Boston: Old Corner Bookstore

Today we will embark on a study of one of the more complex locations along Boston's famed Freedom Trail.  The modern story of the Old Corner Bookstore actually began in 1634 when William and Anne Hutchinson moved to Boston and built a home on this site.  This same Anne Hutchinson would become famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for challenging the same Puritan leaders she had followed to the New World, and was both excommunicated and banished from Massachusetts for sedition and heresy in 1638 - where she assisted Roger Williams at the Providence Plantation colony in the creation of Rhode Island. 

The original wooden structure was burned along with many others by fire in 1711 but was purchased and redeveloped in brick by Dr. Thomas Crease for the dual use of home and apothecary.  This business is now America's oldest commercial building, as well as one of its oldest brick structures.  Above the first floor, the facade appears nearly the same as it did when construction was completed in 1718.  The building was used for the pharmaceutical trade for over 100 years, until it was remodeled in 1828 for use as a bookstore.  The first, and most influential, publishing company to occupy the address was Ticknor and Fields, which owned the corner store and rented out the upstairs rooms from 1832-1865.  It was during this time that a generation of great American authors met here and other locations as part of The Saturday Club, originally founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1855.  Among the other famous authors to grace the publisher's location and be published by it included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  Such monumental works were originally published here, including Walden, The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Little Women.  Even the great Charles Dickens had his first American editions issued from this very building (and interestingly, his visit to Boston in 1867 on a reading tour sparked renewed interest in a holiday which had been banned by the Puritans in Massachusetts since 1659 - Christmas).

By the mid-20th century, the building was in a very poor state and was in danger of being destroyed in favor of the construction of a parking garage.  In 1960, a new company was formed by local citizens with the singular purpose of saving the site: Historic Boston Incorporated.  Not only did they save the building, but by keeping it as a commercial site (today it houses a burrito-making restaurant) they were able to generate enough revenue to save and restore other important locations.  You can find their website, along with more pictures and additional details on the site, here: https://historicboston.org/about/


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