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Remaking Boston

An Environmental History of the City and Its Surroundings

Edited by Anthony N. Penna and Conrad Edick Wright

Publication Year: 2009

Since its settlement in 1630, Boston, its harbor, and outlying regions have witnessed a monumental transformation at the hands of humans and by nature. Remaking Boston chronicles many of the events that altered the physical landscape of Boston, while also offering multidisciplinary perspectives on the environmental history of one of America's oldest and largest metropolitan areas. Situated on an isthmus, and blessed with a natural deepwater harbor and ocean access, Boston became an important early trade hub with Europe and the world. As its population and economy grew, developers extended the city's shoreline into the surrounding tidal mudflats to create more useable land. Further expansion of the city was achieved through the annexation of surrounding communities, and the burgeoning population and economy spread to outlying areas. The interconnection of city and suburb opened the floodgates to increased commerce, services and workforces, while also leaving a wake of roads, rails, bridges, buildings, deforestation, and pollution. Profiling this ever-changing environment, the contributors tackle a variety of topics, including: the glacial formation of the region; physical characteristics and composition of the land and harbor; dredging, sea walling, flattening, and landfill operations in the reshaping of the Shawmut Peninsula; the longstanding controversy over the link between landfills and shoaling in shipping channels; population movements between the city and suburbs and their environmental implications; interdependence of the city and its suburbs; preservation and reclamation of the Charles River; suburban deforestation and later reforestation as byproducts of changing land use; the planned outlay of parks and parkways; and historic climate changes and the human and biological adaptations to them.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment

Front Cover

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Front Flap

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pp. v-vi

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1. Introduction: Boston from Peninsula to Metropolis

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pp. 1-16

IN 1630, English settlers established the town of Boston. Four years later, William Wood, a visitor to the frontier outpost, published a description of its physical features. His book, New England’s Prospect, became for many readers an early example of boosterism, as it extolled the virtues of this bountiful new land. Wood’s picture of Boston is...

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2. The Drowning of Boston Harbor and the Development of the Shoreline

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pp. 19-32

IT was the harbor, deep and inviting, that attracted Boston’s English founders to the peninsula on which they built their settlement, and the harbor has continued to mold the community’s development to the present. Boston’s environmental history consequently begins at the water’s edge. Before considering how human settlement and the harbor...

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3. What Lies Beneath: Science, Nature, and the Making of Boston Harbor

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pp. 33-55

RETIRED sea captain John Sleeper made little effort to hide his frustration as he addressed the assembled members of the Boston Marine Society. Asked to deliver a paper at the society’s annual meeting in 1872, Sleeper chose a subject that weighed heavily on the minds of the gathered mariners: encroachments on Boston Harbor through land...

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4. Remaking Boston Harbor: Cleaning Up After Ourselves

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pp. 56-74

ON September 2, 1988, as television cameras rolled, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush clambered aboard a boat in Boston Harbor and charged his Democratic opponent, Michael S.Dukakis, with responsibility for the port’s deplorable...

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5. In Search of the Shawmut Peninsula: Using Modern Cartographic Analysis to Discover the “Original” Boston Shoreline

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pp. 75-99

THE shape of the Shawmut Peninsula before the bays and marshes surrounding this fist of land were filled in to create present-day Boston is of both academic and practical interest. For scholars, the subject illuminates early attempts to modify the terrain, with implications...

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6. Remaking Boston, Remaking Massachusetts

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pp. 105-126

LOOKING out from the State House dome a century ago, Charles Eliot could have just seen the wooded hills of Weston, perched on the western rim of the rapidly expanding metropolis. Looking back from the top of Doublet Hill today, a resident of Weston can still make out the dome, nestled among the office towers of the modern...

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7. A City (Only Partly) on a Hill: Terrain and Land Use in Pre-twentieth-century Boston

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pp. 127-147

IN February of 1847, Edward Everett, then president of Harvard University, climbed a large hill near Boston in the course of a weekend ramble. The scene he found at the top seemed at first to be oddly incongruous. There was a view “of surpassing beauty,” but the only houses...

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8. Reforestation in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, 1850–1910

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pp. 148-167

FOR those familiar with the traditional narrative of agriculture’s inexorable decline in heavily industrial nineteenth-century New England, the contents of the New England Farmer in the early months of 1883 may come as a bit of a surprise. By the early 1880s many of the region’s farmers had embraced innovative practices, generally grouped under the rubric “intensive agriculture,” and expressed guarded optimism...

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9. How Metropolitan Parks Shaped Greater Boston, 1893–1945

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pp. 168-197

BOSTON has been called a “city of firsts,” and among its innovations it was the first American city to create a metropolitan park system and the first to undertake regional planning. Established in 1893, the Metropolitan Park System was one of the most influential civic achievements of Progressive Era Boston. Boston took Frederick Law...

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10. Reclaiming the Middle Charles River Reservation

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pp. 198-212

IN 1987, near the economic high point of what was then called the “Massachusetts Miracle,” the state legislature passed a five-hundred-million-dollar bond bill for the purchase of open space. It allocated fifty million dollars to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the successor agency to the Metropolitan Park Commission.1 Acclaimed...

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11. Boston’s Weather and Climate Histories

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pp. 215-232

THERE is no part of their environment that Bostonians talk about more than the weather and climate, and for good reason. For one thing they have plenty to talk about. The city’s location in the path of a set of major storm tracks gives it an unusually wide and fast-changing repertoire of...

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12. “Rain Down Righteousness”: Interpretations of Natural Events in Mid-eighteenth-century Boston

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pp. 233-258

ON November 18, 1755, an earthquake abruptly roused the residents of Boston.The tremor was centered just off the coast of Massachusetts, but it shook cities, towns, and hamlets all the way from western New York to Nova Scotia to Annapolis, Maryland. Despite the intensity...

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13. Biological Responses to Climate Change in Boston

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pp. 259-276

THE behaviors of plants and animals are changing in response to warming temperatures. In recent years biologists have observed birds wintering farther north, tropical frog populations declining, and insects relocating to higher altitudes on mountain slopes because of changes...


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pp. 277-320


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pp. 321


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pp. 323-333

Back Flap

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822977681
E-ISBN-10: 0822977680
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822943815
Print-ISBN-10: 0822943816

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 13 Illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Boston Region (Mass.) -- Environmental conditions -- History.
  • Environmental policy -- Massachusetts -- Boston Region -- History.
  • Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Massachusetts -- Boston Region -- History.
  • Environmental degradation -- Massachusetts -- Boston Region -- History.
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