Boston Public Library
Fort Point Channel Images
Print Department
3rd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library
617.859.2280

About the Images
Fort Point Channel runs south-west from the main harbor, from Rowe's Wharf on Boston's waterfront, past South Station, (where it curls to the north before resuming its journey south-west), until it ends in a stump at what used to be the Dover St. Bridge, now East Berkeley Street. At this point in history, its main purpose is to serve as the geographic boundary between South Boston and Boston proper.

Although less than two miles long, the Channel was once a teeming industrial waterway serving thriving industries. From the 1880s to the 1930s, ships carrying everything from wool and molasses to safety razors plied the Channel. In the early years of the Channel its wharves were used mainly for the storage of molasses and wool, but as Boston grew in prominence as a center for industry, brick and granite factories gradually replaced wood-framed storage sheds. By 1900, the Channel served numerous industries and provided a key sea to railroad link, created when the Boston Wharf Co. "invited" the railroad to the area in the 1850s.

The Channel remained an important link in the chain of Boston industry into the 1930s, but by WWI its days as a key Boston waterway were on the wane. Much of the Channel and the Fort Point Channel Area's decline was a part of the general decline of Boston as an industrial center. But even if Boston had remained commercially vibrant throughout the 20th Century, other factors would have robbed it of its utility.

The invention of the automobile and the development of the U.S. highway system after WWII made asphalt the chosen medium for transportation as opposed to water or the rail. Although the ship remains to this day the cheapest way, pound for pound, to transport large quantities of goods over long distances, the ocean-going ships built for transport are of such massive tonnage that they could only sail into the Channel at full ramming speed.

Although the Channel has gone into retirement, (used mostly by recreational boaters), and its bridges slated for removal or to become museum pieces, it is still there, still a part of Boston's geography. It is a landmark of Boston's industrial past. In the Fort Point Channel, history is more than an idea or a concept, it is real. It is in the bricks of the buildings, the stone of the seawall and in the iron of the bridges. It is history that you can walk through or over. And it is history that you sail down.


A Note on the Photographs:

The photographs in this exhibition are drawn from the following collections:

Boston Wharf Co. Collection: A collection of 5"x7" and 8"x10" glass-plate negatives given by the Boston Wharf Co. to the Print Department in 1995. The negatives were taken c.1898-1900 as a record of the buildings then owned and managed by the Boston Wharf Co. The photographer is an unknown, but obviously talented, architectural photographer.

Boston Herald-Traveler Photo Morgue: The Herald-Traveler Morgue contains approximately 500,000 photographs taken by both staff and contributing photographers. It is a major resource for Boston's pictorial history and is the largest Boston newspaper collection held by a public institution.

Boston Pictorial Archive: The result of a project to pull together the Boston Public Library's images of Boston into one comprehensive archive, the collection is a major source of 19th and early 20th century images of Boston architecture and streetscapes.

Leslie Jones Collection: The private collection of the great Leslie Jones, a Herald-Traveler staff photographer from 1917 to 1956, the collection consists of approximately 40,000 glass-plate and film negatives. When not on assignment covering everything from floods to Presidential visits, Jones wandered through Boston taking photos of the unusual and the usual. The collection is important not only as a document of Boston but also as a great representative of the golden age of photo-journalism.

 

Selected Images

AERIAL VIEW OF SOUTH BOSTON AND FORT POINT CHANNEL
Fairchild Aerial Surveys Photograph - 1925

Arial View of South Boston/Ft Point Channel
Full Screen Display


WHARF NEAR SUMMER STREET, FORT POINT CHANNEL
Boston Wharf Co. Photograph - c.1898

Wharf Near Summer St
Full Screen Display


WORMWOOD FACTORY BUILDINGS ALONG WORMWOOD STREET
Boston Wharf Co. Photograph - c.1898

Wormwood Factory Bldg.
Full Screen Display


JEREMIAH WILLIAMS & CO., WOOL, 300 SUMMER STREET
Boston Wharf Co. Photograph - Between 1902 and 1907

Jeremiah Williams & Co., Summer St
Full Screen Display


NORTHERN AVE. BRIDGE AND THE U.S. CUSTOM APPRAISERS' STORES
Photograph by Leslie Jones - Early 1930s

Northern Ave. Bridge
Full Screen Display


DIVING EXERCISE OFF FIREBOAT "MATTHEW J. BOYLE" AT BERTH AT THE NORTHERN AVE. BRIDGE
Photograph by Leslie Jones - October 1937

Diving Exercise off Fireboat
Full Screen Display


PORT FACILITIES AT BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
Detail of Map from the Maritime Association of the Boston Chamber of Commerce Handbook of 1933

Port Facilities at Boston
Full Screen Display