The South End was Boston’s first planned community, built almost entirely on landfill between 1800 and 1850. Dirt was piled on both sides of the narrow neck of land leading to the Shawmut peninsula, now known as modern downtown Boston. The South End in Boston has been “emerging” for more than 10 years, and is now flourishing as a vital enclave in Boston. Engaging restaurants, bars, shops, and condominium developments, both new and old, are found among the brownstones and tree lined streets. The South End lies south of the Back Bay, northwest of South Boston, northeast of Roxbury, north of Dorchester, and southwest of Bay Village.
When Boston was founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1635, the South End was only a narrow isthmus of land connecting the town of Boston to the mainland. Charles Bulfinch, architect of the Massachusetts State House and later the United States Capitol, laid out the South End’s first street plan in 1801 as a grid pattern of streets surrounding a large oval-shaped park called Columbia Square (today’s Blackstone and Franklin Squares).
The South End neighborhood is built upon a former tidal marsh, a part of a larger project of the filling of Boston’s Back Bay (north and west of Washington Street) and South Bay (south and east of Washington Street), from the 1830s to the 1870s. Fill was brought in by trains from large trenches of gravel excavated in Needham, Massachusetts. The South End was filled and developed first, before the Back Bay which was mostly built after the American Civil War. Nineteenth century technology did not allow for driving steel piles into bedrock and instead a system of submerged timbers provided an understructure for most South End buildings. Recent decreases in underground water levels has caused damage to some wood pilings by exposing them to air. A series of monitoring wells have been drilled and the water level is now checked, and can be adjusted by the introduction of water.
The South End was once bordered to the north and west by the Boston & Providence Railroad, which terminated at the B&P RR Station bordering the Public Garden. The railroad line is now covered by the Southwest Corridor Park and terminates at Back Bay Station. Most of the cross streets in the neighborhood are named after cities and towns served by the railroad: Greenwich, Connecticut, Newton, Canton, Dedham, Brookline, Rutland, Vermont, Concord, Worcester, Springfield, Camden, Maine, Northampton, Sharon, Randolph, Plympton, Stoughton, Waltham, Dover, Chatham, Bristol, Connecticut, and Wareham.
The primary business thoroughfares of the South End are Tremont and Washington Streets, from West Newton Street to Berkeley Street. Washington Street, the original causeway that connected Roxbury to Boston, experienced considerable reinvestment in the 1990s. The street was once defined by the Washington Street Elevated, an elevated train that was moved to below Southwest Corridor Park in the 1980s. Today Washington is the route of the Silver Line, Boston’s first bus rapid transit line. Columbus Avenue, the third main street of the South End, also has numerous restaurants and provides a remarkable straight-line view to the steeple of Park Street Church. Today the modern MBTA Orange Line rapid transit train runs along the partially covered Southwest Corridor, with neighborhood stops at Back Bay (also an MBTA Commuter Rail stop due to its proximity to the Copley Square employment center) and Massachusetts Avenue.