1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boston (Massachusetts)

BOSTON, the capital of the state of Massachusetts, U.S.A., in Suffolk county; lat. 42° 21′ 27.6″ N., long. 71° 3′ 3″ W. Pop. (1900) 560,892, (197,129 being foreign born); (1905, state census) 595,580; (1910), 670,585. Boston is the terminus of the Boston & Albany (New York Central), the Old Colony system of the New York, New Haven & Hartford, and the Boston & Maine railway systems, each of which controls several minor roads once independent. The city lies on Massachusetts bay, on what was once a pear-shaped peninsula attached to the mainland by a narrow, marshy neck, often swept by the spray and water. On the north is the Charles river, which widens here into a broad, originally much broader, inner harbour or back-bay. The surface of the peninsula was very hilly and irregular, the shore-line was deeply indented with coves, and there were salt marshes that fringed the neck and the river-channel and were left oozy by the ebbing tides. Until after the War of Independence the primitive topography remained unchanged, but it was afterwards subjected to changes greater than those effected on the site of any other American city. The area of the original Boston was only 783 acres, but by the filling in of tidal flats (since 1804) this was increased to 1829 acres; while the larger corporate Boston of the present day—including the annexed territories of South Boston (1804), Roxbury (1868), Charlestown, Dorchester, Brighton and West Roxbury (1874)—comprehends almost 43 sq. m. The beautiful Public Garden and the finest residential quarter of the city—the Back Bay, so called from that inner harbour from whose waters it was reclaimed (1856-1886)—stand on what was once the narrowest, but to-day is the widest and fairest portion of the original site. Whole forests, vast quarries of granite, and hills of gravel were used in fringing the water margins, constructing wharves, piers and causeways, redeeming flats, and furnishing piling and solid foundations for buildings. At the edge of the Common, which is now well within the city, the British troops in 1775 took their boats on the eve of the battle of Lexington; and the post-office, now in the very heart of the business section of the city, stands on the original shore-line. The reclaimed territory is level and excellently drained. The original territory still preserves to a large degree its irregularity of surface, but its hills have been much degraded or wholly razed. Beacon Hill, so called from its ancient use as a signal warning station, is still the most conspicuous topographical feature of the city, but it has been changed from a bold and picturesque eminence into a gentle slope. After the great fire of 1872 it became possible, in the reconstruction of the business district, to widen and straighten its streets and create squares, and so provide for the traffic that had long outgrown the narrow, crooked ways of the older city. Atlantic Avenue, along the harbour front, was created, and Washington Street, the chief business artery, was largely remade after 1866. It is probable that up to 1875, at least, there had been a larger outlay of labour, material and money, in reducing, levelling and reclaiming territory, and in straightening and widening thoroughfares[1] in Boston, than had been expended for the same purposes in all the other chief cities of the United States together. Washington Street, still narrow, is perhaps the most crowded and congested thoroughfare in America. The finest residence streets are in the Back Bay, which is laid out, in sharp contrast with the older quarters, in a regular, rectangular arrangement. The North End, the original city and afterwards the fashionable quarter, is now given over to the Jews and foreign colonies.

The harbour islands, three of which have been ceded to the United States for the purpose of fortification, are numerous, and render the navigation of the shipping channels difficult and easily guarded. Though tortuous of access, the channels afford a clear passage of 27–35 ft. since great improvements were undertaken by the national government in 1892, 1899, 1902 and 1907, and the harbour, when reached, is secure. It affords nearly 60 sq. m. of anchorage, but the wharf line, for lack of early reservation, is not so large as it might and should have been. The islands in the harbour, now bare, were for the most part heavily wooded when first occupied. It has been found impossible to afforest them on account of the roughness of the sea-air, and the wash from their bluffs into the harbour has involved large expense in the erection of sea-walls. Castle Island has been fortified since the earliest days; Fort Independence, on this island, and Forts Winthrop and Warren on neighbouring islands, constitute permanent harbour defences. The broad watercourses around the peninsula are spanned by causeways and bridges, East Boston only, that the harbours may be open to the navy-yard at Charlestown, being reached by ferry (1870), and by the electric subway under the harbour. At the Charlestown navy-yard (1800) there are docks, manufactories, foundries, machine-shops, ordnance stores, rope-walks, furnaces, casting-pits, timber sheds, ordnance-parks, ship-houses, &c. The famous frigate “Independence” was launched here in 1814, the more famous “Constitution” having been launched while the yard was still private in 1797. The first bridge over the Charles, to Charlestown, was opened in 1786. The bridge of chief artistic merit is the Cambridge Bridge (1908), which replaced the old West Boston Bridge, and is one feature of improvements long projected for the beautifying of the Charles river basin.

Comparatively few relics of the early town have been spared by time and the improvements of the modern city. Three cemeteries remain intact—King's chapel burying ground, with the graves of John Winthrop and John Cotton; the Old Granary burial ground in the heart of the city, where Samuel Sewall, the parents of Franklin, John Hancock, James Otis and Samuel Adams are buried; and Copp's Hill burial ground, containing the tombs of the Mathers. Christ church (1723) is the oldest church of the city; in its tower the signal lanterns were displayed for Paul Revere on the night of the 18th of April 1775. The Old South church (1730–1782), the old state house (1748, restored 1882), and Faneuil Hall (1762–1763, enlarged 1805, reconstructed 1898) are rich in memorable associations of the period preceding the War of Independence. The second was the seat of the royal government of Massachusetts during the provincial period, and within its walls from 1760 to 1775 the questions of colonial dependence or independence probably first came into evident conflict. The Old South church has many associations; it was, for instance, the meeting-place of the people after the “Boston Massacre” of 1770, when they demanded the removal of the British troops from the city; and here, too, were held the meetings that led up to the “Boston Tea Party” of 1773. Faneuil Hall (the original hall of the name was given to the city by Peter Faneuil, a Huguenot merchant, in 1742) is associated, like the Old South, with the patriotic oratory of revolutionary days and is called “the cradle of American liberty.” Its association with reform movements and great public issues of later times is not less close and interesting.[2] The adjoining Quincy market may be mentioned because its construction (1826) was utilized to open six new streets, widen a seventh, and secure flats, docks and wharf rights—all without laying tax or debt upon the city. The original King's chapel (1688, present building 1749–1754) was the first Episcopal church of Boston, which bitterly resented the action of the royal governor in 1687 in using the Old South for the services of the Church of England. The new state house, the oldest portion of which (designed by Charles Bulfinch) was erected in 1795–1798, was enlarged in 1853–1856, and again by a huge addition in 1889–1898 (total cost about $6,800,000 to 1900). Architecturally, everything is subordinated to a conformity with the style of the original portion; and its gilded dome is a conspicuous landmark. Other buildings of local importance are the city hall (1865); the United States government building (1871–1878, cost about $6,000,000); the county court-house (1887–1893, $2,250,000); the custom-house (1837–1848); and the chamber of commerce (1892).

Copley Square, in the Back Bay, is finely distinguished by a group of exceptional buildings: Trinity church, the old Museum of Fine Arts, the public library and the new Old South church. Trinity (1877, cost $800,000), in yellowish granite with dark sandstone trimmings, the masterpiece of H. H. Richardson, is built in the Romanesque style of southern France; it is a Latin cross surmounted by a massive central tower, with smaller towers and an adjacent chapel reached by open cloisters that distribute the balance (see Architecture, Plate XVI. fig. 137). It has windows by La Farge, William Morris, Burne-Jones and others.

The library (1888–1895; cost $2,486,000, exclusive of the site, given by the state) is a dignified, finely proportioned building of pinkish-grey stone, built in the style of the Italian Renaissance, suggesting a Florentine palace. It has an imposing exterior (see Architecture, Plate XVI. fig. 135), a beautiful inner court, and notable decorative features and embellishments, including bronze doors by D. C. French, a statue of Sir Henry Vane by Macmonnies, a fine staircase in Siena marble, some characteristic decorative panels by Puvis de Chavannes (illustrating the history of science and literature), and other notable decorative paintings by John S. Sargent (on the history of religion), Edwin A. Abbey (on the quest of the Holy Grail). The old Museum of Fine Arts (1876) is a red brick edifice in modern Gothic style, with trimmings of light stone and terra-cotta. The new Old South (the successor of the Old South, which is now a museum) is a handsome structure of Italian Gothic style, with a fine campanile. The dignified buildings of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are near. In Huntington Avenue, at its junction with Massachusetts Avenue, is another group of handsome new buildings, including Horticultural Hall, Symphony Hall (1900) and the New England Conservatory of Music. In the Back Bay Fens, reclaimed swamps laid out by F. L. Olmsted, still other groups have formed — among others those of the marble buildings of the Harvard medical school; Fenway Court, a building in the style, internally, of a Venetian palace, that houses the art treasures of Mrs. J. L. Gardner, and Simmons College. Here, too, is the new building (1908) of the Museum of Fine Arts. Throughout the Fens excellently effective use is being made of monumental buildings grouped in ample grounds.

Boston compares favourably with other American cities in the character of its public and private architecture. The height of buildings in the business section is limited to 125 ft., and in some places to 90 ft.

One of the great public works of Boston is its subway for electric trams, about 3 m. long, in part with four tracks and in part with two, constructed since 1895 at a cost of about $7,500,000 up to 1905. The branch to East Boston (1900–1904) passes beneath the harbour bed and extends from Scollay Square, Boston, to Maverick Square, East Boston; it was the first all-cement tunnel (diameter, 23.6 ft.) in the world. The subway was built by the city, but leased and operated by a private company on such terms as to repay its cost in forty years. Another tunnel has been added to the system, under Washington Street. The narrow streets and the traffic congestion of the business district presented difficult problems of urban transit, but the system is of exceptional efficiency. There is an elevated road whose trains, like the surface cars, are accommodated in the centre of the city by the subway. All the various roads—surface, elevated (about 7 m., built 1896–1901), and subway—are controlled, almost wholly, by one company. They all connect and interchange passengers freely; so that the ordinary American five-cent fare enables a passenger to travel between almost any two points over an area of 100 sq. m. The two huge steam-railway stations of the Boston & Maine and the Boston & Albany systems also deserve mention. The former (the North, or Union station, 1893) covers 9 acres and has 23 tracks; the latter (the South Terminal, 1898), one of the largest stations in the world, covers 13 acres and has 32 tracks, and is used by the Boston & Albany and by the New York, New Haven & Hartford railways.

A noteworthy feature of the metropolitan public water service was begun in 1896 in the Wachusett lake reservoir at Clinton, on the Nashua river. The basin here excavated by ten years of labour, lying 385 ft. above high-tide level of Boston harbour, has an area of 6.5 sq. m., an average depth of 46 ft., and a capacity of 63,068,000,000 gallons of water. It is the largest municipal reservoir in the world,[3] yet it is only part of a system planned for the service of the metropolitan area.

The park system is quite unique among American cities. The Common, a park of 48 acres, in the centre of the city, has been a public reservation since 1634, and no city park in the world is cherished more affectionately for historical associations. Adjoining it is the Public Garden of 24 acres (1859), part of the made area of the city. Commonwealth Avenue, one of the Back Bay streets running from the foot of the Public Garden, is one of the finest residence streets of the country. It is 240 ft. wide, with four rows of trees shading the parking of its central mall, and is a link through the Back Bay Fens with the beautiful outer park system. The park system consists of two concentric rings, the inner being the city system proper, the outer the metropolitan system undertaken by the commonwealth in co-operation with the city. The former has been laid out since 1875, and includes upwards of 2300 acres, with more than 100 m. of walks, drives and rides. Its central ornament is Franklin Park (527 acres). The metropolitan system, which extends around the city on a radius of 10 to 12 m., was begun in 1893. It embraces over 10,000 acres, including the Blue Hill reservation (about 5000 acres), the highest land in eastern Massachusetts, a beautiful reservation of forest, crag and pond known as Middlesex Fells, two large beach bath reservations on the harbour at Revere and Hull (Nantasket), and the boating section of the Charles river. At the end of 1907 more than $13,000,000 had been expended on the system. Including the local parks of the cities and towns of the metropolitan district there are over 17,000 acres of pleasure grounds within the metropolitan park district. Boston was the pioneer municipality of the country in the establishment of open-air gymnasiums. A great improvement, planned for many years, was brought nearer by the completion of the new Cambridge Bridge. This improvement was projected to include the damming of the Charles river, and the creation of a great freshwater basin, with drive-ways of reclaimed land along the shores, and other adornments, somewhat after the model of the Alster basins at Hamburg.

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See the annual City Documents; also Justin Winsor (ed.) The Memorial History of Boston, including Suffolk County . . . 1630–1880 (4 vols., Boston, 1880–1881), a work that covers every phase of the city's growth, history and life; S. A. Drake, The History and Antiquities of . . . Boston (2 vols., Boston, 1854; and later editions), and Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (Boston, 1873, and later editions); Josiah Quincy, A Municipal History of . . . Boston . . . to . . 1830 (Boston, 1852); C. W. Ernst, Constitutional History of Boston (Boston, 1894); H. H. Sprague, City Government in Boston its Rise and Development (Boston, 1890); E. E. Hale, Historic Boston and its Neighbourhood (New York, 1808), and L. Swift, Literary Landmarks of Boston (Boston, 1903). A great mass of original historical documents have been published by the registry department of the city government since 1876 (34 v. to 1905). Boston has been described in many works of fiction, and the reader may be referred to the novels of E. L. Bynner, to L. Maria Childs' The Rebels, to J. F. Cooper's Lionel Lincoln, to the early novels of W. D. Howells (also those of Arlo Bates), to O. W. Holmes' Poet and Autocrat, and Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, as

pictures of Boston life at various periods since early colonial days.

  1. On the alteration of streets alone $26,691,496 were expended from 1822 to 1880.
  2. Faneuil Hall is the headquarters of the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of Boston, the oldest military organization of the country, organized in 1638.
  3. The dam is 1250 ft. long, with a maximum height of 129 ft., only 750 ft. having a depth of more than 40 ft. from high water to rock. The entire surface of the basin was scraped to bed rock, sand or mineral earth, this alone costing $3,000,000. Connected with the reservoir is an aqueduct, of which 2 m. are tunnel and 7 m. covered masonry. The metropolitan system as planned in 1905 for the near future contemplated storage for 80,000,000,000 gallons, reservoirs holding 2,200,000,000 gallons for immediate use, aqueducts capable of carrying 420,000,000 gallons daily, and a minimum daily supply of 173,000,000 gallons.