Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why is Castle Square called Castle Square?

After reading my recent post about Christmas and the South End, a reader of my blog asked “how did Castle Sq get its name? Was it named after something or someone?”

When I read the question yesterday afternoon, I had no idea why it was called Castle Square. The only thing I knew was that Castle Square Hotel and Castle Square Theatre were located on one corner of the intersection of Ferdinand (now Arlington), Tremont, West Castle (now Herald), and Chandler Streets. The hotel and the theatre stood on most of the Berkeley, Chandler, and Tremont Street block from the late nineteenth century until 1933, when they were demolished. The Chandler Inn is all that remains of the old complex.

Since the first mention of anything “castle” that I knew of in that area was West Castle Street, I looked at some old maps and city directories to try and find when that street name first appeared. West Castle Street was the name of what is now Herald Street, but only the section that runs north west from Washington Street. An 1874 ward map confirms this. Ward maps from 1857 and 1865 list a West Castle Street, north west of Washington, and an East Castle Street, south east of Washington Street. Sometime between 1874 and 1883, the names of the streets change from West and East Castle Streets to Castle and Motte Streets, respectively. The 1885 map from King's Handbook of Boston (at left) shows Castle and Motte Streets. The orange arrow points to Castle Street and the gold star marks the location of the Castle Square Hotel and Theatre. Ward maps until at least 1938 label the streets as Castle and Motte Streets. The first mention of Herald Street I found was in a 1952 newspaper article, so sometime between 1938 and 1952, Castle and Motte Streets became Herald Street. In the mid-1960s, buildings near Herald, Paul, Albion, Village, Emerald, and Middlesex streets were razed. The Castle Square housing complex was then built on the site. I assume that the 1960s Castle Square project was named Castle Square because of the former hotel and theatre nearby and/or the former name of Herald Street.

So the street was named Castle Street and the hotel and theatre were named Castle Square. I assume that this is where the name of the current Castle Square housing complex comes from. But why did those nineteenth century Bostonians use the name “castle” for the hotel, the theatre, and the street in the first place?

As most South Enders and Bostonians probably know, the intersection of East Berkeley (formerly Dover) and Washington Streets marks the approximate location of the narrowest part of the Boston Neck, the thin piece of land connecting Boston’s Shawmut Peninsula with the mainland. Early colonial Bostonians built fortifications on the Neck as early as the mid-seventeenth century. A map from 1775 shows a fortification on the Neck and a short street or path along its border labeled Castle Street. The Hale map from 1814 shows a Castle Street in the same location, near the edge of where the late eighteenth century fortification was located. The nineteenth and twentieth century pre-Herald street Castle Street sits along this same late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Castle Street.

I cannot be one hundred percent sure why early Bostonians named it Castle Street, but I think it may be because sometimes forts were described as castles. Castle Island (a.k.a. Fort Independence) is a good example. So it’s possible that the street took the name Castle Street because it was located along the line of a Boston Neck fortification and the name stuck all the way until the present day. If my speculation contains any truth, the name Castle Square is an interesting descendant of early Boston.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Some South End Christmas History

I’m sitting at my mom’s dining room table in my hometown of Lake Placid, NY, drinking a cup of coffee with eggnog. I’m surrounded by half-used rolls of wrapping paper, curling ribbon, and gift bows. We spent yesterday preparing for today- running last minute gift errands, cleaning, cooking, and wrapping a pile of presents. My mom made her traditional Christmas Eve supper-a giant pot of chicken and dumplings and homemade hot chocolate. The tree sits in the living room, the stockings hang from the windows, and the dogs Arlo (in the picture on the right) and Ayla (laying on the floor behind him) wait for the homemade biscuits they know await them. Later today when our extended family arrives, we’ll have a big turkey dinner, open presents, and maybe fall asleep in the wrapping paper like Randy from The Christmas Story. We do these same things every year. As I thought about the Christmases of my past, I wondered about those of others. How did past South Enders celebrate?

Many late 19th and 20th century South Enders lived in impoverished tenement districts. Charitable organizations attempted to give basic provisions to these penniless families, especially around Christmas time. For example, in 1902, the Volunteers of America provided baskets of food for 1,000 South Enders so they could prepare Christmas Day feasts for their families. Baskets included “roast beef or a turkey, potatoes, onions, squash, pie, fruit and nuts.” Volunteers also collected clothing to distribute to destitute families and sponsored a Christmas celebration for children complete with toys, “recitations, singing…moving pictures” candy and nuts.

Numerous other organizations hosted parties for South End children. South End settlement houses like the South End House at 20 Union Park, the Lincoln House at 80 Emerald St., and the Hale House at 8 Garland St. hosted festivities lasting throughout the twelve days of Christmas.* In 1913, the Salvation Army held a party for 4,000 children at the People’s Palace on Washington Street in the South End. Boys received “sleds, hockey sticks, roller skates, and express wagons.” In 1936, 1000 South End children between the ages of 5 and 12 enjoyed a Christmas party at the Municipal Building on Shawmut Avenue with a “marionette show…featuring the ‘Adventures of Peter Rabbit’.” In 1953, children at Hale House made gifts for loved ones. Especially popular were “smell bags…a sachet bag made of a bit of silk stuffed with cotton shavings and tied with ribbon,” usually given by children to their mothers.

South End churches celebrated Christmas with sermons and seasonal decorations. In 1895, “the old, old story of Bethlehem was told” at the Church of the Unity on West Newton Street. Shawmut Congregational Church on the corner of West Brookline and Tremont Streets was “decorated with spruce trees, palms, lilies and other flowers, and wreaths of holly.” Warren Avenue Baptist (until recently Concord Baptist Church-photo at left from 1978) and Tremont Street Methodist (now New Hope Baptist) both featured “particularly good” Christmas music.

Occasionally however, tragedy struck the atmosphere of merriment. On Christmas Eve in 1890, a fire between Dover St., Albany St., Waltham St., and Harrison Ave. caused $150,000 in losses for the New England Piano Company, $40,000 in losses for Paul’s Block, took the life of an unidentified man, and injured two firemen. In late December 1979, a rooming house at 123 West Concord Street (at left, photo from 1972) burned partially, forcing out tenant Maurice LeVine. Maurice dressed up as Santa Claus for pay and had returned home early that morning from working at a Christmas party. After the fire he stayed in a room at the Bradford Hotel, carrying with him what he managed to grab during the fire- his fiddle and the Santa Claus suit he was wearing from the party. Not having anything else to do after the fire, he went around to Christmas parties in his smudged Santa suit, playing the fiddle and spreading Christmas cheer.

Whatever you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

*Emerald Street ran through what is now the Castle Square area. Garland Street ran between Shawmut and Washington Streets, about halfway in between the present day East Berkeley and Waterford Streets.

Images: The image of Concord Baptist Church and the image of 123 West Concord Street are courtesy of The South End Historical Society. The first two images belong to me.


“Noble Work…,” Boston Daily Globe, December 26, 1902.

“Christmas Party given 1000 South End Children,” Boston Daily Globe, December 23, 1936.

“Believers in Santa Claus,” Daily Boston Globe, December 20, 1953.

“Story of Bethlehem Told…,” Boston Daily Globe, December 23, 1895.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

About This Blog

I research and read about Boston's South End almost every day. I started this blog to share information about the history of the South End neighborhood and its relationship to Boston. Bostonians' perceptions of what constitutes the South End have changed considerably over the last two hundred years. After all, the "South" End is a geographical distinction designating the southern portion of the settlement. Before the mid-nineteenth century, the South End was actually what is now the financial district. When people started moving out to the Boston neck and the city started selling lots and filling in land around Washington Street, this new South End (and the South End I'll be talking about) was born.

I am not planning on including full scholarly citations for most of my sources. I will provide the basic information so that you can track the source down but, for the purposes of this blog, I'm not going all out Chicago-style.

Luckily for me, I work for the South End Historical Society and have access to many of their wonderful resources. While I'll try to limit the philosophizing, any opinions I express are my own and are not necessarily shared by the South End Historical Society.

If you use any of the information on this blog for your own research, please give credit where credit is due.

The image above belongs to the South End Historical Society. Taken in 1972, it shows the block of 1631 to 1595 Washington Street, aka the Boston Neck. Notice the elevated train on the right side of the image.

Happy reading!