Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Upcoming Boston Area History Events

There are several upcoming history related events in the Boston area.  Below are just a few that crossed my desk in the last couple of weeks.  I'll be attending some of them and you should too.  Support your local historical societies, museums, and other cultural institutions!

has a number of great events coming up.  Visit their website for more information.  They have exhibits about preservation in Boston, walking tours, and lectures about West End history, costumes and burlesque (image at right), and urban renewal.  

Wednesday, March 28th
The Meet the Author series presents Christopher Klein, author of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands (cover at right)Where: Old South Meeting House, 310 Washington Street, at 5:30pm.  The author will take you "on a virtual tour through the colorful history and natural beauty of one of our best-kept local secrets during...[the Alliance's] first 'Meet the Authors' series, presented in collaboration with Old South Meeting House.  Hear tales of ghosts, shipwrecks, prisoners of war, and Revolutionary War battles that took place on 'the real Shutter Islands' and get inspired to leave port and visit this urban oasis."
Admission is free for Boston Preservation Alliance and Old South Meeting House members; $10 for non-members.
Visit to sign up!

Thursday, March 29th
The focus of the Old South Meeting House's winter and spring "Middays at the Meeting House" series is the history of Boston's neighborhoods.  A different Boston neighborhood is highlighted each week and on March 29th Charlestown is the focus.  From OSMH's website: "Rebuilt after it was burned by the British following the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, and annexed to Boston in 1874, today Charlestown is home to extraordinary historical architecture; major national landmarks and a new generation of immigrants and young professionals that have joined its traditionally Irish-American population. Carl Zellner, Historian of the Charlestown Historical Society, explores the city’s oldest neighborhood, which today is a thriving 21st Century community. $6; Free for OSMH Members."  The event starts at 12:15pm at the OSMH, 310 Washington Street.  See their for details. 

Friday, March 30th
Tenants' Development Corporation will be hosting "Sharing Our Stories" in collaboration with the from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  The flyer reads: "Seasoned Citizens" share their personal narratives of life in the South End- Then and Now- in a dramatic and humorous presentation."  The event will have an art and photo display, Q & A, refreshments, a raffle, and special guests.  It is Friday, March 30th, from 6 to 9pm at the Harriet Tubman House, 566 Columbus Avenue.  The event is free.  RSVP needed.  Please contact Ekua Holmes at 617-780-9765 or at or Arnesse Brown at 617-291-7307 or at to sign up!

Wednesday, April 4th
The ’s 2012 Auction & Gala will be held at State Street Pavilion at Fenway Park at 5:30pm in association with the ballpark’s centennial celebrations.  Enjoy live and silent auctions featuring: travel packages, tickets to cultural and sporting events, gift certificates to Boston’s finest restaurants and historic hotels, and novelties related to preservation.  All proceeds support the Alliance’s advocacy efforts and help to sustain our education programs in the city’s underserved communities. To purchase tickets and for a preview of auction items, click .
Thursday, April 5th
On Thursday, April 5th, the will present Victorian Baseball in Boston.  From their website: "the evening will feature discussions on the early baseball rules, the Boston-New York rivalry, the first Boston dynasties and the poetry of baseball.  Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour of beer and hot dogs at the Gibson House Museum, located across the street from Fisher College. The program gets underway at 6:45 p.m at Fisher College, 118 Beacon Street. Heading the list of panelists will be Bill Nowlin, author of more than 30 Red Sox-related books. Larry McCray...the coordinator of 'Project Protoball,' a record of print references to baseball prior to 1860, will also be on hand. Filling out the panel will be Joanne Hulbert, co-chair of SABR’s Music and Poetry Committee and a distant relative of William A. Hulbert, one of the founders of the National League. 
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, with a special $10 admission for members of the Gibson House Museum, SABR, the Boston Braves Historical Society, the Boston Preservation Alliance, the Ayer Mansion, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, the South End Historical Society, and the Victorian Society.
To purchase tickets online visit or call to reserve a space at 617-267-6338 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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

...continued from South End History, Part I: The “New” South End
Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.
Most of the rowhouses in the South End did not remain single-family homes for long.  A few major events occurred that were partly responsible for a major demographic change in the South End.  In 1872, the tore through much of the city’s commercial and warehouse district in what is today’s Financial District (and Boston’s “old” South End).  Many merchants, South Enders included, lost their warehouse stock and business locations in this fire.  In addition, the Financial Panic of 1873 struck the United States, causing widespread bank failures.  By this time, some Bostonians were ruined, some wanted to move to the newly filled and developed Back Bay to the north and northwest of the South End, and some wanted to take advantage of improved commuter transportation to live further outside of the city.

So what happened in the South End?
Many families left the neighborhood and property values in the area decreased as demand for rowhouses decreased.  Tens of thousands of immigrants entered Boston in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and took advantage of the abundance of housing becoming available in the South End.  In addition, many young men and women and young married couples from the suburbs or the countryside moved in to the city looking for employment.  To supply this demand, many rowhouses were converted to rooming houses, sheltering several families or individuals instead of one family.  By 1900, 85% of the rowhouses in the South End were being used as rooming houses, most of which remained rooming houses until well into the mid-twentieth century.

Who was living in the South End?
By the late nineteenth century, the South End housed people from all over the world.  Americans, British and British Canadians, Irish immigrants, Jews, Blacks, Germans, and Italians appear on Robert Woods’ map (at left) of ethnic enclaves in the South End in his 1898 study A City Wilderness.  By the early twentieth century, large groups of Lebanese, Eastern Europeans, Polish, and Puerto Rican immigrants had also moved into the South End.  E.C Dorion’s 1915 study, The Redemption of the South End, states that:

“The largest single factor of the population is Irish, with the Jews second.  There are also a large number of British-Americans and Negroes.  Side by side with these live, in lesser numbers, but in no insignificant groups by any means, English, German, Scotch, Italian, Greek, Syrian, Scandinavian, French, Austrian, and Armenian.  The section also has its Chinatown.  In some of the schools every European nation is represented.”

The Boston Daily Globe ran an article in 1907 featuring places in the city where immigrants could go to learn.  The article, at right, featured two South End institutions: the Free Trade School for Girls on Massachusetts Avenue and the Boston English High and Latin Schools on Montgomery Street.  The McKinley School stands at the English High and Latin site today.

Many immigrant families and poor South Enders needed charitable assistance and could visit places like the Union Rescue at 1-3 Dover Street (renamed East Berkeley Street in the mid-1960s).  Settlement houses in the South End also provided assistance and neighborhood services for South End families.  They ran many community programs, including boys’ and girls’ clubs, summer camps, arts and crafts classes, English classes, and music classes.  The first South End settlement house was founded by Robert Woods in 1891 and several others opened in the last nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the 1950s, the remaining settlement houses united to form South End Settlements and in 1960 became , which still exists today.

Where might a South Ender go for entertainment?
They might visit the Gettysburg or Bunker Hill Cycloramas in the late nineteenth century, or one of several theaters, like the Columbia Theater on the corner of Washington and Motte (Herald today) Streets, Castle Square Theater (where the stands today), the National Theater (where the stands today), or the Puritan Theater near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Washington Street. 

In the mid-twentieth century, they could also visit one of many Big Band or Jazz clubs in the South End like the Hi-Hat on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue.  Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday were among the many to perform here.  This building burned down in 1959.  The Harriet Tubman House stands there today and houses United South End Settlements.  Malcolm Little, also known as Malcolm X, used to hang out outside the Savoy Club, near the present day Massachusetts Avenue Orange Line MBTA stop and currently occupied by a barbershop.  was also a popular club.  Founded in 1947 by Barbadian immigrant Joseph Walcott, this club is the only mid-twentieth century jazz club remaining in the South End.  Wally, as Joseph Walcott was known, died in 1998 at the age of 101.  His daughter and grandchildren operate the club today.

In the 1950s, Boston started to investigate the possibility of rehabilitating certain districts that they thought were run-down with the intention of redeveloping those areas for commercial and residential space.  Several potential sites were located in the South End.  An urban renewal effort was going on all over the country and was encouraged by both the federal and local governments in many major cities. 

Coming soon: South End History, Part III: Urban Renewal...