I visited my daughter recently in conjunction with a Boston conference I attended related to my vocation–not my avocation. She lives in the South End, a (now) fashionable section of the city characterized by three and four story brownstone and fabulous places to eat. I decided to take a closer look at the South End and in particular her street, a lovely consistent block of residential units of single and multi- family town homes.
The South End, at the time of the founding of Boston, did not exist. A narrowed strip of land called “The Neck” connected Boston the town with the surrounding countryside. The prime arterial that now runs parallel to The Neck is Washington Street. Supposedly you can see some of the oldest buildings in Boston along this road. It wasn’t until the early 1840’s that the tidal basin was filled in and the South End was available for construction. This map is a little dark, but you can see the neck and the bulb that is Boston. My daughter’s row house apartment would be in the water, due south of the bulb. (The map is on display at the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.)
Originally the very wealthy moved into the area but started moving out in the late 1800’s due to the financial crisis. The housing was split into multifamily units, the average income declined and by the 1990’s the South End was characterized by crime and housing in physical decline. The little gardens in front were trash containers, the cast iron fencing was broken and the walls defaced. But rent control drove some of the occupants out and the growing population of the city moved in. The quality (if not the maintenance) of the housing was strong and the area became the home of a new type of occupant. Today the South End remains a neighborhood of diverse cultures and economic levels.
There are two archetypes of architectural style in the South End– the bow front brownstone and the more Federalist or “flat front” brownstone. Both are located on my daughter’s block. The photo on the right shows an example of the bow front brownstone. The predominant material is red brick, with long narrow windows with a small mansard roof which is almost not visible in these pictures. The primary entry is up a 1/2 level to an arched opening with a double leaf wooden door with a glass insert. Under the entry steps are steps down to the lower level, now often an apartment but probably originally the servant’s area. There is just a small patch of green for each brownstone. Notice how the units have a projecting bow or bay window. The sidewalk is narrow as the canopy trees take their fair share of the available walking surface. There are two rows of parking with a very narrow one way street making the distance face to face of the brownstone less than 50 feet. It has a very tight feel to it.
Across the street is this flat front Federalist town home. It also uses red brick and the primary entrance is 1/2 story above the sidewalk level. But in this example, the windows have a shallower rectangular shape than we saw across the street and the upper level windows are much shorter than the first floor windows. The entry has a small covered porch with columns and the unit seems larger than the more vertical brownstones on either side and across the street. That may be an illusion.
But did you know that the South End has the largest collection of cast iron in the United States? New Orleans may be known for its textural cast iron but the shear amount of cast iron on this street and in the surrounding neighborhood is striking.
So I hope you have enjoyed this little trip. If you wish to visit this street, check out google “street view” of Dwight Ave., Boston, Massachusetts.
What I have done since the last posting: received my copy of Edit Yourself from the UW Library–oh, I have a lot to learn! joined an on line study group that studies NGSQ articles and discusses them, listened to a webinar on Ohio Genealogy, finished up the SGS Newsletter and will print it this weekend, turned in my assignment for ProGen on Time Management (my previous blog), finished up Gloria’s report. And….received my copy of the Association for Professional Genealogists Quarterly which has my article in it! I am thrilled.
Sources for the above South End blog:
all photos by Jill Morelli
The South End Historical Society, “Our History,” online (http://www.southendhistoricalsociety.org : accessed 19 November 2013).
Arlene Vadum, “A Short History of Boston’s South End, ” online The South End (http://www.south-end-boston.com/History : accessed 19 November 2013).