Arthur P. Schmidt & Company: A Walking Tour of Boston

Detail from Boston 1899 (Boston: E. A. Downs, 1899). Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Boston Public Library Digital Collections.

As I continue to research the groundbreaking American music publisher Arthur P. Schmidt (1846–1921), I can’t help but marvel at the variety of businesses and institutions that now occupy the buildings in which his Boston-based publishing company operated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you haven’t heard of Arthur P. Schmidt, you’ve probably heard some of his music. Schmidt was the first in history to publish a symphony composed by an American (bam!) and one of the first to publish a symphony composed by a woman (kaboom!). The works in question are John Knowles Paine’s Symphony No. 2 in A Major, Op. 34 (1880) and Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 (1897), in case you’re curious.

Let’s begin our walk just outside the Park Street Station on Boston Common. The nation’s first subway tunnel was constructed beneath our feet in 1897, so this is one landmark that Arthur P. Schmidt himself would probably recognize. With our backs to the gold dome of the State House, we must first stroll down Winter Street towards the building that in 1876 served as Schmidt’s first place of business:

40 Winter Street

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This building is where Arthur P. Schmidt first set up shop in 1876, after having worked for ten years as a clerk with another music shop, G. D. Russell & Company. Zoom in on Street View to read the weathered inscription in the center of the facade, which gives the date of construction as 1866—the very year that Schmidt arrived in Boston. Today, the building caters to customers wishing to purchase not sheet music but another form of interactive entertainment: video games. I think Schmidt would approve.

146 Tremont Street

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Schmidt moved his growing business to 146 Tremont in 1879, gaining a pleasant view of Boston Common in the process. But how would a native son of Hamburg react to the taste of a mass-produced McDonald’s hamburger?

13 & 15 West Street

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Schmidt moved here in 1884, opening his retail storefront at 13 West Street (now the famous Brattle Book Shop) while housing his publishing operation at 15 West (Papagãyo Mexican Kitchen). I cannot recall having ever dined at this particular outpost of the casual chain restaurant, but they do make a mean guacamole over in Charlestown.

154 Tremont Street

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Schmidt got out of the retail business in 1889, and had moved his publishing firm to 154 Tremont Street by 1892. As you can see, the building itself has completely disappeared, replaced by a balconied high rise whose ugly podium (facing, as it does, the oldest public park in America) has been the subject of much hand wringing within Boston architectural circles.

146 Boylston Street

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A. P. Schmidt & Company moved to 146 Boylston by 1895, at around the same time that Schmidt opened a branch office on Fifth Avenue in New York. The property had been a vacant lot since at least the 1970s when Emerson College constructed a sleek 14-story dormitory and campus center called Piano Row on the spot in 2006.

120 Boylston

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This was the final home of Arthur P. Schmidt & Company during Schmidt’s lifetime, acquired around 1903. He retired from the firm in 1916 and died in 1921. This property is also owned by Emerson College. In this case, however, I was relieved to see that the college continues to preserve at least the first-floor facade of the building that Schmidt knew so well. As an Emerson alumna, my wife actually attended class here during her undergraduate days!