Boston Built: The Post-Civil War Era

Boston in 1872 was a city undergoing termendous change. Boston during this time period was a key economic center of the United States. Principle reasons for Boston's wealth are due to:

  • An abundance of venture capital from previously wealthy Bostonian merchants
  • Boston is major European trade port city for 19th century America
  • Massachusetts' mills are at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution
  • Railroads expanding into the western territories are opening new markets 

Boston Back Bay 1872View of Boston's Back Bay in 1872: This was the view looking west from the roof of the State House on Beacon Hill toward the Public Garden along Arlington Street. The tree-lined avenue to the right is Commonwealth Avenue. Behind the church on the left is a a large structure that was the convention hall on Dartmouth Street that was constructed to host the 1872 Peace Jubilee. (photo courtesy of Boston Public Libray)

Two views of downtown Boston ca. 1870: To the left is the Beebe building that dominated Winthrop Square on Devonshire Street. To the right is a view less than a block away on Franklin Street. The buildings on Franklin Street follow the arch of the Tontine Crescent that was established on Franklin Street by the architect Charles Bulfinch.

Growth of Boston's Mercantile District

During the 19th century the vivrant center of Boston's mercantile district was located in the area of downtown today known as the "Financial District". This area includes State Street, Water Street, Milk Street, Federal Street, Congress Street, Franklin Street, Devonshire Street, and many of the surrounding streets. In the early 1800's these streets were mostly residential buildings such as common 3-story brick dwellings, but by the 1870's most of these residences had been replaced by 4 to 6 story commercial stores, factories, meeting halls, and warehouses. The growth of the mercantile district expanded rapidly into the surrounding streets, quickly replacing short brick dwellings with large granite storefronts.

The Peace Jubilee of 1872

Boston had previously hosted a very well attended Peace Jubilee in 1867 to celebrate the end of the American Civil War. For this occasion a large convention hall was built at Dartmouth Street and Boylston Street, the area today known as Copley Square. This event was a prelude to the Worlds Fair which although not hosted by Boston became very popular in later decades. In 1872 Boston officials hoped to repeat the success of the 1867 Peace Jubilee by having another Peace Jubilee to celebrate the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Unfortunately the attendance was low seeing how the Franco-Prussian War was a mostly European conflict.

 View of the Interior of The Peace Jubilee Hall in 1872: The hall interior hosted large music concerts by famous conductors of the time such as Strauss.

Technology in 19th Century Boston

Boston was the first city to install a telegraph-based fire alarm system. It comprised of locked alarm boxes at major street corners with telegraph cables from each box leading to an alarm control panel in City Hall which was at that time on School Street.

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