IN THE 1640s, weavers and dyers from Andhra Pradesh Were settled in this enclave to manufacture cloth for the East India Company’s textile trade. he British referred to the men lement as “Black Town”,while its inhabitants called it Chennapatnam, from where Chennai gets it name. After the entire area was rebuilt 100 years later, it was renamed George Town. During this period, most of the city’s commercial activity was concentrated within this 5-sq km (2-sq mile) area. It still remains a busy hive of activity with public institutions in the south, trade and commercial premises in the centre, and residential quarters in the north.
The first feature of interest is the 38-m (125-ft) high Lighthouse on Rajaji Salai, whose beacon was visible 25 km (16 miles) out at sea. The adjacent red-brick High Court, designed by Chisholm in the Indo-Saracenic style, with stained glass and carved furniture, was opened in 1892, while the nearby General Post Office with its archways and square towers, is another fine Indo-Saracenic building. Parry’s Corner, at the junction of NSC Bose Road and Rajaji Salai, is named after Parry and Company. Founded by Thomas Parry in 1790, it is the oldest British mercantile company still operating in Chennai. Dare House, the present headquarters of this 200-year-old company, now stands at the site.
The area’s longest street, Mint Street, gets its name from the authorized mint that was set up here in 1841 to produce gold coins for the British as well as for various local rulers. The mint buildings are now part of the government printing press. The 17th-century houses lining George Town were once the residences and business centres of Indian as well as Portuguese, Armenian and other foreign traders. Armenian Street is named after the many Armenians who lived here, while Coral Merchant Street housed a small Jewish community that traded in corals. Today, each street in George Town is dom. Mated by a particular trade. Anderson Street specializes in paper, grain merchants operate from Audiappa Naicken Street, while textile wholesalers have their warehouses on Govindappa Naicken Street and Godown Street. Some streets, such as Kasi Chetty Street and Narayanamudali Street, are lined with shops selling fancy goods and imported bric-a-brac.