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BC: Indians construct fish wiers in the Back Bay.
Evidence is first found in 1913 when excavating for
the subway under Boylston Street.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first Museum
of Fine Arts building is completed on the present
site of Copley Plaza hotel.
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.
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
Children's Hospital is built on Huntington Avenue
near where the Boston Symphony Orchestra is now.
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
Batavia (now Symphony) Road is laid.
Franklin Park is finished, completing Frederick Law
Olmsted's Emerald Necklace.
Westland Avenue, Astor Street (now Burbank Street)
and Gainsboro Street are laid
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.
Street railway lines run on Huntington Avenue, and
Boston Street, Massachusetts Ave., and Boylston Street.
The electrification of the trolley system is complete.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist opens on Caledonian
(now Norway Street) and Falmouth Street.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
moves to its new home at 300 The Fenway that is designed
by Peabody and Stearns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
& 1916: Wentworth Institute of Technology
is built at 360 Ruggles Street by Kilham and Hopkins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Boston Conservatory, founded in 1867, moves to
the building on the Fenway that was formerly the Boston
The Huntington Avenue line of the MBTA opens.
of Music is founded and is located on Massachusetts
The National Braille
Press, which was founded in 1927, moves to St.
Stephen Street in the Fenway.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
- Fenway. The Boston 200 Neighborhood History Series. Boston: Boston
200 Corporation, 1976.