Settled in the 1630s, the North End is one of Boston's oldest neighborhoods, after Upham's Corner (1630) and Meeting House Hill (c.1631) in Dorchester. However, only one building from the 1600s – the Paul Revere House – and very few from the 1700s survive. The majority of the neighborhood was rebuilt in the 1800s.
The compact neighborhood has played an outsized role in American history – from the Salem Witch Trials to the Revolutionary War, from Sacco & Vanzetti and the Ponzi scheme to the launch of the Kennedy political dynasty. The Freedom Trail brings visitors through the neighborhood, to see significant sites linked to the American Revolution, including Paul Revere house (built 1680) and Old North Church (built 1723) where Revere signaled colonial patriots about the British army's march on Concord and Lexington.
Little Italy: Lively dining and nightlife. The neighborhood's narrow streets and human-scale streetscape, with apartments above coffeeshops and restaurants, make it one of the more lively and charming in Boston. During the misguided 1960s "urban renewal" the legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs helped save the North End from demolition just as she did with Greenwich Village in New York City. Today, both neighborhoods are among the most desirable and expensive in their respective cities.
Centrally-located, and a tourist destination. Today, the North End's charm, along with its proximity to Government Center, the Financial District, and the Seaport allows many residents to walk to work. In addition, the neighborhood's rich history, restaurants, and nightlife draw tourists along the waterfront, HarborWalk, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
North Bennet Street School. The neighborhood is also home to the fascinating North Bennet Street School. Founded in 1885 by philanthropist Pauline Agassiz Shaw, who advocated the Swedish system of craftsmanship training known as sloyd, a method focused on the development of character and intellectual capacity, as well as technical skills. The school focuses on cabinetry and preservation carpentry, metalsmithing and bookbinding, among other fine crafts.
Although the North End was settled in 1630 and is regarded as the oldest neighborhood of Boston, there is only one surviving building from the 1600s and very few from the 1700s. Today, the majority of the buildings date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, although the narrow streets evoke more of a colonial or historic European neighborhood.
In the 1700s, the North End was considered a very desirable address and was home to many prominent Bostonians. However, as has been a pattern throughout much of the city, the former mansions were gradually demolished for higher-density apartments. The affluent Bostonians moved to Beacon Hill as it was being developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and after that, to Back Bay, when it was developed on reclaimed land later in the 1800s.
North Square is the first residential square in the United States. It is at the intersection of Moon, Prince, North, Garden Court, and Sun Court streets. In the 1600s, the Old North Meeting House anchored the neighborhood. Its pastor, Increase Mather (1639-1723), lived in the square until his house was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1676. In the 1700s, two of Boston's grandest houses – both since demolished – were on North Square. One was the 26-room mansion of William Clark (1670-1742) – of Clark's Wharf – and the area was known as Clark's Square until it was renamed in 1788. The other was the mansion of John Foster, later occupied by colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780).
Paul Revere House (19 North Sq.) is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Boston. It was built c.1680 on the site of the former parsonage of the Second Church of Boston, and was occupied by the prominent colonial minister Increase Mather (1639-1723) – who served as president of Harvard College and who played an unfortunate role in the Salem Witch Trials – until it burned in 1676. It is also a rare surviving example of the late-medieval and Tudor design that reflected the English origins of the colonists. Paul Revere (1735-1818) was living here at the time of his involvement with the Sons of Liberty and when he made his epic ride on April 18, 1775 to warn of the British raids of Lexington and Concord. It is now a house museum.
Pierce-Hichborn House (19 North Sq.). Next to the Paul Revere House, the Pierce-Hichborn is an early Georgian house, built c. 1711, that is one of the earliest surviving brick buildings in Boston. The land on which Pierce-Hichborn house sits was once owned by William and Anne Hutchinson, famous for their role in the Antinomian Controversy. The original dwelling was probably destroyed in the Great Fire of 1711. Its elegant symmetrical style was a radical change from the wood-framed Tudor dwellings, such as the Revere House, common in 17th-century Boston. The home was built for glazier Moses Pierce (whose grandfather John Jeffs built the Paul Revere House), and was later owned by boatbuilder Nathaniel Hichborn, a cousin of Paul Revere. It is now a house museum.
Ebenezer Clough House (21 Unity St.) was built c.1712 and is owned by the Old North Church Association. It was built by bricklayer Ebenezer Clough (1690-1751) for himself and his delightfully-named wife, Thankful. It is a rare example of a surviving brick row house, and is one of the oldest buildings in Boston.
Site of Zipporah Potter Atkins House (Surface Rd. & Salem St.) A granite inscription at the Rose Kennedy Greenway marks the site of the Zipporah Potter Atkins' (c.1645-1705) house. In 1670, she became the first free woman of color to purchase a home and land in colonial Boston, according to the Boston Globe. When she sold the house in 1699, she signed her initials, also becoming the first woman of African descent to initial a deed in Boston, indicating that she had attained a level of literacy as well – another landmark achievement in early Boston. Zipporah and her husband were married by the prominent, and controversial, colonial minister Cotton Mather (1663-1728).
Old North Church (193 Salem St.), built in 1723, is the oldest surviving church in Boston. It is also among the most-visited historical sites in the city, with over half a million visitors annually. Old North played a central role in the beginning of the American Revolution on the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling, Jr. climbed the steeple and hung two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River. This signal launched the American Revolution. While Newman was later arrested by the British, no charges were held against him.
The narrowest house in Boston (44 Hull St.), just over 10 feet wide at its widest, is a "spite house" built by one sibling returning from the Civil War to find that his brother had built most of the land they had been supposed to share equally, according to the Daily Mail. It was built on the plot's remaining sliver of space, just to block the natural light and views of his sibling's larger house, according to Curbed.er.html">Daily Mail.
44 Prince St. is built upon the site of the Cushman School, named in honor of the birthplace of Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876), one of the most famous actresses of her day. When it opened early in 1872 it was the first school in Boston named after a woman. Today, the site houses both condos and the North End Branch of the Boston Public Library.
256 Hanover Street was the meeting place of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee who worked for seven years to free two Italian immigrants who were wrongly arrested and charged with the murder of two payroll guards in South Braintree. The committee moved here in 1925, and while their cause generated worldwide attention, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in 1927. A plaque on the building memorializes its role in history.
158 Endicott St. is the site of former Langone Funeral Home where Sacco and Vanzetti's funeral was held in 1927. There were lines all the way from the North End to Tremont Street and beyond. Separately, the building served as a speakeasy during Prohibition.
585 Commercial St. is thought to be the site of the Puritan landing in 1630.
27 School St. is the former office of Charles Ponzi (1882-1949) for whom the Ponzi scheme is named. That said, he did not originate the scheme but may have been inspired by the scheme of William F. Miller, a Brooklyn bookkeeper who in 1899. used the same scheme to take in $1 million. Ponzi's scheme cost his investors $20 million in 1920, while Bernard Madoff's similar con cost his investors almost $18 billion in its 2008 collapse.
Prince Street and Hanover Street are two of the primary dining and retail thoroughfares in the neighborhood.
While there are no subway stops within the neighborhood itself, there are several just beyond its boundaries.
These include the transit hub of North Station (orange and green lines, and Commuter Rail), Haymarket (orange and green lines), and the Aquarium stop (blue line).
The North End is near the tip of the Shawmut Peninsula, with West End to the west, Waterfront to the north and east, and the Financial District and Government Center to the south.
The neighborhood is a walk over the bridge to the Navy Yard and Charlestown to the north, and is just across the harbor from East Boston.
When the first British settlers came to the North End in the early 1600s, the region was a narrow peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. thatched-roof cottages, set amidst gardens and pastures, soon dotted the landscape. Later land was added to the region by filling in Mill Pond with soil from the top of Copp's Hill and Beacon Hill. Subsequent landfill projects have extended the shoreline even more, expanding the North End to a size far greater than in Colonial times.
The first residents of the North End worked at a variety of crafts (e.g., carpentry, shoemaking) from their homes. Their Puritan religion required obedience to a very strict moral code and there were severe punishments for infractions. For example, one man was whipped for kissing his wife in public upon his arrival from a long sea voyage. Two Puritan religious leaders of the period, Increase Mather and his son Cotton Mather, are well known for having stirred up fears that ultimately led to the Salem witchcraft trials. The Mathers are buried in the North End's Old North Cemetery on Copp's Hill.
From its earliest beginnings, the North End has been cut off from Boston proper, at first topographically and then socially and economically until only recently. In Colonial days, it was known as the “Island of North Boston”, a narrow peninsula reaching out into the harbor. It comprised a few grand estates, Christopher Stanley’s pasture, and Mylne field. Perched high on a hill overlooking the adjacent Mill Pond was a wooden windmill.
Surrounded on three sides by water, the peninsula afforded promising commercial opportunities. The neighborhood developed at a rapid pace in the early 1700s. Cobblestone streets were laid out, wharves and warehouses constructed, stylish mansions built, and prosperous merchants, tradesmen and shipbuilders set up
By the 1750s, the North End had become a hub of commercial, social and intellectual activity. For Bostonians of English descent, it was the fashionable place to live.
The three-story, 26-room Clarke-Frankland mansion stood at the mouth of Prince Street and just around the corner on Garden Court was Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s elegant home. At the bottom of the Square was the tall brick Pierce-Hichborn house with the more humble-looking Revere residence nestled next door.
At the very top of North Square stood the original North Church, known later as the Second Church of Boston and as the “Church of the Mathers”.
It was from the pulpit of this church that Puritan Pastor Increase Mather ministered over his community with a stern hand. His 1689 book, Memorable Providences,Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions, had helped fuel the witchcraft hysteria that had seized nearby Salem. His son Cotton, with whom he shared the ministry, became so deeply involved in these Salem witch trials that he earned lasting disfavor and eventual opposition from the Puritans of the period.
By the early 1700s the religious hegemony of the Puritan church had begun to wane. In 1721, a new Anglican church named Christ Church (and later called Old North Church) raised its steeple 191 feet into the heavens above the North End, a beacon to ships entering Boston harbor for a century to come. Some 27 years later, a 15-year-old boy named Paul Revere took up Sunday morning bell-ringing duties in Christ Church for five English pennies a month.
Revere was an artist/patriot who later evolved into an artist/industrialist. Born in the North End in 1735, he was the second of 12 children and the eldest son of Apollos Rivoire and Deborah Hichborn. He learned the art of gold and silversmithing from his father, taking over the family business at age 19 when his father died. To supplement family income, he also worked as a copper plate engraver, producing business cards, political cartoons and book plates.
His political involvement with the American Revolutionary cause developed through his membership in the Masonic Lodge and his friendships with James Otis and Dr. Joseph Warren. It was Warren who instructed Revere on the eve of April 18th, 1775, to ride to Lexington and Concord to warn the Patriot leaders of the approaching British troops. After the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776. Revere served as a lieutenant colonel and commander of artillery at Castle Island, but he saw little action.
With the close of the American Revolution, nearly one-third of Boston’s population vacated the city for England and the eastern provinces of Canada. About the same time, the wealthiest North End merchants began migrating to new residential communities in the West End and on Beacon Hill. Their large estates and mansions were either sold and subdivided as rental properties or torn down to make way for row housing.
Revere, himself, moved out of his house on North Square to Greenough Lane off Charter Street to a new home with a harbor view. The rapid growth of the shipping and mercantile trades were to irrevocably reshape the neighborhood over the course of the next half century – the North End was on the cusp of change.
The North Meeting House (MORE) erected in 1649 ... North Square developed around this. Increase Mather (DATES), the minister of the North Meeting House, was an influential figure ... MORE ... his son Cotton Mather played an unfortunate role in the Salem Witch Trials - advocating "spectral evidence" (meaning that dreams and visions were admissible in court and ----) . Increase Mather's home, the meeting house, and surrounding buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1676. The Paul Revere House was later constructed on the site of the Mather House.
Part of Copp's Hill was converted to a cemetery, called the North Burying Ground (now known as Copp's Hill Burying Ground). The earliest grave markers located in the cemetery date back to 1661. MORE
The North End became a fashionable place to live in the 18th century. Only two brick townhouses from this period still stand: the Pierce-Hichborn House and the Ebenezer Clough House on Unity Street. The Old North Church, was constructed during this time, and is the oldest surviving church in Boston.
In the early stages of the Revolution, the Hutchinson Mansion, located in North Square, was attacked by anti-Stamp Act rioters on the evening of August 26, 1765, forcing then Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson to flee through his garden. [mention Hutchinson and relationship/interaction w/ Capt. Kidd, leading to his eventual hanging].
During the Siege of Boston, the North Meeting House was dismantled by the British for use as firewood.
Successive waves of immigrants came to Boston and settled in the neighborhood, beginning with the Irish and continuing with Eastern European Jews and Italians. Boston as a whole was prosperous, however, and the wealthy residents of the North End moved to newer, more fashionable neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill. (which began to be developed in the 1790s - and the affluent later moved to Back Bay ...] ... Suddenly, a home that had been occupied for nearly a century by a succession of owner-occupants became crammed with six families in rental units, plus a butcher shop, as the neighborhood became increasingly dense and less affluent.
From the Old North Church where Paul Revere signaled "one if by land ..." warning of the British march on Concord and Lexington, to Paul Revere's 16__ house, and ________. It was the former residence of prominent early Bostonians including Cotton Mather and Increase Mather, and ... it was the political beginnings of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a mayor of Boston and the grandfather of John F. Kennedy.
In 1849, a cholera epidemic swept through Boston, hitting the North End most harshly; most of the seven hundred victims were North Enders. In 1859, tensions between the Catholic Irish immigrants and the existing Protestant community led to the Eliot School Rebellion. By 1880, the Protestant churches had left the neighborhood.
The Boston Draft Riot of July 14, 1863 began on Prince Street in the North End.
Becoming Boston's "Little Italy." The first Italians began arriving in Boston around 1860 and were mainly from Northern Italy, especially the region around Genoa. The Genoise weren’t escaping poverty like the Southern Italians but were mostly businessmen looking for better opportunities in the New World. They first settled around North Bennet Street where there was a Portuguese Catholic church but as they prospered and their numbers increased they decided to build a church of their own. Land was purchased on Prince Street and in 1891 a downstairs church was opened. They named the church after an ascetic Franciscan priest, Saint Leonard, who came from the small town Porto Maurizio just north of Genoa along the Italian Riviera. Leonard was a great preacher and his sermons are still read.
By that time the flood of southern Italians was inundating the North End and St. Leonard’s had over 20,000 parishioners who would come from all over greater Boston for masses, weddings and baptisms. It was obvious that a new church was needed to accommodate these Southern Italians and their more exuberant liturgical customs so in the late 1880’s Fr. Taylor’s Seamen’s Bethel on the corner of North Square and Sun Court St. was purchased by the St. Mark’s Society. Local lore has it that the founder of the Pastene food company as one of the men who started the Sacred Heart Church.
The first post card shows the newly purchased Sacred Heart Church while it still had that unadorned, Protestant look. As the church population swelled with newly arriving immigrants the upstairs needed to be expanded and in the mid 1920’s a major renovation was begun. The exterior was changed to reflect the baroque French Second Empire style so familiar to them from their Southern Italian roots but what they did to the interior of the upstairs church is a fascinating and long forgotten story.
At least two of the frescoes depict infants. This is one of them. Visit the church and see if you can find the other one.
At least two of the frescoes depict infants. This is one of them. Visit the church and see if you can find the other one.
The downstairs church is similar to many other Italian churches; lots of statues and candles which are now sadly electrified. It is in the upstairs church where the North End Italians displayed their creativity and love of family. No expense was spared in decorating the upstairs church. A beautiful hand crafted marble altar was imported from Italy and an artist was hired to decorate the arched ceiling with frescoes, just like in any proper Italian church. The paintings depict Christ’s twelve apostles and the four evangelists, serious, foreboding men in flowing orthodox beards. At the feet of each apostle are two angels and this is the interesting story.
If this was a church in Italy the angels would be chubby putti , little naked boys with small wings. Here in Sacred Heart the angels look different and somehow ordinary, like the girls we would expect to see playing in North Square, and that’s exactly right because the artist who painted these frescoes used neighborhood girls as his models.
I wonder if mama approved of the off the shoulder look?
How fortunate we are that this maestro chose the quotidian instead of the baroque and left us with a wonderful memento of these North End girls born one hundred years ago. The girls appear to be young teenagers, perhaps eighth grade students from St. John’s School. At least two of the frescoes include infants, again using local children as models. The names of the artist and the models are long forgotten but the images remain frozen in time on the ceiling of Sacred Heart Church.
My maternal grandmother, nonna Colomba, told me this story many years ago. She was active in the parish and repaired many of the priest’s vestments because she knew how to sew and crochet using gold and silver metal thread. The girls and their parents would have been familiar to her from the neighborhood.
Two local men, Richard and Bennet Molinari, have taken it upon themselves to maintain Sacred Heart Church. The upstairs church is closed for much of the year but is open during the warm months. Please try to visit and observe these marvelous frescoes which are a unique part of North End History.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.
Like their predecessors, these newly-arrived Italian immigrants also had to contend with Bostonians’ disdain for foreigners. As [racist] historian Samuel Adams Drake opined (in 1871) about living conditions in North Square:
“Nowhere in Boston has Father Time wrought such ruthless changes, as in this highly respectable quarter, now swarming with Italians in every dirty nook and corner. In truth, it is hard to believe the evidence of our own senses, though the fumes of garlic are sufficiently convincing. Past and Present confront each other here with a stare of blank amazement, in the humble Revere homestead, on one side, and the pretentious Hotel Italy on the other; nor do those among us, who [know] something of its vanished prestige, feel at all home in a place where our own mother-tongue no longer serves us.”
A Norfolk County jury deliberated for 7 ½ hours before reaching a verdict. The conviction came despite eyewitness testimony that neither man was at the scene of the crime. Additional testimony from an official of the Italian consulate stated that Sacco was in the consulate on the day of the murder, seeking to get a passport. Additional eyewitness testimony said that they bought fish from Vanzetti on the day of the crime. A total of 99 witnesses took the stand in support of the two Italian-immigrants, all of them claiming that the two were innocent. The prosecution failed to find the stolen money and couldn’t quite pinpoint a motive for why the two men would steal the wages.
On August 23, 1927, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair. Riots destroying property were seen in major cities, as far away as London and Paris.
In a time of great hostility towards immigrants and radicals, the presiding judge over the case, Judge Webster Thayer said to the jury at the outset, “Although this man (Sacco) may not have committed the crime attributed to him, he is nonetheless culpable because he is the enemy of our existing institutions.” Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard Law professor who would later become a United States Supreme Court Justice, published a harsh critique in 1927, while the case was still on appeal. “Every reasonable probability points away from Sacco and Vanzetti,” stated Frankfurter. “Every reasonable probability points towards the Morelli gang.”
Our stroll will also take us past the site near the State House where wise-cracking writer Dorothy Parker got herself arrested, by the Beacon Hill jail she landed in, and by the Pemberton Square courthouse she was arraigned in, for protesting the Sacco and Vanzetti verdict. Asked if the Boston cops took her fingerprints she replied "No, but they left me a few of theirs."
[and like so many other immigrant communities, gangs formed in order to protect or insure where police mightnot. Also, to extract money from their own people at times - boardinghouses and _________. Mob connections. Members of the Patriarca crime family have historically lived in or operated out of the North End, including Gennaro Angiulo, Gaspare Messina, and the Dinunzio brothers (Anthony & Carmen).
Saturday Evening Girls and the Paul Revere Pottery. A library club. It was founded in 1899 by Edith Guerrier, a 21-year-old librarian who maintained a reading room at the North Bennet Street School. She came up with a novel approach to keeping Jewish and Italian young women “off the streets” while at the same time advancing their education and well-being. Her library club held meetings on Saturday evenings at which literary scholars, writers, historians and social reformers would present talks. ... With the encouragement and financial support of Boston philanthropist Helen Osborne Storrow, Guerrier and her friend Edith Brown, an artist, also formed the Paul Revere Pottery on Hull Street in 1908. The aim was to help their “Saturday Evening Girls” to become financially self-sufficient. The young women worked eight-hour days in “an airy, healthful atmosphere” and received a decent wage, an annual paid two-week vacation, and a daily hot lunch – all of which were virtually unheard of in the early 20th-century workplace. Today, Paul Revere Pottery is a valuable ...
Origins of the Ponzi Scheme. One example is the short-lived, nefarious career of Charles A. Ponzi, who came to be known as one of America’s “greatest confidence men” of modern times. He founded his Security Exchange Company on Hanover Street in December 1919 with a simple promise: to pay investors 50% of their investment within 45 days.Initial customers were cautious. But true to his word, Ponzi paid these first investors 50% within the prescribed period. Such a thing had never been done before and as word spread throughout the North End and across the City, money started pouring in. He soon moved his offices to larger quarters next door to City Hall on School Street where money came in so fast that his clerks had to pile it into baskets. By 1920, Ponzi had promissory notes outstanding with a face value of almost $15 million.
Charles Ponzi claimed that he was simply sharing with his investors a portion of the 400% profit he was earning through trading in international Postal Reply Coupons. When in 1920 Ponzi’s bubble finally burst , the truth came out: he paid off his earliest investors with money received from his later investors.
Great Molasses Flood of 19xx." On January 15, 1919, a 50-foot tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded on the North End industrial waterfront, causing widespread destruction and taking the lives of 21 people and injuring another 150. The blast was initially believed to be the result of a terrorist act. This was a main line of argument by attorneys for U.S. Industrial Alcohol, owner of the storage tank; a case of sabotage by political anarchists.The resulting investigation and legal hearings – involving 125 lawsuits – was the longest up until then in the history of the Massachusetts court system. It ended in 1926 with a conclusive judgment: the tank had been improperly designed in the first instance and its failure was due entirely to structural weakness, not to a terrorist attack.
In 1919, the Purity Distilling Company’s 2.3 million gallon molasses storage tank exploded, causing the Great Molasses Flood. A 15 ft wave of molasses flowed down Commercial Street towards the waterfront, killing 21 people, injuring 150, and causing damage worth $100 million in today's money. [mention the brown streaks visible, people complained. The company responded to the complaints not by addressing the problem, but instead by painting the storage tank brown so that the leaks would not be as noticeable).
Urban renewal, the risk of demolition - and savior Jane Jacobs
When did America begin to turn a fresh eye toward neighborhoods like the North End and New York’s Greenwich Village? This isn’t anyone’s guess. In hindsight, the reassessment began some 50 years ago, when a little-known writer who was raising three children in Greenwich Village brought forth a magisterial work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The 1961 book by Jane Jacobs was tantamount to a precision bombing of city planning agencies nationwide, as Jacobs laid unflinching siege to the then-reigning wisdom that large swaths of cities needed to be rebuilt from scratch.
City planners abhorred urban density, associating it with congestion and unhealthy conditions; Jacobs believed it was essential, partly because more people meant more “eyes on th Jacobs believed it was essential, partly because more people meant more “eyes on the street,” making all feel safer. She liked to see a mingling of functions—shopping, living, working, leisure—believing diversity made cities come alive. In that first book of hers, she pronounced Boston’s North End, with its cheek-by-jowl dwellings and shops, and sidewalks full of chatter, “the healthiest neighborhood in the city.”
As described by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1959 the North End's "streets were alive with children playing, people shopping, people strolling, people talking. Had it not been a cold January day, there would surely have been people sitting. The general street atmosphere of buoyancy, friendliness, and good health was so infectious that I began asking directions of people just for the fun of getting in on some talk."
In her classic 1961 treatise, ''The Death and Life of Great American Cities," Jacobs lauded such places as Boston's North End, ... cobblestone road only big enough for one lane of traffic. One will walk past a plethora of interesting little shops on the street level and apartments up above that provide mixed use of residential and retail shared space. [these samw qualities that made urban planners want to demolish it in the 1960s are what makes it one of the most desirable - and expensive - neighborhoods today. When Jane Jacobs visited, “It was officially considered Boston’s worst slum and civic shame.” She tells us how modernist views have influenced even the youngest urban tinkers into believing that densely populated and low-income neighborhoods with pre-war building should be considered adverse.
In 1934, a tunnel was constructed to connect the North End to East Boston, the location of the then new Boston Airport (now Logan International Airport). In the 1950s the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway (locally known as the Central Artery) was built to relieve Boston’s traffic congestion. Hundreds of North End buildings were demolished below Cross Street, and the Artery walled off the North End from downtown, isolating the neighborhood. [mention this in connection with the Rose Kennedy Greenway]
Alice Alexiou, :
... the North End was originally condemned as a slum, in order to obtain federal urban renewal funds. Jacobs pointed out that federal r"Federal regulations on urban renewal cite as flaws everything that makes the North End a wonderful place to live. Things like mixed use and small blocks. The aim of urban renwwal is to "correct" these supposed "flaws." She quoted from the Boston Hhousig agency's description of the North End: "a blighted area to be removed and replaced."
By the time of the Great Depression, the North End's reputation as a city slum resulted in lending discrimination; the area's residents could not obtain mortgages for construction or rehabilitation. Instead, residents, many of whom were carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and masons, lent their labor to each other and succeeded at rehabilitating the North End's buildings at low cost.
Meanwhile, the destruction of the West End through urban renewal, and the support that Jane Jacobs garnered for the North End ... made them a study in contrasts. Herbert Gans chronicled the fight and the two neighborhoods in "The Urban Villagers"
uring the 1950s and 1960s, urban planners had a dream: to remake cities in the image of suburbs. The ambition was to bring about smoother traffic flow with the creation of urban superhighways, lessen population density with the dismantling of old neighborhoods, and create a strict separation of commercial and residential spaces (read: shopping malls and bedroom communities). The preferred method of effecting these changes was bulldozing. Places like the West End of Boston, a working-class community of Italians and Jews, were razed and replaced by freeways or, in this case, superblocks of high-rise residential towers and barren, concrete plazas. In Boston, after demolition of the West End in 1958–59, city planners contemplated, with no more affection, another crowded district on their turf—the North End. In New York, plans were readied for the decimation of Lower Manhattan, to clear way for a 10-lane expressway.
The papers [archived at Boston College] catalogue her evolution from a journalist writing about urban issues in the small but influential monthly Architectural Forum (defunct since 1974), to an author whose critiques and principles conveyed in three books about cities upended the urban policy establishment, to a public intellectual with range extending to ethics and economics and the environment. The Jane Jacobs papers also draw a portrait of an activist, a march-leading, meeting-disrupting organizer bent on protecting her home and her city’s neighborhoods from destruction. In her thinking on the future of urban life, and in the fight for her own city block, Jacobs’s chief nemesis was Robert Moses, [the premier builder of his time and probably any time in American history.]
Boston's "Little Italy,"
By the 18th century, many prominent people of British ancestry had settled in the North End, working in the mercantile and shipping industries and building beautiful mansions there. These people helped develop the area in important ways. During this period, for example, Charles Bulfinch, the famous architect, built a beautiful church, since renamed St. Stephen's, which still stands today. The Eliot School, the oldest elementary school in the United States, was founded at this time as well. Later, in 1740, Peter Faneuil donated funds to build Faneuil Hall adjacent to the North End. The building was designed to serve as a town hall and marketplace for Boston. Because some of the meetings held at Faneuil Hall figured prominently in the American Revolution, it is often called the "Cradle of Liberty." Once gutted by fire and rebuilt, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market continue to be must-see landmarks for tourists to Boston. Another landmark in the North End is the home of Paul Revere, one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party, who is most famous for his ride from Boston to Lexington and Concord to warn the Patriot leaders that the British were coming.
At the end of the war, many of the wealthy residents of the North End, those who remained loyal to Britain, left the area, either returning to England, or moving to eastern Canada, or to other parts of Boston or the suburbs. Within a few decades, the region went into decline as wave after wave of poor immigrants - Irish, Jews, Portuguese, and Italians - crowded into the North End. By 1800, the large mansions had become run down and were replaced by tenements and lodging houses to serve as residents for the newcomers. In addition, warehouses and dockyards were built in the area for shipping which had become the major industry of the region and the quality of life in the region changed as sailors, who needed to unwind after lengthy periods at sea, also flooded in. Prostitution, drunkenness, gambling, and crime were rampant in the area. As one observer wrote in 1872: "The North End was once the most important part of the town, containing not only the largest warehouses and public buildings, but the most aristocratic quarter for dwelling-houses. But this was a long time ago. A large part of the North End proper has been abandoned by all residents except the poorest and most vicious classes."
The first Irish immigrants came to the North End in the 1840s. Their numbers increased rapidly after 1847, which was the year of the potato famine in Ireland, and finally peaked around 1880. The Irish residents of the North End experienced severe job discrimination, which kept them in extreme poverty, with living conditions that promoted the rapid spread of illness and very high mortality rates. Large families lived in single-room apartments. The most fortunate found jobs as laborers working on the railroads, as maintenance workers, in construction, in factories, or as domestics.
Around mid century, Jewish immigrants, forced by hardships in Eastern Europe arrived, joining the Irish in the North End. The new arrivals were supported by relatives and acquaintances who helped them out until they could get on their feet. Many of these immigrants were skilled tailors working in the clothing industries. Others worked as peddlers, buying small items that people needed for day-to-day life on credit and selling them at a small profit. These peddlers often had to spend many days on the road away from their family and friends. Those who were successful acquired real estate and/or opened their own shops. But by the 1920s most of the Jewish residents of the North End had moved to other areas of Boston or the suburbs.
The first Italians arrived in the North End in the 1860s, forced by unbearable conditions in the homeland and their numbers grew in the 1880s and 1890s. Most were unskilled laborers. Although many of the first Italian immigrants worked as vendors of fruits and vegetables, later many found work in commercial fishing, in shipping, in construction (e.g., building subways), and as peddlers and shopkeepers, selling the food, clothing, and services needed by other residents of the North End. Like the Jewish immigrants to the North End, they sought help from family members and acquaintances from the same regions of Italy who had already established themselves in the area. Over time, this resulted in enclaves of residents living together on streets segregated by the region of Italy - Sicily, Milan, Naples, and Genoa - from which they had come and preserving its language and customs as well. Over the next decades, the Italian population of the North End increased and other immigrant groups moved elsewhere. By 1900, Italians had firmly established themselves in the North End, and by 1930, the North End was almost one hundred percent Italian.
The Italian population in the North End has gotten smaller in recent years with sky-rocketing property values that have forced many of the less affluent residents to move elsewhere. Increasingly, the residents of the North End are young professionals attracted to the area by its proximity to their downtown offices, by the North End's narrow streets and brick buildings, by its safety and sense of community, as well as by its decidedly European ambience. Although Italians presently make up less than half of the population of the North End, its old world Italian flavor is preserved the region's language, music, cuisine, and customs.
During the late 20th century through the early 21st century, the Central Artery was dismantled and replaced by the Big Dig project. The Rose Kennedy Greenway is now located on the former site of the Central Artery. [mention massive cost overruns - billions]