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Life on the Corner: Haymarket Square [Part 1]

I have a small collection of old postcards depicting scenes of the North End which I will share with readers of this column over the next few months.

This first photo is of Haymarket Square at the turn of the 20th century, I would guess around 1905, and the view is looking down North Washington St. towards Causeway St. The photographer was in a building on Washington St. (now Congress St.). On the right you can see Union and Blackstone Sts. which led into Haymarket Square and on the left is a City of Boston health clinic bounded by Canal and Haverhill Sts.

At this time almost all of Boston’s commercial supplies were transported either by ship or rail. Haymarket Square, being so close to North Station and the harbor, was one of the main transportation intersections of the city.

Even though this picture was taken over one hundred years ago there are many landmarks that will be familiar to North Enders today.

On the right you can see the two blue steeples of St. Mary’s Church on Thacher St. and to the right of that is the steel skeleton of the “Gassy” gas tank.

At the end of North Washington St. is the Boston Elevated Railway, the “EL”, which connected North Station to both South Station and Sullivan Square. Beyond that, across the Charles River, is a large wooden warehouse next to the navy Yard. I think I can even see the top of the Bunker Hill Monument behind the warehouse.

The buildings on either side of the square are brick, four to five stories tall and are commercial rather than residential. Even when I was a child this was an area that had a lot of hardware and appliance stores. There is a sign on one of the buildings for Brockway Smith Co., a supplier of doors and windows. This company was founded in 1890 and is still operating under the name of Brosco.

Take a look at Epstein’s Drug Store in the lower right hand corner with 10 cent cigars and 5 cent ice cream sodas.

On the left you can see a confectionary company sign. There were several candy companies in the area and my aunt, Aurora, worked at Deran’s on Medford Street as a candy dipper.

This was the era just before automobiles became common and there are several horse drawn wagons and trolley cars in the intersection. There are also lots of pedestrians in the streets because Boston was always a walking city.

June 2015 – Haymarket Square

I took the second picture a week ago from the new Haymarket bus stop. The streets have changed so it is impossible to get the same perspective but this is close. Two things are obvious; first the size of the buildings has changed dramatically and, second, automobiles have devoured the city.

Boston is a small but very desirable City, land is expensive and building costs high. New construction is almost always vertical which increases population density and adds more cars to the streets. A hundred years ago you could walk leisurely from Cooper St. to Canal St. Try doing that today. The Central Artery project has made it easier for cars to travel North to South through the city but it has made travel within the city much more difficult. We now have a beautiful Greenway but the surface roads have, once again, separated the North End from the rest of Boston.

We will revisit this in part 2.

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.

5 Replies to “Life on the Corner: Haymarket Square [Part 1]

  1. sorry for this really dumb question. what in nick’s post card is the central kiosk-shaped building?

    1. It’s the Haymarket subway station, David. If you look behind the municipal clinic building you can just make out where the subway cars emerged from the underground tunnels. Next week’s photo will have a better view of that.

  2. Thank you for this lovely post card. Your description helps to reveal so much. This bit of history enhances the experience of walking around our wonderful neighborhood..

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