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Topographical History of South Boston


Text from Document

Excerpt from Report of the Boston Landmarks.
Commission, December 1970, Appendix III -
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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