The 1840s–1870s was a tremendous period of growth for the city of Boston and for the South End neighborhood in particular. Created by landfill operations initiated first in the early 1800s and growing dramatically in the 1840s, the South End was envisioned as a middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood. Large red brick bowfront row houses with steep stoops lining linear parks epitomized the look of the fashionable new neighborhood. Many Bostonians had begun to move from the crowded city core to towns such as Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, and the city government saw an experiment like the South End as one that would allow Boston to maintain a strong tax base.
Not only residents but also dozens of downtown Boston churches were feeling pressured by expanding businesses and began to search for new homes. The land creation scheme in the South End provided homes to numerous congregations, old and new alike. The land on the south side of Washington Street, however, was deemed a less desirable location. It would also become home to industries and to Boston City Hospital and other social service operations.
The success of the South End was short-lived. The creation of the adjacent Back Bay, beginning in the late 1850s, lured the middle class away from the area, which quickly changed to accommodate the poor as well as new immigrants. The area ultimately became one of the most densely inhabited sections of the city, home to crowded boarding houses and to the earliest settlement houses. The proximity of the South End to the central city and the surviving stock of fine brick residences made the neighborhood a natural target for gentrification in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The creation in 1973 of the South End National Register Historic District and of a Boston Landmarks District here in 1983 encouraged and regulated the restoration of historic structures. The dismantling of the elevated trolley line along Washington Street in the late 1980s spurred further redevelopment at the center of the district. Despite this rediscovery by the middle class, which places pressure on the poorer residents of the district, the South End remains one of the most racially and economically diverse sections of Boston.
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