Boston Your Way

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Welcome to our intermittently updated journal of things Bostonian, aimed to give Boston Your Way visitors a sense of our city.

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The Italian North End should be called the Immigrant North End. Because it is on the side of the city nearest the harbor, it was the first home of successive waves of New Bostonians, prior to the era of air travel. The neighborhood has belonged to the Puritans, the earliest African Americans, the Irish (who swarmed the small district by the thousands in the 1830s and 40s), the Jews and now the Italians.

Locke-Obers and the Windsor Button Shop. Victims of changing customer tastes, two iconic Boston enterprises in the transitional Downtown Crossing section of the city, have closed. For a century, the very formal Locke-Obers Restaurant was The destination for Establishment Boston. And the Windsor Button Shop was home to crafters, knitters, and home sewers.

What’s a smoot? It is a unit of linear measurement, named for Oliver Smoot, an MIT freshman who was laid end to end by fellow fraternity pledges to record the length of the nearby Harvard Bridge. Fifty years later, the bridge is still carefully marked out -- 364.4 smoots plus/minus one ear. The word has been accepted into the American Heritage Dictionary.

Some Boston companies. The oldest chocolate company in America, Baker Chocolate, was founded in 1780 in Boston. Other Boston companies are Gillette Razor (now owned by P & G), New Balance Shoes, John Hancock Insurance (sold to Manu Life), Parker Brothers, Fidelity Funds, and Houghton Mifflin.

Boston Population. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Boston’s population rose 4.8% to 617,500. It peaked in 1950 at 800,000.

Where triangles are squares. If visitors look closely at Boston’s city squares -- Liberty Square, North Square, Post Office Square -- they will notice that they are really triangles.

The Puritans, not the Pilgrims, founded Boston. Both were Puritans, whose emigration from England to the New World was called The Great Migration. However, the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, were Separatists -- that is, they literally separated from the Anglican Church and England. The Puritans, who founded Boston in 1630, sought to stay within the Church to reform, or purify, it. As we all know, it did not work out that way.

Having trouble pronouncing Faneuil Hall? Think it sounds like Fanooel or Fahneel? Think of Daniel or Dan’l, but say it with an F, and you will nail it.

Before there was Julia there was Fannie. Today she is known for chocolates and a cookbook. In her day, Fannie Farmer was as much an icon as Julia Child. Director of The Boston Cooking School, and author of the book eventually named for her, Farmer advocated good nutrition and introduced precise standard measurements, which we use today.

Air conditioners and other snowstorm traditions. Following big snow storms, we figure we “own” the parking spaces we dig out and bring stuff from the house to guard them. Unfortunately, the Mayor is not a fan of our collection of lawn chairs, grills and golf bags, which litter the curbs.

Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, had her manuscripts rejected by Boston’s top publisher, Tichnor and Fields, who advised her to give up writing and become a teacher.

The Paul Revere house, oldest residential building in the city, was already almost 100 years old when Revere moved into it in 1770 with his wife and 5 of his 15 children. The house was built for a rich Bostonian, Robert Howard.
Beacon Street, the most exclusive street in today’s Boston, was Poor House Lane during Colonial days.

The Zakim Bridge, the iconic landmark of the O’Neil (Big Dig) Tunnel, is named for Leonard Zakim, the late director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, who used his gift for building bridges to calm the strife among Boston’s warring ethnic neighborhoods. He died at the age of 45 in 1999.

Victorian Bostonians had a street-wise indicator of wealth for their new Back Bay enclave. If you lived on Beacon Street, you were old family and old money;
Marlborough Street...old family but no money;
Commonwealth family and new money;
Newbury family and no money.

350,000 -- That is the number of students who attend the some 65 colleges in and around Boston. You can imagine the impact they have on the city’s style, culture and energy.

Why are they called the Brahmins? Boston’s upper class was nicknamed “Brahmins” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, because, like the Brahmins of India, they are “a harmless, inoffensive, untitled aristocracy.” To be a true Boston Brahmin, one’s family must be descended from those who made their fortunes in both the colonial maritime trade and the 19th-century textile industry (the marriage of wharf and waterfall).