Photopost: St. Patrick’s Weekend in New York


I visited my mother in New York this past weekend and together we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in traditional and unique ways.

The weekend began with a Big Onion Walking Tour of the Lower East Side area once known as Little Ireland.

We met our guide Erin at St. Paul’s Chapel, and although her name was appropos to the day, she told us she was not actually Irish.  The St. Paul’s churchyard has a memorial – but not the actual grave – of Thomas Addis Emmet. He was the elder brother of famed Irish martyr Robert Emmet, and participated in the rebellious United Irishmen in the 1790s.  Exiled to the United States, he did pretty well for himself, and even became New York Attorney General.

The next stop was at St. Peter Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic parish in New York, established in 1785.  The current church building dates to 1840.

The Marble Palace is under scaffolding right now, but it is a historic landmark that once held America’s first department store. Opened in 1846, it was home to Alexander Turney Stewart’s dry goods store.  Stewart was an Irish immigrant made good. The store provided same day tailoring of clothing thanks to dozens of seamstresses working on the top floor, many of them recent immigrants from Ireland.

The Tweed Courthouse is associated with the graft of Tammany Hall, the powerful political machine that was initially nativist but grew to welcome Irish Catholic immigrants in return for votes.  Across the street is the former home of Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, founded in 1850 by the Irish Emigrant Society to protect the savings of newly arrived immigrants.

We took a brief tangent from Irish history to discuss the African Burial Ground, which was pretty cool.  Nearby in Foley Square, in the midst of a rally opposing discrimination against Muslims, we talked about one of New York’s first suburbs, built on the site of the Collect Pond which was drained in 1811 through a canal at what is now Canal Street.  Since it was a natural spring, the water returned, making the houses unstable.  As the wealthy moved out, the poor occupied the abandoned houses and created New York’s first slum.  A short walk away in a Chinatown playground, we talked about Five Points, the notorious neighborhood known for its mid-19th century gang violence.  But it was also a place where Irish immigrants and free blacks got a toehold in the city, and even invented tap dancing!

On Mott Street, the Church of the Transfiguration shows the immigrant heritage of the neighborhood.  Initially a place of worship for the growing Irish community in the 1840s, by World War I it was a largely Italian parish, as the names on the World War I memorial plaque indicate.  Today the church serves a Chinese Catholic community.

Another fascinating diversion from the Irish theme was passing by the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jewish Graveyard, which is associated with Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, founded in 1654!

Around the corner, we visited another Roman Catholic church, St. James, where the Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1836.

We stopped by Public School 1 to talk about how Irish Americans had their children educated.  Erin also noted the architectural design of the school pays tribute to New York’s Dutch heritage.  In the heart of Chinatown, we talked about the Chinese Exclusion Act and how an Irish American woman could lose her citizenship if she married a Chinese man. At the final stop, we discussed the notorious riot brought on by the conflict between two street gangs, the Irish American Dead Rabbits and the nativist Bowery Boys.

A pegasus flying over Chinatown. Because it’s awesome, that’s why.

Finishing our Irish tour in the heart of Chinatown, we of course had lunch at Thai Jasmine.  It was yummy.  Then we headed uptown to see part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I hadn’t been to the parade since in 22 years, but had a lot of nostalgia for my childhood when it was an annual event.  We remembered the year when the wind was so strong it blew wooden police barriers down the street like tumbleweeds, and told stories of family friends we met at the parade.  I was impressed that the pipe and drum bands have significantly more women than in my childhood, and that black and latinx people were in the parade as participants as well as spectators, making it a much more diverse celebration than it used to be.



The crowds were light and I didn’t witness any misbehavior, which was also a plus, although it may have been due to the fact that we arrived late in the day and were way uptown.  When the winds got too chilly, we decided to drop in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an hour or so.  We wandered into a gallery of art from New Guinea, which was fascinating, and definitely not anything I’d ever seen before.

If the day wasn’t full enough already, we finished things of with a performance by the New York Philharmonic, who played Mozart’s Requiem, but only the parts that Mozart wrote.  I had a peaceful half-nap to the music in the first half of the perfomance.

On Sunday, we went to the New York Botanical Garden for the Orchid Show.  There were significantly fewer orchids on display than last year, and the greenhouses were very crowded, but it’s always a lovely place to visit regardless.

 

 

 

 

 

I like how these two photos turned out.  One is a picture of the dome of the greenhouse, the other is the reflection of the dome in the water.

To finish out a proper St. Patrick’s Day, we went to An Beal Bocht Cafe in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx.  They had sweet Guinness poured properly and musicians playing a traditional Irish seisiún (although they snuck in a couple of crowd pleasers like “The Wild Rover”).  It was crowded but friendly and definitely a place I’d like to visit again, albeit it’s a steep climb uphill from the subway station!

Boston by Foot Riots Walking Tour, Oct. 18th @ 6pm


Clear your calendar Thursday, October 18, 2018 from 6:00pm-7:30pm for the Boston By Foot walking tour Bostonians Behaving Badly, lead by yours truly among others.  This tour discusses the history of riots and mob violence in Boston from colonial times to the 20th century.

As a warmup to the tour, check out the most recent Hub History podcast episode, Riot Classics.  All three civil disturbances discussed in this podcast will be featured on the tour.

You may purchase tickets online ahead of the tour ($15/each or $5 if you’re a member), or buy them in cash from the guides on the night of the tour.  We meet outside of the Park Street MBTA entrance on Boston Common.

Double Dose of Walking Tours: Boston’s South End and SoWa District


Are you interested in exploring two different parts of Boston’s historic South End neighborhood?  If yes, come out and take two Boston By Foot walking tours I will be leading.

First, tomorrow night, Thursday, September 20, 6 pm-7:30 pm, the South End tour leaves from the plaza opposite the Back Bay MBTA Station on Dartmouth Street.

Next, there are two opportunities to explore SoWa: South of Washington on Sunday, September 23, 2018 (a members preview tour – you can become member online or in person) and Sunday, September 30, 2018. Both tours start at 2 pm from Broadway Station on the Red Line.

Tickets are $15/person ($5 for BBF members) and can be purchased online or in person before the tour begins on Sunday.

Boston By Foot Tours 2018


If you live in Boston, or are planning to visit, the one thing I recommend you do is take a historical and architectural walking tour through the wonderful organization I’m affiliated with, Boston By Foot.  We have around 200 volunteer guides waiting to introduce you to our city’s famous landmarks and hidden corners. Below are the tours that yours truly plans to lead this season (with more to possibly be added later).

Saturday 5/12/2018, 10am – The North End
Sunday 5/20/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 6/3/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Saturday 6/16/2018, 10am – The North End
Sunday 6/24/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 7/8/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 8/19/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 8/26/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 9/9/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 9/16/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Thursday 9/20/2018, 6pm – The South End
Sunday 9/23/2018, 2pm,  SoWa: South of Washington (members preview)
Sunday 9/30/2018, 2pm,  SoWa: South of Washington
Sunday 10/14/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Thursday 10/18/2018, 6pm – Bostonians Behaving Badly
Sunday 10/21/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston
Sunday 10/28/2018, 6pm – The Dark Side of Boston

Boston By Foot Tour – South of Washington (SoWa) – Aug. 27 at 2 pm


Do you know anything about the SoWa district in Boston’s South End?  I didn’t, so I participated in researching and writing a new Tour of the Month for Boston By Foot and will be one of the guides as the tour goes out this Sunday, August 27 at 2 pm from the Broadway MBTA station on the Red Line.

While South of Washington moniker goes back to the late 1990s, the area has a rich history of transportation, industry, immigrant and working class residences, urban renewal, and its latest reincarnation as an arts district.  Come join me on Sunday to learn more about this fascinating Boston enclave.

Tickets are $15/person and can be purchased online or in person before the tour begins on Sunday.

Boston By Foot Jamaica Plain Walking Tour 7/21 @ 6 PM


Next week, Thursday July 21 at 6 pm, I will be one of the guides leading the Boston By Foot walking tour of Jamaica Plain. Yes, two of my favorite things – historic walking tours of Boston and my home neighborhood – will come together for ONE NIGHT ONLY!

Regular readers of this blog will remember the Jamaica Plain A to Z experiment, and many sites mentioned in the A to Z will be on the tour.  Here is the full description of the tour.

Jamaica Plain is one of the smaller neighborhoods of Boston, with an unusually big history. JP (as it usually called by locals) encompasses only 3.07 square miles but offers a tremendously rich and varied narrative.

Settled by Puritans in the 1630s and attracting wealthy Bostonians to build summer estates on the Jamaica Pond in the 18th century, JP was transformed in the 19th century by transportation. It became a “streetcar suburb” and earned the nickname “The Eden of America.”

Come along to see one of the oldest houses in Jamaica Plain used as a military hospital at the start of the American Revolution, a selection of very impressive Victorian houses, and part of the Emerald Necklace park system.

On this walking tour you will discover why Jamaica Plain is so well-loved by its residents.

Here is the remainder of my 2016 schedule.  I don’t expect to be adding any other tours this year, so if you want to see me, make sure to come out for one of these tours!

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 15:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

July 21:  Jamaica Plain – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 5: Boston by Little Feet – 10 am

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

September 9: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

September 26: Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

September 27: Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

September 28: Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

September 30: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

October 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

October 28:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

November 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

Boston Harborfest / Independence Day Weekend Walking Tours


What better way to celebrate our nation’s birthday in Boston than by attending Harborfest, watching the Fourth of July Pops concert and fireworks, taking Boston By Foot Walking tours!

I’ll be leading three Boston By Foot walking tours this weekend, and there are many more tours on the calendar.

Saturday, July 2nd, 2:00-3:30 pm – Come to where land meets water in Boston on the Historic Waterfront Tour.  Meets at 290 Congress Street by Fort Point Channel:

Boston has a great seafaring heritage. Ocean trade and its related industries had a major impact on the growth of Boston and the shape and character of its waterfront.

This tour includes the beginnings of Long Wharf as the grand entry into Boston, and the genesis of its Financial District, the lore of clipper ships and the China Trade, and classic 19th century Boston granite wharf buildings such as Commercial Wharf, Lewis Wharf, and Union Wharf.

Today’s waterfront is a vibrant mix of hotels, restaurants, residences, and recreational spaces, from Atlantic Wharf on the Fort Point Channel to Battery Wharf in the North End.

Take in the spectacular views of Boston Harbor as we wind our way among the wharves old and new.

Sunday, July 3, 3:00-4:30 pm – Learn about the life of the Boston-born printer, scientist, politician, and founder on the Benjamin Franklin: Son of Boston Tour.  Meets at the corner of Washington and School Streets near the Irish Famine Memorial:

Celebrate and learn about the life of Benjamin Franklin by walking among the sites of his homes and haunts in Colonial Boston.

In his day, Benjamin Franklin was America’s greatest scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist, statesman, and entrepreneur. Ben was born in Boston, came of age in Philadelphia, and was the darling of Paris. From his many inventions, creations of civic, philanthropic, and educational institutions, to his roles in the founding of America, his legacy is immeasurable.

Monday, July 4, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm – Celebrate Independence Day on Boston By Foot’s flagship tour of the city’s historic core, Heart of the Freedom Trail.  Meets by the Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall.  Note: Get downtown early before the tour and see a parade from City Hall Plaza to the Old State House stepping off at 9:00 am, followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House at 10:00 am!

The perfect introduction to the history of Boston!

This walking tour of the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston begins with the city’s establishment in 1630. The story of Boston unfolds through an exploration of the city’s architecture spanning more than three centuries. Beginning with the Puritan settlement, the tour continues through the American Revolution and the growth of commercial Boston and concludes with a discussion of modern development.

This historic walk features many of the downtown Freedom Trail sites, including the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, King’s Chapel, the Old South Meeting House and the site of the first public school in America.

From the protests of Samuel Adams and James Otis to the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, to the liberation of Boston in 1776 by General Washington and his army, the Heart of The Freedom Trail takes you to the sites and tells the stories that led to American independence.

Join us downtown and experience the world famous Freedom Trail with Boston By Foot!

My future walking tour schedule:

July 7: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 21:  Jamaica Plain – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

Boston By Foot Roxbury Highlands Tour – June 26 at 2 pm


Join me and several other talented Boston By Foot walking tour guides as we lead a special Tour of the Month of Roxbury Highlands.  The tour begins at 2 pm on Sunday, June 26 at Roxbury Crossing station on the MBTA Orange Line.

Practical vinyl siding side-by-side with full-on restoration to Victorian era.

We start in the Stony Brook valley and work our way uphill and through history to the top of Fort Hill, passing through Roxbury’s colonial town center at Eliot Square along the way.  Learn how Roxbury went from early colonial settlement to strategic military location to bucolic suburb to immigration destination to one of Boston’s densest neighborhoods.  See Roxbury Highlands continue to transform with ongoing restoration and new construction.

Photo of Alvah Kittredge house from 2007, you won’t believe what it looks like now!

The full description of the tour is on the Boston By Foot website where you can also pre-order tickets!

The Roxbury Highlands tour explores a remarkable neighborhood. Our tour travels through the center of colonial Roxbury:  Eliot Square, where the First Church proudly stands as the oldest wooden church in Boston. The Highlands flourished in the mid-19th century as a garden suburb with many pear and apple orchards.  There was even an apple named after the area – the Roxbury Russet.  We will see wonderful Greek Revival and Victorian houses along our route and discuss some of the amazing individuals who called this area home including Edward Everett Hale – author of The Man Without a Country, and Louis Prang – who printed the first Christmas cards in America.   Finally, we finish on top of the hill at the Roxbury Standpipe, in a lovely park which occupies the location of the Roxbury High Fort. Come explore with us!

More photos from the 2007 tour to whet your whistle for Sunday.

Here’s a current list of my Boston By Foot tours for the 2016 season:

June 26:  Roxbury Highlands – 2pm

July 2: Historic Waterfront – 2pm

July 3: A Son of Boston: Benjamin Franklin – 3pm

July 4: Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 7: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 21:  Jamaica Plain – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

2016 Boston By Foot Tours UPDATED


Spring is here, and it’s time to get out and explore the great city of Boston!

One of the best ways to see Boston is on a Boston By Foot walking tour.  The non-profit, educational organization is celebrating 40 years of sharing the history, architecture, and stories of Boston with tourists and locals alike.  This will be my 17th season as one of around 200 volunteer guides leading tours for Boston By Foot.

Below is the list of tours I’ve signed up to lead this season, but I encourage you to check out all our tours and an architecture cruise lead by our many brilliant guides.  If you live in the Boston area, or plan to to visit and take multiple tours, membership is the best deal!  Membership gets you free admission on all regular tours, discounts on tours of the month, and special members-only events!

April 15: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

April 29: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

May 20:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

May 20:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

May 20:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 3:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

June 3:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

June 3:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 19: Roxbury Highlands (members preview) – 2pm

June 26:  Roxbury Highlands – 2pm

July 7: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 15:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

July 21: Jamaica Plain – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

See you out on the streets of Boston!

Photopost: Jane Jacobs in Boston Tour


In honor of Jane Jacobs’ 100th birthday yesterday, I took a tour of the North End lead by Max Grinnell, the Urbanologist, an urban studies expert who divides his time between Boston and Chicago.  While I’ve been leading tours in the North End for more than 15 years, I learned some new things and visited places I’d not been before.  We talked about what Jacobs found successful in the North End in 1960 and what has changed in the intervening years as the neighborhood has gone remarkably upscale.  The highlight of the tour was a stop at Polcari’s Coffee where the shop owner gave a personal history of the business and the neighborhood.

If only the weather had been better, but it was worth getting soaked to the bone to celebrate Jane Jacobs and urbanism.