Old South Meeting House, Boston

The view looking north on Washington Street toward Old South Meeting House, sometime shortly before the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The same view, in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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Around 1875. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same scene in 2011:

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The Great Boston Fire of 1872 was the most disastrous fire in Boston history.  It came just a year after the Great Chicago Fire, although Boston’s fire couldn’t hold a candle to Chicago’s (pun intended) when it came to the death toll and property losses.  Boston’s fire killed about 30, destroyed 776 buildings, and caused about $73.5 million in damages (about $1.4 billion in 2013 dollars).  Chicago, by comparison, killed 200-330, destroyed 17,500 buildings, and caused about $222 million in damage (around $4.2 billion today).

Still, Boston’s fire was extensive in its damage – it destroyed much of downtown Boston, including sections of Washington Street as seen in the first two photos.  However, the historic Old South Meeting House, built in 1729, survived thanks to volunteers using wet blankets to fend off the flames.

By the time the 1875 photo was taken, Boston was rebuilding, but so was Old South Church.  Because the fire destroyed so many homes, people began relocating to the newly filled in Back Bay, and the church followed them, constructing the oxymoronically-named New Old South Church at Copley Square.  No longer needed, the historic building was sold and was to be demolished.  However, given the building’s role in the events leading up the the Revolutionary War, Bostonians rallied to preserve it, making it one of the first such buildings to be preserved for its historical significance.

In the last two photos, most of the buildings in the foreground remain the same, although the skyline in the background has changed.  The building immediately to the right of the church is actually the same in the last three photos, and it looks similar to the burned-out building that occupied the spot before the fire.  I don’t know whether it is the same facade, or if it was just rebuilt with a similar style, but at the very least the existing building dates to the immediate aftermath of the fire.  As for the church, today it functions as a museum, although the congregation holds its annual Thanksgiving service at the building.

John Hancock Memorial, Boston

John Hancock’s grave in the Granary Burying Ground, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same site in 2009:

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Although John Hancock died in 1793, his grave wasn’t memorialized until 1896, about 2 years before the first photo, when the monument was dedicated.  The graveyard itself remains much the same as it was in 1898, down to the fence between it and the surrounding buildings, but the buildings themselves are very different from the ones at the end of the 19th century.

Paul Revere House, Boston

Paul Revere’s House in Boston, around 1898. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The house in 2014:

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Built in 1680, Paul Revere’s house is the oldest building in downtown Boston, and was owned by Paul Revere from 1770 to 1800. He actually added a third floor, as seen in the 1898 photo, but shortly after the photo was taken, the house was purchased by one of Revere’s descendants and restored to its 1680 appearance. Despite all of the modifications, it is estimated that about 90% of the structure is original to 1680, which is impressive, considering how different it looks in the two photos.

John Ward House, Salem

The John Ward House in Salem, Mass, around 1906.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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In 2013, albeit in a different location:

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These two photos aren’t technically in the same location, but the subject – the John Ward house in Salem – is the same. The house was built in 1684, and in 1910 it was moved a few blocks to its present location, as part of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Witch House, Salem

The Witch House in Salem, around 1901:

The same house in 2013:

The Witch House in Salem is one of the oldest houses in Massachusetts, and is the only surviving building in Salem with direct ties to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.  The house was owned by one of the judges, Jonathan Corwin.  It was likely built in the 1660s or 1670s, although some place its date in the 1640s or even earlier.  The 1901 photo was taken prior to its restoration and move; a street widening project necessitated moving it about 35 feet, and the house was restored to its presumed 17th century appearance, which did not include the attached office from the 1901 photo.

Buckman Tavern, Lexington

The Buckman Tavern in Lexington, Mass., between 1890 and 1901.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Between 1910 and 1920.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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In 2013:

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Built about 1690, Buckman’s Tavern was the gathering place for many of the militiamen on the morning of the Battle of Lexington, on April 19, 1775. Not much has changed in the appearance of the building since then, let alone since the above photos were taken. However, the air conditioning unit in one of the first floor windows is not an original period item.