Boston – Faneuil Hall And The Waterside

Near the Old State House and, like it, tucked in among big office buildings, you come unexpectedly upon a broad, plump, portly, comfortable, restful building, with an aspect of age as well as this aspect of ease, and you search elusively for words to define its impression, and you know that the right phrase has come when you hear it called the Cradle of Liberty; for it is a building that gives a comfortable old-fashioned impression of a comfortable old-fashioned cradle—although this is not what gave it its cradle cognomen, but the fact that within its walls the fiery orators of pre-Revolutionary days made their most eloquent appeals for liberty.

It is a distinguished looking building, with its dignified regularity of windows, and the good old-fashioned dignity of its long sides, and its interesting round-topped tower. It is twice as large as it used to be—as Boston has grown so this cradle has naturally grown—but in doubling its length and increasing its height it lost none of its good old-fashioned symmetry, for the great Bulfinch undertook the work of enlargement and gave it his utmost care.

The building was the gift, in 1742, of a public-spirited citizen named Peter Faneuil, who gave the money for it because he knew that Boston needed not only a good hall but a marketplace to take the place of the earlier market, at the Old State House; and a market-place was accordingly established in the lower floor. The building was burned a few :rears later, and promptly rebuilt, and the final enlargement that we now see was made a little more than a century ago.

The hall itself, above the public market, is never rented, but is forever to be used freely by the people whenever they wish to meet together to discuss public affairs; and this alone would make the building proudly notable. And many a great man, and many a man who was deeply in earnest even if not great, has spoken in this hall. And it is still used freely for the public meetings of today.

The meeting hall, almost square, has a right-angled arrangement of seats, and, with its rows of Doric columns, is quite distinguished. And one notices that a winding stairway leads down from the very floor of the speaker’s platform and wonders if it is to facilitate the entrance of popular speakers in case of a. great crowd, or, on the other hand, to facilitate the hasty exit of the unpopular! One notices, too, that the balcony has peculiar effectiveness of proportion, adding much to the effectiveness of the entire hall, and further notices, as an additional point on the part of Bulfinch, that this comes from his having made the space above the gallery a little higher than the space below, although the first impression is to the contrary. It is the same idea, carried out here in simple wood, in early America, on a small scale, that the great Giotto carried out so splendidly on a large scale in his tower at Florence.

The great painting behind the’ speaker’s platform is fittingly a painting of a great American oratorical scene, for it represents Webster, in the United States Senate, delivering his celebrated reply to Hayne. Webster himself has spoken here in this hall just as all the famous orators of New England have spoken here, and here were held some most momentous early meetings, including that which, several years before Lexington and Bunker Hill, stated the rights of America so plainly and imperatively as always to be held by the British to mark the real beginning of the Revolution.

The paintings of notables that hang about the walls are to quite an extent copies, but what is believed to be an original Gilbert Stuart is the big painting of Washington, who is represented as about to mount his horse, at Dorchester Heights. This painting, how-ever, would not have been made by Stuart had it not been for a blacksmith ! For it seems that a wealthy citizen wished to pay for a painting of Washington, to be hung in this hall, and the town meeting was about to decide to give the commission to a certain Winstanley, when the blacksmith interposed his objection. This Winstanley, a painter of no originality, had worked up quite a business in copying the Washingtons of Stuart, getting the idea of doing so from the fact that Stuart’s Washing tons had frankly been copied and adapted by Stuart himself—which was a very different matter. Washington himself, after sitting to Stuart, had freely and knowingly accepted a copy, by Stuart, of the painting that had been made from the sittings, and the original itself is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The only other Washington that was painted by Stuart with his great subject personally before him was what is known as the Lansdowne portrait, which journeyed long ago to England. Whenever, for years, Stuart needed money —which was often!—he painted a Washington for somebody, y copying or adapting from his own work. Winstanley knew of this, for there was no secrecy about it, and those who got these Washingtons from Stuart knew that they were copies or replicas, but that they were Stuart’s own replicas; they were the results of the great artist’s personal study of his great model; whereas the copies; of Stuart that Winstanley made and sold, one of which made its way as a veritable Stuart to the White House, and was picturesquely taken out of its frame by Dolly Madison to save it on the approach of the British, were in no proper sense Stuarts. Yet when Faneuil Hall was to have its painting of Washington it was about to be decided to buy a copy from the ready Winstanley ! And it was at this point that the blacksmith, who is remembered only as a man of the North End, arose and vehemently opposed the idea, declaring that to procure a copy of Gilbert Stuart made by some one else would be a lasting disgrace when Gilbert Stuart himself was actually living in the city. At that, Stuart was promptly commissioned to paint a Washington for Faneuil Hall. And it is a pleasant recollection that Edward Everett, in his eulogy of Lafayette, delivered in this hall, electrified his hearers by suddenly turning to this portrait of Washington and exclaiming: “Speak, glorious Washington! Break the long silence of that votive canvas!”

From time to time, there have been gatherings here not only for political objects or to record grievances, but for social ends, and one such was a meeting at which General Gage, the royal governor, at a time when he knew that the Port Act was about to ruin the commerce and business of the town, rose and proposed a toast “To the prosperity of Boston”! And an-other was the ball given here, some three-quarters of a century ago, in honor of the Prince de Joinville, at which time Faneuil Hall and the adjoining Quincy Market, which was long ago built to meet the growing market needs of the city and whose gable faces the gable of Faneuil Hall, were connected by a temporary bridge and both buildings were aglow with light and thronged with guests. Quincy Market is itself 535 feet long and covers 27,000 square feet of land.

Another reminder of Faneuil Hall came to me in Windsor, England, recently, for in an out-of-the-way corner of that old town, near the foot of a picturesque and almost mysterious stairway which leads down from the huge castle on its height to a postern-door, I noticed a house with a tablet upon it. Something led me to cross the street to read, and I was interested to find that it was the home of Robert Keayne, who left old Windsor for Boston and founded in this new world the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest military organization in America. And how old it makes this country seem ! For K Keayne was born before the settlement of Boston, before even the settlement of Plymouth, and he founded the artillery company here in Boston in 1637, and the upper portion of Faneuil Hall is used as its armory.

Keayne was only a tailor over in England, and it used to be an English saying that it takes several tailors to make a man, but Keayne, coming to America, showed that the English saying does not apply on this side of the ocean, for he certainly was a man of capacity and affairs, a man who did very much to establish the foundations of early Boston on a strong basis. That his will, written with his own hand, and disposing of some four thousand pounds—quite a fortune for those days—covered 158 folio pages, and that it is said to be the longest will on record, at least in New England, is but one of the side-lights on an interesting personality; but the most interesting thing he did was to found his artillery company, and be did this because he was a member of an old artillery company in London. Any man deserves to be remembered who puts in motion something that remains prominently in the public eye for almost three centuries; and there seems to be no reason why his organization should not continue for centuries more.

Down by the big and busy South Station which, when it was opened in 1899, was said to be the largest railway terminal in the world and which still claims to be first in the number of persons using it daily, one does not expect to find anything connected with the Boston of the past; as you walk there, you think only of the rumble and thunder of present-day business, for the streets are thronged with trolley cars and heavy trucks and the sidewalks are crowded with busy business men, and elevated trains hurtle by on their spidery trestles.

But you go on for a little beside the elevated, on Atlantic Avenue, and your attention is attracted by a bronze tablet, set into a building at one of the busiest corners, and something draws you to read it, and you find yourself deeply rewarded. Ordinarily, in these modern days, one does not stop to read tablets of the past on buildings of the present; one likes to look at buildings of the past and to read of the actions of the past, and it is likely to be rather uninteresting to look at a place which is merely the site of a happening and which is now covered with something which has no relation to that happening. But this tablet is one of the exceedingly worth while exceptions. At the top is the figure of a full-rigged, old-time ship, and beneath the ship you read that this tablet marks the spot where formerly stood Griffin’s Wharf; and lest you forget what Griffin’s Wharf was, the tablet goes on to explain that here lay moored, on December 16, 1773, three British ships with cargoes of tea, and that “to defeat King George’s trivial but tyrannical tax of three pence a pound,” about ninety citizens of Boston, partly disguised as Indians, boarded the ships and threw the cargoes–three hundred and forty-two chests in all—into the sea, “and made the world ring with the patriotic exploit of the Boston Tea Party.”

You cannot but feel stirred as you stand here, and the fact that where the wharf stood and ships lay is now all solid ground, built up with business blocks, ‘does not take away from the sudden vision of the past which comes sweeping over you. For it was a right brave thing that those men did; it was an achievement of tremendous daring in the face of the power of England; and that the value of the tea was great added to the very real danger of most severe punishment: I have read, though it seems almost incredible, that the tea was valued at eighteen thousand pounds !

One should not, however, enter this district except on a Sunday. On Sundays all is quiet and deserted; scarcely a single person is met; it is almost a solitude, and it is an excellent time to continue to some of the nearby, old-time wharves which do still represent the old-time Boston waterside.

It is but a short walk, continuing along Atlantic Avenue, to a big wharf which, although almost covered with modern cargo sheds, still retains its ancient name of India Wharf. And the wharf also retains the great old India Wharf building, standing detached from all the modern shipping sheds and towering up to its height of seven stories—really a towering height in early American days. A big, brick structure it is, built with a broad center and two broad wings, and giving a striking effect of isolation—an isolation that is at the same time both shabby and proud. The big building faces out toward the water and gives a fine air of standing for the old shipping prosperity that meant so much in the early days of Boston; and I can-not remember a more romantic looking business structure in America.

The brick, laid in English bond, has mellowed to a weathered yellowness. The fifty windows of the facade were originally shuttered, but the shutters re-main on only three, and beside the others the wrought-iron holders stick out like little black prongs. Some of the windows are arched with white stone; here and there across the building’s front are remains of white marble lines; a monster chimney stands above the towering top of the middle gable; the two highest windows are fans, and a shelf between these two, now empty, up in the pediment, looks as though it was originally made to hold some figure, probably that of a ship; and the lines of the sash of these two lofty fans are like the longitude lines of a globe.

The pavement in front of the building is of enormous cobbles of granite, some of these blocks being as large as two feet by one, and they are just like ancient pavement blocks, such as one is accustomed to think of only in old Italian cities.

India Wharf and the wharves adjoining are not parallel with the shore line but project in long rectangles right out into the water of the harbor. Long Wharf, near by, was given its name because at the time it was built it was the longest wharf in the country; and because it was so long, thus offering a point of military advantage, a battery used to stand out there on the very end of it.

Central Wharf is also interesting, with its long row of old-fashioned stone warehouses. In fact, this en-tire region tells vividly of the picturesque early business years before the great changes that came with railroads.

T Wharf—which, when you see it on the street sign, “T Wf.,” seems positively cryptic—is picturesque in a high degree, for old-time-looking, full-rigged fishing boats, with rattling yards and ropes, are tied up along-side, and on Sundays immense nets are spread out on the wharf, at great length, with their rows of cork floats. Sea-gulls whirl over the wharves and the water, and dart divingly for their food, and cry their harshly wailing note; and on Sundays the fishermen and their friends, Americans and Italians, congregate about these boats and the wharf; and some of the fishermen—or perhaps they are dock hands or market porters,—make their homes in. the oddest of fleets, a covey of perhaps a score of little mastless boats, painted blue or green, and anchored close to shore in a space between two piers. And everywhere is the permeative smell of fish. And often the close-gathered fishing boats mass picturesquely against the sky a great tangle of masts and ropes and spars.

Many of the buildings among these wharves stand on piling, and are partly over the water, and the wharves themselves are built of enormous blocks of stone, or of enormous timbers. In one place I noticed a long stretch of black beach beneath overhanging flooring, and it led back in strange, long, tunnel-like spaces among, the wooden supports, into the distant darkness; and all seemed whispering of romance or crime.

Here one sees the long-forgotten sign of “Wharfinger”; and there are little shops that sell all sorts of sailors’ supplies: ferocious knives with blades a foot and a half long, fish forks with handles as long as hay forks but with only a single prong, fog horns, anchors, hooks, woolen “wristers,” oil skin clothing, and “sou’westers” that have come straight out of Winslow Homer’s paintings.

The sign, too, of “hake sounds” is remindful that this city of cod has also many another fish, for one finds there are the haddock, the mackerel and the her-ring; the scrod—which is really a little cod, although even Bostonians cannot always tell when the scrod be-comes a cod or when a cod is still a scrod. There are the swordfish and spikefish; there are cusk and tinkers and eels; there are butterfish, flounders and perch; there are halibut and chicken-halibut; there are blue-fish, sea-trout, bass and scup; there are oysters, lobsters, clams and the giant sea-clams so delectable in New England chowder; there are sculpin, tautog and quahog.

On Commercial Wharf is a row of uniform old buildings of dignified solidity, all broad gabled and of stone, with rows of little dormers like hencoops on their high slate roofs. When this wharf was built, about a century ago, it was by far the finest of the waterside blocks of buildings, and men whose ships traded to the Cape of Good Hope, the Spanish Main, to India and China, to the North of Europe, flocked to it to make it their headquarters. And old-timers love to tell that, in their boyhood, old-timers of that period loved to tell them, that in those early days of American commerce the skillful captains of the ships would beat in under full sail, without assistance, up to these very wharves.

The general district adjacent to these old-time wharves is mostly given over to the modern, but here and there are still to be seen quaint roof lines, and old-fashioned gables, and odd street-corner lines, reminiscent of the days that have gone. There is considerable, in fact, to remind one of old-time business London, including the many narrow passages and alley-ways that go diving here and there among the buildings. Not far away, too, is Fort Hill Park, a level space, grassed and sparsely-treed, in the heart of modern business buildings, and retaining the circular shape remindful of its past: for here in early days rose a hill . a hundred feet in height, and where it was cut partly down its slopes were covered with fashion-able homes—Gilbert Stuart chose his residence here—and at length it was entirely leveled into its present simple form.

Up a little distance from the waterside, on Custom House Street, is the old Custom House Boston, sadly altered in looks from its early days, shorn of all distinction, and now showing a front of extraordinary plainness, with a sign denoting that it is a ” Boarding and Baiting Stable”—the “baiting” being itself a queer reminder of a vanished time.

The old Custom House building is worth while making the few minutes’ necessary pilgrimage to see, for here the collector of the port was Bancroft the historian, and one of his assistants was a certain young man of the name of Hawthorne! Bancroft had been attracted by some of Hawthorne’s early short stories, and for that reason had offered him a position here.

Hawthorne was rather bored by the work; he was gauger and weigher, but does not seem to have given to the duties of these humble offices the hard work that a certain other writer, named Robert Burns, devoted to similar duties. In fact, Hawthorne seems always to have considered public office a rather tiresome sort of thing to attend to, in spite of the fact that it gave certain financial advantages not to be scorned by novelists. I have somewhere read his own description of his work here in Boston, and he seemed to find the heat and the flies of the waterside most unpleasant; with nothing of offsetting pleasantness. Boston, at that time, had not discovered him—his recognition had been very slight.

Somewhere I have read a brief description of him at this time, and it mentioned the delightful fact, which at once sets Hawthorne before us as a likable and very human man, that he loved to follow brass bands! Which amusing habit doubtless explains why, over in England, he notes in his journal that he had just seen march by the regiment of which George Washington was once enrolled as an officer!

Close by this old building—for one continually sees how near together are most of the important or interesting things in Boston—is the new Custom House, an extremely notable structure, towering up to the height of 498 feet above the sidewalk; and the building does literally tower, for it may be said to be all tower! Years ago, a dignified structure, with pillared fronts, was built, in the form of a Greek cross, to replace the old building of Bancroft and Hawthorne, but the business of the city gradually outgrew it, and an appropriation was made by Congress for larger quarters. Real estate, however, had so gone up in price in Boston that the appropriation was not sufficient to buy land as well as to put up a building, and so the expedient was hit upon of running up the building itself into the air! The pillared fronts, with their thirty-two great Doric columns, still remain, but the entire center has risen, splendidly dominating in its immense height, making a tower which, though not quite beautiful, can be seen for miles in all directions. The city of Boston forbids the erection of any building within its limits higher than 125 feet, but the United States., taking ad-vantage of the fact that it owns as a National Government the land upon which any of its public buildings stands, simply ignored the Boston restriction and went right ahead with this higher tower. And the people of Boston, themselves, are not displeased, although this was done in spite of them; in fact, they say that it gives a beacon-like effect to the city which rather matches the generally desired tone. At the same time, it fits in with the beacon idea of the early days, and the fact that old Boston of England is also dominated by a tower which can be plainly seen for miles and miles across the fenland does certainly add to the sense of appropriateness. And that the Custom House stands so supreme over everything else in Boston, that it so dominates, is but natural after all—for in Boston it is natural for Custom to dominate!