An 18th century walk in the South End

In a previous post we described the experience of walking down King Street in the center of 18th century Boston. This time, let’s explore the South End.


We begin our journey at the door of the Old State House on Cornhill Street (now Washington Street). Again, you hear the clatter of cart wheels and horse shoes on the pebblestone street. This is the only street into the town and on market days you will find it busy with farmers hauling bushels of crops, country shopkeepers with empty carts to collect new shipments from the wharves, and public coaches departing from King Street carry paying passengers on the Post Road down to New York City.

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Across from the Old State House is the “Old Brick Meetinghouse,” pictured to the right, which stood in that spot until its demolition in 1808. It was the last Boston church built in the old puritan style with a square shaped hall and centered cupola.

Walking another hundred yards down Cornhill brings you to another large brick church (and Boston’s largest building), the Old South Meetinghouse. This religious and political giant often hosts meetings attended by thousands. On Sundays the bell towers of Old South and Old Brick toll in slow counterpoint to the background chorus of bells singing from fifteen other churches that stand in the town.

The Meetinghouse marks the end of Cornhill Street and here things grow quieter at the beginning of Marlbrough Street. Here we come to a building well-known to Bostonians, the Province House, which is the official residence of the Royal Governor. It is an impressive house, gated and set back from the street surrounded with stately trees and topped with an iconic weathervane made by the same craftsman who made the weathervanes that top Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

A number of other mansions stood off of Marlbrough. Samuel Adams lived in a three-story house on Winter Street. John Rowe, the merchant, had an estate on Pond Street and Royal Sherriff Stephen Greenleaf lived in a fine property on the end of West Street. These were straight-laced Georgian townhouses with brick facades and fragrant gardens. Unlike the crowded streets of the North End, here in the South End people could keep their neighbors at a distance.

In our next post, we will finish our journey by walking to the very edge of town.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager