Cornhill from Washington Street, Boston

Looking up Cornhill from Washington Street, on April 14, 1897. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2016:

This narrow cobblestone street in downtown Boston connected Adams Square with nearby Scollay Square, and it was once a major literary center of the city, with many bookstores and publishers. When the first photo was taken, the early 19th century buildings here had a variety of businesses, with signs advertising for carpets, furniture, wallpaper, signs, trunks, and rubber goods. The first photo also shows a trolley coming down the street from Scollay Square, but this would soon change with the opening of the Tremont Street Subway in less than five months. Part of it was built under Cornhill, and it was the nation’s first subway, allowing trolleys to avoid the congested streets between Boston Common and North Station.

Nearly all of the buildings in the first photo were demolished in the early 1960s to build the Government Center complex. City Hall is just out of view on the right side of the 2016 photo, and the only building left standing in this scene is the Sears’ Crescent, partially visible in the distance on the left side of the street in both photos. Built in 1816 and renovated around 1860, this building still follows the original curve of Cornhill, serving as a reminder of what the neighborhood looked like before one of Boston’s most controversial urban renewal projects.

Blandford Street Incline, Boston

Facing east on Commonwealth Avenue toward Kenmore Square, with the Blandford Street Incline in the foreground, on January 3, 1933. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The same location in 1943. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The view in 2015:

As mentioned in this post, trolley cars once entered and exited the subway from an incline in the median of Commonwealth Avenue just east of Kenmore Square.  However, in 1932 the tunnel was extended a little to the west, with one branch emerging here, at the present-day Boston University campus.  The first photo shows the incline shortly after it opened, and not much had changed ten years later when the second one was taken.

The most obvious change in the first two photos is the signs – by 1943 Kenmore Square had become home to many large advertisements, including ones for Dawson’s Pale Ale and Lager, Socony, the Hotel Kenmore, and Gulf.  Several of these signs were easily visible from Fenway Park, with the Gulf sign in particular being prominent in photographs of the park from that era.  Another sign in the foreground indicates that Park Street is a mere nine minutes away, which either suggests that the trolleys ran much faster than they do now, or that the Boston Elevated Railway was being a little generous in their estimates.

The second photo also reveals a largely forgotten piece of Boston history; the trolley coming up from the tunnel has “National League Park” as its destination.  Long before the Red Sox, the Boston Braves were the city’s original Major League Baseball team, and from 1915 to 1952, they played about a mile up Commonwealth Avenue from here.  After the team moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, the old stadium was purchased by Boston University and converted into Nickerson Field, with some of the original structure still standing today.

In the 2015 scene, the subway incline hasn’t changed much; even the poles supporting the overhead wires appear to be the same ones from the first two photos.  To the left, the Boston University campus has continued to expand, and today several of BU’s buildings are visible here.  In the distance, many of the buildings in Kenmore Square are still standing, and although none of the 1940s signs still exist, Kenmore Square is now home to arguably the city’s most famous sign, which appears to be located at the same spot as the old Socony sign.  This Citgo sign is visible over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and has been identified with the Boston Red Sox ever since it was first constructed in 1965.

Kenmore Subway Incline, Boston

The subway incline at Kenmore Square on October 2, 1914. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2015:

When Boston’s first subway tunnel opened in 1897, it extended as far west as the Boston Public Garden, where trolleys came to the surface and traveled west along Boylston Street.  However, because of the traffic congestion, the tunnel was extended a little over a mile to Kenmore Square, with cars surfacing just east of the square in the median of Commonwealth Avenue.  From here, the trolley lines split and either continued on Commonwealth Avenue (today’s B branch), or turned onto Beacon Street (today’s C branch).  The first photo was taken a day before the line officially opened in 1914, and the trolley car has a “Special Car” sign on top of it.  Less visible on the side of the car is a poster that reads “The Boylston Street Subway will open Saturday,” which was October 3.  The first photo was taken just to the left of the one in the previous post, probably only a few years later.

This subway incline ended up being used for just 18 years.  In 1932, the tunnel was extended under Kenmore Square, where it split into today’s B and C branches of the Green Line before surfacing just west of the square.  The original incline was closed off, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall reverted back to its pre-1914 appearance.  Today, the only remaining trace of it is the arch in the distance, which once formed the top of the tunnel.

Park Street Subway Station, Boston (4)

Another view of the Park Street station on the Tremont Street Subway, taken on July 31, 1897. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The station in 2015:

The first photo shows the interior of Park Street station as it appeared about a month before it opened as one of the first two subway stations in the United States.  It was taken from around the same location as the one in the previous post, just facing the opposite direction.  These two photos, taken nearly 120 years apart, show some of the changes that have taken place over the years inside this historic station.  The original 1897 trolley platforms soon became inadequate for the number of passengers that used the station, so from 1914 to 1915 they were extended to the south, which is why the station appears much larger in the 2015 photo.  Other changes have included removing the two stairwells that can be seen at the southern end of the platforms in the first photo; today, the station can only be accessed through the entrances closest to Park Street.

Not everything has changed, though.  One of the defining features of the Green Line is that it still runs trolleys rather than conventional rapid transit subway cars like those on the other three subway lines.  As a result, the station platforms are level with the tracks, and there is no third rail, with power instead being supplied by overhead wires.  Many of the destinations haven’t changed either.  Although Boston’s trolley network is significantly smaller than it was in 1897, many of the places on the sign in the first photo can still be accessed from here, including the Back Bay, Copley Square, Brookline, Allston, Brighton, and Newton.

Park Street Subway Station, Boston (3)

The outbound platform at the Park Street station in Boston, on August 5, 1901. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The same station platform in 2015:

As mentioned in previous posts showing the interior of Park Street Station here and here, Park Street was one of the first two subway stations in the country, along with Boylston about a quarter mile to the south, when it opened in 1897.  The photos in those two posts show the station before it opened, but this 1901 photo here is interesting because it gives a glimpse into the day-to-day activity inside the station.  Because of the long exposure time, most of the figures are blurred, except for the woman seated on the bench in the foreground.  Another fairly clear figure is the man standing at the entrance in the distance.  In the years before turnstiles, passengers would purchase a ticket at one of the kiosks, and then give the ticket to the attendant at the gate, similar to the way movie theaters operate.  There were also separate entrances for entering and exiting passengers, hence the “This Is Not An Exit” sign above the gate.

Park Street station, along with the rest of the Tremont Street Subway, was originally designed for trolley cars rather than rapid transit subway cars, and this distinction can still be seen today in the trolleys that run on the Green Line, as opposed to the more conventional subway cars on the other three lines.  However, from 1901 to 1908, the tunnel was also used by the Boston Elevated Railway, so the station platforms had to be retrofitted to accommodate the higher subway cars, which is why the first photo shows wooden platforms along the track.  During this time, these cars used the two outer tracks in the station, while trolleys used the inner two tracks.  In 1908, the Boston Elevated Railway was rerouted through its own tunnel under Washington Street, which today forms the downtown section of the Orange Line.

A few years later, in 1912, the Boston Elevated Railway built another subway line through Park Street, forming what is now the Red Line.  Separate platforms were built underneath the existing station, with stairs now located around the spot where the passengers were waiting on the benches in the 1901 photo.  Other significant changes to the station over the years have included lengthening the Green Line platforms, as well as some of the more cosmetic changes that are seen in the 2015 photo, such as tiles on the floor and sheet metal covering the original columns.

North Station, Boston

The original North Station on Causeway Street in Boston, around 1893-1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote about Boston as being “The Hub of the Solar System,” and although he was using the phrase sarcastically, the city would soon become the transportation hub of New England.  By the late 1800s, there were at least eight railroads that radiated outward from Boston, with each one having its own separate terminal.  However, these eight different stations were both inconvenient for passengers and also a poor use of valuable land.

Here in the northern part of the city, four different railroads each had their own stations within a several block radius: the Boston and Maine, Boston and Lowell, Eastern Railroad, and the Fitchburg Railroad.  All but the Boston and Maine had their passenger terminals in a row here along Causeway Street, so in 1893 the North Union Station opened here, consolidating all four railroads into one building.  It was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, a prominent Boston architectural firm that would design South Station six years later, when the four south side terminals were likewise consolidated.

The original North Station was demolished in 1927 to build the Boston Garden, which also included a reconstructed station.  Boston Garden was home to the Boston Bruins from 1928 to 1995, and the Boston Celtics from 1946 to 1995, and the it was demolished in 1998, three years after the completion of the present-day TD Garden.  Today’s North Station is located directly underneath the TD Garden, although today none of the four railroads that opened the first station even exist anymore.  Amtrak has only one passenger route, the Downeaster, that stops here, although it is the terminal for four of the MBTA Commuter Rail lines.  Above the station, the Bruins and Celtics still play here, just behind the spot where the Boston Garden once stood.