Sunday, February 26, 2012

South End History, Part I: The "New" South End

This post is adapted from lectures I gave in February 2012 at both the and at the .

For those of you who might not be familiar with Boston's South End neighborhood, you can see it in relation to the rest of the city on the map on the left.

The image below shows a closer view of the South End neighborhood.  This map shows the boundaries of the South End Landmark District, the area of the South End whose historic architecture is protected by the city of Boston.   The orange star marks the Historical Society office.  

Until the early 19th century, the South End that we know today was a sort of no-man’s land between the main part of Boston on the Shawmut Peninsula and the town of Roxbury on the mainland.  The term "South End" referred to the southern part of town.  And the southernmost portion of Boston before the early to mid 19th century was the area of Franklin, Summer, and Milk Streets.  Hence the name Old South Meeting House, which today is smack in the middle of downtown.  So before the early 19th century, when the South End of today was mostly uninhabited, Bostonians referred to the South End as the area that encompasses today's Financial District.  As we will see, as the city’s geographic boundaries changed, so did the idea of what area made up the South End.  

So when did the South End of today appear?  First, we need to understand a bit about Boston's made land.  The Shawmut Peninsula ("original" Boston) was connected to the mainland and Roxbury by a long isthmus, the Neck, along which ran a main road, today’s Washington Street.  The map to the left depicts the original outline of Boston in light gray with a blue arrow indicating the location of the Neck.  The narrowest part of the neck, around the point where the blue arrow is, is where Washington and East Berkeley Streets intersect today.  The orange star marks the approximate location of the Faneuil Hall area.   

In 1801, the town selectmen, including Charles Bulfinch, presented a plan to develop some of the necklands (in light gray near the blue arrow and to the South) between the main part of Boston and Roxbury.  The newly laid out area was mean to attract freestanding construction and houses surrounded by gardens and grounds.  However, few people purchased these lots and by the late 1820s, the city of Boston reevaluated the development of the Neck.  They planned more streets and divided the blocks into smaller parcels, hoping to attract a wider demographic with smaller and less expensive lot prices.  By the 1840s, as foreign immigration to Boston increased, the population of the city grew dramatically and tenement housing began to dominate.  The city worried that its middle and upper-middle class tax base would leave for the suburbs.  In the late 1840s, they decided to turn the necklands into a rowhouse district to entice these families to stay within the city limits.

At the same time, and in phases, the town (which became a city in 1822) began making land around the Neck to increase the available land mass.  The above map shows the original shorelines of Boston in light gray.  The dark gray indicates made land.  The land around the neck was filled first and then in 1857, the city continued to make land to the north of the South End, creating the Back Bay.

As people started to settle on the Neck and commercial enterprise took over much of the Milk, Franklin, Summer, and Devonshire Street area (today’s Financial District), Bostonians started to refer to the area of new development around the Neck as the South End because it became the most southerly neighborhood in Boston.  Remember that Roxbury was not annexed into Boston until 1868.  The map to the left shows the new South End in relation to the rest of the city.  This is the map of the landmark district that you saw above superimposed onto the map of Boston's made land.  I drew the original shoreline of the neck on to the landmark district map to give you an idea of how much of the South End is built on made land.  As you can see, the Back Bay is almost entirely made land.  The orange star marks the Historical Society office.

Image courtesy of the .  See to their Flickr page.

Who lived in the new South End?  There was some settlement on the neck before the mid-19th century rowhouse era, although it was scattered.  Some early houses include the Porter Houses, the Allen House, and the Deacon House.  The Porter Houses were built on the corner of Washington Street and East Springfield Street in 1806.  The Allen House at Worcester Square and Washington Street was built in 1859.  Both the Porter Houses and the Allen House are condominium buildings today.  The Deacon House (image at left) was built in 1848, also on Washington Street, and no longer exists.  However, part of the rear wall of the house can be seen embedded in the building that stands at the site. 

After the rowhouse plan took effect, the city laid out three residential style squares in 1850-1851: Chester Square (on Massachusetts Avenue today between Tremont St. and Shawmut Ave.), Worcester Square, and Union Park.  These squares feature rowhouses laid out around a central green space with a fountain.  Most of the buildings on these squares were built in the 1850s.  In general, upper-middle class families, many involved in commercial enterprise, lived in most of the houses on the squares.  Other South End streets were also developed into rowhouse streets, housing upper-middle and middle class families.  Working class families also lived in the district.  Their homes were usually on narrower streets located closer to downtown.  

Coming soon: South End History, Part II: Boston's Melting Pot.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Some South End Images: Postcards

A few years ago, the SEHS received a donation of several dozen South End postcards.  Most date from the early 20th century.  Some were never sent but many have writing, notes, and postmarks on the back- city visitors or residents describing something or sending a note to their family members or friends.

I've posted some of the postcards for your enjoyment on this chilly Monday.
The postcard above shows the Beal Nurses' Home and Registry at 406 Massachusetts Avenue.  I believe that they rented rooms in this building, known as the Palmerston.  Today, the old Savoy building (a barbershop now) and part of a Tenants' Development Corporation building occupy the site. 

The postcard above shows a room in a lodging house at 37 West Newton Street.  The postmark on the back of the card reads 1912 and the note reads "Dear Eva, Please give me your dress-maker's address.  Josephine has been very sick with measles. Call in and don't be such a stranger. Your Friend, Mrs. Fitzgerald."

This image, taken about 1912, shows Tremont Street Methodist Church, now New Hope Baptist Church, on Tremont Street between Worcester and West Concord Streets. 
This group of women is standing outside of the Trade School for Girls, located at 618-620 Massachusetts Avenue.  The Dunkin' Donuts parking lot occupies most of this space today.  This image dates to about 1917.  The note on the back is addressed to "Miss Mabel S. Long, 290 Lincoln St. Allston, Massachusetts" and reads "We are glad you like your work so much.  Thank you for writing.  Have you a kit that belongs to our set or where did you leave it?  Come back and see us when you are through work.  F.E.L."

This is one of my favorite images of the South End.  This postcard shows the corner of Columbus and Massachusetts Ave., looking east.  The building on the corner houses a market in this image and later became the home of the Hi-Hat club, a well-known center of South End and Boston nightlife.  Fire destroyed the building and Hi-Hat in 1959.  United South End Settlements' Harriet Tubman House stands there today.

The Columbia Theatre stood at 978-986 Washington Street at the intersection with Motte Street (Herald Street today) until it was demolished in 1957.  Built in 1827 as the South Congregational Church, it became a theater in 1891.  The theatre showed dramas, burlesque, vaudeville, silent movies, and talkies. 
The Herald building stands there today- .
A performance at the Columbia (the outside of the building is pictured in the postcard above this one).
The Union Rescue, pictured above in 1908, was located at 1-3 Dover Street near the corner of Tremont and Dover (now East Berkeley) Streets.  The back of this postcard is addressed to "Mrs. George Morrison, 64 West Main Street, Marlboro Mass." and says "A word home all O.K. Have eaten the (nameless) that George gave me and we liked it very much.  Baby is a different child.  I don't have to pay any attention to him he is so happy.  Hope you have a pleasant vacation.  Hastily, Minnie"
Castle Square Theater stood at the corner of Ferdinand (now Arlington), Tremont, and Castle (now Herald) Streets.  Before Castle Square Theater, the Bunker Hill Cyclorama was built here in 1888 and welcomed visitors until it shut down in 1889.  The circular Cyclorama building remained, housing the Garden Theater Arena in 1892 and then a riding club.  Most of the building was demolished to make way for the new Castle Square Theater in 1894.  The theater was renamed Arlington Theater in 1919 and then returned to the name Castle Square in 1925.  The building was torn down in 1933.  The Animal Rescue League moved into its new building on the site in 1956

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Upcoming Program: "South End History: An Overview"

Want to know more about South End history?

This Thursday, February 16th, I will be giving a lecture and slide presentation at the South End Historical Society titled "South End History: An Overview." This will be at 6pm at 532 Massachusetts Avenue, the Historical Society's headquarters.

I'll talk about the South End's made-land and architecture as well as the people who have made the South End their home through the last 160 years.

I'll be repeating this talk the following Thursday, February 23rd, at 12:15pm at the Old South Meeting House, corner of Milk and Washington Streets, for the "Middays at the Meeting House" lecture series.*

Reservations are required for both events. Please call 617-536-4445 or email to sign up.

*The Old South Meeting House lecture on the 23rd is $6 for non-SEHS members and free for SEHS members. The lecture at the SEHS on the 16th is free of charge.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Army Recruiting Station

About a month ago, I received this tweet from a South End resident:

I exchanged emails with this curious South Ender and, as the message above indicates, his grandfather enlisted in the Army at the recruiting station at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Clarendon Street in 1941. The South Ender asked if we had any information about the station or any photographs of what it looked like. I told him that I didn't think the Historical Society had anything but that I'd do a bit of digging in other Boston area resources and would see what I could find.

I started hunting around for information about the Army induction station and for the South Ender's grandfather. I found that throughout the course of World War II, the Army had several different induction stations in Boston, depending on the volume of recruits or draftees and the proximity to a railroad station. In January 1941 and for some time before that (I'm not sure how long), new enlistees went to 176 Federal Street. However, a Daily Boston Globe article from February 1941 mentions "Boston's new draft induction station on Columbus Ave" and one from July 1941 gives 269 Columbus Avenue as the address. In February 1941, shortly after the Columbus Ave station opened, the Globe reported that the station was expanding into the adjacent Earle Building because they needed more space(1).

As soon as I saw the name "Earle Building," I knew exactly where the induction station was. So do you. Have you ever been to the CVS at the corner of Clarendon and Columbus? Or to the City Year headquarters? Did you go to the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust's art reception after the 2011 Garden tour? That building. The image at left is a picture of the building in 1972 (image courtesy of the South End Historical Society). So the next time you're in there, think of the thousands of recruits who went through there before being sent to Fort Devens or Camp Edwards for training. The "men reporting were given two meals by special ticket at a nearby cafeteria" and some or all took the train from Huntington Avenue(2). I wish I knew where the men ate and I assume that many departed from the Huntington Avenue railroad station that used to stand where Copley Place is now. The Huntington Ave. Station is circled in the 1938 Bromley map at right.

Now that I knew where the South Ender's grandfather enlisted, I searched to see if I could find any record of him. Newspapers often reported who enlisted or reported and where they were from. I didn't find a mention of him in the newspaper but I did find his enlistment record, which listed his date, occupation, age, birthday, and level of education. He enlisted in early 1942.

When he enlisted, he probably saw ads like the one below from October 1942, encouraging him to serve his country.
Or this one from June 1942.If you know anyone who went through the South End induction station, please let me know. This is the first time I'd heard a story relating to it.

1. Daily Boston Globe, February 8, 1941, July 8, 1941, and February 22, 1941.

2. Daily Boston Globe, February 7, 1941.