Chinatown - 6 Hudson Street
Chinatown was formerly the South Cove of Boston. Developers filled this small bay in the 1830s to make more land to build on in the growing city. 6 Hudson Street was a three-story brick rowhouse built in 1841 on this new land.
The 6 Hudson Street home was occupied by multiple American-born families of English ancestry until the 1870s. At that time, it became a boarding house for Irish immigrants moving to Boston.
At the end of the 19th century, Syrian immigrants fleeing war began to move into the neighborhood. They transformed the South Cove neighborhood into Syriatown. The first Syrian family moved into 6 Hudson Street in 1899. The first floor of the building included a Syrian-owned grocery store.
In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants formed a small Chinatown near the corner of Harrison and Beach streets. As Chinatown expanded and moved south, the first Chinese immigrant moved into 6 Hudson in 1920. In 1921, entrepreneur Ruby Foo opened Ruby Foo's Den in the building, a popular Chinese food restaurant with celebrity clientele. It remained open until the 1950s.
6 Hudson Street was demolished in 1989. A history of 6 Hudson Street can be found in the background history document at the bottom of this page. You can also find more information on the history of Chinatown online.
Our City archaeologists teamed up with the Chinese Historical Society of New England and the property owner of 6 Hudson Street. Our goal was to hold a community-based archaeological dig at the 6 Hudson Street ahead of future development. After multiple public meetings with the Chinatown community and a groundbreaking ceremony, the dig began in July 2019.
In total, the archaeologists and community volunteers excavated 20 square meters of the rear yard of 6 Hudson Street. We were hoping to find artifacts left behind by the people associated with Ruby Foo's Den restaurant, as well as the residents of the house from the Chinese, Syrian, and Irish immigrant communities.
Excavations extended down nearly six feet through dense demolition debris and fill. The team recovered artifacts from residents of the property in the 1970s and 1980s. At six feet down, they reached the floor of an addition on the back of 6 Hudson street. Below this floor was an older brick floor that likely was the original yard of the house in the late 1800s.
Before the archaeologists could excavate deeper, the excavations reached the water table at six feet deep, and the site began to flood. The dig was then ended as the crew were unable to dig a submerged site.
It is possible for the dig to continue someday in the future. The best time to continue the dig is when the foundations for a future building are excavated and plans made to pump the water from the site are made.
Until then, this dig has drawn a spotlight on the history of Boston's historic Chinatown and Syriatown. It has also celebrated the important contributions of immigrants to Boston's community in the past, present, and future.
The archaeological dig at 6 Hudson Street recovered 1,699 artifacts. The vast majority of these artifacts date to the 1980s, when the home was demolished. Many artifacts from the house mixed into the demolition debris. Earlier artifacts, including historic ceramics, provide hits of the possible deposits remaining on the site below the water table.
Though not very old, the artifacts recovered from the site represent the daily lives of the Chinatown residents of the home during this period of Boston's history. For example, we know they used a pic to style their hair. They listened to the 1984 self-titled album of Boston's own New Edition on cassette. They ate at local restaurants, celebrated their Chinese heritage through decorations, food, and clothing, and their kids played with dinosaur toys in the yard.
A spreadsheet of the complete 6 Hudson Street artifact catalog is linked to at the bottom of this page. You can also find a link there to our Omeka-based artifact image database, featuring photos of every artifact excavated at the site. A full analysis of the artifacts is ongoing. The final results of this analysis and a final report on the dig will be included on this page in the near future.
The artifacts of 6 Hudson street appear to be general rubbish from the 1980s. But, that is exactly the types of artifacts archaeologists excavate at sites throughout the world. Archaeology is often the study of human history by examining people's trash.