Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Beacon Hill’s Charles Street Meeting House—History with Functionality




Guest Blogger, Mirko Kruse is a senior at Boston College majoring in Economics.  He is currently a Marketing Assistant at Argopoint LLC, and Chairperson for the Quality of Student Life Committee at Boston College. 

Take a casual stroll through Boston’s neighborhoods and you are likely to discover Boston’s rich, layered history tucked away somewhere amongst the high rises, sports bars and local shops and businesses.  Boston is a living scrapbook, with each block a reminder to the bustling crowds of locals, businessmen and students that Boston goes back…way back.   Perhaps no other city in America has integrated its history into the workings of a modern functioning city more so than Boston.  And there is no better example of this than Beacon Hill’s Charles Street Meeting House. 
             
The Charles Street Meeting House was completed in 1807 for the Third Baptist Church.  It was built along what was then the bank of the Charles River—long before the Back Bay began to be filled in—so that baptisms could be conveniently performed.  In 1836 the church’s segregationist seating arrangements, which kept blacks confined to the gallery, were challenged by a white abolitionist, Timothy Gilbert, who invited black friends to sit with him in his pew.  Gilbert was expelled from the church and he, along with fellow abolitionists, would go on to found the first racially integrated church in America, the First Free Baptist Church in Boston.  In subsequent years, the Third Baptist Church would change their position on slavery and the Charles Street Meeting House prior to the Civil War would become a locus for abolitionist activity.  Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass all spoke there.  The Church would undergo a series of transformations, first into the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1876 and then into the Charles Street Meeting House Society in 1939.  Conservation efforts began in 1949, although the structure would remain fully functional as a Universalist experimental church until 1979. 

The real success of the Charles Street Meeting House has been its adaptive reuse into an office space for local Beacon Hill businesses.  The Meeting House has never stopped serving the Beacon Hill community since the final brick was laid in 1807, but at the same time it has not allowed people to forget its iconic role in Boston’s history—It is now a National Historic Site and a part of Boston’sBlack Heritage Trail.  If you walk by the Meeting House this summer, or maybe grab a pastry from the downstairs CaféVanille (they’re good, real good), you might find businessmen taking a break right alongside tourists snapping a photo of the structure’s octagonal cupola. Business and history both thrive here. Inside, the Meeting House has been adapted to accommodate three levels of office space and acts as host for a diversity of respected, local, Beacon Hill companies.  After the transformation of the Meeting House to accommodate these office spaces, The American Institute of Architects conferred the Charles Street Meeting House in 1984 with an Excellence in Architecture award for its renovation and reuse. 
           
The Charles Street Meeting House both serves and reminds.  It is a perfect example of how Boston has been able to showcase its special place in American history and continue to progress as a world-class, modern city.  On your next stroll down Charles Street, stop to appreciate the architecture and all of the years of history bound up in the bricks of the Charles Street Meeting House.  And did I mention the pastries?    

Information gathered from iBoston.org, and the National Park Service at NPS.gov

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