Boston and Providence Depot, Boston

The Boston and Providence Depot at Park Square in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The station around 1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:


The Boston and Providence Railroad opened in 1835, at a time when Boston was still a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. To avoid taking up scarce land, the railroad built a long trestle across the Back Bay, which at the time was a tidal marsh between Boston and Roxbury. The railroad terminal was built here at the edge of the water, at what eventually became Park Square.

The original station from the first photograph was demolished in the early 1870s so that the city could build Columbus Avenue, and it was replaced with the much larger station in the second photograph. In advertisements, it was hailed as “The Palace Depot of the World,” and from here passengers could board a train for Providence, New York, and other points south. However, by the late 19th century there were eight different railroads serving Boston, each of which operated its own separate station. The four railroads on the north side all had terminals near where North Station would be be built in 1893, and three of the south side terminals were located in the immediate vicinity of today’s South Station. The Providence and Worcester depot was the one outlier; it was on the south side, but it was a half mile away from the next closest station.

Because the multiple stations were both inconvenient for passengers and a waste of valuable property, the four south side railroads finally consolidated into South Station in 1899. This station and the tracks leading to it were closed, and the railroad, which by then had been leased to the New York, New Haven and Hartford, was rerouted onto new tracks, parallel to the Boston & Albany Railroad.

Today, none of the buildings from the first two photos are still standing. The site of the station is now the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1927 as the Hotel Statler Boston in the triangular block between Columbus Avenue, Park Plaza, and Arlington Street. The only visible remnant from the first photo is the Emancipation Memorial statue, which was added to Park Square in 1879 and can be seen on the far left of both photos.


Emancipation Memorial, Park Square, Boston

The Emancipation Memorial at Park Square, photographed around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Park Square in 2015:

This statue at Park Square is a copy of the original Emancipation Memorial at Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., which was designed by Charlestown, Massachusetts native Thomas Ball and dedicated in 1876.  Designed to memorialize Abraham Lincoln and his role as the “Great Emancipator,” it shows Lincoln standing over a slave who is kneeling in front of him, with shackles on his wrist.  The original was paid for entirely by donations from freed slaves, but it has not been without controversy.  At the dedication ceremony, Frederick Douglass was reported to have criticized the slave’s position on his knees, and more recent historians have also objected to his seemingly inferior position in front of Lincoln.

Boston’s copy of the statue was donated to the city in 1879 by local politician Moses Kimball.  It has a different pedestal than the Washington one, which reads “A race set free and the country at peace Lincoln rests from his labors.”  The statue’s appearance has changed very little over the years, except for the planters at each corner.  However, the surrounding neighborhood has completely changed. The buildings behind the statue in the first photo show signs for a plumbing supply company, furniture upholsterers, and even Cuban cigars, over 50 years before they were outlawed.  On the extreme right is one of the buildings from the former Boston and Providence Railroad depot, which closed a few years earlier when the railroad was rerouted to South Station. Today, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1927 and is just out of view in the 2015 photo, stands on the site of the former depot.

Armory of the First Corps of Cadets, Boston

The armory at the corner of Arlington Street and Columbus Avenue in Boston, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

Mixed in with modern high-rise buildings, this building looks more like it belongs in medieval Europe than in Boston, but it once served an important role in the city’s history.  It was one of many National Guard armories built across the state in the late 1800s, and it bears some resemblance to Springfield’s state armory, which was built around the same time.  The Armory of the First Corps of Cadets was built between 1891 and 1897, and like many other prominent civic buildings in late 19th century Boston it was designed by William Gibbons Preston, whose other works included Mechanics Hall and the Museum of Natural History.  Although the castle-like building seems somewhat whimsical in appearance, it actually served a very practical purpose; in the event of riots or other civil unrest, it would be able to withstand any attacks.  The tower could even be used to exchange signals with officials at the Massachusetts State House, which is located on the other side of Boston Common.

Over a hundred years after its construction, the armory is relatively unchanged on the exterior, although it has gone through several different uses over the years.  In the mid-20th century it was used for several different military-related museums, and in 1966 it was sold to a private owner.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and went through several different uses, including as a library and as an exhibition hall.  Today, it is owned by the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and is rented as a banquet and conference facility.