North End is Boston's oldest residential community, where people have lived continuously since it was settled in the 1630s. Those people have given the North End its unique character, although a different one every generation or so.
The North End was home to some of Boston’s wealthiest residents and later to the first community of black people created by freed and escaped slaves. In the early 19th century, the Irish began to migrate to the North End in huge numbers and dominated the neighborhood until approximately 1900. The North End then became one of the centers of Jewish life in Boston; Hebrew inscriptions can still be found on several buildings. In the early 20th century, the North End became the center of the Italian community of Boston. It is still largely residential and well-known for its small, authentic Italian restaurants and for the first Italian cafe, Caffe Vittoria.
The construction of the elevated Central Artery (I-93) in the 1950s divided the North End from the rest of Boston. With the completion of the “Big Dig,” the old elevated highway has been completely removed and the North End has re-joined the rest of the city.
This walking tour will begin at water’s edge in the Wharf District on the North End...
323 Commercial Street
A piece of Union Wharf was built in the late 1700s but what you see now dates to merchant John L. Gardner’s efforts in the 1830s. Most of the wharves on the Boston waterfront at that time were constructed the same way - timber cribs were filled with earth and rubble stone and granite blocks were piled up alongside the form a long-lasting seawall. Gardner sold his property to the Union Wharf Company in 1847, the same year the historic stone warehouse was constructed. The six buildings on the wharf have been condominiums since 1978.
WALK SOUTH ON COMMERCIAL STREET TO THE INTERSECTION OF ATLANTIC AVENUE.
1-10 Atlantic Avenue
The Eastern Railroad, that began shuttling passengers up the North Shore to Portland, Maine in 1836, constructed this brick storehouse with roundtop windows during the Civil War. Passengers could catch the train at the depot on Commercial Street. After knocking heads with the Boston and Maine Railroad for a half-century the Eastern line was absorbed by its rival in 1884.
28-32 Atlantic Avenue
Here is another 1830s commercial wharf, put together with 16-inch granite walls and massive pine beams by a covey of Boston businessmen. In the 1970s it became one of the first of the warehouses in the wharf district to have people living in it. Edgar Allen Poe is supposed to have based his Gothic classic, The Fall of the House of Usher, on events that took place in the Usher House, an actual home on this site. Legend has it that an elderly Mr. Usher trapped his cheating young wife and her seaman lover in their secret trysting place - an underground tunnel. Years later, during demolition of Usher House in 1800, their skeletal remains were found, still embracing each other.
84 Atlantic Avenue
Isaiah Rogers became famous for designing the Tremont House in 1828, the country’s first hotel with indoor plumbing. He later became a leader in the creation of monolithic granite buildings. This one, built in 1832, used Quincy granite both structurally and ornamentally with smooth stone lintels and stringcourses. The building is now in two parts, Atlantic Avenue having been gouged into being in 1868.
Christopher Columbus Park
The Boston waterfront was all about work - the first park didn’t appear here for over 340 years until the American Bicentennial in 1976. The greenspace includes a statue of its namesake Genoan explorer, a performance area and a wisteria-draped trellis that traipses along one edge.
Gardner Building/Chart House
60 Long Wharf
The history of the four-story brick Gardner Building reaches back to the 1760s and is the last of the colonial brick warehouses standing on the waterfront; it once housed the offices of patriot John Hancock. The granite block Chart House, designed by Isaiah Rogers, has been here since the 1830s.
Long Wharf/Custom House
202 Atlantic Street
Construction of Long Wharf began on the top of the remains of the Barricado, a 2,200-foot long defensive wall that ringed the harbor, began in 1710. In its heyday, when Boston was the dominant Colonial port, Long Wharf was 1,586 feet in length and 54 feet wide, providing docking facilities for up to 50 vessels that could unload directly into the storehouses without the need for smaller shuttle boats. Long Wharf lorded over Boston’s 80 wharves, handling goods and serving as the town marketplace where the public could buy directly from the warehouses.
TURN AROUND AND WALK NORTH ON SURFACE ARTERY. TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCIAL STREET.
126-144 Commercial Street
This granite warehouse is decorated with rusticated pilasters, horizontal stringcourses and a bracketed cornice. Henry Hobson Richardson, America’s most influential architect in the post-Civil War era, was influenced by the affectations he saw here.
Prince Macaroni Factory
207 Commercial Street
In 1912 three Sicilian immigrants pooled their resources and opened a small macaroni and spaghetti making plant. The budding entrepreneursnamed their company for its location at 92 Prince Street. Prince Pasta was so successful that in 1917 the owners constructed this seven-story building on nearby Commercial Street, complete with a railroad track that entered through the back, delivering semolina flour directly to the plant. Despite the hard times of the Depression, Prince Pasta boomed. Within 20 years, the company had once again outgrown its space. In 1939 the partners moved the operation to Lowell. In 1965 the Prince Macaroni factory became the first of Boston’s waterfront buildings to be developed into luxury housing.
TURN LEFT ON LEWIS STREET. TURN LEFT ON FULTON STREET.
120 Fulton Street
In the middle of the 1800s cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material - it was easy to mold in ornate forms, quick to assemble and inexpensive. It was also fire-resistant and made possible large windows that flooded otherwise gloomy interiors with light. This is the first cast-iron building in New England, erected in 1864. Now condominiums, the McLauthlin Company cranked out elevators here at one time.
TURN RIGHT ON FULTON STREET. TURN RIGHT ON NORTH STREET. BEAR LEFT AT THE FORK ONTO NORTH SQUARE.
29 North Square
Pierce was Moses Pierce, a glazier who built the house around 1711, and Nathaniel Hichborn was a later owner who was a boatbuilder and a cousin of Paul Revere. Three hundred years later the townhouse is one of the earliest remaining brick structures in Boston. The Georgian style is worked into the brickwork with slender-arched window hoods and a noticeably shorter third floor, often used as children’s rooms.
Paul Revere House
19 North Square
On the night of April 18, 1775, silversmith Paul Revere left this small wooden house to ride into the history books. The building was constructed about 1680 on the site of the former parsonage of the Second Church of Boston that perished in the Great Fire of 1676. It is downtown Boston’s oldest building and one of the few remaining structures of its era remaining from that era.
11 North Square
The Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society erected this Federal-style brick structure in 1847 as an inexpensive hotel where merchant seamen could crash between time at sea. The boarding house rises four stories underneath an octagonal cupola where concerned landlubbers could keep a watchful eye on the men at sea.
TURN LEFT ON PRINCE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON HANOVER STREET.
St. Stephen’s Church
401 Hanover Street
The church was designed in 1802 by famous Boston-born architect Charles Bulfinch was the first American who made his living as an architect, he would eventually design three state capitols and much of the Boston streetscape in the early years of the Republic. This is the only Bulfinch-designed church left in the city. It began life in 1802 as the New North Congregational Church, with a price tag of $26,750. It was renamed the Second Unitarian Church in 1814; the meetinghouse was sold in 1862 and dedicated to St. Stephen.
TURN LEFT IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH AND WALK THROUGH PAUL REVERE MALL.
Paul Revere Mall
This was once the pasture of Christopher Stanley, who died in 1646 leaving a chunk of his land for the maintenance of the “Free School.” The shade trees and brick walkways you see today linking St. Stephen’s Church and the Old North Church were installed in 1933. The equestrian statue of Paul Revere was placed here in 1940, although Cyrus Dallin had sculpted it 55 years earlier. The dashing fellow astride the steed is a romantic interpretation; in reality the silversmith was short and stocky. His physique served him well though - Revere lived into his 83rd year and saw nearly all of his Revolutionary comrades buried.
TURN LEFT ON UNITY STREET.
21 Unity Street
Ebenezer Clough was a master mason when he wasn’t rabble-rousing for liberty and tossing crates of tea into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. He was one of two masons who laid the brick of Old North Church. This house was built around 1715 and an expert bricklayer such as Clough no doubt admired its finely executed brick window and door lintels.
TURN RIGHT ON TILESTON STREET. TURN LEFT ON SALEM STREET.
North Bennet Street School
39 North Bennett Street; northeast corner of Salem Street
In 1881 educator and social worker Pauline Aggassiz Shaw established the North Bennet Street Industrial School as a private educational facility where immigrants could get instruction in practical trades like bookbinding, locksmithing and carpentry. The brick building, which has received a Victorian makeover, dates to the early 19th century and did duty as a church and then a sailor’s retirement home.
TURN AROUND AND WALK NORTH ON SALEM STREET.
Old North Church
193 Salem Street
The enduring fame of the Old North began on the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land. The American Revolution was underway. At the time most of the congregation were staunch King George III men and many held office in the royal government, rendering Newman’s treachery all the more remarkable. The City of Boston officially knew the Old North Church as Christ Church after it was built in 1723 on a design by William Price. Like most British churches erected in America at the time it was based on the work of British master Christopher Wren. It is the oldest standing church building in Boston.
176 Salem Street
Sir William Phips, of humble origins from present-day Maine and lacking in education, became a respected 17th century shipwright and military leader who was the first royally-appointed governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. This was his land; the house was built in 1804 and originally overlooked Governor Phip’s garden. The Dodds were the last of the old North End families to remain in their family home.
TURN AROUND AND RETURN TO HULL STREET THAT DEAD-ENDS AT OLD NORTH CHURCH. MAKE A RIGHT.
44 Hull Street
This is the narrowest house in Boston with only one bay and a width of about 10 feet. It was built around 1800.
Copps Hill Burial Ground
entrance on Hull Street between Salem Street and Snow Hill Street
The first burials took place on this hill owned by shoemaker William Copp in 1659. Boston’s second burying ground was a place where thousands of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants were laid to rest. Additionally, thousands of African Americans who lived in the “New Guinea” community at the base of Copp’s Hill are buried in unmarked graves on the Snowhill Street side. Also interred at Copp’s Hill are the Mather family of ministers; shipyard owner Edmund Hartt; Robert Newman, signal man in the steeple of the Old North Church; Shem Drowne, the weathervane maker who crafted the iconic grasshopper atop Faneuil Hall; and Prince Hall, an anti-slavery activist and founder of the Black Masonic Order.
CONTINUE WALKING UP THE HILL ON HULL STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SNOW HILL STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHARTER STREET. TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCIAL STREET.
Site of Boston Molasses Flood
529 Commercial Street
On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster. The North End Playground is on the site today.
Site of Paul Revere Foundry
Commercial Street and Foster Street
After the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere continued in business in Boston for many years. In 1792 he established a foundry at the foot of Foster Street where he cast iron bells.
409 Commercial Street
Designed by Joshua Humphreys, the frigate USS Constitution, one of six warships ordered by President George Washington, was launched at Edmond Hartt Shipyard located here on October 21, 1797. The final price tag was $302,718. The USS Constitution gained notoriety in action against French privateers in the Caribbean and Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean, but its real fame came during the War of 1812 when it defeated four British frigates and earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after battling the British ship Guerriere on August 19, 1812. British cannonballs appeared to bounce off its thick wooden sides of three layers of live oak, and fall into the water. The warship was decommissioned as unseaworthy and destined for scrap in 1829 when Oliver Wendell Holmes’ popular poem “Old Ironsides” stirred the public protest into saving the ship and led to its restoration. Today the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world and is manned by an active duty United States Naval crew.
CONTINUE WALKING DOWN COMMERCIAL STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.