Old West Church, Boston

The Old West Church on Cambridge Street in Boston, probably in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The church in 2015:

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Old West Church was established in 1737, as one of Boston’s many Congregational churches. This particular building was built in 1806, and was designed by prominent early American architect Asher Benjamin. It is architecturally very similar to one of Benjamin’s earlier Boston churches, the Charles Street Meeting House, which is still standing on the opposite side of Beacon Hill from here. The church closed in 1892, but the historic building was saved from demolition and put to a new use as a branch library for the Boston Public Library. It was one of the few buildings to survive the urban renewal project of the 1950s that destroyed most of the West End, and after the library closed in 1960 it was purchased by the United Methodist Church. The interior was restored to its original appearance and reopened in 1964, and today it remains in use as a Methodist church.

Parkman House, Boston

The Parkman House at Bowdoin Square in Boston, in 1880. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bowdoin Square in 2015:

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The Bowdoin Square area was once a prominent residential neighborhood, and these two attached granite houses were built around 1816 by Samuel Parkman, a wealthy merchant who hired Charles Bulfinch to design them. Samuel Parkman’s daughter Sarah lived in the house to the left, along with her husband, Edward Blake, Jr., who died in 1817, shortly after they moved in. Sarah lived here until her death in 1847. Parkman himself lived in the house to the right until he died in 1824, and another daughter, Elizabeth, lived here with her husband, Robert Gould Shaw, until around 1840.

Both the Parkman and Shaw families were prominent in Boston’s 19th century upper class. Samuel Parkman’s grandson was Francis Parkman, a noted author and historian, and Robert Gould Shaw was one of the wealthiest men in the city. When he and his wife left this house in 1840, they moved to the other side of Beacon Hill, to a house overlooking Boston Common at the corner of Beacon and Joy Streets. By 1846, he had an estimated net worth of a million dollars, much of which he had inherited from his father-in-law. Shaw’s grandson and namesake, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, would go on to achieve fame as the commanding officer of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first all-black units to fight in the Civil War.

The two houses stood here at Bowdoin Square until the early 1900s, when they were demolished and replaced with a commercial building. This building is no longer standing either, nor is anything else from the 1880 photo. The entire West End section of the city, aside from a few buildings, was demolished in the late 1950s as part of an urban renewal project, similar to what was done at nearby Scollay Square around the same time, Even the road networks were changed, and today Bowdoin Square bears essentially no resemblance to its earlier appearance.

Boylston Market, Boston

Boylston Market, at the corner of Boylston and Washington Streets in Boston, around 1870. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Boylston Market was built here in 1810, and it was designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch. It functioned as a market on the first floor, and a meeting space and performance hall on the third floor, known as Boylston Hall. Both the building and the street were named for Ward Nicholas Boylston, a Boston philanthropist who gave substantial donations to Harvard in the early 19th century. Prior to its construction, the city’s primary marketplace was Faneuil Hall, which was a considerable distance away from here. At the time, this area was in the southern end of the city, and some of its residents, including future president John Quincy Adams, formed the Boylston Market Association to built the market here

Aside from its use as a marketplace, the building was also used by organizations such as the Handel and Hadyn Society, which held concerts in the third floor hall, and the New England Anti-Slavery Society, which held conventions in the same hall. In 1859, it was expanded, and in 1870 it was moved 11 feet south away from Boylston Street. This is presumably why the building to the left in the first photo, home of the White Bear Billiard Room, has a sign that reads “Building to be Torn Down.”

Although moving the large brick building was a significant undertaking, Boylston Market was demolished just 17 years later, in 1887. It was replaced by the Boylston Building, which served much the same function as its predecessor, with retail space on the first floor and warehouse and office space on the upper floors. As seen in the 2015 photo, it is still standing today, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is at least one surviving element from the original building, though. The cupola was saved, and it now forms the steeple of the Calvary Methodist Church in the nearby town of Arlington.

Charles Street Meeting House, Boston (2)

Looking north on Charles Street toward the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston, around 1889. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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As mentioned in the previous post, this historic church was built in 1807 as the Third Baptist Church. It played a major role in the abolitionist movement in Boston, and it was later the home to the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church from 1876 until 1939. It was converted into offices in the early 1980s, but from the exterior it looks essentially the same as it did over 125 years ago. It is one of the 15 landmarks that comprises the Boston African American National Historic Site on Beacon Hill.  The buildings beyond it on Charles Street haven’t changed much, either. They date back to the second half of the 19th century, and like so many other buildings in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, they have been well-preserved over the years.

Charles Street Meeting House, Boston (1)

The Charles Street Meeting House, at the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon Streets in Boston, around 1889. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The church in 2015:

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This historic church in the Beacon Hill neighborhood was built in 1807 as the Third Baptist Church. It was designed by Asher Benjamin, a New England native who was one of the leading American architects of the Federal era, and at the time it was located right along the waterfront. The building hasn’t moved in the past two centuries, but the shoreline has; Charles Street once ran along the Charles River at the western edge of the city, but after widespread landfill projects in the 19th century the church is now a considerable distance from the water.

Prior to the Civil War, this church was prominent in Boston’s abolitionist movement, and it hosted speakers such as Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Sojourner Truth. After the war, though, the congregation declined, and merged with the First Baptist Church by 1876. The building was sold to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became the Charles Street A.M.E. Church.

When the first photo was taken around 1889, the A.M.E. Church still owned it, and they remained here until 1939. By then, Boston’s black population had shifted away from its historic roots in Beacon Hill, and the congregation relocated to Roxbury. The building was later used as an Albanian Orthodox church and later as a Unitarian Universalist church until the late 1970s. A few years later, it was converted into offices. The interior was completely renovated, but the exterior was preserved, and today it is a part of the National Park Service’s Boston African American National Historic Site.

Church on the Hill, Lenox, Mass

The Church on the Hill, as seen from Main Street around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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This historic church in Lenox was built 1805 as the town’s second meeting house, replacing a smaller church building that had been built on the same site around 1770. The building’s design is an excellent example of the traditional late 18th and early 19th century New England church architecture, and some sources, such as the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, credit Isaac Damon with its design. This seems doubtful, though. While Damon designed many churches in Western Massachusetts, he was still living in Weymouth when this church was built in 1805, and he would not begin his architectural career until he moved to Northampton six years later.

Regardless of who designed it, though, this picturesque church has long been popular among visitors to Lenox. The first photo was taken at a time when Lenox was a popular resort town, and for the many wealthy New York City residents who spent their summer here, the church would have contributed to the town’s appearance as a quaint New England village. Not much has changed for the church since then. Other than different windows and the addition of shutters, almost everything else on the exterior is the same from the first photo. Even the tree in the background to the left appears to be the same one. Based on its size in the first photo, it is probably at least as old as the church itself, if not older.