Trinity Church, Boston (1)

Trinity Church at Copley Square in Boston, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Copley Square in 2015:


Trinity Church has been the defining feature at Copley Square since it was completed in 1877, and over the years it has remained the one constant in this scene.  It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, and its architecture helped to spark the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was popular in the late 1800s, especially in the Northeast. The congregation itself is much older than the church building, though; the Episcopalian parish was established in 1733, and for many years it was located on Summer Street.  However, the Great Boston Fire of 1872 destroyed the building, along with the homes of many of the church members.  Many began relocating to the newly-developed Back Bay, so Trinity Church, along with many other city churches, moved as well.

Today, the church still stands essentially unaltered from its original appearance, even as the city has grown up around it.  Behind the church is the old John Hancock Building, now known as the Berkeley Building.  It was completed in 1947, and in 1976 its much taller successor, the current John Hancock Tower, was completed just to the right of the church.  The base of the tower is less than 100 feet from the church, and its construction actually caused substantial damage to the church by disrupting the soil and groundwater levels.  The tower later had other design faults, including problems with the 4′ x 11′ glass windows detaching from the building and falling to the streets below; the problem was eventually resolved by replacing all 10,344 windows, and thankfully there were no injuries from falling glass.

Copley Square, Boston (2)

Copley Square as seen from in front of the New Old South Church in Boston, in 1893. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Copley Square in 2015:

The first photo shows Copley Square as it appeared only about 20 years after this section of Boston was developed.  In the second half of the 19th century, the Back Bay was transformed from a polluted marsh to one of the city’s premier neighborhoods.  Many of the city’s important cultural institutions moved here, with many of them surrounding the Copley Square area, including the New Old South Church on the left, the Trinity Church in the center, and the Museum of Fine Arts on the right.  Also under construction, but just out of view of the camera on the right, was the main branch of the Boston Public Library.

Today, the Copley Square area has seen some significant changes from the 19th century.  It remains the focal point of the Back Bay, but what started as neighborhoods of Victorian rowhouses evolved into low-rise commercial buildings, and eventually modern skyscrapers, especially in the area south of Boylston Street.  The two churches from the 1893 photo are still standing, but all of the other buildings are gone, including the Museum of Fine Arts, which moved to a larger facility further down Huntington Avenue in the early 1900s.  The old building was demolished, and replaced in 1912 with the Copley Plaza Hotel, which still stands today.

The most prominent new building in the 2015 scene is the John Hancock Tower, which was completed in 1976 and is the tallest building in New England.  Beyond it, near the center of the photo, is the 1947 Berkeley Building, which is also known as the Old John Hancock Building.  Together, these skyscrapers, along with the ones seen facing the other direction in this post, make up Boston’s High Spine, a string of skyscrapers extending west from downtown Boston, roughly along the Boylston Street and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Trinity Church, Boston

Trinity Church in Boston, in 1920. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.


The church in 2013:


Located at Copley Square in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Trinity Church was built between 1872 and 1877, to replace the parish’s previous church, which had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872.  The church was designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and is generally regarded as his magnum opus.

The surrounding of the church have changed, even though the building itself has remained essentially the same.  Originally, Huntington Avenue (foreground in the 1920 photo) cut diagonally in front of the church; this was changed in 1966, and the former roadway is now part of a park in front of the church.  Behind the church is the Berkeley Building, also known as the Old John Hancock Building, and not to be confused with the John Hancock Tower, which is located immediately to the right of Trinity Church, just out of the picture.