The Transcript Building on Newspaper Row

“The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, ‘Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.’”

T.S. Eliot – “The Boston Evening Transcript”

As I have said before, one finds interesting buildings in Boston just by looking up. That’s the best way to find a name, often carved in granite, shaped from brick, or fired in terra cotta that tells you the structure’s original owner or purpose. What commercial buildings do now in removable metal, glass, and LED lights, 19th-century owners put into the very fabric of the structure. Sometimes, though, you have to take a step back to look up.

Transcript Building, Henry Dutton, Washington Street, Boston, Newspaper Row

Boston’s Newspaper Row

Thus, if you stand on the corner of School Street and Washington Street and look toward the corner of Milk Street on your right. You will see a granite building with pediments above the third floor of both the School Street and Washington Street facades that say, “Transcript Building.”

Transcript Building, Boston Evening Transcript, Boston, Washington Street, Newspaper Row

The Transcript Building

This was the headquarters of the Boston Evening Transcript, one of the city’s many newspapers in the day when print was the only source of information. Above that name, carved in granite, appears the cryptic letter D for the paper’s first publisher, Henry Dutton.

Washington Street was then Boston’s “Newspaper Row,” and home to all the city’s daily newspapers — a total of 15 daily papers published between 1830 and 1840. Through the mid- to late-eighteenth century, this area along the upper end of Washington Street was the “Cradle of American Journalism,” where you would find the headquarters of Boston’s most powerful newspapers. In addition to the Evening Transcript, it held the Globe, the Journal, the Herald, the Traveler, the Daily Advertiser, and the Boston Post.

Boston’s First Afternoon Daily

The Boston Evening Transcript, Boston’s first afternoon daily newspaper, was read by the city’s financial and political elite. It defined its content as “always refined, staunchly Republican.”

Cornelia Wells Walter, Boston Evening Transcript, first woman editor, Newspaper Row

Cornelia Wells Walter

Cornelia Wells Walter, the paper’s theater critic and sister of original editor Lynde Walter, took over as editor upon his death in 1842. Only 27 at the time, Ms. Walter served in that position for five years and is recognized as the first female editor of a major daily newspaper. Never before had a woman held such a prestigious position for a large American publication.

The Transcript, a newspaper of record, also served a very useful function that is very relevant today. Its regular Genealogy Column, which ran twice a week or more for several decades in the early 20th century, provided an exchange of information among the scholarly genealogists of the time. It published many materials not available elsewhere.

For genealogists today, that information is available today through the Genealogy Bank. You can also find directions on how to use the Boston Evening Transcripts genealogy columns on the American Ancestors website.


Rising from the Ashes

Old Transcript Building, Washington Street, Newspaper Row

The Old Transcript Building

Built from 1873 – 1874, this second Transcript Building replaces the original, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872. Flaming brands from the roof of that building set afire the steeple of the Old South Church, which was saved only by the intervention of Kearsage #3, an Amoskeag steam engine come to the rescue from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It marked the northern extent of the burnt area.

The first Transcipt Building, only 12 years old, was completely gutted. The architectural partnership of Gridley J. Fox Bryant and Louis P. Rogers designed the second Transcript Building as a Mansard-roofed commercial block similar to those that defined Boston’s business districts—and almost identical in style. Larger in size, it reached all the way to corner on land formerly occupied by an old three-story building.

The Boston Evening Transcript Building

Great Fire of 1872. Old South Church, Transcript Building, Milk Street

Flames Threaten the Old South Church

The Transcript Building, was constructed with reclaimed granite from the paper’s previous headquarters. On the Milk Street façade, it appears as a smaller-scale and somewhat restrained version of Mr. Bryant’s typically bold Second Empire–style designs. (See the Old City Hall on School Street.) The dormers and quoins suggest a central pavilion with flanking pavilions.

The repeated use of a Mansard roof in the Bryant and Rogers design is somewhat ironic in that this style helped to spread the flames in the Great Fire. As Stephanie Schorow reports in “Boston on Fire,”

“The mansard roofs were proving irresistible to the flames, and although the steam engines were chugging, the streams of water were weak and did not reach above the fourth floor to the fire that was spreading roof to roof.”

The Transcript Building Today

Today, the Transcript Building remains a commercial structure. Although the newspaper lasted for 111 years, it ceased operation on April 30, 1941. The Transcript Building now houses a Shake Shack on the bottom floor but the upper floors maintain their stately Victorian appearance.

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