Wells Adams House, Boston

Looking up Salem Street from the corner of Cooper Street, in Boston’s North End, before 1894. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same scene in 2014:

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The building in the first photo was known as the Wells Adams House, and according to late 19th century sources was built sometime in the late 1600s, probably around the same time as the Paul Revere House.  Like many other historic colonial-era North End buildings, it was demolished in 1894, and the current building was probably built shortly after that.  The only building that appears in both photos is the one on the far right; it was built in the 1840s, and is one of the few bow fronted houses that remains in the North End.

Corner of Lewis & North Streets, Boston

The eastern corner of Lewis and North Streets in Boston’s North End, sometime in the 1860s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The street corner in 2014:

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This absolutely ancient building in the first photo probably dated to the early 18th century, but it didn’t last for too long after the photo was taken.  The present-day building on the site was completed around 1874, so the days were numbered for the old building by the 1860s.  At that time, the North End was somewhat of a slum, and the building itself looked like it wasn’t in the greatest condition (note the broken windows on the second floor), so its demolition and replacement was probably hailed as a 19th century version of urban renewal.

Ebenezer Hancock House, Boston

The Ebenezer Hancock House in Boston’s Blackstone Block, before 1886. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2014:

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Boston’s Blackstone Block is in an odd location; the collection of historic 18th and 19th century buildings and narrow, 16th century alleys sits as sort of a time capsule, surrounded by modern development.  On one side is the Government Center area, where street scenes like this were demolished wholesale and replaced with concrete monoliths and open paved areas, and on the other side is the Central Artery, where the elevated highway was originally built in the 1950s before being put underground as part of the Big Dig.

However, the Blackstone Block appears virtually unchanged in over 125 years.  A few notable landmarks are visible in these photos, including the Ebenezer Hancock House in the center.  In the 19th century, it was home to William H. Learnard’s shoe store, who operated out of the building from the 1820s until 1886.  He wasn’t the only person to own a shoe store here, though.  The building functioned as a shoe store from 1798 until 1963, and is today used for offices.  Originally, though, it was a house, and was built around 1767 and later owned by Ebenezer Hancock, the brother of John Hancock.

Also of note in this photo is the Boston Stone, seen in the background, embedded in the wall of the building to the left of the Ebenezer Hancock House.  Supposedly, this stone, which actually predates the circa 1835 building, was once used as the zero milestone for Boston, but this doesn’t appear to be likely.  The building, though, is probably the one thing that has changed the most since the first photo was taken.  At some point in the mid 20th century, the building was trimmed down to just three stories.  Today, it has all of its floors again, but this is a recent addition; photos in this post, from the other side of the building, show that the extra stories weren’t there in 2011.

Old Feather Store, Boston

The Old Feather Store at Dock Square in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The location in 2014:

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The building in the 1860 photo looks like it belongs in Elizabethan England, not in 19th century Boston.  However, the building actually dates to the same century as Queen Elizabeth – it was built around 1680, and survived until around the time that this photo was taken.  Despite its age and unique architecture, historical preservation was not a major concern in the 1860s, and it was demolished.  At least one of its contemporaries survives to this day, though.  Just a few blocks up North Street (the road in the foreground of the 2014 photo) is the Paul Revere House, which was built around the same time, and is the only remaining 17th century building in downtown Boston.

As an example of the way Boston has expanded in the past few centuries, the Old Feather Store was built right on the waterfront, but by the time it was taken down, it was over a quarter mile from the harbor.  This area was originally known as Dock Square, because of its proximity to the Town Dock.  As a result, it has long been a center of commercial activity in the city.  Although the buildings that replaced the Old Feather Shop are also long gone, there is one commercial building that is in both photos; Faneuil Hall can be seen behind and to the right of the Old Feather Shop, and on the right-hand side in 2014.

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Boston

The east face of Faneuil Hall, with Quincy Market to the right, taken in 1875.  Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same view in 2014:

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Compare with the photos in this post, wheich show Faneuil Hall a little closer and about 20 years after his 1875 photo was taken.  Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are still there, having been built in 1742 and 825, respectively.  However, the scene is very different in the background.  Boston’s massive City Hall building is just beyond and to the left of Faneuil Hall, with other modern skyscrapers behind it.  This was once the Scollay Square neighborhood of Boston, which was completely demolished in the 1960s to build City Hall and the surrounding buildings, with the neighborhood being renamed Government Center.

Fraunces Tavern, New York City

Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets in New York City, between 1900 and 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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After its reconstruction, around 1907-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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In 2014:

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Claimed to be the oldest building in Manhattan, the building was constructed in 1719, and was used as a tavern in the second half of the 18th century and well into the 19th century.  However, the building suffered some serious fires in the mid 19th century, and was consequently reconstructed several times.  By the turn of the century, it looked nothing like its original appearance.  In fact, when it was finally “restored” in 1907, it was redesigned based on what was presumed to be colonial appearance; its actual 18th century configuration is unknown.  I don’t know how much of the original structure is left, but I would hazard a guess that it is an architectural equivalent to the ship of Theseus, with the question being, if a building has, over time, had every single part of it replaced, is it still the same building? And if not, at what point did it cease to be the same building? But, if it is the same building, what would happen if, theoretically, all of the original pieces were recovered and reconstructed, say, across the street. Which would be the “real” building? Inquiring minds want to know.