South End

The South End, not to be confused with “Southie!”
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.

History

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.

Architecture

The South End, not to be confused with “Southie!”
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.

History

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 a MBTA Commuter Rail stop due to its proximity to the Copley Square employment center) and Massachusetts Avenue.

Architecture

The South End is built mostly of mid-nineteenth century bowfronts, which are aesthetically uniform rows of five-story, predominantly red-brick structures, of mixed residential and commercial uses.

The most common styles are Renaissance Revival, Italianate and French Second Empire, though there are Greek Revival, Egyptian Revival, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne style houses, among several other styles.

Row houses built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, especially along the present Southwest Corridor Park show the influence of Charles Eastlake in the incised decoration on stone trim. Despite the style, a common palette of red brick, slate, limestone or granite trim, and cast iron railings provide great visual unity.

A series of eleven residential parks are located across the South End, most are elliptical in shape with passive-use green space located in the middle. These residential squares vary in size, and take inspiration from English-inspired residential squares first laid out by Charles Bullfinch downtown.

Many of the parks have a central fountain and are bordered with cast iron fencing. Complimenting the nineteenth century residential parks are several newer parks, and a series of sixteen community gardens and pocket parks operated by the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust.

The South End’s earliest neighborhoods were inspired by English cities like Bath. The Union Park Neighborhood is located in the heart of Boston’s South End Landmark District, the largest urban Victorian neighborhood in the country. Most of the houses here where built around 1860 and the area has a distinctly English look.

Institutions and Community Organizations

Boston College first opened in the South End in 1863. A few of the original college buildings are still located on Harrison Avenue, although Boston College moved from the South End to Chestnut Hill as a result of rapid growth and urbanization in the late nineteenth century. Today, the South End is home to the Boston Ballet, the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), Boston University Medical Center, and many art galleries and artists studios.

The South End is also host to numerous community organizations including South End Baseball, Youth Enrichment Services, the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust, Mytown- an organization training youth to lead walking tours on neighborhood and Boston history, and the South End Historical Society.

Restaurants and Retail

The South End is one of Boston’s main restaurant districts. Tremont Street is often called “Restaurant Row.” The South End’s range of restaurants include American Southern, Low Country French, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Indian, Italian, Korean, Greek, Middle Eastern, Cuban, Thai, and Japanese among others. Several new stores cater to well-heeled dog owners. South End restaurant, Tremont 647, has partnered up with Polka Dog, the South End’s hottest treat boutique for dogs, to present a canine-friendly atmosphere… pleasing both pooches and their owners alike.

New retail shops offer a range of home furnishings, men’s and women’s clothing, stationary, specialty foods, spa services and a rapidly growing number of manicure and pedicure shops. As recently as 1985 there were no bank offices in the neighborhood. As of autumn 2006 there are seven full service branch offices, an additional four partial service branches offering home loans and ATMs but without full cashier service, more than forty local bank-linked ATM locations, and additional ATMs operated by local retailers.