The History of Boston's Market District

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Boston's Market District
By Ken Turino

In the beginning, Boston's settlers were served by peddlers using carts selling produce and meat, much like in England. Boston's earliest outdoor market was established around the Town Dock, a center for commerce. In 1734, the town established markets at Dock Square, North Square, and South Market on Boylston Street. Due to contention among residents over an organized and regulated market system, these markets lasted only three years.

With Faneuil Hall in 1742, followed by Quincy Market in 1826, Boston's market district came into it's own. The filling of the Mill Creek saw the expansion of this district when Blackstone Street was laid out by 1833 and Haymarket Square by 1839. This stretch from Blackstone Street to Haymarket Square became what we now know as Haymarket, Boston's open air retail market.

Peddlers using handcarts and later pushcarts continued to roam Boston's neighborhoods well into the Twentieth Century. Starting in 1899, Boston required that "every peddler engaged in selling in the public street will be registered and furnished a number." A Boston Globe article from 1904 estimated there were nearly 800 peddlers, mainly Greeks and Italians.

Haymarket has weathered many challenges, including the building of the Central Artery in the 1950's, which took down one side of Blackstone Street. By the late 1960's, wholesalers who had shops at Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall moved into new distribution centers in Chelsea and the South Bay. The Big Dig, which rerouted the artery underground (completed in 2007) offered its own challenges with proposed development of reclaimed land. Haymarket took on its present boundaries at that time.

In 2015 the market district is poised to have its first major expansion in almost a century with the opening of the Boston Public Market. The market district has and continues to serve residents, students, tourists, and immigrant families.

Over the course of a year, Historic New England, the Haymarket Pushcart Association (HPA), and photographer Justin H. Goodstein photographed and collected oral histories with members of the HPA, vendors, and customers of Boston's Haymarket to document the market. Watch the videos and see the exhibition at Suffolk University now through August 30th.

Kenneth C. Turino is Manager of Community Engagement and Exhibitions at Historic New England, the largest regional heritage organization in America. He is on the Council of the American Association for State and Local History and sits on AASLH's Historic House Committee. Ken is a professor in the Tufts University Museum Studies Program.