The original civic and mercantile heart of Boston emerged in the area from Dock Square to the intersection of King (now State) and Cornhill (now Washington) streets. This area provided the connection between the original North and South Ends and the extension of King Street into Long Wharf. The first and second meetinghouses rose at the King and Cornhill intersection, marking this site for the Puritan theocracy that dominated Boston in the seventeenth century. When the first Town House was built in the center of this square in 1658, it provided space for civic and social meetings above and an open level for mercantile trading below. Its site was maintained when a brick statehouse rose here after a fire in 1711 destroyed the Town House.
Nearby, beyond Dock Square, the Blackstone Block neighborhood (GC1) retains the best semblance of the original and chaotic colonial street pattern. As commerce increased a new commercial center was provided by merchant Peter Faneuil, whose will left funds for a separate brick market house (1742) that, with later expansions, bears his name. When built, Faneuil Hall (GC4) overlooked the waterfront. By the time Boston became a city, its second mayor, Josiah Quincy (1823–1828), envisioned a much larger commercial center (1824–1826) built on filled and cleared land and bearing his name as well. Although the city and state government moved to new quarters nearby from the period of the Revolution onward, the commercial activity of Quincy Market (GC5) survived until it was threatened by urban renewal in the 1970s. Saved from the wrecking ball, the complex became the magnet for new investment and for the return of suburbanites and tourists to the central city in the final quarter of the twentieth century.
The current Government Center represents a late-twentieth-century reworking of a large section of central Boston. As part of the urban renewal plan for Boston developed in 1950, the former Scollay Square and surrounding blocks, west of the Faneuil Hall area, were leveled to create a clean site for a new civic core. Here city government relocated from its mid-nineteenth-century home on School Street. Both the state and federal government also built new facilities to house some of their offices. The central focus is City Hall Plaza (GC15), the great urban public arena around which most of the new buildings were constructed.
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