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South Boston

Home > Boston's Neighborhoods > South Boston

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.


  • 1624: David Thompson founds a trading post on Thompson's Island.
  • 1634: Thompson Island is made part of Dorchester. The town immediately taxes their new island neighborhoods and uses the money to establish the town's first school, the Mather School, under Reverend Thomas Waterhouse. At the same time, a fort is constructed on Castle Island.
  • 1637: Prior to this date, Dorchester Neck (known as "Mattapannock" by the Native Americans) is used by Dorchester settlers to graze animals. Telegraph Hill (Broadway and F Street) is home to a quarry. Native Americans have fishing rights at Powow Point (L Street Beach). Access to Dorchester Neck is via Native American paths that follow today's Dorchester and Emerson Streets. At this time, 100 citizens from Dorchester are given pasture rights on Dorchester Neck (today South Boston).
  • 1642: The lands of Dorchester Neck are laid out.
  • 1673: Captain Hepstill James Foster builds the first residential dwelling on Dorchester Neck (as opposed to the original settlements at "Mattapan") at Leek Hill (Today 2nd and Dorchester Streets).
  • 1680: James Blake builds the second house in Dorchester Neck near Five Corners (Emerson Street and Broadway). Today, the house has been moved to Dorchester where it is the home of the Dorchester Historical Society.
  • 1700: Three families live on Dorchester Neck.
  • 1750: There are seven houses on Dorchester Neck, belonging to James Blake, Benjamin Bird, James Foster, Oliver Wiswell Jr., and Richard Withington.
  • 1765: Stamps were held at Fort William, Castle Island after the British pass the Stamp Act that imposed a tax on deeds, property mortgages, playing cards, newspapers, college diplomas, etc. All of these colonial papers had to bear a stamp indicating that taxes had been paid on them to the English Crown. The Stamp Act infuriated the colonists who resented "taxation without representation." The colonists felt that their own local governments should have exclusive rights to tax the people since only these governments drew representatives from the American population.
  • 1774: 12 families live on Dorchester Neck in 9 dwellings.
  • 1775: Residents leave the area in case the British occupy town.
  • 1776: February 14, British troops sweep through Dorchester Neck burning everything. By March, the colonials have fortified the hills under the direction of General Thomas and set up batteries on the waterfront. When the British evacuate Boston on March 17, they burn Castle William.
  • 1776-1780: Paul Revere commands Castle Island.
  • 1785: Castle Island is converted into a prison community.
  • 1798: Castle Island becomes property of the federal government. The United States Public Health Service's first hospital is built on the island.
  • 1799: President John Adams orders the construction of Fort Independence (1801-1803), the seventh fort constructed on the island.
  • 1804: Boston annexes Dorchester Neck (and its 60 families) under heavy opposition from the town of Dorchester. The original boundary runs along 9th Street and the area's name is changed to South Boston.
  • 1804-1809: Mather Withington and Stephen Badlam survey and lay out the streets of Dorchester Neck in a grid-like pattern.
  • 1805: The 1,500 feet South Bridge is completed from Boston to Dorchester Neck to act as a Toll Road (4th Street-Dover Street).
  • 1810: Irish immigrant Thomas Murray is the first Catholic undertaker in the neighborhood.
  • 1811: Thomas Cain pioneers flint and round glass manufacturing (in the United States) from his factory on B and Second Streets.
  • 1812: Cyrus Alger's Iron Foundry on Dorchester Avenue (founded in 1809) supplies the United States with cannon balls during the War of 1812 and later the Civil War. His factory dominates the industrial life of South Boston and becomes the largest foundry in the country by 1850. The Iron Foundry builds the first rifle-cannon in 1834, the first malleable iron cannon in 1836, and improves time fuses for spherical shells. Alger is also is active in town politics.
  • 1812-1815: During the War of 1812, troops are stationed on D Street and Dorchester Heights is fortified.
  • 1818: St. Augustine's Chapel is the first gothic style Catholic Church in Boston.
  • 1818: Lot Wheelwright starts the first ship building company on Dorchester Street.
  • 1822: Noah Brooks founds a shipyard on F Street.
  • 1823: The Hawes School is built on Broadway Street.
  • 1825: Mayor Josiah Quincy installs a poorhouse, insane asylum, juvenile detention house, and prison in South Boston leading residents to feel that the neighborhood is the "dumping ground of the city."
  • 1826: The Boston Beer Company is founded on D and Second Streets.
  • 1828: Opening of the North Free (renamed Federal Street Bridge in 1856) Bridge.
  • 1829: An omnibus route is created from Boston along Broadway.
  • 1830: The South Baptist Church is founded on Broadway Street.
  • 1832: The Broadway Universalist Church is built upon Pill Hill and The Mount Washington Female Academy is founded.
  • 1836: Boston Wharf Company is founded to reclaim mudflats. In 1855, the company creates the Commonwealth Lands by filling part of the harbor.
  • 1836: The Pulaski Guards are located on C Street and Broadway. Their first leader is Colonel J.L.C. Amee. They later were an important part of Colonel Robert Codwin's 1st Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War.
  • 1838: The Mount Washington Hotel is built on Broadway Street. Later, the resort hotel goes bankrupt and the Perkins School for the Blind moves into the building and stays there until 1912 (when it then moves to Watertown).
  • 1842: C.C. Walworth founds a manufacturing company on East First Street where he produces Walworth radiators.
  • 1843: Several thousand Irish take a temperance pledge administered by Reverend Terence Fitzsimmons.
  • 1845: The South Shore Railroad extends across Fort Point Channel to South Boston.
  • 1847: Harrison Loring founds the City Point Works that makes marine engines, boilers, and paper mill equipment. In 1857, he begins building the first iron ships in New England. His first two vessels, South Carolina and Massachusetts are 1,150 ton steamships built for the Southern Steamship Company and City of Boston respectively. The Edison Plant is now located at the old City Point site.
  • 1849: Opening of Boston Reservoir in Thomas Park on Dorchester Heights. The park is named after General John Thomas who fought during the evacuation of the British in 1776. At the same time, the Board of Health tries to close St. Augustine's cemetery claiming that the graves are too shallow and therefore pungent. The board's action is actually a ploy so that local developers can buy the land and turn it into real estate. The ploy fails when Bishop John Fitzpatrick challenges the mayor.
  • 1851: Briggs' shipbuilding company builds the record breaking clipper ship The Northern Light. The eighth fort (and second Fort Independence) on Castle Island is constructed. It is essentially an overhaul of the seventh fort.
  • 1854: Introduction of the street railways of the Dorchester Avenue Company and the Broadway Company.
  • 1855: Andrew Square (formerly Washington Village), named for Governor John A. Andrew, is annexed to South Boston from Dorchester. The boundary is now at Washburn Street.
  • 1857: The Lawrence School is built on B and Athens Streets. It is the largest school in Boston at the time of it's construction.
  • 1859: The Lincoln School is established on East Broadway (Today it is home to a Boston Public Library branch). Irish begin moving to South Boston from Fort Hill.
  • 1863: The Carney Hospital is opened by Irish immigrant Andrew Carney, who made his fortune in the clothing business, on Telegraph Hill (at the former J. Hall Howe estate) for the free treatment of patients. After Carney's death the next year, the hospital is funded by begging nuns from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Today, the building is home to the Marian Manor Home for the Elderly.
  • 1866: Organization of the longest continually operational yacht club in Boston: The Boston Yacht Club.
  • 1868: The Norcross School is built on D and Fifth Streets in honor of Mayor Otis Norcross (1867).
  • 1869: The Shurtleff School is constructed on Dorchester Street and named after Mayor Nathaniel B. Shurtleff (1868-1870).
  • 1870: The Dorchester Street Methodist Episcopal Church is constructed.
  • 1871: The first Mass is given at Saint Augustine's Church on Dorchester Street.
  • 1872: Julia Ward Howe, author of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" establishes "Mother's Day." The Church of Saint Vincent de Paul is moved to South Boston from Fort Hill.
  • 1873: The Gaston School, after Mayor William Gaston, is built on L and Fifth Street.
  • 1874: George Lawley arrives in South Boston where he becomes a leading manufacturer of yachts and sloops.
  • 1875: The Grace Episcopal Church is built on Dorchester Street.
  • 1878: The City Point Methodist Episcopal Church is built and the John A. Andrew School is constructed on Dorchester Street. It is named after Governor Andrew.
  • 1879: The Phillips Congregational Church (organized 1823) is built on Fourth Street (now on Atlantic).
  • 1882: Irish born resident Patrick Collins becomes the first Irishman elected to the United States Congress.
  • 1884: Isaac and Stephen Jenney found Jenney Manufacturing Company, which is taken over by Bernard and Francis Jenney and turns out 500 barrels of oil a day by the turn of the century.
  • 1885: The Church of the Redeemer is built on East Fourth Street to serve the Episcopal community. The South Boston branch of the Boston Public Library is constructed.
  • 1887: Employees of the South Boston Railroad Company go on strike for a month.
  • 1890: The Federal Government transfers Castle Island to the City of Boston.
  • 1892: A bridge to Castle Island is constructed.
  • 1893: A statue is dedicated to Civil War hero Admiral David G. Farragut in Marine Park.
  • 1895: The wharf district is created along Summer Street and Northern Avenue by massive filling. Early manufacturing shifts to the wool trade except for machine/tool making factories and engineering companies. The Head House is constructed at Marine Park.
  • 1896: James Brendan Connelly of the Suffolk Athletic Club wins the first gold medal at the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece for the triple jump. He drops out of Harvard to attend the games.
  • 1896: The community is shocked when four children drown when a float tips over at Castle Island.
  • 1898: Four people are killed at Castle Island during the Spanish-American War when the last batch of defensive mines they were removing from the harbor accidentally explode.
  • 1899: The Congress Street Bridge is built and remains a major route from Boston to South Boston. The same year, St. Peter's is built for Lithuanians and presided over by Reverend John Zilinskas.
  • 1900: The Bigelow School is founded and named after Mayor John Bigelow.
  • 1901: King C. Gillette invents the 'safety razor' at the Gillette Razor Company Plant on Dorchester Ave.
  • 1901: The first St. Patrick's Day parade is held. The town library closes under the auspices of celebrating Evacuation Day that commemorates the British evacuation of Boston during the American Revolution.
  • 1901: South Boston High School opens.
  • 1902: The Dorchester Heights memorial is dedicated.
  • 1903: The Edison Plant is established and helps expand electricity throughout Boston.
  • 1909: Austrian Alois Anderle completes the first Boston Lighthouse Marathon Swim. The event is a ten mile race from Charlestown Bridge, east of Governor's Island, west of Long Island, west of George's Island, and finishing at Little Brewster Island where the nation's first lighthouse was built in 1716. Anderle is later disqualified for walking across an exposed sandbar at Nix's Crag. The next year, 15 year old Rose Pitonof wins the race with a time of 6 hours and 50 minutes. Her record stands for several years. The race itself is discontinued after World War II.
  • 1910: Filling has increased the size of South Boston from 600 acres to 1333 acres. South Boston hits its peak population: 71,703. Lithuanians, Poles, and Italians move into Dorchester Street breaking the near monopoly the Irish have among the immigrant population.
  • 1912: The South Boston Municipal Building is built on the site of the former Perkins School for the Blind. The Boston Fish Pier, designed by Henry Keyes, is constructed on Northern Ave. The Strandway, or Columbia Road, is laid out from Dorchester Ave. to Marine Park, City Point.
  • 1917: A U.S. Army Base is built in the neighborhood near Black Falcon Pier. Boston is the military and naval headquarters of New England during World War One and the prime shipping port to England. Boston Harbor is mined and a net is stretched across its opening both to protect against enemy submarines.
  • 1922: A wooden bridge between Castle Island and Marine Park is constructed. At the same time, part of the Czechoslovakian Constitution of 1918 is written at the Czechoslovakian Club on Columbia Road. Jan Mazaryk, the first president of the Republic of Czechoslovakia was a South Boston resident for a time.
  • 1919: 1,134 Boston police go on strike protesting their lack of unionization. Angry mobs attack the police and vandalize and loot Boston's Neighborhoods. Mayor Peters finally calls in the National Guard who fire on a crowd in South Boston killing three and wounding many.
  • 1926: A subway route runs under Fort Point Channel-Dorchester Avenue.
  • 1928: Route 203 from Dorchester to Brookline is named after James A. Gallivan, a South Boston resident who served in both the Massachusetts and United States House of Representatives.
  • 1932: Castle Island is joined to the mainland by a road.
  • 1938: During the Depression, the Public Works Administration Housing Division builds the Old Harbor Village housing project (later renamed the Mary Ellen McCormack Project).
  • 1939: The Boston Housing Authority constructs the Old Colony Project to supply low cost housing for the poor.
  • 1950: State Senator John Powers of South Boston is the first Democrat elected as President of the State Senate.
  • 1952: Kelly's Landing burns down thereby depriving Bostonians of one of the best places to get fried clams in the city.
  • 1959: A dike is constructed from Castle Island to Sugar Bowl thereby enclosing Pleasure Bay.
  • 1962: John W. McCormack (1891-1980) is the first Roman Catholic elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
  • 1964: Castle Island (1953) and its beaches (except L Street) are placed under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan District Commission.
  • 1974: After a ruling by Judge W. Arthur Garrity, the city desegregates Boston's schools including South Boston's. There is extreme controversy, violence, and protest in South Boston in an effort to stop busing. Twenty-five years later it is still impossible to write a brief history which all sides might agree upon.
  • 1981: The South Boston Vietnam Memorial is erected.
  • 1983: Raymond Leo Flynn is elected Mayor of Boston. He is the first Boston mayor from South Boston. He is re-elected three times before leaving to become United States Ambassador to the Vatican in 1993.
  • 1991: The Korean War Memorial is erected on Castle Island.
  • 1995: The Church of Saints Peter and Paul (founded 1844), the second oldest Catholic Church in Boston closes.
  • 1997: The United States Supreme Court supports the South Boston Allied War Veterans right to determine who can participate in their annual St. Patrick's Day parade. This same year sees long time South Boston politician and President of the Massachusetts Senate William M. Bulger made President of the University of Massachusetts.
  • 1998: The Evelyn Moakley and New Northern Avenue Bridges are constructed.
  • 1998-1999: The waterfront area filled in during the 1850s becomes the focus of a huge planning and speculative push after the Commonwealth decides to site a new convention center in the area that is variously called the "Seaport" area or the "South Boston Waterfront."
  • 1999: The New Broadway Bridge is constructed. The 200th anniversary celebration of the construction of Fort Independence takes place this summer.

Further Reading

  • Gillespie, Charles Bancroft. Illustrated History of South Boston. South Boston: Inquirer Publishing Co., 1900.
  • Loftus, Patrick Jr. That Old Gang of Mine. South Boston: 1991.
  • Massachusetts Historic Commission Reconnaissance Survey Report, South Boston, December 1980.
  • O'Connor, Thomas H. South Boston, My Home Town: The History of an Ethnic Neighborhood. Boston: Quinlan Press, 1988.
  • Rankin, Edward and Toomey, John. History of South Boston: Its Past and Present. Boston, 1901.
  • Sammarco, Anthony Mitchell. South Boston. Images of America. Charleston, S.C.: Temple Pub., 1996.
  • Simonds, Thomas C. History of South Boston, Formerly Dorchester Neck. Boston: 1857.
  • Toomy, John J. and Rankin, Edward P.B. History of South Boston. Boston: 1901.





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