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Boston's Oldest Buildings: The Book


42.3602752, -71.0579295

A delightful read, this book digs into Boston’s surviving and often hidden 17th and 18th century buildings with guaranteed surprises! 


Before this book was researched and written, nobody could answer the question “Where are Boston’s oldest buildings?” Though inventories exist of many historic resources throughout the city, there is no comprehensive analysis of all historic structures to fully identify what still exists and where. Often buried under more modern materials and alterations, it can be difficult to know a building’s history just by looking at it. Joseph Bagley, who is the book’s author as well as the City of Boston’s archaeologist, dug deep into deeds, probate records, ancestry and military data, and historic maps to uncover where the city’s oldest buildings exist and what stories they hold. His book, Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where to Find Them, beautifully captures 50 buildings that predate 1800. The buildings span from homes and churches to warehouses and restaurants. They tell histories that often have been left untold, hiding in plain sight. Used as a walking guide, an architectural primer, or just a delightful read, this book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in history, Boston’s built environment, and the people who occupied these buildings long ago. 


Joe’s research sheds light on a crucial challenge of historic preservation — we have neglected the need to fully identify the historic places of our city, failing to appreciate and protect the unique stories they contain and lessons they offer to us if we were only to probe more fully. Outside of the downtown area and away from designated historic districts, the lack of understanding is greatest, highlighting the inequities of preservation process and the need to invest further to embrace the diverse histories remaining in our built environment. We know that all neighborhoods of the city have rich, important histories that deserve to be told and preserved. Joe’s book shines light on how many unique places exist both on and mostly off the Freedom Trail and the need to explore, research, learn about, celebrate, and protect what is meaningful to all Bostonians. 


This book is a remarkable effort in which the city’s archaeologist looks above ground in a creative, thorough, and utterly enjoyable exploration of the oldest places in the city. Few used their COVID isolation as productively and in a way that benefits our collective understanding of the city as Joe and his team of editors.


“We think we know Boston and its historic resources – that the places that matter have been identified, but those of us in the preservation business know that is not the case. There is much yet to discover, and Joe Bagley‘s Boston’s Oldest Buildings reveals that in an approachable and entertaining way with new revelations for us all,” says Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “By highlighting that many of the city’s oldest buildings are hidden in plain sight, that they are throughout the city, and that each has a unique story to tell, Joe reminds us to make no assumptions about the treasured history that may be hidden inside a seemingly non-descript building.”



Joseph Bagley


Project Team
Boston Landmarks Commission
Brandeis University Press
Brighton-Allston Historical Society
Charlestown Historical Society
Charlestown Preservation Society
Dorchester Historical Society
Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Old North Church and Historic Site
Paul Revere Memorial Association

Pierce House, Dorchester, 1683
Boston's Oldest Buildings and Where to Find Them
Daniels-Goldsmith House, Roslindale, 1725
Thomas Gardner House, Allston-Brighton, 1747
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