History of East Boston

“During the colonial era, the area that would become East Boston was comprised of five islands in Boston Harbor–Noddle’s, Apple, Governor’s, Bird, and Hog Islands. Samuel Maverick was the first European settler on Noddle’s Island in 1633, but it would be another two hundred years before major development and landfilling began. In 1833 General William Sumner founded the East Boston Trade Company, which began filling the swamps, building wharves, and developing a railroad freight terminal. In 1836, the city of Boston annexed East Boston–or Eastie, as locals later called it–and new industries sprung up, including a sugar refinery, an iron forgery, a timber company, and numerous shipbuilders”

– Global Boston, Boston College, Professor Marilynn Johnson’

It was not until 1845 when East Boston really began to undergo an evolution. Donald McKay, a well-known industrialist, opened a shipyard on Border St. Mckay began building ships that broke records worldwide, and over the following 40 years, East Boston began to grow both culturally and from a population standpoint.

By 1901, the first railroads to the mainland and the first streetcar tunnel to downtown were built, allowing for East Boston to be more closely connected to the rest of the city. With the introduction of transportation, East Boston’s population began to grow at a rapid pace. The neighborhood’s population thus grew from 36,930 in 1890 to 62,377 in 1915. The newcomers found work in the railroad docks, coal yards, machine shops, and candy, shoe, textile, and garment factories that replaced the old wooden shipbuilding industry.

In the 1840s, as the Great Famine ravished Ireland, Irish immigrants flocked to East Boston seeking a fresh start and greater opportunity. The majority worked as laborers who drained the swamps, built the wharves, and later moved goods on East Boston’s bustling waterfront.

In the 1880s large swarth of Jewish migrants found a home in East Boston’s Eagle Hill community, many of them escaping the violence erupting against the Jewish population across Eastern Europe. The Jewish population peaked around World War I, with an estimated five thousand foreign-born residents. It was likely the largest Jewish community in Boston at the time. It was at this point that Italian’s began migrating over from Boston’s overcrowded North End, to seek more space and cheaper land. With this influx from across the harbor, also came Italians straight from Italy. East Boston’s population peaked in 1925, with over 64,000 residents, and until the 1980s, Italians made up the majority of the East Boston population.

The 1920s introduced a defining feature of East Boston, Boston Logan Airport. This international airport effectively connected Boston to the rest of the world and created yet another population within the East Boston community. The decision to construct Boston Logan International airport in East Boston was met with both excitement and anger from its residents but ultimately created a lot of opportunity in the area, and even more opportunity for the greater Boston community.

In 1965, the Immigration Act was passed allowing for immigrants to once again seek new beginnings in the US. By 1980, East Boston began to welcome new diverse groups into its midsts, largely Southeast Asians and Latin Americans. The largest groups came from Colombia and Central America, many of whom were escaping the escalating drug wars and political unrest. In East Boston, they joined a largely white community, to create the diverse inhabitant’s population evident in East Boston today.

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