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Nolen, John, 1869-1937 / Madison : a model city (1911)

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THE FILLING OF THE BACK BAY MUD FLATS, BOSTON.

In 1849 a Land Commission was appointed to deal with the subject of creating new land out of the Back Bay mud flats, Boston. Comprehensive plans were reported in 1852, but the work of filling the land was not begun until 1857. The commonwealth had the right to the flats below the line of riparian ownership. The plan of the Back Bay improvement was the work of the late Arthur Gilman, an eminent architect.

In 1857 the commonwealth owned on the Back Bay 4,723,998 feet and the net profits on the sale of this land up to 1882 were $3,068,636.28, with 102,593 feet remaining unsold, valued at not less than $250,000. The net profit of the Land Company amounted to over $2,000,000.

The Back Bay today is characterized by broad, handsome streets and the magnificence of architecture both in its public buildings and private dwellings. Commonwealth Avenue, the principal street, is 200 feet wide with broad green mall in the centre and the distance from house to house across the street is 240 feet.   [p. 155]   The Back Bay is one of the most valuable parts of the city, the real estate assessment being now about $100,000,000.

One mistake was the short-sighted policy which permitted the building over of the territory between Beacon Street and the Charles River, as that street might have been placed on the line of a beautiful embankment. Three times a proposition was made to give to the city 500,000 feet of land between Beacon Street and the river on condition that it fill the land, never allow it to be built on, and add the territory to the Public Garden, which itself had been secured by filling. Unfortunately the value of the river front for park and other purposes was not appreciated at that time and the proposition was repeatedly rejected.

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