United States > Massachusetts > Greater Boston > City of Boston > Waterfront

Boston's actual waterfront stretches for miles from Charlestown to Dorchester and East Boston, the but Waterfront-with-a-capital-W neighborhood consists of the historic wharves and new towers adjacent to the historic North End and Financial District

One of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston. In the 1600s and early 1700s, Boston life was largely centered on the Shawmut Peninsula, particularly the North End and the now-demolished West End. The waterfront was the commercial heart of the neighborhood, with the wharves and granite warehouses connecting the raw materials from the colony with the finished goods from abroad. But the Waterfront is perhaps best known for the Boston Tea Party in 1773, which led to the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party Museum (306 Congress St.) offers a chance to connect to this history.

A recreational waterfront, rather than a working one. Today, Boston like many cities has transformed it's waterfront from commerce to recreation. The HarborWalk extends for almost 40 miles along the coast, although it is not continuous. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is a 1.5 mile linear park that is Boston's version of the High Line in New York City.

Convenient access to the Harbor Islands. For residents of the Waterfront, it is a quick ferry ride from Long Wharf to the Boston Harbor Islands, including the beaches at Spectacle Island and concerts at Georges Island.

You get to walk by harbor seals every day. The Waterfront is anchored by the Aquarium, and it is worth a slight detour to visit the (free) outdoor exhibit of harbor seals playing, swimming, or sleeping.

In the 1600s, the North End was the center of Boston's commercial and residential activity, and the impressive and active waterfront was a vivid reminder of the important role that the Massachusetts Bay Colony played in the China trade and worldwide. (And also that the colony began as a primarily commercial venture). Long Wharf was the grand entry to Boston, and in 1740 it was half a mile long, compared to today's 800 feet.

Today, the historic granite warehouses and counting houses have been converted to lofts that evoke the maritime past, while other wharves now house luxury condo towers. No longer an active waterfront, it is primarily a recreation and residential area – with hotels, restaurants, and bars from the Battery Wharf in the North End to Atlantic Wharf at Fort Point Channel.

Parts of the neighborhood built on reclaimed land. Sections of the Waterfront have been, like many other Boston neighborhoods, built upon or expanded by reclaimed land. Reclaimed land can settle over time, and in waterfront areas, can be more vulnerable to horizontal flooding from storm surges and climate change. In addition, the buildings in these areas are often constructed on a platform of wooden pilings (the TL;DR version: basically stripped trees rammed into the earth until they hit a solid, rocky bottom). When these pilings are fully submerged underwater, they are resistant to rot. But when the water table changes because of construction, drought, or climate change, the portion of the wooden piling that is exposed to air can soften, weakening the building foundation.

Best blocks and notable buildings

The proposed Old Waterfront Historic District represents the most historic section of the neighborhood, between Lincoln and Commercial Wharf South. The district covers a series of buildings along Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue which reflect the area's maritime history from the 1830s onwards, as reported by North End Waterfront

Burroughs Wharf is the former Battery Wharf, redeveloped into luxury condos.

Central Wharf was built in 1815, and originally extended a quarter mile into Boston Harbor. Today, it is considerably smaller, in large part because the city expanded the Boston shoreline with infilled land. It was conceived after the War of 1812, to expand Boston's shipping capacity, and was financed by Uriah Cotting (1716-1819), who invested in the mill dam which eventually became Beacon Street and Back Bay; Harrison Gray Otis (who also developed Beacon Hill, James Lloyd, Jr. and Francis Cabot Lowell (1775-1817), one of the partners behind the planned industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts. When it was built, it was the city's longest wharf and featured fifty-four Federal style warehouses, but gradually demolished to its present size. Today it is home to the New England Aquarium.

146-176 Milk St. are the westernmost eight of the original fifty-four warehouses on Central Wharf. These represent the last surviving Federal wharf-style complex in Boston, and are part of the Custom House District. Because the neighborhood was expanded by infill, these former waterfront buildings are now somewhat inland.

Commercial Wharf, constructed c.1833, subsequently severed into East and West sections, is the southernmost section of the proposed Old Waterfront Historic District.

Lewis Wharf is a granite building constructed c.1832.

Lincoln Wharf (357-371 Commercial St.) was built in 1901. The former power plant has been transformed (pun intended) into the San Marco condominiums. More from the architects here.

Long Wharf</strong was the historic grand entry into Boston. Built 1710, the original wharf (1710-1721) was extended to almost half a mile in 1740, and reduced to its original size of 800 feet again today.


The middle of the neighborhood has the Blue Line station (Aquarium), while the southern end of the neighborhood is a short walk to South Station and Downtown Crossing. In addition, water taxis operate to and from Logan Airport.


The Waterfront wraps around the Shawmut peninsula, around the North End and the Financial District. Across the water to the north is the Navy Yard, to the east are East Boston, as well as Fort Point and the Seaport.

The Shawmut peninsula ... heart of old Boston, the politics, commerce, and _____ that defined the beginning of the country. Most of the 1700s Boston ... North End, although it looked much different than today. Most of the 1600s and 1700s buildings have long since been demolished, and the remaining ones give it a feeling from the mid to late 1800s.

But for the colony, a trading post, the waterfront was where the action was - where raw materials from the colonies were shipped to England, and where finished goods and luxuries arrived.

In 1764, John Rowe bought the land and built the first Rowes Wharf, which extended a short distance into Boston Harbor. John Rowe (1715–1787) was a property developer and merchant in 18th century Boston, Massachusetts. As a merchant, John Rowe's most famous cargo was the tea that played a starring role in the Boston Tea Party. As a developer, his name is remembered to this day in the name of Rowes Wharf, a modern development in downtown Boston on the site of his original wharf.

Rowe was evidently a very active smuggler, avoiding British trade regulations by trading with forbidden ports.[4] He was also an active slave dealer, shown by his advertisement in the 28 July 1746 edition of the Boston Evening Post. In the ad, Rowe listed goods for auction at his wharf, such as cocoa and rum. After the list of goods, he offered to purchase, “Some Negroes that can work at the Carpenter’s Trade”, and promised to “give a handsom[e] Price if he likes them.”[5] He joined protests against tightening restrictions of colonial trade, and helped incite the anti-Stamp Act riot in 1765 that destroyed Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson's home.

Carl Becker mostly ignored John Rowe in The Eve of Revolution (1918), but he did include a letter written by Thomas Hutchinson. In the letter, Hutchinson claimed that Rowe, Otis and Molineux and Davies provoked the protesters who destroyed Hutchinson’s house on 26 August 1765: "When there is occasion to burn or hang effigies or pull down houses, these [rabble] are employed; but since government has been brought to a system, they are somewhat controlled by a superior set consisting of the mastermasons, and carpenters, &c., of the town of Boston. When anything of more importance is to be determined, as opening the custom-house on any matter of trade, these are under the direction of a committee of the merchants, Mr. Rowe at their head, then Molyneaux, Solomon Davies, et&,…this is proper for a general meeting of the inhabitants of Boston, where Otis, with his mob-high of eloquence, prevails in every motion… and it would be a very extraordinary resolve indeed that is not carried into execution". [5] During the era of the American Revolution, Rowe avoided commitment to either side, and instead looked out after his business interests.[4]

Rowe was the owner of one of the tea ships, the Eleanor, involved in the Boston Tea Party. According to some accounts, at the Old South Meeting House before the Tea Party, he uttered the famous words, "perhaps salt water and tea will mix tonight," but according to his own diary, he was unwell and was not present during the meeting or the Tea Party.

Site of the Boston Tea Party. [Following the Stamp Act ... taxation without representation] On December 16, 1773, colonists disguised as [natives] boarded an East India Company ship anchored at Griffin's Wharf, and dumped over 300 chests of tea ... setting in motion events that led to the American Revolution in 1775. The original location of the Boston Tea Party no longer exists because of extensive landfills that destroyed the location. This was caused by the city of Boston’s rapid expansion in the 19th century. In 18th century Boston, Griffin’s Wharf was a bustling center for maritime commerce and shipping. The exact location of the original Griffin’s Wharf is open to debate, but the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, located on the Congress Street Bridge, is located near the approximate area where the Boston Tea Party took place. A historical marker commemorating the Boston Tea Party stands on the corner of Congress and Purchase streets.