Topographical History of South Boston


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Excerpt from Report of the Boston Landmarks. Commission, December 1970, Appendix III - TOPOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF SOUTH BOSTON 10 IJkrtpi South Boston's topography has been changed radically since it was severed from Dorchester and annexed to Boston in 1804. Then South Boston was a peninsula of approximately 570 acres, dominated by two prominent hills and separated from the Boston peninsula by South Boston Bay and the marshy Dorchester Flats. (Figure I) Today filling operations have altered all of South Boston's original shoreline; Castle Island has become part of the peninsula; the Fort Point Channel is only a vestigal remnent of the South Boston Bay; and Nook, Leek and Birds Hills have been cut down. During the 17th and 18th centuries South Boston served Dorchester as pasturage and remained wholly rural. It is believed that the first house was built on the peninsula in 167A and that the land was fenced off into lots only in 1718. General Howes' map of South Boston (Figure II), drawn for the British Army in 1775, shows only 14 buildings scattered along two roads - one running east/west along the present route of Broadway or 4t’ Street and another branching north off Dorchester Street to Nook.- Hill at about 7th Street. If one added half a dozen buildings, this map would depict the peninsula when it, with its population of 10 families, was annexed to Boston by an Act of the General Court. The annexation of South Boston resulted from a real estate speculation on the part of Joseph Woodward, Harrison Gray Otis, and others. Having acquired land on the peninsula, then called the Dorchester Neck, these men applied to the General Court to annex the whole area to the Town of Boston. After strenuous opposition from Dorchester, the General Court acted favorably upon the speculators' request. It is signi- ficant in the topographical history of South Boston that on the same day, March 6, 1804, that Governor Strong signed the annexation bill into law, he also approved bills incorporating both the South Boston Bridge Proprietors and the Front Street Corporation. In 1805, the South Boston Bridge Proprietors opened the peninsula's first direct link with Boston, a 1,551 foot bridge located on the site of the Dover Street Bridge. In conjunction with the construction of this bridge, the Dorchester and Milton Turnpike (today's Dorchester Avenue) was built extending from the South Boston end of the new

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