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Blog :: 07-2018

Boston's Neighborhoods: How They Got Their Names.

By Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston

Geography, infills, independence movements—all played roles in shaping the city’s positional vocab.Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

Boston is named after the town of Boston in eastern England. But what about the city’s neighborhoods? A lot of them have similar roots in old Albion, while a sizable chunk are tethered etymologically to geography. 

Read on for the origin stories of Boston’s 22 large neighborhoods.

Allston

This neighborhood was for years simply the stockyards and rail yards of the town of Brighton. It also had a post office and quite a bit of woodlands. 

One gentlemen who liked to hike the woodlands was the painter Washington Allston, who lived across the Charles River in Cambridge.

By the time Boston annexed the area in 1874, it was known by his surname.

Back Bay

This photo from 1858 shows the Back Bay on the left and the Charles River on the right.  Public domain.

There is a reason many people call this neighborhood the Back Bay: From 1857 to 1882, one of the largest urban infrastructure projects in U.S. history filled in about 450 acres of pestilential tidal basin known colloquially as “the Back Bay.” 

Beacon Hill

 

A depiction from 1811 of the reduction of Beacon Hill to 80 feet from 138.  Wikimedia Commons

Multiple hills—some say three, some say five—comprised what became Beacon Hill, one of the first settled areas on the Shawmut Peninsula.

One of those hills became known as Beacon Hill because of a signaling beacon on it; and the name stuck. 

Bay Village

The smallest neighborhood that the city itself breaks out, Bay Village was born in the 1820s as the collection of homes for the workers who built the tonier nearby Beacon Hill. Therefore the architecture looks similar. 

Bay Village used to go at various times by the Church Street District, South Cove, and Kerry Village. Bay Village stuck, perhaps given its immediate geographic proximity to the pre-infill Back Bay. 

Brighton

Brighton was its own town until Boston annexed it in 1873. 

By that point, it had been independent for only about half a century; and, before that, was known, along with what became Allston, as an agricultural and cattle-rustling appendage of Cambridge that went by the diminutive nickname Little Cambridge. 

It changed its name to Brighton, after a town in southern England, upon independence in 1807. 

Charlestown

Charlestown was named for—wait for it—an English king named Charles; in this case, Charles I, the Stuart on the losing end of the English Civil War. 

Europeans began settling what became Charlestown in 1629—20 years before Charles I lost his head—and it remained an independent municipality until 1874, when Boston annexed it. 

Chinatown

This neighborhood is named after its predominant ethnic group; though rising housing costs and other reasons for emigration have reduced the number of residents of Chinese descent. 

Dorchester

A regional map from 1858.  Walling, H. F.—David Rumsey Collection

Boston’s largest neighborhood by area is named for Dorchester, a town in southern England. 

Dorchester, USA, was an independent town until 1870, when Boston gobbled it. As a town, it included parts of what became known as South Boston. 

East Boston

The infill-spurred linkage over 150 years of five islands east of Boston formed this neighborhood. And the “east of Boston” bit gave it its name. 

The neighborhood’s private developers saw to its annexation to Boston in 1836. 

Fenway

Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans for the Back Bay Fens, circa 1887  Public domain

Take your pick: This neighborhood’s name came either from the Back Bay Fens, a park that landscape architect extraordinaire Frederick Law Olmsted designed, or from a road that ran along it. Fens, incidentally, is a term to describe a marshy or flood-prone area, which this eventual neighborhood was.

Boston annexed Fenway and its Kenmore Square and Audubon Circle areas from Brookline in the 1870s.  It’s sometimes called “the Fenway”—often an unconscious nod to the theory that the neighborhood was named for the road. 

Hyde Park

Boston’s southernmost neighborhood—and the last to be added through annexation, in 1912—is named after the park in London dating from the 1630s. 

Jamaica Plain

This is another tossup in terms of origin. JP was either named after the Caribbean island from which some residents drew their wealth via the slave-driven rum and sugar trades; or after the Anglicization of the name of a Native American leader. 

Or! As in the case of Jamaica in Queens, New York, it comes from the name of a Native American tribe called the Jameco. 

JP became part of Boston in 1874. Interestingly, it was part of the town of Roxbury and parts of Jamaica Plain became the town of West Roxbury. 

Major Boston Developments: 9 Projects Transforming The City.

By tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston

Boston is famously in the midst of a building boom—and not a moment too soon given the cost of housing in the city

Here are nine major projects under construction that are not only transforming Boston’s built environment, but providing a real-time gauge of its real estate. How these go, so will likely go the commercial and residential markets overall.

1. Fenway Center

Massachusetts Turnpike
Boston, MA 02215

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Developers Meredith Management, Gerding Edlen, and TH Real Estate officially broke ground in late January 2018 on the five-building, 1.1 million-square-foot Fenway Center where Brookline and Commonwealth avenues meet.

The groundbreaking capped veritable eons of planning and readjustments for what’s become one of Boston’s most anticipated projects. Lead developer John Rosenthal of Meredith had been trying to build at the 4.5-acre site for nearly 20 years.

The infrastructural alchemy inherent in the project, which includes building over the Mass. Pike, as well as financing challenges had delayed it interminably.

All totaled, it’s expected to have around 650 housing units, 160,000 square feet of offices, 50,000 square feet of retail, 1,290 parking spaces, community space, a daycare center, bicycle storage, and a bike-share station.

The first phase includes two apartment buildings with 313 units total.

2. The Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences One Dalton Street

1 Dalton St
Boston, MA 02199

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The Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences One Dalton Street—a.k.a. One Dalton—is almost finished, according to developer Carpenter & Company.

Workers with Suffolk Construction have raised the condo and hotel tower to its 60th floor and have been adding about one and a half floors per week. That means it will soon reach its 61st and final floor any minute now.

When all is said and done, the 742-foot property will be the tallest new tower in Boston since 200 Clarendon opened in 1976. It’s already the city’s third-tallest building.

And, due to myriad reasons that include construction costs, a dearth of sites, and shadows, One Dalton will likely be the last Boston tower—the last New England tower—of more than 700 feet for a long, long while.

One Dalton is due to include 215 Four Seasons hotel rooms that the international hospitality firm will manage and 160 luxury condos (which Four Seasons will also service). The architect is a collaboration between Cambridge Seven Associates and Henry Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed. Cobb, incidentally, designed 200 Clarendon (formerly known as the Hancock).

One Dalton is expected to top off in July, and to start opening in March 2019.

3. Back Bay/South End Gateway

100 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

Developer Boston Properties plans to build 1.26 million square feet of housing, offices, and retail over and around Back Bay Station (and to redevelop the garage at 100 Clarendon Street in the process). 

The Boston Planning & Development Agency signed off on the plans in November 2017, capping well over a year of wrangling, in particular because of the shadows it would likely cast. One of its three new towers is expected to reach 364 feet.

Boston Properties reached a deal with opponents concerned about the shadows just before the November vote. The developer will pay $3 million to opponents such as the Old South Church to mitigate the impact and a further $3 million to an affordable housing fund that Boston runs.

The project is envisioned as a kind of transformative gateway connecting Back Bay and the South End; and includes improvements to the station itself.

Rendering via Pelli Clarke Pelli/Boston Properties

4. The Hub on Causeway 

100 Legends Way
Boston, MA 02114

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Developers Boston Properties and Delaware North officially broke ground in January 2016 on the humongous project at the old Boston Garden site. It continues to unfold and is part of a forest of new development around North Station

Ultimately, what’s dubbed the Hub on Causeway will mean more than 1.5 million square feet of shops, restaurants, offices, hotel rooms, and residences, as well as an expansion of nearby TD Garden and transit improvements to North Station.

Phase I is expected to wrap in 2018 (it topped off in January). It includes flourishes such as the city’s largest supermarket; a 15-screen movie theater; 10,000 square feet of outdoor space for a new entrance to TD Garden and North Station; and 175,000 square feet of what the developers are calling “creative office space.”

Phase II will include a 440-unit, 38-floor residential tower and a 260-key, 10-floor micro-hotel; and Phase III is an office tower with a proposed height of 495 feet.

The Hub on Causeway under construction in March 2018.  Boston Globe via Getty Images

5. Bulfinch Crossing

100 Sudbury St
Boston, MA 02114

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The ongoing conversion of the 2,300-space garage at 50 Sudbury Street is expected to produce 812 residential units, 196 hotel rooms, 1.15 million square feet of office space, and 85,000 square feet of retail.

Dubbed Bulfinch Crossing, The conversion will produce six buildings with 2.9 million square feet total. (Here is a cool timelapse video of part of Government Center Garage being demolished.)

Interestingly, in the summer of 2017, HYM announced that 118 apartments in the project’s 45-story, 486-unit rental tower were going condo instead—likely a nod to Boston’s incandescent sales market. The HYM Investment Group, the developer behind the project, expects to finish that residential tower by 2020.

6. Winthrop Square Garage tower 

115 Devonshire St
Boston, MA 02109

The Boston Planning & Development Agency in mid-May 2018 approvedthe development of the former Winthrop Square Garage in the Financial District into a 690-foot tower of condos and offices.

The building will be one of the tallest new ones constructed in Boston since at least the mid-1970s, and the BPDA’s approval caps nearly two years of back and forth on its height and scope.

It was once slated to stretch to 775 feet, making it the second-tallest building in Boston—in New England—behind 200 Clarendon. As it looks now, the Winthrop Square tower will still rank among the 10 tallest in the city and the larger region.

But! The BPDA wants developer Millennium Partners to reexamine the 1.6 million-square-foot tower’s size and density before it can get building permits. Whether that reexamination leads to any (other) changes still remains to be seen, though.

As of early July 2018, the BPDA signoff appeared to be the tower’s last major hurdle to development. The garage itself has been demolished in preparation for construction.

Rendering via Handel Architects

7. Omni Boston Seaport Hotel

370-430 Summer St
Boston, MA 02210

What will be the fourth-largest hotel in Boston got officially underway in late May 2018 with a groundbreaking that drew VIPs such as Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh.

The $550 million Omni Boston Seaport Hotel will plant 1,055 rooms on Summer Street across from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport District.

The project goes back to 2017, when the Massachusetts Port Authority designated a development team that includes Omni Hotels & Resorts to build on a state-owned parcel in order to boost the room count in an area still underserved hospitality-wise—despite the convention center being right there.

The 21-story complex will include 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space of its own, including the largest hotel ballroom in the Seaport District. Interestingly, too, six local nonprofits will share in the hotel’s profits; and the developers pointed out in the spring of 2018 that the Omni inn will create between 700 and 1,000 permanent jobs.

There is one potential snag for the whole affair, which is supposed to be finished in 2020: Money management giant Fidelity Investments has sued the developers over the name. Fidelity’s own Seaport Hotel opened in the neighborhood 20 years ago.

The two sides continue to wrangle as of early July.

8. EchelonSeaport

133 Seaport Blvd
Boston, MA 02210

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Developer Cottonwood Management officially broke ground in June 2017on this 1.33 million-square-foot project on 3.5 acres of very, very valuable land at B Street and Seaport Boulevard. Sales started about 10 months later (and the units ain’t cheap). 

The three-building project is set to have 717 apartments and condos. Its 447 condos will constitute the largest single amount of for-sale housing in the Seaport District. A third tower will have apartments.

EchelonSeaport will include 50,000 square feet of in-house amenities—among them two outdoor pools, a fitness center, and two so-called sky lounges—and a 19,000-square-foot landscaped plaza accessible to the public and 125,000 square feet of restaurants and retail over two levels.

There will also be enough parking in two garages for each condo to have one space. 

The towers are expected to start opening in late 2019.

9. Suffolk Downs 

525 William F McClellan Hwy
Boston, MA 02128

The Boston Planning and Development Agency in early February 2018signed off on plans for two office buildings at the site of the shuttered Suffolk Downs racetrack on the Boston-Revere line off the busy, busy Blue Line.

That was the second key approval the site received toward the start of 2018, with the state expediting an environmental green light for redevelopment there. And the city’s zoning appeals board green-lighted the office-building construction shortly after the BPDA approval. 

Why all the thumbs-up? Because if one site in the Boston area is going to host Amazon’s second headquarters, it’s the 161-acre East Boston parcel. The area was among the 20 finalists for that second HQ that Amazon named shortly after the start of 2018.

Come what may, Suffolk Downs developer HYM Investment Group plans to build big, big, big at the juicily located site, near as it is to two Blue Line stops and Logan Airport. With or without Amazon, HYM plans on 16.5 million square feet of new residential, retail, office, hotel, and lab space built out over as long as two decades.

Eleven million square feet of that would go in Boston and 5.5 million in Revere.

Rendering via HYM Group