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.

Drewry’s Bluff, Chesterfield County, Virginia

The view looking down the James River from Drewry’s Bluff, in 1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in 2012:

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When the top photo was published on a stereo card in 1865, the caption was “One reason why we did not go to Richmond.”  Indeed, this gun was perhaps the reason why Richmond wasn’t taken until the very end of the Civil War.  As seen in the photos, the gun overlooks a long, downstream section of the James River.  Built as part of Fort Darling, it was located downstream of Richmond, so any attacking Union naval force had to contend with this and two other guns at the fort in order to reach the capital.  An attempt was made in 1862, and five navy ships, including the famed USS Monitor, headed upstream.  At Drewry’s Bluff, the wooden ships were unable to advance, so the ironclad Monitor did.  However, the Monitor’s guns didn’t elevate enough to reach the top of the 90-foot cliff, so the Union forces had to retreat.  Another attempt was made in 1864 to capture the fort, but this too failed, and the fort remained in Confederate hands up until the final days of the war.

Today, the site of the fort is preserved by the National Park Service, and the cannon in the 2012 photo is an original cannon, although not necessarily the same one in the 1865 photo.  The carriage beneath the cannon, however, is a modern reproduction.

Lincoln Memorial Dedication, Washington DC

The view from the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

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The same view in 2006:

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The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial attracted quite a crowd, which contrasts with the dreary, deserted view of the same scene 84 years later.  Other than the people, though, the scene remains similar. The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool are still there, although the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, barely visible beyond the trees to the left in 1922, are long gone now.

Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument, Washington DC

The view of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922, the day that it was dedicated, from the Washington Monument. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection.

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The same view in 2006:

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Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool are iconic images of Washington DC, but in 1922 they were brand new features on previously swampy, vacant land.  Today they remain largely the same, but the surrounding area has changed. Across the river, the city of Arlington has been built up, and two bridges are now visible in the scene, connecting it to DC.  In DC itself, one obvious difference is the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, which are on the right-hand side of the photo.  The “temporary” buildings were built in 1918, but they remained in use until 1970, when they were demolished and replaced with the Constitution Gardens as seen in the 2006 photo.

Old Executive Building, Washington DC

The Old Executive Office Building around 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

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In 2012:

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Originally built as the State, War, and Navy Building, and completed in 1888, it remains much the same as it was around 1909, despite having changed its function.  Today, it is used by various executive departments, including the Office of the Vice President, as it is located directly adjacent to the White House (the white house is immediately to the left of the photos)

However, probably the most unusual thing in either photo is the presence of a cow in the 1909 photo.  It is, in fact, a real cow, and was actually kept for agricultural purposes by none other than William Howard Taft.  In the days before refrigeration, the best way to ensure an ample supply of fresh milk was by actually keeping a cow on the White House grounds.  Named Pauline Wayne, the cow provided milk for the Taft family for about a year and a half, and was the last cow to reside at the White House [insert joke about President Taft’s weight here].

Old Capitol Prison, Washington DC

The Old Capitol Prison, around 1863. Photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of the National Archives.

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The building around 1866. Photo by William R. Pywell, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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

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The same location in 2012:

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Clearly, much has changed in 147 years at the corner of 1st St. NE and A St. NE.  The building in the first two photos (which is actually the same building in the third photo) is the Old Capitol Prison.  As its name suggests, the building once served as the temporary United States Capitol.  After the Capitol was burned in the War of 1812, this building was hastily built to serve as the Capitol until the repairs could be completed.

After Congress and the Supreme Court returned to the Capitol in 1819, the building was used as a private school and later as a boarding house.  It was in this boarding house that former Vice President John C. Calhoun died in 1850; years earlier he had served as a Representative from South Carolina in the same building.  During the Civil War, the building was used as a prison, and in 1867 it was sold and converted into rowhouses, as seen in the third photo.  In 1929, it was demolished to allow for the construction of the US Supreme Court building, which, as seen in the 2012 photo, remains on the site today.