WIHA Talks History Of Scollay Square at Meeting

Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association (WIHA) announced the retirement of Claire Hubbard after 58 years of dedication, during the March 7 dinner meeting at the Deane Winthrop House barn. Hubbard served as the first female president of WIHA, and has orchestrated the curating department for 22 years.

“She is an inspiration to all of us and is a beautiful person. Thank you for all you’ve done,” said President Michael Herbert, who handed Hubbard a bouquet of flowers. “I always get a hug from Claire. She is family to us.”

Dan Honan, Paul Ciccone, Sandy Guilfoyle, Dick Lawton, Michael Herbert, Charles “Max” Damico, Tom Montgomery, and Helen Honan.
WIHA President Michael Herbert presented Claire Hubbard (with her husband, historian, Dave Hubbard) with a bouquet of flowers in honor of her retirement from the organization after 58 years.

Guest speaker and historian, David Kruh, also presented “Old Scollay Square” after members enjoyed a boiled dinner provided by Cimino’s Catering.

Kruh moved to Boston in 1981 and became fascinated with the former 22-acre area of streets and alleys between Beacon Hill and Faneuil Hall that is now known as Government Center.

“There seems to be no place in Boston that has changed that dramatically,” explained Kruh.

William Scollay, an apothecary, built a four-story, wooden structure in Boston in the late 1700s, and named the building after himself. Residents – especially cab and trolley drivers – referred to the intersection by its most prominent building, and announced the stop as Scollay Square. By 1838, so many people were calling the area Scollay Square that the City of Boston officially designated it as such.

Scollay Square had originally been where the wealthy would shop for clothing and dine at fine restaurants. It is where Americans first learned to dance the waltz in a studio that had heavy springs below the floor boards to give dancers a literal spring in their step. Scollay Square is also where William Thomas Morton became the first dentist to use ether in his operations.

“The Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s completely changed the character of Boston as a whole – but Scollay Square specifically,” revealed Kruh. “It sent thousands of Irish escaping the famine to Boston. This part of Boston, which had originally been for the upper class, had become a bustling commercial center by the 1870s with cafeterias for faster, cheaper food.”

In 1887, Boston electrified the trolley system, bringing more people to the expanding city. It was documented that traffic was so bad that it took an hour to ride one block on Tremont Street; and so the trolley system was moved underground. Scollay Square Station was erected out of Quincy granite in 1898.

“Guide books talk about the bustling center of commercialism,” said Kruh, who described Scollay Square as having a concentration of theatres for residents and visitors to enjoy art, variety shows, circus acts, vaudeville, and burlesque. “Scollay Square was an example of entrepreneurship, America, and economics.”

Kruh also mentioned the Boston Police Strike on September 19, 1919, when officers advocated for better wages. The department felt that they should not have to pay for their guns, bullets, and uniforms. Scollay Square was one of the worst places affected by the strike. A crowd of 15,000 people were removed by a regiment of cavalry.

Scollay Square around war time included many centers for entertainment; but after WWII, Scollay Square began to deteriorate. In the 1960s, Scollay Square, with its multitude of bars, was replaced by Government Center during Urban Renewal.

Learn more about Scollay Square in David Kruh’s books: “Images of America: Scollay Square,” and “Always Something Doing: Boston’s Infamous Scollay Square.”

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