Hancock Tavern, Boston

The Hancock Tavern on Corn Court, Boston, around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The same site in 2014:


Throughout the 19th century, rumors abounded that this building, known as Hancock Tavern, was the meeting-place prior to the Boston Tea Party.  However, while old, this building was not that old – a 1917 estimate put its date of construction between 1807 and 1812. Even the site has no direct connection to the Tea Party – the previous building had been a four room house, with no record of any tavern existing there in the 1770s. In short, as one historian put it in 1903, “As an old landmark the Hancock Tavern is a failure.”

The first photo is intriguing, however, because it shows a glimpse of what 19th century Boston looked like, with narrow, winding cobblestone streets that seem to literally vanish into the city blocks.  The scene wouldn’t last for much longer after the first photo was taken, though.  It was demolished by 1903 and replaced with a more modern building; the narrow Corn Court alley went with it as well.  Today, the site has been completely redeveloped again, and is located just south of Faneuil Hall, between Faneuil Hall, State Street, Congress Street, and the South Market building.

Sun Tavern, Dock Square, Boston

The Sun Tavern at Dock Square, across from Faneuil Hall in Boston, sometime in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Dock Square and the Sun Tavern around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


According to the sign above the building in the first photo, the Sun Tavern was built in 1690, although some estimates that I have seen have dated its construction even earlier.  In either case, the building was extremely old by the time it was photographed in 1898,  It was a tavern by the first decade of the 18th century, although possibly earlier, and was at the time located right next to the town dock, hence the name of Dock Square.  It wouldn’t be until over 50 years after it opened that its familiar neighbor, Faneuil Hall, was built, and another 80 years after that before Quincy Market was built atop what was once Boston Harbor.

The building survived until about 1910 (it appears in the 1908 atlas, but is gone by the 1912 one), and sometime in the 1920s or 1930s a good portion of Dock Square was torn down.  The rest would come down in the 1960s, when the area that once made up Dock Square, Adams Square, and Scollay Square was demolished to build Boston City Hall, seen on the right-hand side of the 2014 photo.

Washington Street, Boston

Looking north on Washington Street in Boston, toward Stuart Street, in October 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Child Labor Committee Collection.


The scene in 2014:


Like many other photographs by Lewis Wickes Hine of the National Child Labor Committee, the scene in the 1909 photo has almost a Charles Dickens-like appearance to it.  In the photo, a couple young girls struggle to haul wood back to their homes, presumably to use for heat in the upcoming winter months.

Several buildings survive from the 1909 photo, including the three buildings along the right-hand side of Washington Street in the distance.  The closest of the buildings is the former Unique Theatre, which was built in 1888 and opened as a theater in 1907, where it operated as a nickelodeon, an early, no-frills movie theater that cost five cents admission, hence the name,   According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, it is likely the last surviving nickelodeon in Boston.

The other two surviving buildings are the former Globe Theater, and the office building beyond it. The Globe Theater was built in 1903 and substantially renovated later on, including the addition of several stories,  The other building, which is located at the corner of Washington and Beach Streets, was built around the same time, and is largely unchanged in appearance since the first photo was taken.

Massachusetts State House, Boston

The Massachusetts State House, with a Beacon Street house being demolished in the foreground.  Photo taken January 27, 1917 by Lewis Wickes Hine of the National Child Labor Committee, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The scene in 2014:


The Massachusetts State House was built in 1798, but has been expanded several times over the years.  An 1895 expansion was built behind the original building, and in 1917 the east and west wings were added (east wings visible on the right-hand side of both photos).  The west wing, however, required the demolition of a number of houses on Beacon Street, Joy Place, and Mount Vernon Place, and the elimination of Hancock Avenue altogether.

One of the demolished buildings can be seen here in the first photo.  In this particular scene, Lewis Wickes Hine captures workers, including young children, bringing wood home, presumably to use for firewood on what was probably a chilly late January day.

Hewes House, Boston

The Hewes House on Washington Street across from Milk Street, around 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


This area sustained some damage during the Great Boston Fire of 1872, but the Hewes House, seen in the first photo, was gone before then.  According to the Bostonian Society in a 1902 book, the house was constructed in 1656 and demolished in 1870.  If accurate, the 1656 date would put its construction within 26 years of the founding of Boston, making it several decades older than downtown Boston’s current oldest building, the Paul Revere House.  It was also 73 years older than its neighbor across the street, Old South Meeting House.  Evidently, the house was named after Shubael Hewes, an 18th century Bostonian who lived here for many years.  At the time, this section of Washington Street was known as Marlboro Street; the street long predates George Washington, so it wasn’t until 1788 that it was renamed.

Somerset Street, Boston

Looking south on Somerset Street in Boston, around 1860, with Ashburton Place on the right. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Somerset Street in 2014:


Located on the edge of Beacon Hill, Somerset Street has completely changed in the past 150 years. Once a predominantly residential street, the rowhouses on the left have been replaced by the John Adams Courthouse, which is home to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. To the right, the First Baptist Church of Boston once stood just beyond the intersection of Ashburton Place; it was built in 1854 and was the home of the congregation until 1877, shortly before they moved to their current location in the Back Bay.  At the corner of Somerset and Ashburton today is one of the buildings for Suffolk University, and just a block over on Ashburton is the Massachusetts State House.