Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Boston's (Original) South End

On the 28th of July, 1888, the Boston Globe ran an article titled South End, 60 Years Ago, with the typical subtitles: Time and People Erase Its Former Beauty. Once Popular as a Residence for Wealthy Bostonians. Romantic Tales of "Ye Olden Tymes" told by a nonogenarian.

So that puts us in 1828, right? What did Boston's South End look like in 1828? Probably not what you think. Most readers will know that much of the South End is built land, filled the same way the better known Back Bay was. But Boston history nerds will know that Boston had a South End before the South End was built up around the old Boston Neck. That is, the old town of Boston, on the yet-to-be-expanded Shawmut peninusla, had a triangular residential district between the Common and Washington street that was, at the time, the southern part of town.

Let's take a look at the original layout of the town.

This is a German map from 1780. (Thanks to the BPL Norman B. Leventhal Map Center for sharing this and the following maps online). You probably know that the knob of land sticking out at the upper right is the North End. But the district towards the lower left, adjacent to the Common, was the original South End. Interestingly, the 1888 Globe article cited above didn't see the need to tell its readers the difference between the new and old South End.

To jump ahead in time and give you context, this 1874 map shows the district covered in the article.

Focus on the pink section labeled with the red 'R.' It is bordered by Boylston and Washington streets. On the left, extend the pink area a block to Pleasant street and you've got Boston's original South End. The article mentions Fayette, Elliot, Pleasant, Carver and Warrenton and Warren streets.

The following is an 1838 map from G. W. Boynton that shows the area with the then-new Boston-Providence train station at Park square.

Note the Charles river on the left, Boylston street running along the Common, Washington street and the curving Pleasant street. That was the South End, before new land created along Washington street and Boston Neck created a new South End. Boylston Market, at the corner of Boylston and Washington streets was considered part of the neighborhood, and its upstairs Boylston Hall was the original home of the Handel and Haydn Society. Later, the corner would become part of Boston's Combat Zone, but at one time it was one of the original South End's neighborhood amenities. 

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