INTRODUCTIONThe story of East Boston is one of change.Change in the land, change in the people, andchange in technology. The story of East Bostonis the story of how Boston became, andcontinues to be, the center of an urbanmetropolis.
Early HistoryThe islands that make up modern day EastBoston were used by Native American Indiansfor hunting and fishing grounds.East Boston annexed to the City of Boston in1636. This was one of the first non-incorporatedareas to become part of the town of Boston.
Early History Originally, East Boston was a resort and residential suburb for Boston’s wealthy.Maverick House.Source: Boston Public Library (date unknown) Maverick House. Source: Images of America, East Boston by Anthony Sammarco. (date unknown)
Early 19th CenturyEast Boston eventually became a center ofClippership building, shipping, and trade. Withthat development, the population of East Bostonbecame a working class neighborhood,attracting Irish, Norwegian, Canadian andPortuguese immigrants to work in its ports,shipyards and other industries.
Early 19th Century The Launch of The Great Republic in 1853. At the time, it was considered one of the largest merchant ships in the world.The Glory of the Seas built by Donald McKay in 1869.
Mid 19th CenturyThe Irish Potato Famine diversified the neighborhoodagain with the arrival of tens of thousands of Irishenvironmental refugees.Despite what many believe, the Cunard line was not themain means by which the Irish came to Boston. TheCunard was primarily a mail and freight ship until 1862.But the Cunard line did spark lower cost passenger shipsstraight from Liverpool to East Boston, like the WhiteDiamond Line. Most of the 1.5 million Irish thatemigrated to the U.S. arrived here in East Boston on theselower cost ships.
Mid 19th Century Source: The Story of the Irish in Boston: Together with Biographical Sketches of representative men and noted women . Written by William Taylor Jr (1889)
Late 19th CenturyTowards the latter half of the 19th century, evenas demand for clipper ships declined, EastBoston’s trade and port activity increased. Thiscoincided with the departure of the Irish and thedevelopment of new immigrant communities.First came Russian and Eastern European Jews.
Late 19th Century Kosher butcher shop and other Jewish run businesses.
Early 20th CenturyItalian immigrants and Italian-Americans fromBoston’s North and West Ends began moving intoEast Boston in large numbers at the turn of the20th century.As they moved in, the Eastern Europeans and Irishmigrants moved out.
Through the 1970sEast Boston was a primarily Italian immigrantand Italian-American neighborhood for the firstthree-quarters of the 20th century.This was the first time in East Boston’s historywhere the ethnic population was relativelystable for more than a few decades.
The Last Quarter of the 20th CenturyCourt ordered desegregation in public housingdevelopments and schools in the 1970s began theprocess of diversifying East Boston. African American andPuerto Ricans residents first began to move into EastBoston in small numbers during this time.At the end of the 20th century, the population of EastBoston further diversified with South-East Asian andNorth African refugees and Latin-American migrantsmoving into the neighborhood and establishing roots.This change was sometimes the source of conflict,mirroring the rest of Boston.
Source: Associated Press. (1974, September 21). Busing ProtestsSpread to East Boston. New York Times. Source: Schumacher,Edward. (1979, October 22). School Violence in Boston Reflects A Deep-Seated Racial Animosity. New York Times. Source: Butterfield, Fox. (1985, August 31). Violent Incidents Against Asian- Americans Seen as Part of Racist Pattern. New York Times.
The 21st Century – the Modern EraConsistent with our long history, the neighborhoodis again changing. Today, East Boston is a diversemix of ethnicities, with immigrants from LatinAmerica and Latino/Hispanic-Americans formingthe largest population.Immigrants from different countries, and differentparts of the USA, continue to diversify theneighborhood.
Place of Birth of Current ImmigrantsMorocco and Vietnam comprise the two Africa North Americalargest African and Asian groups in East 5% 1%Boston. Asia 6% More than half of European immigrants in East Boston Europe are from Italy. 9% Latin America 79% The largest Latin American countries represented in East Boston are:Source: 2005-2009 American Community Survey, US Census Bureau El Salvador Colombia Brazil Mexico
Landscape andEnvironmentISLANDS THAT ARE NO LONGERISLANDS
East Boston’s Original LandscapeEast Boston was originally a group of severalislands. The main island, Noddle Island, was apopular pastoral spot and an important sourceof wood for early colonists. By 1833 most of theislands had been completely denuded of all buttwo trees.
East Boston’s Original Landscape 1774 Hinton Map of Boston. Source: Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library1775 Map of Boston and Environs.Source: Boston Redevelopment Authority
East Boston CompanyWhen the islands of East Boston were annexedto Boston, the city took little interest in itsdevelopment for almost two hundred years. Inthe early 19th century, General W.H. Sumnerincorporated the East Boston Company, whichcreated a street and development plan forNoddle Island. That street plan, with very littlechange, continues to exist to this day.
East Boston Company 1834 Lewis Plan for the East Boston Company. Source: Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
LandfillingEast Boston as it exists today was created in theearly 19th century by joining five islandsthrough wharfing out* along the harbor andalso general infilling the mud flats between theislands.The EB Company planned to first fill the mudflats in the eastern part of Noddle’s Island.*Wharfing out is a specific form of landmaking in which the space in between docks isfilled in as they extend into water. This is different than general infilling where land ismade by depositing fill in tidal areas.
Landfilling1851 Eddy Plan showing improvements and lots sold. Source: Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
Landfilling 1893 Walker Map. Source: Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
Landfilling Aerial Photograph of Boston Municipal Airport, 1932 Source: Boston Public Library Aerial Photograph of Boston Logan Airport, 1950 Source: Boston Public Library
LandfillingThe biggest landfilling project to occur in East Boston was inthe creation of Boston’s Logan airport. The City of Bostonbegan construction on the Boston Airfield in the mid 1920s byfilling the mud flats just north of Jeffries Point.The airport’s expansion was slow until the 1950s.Originally, airport expansion was pursued by filling in betweenNoddle, Bird, and Governor’s Island.In expanding the airport to Governor’s Island, the Citydemolished Fort Winthrop. This was originally intended to bea defensive stone fort but it was never fully completed. Theearthen fort served as a recreational spot for Boston residentsuntil it was taken for the airport in 1946.
LandfillingIn 1968, the state, which had been operating theairport since 1959, decided to take over WoodIsland Park and some surrounding neighborhoodsto further expand the airport. Residents wereoutraged. A group of mothers laid down in the pathof trucks coming to work on the expansion inprotest. Several were arrested and the airport’sexpansion continued. Today, Logan Airportcomprises two-thirds of the land space of EastBoston and continues to be a source of controversyamong residents.
Urban DevelopmentIn the early 18th century, General W.H. Sumnerincorporated the East Boston Company, whichcreated a street and development plan forNoddle Island. That street plan, with very littlechange, continues to exist to this day.
ClippershipsFrom the 19th through most of the 20thcentury, East Boston’s waterfront was a busyport and industrial center. Through the mid-19th century, East Boston was the center of NewEngland’s Clippership building. Lining thestreets leading to the ports were warehousesthat held goods entering and leaving Boston.
Clippership building Source: Boston Public Library
FerriesThe ferries were the most important means oftransportation between East Boston and Bostonproper until the construction of the trolleytunnel in the early 20th century. Theycontinued to be heavily used until about mid-20th century. The North Ferry accommodatedonly passengers, while the South Ferry couldaccommodate both commercial traffic andpassengers. Ferry service ended in 1952.
Ferries North Ferry. Source: Images of America, East Boston by Anthony Sammarco. (date unknown)People’s Ferry Line.Source: Images of America, East Boston by Anthony Sammarco. (date unknown)
An Active PortWhen Eastern Railroad constructed the first railline in 1838, there was only one pier in EastBoston, located near Maverick Square. Within afew decades, the entire waterfront transformedinto a busy working port.The famous Cunard line had its own wharf from1840 until the mid-20th century.
An Active Port Boston and Albany Piers, c. 1925 Source: Boston Public Library Docks in East Boston, c.1906 Source: Library of Congress
RailroadsThrough much of its history, East Boston was abusy center for the transport of both goods andpeople. Railroads facilitated much of that fromthe 19th through the mid-20th centuries.Eastern RR built the first rail line in 1838. It wasquickly followed by Boston and Albany. Boston,Revere Beach, and Lynn Railroad alsoestablished a line through East Boston.
RailroadsBremen Street Railyard, c. 1925Source: Boston Public Library
Other IndustryOther industries located along the waterfrontincluded coal storagewarehouses, slaughterhouses, macaronimanufacturing companies, sugar processingfacilities, metal works and foundries, and docks forlobster trawlers.The National Ice Cream Company, famous for icecream brands like Fudgesicle and the Eskimo Piestarted in East Boston near what is now the SumnerTunnel entrance. The facility sold ice cream toresidents, as well as distributors, from this location.
Other Industry Coal Packets (date unknown) Source: Boston Public LibrarySource: Boston Public Library Industry on Sumner at New and Border streets, 1911 Source: Boston Public Library
RedevelopmentAnother common redevelopment pattern we see is the transformationof former industrial spaces into either housing or open space.The gumball factory was built in 1920 by the Cox ConfectionaryCompany. It was converted to condos in 1989 by a private developer.The former Goddess Bra factory at 156 Porter Street was recentlyconverted into condos. It was built in 1900 and was originally a GElight bulb manufacturing facility.Piers Park, East Boston’s award winning waterfront park, was the siteof the National Dock Storage Warehouses (at Pier 4) as well as one ofthe largest grain elevators in Boston. The Bremen Street Park waspreviously a massive railyard. The YMCA at the southwestern end ofthe park was previously an engine house and later a box springmanufacturing facility.
Social InstitutionsEast Boston had always had lively social institutions for allkinds of people.The Maverick House was a popular hotel and banquethall originally built in 1838. It was a summer resort forthe wealthy, a place of “jollification” for arearesidents, and an overnight spot for people waiting tocatch a ship to Europe or a train further north. It isrumored that the late King Edward of England, beforebecoming king, stayed at the Maverick house whenvisiting Boston. The Maverick House was an importantlandmark until 1929 when new owners demolished it andbuilt a filling station and parking lot.
Social InstitutionsThe Trinity House was built in 1847 as a privateresidence. It became a settlement house operatedby the Trinity Church in 1906 long before thesettlement movement took hold. The Trinity Housewas an important community resource for Eagle Hillresidents, offering socialservices, outreach, language training, andacculturation before there were other communityinstitutions doing so. It eventually evolved into arecreation center for the Italian community withmother’s clubs, children’s camps, and men’s andwomen’s activities.
Social InstitutionsEast Boston had one of the highestconcentrations of religious institutions of anyneighborhood in the city. East Boston once hadover ten Catholic churches alone. Many of thesechurches have either closed and been convertedto other uses or been demolished in the buildingof the tunnels and freeways.
Social InstitutionsMany social service organizations, both secular andchurch affiliated, were created to provide supportand social services, as well as education, tonewcomers. The Goodwill House, the ImmigrantHome, the Sailor’s Home, and the Mission House,were some of many missions, settlement houses,and social service agencies serving immigrants andthe working class. In addition, local public schoolslike the Lyman School and East Boston High Schoolprovided vocational and language courses.
This is just a sample of the variedand complex history we wouldlike to share at the East BostonVisitor Center and Museum.We would like your help in tellingthis story. For more informationon how you can help, pleasecontact: The East Boston Initiative: Ron Hardaway, Project Coordinator RHH118@comcast.net 617.569.1818 Susan Parker Brauner, Site Manager firstname.lastname@example.org or This work by Neenah Estrella-Luna is licensed under a Creative Commons 617.568.1749 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
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