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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Exploring Boston: Mapping the lost 'Boston Neck'

Boston was originally a near island, connected to the mainland by a very narrow isthmus. The narrow strand was called Boston Neck. All foot traffic to and from Boston entered via the neck; shortly after its founding, the city built a defensive gate there.

The neck was so narrow that British solders dug a trench across it during the occupation of Boston at the outset of the Revolutionary War, turning Boston into a true island, for a while!

Here's a colonial map of Boston; I've indicated the neck with an arrow.

Here's what it looked like from the ground:


No trace of the original Neck remains today, but I was curious. I went looking for maps that would superimpose the colonial city on a current ,map, but could find none. Some old maps in the Boston Public Library offered hints, but also added confusion:

The original main street in and out of Boston changed names along its way: It began as Marlborough Street, changed to Newbury Street after a few blocks, and then changed again to Orange Street. After the Revolution, the street was given a unified name --- Washington Street.

Marlborough Street, Newbury Street, and Orange Street vanished, for a while.

Wikipedia says the Neck was about where this red circle is, at the intersection of what's now East Berkeley and Washington Streets:
I played with the maps, and --- after some futzing to get the sizes more or less correct --- overlaid the old, colonial map on the new Google map:


For clarity, I outlined the original shore:


This begins to show how much of Boston is reclaimed land: The original city was something like 4 square miles; it's now about 40 square miles (10sq.km/100sq.km).

Marlborough Street and Newbury Street eventually came back to life as new streets in the reclaimed section of Back Bay, wholly unconnected to their original locations. There's an Orange Street miles away, in another town; but the only remnant of Orange Street that remains in Boston proper is the name of the "Orange Line" subway!

And now we both know a little more useless trivia about Boston. :)