Henchman Street, Boston

Looking down Henchman Street in Boston’s North End, toward Commercial Street, in 1893. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The street in 2014:

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The brick building at the corner of Henchman and Commercial Streets hasn’t changed much, aside from the bricked-up storefront at the corner and a newly-added fifth floor.  The rest of the area is very different, though.  In the intervening years, the older wooden homes were replaced with early 20th century tenement buildings, and on Commercial Street the Atlantic Avenue Elevated Railway came and went.  The North End is very different today than it was 120 years ago, although much of the area retains its old street network, including the curiously-named Henchman Street, which today is a narrow one-way street connecting Charter Street with Commercial Street.  As an etymological aside, when this street was named, the word “henchman” did not carry the same negative connotations that it does today about people who carry out the bidding of an evil person.  Instead, a henchman was simply a member of a royal court – the negative usage didn’t come until the 19th century.

Thoreau House, Boston

The Thoreau House on Prince Street, near Salem Street, probably in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The location in 2014:

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Although most commonly associated with Concord, some of Henry David Thoreau’s family was from Boston.  This house was in his family for several generations, starting with his great-great grandfather David Orrok in 1738.  After Thoreau’s grandfather died, ownership of the house was split among the eight children, including Henry David Thoreau’s father John Thoreau, although I don’t know that he or his children ever lived here.  In any case, the house, which was built in 1727, remained in the Thoreau family until 1881, and was demolished in 1896, a year before the completion of its present-day replacement, the Paul Revere School.

Galloupe House, Boston

The Galloupe House on Hull Street in Boston, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The site in 2014:

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Supposedly, this house on Hull Street was General Gage’s headquarters during the Battle of Bunker Hill, fought just across the Charles River from here.  The accuracy of that is somewhat questionable, but regardless, this building was very old.  It was built around 1724, and was home to a succession of owners, including several members of the Galloupe family, hence the name.  It was demolished sometime around 1905-1910, and was replaced with the present-day buildings.

Edmund Hartt House, Boston

The Edmund Hartt House on Hull Street in Boston, sometime in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

Houses

The scene in 2014:

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The house in the first photo was built sometime in the 1700s; I have seen three different accounts that give three different dates.  Regardless, it is best known as the home of Edmund Hartt, a shipbuilder whose yard constructed some of the US Navy’s first ships.  Most significantly, his yard was one of the six around the country chosen to build the first Congressional-authorized naval ships.  Completed in the late 1790s, five of the six ships are long gone, but Hartt’s work – the USS Constitution – is still around, just across the harbor from the place where his house once stood.  His house was probably demolished sometime in the first decade of the 20th century, but his gravesite can still be visited, directly across the street at Copps Hill Burying Ground.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston (3)

Another view from Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End, around the 1880s or early 1890s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The cemetery in 2014:

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The house in the background is the Johnson-Singleton House, and was built in the mid 1700s.  Located on Charter Street, it and the surrounding buildings were demolished in the 1890s to create Copp’s Hill Terrace, a public park between Charter Street and Commercial Street.  Boston Harbor is in the background, but it is obscured by buildings in the first photo and trees in the present-day photo; the only hint of its presence is the tip of the masts of a sailing ship in the first photo.

John Tileston House, Boston

The John Tileston House, located at the corner of Prince and Margaret Streets, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Bsoton Public Library.

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The scene in 2014:

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A century before the first photo was taken, this house was the home of John Tileston, a teacher who taught writing at a nearby school from 1754 until 1819.  During this time, teaching writing did not mean he taught his students to compose essays; he literally taught them how to write elegant script – an important skill for aspiring businessmen in the days before typewriters and word processors.  Ever notice the quality of the penmanship on documents like the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence? It was teachers like Tileston who ensured that our nation’s founding documents weren’t written in chicken scratch.  Interestingly, though, Tileston did it all with a disabled hand.  His hand was severely burned in a fire as an infant, preventing him from doing most manual work but allowing him to teach instead.

His house stood long after his death, and in the first photo it had a first floor store that sold “Dry Fancy Goods,” as the sign above the door indicates.  The house didn’t last much longer than that, though.  Like many other colonial-era buildings in the North End, it was demolished to make way for new development in the first decade of the 20th century.