Gaining Ground II
Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston
by Nancy S. Seasholes
by Alex Krieger and David Cobb
Inventing the Charles River
by Karl Haglund
For anyone interested in the historical development of the city of Boston (as I am) these three books from MIT Press are indispensable. There is a bit of overlap in the coverage as would be expected, but it’s actually quite small. All three are of a large format, but they are all much more than just picture books; each contains a wealth of research and the format simply allows the maps, diagrams and photographs to be presented in more detail.
As the name suggests, Mapping Boston is more focused on the historical development of Boston as represented through maps. Boston was originally comprised of the just the Shawmut Peninsula, connected to the mainland by a small strip of land (now Washington Street.) This layout is most famously depicted by the Bonner Map of 1722. The maps range from the earliest ones to the most modern. Some show plans for ideas that never materialized, such as the construction of an island in the middle of the Charles River. There are a couple of frightening ones showing some of the conceptual ideas of Le Corbusier-influenced planners during the great Urban Renewal era of the 1960s. We should all be thankful these ideas never saw the light of day. There is a site for the book here.
Gaining Ground is meticulously researched, showing in tremendous detail the transformation of Boston. Seasholes seems to have covered every square inch of the city. Some of the most interesting segments cover the filling of the Dock Square area (near present day Faneuil Hall) and the Mill Pond/Bullfinch Triangle area (Causeway Street and the Fleet Center.)
Much of the major transformation of the Charles River Basin between Boston and Cambridge occurred during the age of photography, which makes Inventing the Charles River a fascinating work for those familiar with its current features. Haglund’s main point is that as beautiful as the basin is, it’s an entirely manmade landscape. Through photographs, maps, drawings and thoroughly researched documentation he covers the filling of the Back Bay, the transformation of the Cambridge riverbank and the eventual loss of some of its former beauty to highway construction.