East Boston, Massachusetts

East Boston, Massachusetts

East Boston was annexed by the City of Boston in 1836 and is separated from the rest of the city by Boston Harbor and bordered by Winthrop, Revere, and the Chelsea Creek. Directly west of East Boston across Boston Harbor is the North End and Boston's Financial District.


Early history

The landmass that is East Boston today was originally five islands — Noddle, Hog (later Orient Heights), Breed's, Governor's, Bird and Apple — that were connected using landfill, the latter three as part of the expansion of Logan Airport during World War II. Not long after the settling of Boston, Noddle Island served as grazing land for cattle.

In 1801 William H. Sumner had proposed to the Federal Government that a turnpike that was planned to connect Salem to Boston take its route over the as yet undeveloped Noddle’s Island. He argued that the route over Noddle’s Island would be more direct and easier to develop. He stated

"… in my opinion that the circular route from Chelsea thro’ Charlestown to Boston is about 1 of a mile farther than a direct course over Noddle’s Island in Boston. ….. The course suggested will be almost in a direct line, from my knowledge of the land….On the back part of the Island is a muddy creek and the distance of the Island to Boston is not so great by one third, I presume as it is from Chelsea to Moreton Point in Charlestown. …. There is no doubt that but that the necessities of the town of Boston will some require a connection with Noodle’s Island with the town of which it is part." [http://www.helloboston.com/BookFiles/Chap14_The_plans_for_improvement1.pdf History of East Boston, William Sumner, Chap. 14] ]
The one issue that Sumner foresaw but tried to gloss over was the land on Charlestown that was purchased by the federal government as the site for a future naval yard. The ships route from this yard to the ocean would be blocked by the bridge. His belief was that since a standing navy was in such disfavor at that point in the nation’s history that this issue would not stand in his way. However the War of 1812, which was viewed as a naval war, changed the public's opinion about the needs for a navy. Because the route through East Boston and over the Boston Harbor would block ships' route to the future Charlestown Navy Yard the turnpike was set to go through Chelsea as opposed to over Noddle’s Island.

Formation of East Boston Company

Sumner began to make his move for the acquisition of all of Noddle’s Island upon the death of Colonel Greenough who had been a long time holdout against selling to Sumner. Greenough died of apoplexy, his wife and children wanted to rid themselves of their portion of the island. Interestingly in 1836 Sumner married Greenough’s widow, Maria Foster Doane. General Sumner, with the assistance of his newly acquired business partners Steven White and Francis J. Oliver, purchased this at $100 an acre or $32,500. This purchase gave Sumner control of one half of the island. In February 1832 after Sumner, White and Oliver had control of half the island, the group formed the East Boston Company. They stated that their half of the island was to be divided into 666 shares and that the island would be managed by a board of directors who would be able to sell or dispose of the company’s interest in the island. Realizing that establishing transportation to the local was imperative in its formation they were dedicated to pushing for a railroad from Boston to Salem over the island and to establish a ferry between the island and Boston. Each share of the Company was equal to half an acre. There were 5,280 in total, of which Sumner owned 1320, Mrs. Gerard 880, Steven White 880 and Oliver 440; the rest were spread among 29 other shareholders. By the end of 1833, the East Boston Company had complete control over the whole island. [http://www.helloboston.com/BookFiles/Chap14_The_plans_for_improvement1.pdf History of East Boston, William Sumner, Chap. 14] ]

Connections to the mainland

East Boston’s largest problem was transportation – Earlier attempts to bring in a highway failed. Being an island, East Boston could not become a valuable asset until people had a reliable way to reach the area. The East Boston Company understood this. Initially as a temporary solution they adopted a "four man power paddle boat" to carrying 15 persons at a time from Boston Proper to East Boston. This was used primarily for the occasional public official and workers on the island. Later even though they did not have the ridership to support one, the company purchased the steamship Tom Thumb. This was a temporary solution until ferry service could be implemented.The Steam powered railroad at this point was in its infancy and the East Boston Company was approached by an inventor of a new type of rail system, "the suspended railroad". This was one of the earliest suspended railroads to be built. The cars were humorously named "Saddle bags" and fit 6 persons each. They were propelled by a steam engine hanging from a suspended track. Henry Sargent, the inventor, presented it as a wonder that people from Boston would flock to and "that his invention would make the island a centre of attraction to many people" [http://www.helloboston.com/BookFiles/Chap15_The_east_boston_company1.pdf History of East Boston, William Sumner, Chap. 15] ] The company allowed this to be built on its land and it was an attraction for nine days in 1834 and then was closed because of lack of ridership.

In the mid 1830s the company made several investments and moves to further East Boston’s desirability. They continued the attempts on getting the Eastern Railroad to come to East Boston, "The Maverick" and "The East Boston" Ferries began service from Lewis’s Wharf on the Boston mainland to East Boston, a free bridge to Chelsea was built, roads were laid out and houses were built. Much of this activity was being spurred by the formation of the East Boston Lumber Company. During this period the Boston Sugar Refinery was built. It was the first manufacturing establishment in East Boston and is credited for the creation of white granulated sugar. [http://www.vintagevolumes.com/sugar_glossary.htm Sugar History site] ]

Later History

The character of the area changed when the marshland was filled in and the streets laid out. Since the mid-19th century, the community has served as a foothold for immigrants to America: Irish and Canadians came first, followed by Russian Jews and Italians, then came Southeast Asians, and, most recently, large numbers of Central and South Americans.

The population of East Boston, which was recorded as a mere thousand in 1837, exploded to a high of just over 64,000 according to the 1925 census. Most of these were families from southern Italy. Today the neighborhood is home to slightly more than 38,000 people, with the median income per household around $31,000. Current demographic is a true potpourri of cultures, with groups of residents of Italian, Central American, Vietnamese, and even Irish descent populating various enclaves of the neighborhood. Though the North End is today thought of as Boston's "Little Italy," Orient Heights, the historic hill in East Boston, was the very first area in Massachusetts to which Italians immigrated, back in the 1860s and 1870s, and remains the heart of the Italian community in East Boston.

The expansion of Logan Airport in the late 1960s - early 1970s, removed houses and families on what was once, Neptune Road. The area is now used as warehouses and rental car property.


For a long time, transportation has played a role in the shaping of East Boston. The world's finest clipper ships were built at the shipyard owned by Donald McKay in the mid-1800s. A subway tunnel connecting the neighborhood to the rest of the city opented in 1904 and was the first underwater tunnel of its kind in the United States. Rows of houses were torn down to build the Sumner (1934) and Callahan (1961) tunnels, directly connecting automobile traffic from downtown Boston to the neighborhood. An airfield built in East Boston in the early 1920s eventually expanded to become Logan International Airport.

Logan Airport, New England’s primary international airport and the 20th busiest in the US, resides mainly in East Boston (though part of the airfield itself lies in Winthrop). It is almost completely surrounded by water. Landing at Logan is interesting as passengers are continuously over water and do not see the land until shortly before touchdown. There has been some controversy surrounding Logan. Conflict with MassPort, which owns and operates Logan, has been a source of bitterness among some local residents for decades. One expansion of the airport resulted in the community losing Wood Island Park, a green space designed by the noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In another episode, Logan construction caused noisy trucks to rumble through the neighborhood until a group of local women took to the streets with their baby carriages and blocked the vehicles. [http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=BG&p_theme=bg&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0FF408367934CDD2&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM Boston.com "Their 2D Run at Runway"] ] The tension between the airport and some local citizens continues, with MassPort attempting to expand again and add a fifth runway.


East Boston, known locally as "Eastie", is predominantly white non-Latino followed by Latino, and the once-sizeable Italian population still resides in several areas, especially Orient Heights.

Though East Boston has a spectacular view of the downtown skyline, the community's rents and property values have increased more slowly than the extraordinary growth seen in the rest of the metro-Boston region during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This slower growth can be attributed to factors such as: the isolated nature of the neighborhood, difficulties of real estate development along the waterfront and the negative attitude towards Logan Airport that local East Boston residents have perpetuated.

For many years East Boston’s connections to Boston, which included the Sumner (westbound), Callahan (eastbound) tunnels and through Chelsea by way of the Tobin Bridge, have been overcrowded. Persons going to the Airport from western and southern Massachusetts would have to use one of these two access points causing constant traffic jams. The building of the Ted Williams Tunnel which extends the Mass Pike to the airport has alleviated much of this traffic problem. Boston has also supplied residents with special transponders that allow them to pay reduced tolls on the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels.

Local government has hindered private investment in the waterfront for many years. Recently this has changed and the Boston Redevelopment Authority has begun implementing the East Boston Municipal Harbor Plan [ [http://www.cityofboston.gov/bra/Planning/PlanningInits.asp?action=ViewHood&HoodID=8 BRA waterfront plan] ] . This development is created in order to reconnect East Boston with its waterfront through condominiums, restaurants and shops.

ites of Interest

Madonna Shrine & Don Orione

One of the most recognizable icons of East Boston is the 35-foot-high statue of the Madonna. The Madonna Shrine, atop Orient Heights, is the national headquarters for the Don Orione order. Constructed in 1954, the statue is a full-size replica of one at the Don Orione Center in the Montemario district of Rome, Italy. It was constructed in 1954 by Jewish-Italian sculptor Arrigo Minerbi, who wanted to show his gratitude to the Catholic Church for having shielded him and his family from the Nazis during World War II. Across the street from the Shrine is the Don Orione Home, a nursing home which, like the Shrine, was founded by the Don Orione priests.

Constitution Beach

— which is known to locals as "Shays Beach" — is a small beach located in the Orient Heights section of the community. It underwent renovations since the mid 1990s, in which a new public bathhouse and refreshment stand has been built. During peak season, it is not uncommon to see more than 100 residents on the sands of Constitution Beach.

Piers Park

Piers Park is on the west side of East Boston and overlooks Boston Harbor with downtown Boston in the background. The park consists of meandering brick promenades with open grass and tree sections. There are several pavilions, one of which is dedicated to Donald McKay. Along with amphitheater there is a community boating program where residents can rent sailboats. [ [http://www.bostonharborwalk.com/placestogo/location.php?nid=4&sid=24 Harborwalk] ]

uffolk Downs

Fed by Rte 1 and a Blue line stop, Suffolk Downs was opened in 1935 and at the point it was considered modern, although now it looks dated. For years they have held a Grade II event at the track called the MassCap. More recently the track has been complaining that revenues have been drained as result of Indian Casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut and have canceled the MassCap. [http://www.suffolkdowns.com/sd/sd/index.php?page=masscap&div=mc_main/ Suffolk Downs Site] ]

East Boston branch library

The first public branch library in the United States was established in East Boston in 1869. The library, which was moved from its original location in the old Lyman School, was started with the collection from the Sumner library and the Boston Public Library. As a result of the Sumner collection it has a large collection of books on Clipper ships as well as the history of East Boston. [http://www.cityofboston.gov/neighborhoods/neighborhoods.asp?id=10 City of Boston] ]

Italian Restaurants

Rino's Place, on Saratoga Street, offers North End quality Italian food at a fraction of the price. Santarpio's Pizza is also very well known as well as Spinelli's and Kelly's Square Pub.

occer Field

There is a full-size soccer field with field turf about three blocks from Santarpio's. Adjacent is a playground and parking lot. Soccer, or futbol, is very popular among East Boston's various immigrant communities.

ee also

*Central Square
*Day Square
*East Boston gas surge
*Maverick Square
*Maverick National Bank
*Orient Heights
*Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (East Boston)
*Savio Preparatory High School
*General William Hyslop Sumner
*East Boston MBTA Buses
*Bennington Street Burying Ground

External links

* [http://www.notfortourists.com/Features.aspx?city=&id=112 Travel Essay on East Boston by Max Grinnell]
* [http://www.eastboston.com Eastboston.com]


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