clock menu more-arrow no yes
A bronz sculpture of two young adults and their child, standing. Getty Images

Boston’s immigrant past in 8 sites, mapped

These reminders include buildings, statues, and a famous Boston alleyway

View as Map

As America’s oldest urban area, Boston boasts quite a history, and immigration shaped a lot of that history. These markers and monuments are reminders of that.

The points are a primer and are not meant to be exhaustive. After all, there are a plethora of markers dedicated just to the legacy of the Boston area’s Irish; and the North End is pretty much a museum to Italian-American culture and cuisine as is Boston’s Chinatown for Chinese-Americana.

Suggestions are welcome as this map will be updated. (Sources not otherwise cited include Boston Magazine, Boston Family History Collaborative, and the Boston Art Commission.)

Read More

1. Adolphus Busch Hall

Copy Link
Adolphus Busch Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138

The museum building was a point of pride for German-Americans when it went up about 100 years ago (beer baron Adolphus Busch underwrote its construction). It housed Harvard’s Germanic Museum until 1991, and is still used for exhibitions as well as performances and events.

Interestingly, while the hall was completed in 1917, it did not open until 1921. Officially, the reason was a lack of coal for heating; but it probably had more to do with the U.S. fighting Germany in World War I.

Shutterstock

2. Sacco and Vanzetti plaster

Copy Link
700 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116

Gutzon Borglum, the same sculptor behind Mount Rushmore, designed this plaster cast nearly 90 years ago to commemorate the 1927 executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

The pair were seen as scapegoats for anti-Italian hysteria at the time and innocent of the crimes for which a Massachusetts jury convicted them. (It didn’t help their case that the immigrants were also self-professed anarchists.)

The plaster resides on the third floor of the Boston Public Library’s main building, and has been awaiting a more permanent home for decades.

The late Boston mayor, Tom Menino, left, and the late Massachusetts governor, Paul Cellucci, at an unveiling of the plaster in August 1997.
AFP/Getty Images

3. The Vilna Shul

Copy Link
18 Phillips St
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 523-2324
Visit Website

The Vilna Shul is the last immigrant-era synagogue building that exists in downtown Boston.

It currently operates as a cultural center celebrating Jewish heritage and its intersection with other cultures and communities in the city.

In 1893, Jewish immigrants from Vilna Gubernia—the province encompassing the present-day Lithuanian capital of Vilnius—formed a new American community on the north slope of Beacon Hill in Boston’s West End. On December 11, 1919, they laid the cornerstone for the Vilna Shul at 18 Phillips Street.

Now nearly 100 years old, the community venue often hosts speakers, films, and what it describes as life-cycle events.

Boston Globe via Getty Images

4. Ping On Alley

Copy Link
Ping on St
Boston, MA 02111

Boston’s first Chinese immigrants settled along and around this alleyway beginning in the 1870s.

There were more than 1,000 such immigrants in the city by 1900, centered on this street that eventually became the nexus for what’s now Chinatown.

Looking up at a street lamp between two buildings, and there are little American flags and a sign reading “Welcome to Boston’s Historical Chinatown” hanging off it. Shutterstock

5. Irish Famine Memorial

Copy Link

The memorial commemorates the famine that started in 1845, and that led to not only hundreds of thousands of deaths, but to a mass emigration of Irish people to the United States.

Two bronze figures in a statue, one looking toward the viewer. Shutterstock

6. Hungarian Monument

Copy Link
Liberty Square
Boston, MA 02109

This bronze and granite statue in Liberty Square dates from 1986, 30 years after the brutal Soviet crackdown on Hungarian rebels that it commemorates.

The 1956 repression spurred thousands of Hungarians to flee their home country, with many settling in the U.S., including the Boston area.

Shutterstock

7. The Paul Revere House

Copy Link
19 N Square
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 523-2338
Visit Website

The famed revolutionary was the son of a French immigrant named Apollos Rivoire, who anglicized the family name after settling in Boston.

The younger Revere apprenticed under his father as a silversmith, and later owned this house (now museum) for three decades in the late 1700s.

The exterior of the 17th-century Paul Revere House. Shutterstock

8. East Boston Immigration Station

Copy Link
287 Marginal St
Boston, MA 02128

Approximately 1 in 10 immigrants who arrived in Boston by ship from 1920 to 1954 were processed at this building. It was used as a detention center to hold immigrants whose documents were not in order or who were thought to have a communicable disease—though most who were detained at the facility were allowed into the U.S.

It is now part of the East Boston Shipyard and Marina.

The station as it looked in the early 1920s.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

1. Adolphus Busch Hall

Adolphus Busch Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138
Shutterstock

The museum building was a point of pride for German-Americans when it went up about 100 years ago (beer baron Adolphus Busch underwrote its construction). It housed Harvard’s Germanic Museum until 1991, and is still used for exhibitions as well as performances and events.

Interestingly, while the hall was completed in 1917, it did not open until 1921. Officially, the reason was a lack of coal for heating; but it probably had more to do with the U.S. fighting Germany in World War I.

Adolphus Busch Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138

2. Sacco and Vanzetti plaster

700 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116
The late Boston mayor, Tom Menino, left, and the late Massachusetts governor, Paul Cellucci, at an unveiling of the plaster in August 1997.
AFP/Getty Images

Gutzon Borglum, the same sculptor behind Mount Rushmore, designed this plaster cast nearly 90 years ago to commemorate the 1927 executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

The pair were seen as scapegoats for anti-Italian hysteria at the time and innocent of the crimes for which a Massachusetts jury convicted them. (It didn’t help their case that the immigrants were also self-professed anarchists.)

The plaster resides on the third floor of the Boston Public Library’s main building, and has been awaiting a more permanent home for decades.

700 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116

3. The Vilna Shul

18 Phillips St, Boston, MA 02114
Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Vilna Shul is the last immigrant-era synagogue building that exists in downtown Boston.

It currently operates as a cultural center celebrating Jewish heritage and its intersection with other cultures and communities in the city.

In 1893, Jewish immigrants from Vilna Gubernia—the province encompassing the present-day Lithuanian capital of Vilnius—formed a new American community on the north slope of Beacon Hill in Boston’s West End. On December 11, 1919, they laid the cornerstone for the Vilna Shul at 18 Phillips Street.

Now nearly 100 years old, the community venue often hosts speakers, films, and what it describes as life-cycle events.

18 Phillips St
Boston, MA 02114

4. Ping On Alley

Ping on St, Boston, MA 02111
Looking up at a street lamp between two buildings, and there are little American flags and a sign reading “Welcome to Boston’s Historical Chinatown” hanging off it. Shutterstock

Boston’s first Chinese immigrants settled along and around this alleyway beginning in the 1870s.

There were more than 1,000 such immigrants in the city by 1900, centered on this street that eventually became the nexus for what’s now Chinatown.

Ping on St
Boston, MA 02111

5. Irish Famine Memorial

Boston, MA 02108
Two bronze figures in a statue, one looking toward the viewer. Shutterstock

The memorial commemorates the famine that started in 1845, and that led to not only hundreds of thousands of deaths, but to a mass emigration of Irish people to the United States.

6. Hungarian Monument

Liberty Square, Boston, MA 02109
Shutterstock

This bronze and granite statue in Liberty Square dates from 1986, 30 years after the brutal Soviet crackdown on Hungarian rebels that it commemorates.

The 1956 repression spurred thousands of Hungarians to flee their home country, with many settling in the U.S., including the Boston area.

Liberty Square
Boston, MA 02109

7. The Paul Revere House

19 N Square, Boston, MA 02113
The exterior of the 17th-century Paul Revere House. Shutterstock

The famed revolutionary was the son of a French immigrant named Apollos Rivoire, who anglicized the family name after settling in Boston.

The younger Revere apprenticed under his father as a silversmith, and later owned this house (now museum) for three decades in the late 1700s.

19 N Square
Boston, MA 02113

8. East Boston Immigration Station

287 Marginal St, Boston, MA 02128
The station as it looked in the early 1920s.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Approximately 1 in 10 immigrants who arrived in Boston by ship from 1920 to 1954 were processed at this building. It was used as a detention center to hold immigrants whose documents were not in order or who were thought to have a communicable disease—though most who were detained at the facility were allowed into the U.S.

It is now part of the East Boston Shipyard and Marina.

287 Marginal St
Boston, MA 02128