Theodore Roosevelt in Boston

Former President Theodore Roosevelt leaves a house on Beacon Street in Boston, in 1916. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same house in 2014:

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As mentioned in this post, Beacon Hill has long been the home of some of Boston’s most prominent citizens.  Among those in the early 1900s was Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow (the man holding the door in the background), a physician and friend of Theodore Roosevelt, who is seen here walking down the steps to Beacon Street.  According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Roosevelt made several visits to Dr. Bigelow’s home on 56 Beacon Street after leaving the presidency.

Today, the exterior of the townhouse is virtually unchanged in the nearly 100 years since Roosevelt’s visit.  As of July 2014, the house, which was built in 1819, is for sale – for a mere $11.9 million.

Beacon Street, Boston

Looking west on Beacon Street in Boston, near the State House, sometime in the 19th century. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same scene in 2014:

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These views show Beacon Street looking down the hill, just past the Massachusetts State House (the State House would be behind and to the left from this angle).  The street to the right in the foreground is Joy Street, and Boston Common is to the left.

Ever since Beacon Hill was developed in the early 1800s, it has been a wealthy neighborhood, and given its location adjacent to the State House, it has been the home of a number of prominent politicians over the years.  Aside from wider, paved streets, and automobiles instead of horse-drawn carriages, not much has changed with the appearance of the neighborhood. The streets are still lined with brick townhouses, and many of the ones from the first photo (which I suspect was probably taken around the 1860s-1870s) are still around today, including the one on the far right in the foreground, and the one in approximately the center of the 19th century photo, which is partially obscured by trees in the 2014 photo.

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.

Massachusetts State House, Boston

The Massachusetts State House, as it appeared around 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Its appearance 114 years later, in March 2013:

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The front appearance of the State House is more or less the same as it appeared when it was completed in 1798, although several major additions have changed the other three sides of the building.  One of the additions, completed in 1895, was directly behind the original 1798 structure, and isn’t visible from this angle.  The other additions, the two wings on the left and the right that appear in the 2013 building, were not built until 1917.