The sea is Boston’s front door. From the city’s inception, Bostonians relied on the sea for transportation, trade, defense, and the city’s expansion. Though these interests still influence the use of Boston Harbor, its public role as a cultural and recreational asset has received greater prominence since the 1970s.
Like an arrow pointing back to the Old World, Long Wharf, built in 1711, dominated Boston Harbor. It reached well past approximately 80 other wharves bristling out from the Shawmut Peninsula. About a third of a mile long, it extended the town’s main commercial street, King Street (now State Street), far into the harbor.
In addition to its prominent commercial role, Long Wharf witnessed the arrival of royal governors, chained pirates, British troops, and other historic spectacles. In 1774, British General Gage and his troops arrived here to quell Boston’s rebellious spirit in a scene captured by Paul Revere’s engraving. Gage and his men fled Boston in 1776 from this same wharf.
When fugitive slave Anthony Burns was brought to the wharf in shackles in 1854, to be returned to slavery in Virginia, all of downtown Boston shut down and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest.
Modern water transport includes commuter boats, water taxis, a shuttle to the airport, and cruises around the harbor and to several islands. While some goods still arrive in Boston by ship, much of the commerce around Boston’s harbor relates to tourism and recreation. As in colonial days, Boston’s harbor remains an important gateway to the nation
Landfill operations at Boston’s shoreline continued into the 1980s. Three great fill efforts during the 20th century created the land for Logan Airport, visible across the harbor. Modern as it is, the airport continues an important tradition. Even by air, people still arrive in Boston at the harbor.