Tremont Street, Boston

The view looking down Tremont Street from School Street, around 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The same scene in 2014:


A lot has changed on this section of Tremont Street in the past century and a half, but a few constants remain. The front pillars of King’s Chapel are on the left-hand side, and the steeple of Park Street Church can be seen in the distance on the right. Another landmark in the first photo is the Tremont House, which can be seen from the opposite angle in this post. At the time of the 1860 photo, this was one of the best hotels in the city, and as mentioned in the post on the hotel, it had a number of prominent visitors throughout the 1800s.

Tremont Street has always been a major road in the city, but the first photo shows a very different scene. On the eve of the Civil War, it was a narrow dirt road with a few horse-drawn carriages. Within a few years, though, things would start to change, and by the end of the century this scene would be clogged with streetcars, which prompted the construction of the Tremont Street Subway, the first subway in the country. Today, this part of Tremont is located along the Freedom Trail, with a significant number of tourists walking along the sidewalk on a warm summer Saturday in the 2014 photo.

Seaver House, Boston

The Seaver House on the west side of Tremont Street across from Hollis Street, around 1882. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


This view was taken from almost the same spot as the one in this post, which shows the scene before Tremont Street was widened.  Most of the buildings on Tremont Street in the 1882 photo above were built following the widening of the street, but none of them survive today. However, that doesn’t mean this neighborhood of Boston has completely changed.  It is part of Boston’s Theater District, a distinction that it held as far back as the 1800s.  In fact, the first photo is able to be dated to around 1882 based on the Fritz in Ireland playbill, which is posted on the wall on the far left-hand side of the first photo.  The wood-frame house in the left-center of the photo is the General Crane House, and was home to John Crane, a Boston Tea Party participant and Revolutionary War veteran.  By the time of the 1882 photo, it was home to the William Davis & Co. candy store.  Notice also the rails running through the cobblestone streets, and the blurred image of a horse-drawn trolley.  The trolleys would eventually be electrified and buried beneath Tremont Street in the late 1890s; today, the tunnel is still there, but it is no longer in service.

Tremont House, Boston

The Tremont House on Tremont Street in Boston, sometime in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


The Tremont House in the first photo was built in 1829, and it holds a significant place in American history – it was the first hotel with running water and indoor plumbing. It opened to much fanfare, with mayor Josiah Quincy (of Quincy Market fame) presiding over the event. The guest list included a number of distinguished Bostonians, including Congressmen Daniel Webster and Edward Everett. Webster would go on to become one of the most influential men in 19th century America, and Everett also went on to bigger and better things, serving as governor, ambassador, senator, and Secretary of State. He gave a speech at the ceremony, and some 34 years later he would be the keynote speaker at another event – the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, although his two hour speech was overshadowed by President Lincoln’s two minute remarks.

The building stood at the corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets until 1895, and during its existence it had a number of notable guests, including Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alexis de Tocqueville, and President Andrew Jackson. It was also where, in 1848, Abraham Lincoln, at the time a virtually unknown Illinois Congressman, stayed during a visit to Boston. Coincidentally, years later John Wilkes Booth would also stay at the hotel, not long before he assassinated Lincoln.

Central House, Boston

The Central House on Brattle Square, Boston, in 1860.  Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Located next to the Quincy House, immediately to the right of the building in the 1860 photo of this post,  the Central House was at one point its own hotel, but was later absorbed into the Quincy House.  Eventually, like the rest of the Quincy House, this section was expanded to seven stories in the 1880s, although it isn’t apparent whether the existing floors were added on to, or if the brick section was entirely demolished.  In any case, the entire neighborhood is gone, along with the street network, so this photo and the other one of the Quincy House are recreated based on estimates from comparing historic and modern maps; no landmarks remain from either of the two 1860 photos.

Quincy House, Boston

The Quincy House on Brattle Street in Boston, taken in 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Located just as short distance from Scollay, Adams, Dock, and Faneuil Hall Squares, the Quincy House enjoyed a prominent location in downtown Boston.  The hotel was built around 1819, and was constructed of granite, only a few years before similar materials were used to build Quincy Market just a few block away.  In its heyday, it was one of the best hotels in Boston, and was also used by many different labor unions as a meeting place.

The 1860 photo, taken by photography pioneer Josiah Johnson Hawes, shows the hotel’s original appearance, before a renovation in the 1880s that added an additional three stories and a clock tower, as seen in this photo from the City of Boston Archives. However, by the 1920s the aging hotel suffered from increased competition, and closed in 1929. The building itself was demolished in 1935, less than 30 years before the entire neighborhood was taken down to build City Hall and the City Hall Plaza, as seen in the 2014 photo.

Hotel Boylston, Boston

The Hotel Boylston, at the southeast corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets in Boston, sometime in the 1870s.  Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene today:


Like the Hotel Pelham right across Tremont Street, the Hotel Boylston was built as a residential building, with the term “hotel” at the time referring to what we would today call an apartment building.  It was at a prominent location, at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets, at the southeast corner of Boston Common.  However, it was demolished in the 1890s and replaced with the Hotel Touraine building, which still stands today.