Old West Church, Boston

The Old West Church on Cambridge Street in Boston, probably in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The church in 2015:

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Old West Church was established in 1737, as one of Boston’s many Congregational churches. This particular building was built in 1806, and was designed by prominent early American architect Asher Benjamin. It is architecturally very similar to one of Benjamin’s earlier Boston churches, the Charles Street Meeting House, which is still standing on the opposite side of Beacon Hill from here. The church closed in 1892, but the historic building was saved from demolition and put to a new use as a branch library for the Boston Public Library. It was one of the few buildings to survive the urban renewal project of the 1950s that destroyed most of the West End, and after the library closed in 1960 it was purchased by the United Methodist Church. The interior was restored to its original appearance and reopened in 1964, and today it remains in use as a Methodist church.

Charles Street Meeting House, Boston (2)

Looking north on Charles Street toward the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston, around 1889. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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As mentioned in the previous post, this historic church was built in 1807 as the Third Baptist Church. It played a major role in the abolitionist movement in Boston, and it was later the home to the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church from 1876 until 1939. It was converted into offices in the early 1980s, but from the exterior it looks essentially the same as it did over 125 years ago. It is one of the 15 landmarks that comprises the Boston African American National Historic Site on Beacon Hill.  The buildings beyond it on Charles Street haven’t changed much, either. They date back to the second half of the 19th century, and like so many other buildings in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, they have been well-preserved over the years.

Charles Street Meeting House, Boston (1)

The Charles Street Meeting House, at the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon Streets in Boston, around 1889. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The church in 2015:

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This historic church in the Beacon Hill neighborhood was built in 1807 as the Third Baptist Church. It was designed by Asher Benjamin, a New England native who was one of the leading American architects of the Federal era, and at the time it was located right along the waterfront. The building hasn’t moved in the past two centuries, but the shoreline has; Charles Street once ran along the Charles River at the western edge of the city, but after widespread landfill projects in the 19th century the church is now a considerable distance from the water.

Prior to the Civil War, this church was prominent in Boston’s abolitionist movement, and it hosted speakers such as Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Sojourner Truth. After the war, though, the congregation declined, and merged with the First Baptist Church by 1876. The building was sold to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became the Charles Street A.M.E. Church.

When the first photo was taken around 1889, the A.M.E. Church still owned it, and they remained here until 1939. By then, Boston’s black population had shifted away from its historic roots in Beacon Hill, and the congregation relocated to Roxbury. The building was later used as an Albanian Orthodox church and later as a Unitarian Universalist church until the late 1970s. A few years later, it was converted into offices. The interior was completely renovated, but the exterior was preserved, and today it is a part of the National Park Service’s Boston African American National Historic Site.