North End

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Holding the distinctive title of Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, first settled in the 1630s, the North End, also known as the city’s Little Italy, is one of the most popular and entertaining spots to visit. Though small in size, only 0.36 square miles, this neighborhood is rich in culture and history.

History

How much can be packed into a little more than a third of a square mile? Well, when that third of a square mile is Boston’s North End the answer is quite a lot. Boasting a residential population of over 10,000 as of the 2010 census, this area has seen it all from revolution to destruction to revival and lived to tell its tale.

The first distinguishing characteristics of the North End as a residential community can be traced back to 1649 when the small area was populated enough to support its own church called the North Meeting House, and to build its own development center, North Square. Leader of the North Meeting House, Increase Mather, is one of the early settlements in Boston’s most prolific members and he is largely credited with bringing people and businesses to the North End through his influence as a minister.

By the 1700s, the North End had actually become a fashionable and popular place to live attracting wealthy families and laborers alike. Two townhomes built in this era, the Pierce-Hichborn House and Elizabeth Clough House, both on Unity Street, still stand. The neighborhood even played an important role in the Revolution when the British army dismantled the North Meeting House to use as firewood during its siege of the city in 1775-1776.

Once the 19th century began, development flourished in the North End, Fulton, Lewis, and Commercial Streets all saw significant expansion and commercial additions in response to the still-popular neighborhood. This development even included the addition of a Red Light District called Black Sea. The 1880s was also a time of increased residential development when many of the old wooden buildings were replaced with the stronger brick structures that still stand today. The city also helped develop this area in the 19th century with the addition of the North End Playground, North End Park and Beach, and Copp’s Hill Terrace.

It was the 20th century and its immigration influx of Italians and Jews that really defined the North End as we know it today, however. Because of its convenient location and the attention the city paid to its modernization, North End popular and successful in the early part of the century. The population surge ended, however, in the 1920s when an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza claimed the lives of many of its residents. The remainder of the 1900s saw the population of the North End dip significantly and many businesses close largely because of development and highway buildihg.

Indeed, the addition of John F. Fitzgerald Expressway (Central Artery) in the 1950s essentially walled off the neighborhood from downtown. The situation was further complicated by the dismantling of the artery to place it underground in the 1990s/2000s through the so-called Big Dig Project. However the results of this latest upgrade included the addition of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in place of the old highway. Opening 2008, this new life has essentially revived the area through its open space and now-easy access to downtown.

Main Attraction

A neighborhood with intense character and fantastic history, the North End offers tourists the opportunity for fantastic shopping, dining, and exploration. Containing Paul Revere’s House as well as Old North Church, North End is included in the Freedom Trail Walk and a great place to stop for food along the way.

As the city’s Little Italy, the main dining attraction of North End is rather obvious. The Rose Kennedy Greenway also offers a great chance to get some fresh air and enjoy the open space while out in Boston for the day.

Why It’s a Must-See

The history and ambiance of the North End makes it stand out from many other neighborhoods in a city admittedly full of interesting and historical places to visit. Whether a brief stop on the Freedom Trail or an all-day shopping and dining destination, a visit to the North End is a great way to get out in Boston.