Exploring Boston's Neighborhoods
Boston Landmarks Commission
BOSTON LANDMARKS COMMISSION
THE ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT
CITY OF BOSTON
THOMAS M. MENINO, MAYOR
Five islands in Boston Harbor, connected and extended by over 150
years of filling operations, make up the neighborhood of East
Boston. Development of the area for homes and businesses began in
the 1830s under the direction of the East Boston Company, making
this community one of the city's few neighborhoods created with a
formal urban plan. East Boston's harbor location enabled it to
become a center for shipbuilding and other marine industries, and
some of America's most famous clipper ships were built here.
LINKING THE ISLANDS
For Boston's first 200 years, the five islands that now make up East
Boston were mostly privately owned and used for farming, grazing
livestock, and military fortifications. Noddle’s Island and Hog (or
Breed's) Island, the two largest of the group, form the basis of the
current residential and commercial sections of East Boston. The
three smaller islands-Governor's Apple, and Bird-have been
incorporated into Logan Airport.
PLANNING A NEW NEIGHBORHOOD
In 1833, General William H. Sumner, the owner of Noddle's Island,
formed the East Boston Company to oversee the residential and
commercial development of East Boston. The company shaped the
neighborhood for nearly a century until it disbanded in 1928. The
developers had a planned community in mind, with a grid of straight
streets and square to provide open space. The original plan divided
Noddle's Island into three sections, today's Jeffries Point,
Maverick and Central Squares, and Eagle Hill. The hilly terrain of
the Orient Heights are (on the former Hog Island) prevented the
company from extending the strict grid-like pattern there.
Believing that reliable transportation would be essential to the
neighborhood's accessibility, the East Boston Company in 1833
established steam ferry service from Maverick Square to Rowe's Wharf
in downtown Boston. The developers also planned for the community to
contain a mix of homes, maritime and other industries, and
CLIPPER SHIP DAYS
East Boston began to grow and prosper as a shipbuilding center
virtually as soon as the neighborhood’s first ship was launched in
1839. Shipbuilding and servicing industries came to line East
Boston's waterfront, helping make Boston one of the leading ports in
the country. East Boston was home to the Border Street shipyard of
Donald McKay, the designer of noted clipper ships, including the
world- famous Flying Cloud, which broke the established record for a
voyage around Cape Horn. Many other shipyards, wharves, and
warehouses lined the waterfront, and around 1840, East Boston became
the Boston terminal for the London-based Cunard line. Even after the
age of wooden sailing ships passed, East Boston remained a center
for shipping and marine repair. There was also a diversified base of
non-marine industry producing everything from paint to pottery.
The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer was designed by Patrick C.
Keeley, architect of many Boston-area churches, including Our Lady
of the Assumption at Jeffries Point.
IMMIGRATION AND DIVERSITY
As an arrival point with many employment opportunities, the
neighborhood grew rapidly during the age of large-scale immigration.
East Boston's immigrants came in waves -- Canadians in the 1840s and
Irish in the 1850s. Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants
began to arrive in the 1890s, and in the first years of the 20th
century the neighborhood had what may have been the largest Jewish
community in New England.
Also at the turn of the century, Italian immigrants began to settle
in East Boston, becoming the major ethnic group in the neighborhood
by 1915. Today, East Boston continues this long tradition of
The changing ethnic make-up of the neighborhood is visible in East
Boston's religious institutions. The first Roman Catholic parish
completed the Gothic Revival-style Church of the Most Holy Redeemer
(70 Maverick Street) in 1857, during the decade of heaviest
immigration from Ireland. The church complex also includes the
nearby convent (1867), rectory (1867), and school (1893). In 1844,
the first Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts was laid out on
Wordsworth Street; Ohabei Shalom Cemetery, affiliated with Temple
Ohabei Shalom of Brookline, is still in use today. The Don Orione
Brothers complex, including the highly visible Madonna National
Shrine, was begun in 1952.
The McKay House is typical of the Greek Revival style in having the
entrance in the gable end. Builders' style handbooks may have been
the source of many of its details.
EARLY HOUSING IN EAST BOSTON
In the 1830s, the East Boston Company envisioned a neighborhood of
single -family residences. Many of the surviving early dwellings-
clustered in Eagle Hill, Jeffries Point, and Belmont Square- are in
the Greek Revival style. Modeled after the temples of the Greek
republic, houses of this type were popular throughout the early U.S.
A notable example of this style is the wood frame house built by the
shipbuilder Donald McKay in 1844 at 78-80 White Street, now a
designated Boston Landmark. Belmont Square (now Brophy Memorial
Park) was the location of some of the first lots sold by the East
Boston company because of its desirable hilltop views. Its Greek
Revival dwellings include the row of nine brick bowfront houses at
177-193 Webster Street and the finely detailed brick double house at
224 Webster Street. East Boston also contains houses in other
popular mid-19th century revival styles, including the Italianate
and French -inspired Mansard cottages in Eagle Hill.
BOSTON LANDMARK TRINITY NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE
This handsome brick townhouse at 406 Meridian Street was built about
1847 for Noah Sturtevant, a prominent local businessman. An
asymmetrical plan with curved front and side window bays adds to its
elegance. The design reflects the transition between the bowfronted
facades and delicate details of the Federal style and the simpler,
heavier forms of the Greek Revival.
In 1917, 406 Meridian Street became Trinity Neighborhood House and
Day Nursery, an innovative social service and day care program begun
by Trinity Church in Boston in 1881. At the turn of the century,
this early example of a "settlement house" moved to East Boston and
incorporated as an independent charitable organization which in 1966
merged into the East Boston Social Center, Inc. The building has
recently been rehabilitated to provide housing for elderly
As an official Boston Landmark, the exterior of this building is
protected from changes that would adversely affect its historic
character. For information on designating local landmark buildings
and districts, please contact Boston Landmark Commission at
NEW HOUSING NEEDS
The influx of immigrants to East Boston between the Civil War and
World War I created a need for multi-family housing. Many
single-family houses were subdivided, and tenements were constructed
in the older parts of the neighborhood. The brick apartment
buildings in the six-block area between Porter and Maverick streets
date to this period of expansion.
By the 1880s, the development of Orient Heights had begun on the
former Hog or Breed's Island. This area and nearby Harbor View
contain many examples of the Colonial Revival and related styles
that recall the buildings of 18-century America.
The growing importance of automobiles created demand for easier
access to and from Boston by car. The Sumner Tunnel, Boston Harbor's
first auto crossing was completed in 1934, followed by the Callahan
Tunnel in 1961. The Third Harbor Tunnel , scheduled to open in 1955,
will link East Boston with the Massachusetts Turnpike and South
Commercial air travel is the most recent transportation technology
to have had an impact on East Boston. The original airfield opened
in 1923 on the filled flats of Jeffries Point, and passenger service
began in 1929. Landfill on Governor's and Apple islands expanded the
airport to 2,000 acres in 1948, and in 1966 Wood Island Park was
given over for additional runway space. The airport operated under
various city and state jurisdictions until the Massachusetts Port
Authority was formed in 1959. Now named Gen Edward Lawrence Logan
International Airport, the facility is one of the earliest municipal
airports in the country and its original General Aviation
Administration Building (1927) is still in use, although greatly
RESORTS AND RECREATION
At the time the East Boston Company was formed, both Chelsea and
Nahant were popular resort areas, and the developers saw the same
potential for East Boston. Their idea paid off when the 80-room
Maverick House Hotel in Maverick Square began attracting visitors as
soon as it opened its doors in 1835. Maverick House was the first of
several hotel buildings on this site to serve vacationers and
travelers transferring from ships and trains.
The tradition of recreation has continued in a variety of ways.
Incorporated in 1879, Jeffries Point Yacht Club was the first
chartered yacht club on the East Coast. In the 1890s, the city
established a major recreational development in East Boston. Now,
only the large trees shading Neptune Road recall the entrance to
Wood Island Park (later known as World War Memorial Park). Designed
by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect responsible for
Boston's park system, Wood Island Park covered 46 acres. Its many
facilities-men's and women's open air gyms and running tracks,
playgrounds, grandstand, field house and bath house-attracted 43,000
visitors in 1895. Unfortunately, Wood Island Park was taken by
airport expansion in 1966.
In 1935, New England's first major horse race track opened in East
Boston with 35,000 fans in attendance. The Suffolk Downs Racetrack
with its grandstand and clubhouse, all designed by engineer Mark
Linenthal, was built in less than three months. The streamlined,
modernist features of this complex (located off William McClellan
Highway near the Revere border) characterize the International
Style, rarely seen in Boston's neighborhoods.
THE EXPLORING BOSTON'S NEIGHBORHOODS SERIES IS
PUBLISHED BY THE BOSTON LANDMARKS COMMISSION.
Official Boston Landmarks are protected from changes that would
adversely affect their historic character. For information on
designating local landmark buildings and districts, please contact
the Boston Landmarks Commission at 635-3850.
The Exploring Boston's Neighborhoods Series has been financed in
part by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation
and in part with funds from the National Park Service, U.S.
Department of the Interior, through the Massachusetts Historical
Commission, Secretary of State Michael Joseph Connolly, Chairman.
However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of the Department of the Interior. This program
receives federal financial assistance for the identification and
protection of historic properties.
The U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the
basis of race, color, national origin, age, gender, or handicap in
its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been
discriminated against in any program, activity or facility as
described above, or if you desire further information, please write
Office for Equal Opportunity, 1849
C Street NW, Room 1324,
U.S. Department of the Interior,
Washington, DC 20240.
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