Great Boston Fire (7)

A view of Trinity Church on Summer Street in Boston, taken in 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


A photo from a similar angle, taken in the aftermath of the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Taken from almost the same location as the photos in this post, and from the opposite direction of the ones here, these photos illustrate not only the damage after the Great Boston Fire, but also what the scene looked like before the fire.  As mentioned previously, the church was built in 1829, where Boston’s Downtown Crossing shopping district is located today.  The area was heavily damaged in the fire, and the church’s congregation relocated to the present-day Trinity Church at Copley Square later in the 1870s.  Today, nothing remains from the first two photos, and even the historic former Filene’s building in the center of the photo is a shell of its former self – literally.  The interior of the building was completely demolished, leaving only the facade as seen in the photo.  As evidenced by the construction work in the photo, the renovation work is ongoing as of July 2014.

Tremont Street, Boston (2)

Tremont Street in Boston, looking north toward Eliot Street (present-day Stuart Street) and Boston Common in the distance, in 1869. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


The first photo was taken from nearly the same location as the one in this post, just facing the opposite direction. All of the buildings in the first photo are gone, and most of them were probably demolished very soon after the first photo was taken, when Tremont Street was widened. Today, the narrow, cobblestone street is a distant memory, and Tremont Street is a major road that, in the 2014 photo, passes through Boston’s Theater District.

Tremont Street, Boston (1)

Tremont Street, facing south from between modern-day Stuart and Oak Streets, around 1869. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Tremont Street in 2014:


Today, Tremont Street is a major road in Boston, three lanes wide along with room for parking and sidewalks on both sides. It’s very different from how it appeared in the 1860s, before the road was widened and the buildings on the right were demolished. The narrow streets of the old photo were typical of pre-automobile Boston, and many similar streets survive to this day, helping to contribute to Boston’s reputation as a terrible place to drive.

Tremont Street from Eliot Street, Boston

The view looking up Tremont Street from Eliot Street (modern-day Stuart Street) in 1869. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


The first photo was taken before Tremont Street was widened in 1869. All of the buildings on the left-hand side were (presumably) demolished, except for the Hotel Pelham, which was moved 14 feet to the left and survived until 1916. Although the buildings on the right were unaffected by the widening, none of them appear to have survived to the present day. Today, the location is in the middle of the Theater District, with several of the theaters visible on either side of Tremont Street in the 2014 photo.

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.


The street corner in 2014:

This 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.


Old Feather Store, Boston

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


The location in 2014:


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.