It may be hard to tell, but you are standing on what was once the waterfront. At the time of English settlement, the waters of Boston’s Town Cove lapped the shore here. Early buildings, facing the sea, existed on only one side of Merchants Row.
Bostonians, however, continually added land among the old docks and built new wharves extending farther into the harbor. By 1711, construction on Long Wharf had filled in another block of King Street (now State Street), from which Long Wharf extended.
Merchants Row once led to the Town Dock. Bostonians filled in the dock in 1728 to make the land on which Faneuil Hall was completed in 1742. Ships could unload at the back of the market, as pictured at near right. Upstairs, a meeting hall hosted town business, lectures, and speeches, such as those of Revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams.
Between 1824 and 1826, Boston added more land and three badly needed, new markets behind Faneuil Hall, including Quincy Market. In the 1970s, Boston renovated all four markets to create the first of America’s “festival marketplaces.” Today, the marketplace eateries serve throngs of office workers and tourists. Faneuil Hall still hosts public events, and the shoreline has moved even farther out to sea.
The name “Merchants Row” still clings to the cross street on your right leading to Faneuil Hall. Merchants located their offices, stores, and warehouses here, close by the wharves and the merchants’ exchange. Gradually, banks, insurance houses, and commercial buildings surrounded the Old State House, giving rise to a formidable financial district.
In 1891, the Boston Stock Exchange opened at the corner of State and Congress streets, evidence of Boston’s importance as a capital of finance. By the late 20th century, the old, twelve-story behemoth was insufficient, as the office towers around it attest. The partial façade of the building still presides at the corner of State and Congress streets, embedded in the base of a modern office tower.