Summer Street near Atlantic Avenue, Boston

Looking toward the northern side of Summer Street, with Atlantic Avenue in the distance, sometime in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:

These photos were taken from alongside South Station (although I’m not sure if South Station was here at the time of the first photo), around the spot where the present-day station facade ends.  The buildings in the first photo are the Hathaway Building (distance) and the New England Building (foreground), and an 1898 atlas of Boston lists both buildings as belonging to Francis Hathaway.  I don’t know when the buildings were demolished, but they were gone by the late 1960s, when construction began on the building that currently occupies the site, Boston’s Federal Reserve Bank Building, which takes up most of the right-hand side of the photo.


South Station, Boston

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


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


South Station in 2014:

These three 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 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.

Summer Street, Boston

Looking up Summer Street from Lincoln Street, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same view in 2014:


Although this is part of Boston’s Financial District, this part of Summer Street doesn’t look too dramatically different from 110 years ago.  Several of the older buildings are still recognizable, with the most noticeable being the one on the far left.  Known as the Church Green, it is named after the New South Church that once stood on the site.  It was demolished in 1868, and replaced by a bank building.  That building burned just a few years later in the 1872 fire, and the present-day building was completed in 1873.  In the 1904 photo, it advertised a number of shoe-related services, including shoe polish, womens shoes, and boot and shoe patterns.  Today, the first floor has a Dunkin Donuts and a Chipotle.