The Massachusetts city and state capital of Boston is world–renown for its rich intellectual, political, technological, social, and cultural history. Founded on September 17th, 1630 by a group of Puritans from Massachusetts Bay Colony and incorporated in 1822, Boston’s past is replete in pivotal events and people who have shaped much of today’s Northeast. Leading up to the American Revolution in the 1770s, Bostonians joined the ranks of American colonies that became contentious against their British rulers. The city was a shining example in the call for independence with events such as the Boston Tea Party, Boston Massacre, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston. Following the American Revolution, Boston became one of the foremost leaders in the international sea trade with goods such as rum, fish, salt, tobacco, and so on. Later in 1870, Boston’s trading economy was greatly reduced due to the Embargo Act and so focus shifted to manufacturing, which was spurred on by the growth in the railroad industry and the use of the river system. In addition, Bostonians were also heavily involved in the leading literary and cultural movements of the time, as well as many of them being staunch supporters in the abolitionist movement.
Throughout the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Boston grew into its own distinct identity, which included a diverse and expanding population that was mostly due to immigration. For instance, there was a high influx of Irish immigrants in the 1850s, which along with other foreigners, led to quite a number of ethnically distinct neighborhoods by the end of the nineteenth century. During this period of population increase, Boston was also desirous to physically grow in size. The city began to widen its limits with the aid of land reclamation projects, some of which became the foundations for a few of Boston’s twenty–one neighborhood such as Back Bay.
Meanwhile, as time surged into the twentieth century, Boston faced a slew of difficult times and significant loss with events such as World War I, World II, the 1919 Boston Molasses Disaster, the 1942 Cocoanut Grove Fire, the 1963 assassination of Boston–born President, John F. Kennedy, and a severe economic decline of which the city did not see the signs of recovery until the 1970s. In an effort to combat such dismal conditions, the Boston Redevelopment Authority led large–scale urban renewal projects, which greatly helped to revitalize and uplift the city into more positive times for development. Living through these shifts in policy, population, economy, and so forth were a number of notable residents such as the first published black poet in America Phyllis Wheatley, Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, author Louis May Alcott, poets and writers Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath, actress Uma Thurman, and United States senator for Massachusetts and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry.
Boston’s population may be comprised of multiple and diverse layers of people, traditions, and beliefs but when seen from a larger perspective, a distinctly singular and unique culture emerges. Many Bostonians are joined together with the well–known Boston Accent, a wide variety of cuisine, the Irish American influence, fierce loyalty to its home sports teams (Boston Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics), festivities (Italian summer feasts, Fourth of July), and numerous institutions for the arts (Museum of Fine Arts), sciences, (Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum), and religion (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Unitarian Universalism, Episcopal Diocese), all of which makes Boston one of a kind.
In concern to Boston’s academic standings, the city founded the nation’s first public school, the Boston Latin School, and is host to more than 100 colleges and universities such as Boston University, Emerson College, Massachusetts College of Art, New England School of Law, Northeastern University, as well as the city’s near proximity to Cambridge, which is home to the world-renown institutions of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Boston also has the oldest public school system in the nation and currently has around 57,000 students from pre–k to grade 12. In 2002, Forbes Magazine listed Boston as the best large city school system in the country. Furthermore, Boston has a number of charter, private, and parochial schools, as well as being a strong participant in the METO (Metropolitan Educational Opportunity Council) program where minority students are given the opportunity to attend suburban schools. In getting to and from Boston, there is a wide selection of ways to get around from just using your own two feet to the long list of MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) services such as the subway, bus, and commuter rail. There is also the Logan International Airport, Norwood Memorial Airport, Hanscom Field Airport, and Beverly Municipal Airport, along with I–90, I–95, I–93, US–1, and Route 128.
Boston does not stand on its own but is comprised of twenty–one neighborhood, all of which come together to create the city that Boston has become and continues to evolve into. These neighborhoods include:
Allston/Brighton, Back Bay, Bay Village, Beacon Hill, Charlestown, Chinatown/Leather District, Dorchester, Downtown/Financial District, East Boston, Fenway–Kenmore, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, North End, Roslindale, Roxbury, South Boston, South End, West End, and West Roxbury.
Some of the more notable neighborhoods are the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway–Kenmore, North End, South End, and South Boston, as well as the triangle grouping of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan:
Born from a landfill project to expand Boston’s city limits in 1857, the Back Bay is one of Boston’s most prominent and wealthiest neighborhoods. In terms of architecture, the Back Bay spans an array of styles from the Victorian brownstone of its residential area to skyscrapers in its more commercial district. The Back Bay’s reputation as a high–end residential, commercial, and retail neighborhood is maintained through its well–known spots such as Newbury Street, Boylston Street, the Prudential Center, and Copley Square. Additionally, the Back Bay is notable for being home to the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Berklee College of Music, a number of luxury hotels (i.e. Mandarin Oriental, Lenox), the Gibson House Museum, 111 Huntington Ave., and the John Hancock Tower.
Built in 1795, the infamous Beacon Hill has the reputation as Boston’s wealthiest and most affluent neighborhoods. Located near the Boston Commons and the Boston Public Gardens, Beacon Hill has a classic architectural feel with its Federal-style rowhouses amid narrow streets, brick sidewalks, and soft-lit gas lamps. The neighborhood has a history full of people, events, and landmarks, all of which have left a distinct impression both within and outside of Boston. Beacon Hill has been home to notable residents such as Louis May Alcott, John Singleton Copley, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Abigail Johnson, Daniel Webster, John Hancock, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and Jr., Edward M. Kennedy, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Prescott, Robert Gould Shaw, and John Kerry. During the Antebellum period, the residents of Beacon Hill were a decisive and influential force behind the anti-slavery movement such as with the development of what was known as Black Beacon Hill, an area of the neighborhood where prominent black leaders addressed the public at the African Meeting House. Moving into more modern times, Beacon Hill has seen the addition of a number of institutions to its areas such as the Unitarian Universalist Association, Suffolk University and Suffolk University Law School, the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Bulfinch Pavilion and Ether Dome, the Massachusetts State House, and even the Bull and Finch Bar where the popular hit–show Cheers was filmed.
Constructed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Fenway–Kenmore neighborhood is rarely referred to by its proper name, as locals prefer to separate it into either Fenway or Kenmore Square. Fenway itself is comprised mostly of apartment buildings and divided into the sub-neighborhoods of East Fenway/ Symphony and West Fenway. Within both Fenway–Kenmore, the area is heavily populated with student residents as most of Kenmore has been transformed into Boston University dormitories. In addition, Fenway–Kenmore is home to quite a number of other academic and specialty institutions such as the Art Institute of Boston, Northeastern University, Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts College of Art, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Simmons College, Boston Conservatory, Wheelock College, Emmanuel College, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services. Besides the neighborhood’s academic community, Fenway–Kenmore is host to an array of popular sites such the infamous Fenway Park, the giant CITGO sign, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and is also nearby to the Fens, which is a part of the Emerald Necklace park system.
North End Known as Little Italy due to its extensive selection of Italian restaurants and heavy Italian–American population, the North End is Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood as it dates back to the 1630s. During the neighborhood’s earlier years, it fluctuated through a number of minority populations. The North End was the first neighborhood to have a community of black people that was comprised of freed and escaped slaves. Later as the years passed, the black population was surpassed by the Irish and then by a strong Jewish population, which all eventually gave way for the current Italian community in the twentieth century. During this time, the North End made the headlines with the Boston Molasses Disaster on January 15th, 1919, where a large tank of molasses burst apart, rushed through the North End, and ended up killing twenty–one people and injuring around one hundred and fifty others. A few decades later, there was also the Great Brinks Robbery on January 17th, 1950, which had been the largest robbery in the nation. Walking through the North End today, the neighborhood’s long history can be traced through its exterior, which is said to reflect every style of American architecture. In addition, there are a variety of significant landmarks scattered throughout the community such as the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, the Pierce–Hichborn House, a portion of the Freedom Trail, the Clough House, the Skinny House, which is the narrowest house in Boston, and Copp’s Hill, one of the oldest cemeteries in the nation.
Founded in 1738, Boston’s South End developed from a construction project that expanded Boston’s city limits and which lasted from the 1830s to the 1870s. The majority of the South End’s architecture hails from the mid–19th century with bowfront red brick buildings, all of which were meant to attract a strong middle–class. Over time, this initial goal was shifted as the South End became more of a tenement district. Settlement housing sprang up with buildings such as the South End House, Haley House, Lincoln House, the Harriet Mill House, and the United South End Settlement. Following along with these developments, a more racially and sexually diverse population melded together with a mix of homosexuals, Lebanese, Irish, African–Americans, and Greeks.
In terms of culture, the South End has a deep-rooted history in the jazz world. During the 1950s, the neighborhood was filled with an extensive collection of jazz clubs such as the Royal Palms, Eddie Levine’s, the Pioneer Club, Handy’s Grille, Tic–Toc, Connolly’s, Estelle’s, the Hi-Hat, The Savoy, The Cave, Basin Street, Louie’s Lounge, and Wally’s Paradise. Currently, only Wally’s still remaining open for business. The South End is also known for one of its streets: Tremont Street, which is more commonly referred to as “ Restaurant Row” for its wide selection of international cuisine. Furthermore, the South End is supported by a number of community centers such as the Boston Center for the Arts, the Boston University Medical Center, the South End Community Health Center, Youth Enrichment Services, South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust, Union Park, South End Historical Society, Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, and the United South End Settlements.
Located south and east of the Fort Point Channel and adjacent to Dorchester Bay, South Boston, or “Southie” as known by the locals was founded in 1804 and is a neighborhood in Boston. Currently, South Boston is considered a working-class Irish–American neighborhood, though the area is also home to a mix of Polish and Lithuanian communities. In the past, South Boston has had its place in American history as during the American Revolution George Washington situated his army there and forced the British troops out of the area. Moving into more recent times, South Boston an increased amount of attention in the 1970s when its schools refused to follow the court mandate for classroom desegregation. A few decades later in the 1990s, another controversial issue came up over whether homosexuals were to be allowed to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Besides such contentious events, South Boston has been home to notable residents such as Eugene F. Laylly, a rock scientist who invented digital photography and James Connolly, who is known for his writing, athleticism, and reputation as the first modern Olympic champion.
In addition, South Boston has a number of well–known landmarks, which include the nation’s first Vietnam veterans memorial, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Dorchester Heights where many people go to view the Fourth of July fireworks, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the parkland and beach area at Pleasure Bay, M Street Branch and Carson Break, and Castle Island, which holds the historic Fort Independence. There are also some of the nation’s oldest public housing projects such as West Ninth Street, Old Colony, Mary Ellen McCormack, and West Broadway. Furthermore, South Boston is host to a number of community centers and institutions such as the South Boston Neighborhood House, Boys and Girls Club of Boston, the South Boston Branch Library, the South Boston Community Health Center, and a few houses of worship, particularly those of Catholic, Albanian, Orthodox and Episcopal denominations. In terms of education, South Boston has eight public schools that start at the elementary level and go through high school: James Condon Elementary School, Joseph P. Tynan School, Michael J. Perkins School, Oliver Hazard Perry School, Patrick F. Gavin Middle School, Odyssey High School, Monument High School, and Excel High School. The South End also has three private schools: South Boston Catholic Academy, St. Peter Academy, and Julie’s Family Learning Center, as well as two cultural and language schools: Szkola Jezyka Polskiego w Boston ( John Paul II Polish School for Children and Teens) and Wood’s School of Irish Dance.
The Triangle: Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan
Boston’s largest neighborhood in both population and land size, Dorchester or “Dot” was settled and incorporated in 1630, only to be later annexed by Boston in 1870. Throughout Dorchester’s past, the neighborhood has had its place in historical events such as in the American Revolution where many of the neighborhood’s men were active and killed in battle. The neighborhood has also had quite a number of firsts as it was the birthplace of the first public elementary school: the Mather School, the first town meeting in 1633, the first chocolate mill in the mid–1760s, and also the first community health center: Geiger–Gibson Community Health Center. Later into the late 19th and 20th centuries, the people of Dorchester were heavily involved in social activism and had the first integrated neighborhood developed there. Within this social realm, Dorchester was home to the infamous civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as female suffragist Lucy Stone. As of today, Dorchester is primarily a working-class neighborhood and comprised of African Americans, European Americans, Caribbean Americans, Latinos, and Eastern and South-Eastern Asian Americans, along with an increasing stream of young professionals, homosexuals, and artists. In terms of education, Dorchester’s students are served by the Boston Public Schools system with academic institutions such as Dorchester Education Complex, Edward G. Noonan Academy for Business, Public Service and Law, Boston Latin Academy, Harbor School, Mather Elementary School, a few parochial schools, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Labouré College.
The Boston neighborhood of Roxbury was founded in 1630, incorporated as a city in 1846, and later annexed as a part of Boston in 1868. Currently, Roxbury’s residents refer to it as the “ heart of the Black culture in Boston” as it is host to events such as the Roxbury Film Festival, which works to promote the film projects of people of color. Yet before the high influx of African Americans to the neighborhood, Roxbury in the 19th century was home to a high English, Irish and German immigrant population. In addition, half of Roxbury at the time was industrial-based while the other half was focused on agriculture, which was also subtly intertwined with a rise in streetcar suburbs. In the 20th century, a larger Jewish and Irish population arose and settled into Roxbury, though it was not until the 1940s and 1950s that there was a mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North, of which many came to live in Roxbury.
In moving away from Roxbury’s demographics, the neighborhood was unfortunately affected by the 1980s crack epidemic and an increase in violent crime. Still, Roxbury managed to push forward with efforts to revitalize and protect the community, which also positively affected the area’s commercial and residential development. In terms of education, Roxbury is served by the Boston Public School system and has a number of academic institutions located within its limits such as Roxbury Latin School, a top-notch boys boarding school, Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, Roxbury Community College, Gordon–Conwell Theology Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education, and Eastern Nazarene College.
Once a part of Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan became integrated with Boston when Dorchester was annexed in 1870. During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Mattapan experienced an increase in its commercial and residential sectors due to the development of railroads and streetcars. Mattapan’s population also went through a redistribution shift in the 1960s and 1970s as the predominant group, the Jewish population, moved out and was replaced by African Americans and Caribbean Americans. Part of the reason for this turnover has been linked to blockbusting and white flight. As of today, the African American and Caribbean American communities have remained, though a growing Haitian population has also joined them.
Mattapan’s architectural style consists of a variety of public housing, small apartment buildings, single-family houses, and two and three-family houses, which are otherwise known as “three-deckers or triple-deckers”. Mattapan’s commercial center lies at the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan Square with shops such as Payless Shoe Store, T–Mobile, Jax Liquidation Outlets, Salameh Furniture, and Rainbow. In terms of education, Mattapan is served by the Boston Public School system with a selection of schools such as Ellison/Parks Early Education School, James J. Chittick, Mildred Avenue K–8 School, Mathematics Pilot K–8 School, and Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, a branch of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
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