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News and notes about Boston's history and architecture. Our motto: "To Observe and Preserve"



Updated: 2009-05-20T13:49:11-04:00

 



Boston Map Lecture at the Gibson House Museum 27 May

2009-05-20T13:49:11-04:00

I will be presenting a lecture on the Boston history as seen through maps on 27 May, 5:30 PM, at the Gibson House Museum, 137 Beacon Street in Boston's Back Bay. Numerous historic maps of Boston will also be on...

I will be presenting a lecture on the Boston history as seen through maps on 27 May, 5:30 PM, at the Gibson House Museum, 137 Beacon Street in Boston's Back Bay.  Numerous historic maps of Boston will also be on display.  Please call 617-267-6338 or email info@thegibsonhouse.org to reserve a spot.  The lecture is $10 and space is limited.  I hope you can make it.

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History in The Boston Globe

2009-03-08T22:29:02-04:00

The Boston Globe has two interesting history related articles today. First, some homeowners in Charlestown may have backyards transected by a burial trench from the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the second story, a silver mug which turned up in...

The Boston Globe has two interesting history related articles today.  First, some homeowners in Charlestown may have backyards transected by a burial trench from the Battle of Bunker Hill.  In the second story, a silver mug which turned up in the state's abandoned property division has its provenance cleared, and is donated to the MFA.  This story is of particular interest to me because the rightful heir, Mason Dix Harris, is a descendant of Thaddeus Mason Harris, who served as minister of First Parish Church in Dorchester, the church which I attend.

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Gibson House Program 11 February 2009

2009-02-04T13:27:21-05:00

I hope some of my readers can make it. It should be interesting. “The Gibson House and 19th Century Building Technology“. Gibson House Museum Executive Director Charles Swift is the featured speaker at a program hosted by the Gibson House...

I hope some of my readers can make it. It should be interesting.

“The Gibson House and 19th Century Building Technology“. Gibson House Museum Executive Director Charles Swift is the featured speaker at a program hosted by the Gibson House Museum on Wednesday, February 11, 2009 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Swift will talk about the evolution of building technology in the Back Bay from 1859 to the present, using the Gibson House Museum as a case study. The Gibson House has essentially been preserved as it appeared during three generations of Gibson family occupancy (1859-1954). It can be considered a sophisticated mid-nineteenth-century “machine for living”. Through the years, as building technology advanced, the Gibson family either replaced or retrofitted systems, often abandoning older systems in
place. This “system layering” reveals the sequence of advancing building technology in everyday domestic life at the Gibson House.

5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. program. Wednesday, February 11, 2009.
Sponsored by THE GIBSON HOUSE MUSEUM. 137 Beacon Street. Members: free,
Non-members: $5. For information: RSVP. 617 267-6338 or
info@thegibsonhouse.org Space is limited.

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Thoughts On The Inauguration of Barack Obama

2009-01-20T16:36:55-05:00

I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States today at the Boston Athenaeum. During the ceremony, I stood a few feet from a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, which...

I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States today at the Boston Athenaeum. During the ceremony, I stood a few feet from a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, which the Athenaeum had put on display for the day.  When Obama put his hand on the Lincoln Inaugural Bible for the oath of office, I couldn't help but wonder what Lincoln was thinking when he signed that copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of 48 which were sold in 1864 to raise money for health care for soldiers.  Could he ever have imagined this day coming?  And my mind turned to William Lloyd Garrison as well, who helped found the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 at the African Meeting House, a five-minute walk from the Athenaeum.  What would Garrison have to say as Obama swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, a Constitution which Garrison despised.  Garrison regarded a union which included slaveholders as fundamentally corrupt, but waited in great anticipation for the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which set off a celebration in Boston when news of its signing arrived by telegraph.  As I listened to Obama speak, I occasionally looked out into the sunshine flooding the Granary Burying Ground, thinking about those buried there who sacrificed so much for liberty:  Sam Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, James Otis, Paul Revere, and Crispus Attucks, among many others.  Obama's inaugural speech made explicit the values of that Revolutionary generation, calling us to believe in something deeper than current political concerns. That generation would likely have thought it inconceivable that a person of African descent would one day lead the American project.  But yet they helped create the political documents and ideals which brought that same day to pass, a Declaration of Independence which declared that all men are created equal, a Constitution which set certain rights in bedrock, yet with the flexibility to be adapted to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to more and more people over the years.  We are the inheritors of a great, if sometimes flawed, history.  I can only hope that Garrison and Lincoln and all those who sacrificed so much for the cause of civil rights and liberty know that today three-fifths has finally been made whole.

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Merry Christmas

2008-12-23T08:07:42-05:00

As my readers (you're still out there, right?) have noticed, I have been on hiatus for much of this past year as I settled into my job at the Gibson House Museum. I'm planning on more frequent posting in the...

As my readers (you're still out there, right?) have noticed, I have been on hiatus for much of this past year as I settled into my job at the Gibson House Museum.  I'm planning on more frequent posting in the New Year and have new maps and photos and books to share.  I may even take the plunge into podcasting and create an audio walking tour of the Back Bay.  I will also be giving a series of talks at the Gibson House about Back Bay history and will make sure  you all are kept informed.

And now for your Christmas greeting from the Massachusetts General Court in 1659:

"For preventing disorders arising...by reason of some still observing such festivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonor of God, and offence of others, it is therefore ordered...that whoever shall be found observing any such days as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labour, feasting, or any other way...shall pay five shillings as a fine."




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Two December Programs At The Gibson House Museum

2008-11-30T13:13:57-05:00

The Gibson House Museum at 137 Beacon Street in Boston's Back Bay will be holding a neighborhood open house on Sunday, December 7th, from 1-4 P.M. and hosting author Margaret Shepherd who will present a lecture "The Art of the...

The Gibson House Museum at 137 Beacon Street in Boston's Back Bay will be holding a neighborhood open house on Sunday, December 7th, from 1-4 P.M. and hosting author Margaret Shepherd who will present a lecture "The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word".  Full details here.

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An Almanac for Bostonians 1939, 26 April

2008-04-26T11:19:16-04:00

The Federal Writer's Project created a Boston almanac for 1939. A mixture of history, gossip, and current events, it was, apparently, only done for one year. Today's post: William and Mary proclaimed in Boston in 1689.*****It was noted with disgust...

The Federal Writer's Project created a Boston almanac for 1939.  A mixture of history, gossip, and current events, it was, apparently, only done for one year.  Today's post:

William and Mary proclaimed in Boston in 1689.*****It was noted with disgust at this time in 1852 that a new invention of the devil called "High, Low, Jack" was popular among the gaming gentry.****That there is nothing of any real value which cannot be found in Boston was once more demonstrated on this day in 1855 when workmen on Hanover Street found a large vein of real gold.****In 1933 the Sacred Cod as stolen from the State House.  Oh horrible, horrible

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Dot Ave Isn't For the Cows

2008-03-26T21:22:46-04:00

Today's Boston Globe, in an article about the rejuvenation of Dorchester Avenue, refers to Dot Ave as having "a centuries-old history as cowpath and trolleyway long before pedestrians had to tangle with buses and cars to cross the street". I... Today's Boston Globe, in an article about the rejuvenation of Dorchester Avenue, refers to Dot Ave as having "a centuries-old history as cowpath and trolleyway long before pedestrians had to tangle with buses and cars to cross the street".  I hate to quibble, but the practice of labeling almost any historic street in the Boston area as a "cowpath" is misleading at best, and dead wrong at worst.  Dorchester Avenue was built as a turnpike for wagon traffic--it is straight because that's the least expensive way to build a road, and investors in such projects prefer to keep costs down.  The irony of course, is that people so often claim the crooked streets downtown were laid out on cowpaths.  One of Dorchester's cow path was Adams Street, which led from the salt marshes along the Neponset where cows would graze.  I know someone who remembers being told as a young boy how cattle would be driven over Meeting House Hill to the cattle markets in Brighton.  In addition, if Dorchester Avenue were like many turnpikes, one would actually have to pay per head of cattle to drive them along the road.  The last thing the turnpike proprietors wanted were traffic jams caused by herds of livestock.  Adams Street is old enough to have previously been named the "Lower Road" in Dorchester, as opposed to the "Upper Road", which is present day Washington Street. From 1910: Dorchester Avenue, Boston, South Boston, and Dorchester, 1854; from 303 Congress Street to junction of Adams Street and 1172 Washington Street at Lower Mills; formerly from Federal Street Bridge to junction Adams Street and Washington Street at Lower Mills; shown as an unnamed avenue on plan dated 1811; formerly called Dorchester Turnpike and sometimes, though improperly, South Boston Turnpike, and the apart from dividing line between Boston and Dorchester to Federal Street Bridge called Turnpike Street;  Turnpike Street from Federal State Bridge to dividing line between Boston and Dorchester named Dorchester Avenue, March 27, 1854; part in Dorchester laid out and located April, 1854; lines changed in neighborhoods of Crescent Avenue and Pond (now East Cottage) Street, September 8, 1865; name of part formerly Turnpike Street and Dorchester Avenue to dividing line between Boston and Dorchester changed to Federal Street in continuation of that street, February 13, 1866; same renamed Dorchester Avenue, March 1 1870; relocated from Commercial (now Freeport) Street to Adams Street, August 18, 1881; relocated from Field's Corner to the Lower Mills, May 12, 1884; extended over Federal Street Bridge and over a small portion of the former location of Federal Street (now in the grounds of the Boston Terminal Company along Fort Point Channel and over portions of the same to Summer Street, April 8, 1897, under chapter 516 of the Acts of 1896; portion between Summer Street and Congress Street laid out by decree of the Superior Court, filed March 19, 1897, under authority of Acts of 1896, chapter 535; named Dorchester Avenue, March 1, 1901; grade changed so that the way may be carried under the Shawmut Branch Railroad, Oct 12, 1907, be decree of the Superior Court, acting under authority of chapter 111 of the Revised Statutes and chapter 440, Acts of Legislature of 1902. [...]



Allan Rohan Crite Memorial

2007-11-10T18:41:22-05:00

Noted Boston artist Allan Rohan Crite passed away in September at the age of 97. Crite, whose work focused primarily on the African-American experience in Boston over several decades, will be honored on Saturday, November 17 with joint memorial exhibitions...

Noted Boston artist Allan Rohan Crite passed away in September at the age of 97.  Crite, whose work focused primarily on the African-American experience in Boston over several decades, will be honored on Saturday, November 17 with joint memorial exhibitions  and installations celebrating his life and art from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Boston Athenæum at 10 1/2 Beacon Street in Boston, the Boston Public Library Copley Branch Wiggin Gallery (McKim Building, third floor), and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists at 300 Walnut Avenue in Roxbury. The celebrations have been coordinated by the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. There will be a shuttle bus running between the sites. The event is complimentary and open to all, and no reservations are required.  The Boston Athenaeum will also be showing some of their collection of Crite's work through January.  If you haven't seen his paintings, I highly recommend a visit.

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From Boston Collections at the Boston Athenaeum

2007-10-23T23:13:19-04:00

The final exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum's 200 year anniversary is up now and open to the public. From Boston Collections brings together artwork from private area collections selected by David Dearinger, the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings and... The final exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum's 200 year anniversary is up now and open to the public. From Boston Collections brings together artwork from private area collections selected by David Dearinger, the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum.  Visitors are greeted by an Allan Rohan Crite painting Harriet and Leon (1941) (not part of the exhibition, but no doubt a tribute to the late Boston artist whose work is an important part of the Athenaeum's own collection) which shows two well dressed Bostonians strolling through the South End and who appear to be heading into the Calderwood Gallery to view the exhibition. Since the overarching theme is simply 19th and 20th century American art from Boston area collectors, Curator David Dearinger had wide latitude in choosing and hanging the show.  Dearinger has sought out interesting juxtapositions often relying on tonality rather than subject matter or chronology.  Other contrasts are literal:  one can imagine Edward Henry Potthast's seaside scene Beach at Ogunquit (1900-1927) being painted simultaneously with Maurice Prendergast's Charles Street, Boston (ca. 1895) the high summer sun illuminating both.   As a historical  footnote, be sure to see the traffic coming the opposite direction past the Common and Public Garden. While there is no particular "Boston school" of collecting, it is hard not to think that some of the works have been in families for decades and were bought because of geographical associations: William Haseltine's  A View from Mt. Desert (1861) brings us to Maine as does Beach at Ogunquit, while Martin Johnson Heade's Sunny Day on the Marsh (Newburyport Meadows) (c. 1871-1875), along with works by Boston artists like Polly Thayer represent the Bay State.  Since these paintings are from private collections, it helped to think of them in domestic contexts rather than as museum pieces--most are quite small--and the intimacy of the Norma Jean Calderwood gallery helps set a proper mood for viewing. I enjoyed seeing Wayne Thiebaud's Pies (Pie Table) (1962)  up close, which gives the viewer a new appreciation of Thiebaud's technique, with the thick single strokes of white paint simulating whipped cream, meringue, and frosting giving it an almost sculptural quality.  Learning that Maurice Prendergast worked as a commercial artist before moving to France in the early 1890s helps explain his Lady with a Red Sash (c. 1900) where a dancing woman wearing a white dress set against what appear to be Back Bay row houses is accented with a red sash that could have come straight from Tolouse-Lautrec's Ambassadeurs poster.  One unexpected treat was the inclusion of Claes Oldenburg's R. Caruso, Umbrella (1977) a watercolor study for a sculpture which sits outside of the Civic Center in my hometown and mimics the Traveler's Insurance umbrella, a neon fixture in Des Moines' skyline. All in all, the exhibition should provide something to delight, entertain, or provoke any visitor.  As an added bonus, the art on the first floor of the Athenaeum has been rehung as well and a self-guided tour is available by request). Works on display include Polly Thayer’s self-portrait (in the Long Room) and portrait of the man who became her husband, Donald Starr and four other works by Allan Rohan Crite (in the hall opposite the lavatories) so think of it as getting two exhibitions for the price of none.  The exhibition runs through 10 December 2007 and is free an[...]