Glimpses of Back Bay

From Leading Business men of Back Bay, South End, Boston Highlands, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester

Published 1888 Mercantike Publishing Company, Boston

Free Trial - World Deluxe Membership



When the sturdy band of Puritans whom John Winthrop led took their first lingering survey of “Mushauwomuk,” in 1630, from what is now Beacon Hill, they little thought that the long, low, marshy tract running off toward the south-west, along the shore of the Charles, would become the most beautiful part of the world’s “Hub”; and to imagine spacious avenues and palatial residences arising from the territory of’ the river itself (as their energetic descendants followed the example of the ancient Rornans and Venetians in usurping the sea’s domain), would have been far beyond the power of their wildest dreams. And while the nascent city, through all the wars and stirring changes of the colonial period, the fierce controversies and ensanguined uprisings of the revolutionary time, and the period of internal development, up to the middle of the present century, was steadily rising to its present pre-eminence, the faintest conception of the possibility or utility of creating a new Boston amid the mud and shifting tides of the “Back-bay,” does not seem to have ever dawned upon the inner consciousness of a solitary Bostonian. If such a brilliant intellectual event ever transpired, the modest discoverer succeeded marvelously well in keeping it a secret from the patent-office and the world at large. But about the middle of the present century, in the evolution of Boston, “a change came o’er the spirit” of the place, and a few rare minds followed out a line of investigations of vaster importance to the city’s well-being, than any that had been made since the. stern-lit eyes of its heroic defenders, glancing along the muzzles of their flint-locks, saw the broad backs of the red-coats gleaming and dancing in that extempore footrace which immortalized the 17th of June, 1775.

Among the earliest in directing public attention to this district, and the most energetic in its development, was Mr. Norman C. Munson, whose name will not rank far from the first among those to whom Boston owes most of its growth and power. As is always the case when a novel project is proposed, the first attempts to have the commonwealth superintend the transformation of these useless flats into valuable property, met with the most strenuous opposition from those narrow-minded obstructionists from whom even Bostoii is not entirely. free. But the inevitable movement went steadily forward, and about 1852 began to take definite shape. The commonwealth, to which the flats belonged, assigned the contract for filling them in to Mr. N. C. Munson, and doubt rapidly passed into surprised delight and admiring applause, as the people opened their eyes to the fact that a “new” Boston was coming into existence. The first contract resulted in the reclaiming with the best of real estate, over a million square feet of land, for which Mr. Munson received in payment two hundred and sixty thousand square feet of the ground he had, so to speak, made; and for subsequent contracts which have changed what was formerly the narrowest part of Boston into the widest, he has received about the value of $7,000,000. The whole cost to the commonwealth has been less than $1,750,000, and the receipts from the sale of the lands have exceeded $4,625,000; a round two hundred thousand acres yet remain to be disposed of, and the full fruition of this great movement will only be realized by distant generations.

The old families of Boston, unlike the Roman patricians, who built only on the hills of the city, have displayed their usual originality and enterprise in the manner with which they have improved this manufactured land, and made out of it one of the most beautiful city districts in the world. The stately magnificence of Commonwealth Avenue, in its successful blending of nature and art, and in its architectural effects, has no equal in this country, and in many respects is not unworthy of comparison with the noted aveth2es of Europe, though of necessity it still lacks, and must for centuries, the mellowed and harmonious grace which only comes with age and traditional glory. Commonwealth Avenue has a width of two hundred and forty feet across and is over a mile and a half in length. Through its center, for the whole distance, runs a beautiful park with double rows of shade trees, making a delightful promenade. On each side of the park are wide driveways, and the sidewalks are also of unusual breadth. Near the beginning of the avenues, opposite the Public Garden, stands the statue of Alexander Hamilton, the first erected ‘on the avenue. It was presented to the city, in 1865, by Mr. Thomas Lee, and was sculptured by Dr. Rhumer, — said to have been the first in this country made of granite. It is inscribed: “Alexander Hamilton, born in the Island of Nevis, West Indies, 11 January, 1757, died in New York, 12 July, 1804,— Orator, Writer, Soldier, Jurist, Financier. Although his particular province was the Treasury, his genius pervaded the whole administration of Washington.” Some distance further up the avenue stands the statue of John Glover, presented to the city by Benjamin Tyler Reed in 1875. Martin Milmore was the artist, and. the form of the old revolutionary soldier is admirably reproduced. The statue is of bronze, and the effect of the pose, the old Continental uniform, and the sword and cannon is very striking. The inscription reads as follows: “John Glover, of Marblehead,— a Soldier of the Revolution. He commanded a regiment of one thousand men, raised in that town, known as the Maine regiment, and enlisted to serve through the war; he joined the camp at Cambridge, June 22, 1775, and rendered distinguished service in transporting the army from Brooklyn to New York, August 28, 1776, and across the Delaware, Dec. 25, 1776. He was appointed by the Continental Congress a Brigadier-General, Feb. 21, 1777. By his courage, energy, military talents and patriotism, he secured the confidence of Washington, and the gratitude of his country. Born November 5, 1732, died at Marblehead, January 30, 1797.” The architectural grandeur of Commonwealth Avenue, and of all the neighboring avenues in the Back Bay, well deserves the great pride which all Bostonians take in it. The celebrated architect, Richardson, and several home artists, have here displayed their finest conceptions and work. The results are unequalled in this country, and can stand comparison with European cities.

The system of cross streets in this district is a fine example of the originality and resource of the Boston mind. Beginning with Arlington street which faces the Pub_ lic Garden, the streets crossing Commonwealth Avenue are named Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exetei’, Fairfield, Gloucester, Hereford, etc. Thus the alphabet is followed in a more artistic and characteristic manner than is customary in most cities. The street names are also alternately trisyllabic and dissyllabic.

Among the most prominent buildings in Commonwealth Avenue are the Hotel Vendorne and the Brattle Square Church.

The Brattle Square Church, on the corner of Commonewealth Avenue and Clarendon street, presents a most attractive aspect, its principal feature being the tower, which with its tapering yet substantial beauty is one of the best known features of the Back Bay. It is modeled on the Italian style. On the four corners, near the top, are carved figures of angels, after the Renaissance. The whole exterior of the body of the church is a great architectural triumph, but the interior, though also very beautiful, proved of poor acoustic properties, and consequently the building was sold at auction by the church society in 1881. This society is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to 1699, at which time their first meeting-house was erected in old Brattle Square. This edifice was replaced by a larger and less primitive one in 1773, which was called the “Manifesto Church.” This church was used as barracks by the British soldiers during their Revolutionary occupancy of the city, and their treatment of it illustrated well the Christian spirit shown by the old country in her attempt to bring to submission her rebellious child. In the wall of the old building a cannon ball sent by the Continental battery in Cambridge was long imbedded. Among other noted pastors of the old Brattle Square church was Edward Everett.

The fine statue of Lief Ericsson is one of the latest additions to Commonwealth Ave., and constitutes a worthy testimonial to the character and services of the famous discoverer, as well as to the discriminating appreciation of the “Hub,” and its cosmopolitan spirit.

Boylston street is considerably older than Connonwelth Ave., and by reason of the many famous buildings situated on it, not less widely known. The Hotel Brunswick, on the corner of Boylston and Clarendon sts. ranks among the first in this country, and is one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. It was built in 1874, at a cost of nearly a million dollars, and was still further enlarged in 1876. It is 224 by 125 feet in dimensions, covering more than half an acre of ground; is sir stones high, and contains 350 rooms. The frame is of brick, with dark sandstone trimmings, and the front with its variegated and artistic abutments, presents a stately and beautiful aspect. Its internal arrangements are fully on a par with the exterior, the parlors and dining rooms being especially celebrated for their magnificence. Here are often held college-class and alumni dinners, and it is also a favorite resort of the noted literary and other societies of this society-given city. The attractiveness of the Brunswick as of the Vendome, consists not a little in its situation, not only because it is at once in close proximity to the railroads, and also the loveliest part of Boston, but the great number of large, majestic buildings surrounding it give a rich setting that is rarely obtained by hotels in this country. It is also one of the obvious advantages of the Back-Bay, that it contains many justly world-famous hotels, which add to its fame and help to make known its beauties. Among other well-known hotels in the Back-say are the Berkeley, Victoria, Huntingdon, and Oxford.

The Boston Society of Natural History, on the corner of Berkeley and Boylston streets, adjoining the Institute of Technology, is also one of the intellectual landmarks of the city. It is constructed of brick and freestone, and with its great Corinthian pillars and Parthenian roof, partakes of that mingled charm of stateliness and substantiability that distinguishes so many of the buildings of this section of the city. It is 80 feet in length, and its front on Berkeley street measures 105 feet. The seal of the society. bearing the head of the great French naturalist Cuvier is sculptured over the entrance. The first floor is divided into a lecture room, library, offices, and rooms containing geological and mineralogical collections. There is a grand hall on the second floor sixty feet high, with balconies, and here in profusion are natural objects and specimens of great interest. The collections of birds, insects, plants and skeletons, contain many most remarkable curiosities and beauties of nature. The museum is free to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays, on other days a slight fee is charged for admittance. The Society was incorporated in 1831, and has counted among its members and benefactors many of the most distinguished Bostonians. The late Dr. W. J. Walker, whose benefactions aggregated about $200,000, was its chief benefactor. The building now occupied was erected in 1864, at a cost of $100,000. It is one of the marks of the true Bostonian spirit, that an institution of this character should be so successfully developed almost entirely by private means, the State only giving the land on which it is now situated, and the work of the Society having been always self-supporting.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about opposite the Brunswick, ranks among the firSt educational institutions in the land, and its fame for bestowing a thorough and practical scientific training is international. It was first incorporated in 1861, for three distinct purposes: to institute and maintain a Society of Arts, a Mu. seum of Arts, and a School of Industrial Science. The Society has at present a membership in the neighborhood of three hundred. The Museum contains an extensive and valuable collectioii of machinery, models and drawings, casts, prints, architectural plans, etc. The School of Science has upward of five hundred pupils, and is constantly extending its range of influence and resources. It receives aid from the National Government by virtue of the Act of Congress to promote instruction in Agriculture, Mechanical Arts and Sciences, and Military Science and Practice, all of which are liberally provided for in its curriculum. Its President is Gen. Francis A. Walker, the chief of the Census Commission of 1880, and a distinguished political economist and statistician. Under his guidance the school has made great advances in recent years. The main building is a large classic structure of brick with freestone trimmings, and presents an impressive appearance with its immense steps and high Corinthian pillars. A new building alongside of the first has been erected within a few years, and both are admirably adapted to the practical experimentation and practice which necessarily constitute the greater part of the instruction. The large num ber of machines, models and apparatus, are all of the best type, and the opportunities offered for work and study are of the highest in the country. There are ten courses, each of four years, civel and topographical engineering, mechanical engineering, geology and mining engineering, building and architecture, chemistry, metallurgy, natural history science and literature, physics and an elective. The department of mechanic arts is especially famous for the scope and value of its manual instruction. The School of Industrial Design, maintained by the Lowell Institute Fund, is another highly advanced and well known part of the Institute. Visitors are always welcomed and will find much of great interest in these buildings, representative of the spirit and progress of the age.

Among the numerous buildings of great beauty in this immediate vicinity, the Boston Young Men’s Christian Association Hall, erected within a few years, takes a prominent place. The great beauty of its exterior is more than surpassed by the elegance and convenience of its interior arrangements. The reception room and parlors are fitted up in the highest style of refinement and artistic comfort, and the young men of Boston are certainly exceptionally blessed in the advantages offered by this institution. The gymnasium, though not among the largest, is one of the most thoroughly equipped and complete in the country. Every possible form of gymnastic exercise is here offered and indulged in. The large lecture hail of the Association is generally regarded as the best owned by any Y. M. C. A. in this country, and ranks among the best lecture halls of Boston. Several valuable courses of lectures are given here every season by the Association, and every department of this vast and influential work is maintained with great enthusiasm and vigor.

The present attractive building of the Association was dedicated nearly two years ago. With the exception of the Brooklyn Association building which has just been dedicated, it is the largest building of the kind which has been erected for many years, and in this sense may be called new.

The Association building is 105 feet front, 100 feet deep, 105 feet high at the highest point. The land cost $97,000; the building and furniture, $203,000; the largest donations were one each of $25,000 and $10,000; twelve of $5,000; one of $3,000 and $2,500, (two in number); $1,000, forty in iiumber. Alexander Cochrane was chairman of the Finance Committee; Charles H. Freeland was chairman of the Building Committee; the architects were Messrs. Sturgis & Bridghani.

The building contains the following rooms: Association Hall, seating 900; Choral Hall, seating 350; Lyceum, seating 200; Lecture Room, 250; Parlors, Library, Reading Room, Recreation Room; Class Rooms, fourteen in number; Lavatory; Coat Room; Gymnasium, 40x95, with dressing roooms for 042.

The exterior is deceptive in regard to size. It was intended by the architects to look like a great mansion. One does not realize the amount of space inside until he passes through the building.

The illustrations of the building give us as fair a representation of its appearance as may be expected from pen and ink sketches. The general plan of the interior is controlled by two ideas: first to place the rooms in daily use on the first and second floors, those used twice or three times a week on the third floor; those used once a
week or once a month on the fourth and fifth floors. Second, to separate the departments of work so as to prevent them from disturbing each other. The Choral Hall for music classes is on the fifth floor. The floors between the Asso ciation Hall and Reading room1 Library, and Reception and Recreation rooms are thoroughly deadened. The noise frotn the Gymnasium is scarcely ever heard in the building. The second floor on which are the working rooms of the Association, viz :— secretary’s office business office, library, reading room, recreation room, chess and checker room, lavatory, chapel and coat room is so arranged that it can all be thrown together, making a splendid series of reception rooms for special occasions. Fully five thousand people can move around in the building. The library has 4500 volumes, with frequent additions of new books. The reading room has twenty-nine dailies, seventy-five weeklies, three semi-monthlies, and fortytwo monthlies. The gymnasium is one of the best equipped and best managed in the country. Its bathing facilities :Lre the very best; its systems of exercise are the result of long years of study on the part of its superintendents. There are two paid instructors, and a staff of experienced volunteer teachers. Eight yonag men have been graduated as superintendents fbr other gymnasiums and more are studying for similar positions. About 1410 different young men be;onged to the gymnasium last year.

The Boston Young Men's Christian Association was first organized Dec. 22, 1851, and is the oldest Y. M. C. A. in this country, being preceded by only one other on the North American continent, that of Montreal, which was organized a week earlier. The first president of theBoston Y. M. C. A., was Francis 0. Watts. When first organized it occupied rooms on the corner of Washington and Summer streets, afterward from 1853 to 1872 in Trernont Temple, and from 1872, until it moved into its present building, a large structure on the corner of Tremont and Elliot streets. Five hundred of its members enlisted in the defence of the Union during the civil war, and its Army Relief Committee raised $333,237.49, which was devoted to the work of the Christian Commission, in alleviating the condition of the soldiery. After the Chicago fire, also, over $34,000 was collected and sent to the sufferers, in addition to goods valued at $219,000. The present membership is between three and four thousand, and the influences for good it has inaugurated among the young men of Boston are incalculable.

Back-Bay is further distinguished by the possession of two of the most beautiful church edifices in the new world, namely the New Trinity, and the new Old South. The former is, taking all things into account, the "finest church edifice" in New England, and in many respects in the United States. This great edifice was completed in 1877, at a total cost of $75O,000, and the society being very wealthy, without any incumbrance or debt. It is in the shape of a Latin cross of the French-Romanesque type, and a semi-circular apse is added to the eastern arm. The great central tower rises to the height of 211 feet, and the beauty of its architecture passes all description. The width of the church is 121 feet and the length 160 feet; the tower is 46 feet square on the inside; the chancel is 57 feet deep by 52 wide. The stone employed in the body of the Church is Dedham granite, with brown free stone trimmings, and. the mosaic work of polished granite is especially beautiful. The interior is finished throughout the body of the church in black walnut, the vestibules with ash and oak, and the decorations are known among the most beautiful work of the celebrated New York artist LaFarge. The architects were Gambrill & Richardson, also of New York. The magnificent stained-glass windows were imported direct from Europe. The Trinity. Society is one of the oldest in the city, and of the Episcopal Church, in the country, dating back to 1728. Many of the most famous preachers and bishops of America have been among its rectors, and the present rector is Dr. Phillips Brooks, known throughout the country for his great eloquence, and as a leader of Christian thought. He is intimately connected with Harvard University, and with the highest nterests and noblest movements of Boston.

The New Old South was erected in 1872 by the society formerly occupying the famous "Old South," about which cluster so many inspiring memories. Erected in 1729, the scene of so many celebrated events, escaping narrowly from destruction in the fire of 1872, and already being encroached upon and threatened by its surroundings, a most determined effort is being made by all who love the noble history of old Boston to perpetuate it for future generations. The new building on the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston streets, is, with the exception of Trinity Church, the finest church structure in New England. It was completed at a cost of $500,000, the exterior material being Roxbury stone and freestone, and the interior finished in cherry. The area covered by the church is 200 by 90 feet, and the great tower rising at the southwest corner is 235 feet high. This magnificent triumph of architecture is one of the landmarks of the Back-Bay, and immediately impresses one with its stately yet delicate beauty. The whole exterior is most artistically built, and the interior is famous for its rich and elaborate coloring. The arched screen of Caen stone with pillars of Lisbon marble, which separates the church from the vestibules, is one of the handsomest pieces of architecture in the city.

The Back-Bay numbers many church edifices, all of which are attractive and substantial, many besides those we have mentioned, of great beauty. Among the best known of these are The First Church, Unitarian, Dr. Rufus Ellis, pastor, on Berkeley street; the Arlington Street Church, Dr. Channing's old church, on the corner of Arlington and Boylston streets; the Central Church, Congregational, corner of Berkeley and Newbury streets, Dr. Joseph T. Duryea being its pastor, and which cost over $325,000, also possessing the highest steeple in the city, 236 feet; the Church of the Disciples, of which the learned and esteemed late Dr. James Freeman Clarke was pastor; the Berkeley Street Church, Congregational, under the pastorate of Dr. Wm. Burnet Wright; and the Memorial Church to Theodore Parker, of the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society, of which that gifted man was once pastor. The religious spirit to which Boston has been devoted since the earliest days, is still maintained and cultivated earnestly.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, corner of Dartmouth street and St. James avenue, may well engage the most careful attention of all visitors and admirers of Boston. Already its fame as a center of the most beautiful and inspiring art of the continent is becoming transatlantic, and all lovers of the aesthetic and artistic can here find almost unending enjoyment. In its exterior appearance it is one of the most beautiful buildings in this garden of beauty, where it is situated. It is not yet entirely completed, but rapidly assuming harmonious proportions. The chief building material is red brick, the friezes, monidings, copings, and all the decorative work being of red and buff imported terra cotta, which is for the first time here used on a large scale in this country and presents most pleasing effect. There are two large and magnificent facades upon the front of the building, one representing the "Genius of Art," by illustrations and types from remote antiquity until the present day, the other representing the union of "Art and Industry." Along the front are heads of distinguished artists, among whom are Copley, Crawford and Aliston. The main entrance is one of the most beautiful sights in the city, with its wide marble steps, its tall columns of polished granite, and terra cotta decorations. The first floor is devoted to antiquities and statuary, the second floor to paintings, engravings and bric-a-brac. The Egyptian and Greek Rooms contain antiquarian collections of exceptional value and interest, a goodly supply of mummies and hieroglyphics, the Greek vases, the Cyprian discoveries of Gen. di Cesnola, and the celebrated Olympian casts being the most generally admired. The works of Michael Angelo in the Roman and Renaissance rooms, constitute one of the most valuable features of the whole collection. The Ariadne of the Vatican is a most striking and beautiful figure, which meets one on the stairway. Among innumerable other attractions, we might mention as especially worthy of study, the masterpieces of Stuart, Copley, Aliston, Reynolds, Rubens, Courbet, Fromentine, LeBrun, Guido, Oorreggio and Velasquez. The "Beishazzar's Feast," of' Aliston, and "King Lear," by Benjamin West, and a number of pieces by the modern French School, are of commanding interest. The Royal French Tapestries, the Persian fabrics, the Chinese, Japanese, Dresden, Sèvres, Delft, and Wedgewood wares, the Venetian glasses, and the Lawrence Room, also possess a high flavor for the initiated into the rare beauties of art. The Gray collection of Engravings, and the cartoon by Delaroche, "Christ the Hope and Support of the Afflicted," should also be seen by those unwilling to miss some of the greatest attractions of this grand collection. The Boston Water Power Company, which was largely interested and influential in the creation of the Back-Bay, presented the land on which the Art Museum now stands, to the city, with the condition that it should be used for a public square, or for the site of a museum of the fine arts. In 1870, this lot, containing 91,000 square feet and enclosed by streets on all sides, was entrusted by the city to the corporation which had been recently formed. By the subscriptions of the public nearly $250,000 was raised, and the building was commenced in 1871, the architects being Sturgis & Brigham of this city. The part now completed was opened in 1876, and since that time has been one of the most popular resorts in the city, next perhaps to the Public Library. When entirely finished the building will constitute a vast quadrangle enveloping two great courts, after the style of the European palaces. During the first three-fourths of 1878, the visitors to the Museum were about 100,000, and this number has since been steadily increasing. In response to an appeal made to the public by the institution, in 1878, while only $100,000 was asked for, $125,000 was subscribed, and a large addition made on the St. James avenue side to the original section. Harvard University, the Institute of Technology, the Lowell Institute, the Atheneaum and the Public Library, are all represented in the Board of Trustees, as is also the City and State and City Boards of Education. The Museum is open daily on week days from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; on Sunday from 1 to 5 P.M.; on Saturday and Sunday admittance is free, at other times the fee is twenty-five cents. One has hardly seen Boston without a considerable acquaintance with its highly developed artistic side as represented in this superb institution.

The Boston Art Club, though somewhat overshadowed by the fame of its younger contemporary, is widely known for the rare beauty and value of its collections. It was organized by the artists of Boston in 1855, and has exerted a strong and beneficent influence in the evolution of art in Boston. At its club rooms on the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth streets, fine exhibitions of paintings, etchings, etc., are given in the winter and spring of every year, and these events are of great importance in the art season. Many of the most cultured people of Boston are members of this society.

Already this section of the Back-Bay is witnessing the erection of a new building which, for many reasons, will be one of the most celebrated in the city and the country; we refer to the New Public Library. This institution, which since its inception in 1848, has held so influential a position in the life of the city, has been rapidly outgrowing its present quarters on Boylston street, and will soon occupy the most magnificent public library building in the world. The architects, Messrs. McKim, Mead & White, of New York and Boston, have been working upon the design of this immense and costly building for a year, and now that work has begun, a description of how the new library will appear among the other great art works of the Back-Bay, when it is completed, which is expected to take about three years, cannot fail to be of great interest to all lovers of Boston. The estimate of the building places the cost at $1,175,000, and it is the determination of all interested, that money shall not be spared in creating a structure worthy of the city's fame. The lot which the building is to occupy is situated on Copley Square, and is 254 by 264 feet in dimensions. The old Roman style has been chosen as most in keeping with the stateliness and simple grandeur of the institution, and the mingled richness and charming naturalness of its exterior, must prove of striking beauty, situated as it is among so many other buildings of a more complex and elaborate style of art. The building will be constructed of Milford granite, whose rich warm color and extreme durability are well known. It will be very nearly 218 feet square, and along the upper half of all four sides will run a beautiful arcade with its strong restful lines, in perfect harmony with the rest of the structure. The great windows of stained glass in this arcade will furnish an abundant supply of light, which will be increased by windows opening into an inner court 100x135 feet, the plan being to make a quadrangular building on a similar principle as the Art Museum and English-High and Latin School is constructed. This inner court will form a most delightful retreat, having in its center a large fountain, and seats for readers during the warm summer days. The doorway in the center of the front will be triple arched, and of the same stern and noble style as the rest. On each side will be groups of statuary representing the Arts and Sciences, and in the center solitary figures of Philosophy and History. Semi-circular granite seats add to the attractiveness. Within the door one will find himself in a great vestibule 55x16 feet, through which he passes into the grand marble entrance hail, 37x44 feet. Then comes the grand staircase, leading from the first floor, which will be devoted to the working departments of the library, up to the reading room. This staircase will be of the finest Sicilian marble, each step being twenty feet long, and will be resplendent in its whiteness and purity. The reading room, to be known by the familiar name of "Bates Hall," on the second floor, will be the most magnificent room in the building It will extend along the whole two hundred and eighteen feet, and be fortytwo feet wide and fifty high, with a grand vaulted roof. The woodwork will be of polished oak, and the effect of its brilliantly decorated and gracefully arched ceiling, and the tessellated pillars on its sides with the art windows intervening, will be unparalleled by anything at present on this side the water. At the two ends of this immense hall will be small semi-domed spaces, separated from the rest of the ball by carved oaken screens. The rest of the lower and upper floors, with the exception of those parts of the two sides opening into Bates Hall, immediately contiguous to it, will be devoted entirely to the storing of its immense collection of books, and before the century closes it is probable that this building will contain one of the largest libraries the world has ever known. The shelves on which the books will rest will be arranged in six stories, each seven and a half feet in height. The well-grounded pride which Bostonians have always taken in their inimitable public library will not unnaturally or unreasonably be steadily increased, as during the next three years this grand structure develops into harmonious proportions; and when it stands forth in its perfected beauty it will mark, not without deep significance, the presence of a new era in the education of the people, when what Carlyle calls the "true university," a great library, will have reached a position unrivalled, in history.

Hitherto our study of the Back-Bay has been chiefly confined to Commonwealth Avenue and Boylston Street. With all their beauty, however, these do not contain the only or the greater part of its beautiful attractions. In former days, old Beacon street was the street of Boston, but since the genesis of the Back-Bay, its sometime glories have slowly paled before -the more modern spirit and enterprise of the avenues in this section. The prolongation of old Beacon street itito the Back-Bay, commonly known as the Mill-Darn, was the favorite racing and pacing thoroughfare of the city. But its honors have also paled. before that of a younger rival - namely, the famous Brighton Road. When the Mill Damn was first completed in 1821, it was generally considered a gigantic achievement, but more recent workings in the Back-Bay district have overshadowed it considerably. The six hundred or more acres of flats, which it originally enclosed, have all been rescued from the tide, and the Dam itself is now no longer a dam but a well-regulated, high-toned avenue with many beautiful and famed private residences upon it. During the height of its glory, that is to say up to within a few years, a most lively scene could be witnessed here daily, as the proud owners of the fastest horses in the city drove dashingly along to the tune of 2.30 or lower. In the winter, when the jingling sleighbells, and laughing maiden voices touched with silver the frosty air, the scene was one of continual beauty and fascination. But its glory has departed, and quieter days come upon it, so that it now threatens to become as staid and slow-going as its ancient namesake, with its hoary traditions looking loftily down upon the Common it has known for some two hundred and fifty years. Perhaps the change is for the better, and it certainly is more in accord with the elegance and style which have made the residences immediately facing upon the water among the handsomest of this whole select region. One has not to go far, however, to see the repetition of these old Mill-Dam days, for new Beacon street runs into the "Brighton Road," where the racing is even faster, and the sleighing more exuberant than of old. This famous course, like the Boulevard of New York, is well known throughout the land to all the modern "equites." West Chester Park, though not a park at all, is one of the best known and. most beautiful of the Back-Bay avenues. It crosses Commonwealth avenue five blocks above the Vendome Hotel, and runs from the Charles river, turning at Falmouth street, completely across the city, developing into an actual park toward its latter end. Being 90 feet wide and most carefully and pleasantly laid out through the Back-Bay district, it is destined to be one of the most beautiful avenues in the vicinity, or the country, and already some of the handsomest and costliest residences of the Back-Bay have been erected upon it. A bridge is to be built, running across the Charles River from the end of West Chester Park into Cambridge, which will be the shortest and pleasantest route from Harvard University into Boston. Its completion will be a valued public work. Among the other fine avenues of the Back-Bay, Huntington, Columbus, at its upper end, and St. James avenues, Newbury and Marlborough streets, are perhaps most worthy of mention. Each is distinguished by many beautiful buildings, and the carefulness and superior beauty with which it is laid out. Huntington especially, is sure to become one of the most famous in the city. Many handsome residences have been. laid out upon it, and, in 1881, a most noteworthy building, the permanent exhibition halls of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. This building cost $400,000, and is one of the largest ever erected in the country. Its front on Huntington avenue is 600 feet, and on West Newton street 300 feet, being 345 feet wide in its widest part. The space covered amounts to 96,000 square feet. The style of architecture is after the Renaissance, with considerable freedom in the treatment, and the material used was red brick with free-stone trimmings and terra-cotta ornaments. Graceful arches rise one above another almost to the roof, and many symbolical art. representations are portrayed on the outer walls. Among these are the heads of Franklin, representing electricity, and Oakes Ames, representing railroads. The eastera end of the vast structure consists of an octagonal tower, forty feet in diameter and ninety feet high. The immense entrance on Huntington avenue is a massive and. imposing piece of work, constructed of stone and brick intermingled, and with a fine tiled roof. The interior arrangements are as tasteful and convenient as extensive. Offices, administration rooms, a great exhibition hall, the main hail at the west end, art exhibition rooms with balconies, studios, and a large music hall, answer admirably and exhaustively every purpose which could be asked for in the immense exhibitions given by this association every few years, known throughout New England and the Atlantic States as the "Mechanics Fair." The value and necessity of the building is demonstrated by the enormous crowds which fill it to overflowing week after week. This association is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, and has exercised a great influence in the industrial progress of the Bay State. it was founded in 1795, and incorporated in 1806. It formerly occupied a handsome building in Chauncy street, which cost $325,000 aud is a very wealthy association.

Among many other notable and handsome buildings within the range of the BackBay, may be mentioned the Odd Fellows Hall, on the corner of Berkeley and Tremont streets, a five story building, covering 12,000 square feet of ground, and of imposing appearance; Notre Dame Academy and Convent, on Berkeley street, near Boylston, not unworthy in its appearance of its surroundings; and the great depot of the Providence Railroad, which is within a minute's walk of Boylston street, and ranks among the most beautiful railroad depots in the world, being too well known to need detailed description here.

Back-Bay Park from its character and that of such streets as Commonwealth Av., Boylston and West Chester, is in reality one of the most beautiful of parks. There are, however, several smaller parks here, both in existence now and to be in the future, not unworthy of mention. The great park of the Back-Bay will not be completed for three or four years, although much has been already expended upon it. With two such parks as the Common and the Public Garden, most large cities would have rested content, but the "Hub" has displayed its usual spirit in planning a series of great parks, the first of which is to be situated on the water side of the Back-Bay district. The first step in this movement was taken in 1874, when a commission, consisting of the Mayor, two aldermen and three citizens at large, was appointed to study and devise concerning the matter of new parks. This Park Commission was authorized by the City Council, in 1877, to purchase not less than one hundred acres of land on the flats of the Back-Bay, to be converted into a magnificent water-side park, the land not to cost over ten cents a foot. In this way, three great ends were achieved: the work of redeeming the land in this section was forwarded, and a great step was takenin beautifying this lovely section, and an admirable basis was obtained by its relation to Commonwealth avenue and the Public Garden for the proposed series of parks, which is to include all parts of the growing city, all being connected by park-roads on the plan of Commonwealth avenue, thus making this city even more worthy of the preeminence already achieved among the most beautiful cities of America. In 1877, a loan of $450,000 was authorized by the city government to forward this movement, and in February, 1878, yet more land was purchased, so that this park when completed will have but few equals in size in this country. In addition, $16,000 more was appropriated for the purchase of land, and $25,000 for filling, grading, surveying and laying out the park. The sides of the park will rest partially in Beacon street, Brookline avenue, Longwood avenue, and Parker street, having an entrance from each. This magnificent park, which will be nearly three times as large as the Common, and five times as large as the Public Garden, though it will lack the historic traditions of the two latter, will yet in time have a glory all its own not unworthy of comparison, and can but add in an almost unimaginable measure to the continually increasing beauty of the Back-Bay.

Our sketches hitherto have been chiefly of the external appearance of the BackBay, as represented by many of its greatest features. Into its inner life it is not given to those outside, nor for that matter to many of those within it, to penetrate very far, yet a few references can help, perhaps, to picture the 1ife that animates this center of the social sphere of the Hub. Most of the light on this side of Boston, the Back-Bay, will be found in the numerous novels that have been written about the city and its inhabitants, such as James' "Bostonians," Howell's " Silas Lipham" and "The Minister's Charge." The social exodus into the Back-Bay and its revolutionary effects, to a great extent are fresh in the memories of all. It is not merely a matter of the "Nouveay riches," but many of the old families have left their ancestral halls, until the greater part of the bon-ton have become residents of the old time flats, but now beautiful "new land"; and so a manner of life has been developed far different from any that the old Puritan fathers and founders of the city could have imagined. Indeed, it is not likely that it has ever had an exact parallel in the world's history. Luxury there is in abundance, yet tempered by an intellectual tone which makes it, on the whole, of a higher, more cultivated sort than any other form of luxury known to this country, at least, and which removes the glare and false show entirely, which so often attends wealth of less than a half-dozen generations' growth. Exclusiveness, too, is not without a place in the social economy of the Back-Bay, and yet it is so affected and permeated by the old "Yankee" quality of sturdy independence of thought, that it seems more of an intellectual cast than of the purely gilded or oldfamily type. Perhaps there is no large city in the world, where intellectual and artistic power are more readily or widely appreciated and honored, apart from all other considerations, than in this center of American thought, and even in the exclusive Back-Bay. One cannot study what extra Bostonians of this and other countries attribute to it as faults for any length of time without finding them linked very closely with some very appreciable virtues. The old New England flavor of character and life yet lingers and touches with its strong colors the life of the Back-Bay and its inhabitants, and though Bostonians themselves are not blind to faults within their own borders, yet the merits of all its various sections arc not rated much too high. The kindly spirit of the Back-Bay folk is thoroughly evidenced in every good work, with which no spot on earth, in all probability, is more blessed than Boston. The innu- merable efforts for the murture of unfortunate children, the help and advancement of the poor, the especial care which is given to the education of the young people, the large avenues through which the church work penetrates all parts of the city, all meet with cordial sympathy, and most earnest forwarding in this region. Many so cieties such as those of which the "Society to Encourage Studies at Home," under the management of Miss Anna E. Ticknor, and other Boston ladies, is a marked example illustrating the spirit which yet prompts and dictates the duty-loving activities of Boston's rich society. On the more social side, the brilliance yet quiet refinement of the society life in the Back-Bay is the characteristic which is perhaps most striking. A feeling of rivalry is sometimes declared in other great cities of the continent, but it finds little echo here. If there is one thing above another for which all Bostonians are remarkable, it is their supreme seif-containeciness, if we may coin the word. They do not feel the need, as a general rule, (though perhaps it would be too mneh to say that there are not exceptions,) of looking to any other center, be it American, or English, or French, for the main principles and customs of their social life. In this it would seem that the influence of the life which centers about the Back-Bay, cannot but be of great good at this period of our country's history. The influence of the great leaders in literature, art and science, who have for generations been nurtured in Boston, and who today form so large a number of the leading men and women in the social life of the Back-Bay, is felt throughout it all. As we said before, however, it is but glimpses, scattered here and there, that can be obtained by temporary acquaintance with this part of the Hub, and this applies even more forcibly to the social life than to its outward form and artistic expression, in the representative local sketches of places, institutions and buildings which we have given. The commercial life of the Back-Bay is necessarily and chiefly of a retail and miscellaneous character. Within the borders of the Back-Bay are situated some of the highest and most reliable re tail firms in the city, and almost every branch of commerce has representatives, although from its nature there is little or no manufacturing of great extent. All these industries are fittingly represented in the immense displays which are given by the M. C. M. A. at their fairs. The fact should not be forgotten that this district is the home of the largest number of most successful business men of the city, and it is of course evident that nowhere else will be found such magnificent results of the old New England thrift, industry and genius for commercial enterprise, which other people, in vain emulation, have been wont to dub as the "Yankee spirit." This region is its paradise on its material side, and the old fact though new doctrine of the "sur vival of the fittest," finds a brilliant exemplification here in the financial prosperity of the descendants of these stern-hearted people, whose integrity was as unflinching as their faith. From whatever side we approach it, the Back-Bay, its appearance, its in habitants, and its life, form a most interesting study, worthy of a modern epic, whichperhaps will yet be written by some of its literary sons. The side glances which we have given here show but a very small part of its beauty and power, for a complete picture of which volumes would need be compiled; but if we shall have succeeded in portraying points of interest to those who have never seen them, and given familiar touches to things recognizable by those who have long loved what appertains to Boston, as only Bostonians can, we shall not have traversed this lovely region in vain. Nor can we refrain from the hope that those to whom all these things we have mentioned are yet pictures of the mind, may have been excited to a livelier appreciation of them, and to an effective resolution to see and judge of for themselves, what has never yet been, and, not unlikely, never will be adequately described by the pen, the superb and delightful Back-Bay of Boston.

Return to [Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester GenWeb - AHGP]