Bates Hall, Boston Public Library (2)

Another view of Bates Hall in the McKim Building, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bates Hall in 2016:

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Like the previous post, these photos show Bates Hall, the main reading room at the Boston Public Library, as it appeared when it first opened in 1895 and in 2016. The view in the other post was from the opposite side of the room, but both angles give an idea of the size of this room, which runs the entire length of the building and has a 50-foot tall, cathedral-like vaulted ceiling and massive windows on the Copley Square side. The only difference here in these two photos is that the first photo has no people or books, so presumably it was taken in the weeks or months before the building was completed and opened to the public, perhaps to give Bostonians an idea of what their unprecedented new library would look like.

Bates Hall, Boston Public Library

Bates Hall inside the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bates Hall in 2016:

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The historic McKim Building opened in 1895 as the main branch of the Boston Public Library, and it is an architecturally significant building on both the exterior and interior. Bates Hall, which is 218 feet long and 50 feet to the top of the arched ceiling, is the library’s main reading room. It is named in honor of Joshua Bates, who donated $50,000 to the library shortly after it was established in 1852. Equivalent to nearly $1.5 million today, this gift helped to purchase books for the new library, which was one of the first public libraries in the country. The first photo was taken only a year after the building opened, but today, after a major restoration that was started in 1996, the room looks just as grand as it did 120 years ago.

Cornhill from Washington Street, Boston

Looking up Cornhill from Washington Street, on April 14, 1897. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2016:

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This narrow cobblestone street in downtown Boston connected Adams Square with nearby Scollay Square, and it was once a major literary center of the city, with many bookstores and publishers. When the first photo was taken, the early 19th century buildings here had a variety of businesses, with signs advertising for carpets, furniture, wallpaper, signs, trunks, and rubber goods. The first photo also shows a trolley coming down the street from Scollay Square, but this would soon change with the opening of the Tremont Street Subway in less than five months. Part of it was built under Cornhill, and it was the nation’s first subway, allowing trolleys to avoid the congested streets between Boston Common and North Station.

Nearly all of the buildings in the first photo were demolished in the early 1960s to build the Government Center complex. City Hall is just out of view on the right side of the 2016 photo, and the only building left standing in this scene is the Sears’ Crescent, partially visible in the distance on the left side of the street in both photos. Built in 1816 and renovated around 1860, this building still follows the original curve of Cornhill, serving as a reminder of what the neighborhood looked like before one of Boston’s most controversial urban renewal projects.

Wadsworth House, Cambridge, Mass

The Wadsworth House on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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The Wadsworth House is the second-oldest building at Harvard, after the nearby Massachusetts Hall. It was built in 1726 for college president Benjamin Wadsworth, who lived here until his death in 1737. For over a century, eight additional Harvard presidents lived here, with the last being Edward Everett, who was president here from 1846 to 1849, in the midst of a lengthy political career that included serving as a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, US Senator, and US Secretary of State. However, the most prominent resident of this house was George Washington. It served as his first headquarters when he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army in July 1775, and he stayed here for two weeks before moving into the John Vassall House on Brattle Street.

Although no longer the home of the Harvard president, the Wadsworth House is still part of the campus and is used for offices. Over the years there have been some additions to the side and back, but overall the nearly 300 year old building remains an excellent example of early 18th century Georgian architecture.

Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass

Looking west toward Harvard Square on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Harvard Square in 2016:

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The first photo was taken only a few years before the Red Line opened. At the time, people traveling from Cambridge to Boston had to use the streetcars, as shown here. In the distance on the left side of the photo, passengers are boarding a trolley whose destination is “Subway Park Street,” and the trolley to the right of it is presumably heading outbound from Park Street, on the way to its destination at Mount Auburn. This route was replaced in 1912 by the much faster Red Line subway, which originally ran from Park Street to here at Harvard Square, and a station entrance was built in the middle of the square. The station also included a streetcar tunnel that allowed passengers to easily transfer between the subway and the trolleys; this tunnel was later modified for buses and is still in use as the Harvard Bus Tunnel.

As for the buildings at Harvard Square, very little is left from the turn of the century. None of the buildings in the first photo have survived, with most being demolished in the early 20th century to build the current Colonial Revival buildings. Most of the businesses themselves are long gone, except for the Harvard Cooperative Society. Originally located in the Greek Revival-style building in the center of the photo, this bookstore was founded in 1882 as a cooperative for Harvard students. Now commonly known as The Coop, the bookstore is still in operation in a different building on the same spot, and serves students at both Harvard and MIT. Otherwise, the only landmark remaining from the first photo is the gate on the far right side, which connects the square to Harvard Yard.

Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass

Christ Church on Garden Street in Cambridge, on October 25, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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This church, which is also visible in the previous post, is the oldest existing church building in Cambridge. It was completed in 1761 and designed by Peter Harrison, who was the first formally trained architect to work in the future United States. It is one of only a few existing buildings that he definitely designed, along with King’s Chapel in Boston and several others in Newport, Rhode Island. Like King’s Chapel, and unlike most colonial New England churches, Christ Church was Anglican, and was intended to serve the town’s small but wealthy Anglican population along with students at nearby Harvard. Early in the American Revolution, Cambridge served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. Many of the Anglicans here were Loyalists who fled the city, and the church closed for several years. However, George and Martha Washington, who were Anglicans themselves, did attend a service here in 1775.

The building reopened in 1790, and along with the Washingtons, the church has seen a number of other distinguished visitors. In 1879, Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here until a new pastor asked him to stop, because he was Dutch Reformed rather than Episcopalian. Nearly a century later, the church was more accommodating to Martin Luther King, Jr., who held a press conference here after Harvard refused to allow him to use one of their buildings.

Aside from an 1857 expansion to accommodate its growing congregation, the church has remained true to Harrison’s original design, and over 250 years later it is still in use as an Episcopalian church. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.