About the Sculpture

North Square Stories Public Artwork

North Square Stories public artwork taps into four main narrative threads that are echoed in the varied and significant architectural and physical features of the Square: pre-industrial Boston; maritime stories; stories of immigration and habitation; and cultural feasts and ceremonies. Subjects and motifs include a relief sculpture of an 18th century panoramic view of North Square with wharves and city skyline beyond (1798 North Square View); a North End map highlighting local features and history (North End Story Map); a diorama street scene with a window onto culture and traditions (What We Brought With Us); and a whimsical viewing instrument with discoverable maritime stories (Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument). All of the sculptures include boats and many other maritime references in recognition of this area’s deep and ancient ties to the surrounding sea. An engraved ‘N’ in the paving indicates north; a compass ‘N’ appears in North End Story Map and in Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument – which also has a working sundial.

Each sculpture is an intimate focal point intended to be experienced at close range The sculptures are placed site-specifically and they derive meaning from their orientation and relationship to features in and around North Square. They give us a big view from a small space. There are many overlaps, connections and relationships to be discovered. We hope visitors will spend time exploring the connections between the sculptures and to the history of the surrounding neighborhood and city.

North Square Stories public artwork was created by A+J Art+Design in collaboration with Boston Public Works Department and BETA, Inc. landscape architects. The project was commissioned by Boston Art Commission and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services provided neighborhood support and the people of the North End provided valuable feedback and contributions, especially the Community Advisory Panel which consisted of area residents, business owners and community members.

The project broke ground on October 11, 2017. On September 23, 2019 Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the North Square project team and the North End community celebrated the completed reconstruction of Boston’s oldest public square with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

About the Square

A Brief History of North Square

North Square Boston is one of the oldest public squares in the United States, and has been continuously occupied since at least the 1630s. The Square has been a community gathering place and bustling market area for nearly four centuries. North Square is a small and intimate space, yet due to its elevation and southward slope, when standing here you have a wide sweeping vista over the city.

At the high northern end of North Square (which was known as Clarke Square until 1788) stood North Meeting House (built 1649). The parsonage at 19 North Square was home to Increase Mather, pastor and head of Harvard College in Cambridge. His son Cotton Mather, pastor, doctor, and infamously connected to the Salem Witch Trials, is featured in the Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument sculpture. The Mather family lived at the parsonage until the Great Fire of 1676 when the building burned down along with the meeting house. The church was soon rebuilt and was in use for another century, only to be torn down and used as firewood by retreating British soldiers in January 1776 The Revere House, built in 1680, stands on the site of the parsonage and is the oldest wooden building in Boston. The majority of the congregation of Old North Meeting House eventually joined with New Brick Church (built 1779) on Middle Street, now Hanover Street. New Brick was also known as the Old Cockerel Church because there was a cockerel weather vane atop its steeple. The cockerel now graces a church in Cambridge, but you can see how it might have originally appeared from North Square, towering over Revere House in the sculpture 1798 North Square View.

In the 19th century North Square was home to several wealthy merchants who built grand houses here and on nearby Garden Court Street. Starting around 1815 with the Irish Potato Famine, successive waves of Irish, Portuguese, Jewish and Italian immigrants all settled in the North End. Merchant seamen found lodging at Mariners House (built 1847) and salvation at Seamen’s Bethel (built 1833, purchased by Italian immigrants in 1884 and named Sacred Heart Church in 1888) ministered to by the legendary sailor-preacher Reverend Edward Taylor, who is depicted in one of the scopes of the Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument.

In the early 20th century North Square was home to predominantly Italian immigrants. Revere House as well as other buildings on the Square were used as tenement houses. What We Brought With Us depicts a feast procession through North Square, looking much as it would have during the past century and more, as cultural traditions live on throughout the North End. North Square has been a part of the Freedom Trail since the 1950s and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1961, officially marking its cultural and historical significance.

Some notable buildings in North Square:

  • Revere House (1680)
  • Pierce-Hichborn House (1711)
  • Sacred Heart Church, formerly Seamen’s Bethel (1833)
  • Mariners House (1847)

NORTH END STORY MAP

Stories of Immigration and Habitation

North End Story Map depicts the North End neighborhood in 2019, an area slightly larger than a third of a square mile with a population of 10,000.

Treasure hunt in North End Story Map. See if you can find these hidden objects:

  • Two cannolis
  • Three garlic cloves
  • Challa bread at the site of kosher bakeries
  • 2019 US penny
  • Shamrock at the site of Bridget Clougherty’s house, swept away in the Great Molasses Flood of January 1919
  • Bell at the site of Paul Revere’s brass and iron foundry (1787)
  • New England Patriots team logo

Other things to look for in the map:

  • Old North Church
  • Copps Hill Burying Ground
  • North Square star
  • Constitution Wharf, site of Edmund Hartt’s shipyard where USS Constitution was built in 1797
  • Armenian Heritage Park
  • “The Gassy” playground, site of the giant gasometer storage tank
  • Paul Revere equestrian sculpture by Cyrus Dallin (1940)
  • Tunnel entrance ramps
  • Merry-go-round on the Greenway

1798 NORTH SQUARE VIEW

Stories of Continuity and Transformation

1798 North Square View is a historically accurate panoramic view from North Square in the year 1798. The sculpture dramatizes the integration of wharves, streets, masts and steeples, and highlights Boston’s topography when the city was on the eve of rapid development and land reclamation that significantly leveled the prominent three hills of the city and lowered Beacon Hill by 60 feet.

The USS Constitution, depicted on the left side panel, was built in the North End at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard at Old Constitution Wharf (find it in the North End Story Map) and made her maiden voyage on July 22, 1798. On the right side panel, the Old State House was the seat of colony government from 1713–1776 and Massachusetts state government from 1776–1798. In 1798 the new state house on Beacon Hill, designed by Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844), became the seat of state government and it remains so today.

The index along the bottom edge labels some of the features that would have been visible from this spot in 1798, including Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, Paul Revere House, Pierce-Hichborn House, Beacon Hill and the new State House, Long Wharf, Fort Point, Castle Island, West Hill, and more. Some of these landmarks are still visible from here today, some are obscured by new buildings, and some are gone. Which of them can you see?

Some things to look for in the sculpture:

  • Someone filling water jugs at the town water pump
  • The Old Cockerel (New Brick) Church steeple
  • A horse and carriage
  • Pigeons on a rooftop
  • Paul and Rachel Revere
  • A youngster with a spyglass
  • Someone watching the street from their window
  • USS Constitution at dock
  • A dog
  • Crow’s nest
  • Dorchester Heights
  • The Neck
  • A shortcut down to the waterfront
  • Old Feather Store (1680–1860) at Dock Square
  • Redcoats

FANTASTICAL HISTORICAL NAUTICAL INSTRUMENT

Stories of Maritime History

Fantastical Historical Nautical Instrument is derived from nautical navigation instruments, and its triangular sextant-like base echoes the triangle of North Square. The sculpture is covered in elaborate scroll work reminiscent of scrimshaw, an ancient art practiced by whaling seamen during their long voyages. But whereas a marine sextant is used to measure space, this instrument instead surveys time, with an assemblage of scopes offering imaginary views into stories from the past. Each scope contains what looks like an abstract pattern, but when you peer through the scope’s eyepiece a coherent picture is revealed. The abstract patterns are a kind of distortion called oblique anamorphism which appears correct only when seen from a specific angle, to which the scope eyepieces are appropriately set.

The five scopes in the sculpture hold anamorphs of these North Square stories:

  • Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879), Founder of Seaman’s Aid Society (1833) and Mariners House (1847) in North Square. She was a writer, poet, activist, editor, and advocate for women, the poor, and minorities; she authored “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was also the main force behind Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday.
  • Onesimus (late 1600s–1700s, dates unknown), an African man held as slave by Cotton Mather, he introduced Mather to an African inoculation process which was used in smallpox-stricken Boston in 1721 and laid the foundation for the development of vaccines.
  • Reverend Edward Thompson Taylor (1793–1871) of Seamen’s Bethel, now Sacred Heart Church in North Square. “Father Taylor,” as he was affectionately known, was admired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, and the 19th century Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. It is said that Herman Melville based his character Father Mapple in the novel Moby Dick on Rev. Taylor.
  • John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald (1863–1950), US representative, mayor of Boston and North End resident, and Rose F. Kennedy (1890–1995) who was born just a few steps away from here. There is a memorial plaque on her house in Garden Court Street.
  • SS Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner wrecked in a collision off Nantucket in 1956, one of the worst maritime disasters in US history. The scope aims towards the site of the disaster.

See if you can find these other features in the sculpture:

  • Sundial calibrated to North Square
  • Four cod fish in formation
  • Early North End map
  • Someone using a quadrant
  • Mythical sea creatures
  • Santa Rosalia, patron saint of Sacred Heart Church in North Square
  • Slave trade map and slave ship “cargo”
  • “N” for north
  • Astrolabe
  • Signs of the zodiac
  • Father Claude Scrima of St. Leonard Church in the North End

WHAT WE BROUGHT WITH US

Stories of Cultural Traditions

What We Brought With Us honors the North End as a gateway to the City of Boston for innumerable immigrant groups, most recently Italians. The suitcase is bursting with traditions and customs brought here by immigrants over the centuries.

Inside the suitcase a North End feast procession fills the streets of North Square in front of Sacred Heart Church. The patron saint is carried aloft through the crowds. Some residents watch the scene from their windows.

Around on the right side of the sculpture, a larger-scale scene depicts the interior of one of the North End’s hundreds of tenement flats that were lived in by the many immigrant families who arrived here from different countries around the world. Peering through the window as though watching the scene in the street below, you glimpse a distant harbor and steam ship ready to depart for a new land.

The suitcase is covered with luggage labels which were drawn by students from two North End schools: St. John School on Moon Street near North Square and Eliot School. Labels were also created by students from the greater Boston Menotomy Rocks Homeschool Coop. The labels represent the diverse backgrounds and various places of origin of the people of the North End.

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