Founding the North End:
People first began moving to what is the present day north end in the middle of the 17th century. In 1649 the North End had a large enough population to support its own church. This church was called the North Meeting Place and Increase Mather was the minister there. Mather was a very influential figure at the time and helped to attract more people to the North End. Today Mather is buried in the North End’s Old North Cemetery on Copp’s Hill.
In the 18th century the north end became a much more fashionable place to live with the arrival of wealthy families to the neighborhood. The Old North Church was constructed during this time and is still standing Today as the oldest church in Boston. Now it is often referred to as Boston’s little Italy due to the large population of Italian-Americans, along with numerous Italian eateries located throughout the neighborhood.
Hanover Street gets its current name from the British House of Hanover. It was formerly called Orange Tree Lane, and was said to be originally a path that allowed Native Americans access to the shoreline. It is home to The Prado (The Paul Revere Mall). General Joseph Warren had a house on Hanover Street during the 1700’s. Hanover Street was home to many famous British shipping and mercantile workers prior to the American Revolution. After the war the streets quickly changed and housed unskilled laborers who resided in the newly built tenement buildings. Between the 18th and 19th century, Hanover Street went from consisting of primarily wealthy British residents, to Irish Immigrants, to Jewish Immigrants, to almost 100% Italian Immigrants. Beginning in the late 19th and 20th centuries, this street was home to many Italian American immigrants who fulfilled their lifelong dreams by opening businesses in America. Most of these businesses that were established during that era, still exist today, and have become a staple in the North End, and Boston tourist experience. Yet, during the 1960’s much of the top of Hanover Street was demolished in order to construct the new Government Center. Hanover Street has now become a hub for countless famous restaurant, coffee shops, bakeries, churches, and businesses.
Paul Revere Monument:
The Paul Revere Monument is located on the Freedom Train in the Paul Revere Mall. The Paul Revere Mall is located between Salem Street and Hannover Street in Boston’s North End. The statue portrays Revere’s legendary midnight ride through Boston warning of the impending arrival of the British army. Cyrus Edwin Dallin began working on the statue in 1883 at the young age of 22 and it took him 16 years to complete. The statue took even longer to install and wasn’t put up until 1940 more than 40 years after its completion. Now it is one of the most recognizable statues in all of Boston bringing in thousands of tourists to photograph the monument and walk through the historic Paul Revere Mall.
Paul Revere House:
The Paul Revere House is one of the oldest buildings in Boston, built in 1680. Despite being named after this famous Patriot, Revere was not the first owner of the home that distinction belongs to a wealthy merchant named, Robert Howard. Paul Revere didn’t start living in the home until 1770. Revere sold the home in 1800. For the next century the tenants of the home were fluid and changed often. The first floor of the home was modified to have shops, which included a candy store and a cigar shop.
The home came back into the possession of the Revere family in 1902 when Paul Revere’s great grandson, John P. Reynolds Jr., bought the home to ensure it would not be demolished. Over the next several years the Paul Revere Memorial Association was created, and money was raised to work on the house. The money was used to turn the home into the museum that we now see it as today. In 1908 the house opened its doors for the first visitors. The home resembles how it would’ve been set up in the late 18th century when Revere lived there. Ninety percent of the original structure remains, and the large floorboards and low large beams help paint the picture of life in colonial New England. The inside of the home also includes many items made by Revere including spoons and other silverware. The courtyard outside of the home also has a large bell made by Paul Revere & Sons.
Old North Church:
Christ Church in the City of Boston, or more commonly known as the Old North Church was built in 1723 on Salem Street in the North End. The church gained its fame by housing lanterns that “ignited the revolution.” The church is the oldest standing church building in the entire City of Boston. The church was often referred to as “The Kings Church” because so much of the congregation was loyal to the royal government. It’s said that the King actually gave the church its silver that was used at the services and also a bible. Paul Newman, the church sexton, agreed to help Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty. He light two lanterns in the church’s steeples to inform Paul Revere and the other Son’s of Liberty that the British would be coming to confiscate their weapons by sea and not by land like their last two attempts. This action that warned the country of the march of the British troops to Lexington and Concord initiated the American Revolution and thus sealed the Old North Church’s infamy forever. Contrary to popular belief, Paul Revere was never a member of the Old North Church’s congregation, though he was a bell-ringer for roughly 15 years. The church is preserved by The Old North Foundation, which was “established in 1991 to foster educational and interpretative programs for students and visitors who experience the Old North and engage the public in Old North’s history and its role in inspiring liberty and freedom.”
Saint Leonard’s Church:
Saint Leonard’s Church is located on Hanover Street in the North End. Italian immigrants founded the church in 1873, and it was the first Roman Catholic Church built in New England. The first masses for the members of this parish were held in a cramped church on North Bennet Street. The first plot of land purchased for Saint Leonard Church was a tiny seventy-four foot by thirty-foot lot on Prince Street.
Over the next years the small church quickly became overwhelmed, and work was started on a bigger building to accommodate the ever-growing number of Italian Christians. In November of 1899, the church as we see it today, was dedicated along with the church’s shrine to Saint Anthony. Today, the church is a major tourist attraction due to the beautiful architecture of the church dome, and the Peace Garden located along Hanover Street.
Copp’s Hill is an elevation located in the North End neighborhood of Boston, which borders the Mystic River. Copp’s Hill has much significant historic relevance; such as the Copp’s Hill Terrace and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground which are located at the peak of the hill. Copp’s Hill is the third highest Hill in the City of Boston. The Hill is a site along the infamous Freedom trail, which shows its true historical significance. In the 1630’s, English settlers arrived at Copp’s Hill shortly after the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These settlers placed a windmill at the peak of the hill, which they used to grind grain and corn. Copp’s Hill was also used as a landmark to skippers who worked in the nearby harbor in its earliest days. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the final resting place for many famous Bostonians such as Cotton and Increase Mathers, Robert Newman, George Worthylake and Paul Revere Jr. Copp’s Hill Terrace was designed by Charles Elliot to serve the North End residents.
North End Fire House:
The North End firehouse was established on September 15, 1948 at 392 Hanover Street. Engine Company 8 and Ladder Company 1 moved from other nearby firehouses into the present firehouse. One of the first modern Firehouse’s was on 12 North Bennett Street when the modern Boston fire department was just being established. In 1869, engine 8 moved to the new firehouse at 133 Salem Street. In 1868 companies began using names and numbers for identification, Engine 8 became Northern Liberty No. 8. Hose Company 1, which had moved to the Salem street firehouse 1 year before engine 8, became Washington No. 1. The companies kept the names and numbers until 1873 when all fire companies converted to numbers only as they still are today.
Engine 8 stayed on Salem Street until 1916. While the Salem street firehouse was under renovations, engine 8 shared the firehouse with Engine Company 31, the fireboat company on Commercial Street. When engine 8 returned to Salem Street in 1917, it would stay there for 31 years until September 15, 1948 when the Hanover street firehouse was built and that is still in operation today. The city eventually sold the Salem street firehouse and it is now used for residential and commercial needs. The Hanover street firehouse responds to 1300-1500 incidents per year and also responds to calls in parts of the Beacon Hill area as well as the North End.
The North Terminal Garage:
Little & Russell built the North Terminal Garage on 600 Commercial Street in 1925. The North terminal Building was the first manufacturing site of Illuminating gas in New England and home to one of the greatest robberies in United States history, The Great Brinks Robbery. On January 17, 1950, 11 men surprised the guards and tied up all of the employees in the counting room. Within 30 minutes the 11 men made off with about 2.7 million and left no clues. Although considered to be one of the most successful heists in history the 11 men where eventually caught after trying to assassinate a member of the heist that was in jail and threatening to rat out the rest of the group. Most of the money was never recovered. Commercial Street today is lined with residential buildings and waterfront restaurants and small businesses.
Commercial Street is home to multiple historic sites, one being the union wharf. In 1845 a man named John Gardner purchased the wharf property. He Built warehouse that still Occupies the majority of the union wharf property. In 1847, Gardner sold the property to the Union Wharf Company. After being bought and sold multiple times over the years, the property eventually was sold for the last time to Union Wharf Development Associates in 1977. Besides the original warehouse built by Gardner, the Union wharf is almost all residential apartments today.
The Boston Molasses Flood:
The Boston Molasses disaster occurred on January 15th, 1919. This was a tragedy that took place in Boston’s North End. 2 and a half million gallons of crude molasses spilled onto commercial street injuring more then 150 people and killing 21. Several horses and dogs were also killed. Some victims were hard to recognize because they were so glazed over with molasses. The temperature was 40 degrees that day when just 2 days before it was 2 degrees above zero. On this day the tank owned by The United States Industrial Alcohol Company exploded sending shrapnel and molasses into the street. People claimed that there was a five-foot wall of molasses surging at about 35 miles per hour, which flooded the streets in seconds. The molasses was said to have destroyed everything in its path; ripping buildings off their foundations, overturning cars and burying everything in its path. Several blocks were flooded with 2 to 3 feet of molasses. The elevated railway was also damaged. This took weeks to clean up. The first responders were 116 cadets from the USS Nantucket; a training ship was docked nearby. Soon after the Boston police, Red Cross, the army and more navy personnel came to help. The people wanted justice so they brought this company to court where over 100 plaintiffs lined up and over 3000 people testified. Hearings took 6 years and they found in favor of the plaintiffs. The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was ordered to pay over a million dollars in damages.
The Clough House:
The Clough House is one of the oldest homes in all of Boston. It is located in the North End off of Unity Street by the Paul Revere Mall. The house was constructed between 1712-1715. The Clough House was home to Ebenezer Clough, the master mason who helped to build the Old North Church. The Clough house has somehow survived hundreds of years of construction, rebuilding and fires in the North End. This is saying something, because a lot has changed there over the last 300 years. Not even Benjamin Franklin’s house, which was located right next door to the Clough house, has survived through the years. The Clough house has worn many different hats throughout its existence; it has been a home, a butcher shop, a variety store, and even a bookie joint for a brief period of time. Now it is open for free walking tours in the summer and offers a glance back into the lifestyles of Bostonians from centuries ago.
The freedom trail was established in the 1950s in an effort to preserve historical sites in Boston. The trail is 2.5 miles long; which starts in the Boston Commons and ends in Charlestown. The trail goes through the North End and passes three significant places that account for Boston’s great history. First the trail goes to the Paul Revere House. Paul Revere was a significant figure during the revolutionary war. He is known as a great silversmith but more importantly his midnight ride to Lexington and Concord to warn Adams and Hancock that the British were coming. The house was built in about 1680; Revere did not own the house until about 100 years later in 1770. The previous owner was a rich merchant named Robert Howard. Revere moved in with his wife, their five children, and his mother. He only owned the house until 1800. When he sold the house it became many different shops. For example it was a candy shop, cigar factory, bank. Finally in 1902, Revere’s grandson purchased the home to prevent its demolition. It 1908 they opened the doors to the public and it became one of the earliest historical museums in the U.S. The Second site along the trail in the North End is the Old North Church, which is the oldest standing church in Boston opened in 1723. The steeple is 191 feet tall, the tallest in Boston. This church played a role in the revolution; Paul Revere met with sexton Robert Newman to tell him how many lanterns to display so they could see how the British were advancing. The are 37 crypts underneath the Old North Church containing nearly 1000 members of the church’s former congregation. John Pitcairn is one notable person who is buried there but he was buried by mistake. Copp’s Hill is also on the freedom trail in the North end. This is the second oldest burial ground in Boston. First founded in 1659 as Windmill Hill. Later named after William Copp a shoemaker who had owned the land. 1000s of people are buried here.
North Bennet Street School:
The North Bennet Street School is tucked away in the North End on 39 North Bennet Street. The school is well known school for those highly skilled in trades such as carpentry, furniture making, and piano making. Pauline Agassiz Shaw founded the school in 1885. Shaw founded the school to help immigrants learn vocational practices, which would allow them to succeed in their new country. Classes that have been offered throughout the years include, “pottery, printing, sewing, sheet metal work, and watch repair” (North Bennet Street School Website). Today, the tradition of high quality craftsmanship lives on with the students at the school who take full time vocational classes.
Within years of being founded the school quickly served an important mission in the city of Boston, by teaching the youth of the city important vocational skills. In 1902 there were 900 students taking classes through North Bennet Street. After the First World War the school offered classes to veterans returning from the war. In 1947 the school introduced courses, which now make up a large part of the curriculum such as, jewelry repair, carpentry, and piano making. Over the next decades classes and programs were added and dropped, but the school maintains its original mission of producing high quality craft items. The school has an important place in the history of the North End given the rich immigrant history of the neighborhood and the school.
First settled in the 1630s, the North End has been an independent community since 1646. Increase Mather, minister of the North End Meeting House, attracted more people to live in the neighborhood.
Becoming a more popular place to live in the 1700s. People ranging from all different backgrounds inhabited the neighborhood: wealthy residents, artisans, journeymen, laborers, servants, and slaves.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, there was a small population of African Americans here. By the close of the nineteenth century, the group had relocated to Beacon Hill. During the nineteenth century, there was an enormous influx of Irish immigrants, particularly from 1845 to 1853. Nearly a decade later, the neighborhood was almost completely Irish-American. After this influx, in the late nineteenth century, the Jewish community was prominent in the neighborhood, but by the 1920s, most of those residents had moved to other neighborhoods in the city. Also in the late nineteenth century, the Italian community began to rise dramatically. This continued up until 1930.
In the nineteenth century, there was much commercial development in the North End. This worsened living conditions for the residents; the commercial development meant an overcrowded living environment. Immigrants began to populate the neighborhood more steadily from this point forward. First, the Irish immigrants came to the neighborhood and were then joined by Eastern European Jews and Italians. The wealthy residents of the neighborhood began to move to other neighborhoods. In 1849, cholera took almost seven hundred residents of the North End, hitting the neighborhood harder than any other location in the city.
By the twentieth century, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants populated the North End. The neighborhood flourished in the twentieth century, despite the Spanish Influenza Epidemic, which took many lives. The community was rebuilt with public works programs, making it a place where people were comfortable living. The 1960s and 70s saw a decrease in the North End’s population. Many businesses closed.
Now, one third of the North End’s residents are Italian Americans. The remaining two thirds of the population here is mostly comprised of young professionals and college students. The population continues to grow.
All Saints Way:
All Saints Way is privately owned and was created by Peter Baldassari. Located on Battery Street between Hanover and Commercial Streets All Saints Alley’s 30 foot high brick walls are covered with framed pictures of Roman Catholic saints. According to him, holy cards he collected as a child inspired him. He has painted all of the pictures that cover the brick walls. The door remains locked most of the time, but if you catch it open the artist, Peter, is there and willing to talk to visitors about his works.
Dog Tag Garden Memorial:
The Dog Tag Memorial, located behind the Old North Church, was created to memorialize soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 through 2011. There is a dog tag for every soldier that lost his or her life. The dog tags that hang are all blank. The peaceful garden was intended to a sanctuary where people can honor the fallen soldiers. When the wind blows, the metal creates an eerie sound, letting visitors reflect of the war and the lives lost.
Polcari’s Coffee is a neighborhood shop opened in 1932 by an Italian immigrant named Anthony Polcari. The shop, which specializes in imported coffees, teas, and spices, was run by the entire Polcari family. When Anthony Polcari died in 1984, his son Ralph Polcari took over. Currently, Polcari’s Coffee is owned by Bobby Eustace, one of the 6 young men Mr. Polcari hired to work for him. Ralph had no children, so his “boys” were his family. Anthony Bellia of Saugus was about 13 when he started working at Polcari’s. “We were like his adoptive family,’’ he said. “We grew up with him. Ralph believed customers liked going to the shop not only for its coffee, tea, spices, and other items, but because of its old world look that he maintained. There is a scale from 1903, hardwood floor, brass bins for the coffee, and an original fan from the early 1900s. This store was Ralph’s life.’’ (Boston.com) Ralph Polcari died in October of 2010. Another Polcari opened a little pizzeria that we all know and love called Regina Pizzera in 1926. This store has become a national franchise, but a North End Polcari started the original. Regina’s specialized in classic pizzas with fresh ingredients, a standard that they hold today. In 1954, another member of the family, John Polcari, opened Polcari’s in the North End. Today, you can still go to Polcari’s in either Sagus or Woburn, MA.
The first Italians came to the North End in the 1860s from Genoa. The North End was predominantly an Irish neighborhood before the Italian Showed up. There was also Jewish community that lived here. “In 1860s there was 15,000 Irish immigrants in the north end, by the 1880s only 5,000 remained.” Before this only around 200 Italian immigrants were here. When the Italians came to the North End it needed a lot of attention and care. It was basically a slum with old building that needed to be restored or rebuilt. After the first Italians from Genoa came it started an influx of Italians from all over Italy. Schools were set-up to teach immigrants in the north end skills to become employed. “The Genoese made their livings as fruit and vegetable vendors and as peddlers selling wine, cheese, and olive oil from North End storefronts.” The later Italian immigrants made their livings as commercial fishermen, construction, metalworkers, etc. “In 1920, the North End had 28 Italian physicians, six Italian dentists, eight funeral homes, and along just one block of Hanover street four or five barbershops. Most North End businesses were of the “Ma and Pa” variety – small grocery stores, butcher shops, and bakeries, dressmakers, cobblers and shoe stores.” (Nichols). Prince Spaghetti Company was founded on Prince Street. They became so successful they moved operations to Commercial Street and then eventually to Lowell. “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.” (Nichols). The Ponzi scheme is now named after him; which is paying old investors back with new investors investments. Crime became “organized” inside the North End under a variety names The Mafia and The Mob are two examples. “Today only 41% of citizens in the North End are Italian.” (Nichols).
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Angel Davis, Max Maroney, Tyler Parmalee, Samuel Thaler, Richard Upson, and Betsy Willett