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South Boston

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Among the city's most dramatic stories of topographic change, South Boston more than doubled its landmass through extensive landfill operations that began in the early nineteenth century, extending to Dorchester Bay to the south, inner Boston Harbor to the east and north, and Fort Point Channel to the west. Telegraph Hill and Brush Tree Hill, now the location of Independence Square (SB19), originally dominated the peninsula that connected to the mainland at Dorchester Neck. In 1804, Boston annexed South Boston, laying out a grid pattern for future development with Broadway and L Street as the principal axes. The investors' hopes for financial gain were delayed until the construction of a free bridge across Fort Point Channel to Boston in 1827. Industrial development followed with several ironworks and the creation of the Boston Wharf Company in 1836. The latter pioneered in landfill for wharves along the Fort Point Channel. The construction of the Old Colony Railroad tracks in 1845 along the western edge of South Boston to the Fort Point Channel reinforced the potential of the Boston Wharf Company holdings. This industrial expansion generated substantial residential development throughout South Boston, making it the largest of the city's wards by 1855. After the Great Boston Fire of 1872, Poles, Lithuanians, and Italians moved into the area west of Dorchester Street, displacing the earlier Irish immigrants into the neighborhoods around Telegraph Hill and Independence Square. Roman Catholic church towers came to dominate the skyline, with the exception of the Revolutionary War monument on Telegraph Hill. The rubble from the massive Boston fire also augmented South Boston, providing fill for continued expansion of the Boston Wharf Company holdings in the 1880s. Further industrial development in this northern section cemented the immigrant, working-class character of South Boston in the early twentieth century. Construction of Commonwealth Pier (1900), the Fish Pier (1914), and the Boston Army Supply Base (1918) constantly enlarged the landmass and the opportunities for industrial and maritime employment. This economy remained strong until after World War II, when industrial contraction and the popularity of Boston Harbor for shipping began to decline. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the South Boston Seaport again appears as the city's most promising area for new development.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Keith N. Morgan

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