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West End

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Of the three projections of the Shawmut Peninsula, the West End attracted the least development during the colonial period. A tidal dam built in the mid-seventeenth century across the cove between the West and North ends proved a failure, being replaced between 1807 and 1828 by a regular grid of streets layed out by Charles Bulfinch (and since known as the Bulfinch Triangle). Institutions claimed some of the land along the river, such as the almshouse and jail—and later Massachusetts General Hospital (WE3). From the West End extended the first bridges to Cambridge: the West Boston Bridge (see EC2; 1795), replaced by the current Longfellow Bridge, and the Canal or Craigie Bridge (see EC2; 1807) to Lechmere, along the line of the later Charles River Dam. Over the course of the nineteenth century, most of the West End became densely packed streets of brick town houses and, later, of tenements. The succession of Boston immigrants—the Irish, the Italians, Eastern European Jews—came to live here in ethnic enclaves, focused on churches and synagogues.

The West End, however, is perhaps the most changed section of Boston. The rush to revive a stagnant city in the period of Urban Renewal led to the rapid demolition of an entire district of Boston. Forty blocks of brick residences fell to the wrecker's ball after the City of Boston's 1950 general plan declared the neighborhood to be “obsolete.” A few vestiges of its past survive, notably the First Harrison Gray Otis House (WE2) and Old West Church (WE1) near Government Center and institutional architecture near the river, the former Charles Street Jail (WE6) and Massachusetts General Hospital (WE3). The promises of improved housing for the former residents were never realized, as the new apartment buildings, such as Charles River Park (WE9), catered to a wealthier resident.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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