North End

Note: separate walking tours covering the Freedom Trail and Bulfinch Triangle include sites in and around the North End.

Before the American Revolution the North End was the fashionable area of Boston and the site of the mansions of Lt. Gov. Hutchinson, Sir Henry Frankland, and Governor Phips. Nearly an island, it was connected to the mainland by bridges over Mill Creek. Although it had only a few houses and a windmill in the early 1700s, by the end of the century it was the most densely populated section of Boston. Wharves had been built in every possible location, all but obliterating the original shoreline.

The area never really recovered its earlier status after the Revolution, however, since a number of Loyalists who had been among its leading residents were forced to abandon their property and fled to Nova Scotia. Although most of the early settlers were Puritans, a settlement of Afro-Americans on Copp’s Hill had given that area the nickname “New Guinea.” Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, successive waves of immigrants moved into the North End, and later to the West End and Beacon Hill. Beginning with the potato famine in 1824, the Irish came, followed in the 1860s and later by eastern European Jews, then Portuguese and Italians.

Today the North End remains an explorable labyrinth of narrow activity-filled streets with attentive residents and laundry hanging out of upper windows. This is the area Jane Jacobs praised in the early 1960s for its street life and sense of community, when urban renewal was destroying other such neighborhoods across the country. It retains the character of a close-knit Italian community with strong traditions and fierce pride, despite growing gentrification. Streets are lined with shops selling fine Italian imported foods, cafés with delicious gelati and cappuccino, pasta and pastry shops, and fresh-produce markets.

John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, grandfather of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was born in this neighborhood in 1863. He spoke so frequently and fondly of the “dear old North End” that the neighborhood’s residents came to be called the “Dearos.” The name was adopted by the Irish political and social organization led by Fitzgerald. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, daughter of Honey Fitz and mother of President Kennedy, was born nearby and is buried at St. Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street. The Greenway is named in her honor.