Thoreau House, Boston

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

280_1898c-2Bbpl

The location in 2014:

280_2014

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.

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.

275_1898c-2Bbpl

The scene in 2014:

275_2014

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.

William Gray House, Boston

The William Gray House, at the corner of Prince Street and Lafayette Avenue in Boston’s North End, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

272_1898c-2Bbpl

The location in 2014:

272_2014

The house in the first photo, known as the William Gray House, was built around 1750, and was used by the British as a hospital after the Battle of Bunker Hill.  It survived until around the turn of the 20th century – it appears in the 1898 Boston atlas, but is gone by the 1908 atlas.  Nothing else from the first photo survives today, although Lafayette Avenue is still there, to the left.  Despite its name, it is actually a narrow alley that is barely wide enough to fit a single vehicle between the curbs – a holdover from Boston’s pre-automobile street network.