If you have visited Old North, then you may have noticed the three-story brick townhouse that sits next to the church. Have you ever wondered what this building is used for? Delaney Sieber, our Research Intern and Educator, put together this short video exploring the interesting history of the Parish House.
See the video and transcript below!
Hello, my name is Delaney Sieber, and I am a research intern at Old North Illuminated. I am also an Old North Church Educator. In my role as an Educator, I interact with visitors from all over the world. I am standing in a building that the church calls the Parish House. This is a three-story brick townhouse that sits next to the church and includes a kitchen and meeting rooms. Our visitors often ask me what this building is and how the church uses it. Interestingly, this building has been used by Christ Church in the City of Boston, the official name of Old North Church, since at least the early 1900s. It was primarily used by church members as a community space and boarding house starting in 1915. However, records from church groups active in the early 1900s suggest the house was not as welcoming as it appeared to be. Come along with me as we explore the hidden history of this seemingly nondescript building.
In 1915, a group of women at Christ Church in the City of Boston formed a group to further the church’s mission and welcome congregants. They called themselves the Women’s Guild of Christ Church and held their regular meetings here in the Parish House. For most of the Guild’s existence, they used the Parish House as a reception area to serve donuts and coffee after the church services. In 1919, the Guild formed a special House Committee to administer the Parish House, which they called “The House by the Side of the Road.” The House by the Side of the Road was a boarding house for social workers in the North End and a reception area for visitors to the church. The committee also appointed a live-in resident to help run events at the house and care for it. During this time, tourism to Old North Church became highly publicized thanks to the work of the Women’s Guild. The Parish House served as a small museum of various historical items related to Old North including Paul Revere ephemera that depicted his midnight ride. The Guild also sold postcards paving the way for our current gift shop.
While “The House on the Side of the Road” served as a welcoming place for certain groups, it was a place of exclusion for others. Often, the Women’s Guild rented out the house to groups who asked to use it for meetings. These groups included local Daughters of the American Revolution chapters and the Society of Colonial Dames. Members of these groups are descendants of veterans who fought in wars during the British colonial period. Both groups participated in patriotic activities, volunteering, and historic preservation, which made this church an ideal meeting place for them. However, the Women’s Guild had a strict policy regarding Italian use of the house. Several times the members of the Italian Chapel, which met in today’s gift shop, asked to use the space for their events. The Women’s Guild rejected them saying they did not want the house to be associated with “Italian Work.” They believed the Italians always left spaces they used a mess.
While the Parish House has become more of a private space, it continues to be used to further the missions of this active church and historic site. Beginning in 1915, the Parish House served as a space for community members, church groups, and tourists to meet. In addition, it helped give rise to the development of Old North Church as a tourist destination by displaying artifacts and selling souvenirs. However, we cannot forget that the Parish House is a paradoxical place. The Women’s Guild extended a warm welcome to patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of Colonial Dames while excluding their Italian neighbors.
Today, the church continues to use the Parish House for church administration, the work of the historic site, hosting worshippers after church, and other special events. In addition, the people who work in the Parish House are researching the untold stories of Christ Church that will allow visitors, and congregants, to reconsider the church’s place in United States history and its influence on the North End community. Thank you for joining me on this tour of Christ Church’s Parish House and we hope to see you in person soon!