Boston’s Neighborhoods

Allston/Brighton

Once home to stockyards and meat-packing industries, Allston-Brighton today is a diverse haven for commercial and residential uses. Annexed as part of Boston in 1873, Allston-Brighton is home to generations of families and newcomers, alike, which add to the area’s unique flavor.

Commercial areas in Brighton Center, Cleveland Circle, and Oak and Union Squares lend to the area’s diverse character, as well. Likewise, Allston-Brighton’s close proximity to local universities, such as Boston College, Boston University, and the Harvard Graduate School of Business, make Allston-Brighton home to a large percentage of Boston’s student population.

The Back Bay

Beginning in 1857 and continuing until 1880, the Back Bay, the body of water separating Boston from Brookline, was filled, adding 450 acres of land to the city of Boston. Today it stands as one of the City’s premiere neighborhoods. Marked by historic and exclusive boulevards, such as Newbury Street and Commonwealth Avenue, the Back Bay is home to the northern portion of the City’s Emerald Necklace, the green space that threads its way through the inner coreof the city.

The neighborhood is also one of the busiest retail sections of Boston, with a thriving commercial center along Boylston and Newbury Streets, and including the nearby Prudential Center and Copley Place.

Beacon Hill/West End

Beacon Hill, the last of Boston’s three original hills, was named for the sentry light raised on its peak. Today, Beacon Hill is one of Boston’s premiere historic neighborhoods and home to the Commonwealth’s government. The State House, with its hallmark gold leaf dome, was built near the original colonial beacon and today shines over Boston Common.

Largely residential, the neighborhood is home to historic 19th century townhouses, many of which were designed by the famous Charles Bulfinch, architect of the State House and other Boston landmarks. The area’s small but prosperous commercial district extends down Charles Street, and is home to antique shops, gourmet food stores and restaurants.

The West End

The West End, considerably impacted by Urban Renewal of the 1970s, is a small but significant community tucked behind Beacon Hill. Historically an ethnically diverse and vibrant neighborhood, the West End today is economically anchored by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Charlestown

Founded in 1629 before the City of Boston itself, Charlestown is the City’s oldest neighborhood. Much of Charlestown was burned to the ground by British troops following the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 and was subsequently rebuilt. The Bunker Hill Monument constructed in 1826 and completed in 1842 commemorates the famous battle. Charlestown is home to another celebrated relic of the nation’s history, the U.S.S. Constitution. Also known as “Old Ironsides,”it is the oldest continually commissioned ship in the United States Navy and is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Dorchester

Incorporated in 1630 and annexed by Boston in 1870, Dorchester is Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhood. The construction of the rails and trolley lines at the turn of the century spurred the area’s transformation to a residential “suburb” of downtown Boston. Dorchester’s historical diversity has been a well-sustained tradition of the neighborhood. The area’s many close knit communities are further testament to Dorchester’s unique spirit.

Dorchester Avenue, the neighborhood’s main artery, uniquely connects a number of Dorchester’s vibrant business districts. Fields and Uphams Corners, Ashmont Station, Neponset Circle, Adams Village, and Morrissey Boulevard, to name a few, are thriving commercial anchors to a number of the area’s sub-neighborhoods, which include Codman Square, Jones Hill, Meeting House Hill, Pope’s Hill, Savin Hill, Harbor Point, Lower Mills, and Port Norfolk. And still others identify their sub-neighborhood by the name of nearby parish churches, illustrating the area’s community oriented flavor.

Chinatown/Leather District

Built on a landfill created from tidal flats in the early 1800s to provide additional housing for Boston’s expanding middle class population, Chinatown is home to Boston’s largest Chinese community, in a unique mix of residences and family owned and operated businesses. As the area’s original residents moved out of the area in the 1840s, an influx of immigrants moved in, including Chinese, Irish, Italian, Jewish and Syrian, who converted the area’s single family homes to multiple unit tenements. Commercial uses, including textiles and leather works, began at the turn of the century with the construction of South Station and the Washington Street Trolley line. To this day, Chinese restaurants and specialty shops fill the ground floor levels of residential buildings.

The Leather District

The Leather District is a small but growing sub-neighborhood of Chinatown. Located between Dewey Square and Kneeland Street, the Leather District is a nine-block area noted for its 19th century brick warehouse structures. These historic buildings were constructed primarily during the 1880s, with a design focused on efficient and economic manufacturing. The leather industry and related wholesalers required space for display, offices and work areas, thus, huge, ground floor display windows don these buildings, set in sturdy cast iron columns – a unique signature of the Leather District.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Leather District has grown as a mixed-use area, filled by a variety of commercial and residential tenants.

Downtown

Downtown Boston is the heart of the City, home to corporate headquarters, financial industry hubs, and City Hall. With countless office towers, businesses, and government centers, including City Hall and the State House, the area comes alive with thousands of workers bustling to and from work.

Downtown Boston is linked to the neighborhoods in many ways. Perhaps the most popular is the historic Freedom Trail, which winds through the city, linking today’s downtown with 16 of the city’s most historic sites. One of the oldest and most famous walking tours in the country, the Trail highlights two and a half centuries of Boston’s historical past.

East Boston

Known for its breathtaking views of downtown, East Boston was originally developed as a community with residential, recreational, and industrial uses, with a particular focus on its ideal geographic function as a maritime center; East Boston is a peninsula connected to the mainland with the Callahan, Ted Williams, and Sumner Tunnels. A center for trade and clippership building, East Boston was at one time a popular resort community, home to new England’s first
major horse race track, Suffolk Downs. Though its economy was built on seaport related industries, East Boston today is anchored by Logan Airport, the construction of which began in 1923 and significantly and inextricably altered the face of the neighborhood.

In 1840, East Boston was the arrival point for thousands of immigrants, which lent to the neighborhood’s diversity and old world charm. Today East Boston holds onto its ethnic roots and remains a tight-knit and diverse neighborhood.

Fenway/Kenmore

The Fenway is a dense urban neighborhood with significant open, green spaces including the Fens and the Fenway Victory Gardens, two parks in the middle of the neighborhood. Perhaps best known to the world as the home of Fenway Park and the famous Red Sox Major League Baseball team; it is also home to a thriving residential community, large number Boston’s academic institutions, including Emmanuel, Simmons, and Wheelock Colleges, Boston and Northeastern Universities, and Wentworth Institute of Technology. This area is home to many of Boston’s finest cultural institutions, including Symphony Hall, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

A part of Fenway, the area known as the Longwood Medical Center, is home to some of the world’s leading health care institutions, including the Beth Israel and the Brigham & Women’s Hospitals.

Kenmore Square is the commercial hub of this neighborhood, drawing students, visitors and locals alike to the many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Nearby, the historic Sears catalogue store, which closed in 1988 after 60 years in business, reopened in October 2000 as the Landmark Center, a mixed-use development of retail and office space.

Hyde Park

Established in the 1660s, Hyde Park, Boston’s southernmost neighborhood, grew as a manufacturing community based in the paper and cotton industries in the early 18th Century. The extension of rail lines in the 1850s spurred the area’s residential development. Hyde Park was annexed by Boston in 1912, making it the last town to be added to the city as we know it today.

Today, Hyde Park is a true blend of city and suburb, maintaining significant open spaces, including the George Wright Municipal Golf Course and the 450 acre Stony Brook Reservation.

Home to Boston’s 47th Mayor, Thomas M. Menino, Hyde Park has always been involved in the politics of the day. Many abolitionists and suffragists leaders called this neighborhood home. Camp Meigs, where twenty-six thousand Massachusetts soldiers trained for combat during the Civil War, including the first black regiment marshaled for the war effort, is also located in Hyde Park.

Jamaica Plain

In the late 18th Century, Jamaica Plain was a summertime destination for wealthy Bostonians who built resort homes around the Jamaica Pond. Today, JP is a diverse neighborhood, economically, ethnically, and racially. It is also home to a mix of long-time residents and recent arrivals, families and single professionals, alike.

Construction of the Boston and Providence Railroad along the Stony Brook Valley in 1834 opened the neighborhood to industrial and additional residential development. The extension of streetcar service from Boston in the 1870s further prompted residential development, while construction of the Jamaicaway for automobiles prompted more suburban development.

Today, Centre Street is the commercial center for much of the neighborhood, where ethnic and specialty restaurants line the street as a reminder of the neighborhood’s unique, multicultural fabric.

Mattapan

Originally part of neighboring Dorchester, Mattapan was annexed to Boston in 1870. Like other neighborhoods of the time, Mattapan developed, residentially and commercially, as the railroads and streetcars made downtown Boston increasingly more accessible. Predominately residential, Mattapan is a mix of public housing, small apartment buildings, single homes and two and three family houses. Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan Square, where Blue Hill Avenue, River
Street, and Cummins Highway meet, is the commercial heart of the neighborhood, home to banks, law offices, restaurants, and retail shops.

Mattapan also has a significant amount of open space, including Franklin Park, the Franklin Park Zoo, and the historic Forest Hills Cemetery.

Mission Hill

Mission Hill is one of Boston’s most unique neighborhoods, where residents co-exist with the largest hospital complex in the region, the Longwood Medical and Academic Area. This distinctive cohabitation brings opportunity to the area, but it also is the basis for conflicts, in terms of traffic, parking, institutional expansion and pollution. The opportunity it affords the neighborhood is the diverse residents drawn to the area, including families, working class, students, and medical center staff. This mix makes Mission Hill one of the most racially and economically diverse in the city.

Once filled with farms and breweries, Mission Hill today is an architectural landmark district with a combination of single homes built by early landowners, blocks of traditional brick row houses, and large three family homes. A majority of development in Mission Hill has been institutional construction and expansions. Of the limited residential development that has occurred, a major focus has been on public housing projects.

North End

The North End is one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods. Home to Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church, and the Copp’s Hilly Burying Ground, the neighborhood was built – and continues to thrive – on history and tradition. But the North End is more than just a glimpse at the City’s revolutionary past; it is a view into the old world traditions.

The North End became home to succeeding waves of immigrants during the 19th century, the last of which came from Italy and has left an indelible and charming mark on the neighborhood. In the shadows of the Paul Revere statue and the Old North Chuch’s signature spire, is a neighborhood with old world flavor and a commitment to Italian tradition. During the summer, weekend festivals line the streets in honor of a patron saint.

With a number of authentic Italian restaurants, pastry shops, cafes, and small retail stores, the area is aptly referred to as Boston’s own “Little Italy.”

Roslindale

Originally part of Roxbury, Roslindale was the area’s farming center well into the 19th Century. It was annexed by the City of Boston as part of West Roxbury in 1873. Long considered a “garden suburb” of Boston, Roslindale experienced significant residential development booms in the 1890’s, and then later in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Construction of the Providence Railroad in 1834 opened the area further for residential development. Subsequently, the farms were sold and divided for single family and multi-family housing. Washington Street, built in 1804, became the main thoroughfare of the community, connecting the area to Boston and Rhode Island.

Roslindale Square was an important commercial center for the entire southwest Boston area, until construction of suburban shopping centers siphoned customers away. Since the 1980’s, Roslindale has experienced steady revitalization and recently received a “Main Street” award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award acknowledges the neighborhoods efforts for historic and aesthetic preservation in conjunction with local economic revitalization.

Roxbury

A drive through Roxbury is both a history lesson and a tour of a modern urban neighborhood. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston, Roxbury has long thrived thanks to its proximity to downtown, while also retaining its unique character and neighborhood qualities. Home to a great number of parks, schools and churches, a visitor can see Boston’s history in the architecture and landmarks of the neighborhood.

From the beginning, farming was the basis of Roxbury’s economy, but changes in the early 19th century, prompted by developments in transportation brought industrial development along with denser residential development. Roxbury became a manufacturing center, which generated jobs not only for local residents but also for residents of other parts of the city. Roxbury’s rapid growth demanded more municipal services; Boston subsequently annexed the neighborhood in 1868.

Dudley Square has long been Roxbury’s commercial hub, dating back to 1901 when the Elevated Railway established Dudley Square as it southernmost stop. Today the rail line is part of the MBTA system and is known as the Orange Line. Roxbury is experiencing a significant revitalization, evidenced by the 2001 opening of the Grove Hall Mall, making the Grove Hall section of Roxbury another commercial center of the neighborhood.

South Boston

Long a remote peninsula, Boston annexed South Boston in 1804. In 1805, the city constructed a bridge linking South Boston to the rest of the city. Planners organized the community with a regular grid of numbered and lettered streets, a pattern atypical of the rest of the city.

South Boston grew rapidly with the completion of the Old Colony Railroad, and grew even more significantly in the years leading up to the Civil War as the hub of industry, including iron foundries, machine shops, shipyards and refineries, all of which fueled the war effort. South Boston’s rapid industrial growth sparked an increase in population, many of them Irish immigrants looking for work in America and fleeing the famine in Ireland. In the 20th century, shipyard and railroad jobs continued to provide work for South Boston residents.

Today South Boston’s commercial district is built around East and West Broadway. South Boston, also known as “Southie,” boasts miles of beaches and waterfront parks, including Carson, L Street and Pleasure Bay beaches. Toward the end of the 19th century, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted created “the Strandway,” which runs from Castle Island to Columbus Park.

South End/Bay Village

The South End was built on the filled tidal flats during the mid-1800s. The neighborhood was designed to attract the wealth merchant class, with large Victorian townhouses surrounding park squares. At the turn of the century, wealthier Bostonians chose neighboring Back Bay instead of the South End, opening the area to a diverse working class. The signature South End townhouses were carved into apartments and lodging houses.

In the 1950s, the South End was selected as an urban renewal area, with scattered affordable housing developments constructed throughout the neighborhood. The area began to be revitalized by an influx of young professionals moving to the neighborhood, restoring the housing stock and turning many of the units into larger apartments, condominiums, and single family homes.

The area’s commercial centers run along Massachusetts Avenue, Tremont Street and Washington Street and serves increasingly diverse populations. Popular upscale restaurants and art galleries have added to the area’s unique character.

West Roxbury

Founded in 1630, West Roxbury was originally part of the town of Roxbury and was mainly used as farmland. West Roxbury formed its own government in 1851 and was annexed by Boston in 1874. The neighborhood was home to an experimental utopian community, which attracted notable writers like Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau. Like its neighboring communities, West Roxbury’s residential development grew with the construction of the West Roxbury branch
of the Boston and Providence Railroad; the area grew further with the development of electric streetcars.

West Roxbury, bordered by Roslindale and Hyde Park, is truly a suburban neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets and single family homes give it a suburban feel in an urban setting. West Roxbury’s main thoroughfare is Centre Street, lined with local restaurants and commercial establishments.

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Updated: November 2017