Walk Description

Since its founding in 1630, Boston has embodied many of the historical themes that have shaped America including commerce, political revolution, social innovation, and waves of immigration that formed the backbone of this northern capital. Of all the city's neighborhoods none symbolizes and captures the essence of Boston than its North End, a maze of winding colonial-era streets and the backdrop to some of the most significant moments in American history. During this three-hour walking seminar with a local historian we will explore the North End's back alleys and side streets, painting a portrait of Boston's evolution from the 17th to the 21st century.

We begin our walk near the Blackstone Block, a small network of alleyways and structures dating back to the colonial era. Situated here is the 18th century home of John Hancock's brother, Ebenezer, adjacent to the Boston Stone. Using the streets themselves as visual clues we'll consider the topographical advantages of the North End—nearly separated from the mainland by inlets and swamps—for the early settlers in Boston. Our perambulations will take us through Haymarket, one of the city's longest standing outdoor markets and a place where North Enders still buy their groceries.

Tracing a path along streets that still bear the names of important Bostonians or long vanished features we'll discuss the major developments of the North End as it evolved into one of the busiest shipping ports on the Atlantic seaboard during the colonial era and became America's gateway to Europe. We'll use some of the old storefronts and pubs to discuss the rise of a longshoreman class and shipping industry and paint a portrait of the ethnic and racial changes the North End witnessed as English and Africans settled in the district, followed by Irish, Portuguese fisherman, Jews, and Italians. Of course, the neighborhood's importance is etched on our collective memory through the famous ride of Paul Revere on the eve of the American Revolution, and we will look deeply into how the character of this corner of Boston informed and influenced the radicalism of those events, stopping along the way the 17th century Paul Revere House and 1723 Old North Church, the oldest house of worship in Boston.

The North End is a palimpsest of history, with fragments of different centuries all woven together. As a result, we will jump forward at key moments to consider the industrial revolution and Boston's decline as New York overtook it in shipping and how the factories of the North End moved to the suburbs and then farther afield. Old warehouses, wharves, and tenements are now converted into cafes, restaurants, and condominiums, often stitched delicately into the architecture and context of the city's history. Depending on time and how our conversation unfolds we may end the walk down at the waterfront where a park commemorates the Italian immigrants who've defined the North End in the last hundred years. With kinetic Boston harbor behind us and the new linear park leftover from the "big dig" before us, we'll look back at the North End with a unique sense of its role in Boston and American history.

Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Old North Church
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    Jessica Dello Russo

    Jessica is an archaeologist and historian who has also worked as a docent for Context in Rome. Born and raised in the historic North End of Boston, she followed the Bostonian cursus honorem of studies at Boston Latin School and Harvard before becoming a certified teacher and guide. She has collaborated with several local cultural institutions on tours of historic sites, including Historic Neighborhoods and the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage. Deeply knowledgeable about the history of Boston, she possesses a teacher's gift for framing and contextualizing information. She loves exploring her native city in the company of her three-year-old son.

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    Alex R. Goldfeld

    Alex is a public historian and the author of "The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood." He has been creating and leading tours of Boston’s historic neighborhoods since 2000. In addition, he also served as Director of Operations at Boston’s Museum of African American History where he spent four years overseeing the visitor experience, managing the historic sites, and facilitating tours of the Black Heritage Trail. An expert in the social history of Boston, Alex lives with his family in the North End, where he is both President and Historian of the North End Historical Society.

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    Patrice Todisco

    With over twenty years of experience managing projects and processes that enhance the public realm, Patrice has led strategic initiatives in Boston’s public and non-profit sectors including master planning, park design and green infrastructure development, community outreach, advocacy, policy, and cultural landscape research and restoration. Patrice received an MA in landscape architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she focused her studies on the evolution of the American landscape and garden design history. This fall she is teaching a course on twentieth-century urban open spaces in Boston, highlighting many of the projects she contributed to including the Central Artery/Rose Kennedy Greenway, Copley and Post Office Squares, HarborWalk, and the Charles River Basin.