Washington and Court Streets, Boston

The northwest corner of Washington and Court Streets in downtown Boston in 1891. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Boston’s first skyscraper was the Ames Building, which was completed in 1893 and was the tallest building in the city aside from the steeple of the Central Congregational Church. The first photo was taken shortly before these buildings were demolished to make way for the Ames Building. One of them in the distance to the left appears to already be in the process of demolition, and several of the others feature reminders of their impending doom, including a sign on the corner that reads “Our entire stock to be sold at a sacrifice. Summer and winter underwear selling at half price.” Further down Washington Street to the right, another sign reads, “Building coming down. Carpets & furniture at your own price. No offer refused.”

The Ames Building was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and its design reflects the older Romanesque Revival style, which was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, but had largely fallen out of fashion by the turn of the century. In other ways, though, the building represented a transition between the old and the new. Two major limits to early skyscrapers were stairs and structural support; buildings beyond a certain height were impractical because of the amount of climbing to reach the top and the thickness of the walls that would be necessary to support the weight of the upper floors. To solve the first problem, the 13-story Ames Building included modern elevator technology. However, while the 1880s saw the introduction of skyscrapers with a steel skeleton, the Ames Building was instead built with load-bearing masonry walls, which explains the thickness of the granite base. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it still stands as the second tallest load-bearing masonry building in the world, after Chicago’s Monadnock Building.

South Station, Boston

South Station around the time that it opened in 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view around 1905, after the construction of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Transportation

South Station in 1956, during construction of the Dewey Square Tunnel. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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South Station in 2014:

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These four photos reveal the changes that have taken place here at South Station over the past 115 years.  While the building itself (or at least most of it) has remained essentially the same, its surroundings have continually changed.

Before 1899, four different railroads had terminals in the general vicinity of the present-day station.  To make things simpler, South Station was built, and all four lines were rerouted to it.  A few years later, in 1901, the Atlantic Avenue Elevated was built, as seen in the second photo.  The rapid transit line included a station at South Station, which can be seen on the far right of the 1905 photo.

The third photo shows the result of changes in the way people travel; the Atlantic Avenue Elevated closed in 1938, and was demolished four years later.  Even South Station was seeing a severe drop in passengers in postwar America, as cars became the primary method of travel.  However, Boston’s colonial-era street network was not particularly accommodating to large number of cars, so the Central Artery was built in the 1950s.  Most of the Central Artery was elevated, but it was put underground for a few blocks near South Station, and was known as the Dewey Square Tunnel.

The Dewey Square Tunnel, which is seen under construction in the 1956 photo, turned out to be a foreshadowing of things to come; part of Boston’s infamous Big Dig involved putting the entire Central Artery underground.  Today, the tunnel is still there, directly underneath where I was standing when I took the photo.  It is the only existing part of the Central Artery; the remainder of the 1950s-era expressway was demolished upon completion of the Big Dig.

Today, South Station has been trimmed a bit – notice that the facade on both sides is shorter than in the first two photos.  This was a result of demolition in the 1960s, at a time when many railroads were cutting back or eliminating passenger service.  However, today South Station is a busy transportation center again – it is the busiest railroad station in New England and the sixth busiest in the country, and it is the northern terminus of the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail line in the country.

Union Station, Springfield, Mass

Union Station in Springfield, Mass, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2014:

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Prior to 1890, trains passing through Springfield on the Boston & Albany Railroad had to cross Main Street at street level; this resulted in significant traffic issues as the city grew, so in 1890 a stone arch was built over Main Street, and an elevated stone viaduct carried the railroad through downtown.  As part of this, the old Union Station was opened in 1889.  Designed by Shelby, Rutan and Coolidge in the style of Henry Hobson Richardson, the station consisted of buildings on both the north and south sides of the tracks (as seen in this photo, taken around the same time).  The 1905 photo shown above shows the south side, looking east along Lyman Street.  This station was demolished in 1925 and replaced with the present-day Union Station.  This station, located on the other side of the tracks, has been closed since 1974, but is in the process of being renovated.  In the meantime, rail travelers today use the Lyman Street entrance to access the modern Amtrak station, which is a far cry from Richardson’s original design.