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Home > Boston's Neighborhoods > Fenway/Kenmore

Learn more about your ancestor's neighborhood through the timeline, find more information in the Further Reading section, or use the links to experience life in that community today.


  • 3000-1500 BC: Indians construct fish wiers in the Back Bay. Evidence is first found in 1913 when excavating for the subway under Boylston Street.
  • 1630: John Winthrop sends out colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Company to find suitable sites near rivers around the Boston colony. William Pynchon heads the group which claims Roxbury two miles to the south. Pynchon is the earlier name of Columbus Avenue. Many of these Roxbury settlers come from Essex County in the east of England.
  • 1658: John Pierpont builds a tidal mill where the Stony Brook empties into the tidal basin of the Back Bay near what is now the intersection of Ruggles and Parker streets.
  • 1775: General George Washington builds a ring of fortifications on the hills surrounding Boston during the Siege of Boston by the British in the Revolutionary War. A redoubt (earthen fortification) is built to protect Roxbury town landing which is near the intersection of Ruggles and Parker Streets.
  • 1813: Uriah Cotting proposes building a dam across the Back Bay in an attempt to provide Boston with more mill sites (81) than in any other American seaport. The main dam is now Beacon St. and the cross dam, which divided the Back Bay into a full basin and a receiving basin, is now Parker/Hemenway Street. The mills are located on Gravelly Point where the Christian Science Church is now. The mills when built in 1818-1821 are not a success since there is not adequate power for the tidal mills and it prevented the sewage which drained into the receiving basin from the surrounding areas from being carried off by the tides.
  • 1820: Two Breweries are first attracted to this area by springs along the Stony Brook. In the years prior to Prohibition, Boston has more breweries per capita than any other American city. Most of the breweries are owned and operated by German immigrant master brewers and their families. By the early 20th century, skilled German workers are doing the inside work while Irish workers are doing the teaming.
  • 1825: Ruggles Street is named in honor of the Ruggles family who figure prominently in the early history of Roxbury and fight on both sides during the Revolutionary War. Parts of Ruggles Street were laid out in 1663 where it and Cabot Street form the old town way that lead to Gravelly Point, now the area around Massachusetts Avenue.
  • 1834: Sewall and Day Cordage Mill is built on Parker Street near where the Museum of Fine Arts is now. Because of its innovative manufacturing techniques, it becomes the largest cordage mill in Boston, outfitting many of the clipper ships. The Sewall and Day Cordage Mill constructs housing for their workers on Parker Hill. Both the Boston and Worcester Railroad and the Boston and Providence Railroad are laid across the Back Bay, the former where the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail is now and the latter where the MBTA Orange Line runs. The two sets of tracks cross near the present Back Bay MBTA station. The railroad embankments further impede the flow of water in the Back Bay.
  • 1854: The Back Bay has become a cesspool and it is decided to fill in the area enclosed by the Mill Dam and to extend the sewers out beyond the dam. The Boston Water Power Company, which operates the mills, and the state divide the receiving basin with the state getting the area between Exeter and Fairfield Streets and the Boston Water Power Company, the rest. The land is to be developed to keep wealthy residents in the city rather than moving to the suburbs to flee the Irish. The wealthy residents are valued as both voters and taxpayers.
  • 1869: Many of the German families who own and staff the Stony Brook breweries are Roman Catholics and they persuade the Catholic Church to invite the largely German Order of the Sons of St. Alphonsus (Redemptorists) to establish a mission in their neighborhood. The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (the Mission Church as it is more commonly known) is built from 1876 to 1878. The congregation grows rapidly and becomes predominately Irish. By the early 1890s there are more than 9,000 members and Parker Hill becomes more commonly known as Mission Hill.
  • 1871: Professional baseball is first played in Boston on the South End Grounds on Walpole Street off of Columbus Avenue. In 1897 the Boston Bean Eaters (later renamed the Boston Braves) capture the National League Championship. In 1953 the Boston Braves leave for Milwaukee.
  • 1872: The Great Fire of Boston consumes 65 acres and leaves a charred center where much of Boston's Financial District has been. In the late 1800s, a number of institutions including the Massachusetts Historical Society, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra decide to resettle near the Fens instead of downtown.
  • 1875: Boston establishes a three member Park Commission to create healthful recreational lands for the rapidly growing city. The tidal marshes and flats of the Back Bay are polluted by the Muddy River and the Stony Brook (the Stony Brook Valley has become increasingly industrialized) and are prone to flooding. In the mid-19th century, Boston waste water, and sewage are carried off by a system of storm drains and sewers that empties at the nearest shoreline.
  • 1876: The first Museum of Fine Arts building is completed on the present site of Copley Plaza hotel.
  • 1881: Col. Henry Lee Higginson funds and establishes the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association is the first institution to move into the Fenway and is built on Huntington Avenue and West Newton Street. The New England Manufacturers and Mechanics Institute is built further up on Huntington Avenue on what is now Northeastern University's campus. It is largest structure of its kind in the world.
  • 1881-1885: Frederick Law Olmsted designs and constructs a park which solves the major drainage, flooding, and pollution problem caused by the sewage and stagnant waters of the Muddy River and the Stony Brook that flow into the Back Bay. Earth moving and dredging operations reshape the Muddy River and the salt marshes and the Stony Brook is put into a conduit. The land is then replanted to look like a fresh water marsh on the Muddy River and a salt-water marsh on what Olmstead names the Back Bay Fens. This becomes the first in a series of connected parks and waterways now known as the Emerald Necklace. Later landfill is added to the two existing peninsulas in the area 1.) Gravelly Point, now the site of the Christian Science Church Complex, and 2.) Sewall's Point, which includes the present Kenmore Square and Audubon Circle. Because of the dams and railroads across the Charles River Basin, these new neighborhoods develop their own street grids.
  • 1881-1914: Children's Hospital is built on Huntington Avenue near where the Boston Symphony Orchestra is now.
  • 1883: The Huntington Avenue Land development, which has been delayed by the Great Fire of 1872 and the Panic of 1873 is now moving forward and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has purchased a site along the Boston and Providence Railroad. Huntington Avenue is named for Ralph Huntington (1784-1866), the former president of the Boston and Roxbury Company which built the Mill Dam.
  • 1885-1890: Batavia (now Symphony) Road is laid.
  • 1886: Franklin Park is finished, completing Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace.
  • 1888-1920: Westland Avenue, Astor Street (now Burbank Street) and Gainsboro Street are laid
  • 1890s: Tuft's School of Medicine and Dentistry are built on Huntington Avenue, now part of Northeastern University's campus. Later Tufts relocates these schools to a more downtown location while other medical schools move out to the Longwood Medical Area.
  • 1892: Street railway lines run on Huntington Avenue, and Boston Street, Massachusetts Ave., and Boylston Street. The electrification of the trolley system is complete.
  • 1894: The First Church of Christ, Scientist opens on Caledonian (now Norway Street) and Falmouth Street.
  • 1898: What is now Northeastern University is founded as part of the Boston YMCA. The University develops along Huntington Avenue, with gradual growth acceleration in the 1950s and 1960 setting the pace in establishing cooperative education among American universities.
  • 1899: The Massachusetts Historical Society, which was founded in 1791, moves to the Fenway at 1154 Boylston Street. Their new home is designed by Wheelwright and Haven. Robert Treet Paine builds the first house in the Audubon Road (now Park Drive) and Queensbury Street area. Paine, the philanthropist who founded the Wells Memorial Workingman's Institute in 1879, is also involved with the American Peace Society and the Watch and Ward Society. Architect C.A. Cummings, who also designs the Old South Church on Boylston Street, designs the home.
  • 1900: Boston Symphony Orchestra moves from the Music Hall in downtown Boston to its new home on Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues. The building is designed by the distinguished New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White in collaboration with Harvard scientist and acoustic expert Wallace Clement Sabine. It is the first music hall ever to have rationally planned acoustics.The Boston Medical Library opens on the Fenway and the building is now part of the Boston Conservatory of Music.
  • 1901: Horticultural Hall, of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, founded in 1829, moves from smaller quarters downtown to its new home on Massachusetts Avenue across from Symphony Hall. Designed by Wheelwright and Haven, the building features a large exhibition space for horticultural shows. The Huntington Avenue Baseball grounds is built on what is now Northeastern University's campus and is home to the Boston Pilgrims(later called the Boston Red Sox). The first World Series is played here in 1903 and over the years more than 20 Hall of Famers, including Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Connie Mack played baseball on these grounds.
  • 1902: Avenue Louis Pasteur is proposed to connect the new site of the Harvard University Medical School to the Back Bay Fens. Simmons College welcomes its first class of students to its new home on the Fenway.
  • 1903: The New England Conservatory of Music founded in 1867, moves to its new building at 290 Huntington Avenue which is designed by Wheelwright and Haven.The United Drug (Rexall) is established on Leon Street, now part of Northeastern University's campus, and becomes the headquarters of the world's largest organization of franchised drugstores. Cotting School for Handicapped Children is built on St. Botolph Street. Jordan Hall is built and is the gift of Eben D. Jordan, the founder of Jordan Marsh. Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner opens her "palace," reminiscent of the Doges' Palace in Venice, and designed with a plant filled interior courtyard by Willard T. Sears as a home for herself and her art collections at 280 The Fenway. Originally she had planned to expand into the neighboring town house in Back Bay but her husband who had ties to Boston Brahmin Society, boldly suggests building in the newly filled Fenway area. She celebrates the opening by purchasing Titian's Rape of Europa and Rembrant's Self Portrait and is wisely guided in her selections by Bernard Berenson.
  • 1904: Simmons College moves to its new home at 300 The Fenway that is designed by Peabody and Stearns.
  • 1906: Fenway Studios Building is constructed at 30 Ipswich Street and is designed as studios and living spaces for artists by Parker and Thomas and modeled after the ateliers in Paris. The building was conceived of and funded by Eben Jordan, the founder of Jordan Marsh Company and a patron of the arts. Harvard Medical College constructs five marble buildings designed in the Classical Revival style by Shepley, Rutan, and Collidge on Longwood Avenue at Avenue Louis Pasteur.
  • 1908: Boston Opera House is built on Huntington Avenue at Opera Place as a gift from Eben D. Jordan, founder of Jordan Marsh. The huge theater had 2750 seats and boxes and was designed by Wheelwright and Haven. Enrico Caruso performs there in 1912, his only Boston appearance. The building is demolished in 1958 and the site is now part of Northeastern University's campus.
  • 1909: The Museum of Fine Arts moves from its Copley Square location to Huntington Avenue as does the School of the Museum of Fine Arts which was founded in 1877.
  • 1910: The Charles River Dam is constructed and the tidal flooding (and cleansing) of the Back Bay Fens abruptly stops. Olmstead's thoughtfully recreated salt marsh dies off and the area is again foul. Boston Arena is built on St. Botolph Street and it is the oldest indoor ice arena in the country. The arena also houses other major sporting activities including the Bruins (1924) and the Celtics (1946) first ever home games. Now known as Matthews Arena, it has been renovated and is part of Northeastern University.
  • 1911 & 1916: Wentworth Institute of Technology is built at 360 Ruggles Street by Kilham and Hopkins.
  • 1912: Peter Bent Brigham Hospital is built on Huntington Avenue and Francis Street on land sold to them by Harvard so the medical students could have clinical training in hospitals near the school, an innovative idea at the turn of the century. The hospital is designed by Codman and Despradelle. Blackstone Cigar Factory is built at 716 Columbus and is the largest in the world. The building has been renovated and is part of Northeastern University. The Boston Red Sox celebrate their first baseball season in Fenway Park by winning the World Series against the New York Giants. Today the Landsdowne Street area is also home to a thriving night club scene.
  • 1913: The Boston YMCA is completed at 312-320 Huntington Avenue from a design by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. The first YMCA in this country, it was founded in 1851 and later offers educational programs that develop into Northeastern University.
  • 1914: Childrens Hospital move to 300 Longwood on land that was sold to them by Harvard so their students could have clinical training. The hospital is designed by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge.The Forsyth Institute (formerly the Forsyth Dental Center) is built at 140 The Fenway to provide dental care for children and training for clinicians. The building is designed by Edwars T.P. Graham and is a gift from the Forsyth brothers. Wheelock College, which is founded in 1888, opens on the Riverway. The College focuses on teaching, child life, and social work. The Students House is built at 96 The Fenway and provides supervised housing for young women attending nearby colleges. Women from Emmanual Church in the Back Bay first start this much needed service in rental facilities in 1902. The building is designed by Kilham and Hopkins, a Boston architectural firm interested in housing reform and is now part of the Northeastern University campus.
  • 1916: The famed Reverend Billy Sunday (the "Baseball Evangelist") preaches to 1,500,000 people in his portable tabernacle on Huntington Avenue (now part of the Northeastern University campus) during the ten weeks he is in Boston. 64,484 come forward to declare themselves converted.
  • 1917: The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health builds on Longwood Avenue. Founded in 1823, it is the second oldest college of pharmacy in the United States.
  • 1918: The School of Practical Arts is founded. Now known as the Art Institute of Boston, it is associated with Lesley College and is located at 700 Beacon Street.
  • 1919: Emmanuel College is founded as a convent and academy. Mainnis and Walsh, architects for many of Boston's Roman Catholic institutions, design the building at 400 The Fenway.
  • 1920s -1930s: The Back Bay Fens is largely redesigned in a more formal style by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, who reconfigured the waterway to form a reflecting pool for the new Fenway façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, filled in the lagoons for playing fields, and added a formal rose garden.
  • 1920s-1940s: Massachusetts Avenue is known as Little Harlem for its jazz night life. Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald all perform here. It is the era of the big band, ballrooms, nightclubs, theaters, and first run movie houses.
  • 1922: Boston Latin School moves to 78 Avenue Louis Pasteur in a building designed by James McLauglin. Originally founded in Roxbury in 1635, Boston Latin School is the oldest public school in the United States.The Harvard School of Public Health is established in the Longwood Medical Area.
  • 1923: The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England is built at 520 Parker Street. The exterior is designed by Worcester architect, Hachadoor S. Demoorjian, and the interior is the unique collaboration of three of Boston's most important designers and scholars: Ralph Adam Cram (chair of MIT School of Architecture), Kenneth Conant (Harvard professor), and Charles J. Connick (a noted stain glass designer). The first Greek Orthodox Church in Boston is first established in rental quarters in 1899 and then in its own building on Winchester Street in 1907, which was the fourth Greek Orthodox in America. Between the 1890s and 1910 many Greeks emigrate to Boston and later a number of Greek immigrants who had settled in small New England towns move to Boston.
  • 1928: The Sears Building is completed at the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Park Drive as a retail store and mail order facility for Sears, Roebuck, & Co. This is the last of ten Sears mail order plants around the nation designed by Chicago architect George C. Nimmons. The facility adds 1200 new jobs to the economy and the post office opens a parcel branch on site to handle the added volume. Sears closes the facility in the mid 1980s but it reopens after extensive renovations in 2000 as Landmark Center.
  • 1930: Massachusetts College of Art, founded in 1873, builds on Brookline Avenue in the Fenway. Later it moves to Huntington Avenue to the former Boston Normal School. Massachusetts College of Art is the only public art school in the country.
  • 1936: The Boston Conservatory, founded in 1867, moves to the building on the Fenway that was formerly the Boston Medical Library.
  • 1941: The Huntington Avenue line of the MBTA opens.
  • 1945: Berklee College of Music is founded and is located on Massachusetts Avenue.
  • 1947: The National Braille Press, which was founded in 1927, moves to St. Stephen Street in the Fenway.
  • 1950: Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, which has its first church in Boston in 1910, builds on Park Drive. The Russian Orthodox religion had spread from Alaska to California during the gold rush and also from the Russian immigrants coming to the East Coast.
  • 1959: Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, buys the State Theater from Loews for the Catholic Church. However, the project proves too expensive so he leases the building to Carmel Quinn, an Irish singer, and her husband. Later, the building is sold to the Christian Science Church.
  • 1996: Colleges of the Fenway is formed. Emmanuel College, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Wheelock College join together to form a consortium.
  • 1998: The Mayor of Boston declares Huntington Avenue as the Avenue of the Arts and the area extending from Copley Square through the Fenway to the Longwood Medical Area as the Fenway Cultural District.
  • 1999: After two devastating floods in three years, the governor, the city of Boston, and the town of Brookline start the greatest restoration of the Emerald Necklace since its creation by Frederick Law Olmsted over one hundred years ago.

Further Reading

  • Fenway. The Boston 200 Neighborhood History Series. Boston: Boston 200 Corporation, 1976.




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