State Street, Boston

The view looking up State Street from Chatham Street, in 1875. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The same view, around 1905. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


State Street in 2014:


These three views show the progression of high-rise buildings in Boston’s Financial District, with the 1875 photo showing mostly 4-5 story brick buildings, followed by taller buildings in the turn-of-the-century photo, and finally the modern steel and glass skyscrapers in the 2014 photo.  One constant in all of the photos, though, is the Old State House, which predates even the first photo by over 150 years (consider that – in the 1875 photo, the building was closer in time to the present day than to the year it was built).  It’s remarkable to be able to see it in all three photos, though, because the views clearly show the colonial-era building steadily becoming dwarfed by its surroundings.

Another building (possibly the only other one) visible in all three photos is the Western Union Telegraph Company building (the one with the company’s name painted on the side in the photo).  It was brand-new in the 1875 photo, having been built approximately a year earlier, and it stood out among its neighbors.  Today, it’s still there, although extensively modified and barely noticeable, and is probably the shortest building on either side of State Street in this view.

Old State House, Boston

The view of the 1713 Old State House in Boston, as it appeared around 1860. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The building in 1875, decorated to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The Old State House around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Around 1906, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The Old State House in 2021:

Today, the Old State House is dwarfed by modern skyscrapers, although the building to the left has survived to this day.  The building was the capitol of the colony of Massachusetts, and later the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from the Revolution until 1798, when it was replaced by the current State House.  It was used as Boston’s city hall from 1830 to 1841, and was preserved and restored in 1881.  Both before and after its use as a city hall, it was used for commercial offices and shops, as seen in the 1860 photo.

Aside from the Old State House, almost everything else has changed in the past 150+ years; over time, nearly all of the buildings in the historic photos have been demolished to create the Financial District in the heart of Downtown Boston that we know today.

One interesting quirk about the building that appears in the last two photos is the doorway on the right hand side next to the corner.  When the State Street subway station was built in 1904, the entrance was built right into the basement of the Old State House.