Hotel Pelham, Boston

Facing the southwest corner of Boylston and Tremont in Boston around 1859, toward the newly-constructed Hotel Pelham.  Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same scene 2014:

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Constructed in 1857, the Hotel Pelham was possibly the first apartment building of its type in the United States.  Although named a hotel, the term in the mid 19th century was commonly used to refer to what today we would call an apartment building – they catered more toward long-term residents than temporary visitors.

The date on the first photo is probably 1859, but some sources date it to 1869.  In either case, 1869 is the latest possible date for the photo, because in that year Tremont Street (the street that the photos are facing down) was widened.  Rather than demolishing and rebuilding, the owners moved the 5,000 ton building 14 feet to the west (right), a move that took three months to complete.  Following the move, the hotel remained in business for nearly 50 more years, before being demolished in 1916 and replaced with the present-day office building.

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.

American Falls, Niagara Falls, New York (1)

A young man and woman, seated in front of the American Falls at Niagara Falls, around 1858. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

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The scene in 2005:

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Niagara Falls has been a popular tourist destination since the 19th century, and was particularly popular as a honeymoon destination – perhaps that was the occasion for the young couple in the first photo.  Much has changed at the Falls since then, both the surrounding area and the waterfalls themselves.  In the distance, the high-rise buildings reflect the increasing popularity and tourist-oriented nature of Niagara Falls, and if the cameras were turned around, one would see even more striking changes on the Canadian side of the gorge.

One obvious change with the American Falls is the accumulation of rocks at its base.  The 2005 photo shows a much shorter distance from the top to the rocks at the bottom, which were deposited by rock slides and erosion caused by the waterfall’s steady retreat upstream.  By the 1960’s, there was great concern that the American Falls would erode to the point where they would become a series of rapids rather than a true waterfall, so the water was diverted from it and the American side of the Falls was temporarily shut off.  Geologists secured and stabilized some of the most erosion-prone areas, but they determined that it would be too costly to remove the rocks that had already fallen.

Back Bay, Boston

The view of the Back Bay, from the top of the State House, in 1857. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The same view from the same spot, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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This post is a bit unusual, since I don’t have a modern-day view of the scene, but I thought that the differences between these two photos, taken only about 50 years apart, was particularly compelling, and illustrates just how much of Boston is built on reclaimed land.  If I did have a present-day photo, it would show the John Hancock Building, the Prudential Tower, Hynes Convention Center, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston.  Yet, less than 160 years ago it was just a heavily polluted mud flat.

To help identify a few prominent locations in the swamps of 1857, the row of trees at the end of the water is present-day Arlington Street, and the road built across the water is Beacon Street, originally built in 1814 as a dam and toll road.  The dam was intended to use the power of the outgoing tides for factories in the area, but it had the unintended consequence of preventing the mud flats from being washed out twice daily by the tides, leading to a shallow basin filled with sewage, garbage, and other pollution. Another dam connected Beacon Street to the point of land in the distance on the left.  The left-hand side of the dam ended at the present-day intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.  In the extreme distance of the 1857 photo, Beacon Street reaches the mainland at present-day Kenmore Square.

Most of the Back Bay up was filled in only a short time after this photo was taken, and completely filled in by 1882.  The Fenway section (so-called because of the swamps, or “fens” in the area) was mostly finished by 1900, putting the finishing touches on the Boston that we now know today.