The Blackstone Block


Walk Back Into History

In Boston, historic landmarks endure within the ever-growing city. Amidst the swirl of change you will find an island in time.

MID 17TH CENTURY

The Blackstone Block is a fragment of Boston's original settlement, its boundaries and street pattern still intact after 300 years.

The town's first houses and public buildings were nestled within sight of the inner harbor. The streets and squares which define the Blackstone Block date from the 17th century. Union, Hanover, and North (Ann) Streets were among the first streets to be laid out in Boston.

Today's Blackstone Street lies atop the line of the Mill Creek which in the 17th century ran between the Mill Cove (now the North Station area) and the Great Cove (filled for Atlantic Avenue beginning in 1868). Private drawbridges over the Mill Creek connected the North End to the center of town. The ebb and flow of the tides powered the mill on the creek.

Much of the area around the Mill Creek was tidal marshland held in common until the town released it to the abutters for excavating and filling. Among the very earliest settlers to do this, Thomas Marshall and Joshua Scottow built their homes on the edge of Bellingham's Marsh (the are now known as the Blackstone Block).

EARLY 18TH CENTURY

Thomas Marshall was a shoemaker, a selectman, and the ferryman for the Charlestown ferry. In 1652, he donated the land for Marshall Street as a shortcut between Union and Hanover Streets. Meanwhile, Joshua Scottow developed his marshland into a commercial dock.

In the years that followed, butchers, shoemakers, a housepainter, and merchants came to live and work around Scottow's dock. They occupied small wood frame buildings, many with the medieval cross-gable roofline.

At the hub of this activity, Creek Square evolved beside the dock with Salt Lane and March Lane serving as cartways between the square and Union Street. The entrance to the 4' wide footpath, Scott's Alley, passed under a portion of Scottow's house.

Over the years, other Boston streets were widened, but these narrow 17th century lanes created by Marshall and Scottow have remained unchanged. Typical throughout early Boston, these early streets measured "two poles broad" or "one pole and a half between payle and payle."

LATE 19TH CENTURY

By the early 1800s brick buildings replaced those of wood in the fireprone town. As the century progressed, Boston became the major regional exchange point for both the China trade and New England's mill industries. Goods from overseas and from the factories of the region were stored and sold in the new commercial buildings of the blackstone Block.

During this prosperous period, Boston also expanded its land area through extensive filling along its waterfront. One major project, the expansion of the Faneuil Hall market area, included the filling which created Blackstone Street.

The Blackstone Block has always been a part of the central marketplace surrounding Faneuil Hall. Because of its proximity to the 19th century meat and produce markets, the Blackstone Block housed butchers and a carpentry shop which made store fittings, butcher blocks, and ice boxes. A blacksmith, leather treaders, and hatters also labored here. The tradition of produce and meat vendors continues today with the push carts of Haymarket.

The small historic distric now known as Blackstone Block is a rare remnant of Boston's early network of narrow, winding streets lined with closely-packed buildings.

The block connected the North End neighborhood and the town's center at State Street and the Town Cove. Here, the early townspeople lived and gardened, transacted the business of fishing and trading at the wharves and warehouses, and sowed the seeds of revolution in the streets and taverns.

Since 1722 when Captain Bonner published his map, King Street has become State Street, the Town Dock has been filled for Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and the Mill Pond has been filled for the North Station area.

THE BLACKSTONE BLOCK - TODAY

This architecturally cohesive group of brick buildings represents nearly three hundred years of Boston's development. It continues today as an active part of city life. Within the Blackstone Block, the original 17th century street pattern still serves as alleys and walkways. The block contains two 18th century landmarks (the Union Oyster House and the Ebenezer Hancock House), numerous historic 19th century structures, and a modern hotel designed to fit in with the traditional scale and character of the area.

City of Boston
Thomas M. Menino, Mayor
Boston Landmarks Commission,
Environment Department


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