We begin our walk near the Blackstone Block, a small network of alleyways and structures dating back to the colonial era. John Hancock lived here, and several of the buildings still stand relatively unaltered from the 18th century. 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 northenders 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 freed blacks and Portuguese whalers settled in the district, followed by Jews, Irish, and eventually 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 at such important 18th century monuments as Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church.
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 the factories of the North End moved to the suburbs and then farther afield. Old warehouses, wharves, and tenaments 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.