Belknap Street and Smith Court

It’s really hard to find visual evidence of what Belknap Street (as it bordered West End) looked like in the period before the Civil War. So we thought you might want to see two wood engravings that appear in Sketches of Boston, Past and Present (1851). These wood engravings seem to have been used first in 1840s editions of the Boston Almanac, and were reused for this publication. They give us a brief glimpse of what the neighborhood looked like about 10-15 years after Walker’s death.

The Abiel Smith School and Belknap Street, from Homans, Isaac Smith. Sketches of Boston, Past and Present (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1851).

This view looks up Belknap Street, toward Boston Commons, from approximately Walker’s front doorstep. The second structure from the right is the Abiel Smith School, which served the African American community. It is currently the site of the African American History Museum. The structure furthest to the right is no longer extant, but would have abutted a structure that William Cooper Nell once occupied. This may well have been what Walker could see from his front window.

The African Meeting House and First Independent Baptist Church, from Homans, Isaac Smith. Sketches of Boston, Past and Present (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1851).

Were we to take right at the Abiel Smith School instead of heading toward the Commons, we’d find the African Meeting House and the First Independent Baptist Church. The wall on the left is the back side of the Smith School. There are some houses on the far right which no longer exist, but much about this view is still recognizable today.

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