Beacon and Park Streets, Boston

Looking east on Beacon Street from in front of the State House, sometime around 1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

Despite all of the changes in downtown Boston during the past 130 years, there are several buildings from the first photo that survive today.  The building at the corner doesn’t bear much resemblance to its former self, but it is the same one that is seen in the first photo.  It was built in 1804 for merchant Thomas Amory Jr., and was one of several houses on Park Street that were designed by Charles Bulfinch.  The home occupies a prominent position next to the Boston Common and across the street from the Massachusetts State House, but the cost for the massive house ruined Amory’s finances, and he had to sell it in 1807.

After Amory sold it, the house was divided into four different units, which were rented to some of Boston’s most prominent citizens.  Senator and Cabinet member Samuel Dexter lived here, and Christopher Gore took advantage of the house’s proximity to the State House and lived here while serving as governor in 1809 and 1810.  In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette stayed here during his tour of the United States, and Boston Public Library founder George Ticknor lived on the Park Street side of the house from 1830 until his death in 1871.  Around 1885, the house was extensively renovated on the exterior, with iron storefronts replacing the original first floor windows, oriel windows on the third and fourth floors, and three dormers on the right-hand side of the roof.  Today, several different businesses occupy the first floor storefronts, including Fox 25 News in the corner storefront.

The other historic building that has survived from the first photo is the Claflin Building, located just beyond the Amory-Ticknor House on Beacon Street.  It was completed in 1884, and is one of architect William Gibbons Preston’s several surviving buildings in Boston, along with the Armory of the First Corps of Cadets and the Museum of Natural History building.  The Claflin Building was built for the newly-founded Boston University, who used the upper floors for school offices and rented the first floor storefronts.  The school owned the building until the 1940s, when it moved to its present campus on Commonwealth Avenue, and today it has been renovated into condominiums.

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.

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.

Beacon Street looking west from Charles Street, Boston (2)

Another view, around 1887, looking west on Beacon Street from Charles Street.  Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


A similar view to the photos in this post, these photos show how Beacon Street has changed in the past 127 years.  Not a whole lot of dramatic changes have occurred; the street is now a paved, four lane thoroughfare, but the Public Garden is still there on the left, and many of the rowhouses on the right are still there, including the granite ones from 1828 on the far right of the photos.

Beacon Street looking west from Charles Street, Boston (1)

The view looking west on Beacon Street from Charles Street, between 1865 and 1870. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.


The same view in 2014:


The buildings in the distance in the first photo would have been almost brand-new; these are part of the Back Bay neighborhood, and would have been built within about ten years before the photo was taken.  The buildings in the foreground, however, are much older.  The granite rowhouses just past the brick building on the far right of the first photo are still there; they were built in 1828, almost a decade before the Public Garden across the street was even established.  The brick townhouse next to it in the foreground was probably even older, although it was demolished at some point, probably around 1917, when the tall apartment building in the 2014 photo was built.

Beacon Street looking east from Charles Street, Boston

Looking up Beacon Street toward the State House, sometime in the 19th century. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The same scene in 2014:


The first photo was probably taken around the 1860s or 1870s, and many of the townhouses predate even that photo by half a century.  One of the houses in this view, featured in this post when Theodore Roosevelt came to visit, was built in 1819, and many of the other houses likely date to the same period, which was around the time when Beacon Hill was first being developed.

For being close to 150 years apart, the two scenes are remarkably similar – most of the townhouses in the foreground appear virtually unchanged, and trees in Boston Common and a wrought iron fence (probably the same one) still line the left-hand side of Beacon Street.  It’s a picturesque neighborhood, and also a pricey one – the house featured in the Roosevelt post is currently on the market with an asking price of $11.9 million.