May 5, 2011

Filling Up The Hub: How Boston Got Its Shape

Think of a Massachusetts peninsula, or an area of the Bay State that stretches out into the sea and is surrounded nearly on all sides by water.

Odds are you thought of Cape Cod; that sandy crook of land that corrals Cape Cod Bay and all of the stripers, blues and other fish that swim in her waters.

But what about the Bay State's Shawmut Peninsula? Ever heard of it? Well, if you live in, work in or have visited Boston, you've more than likely walked all over it.

Boston - 1630

When Puritan colonists founded Boston in 1630, the landmass the colonists occupied had a remarkably different shape from the Boston we're familiar with today. Known as the Shawmut Peninsula, the landmass had a slew of natural bays surrounding its perimeter and a narrow neck, or isthmus, connecting it to the mainland. Take a closer look at the map above, courtesy of the Boston history and architecture website, iBoston. Notice anything missing? Move on to a more recent time...

Boston - 1830

200 years after the founding of Boston, Bostonians made the first substantial change to the shape of the Shawmut Peninsula when they filled in Mill Pond. Today, this filled-in area of the Hub comprises Bulfinch Triangle.

 Boston -1845

By 1845, Bostonians had made two more substantial changes to the Hub. While South Cove and Great Cove were once small, sheltered bays, they are now filled-in areas of coastal land. Hey, wait a second, those 19th century Bostonians filled in the historic spot of the Boston Tea Party! But, in their defense, they also gave us a great location for the New England Aquarium.

Boston - 1865

Boston, 1865. Bostonians have filled in another cove, West Cove, again altering the natural shape of the Shawmut. Today, the former cove is home to much of Boston's notably Italian North End neighborhood.

Boston - 1890

With a size of 570 acres, Boston's Back Bay is larger than the original Shawmut Peninsula, which was only 487 acres before Bostonians began filling up the Hub. Today, Back Bay is home to several prominent Boston landmarks, including the Boston Public Library, the Pru (the Prudential Tower/Building) and Boston's tallest building, the Hancock (Hancock Place/The John Hancock Tower).