisional Congress. It was Joseph Warren who sent Dawes and Revere to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were on their way to Lexington. He was appointed to the rank of Major General (they did things like that in those days), but chose to serve in the front lines at Breeds Hill, where he was killed in the third assault when he was recognized by a British officer and shot in the head. In death, Warren was memorialized as the first martyr of the revolution.

Warren square, Roxbury, 1931.

 The Warren homestead was in Roxbury along what is now Warren street. Warren street is one of the original roads of Roxbury; it shows up in the earliest listing of roads, in 1662. In 1825, during another comprehensive listing of roads, it was renamed Warren street. The Warren house shown in the 1931 map above was built by Joseph Warren's nephew. John C. Warren in 1841. Like both his uncle Joseph and his father John Warren, John C. was a doctor. John Warren was one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, and served on the faculty. His son, John C. Warren, took his father's place on the faculty, and was one of the leading surgeons of his day.

The Warren house, 1850.An omnibus races up Warren street, a man rides on horseback, and dogs wander the street.

Ceremony at Warren square, circa 1940s. Note that a tree has grown up directly in front of the General.

In 1902, a statue of Joseph Warren was placed on an island in what became Warren square, within sight of the old Warren house. The photo above shows the community out to honor General Warren. A schoolboy band, scouts, a military contingent and dignitaries are observed by a small crowd. 

General Warren statue postcard, showing the New Jerusalem church, home to a Swedenborgian congregation. 

During the 1960s, the intersection was reworked, removing the triangular island that once housed the Warren statue. The buildings on the west side of Warren square are all gone, in including the handsome Hotel Warren building and the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem church. And gone, also, is the statue of Joseph Warren. So where did it go?

The story is that on a tour of City of Boston facilities, an alumnus of Roxbury Latin school noticed the statue of Warren in a garage somewhere. As it wasn't being shown, and as Warren was himself an alumnus of the school, the gentleman made inquiries as to whether the statue might temporarily be moved to Roxbury Latin, now located in West Roxbury. As the old home of the statue had disappeared, and as there was no apparent interest by current Roxbury residents in a statue of a dead white guy, the statue was duly sent to West Roxbury, where it sits to this day. There have been calls to bring Joseph Warren's statue  home, but with little community support, he stays at Roxbury Latin, overlooking Centre and Spring streets and St Theresa's church. A Boston Globe article from 2011 discusses the movement of the statue to West Roxbury in 1969, and provides a photo of the statue in its current location.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thomas F. Galvin Florist Shop.

 Thomas F. Galvin's florist shop, Boylston and Fairfield streets, circa 1900, courtesy of the Library of Congress image collection.

Boylston street, 1902.

Google has made changes to how images are shown in Blogger, but I'll cross my finger and hop you can click on the panoramic photo above and see it at full size. I've been meaning to share this photo for quite a while, but I lost track of where I had seen it. The circa 1900 photograph shows the then-new Thomas F. Galvin florist shop on Boylston street at 9:10 AM one morning.

While the building is a handsome one, I particularly like the image for the number of horse drawn carriages that are shown. You have one and two horse carriages, and drivers on the top and in front. And although there were autombiles on the street at the time, this photo shows none, and gives us an idea of what pre-automobile Boston looked like. The streetcar on Boylston street had been electrified, and an electric street lamp can be seen near the corner of Fairfield street, so times were changing. Before looking down Boylston street, I should mention that as shown on the following map, the streetcar hides our view of the train yards of the Boston and Albany line across the street. The first, tall  building we see looking down the opposite side of Boylston street is the then-new Lenox Hotel. Beyond we seem to see the Public Library, but Harvard Medical College was between the two. The tower of the Old South Church rises opposite the Library.

At this time of this photo, Mr Galvin had another shop at 124 Tremont street, directly opposite Park Street Church, and by 1925 he had moved the business to Federal street.

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