Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mystic River Once Supplied Oysters to Union Oyster House (Atwoods Oyster House)

We are always intrigued by the extensive and forgotten history of oysters in Boston Harbor. It is important as the context of the discussion around oysters in the Harbor should be around restoration; bringing back a historic resource. Thus we were pleasantly surprised to hear from a friend of Mass Oyster about Hawes Atwood, his oyster grant in the Mystic River and his restaurant, which is now the Union Oyster House.
Atwood is a name that one frequently sees when looks back into the history of oysters in the state, with the name popping up on the Cape, Boston and Cambridge as well as other places including a prominent Boston Lobster Pound. According to our research in 1816 the Basement of the Cambridge Townhouse was rented to Zenas Atwood for storing oysters.
According to a History of  Everett  "Hawes Atwood, one of the prime movers in the town’s fight for separation from Malden was an oyster merchant with offices at 41 and 48 Union Street, Boston and he and W. Atwood owned eight acres on White island 37 acres on the flats and 2 ½ acres on the marshes from which they extracted oysters."
According to a history of the Union Oyster House on a National Park Service Website.
The Union Oyster House is both the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the country-its doors first opened to diners in 1826 when it was founded by Hawes Atwood.  At that time, the building was much closer to the water, so the oysters could have been delivered by ship.

Union Oyster House Hawes Atwood Mystic River
Union Oyster House in the 1920's

The Atwood family is known to have operated a number of oyster shops in Boston since at least 1818. Originally known as Atwood's Oyster House, the restaurant became Atwood & Hawes from approximately 1842 to 1860 and Atwood & Bacon from the late 1800s to 1916. At this point, it is believed that the open coal range on which oysters were roasted was installed in the kitchen. By 1916 the establishment was simply referred to as Union Oyster House, the name it holds today.
To this author's mind one of the best aspects of the Union Oyster House is the circular raw bar on the ground floor. Nobody knows exactly how old the soapstone structure is, but they do know it was covered with copper in the 1940s. The oysters are shucked to order. The bar and stalls are a foodie Time Tunnel and not to be missed.  Even though the food product may be equal, faked ambiance in a McCormick & Schmick's cannot touch the real experience of enjoying an oyster in an architecturally true environment.

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