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Boston: History of the Landfills

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A visitor from 1990 would scarcely recognize the Boston area of 1630. The very landscape has been transformed tremendously in the last 360 years. The land area of Boston has more than tripled since 1630. It may not always be apparent to the driver navigating the narrow streets of Boston, but the creation of this city is one of the great engineering feats of American History.

Examining the pattern of landfill projects reveals much about the history of the city. Boston today is bustling, densely populated, and many of the original landmarks which distinguished the topography of the city have been irrevocably altered, or lost from sight.

The three original hills of Boston, Pemberton, Beacon, & Mt. Vernon no longer dominate the landscape as they once did. Not only are they obscured by tall buildings, but the hills which made up the Trimountain have been cut down by 60 feet or more. In the early 19th century, the crests of these hills were carted away, and dumped in the coves to provide more area for building.

Old maps depicting Boston reveal an irregular, spidery peninsula, almost an island, really. The North End was distinct from the main body of the Shawmut peninsula, as it was first known. High tides often nearly isolated the North End from the rest of Boston.

Boston Landfill -- Page 2
Boston Landfill -- Page 3

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Slide Show, part 1
17th century

Slide Show, part 2
18th century

Slide Show, part 3

Slide Show, part 4

Slide Show, part 5
Quincy Market, 1820s

Slide Show, part 6
The Back Bay, part 1

Slide Show, part 7
The Back Bay, part 2

Slide Show, part 8
The South End

Slide Show, part 9
1872 Fire

Boston Population

LandFill Sequence

The Big Dig:

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Jeffery Howe, 1996