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Boston Churches and the Great Fire of 1872

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edge of the area destroyed in
the Great Boston Fire, with
Old South Meetinghouse safe
in the background (upper right)
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the remains of Trinity Church
after the Great Fire

During the 19th century, downtown Boston was a vibrant, bustling place. The first large groups of non-English immigrants were arriving, and the city was growing to meet the needs of its increasing population. While most of the buildings being constructed had stone or brick exteriors — including Boston's iconic brownstones — the interiors, doors, and window frames were still wooden, and the buildings themselves were densely packed among the web of streets. Although these practices made the structures easier to build, it also made them more vulnerable to the spread of fires.

On the evening of November 9, 1872 a fire started in downtown Boston. The blaze lasted for 15 hours, destroying 776 buildings over 65 acres, including a number of churches. Luckily, the original Old South Church building (now a historic site on the Freedom Trail) was just outside the burned area.

Other churches weren't so fortunate. If you look through the item records from the 1843 Boston Almanac collection on our exhibit site, you'll notice that several of them were lost in either the Great Fire, or in an 1862 conflagration that swept through the North End. Still others burned on their own. Tremont Temple, for example, was destroyed or gutted by fires at least four times in the late 19th century according to the Boston Fire Historical Society's timeline.

If you'd like to learn more about the Great Fire of 1872, there is an account on the BFHS website that is thorough and concise, along with more images and links to maps, newspaper articles, and digitized books. There are also a number of steroscopic photographs on the Boston Public Library's Flickr stream and the Mass. Historical Society website.



images courtesy of the Boston Public Library collections on Flickr