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Extract from the City records, from a report of the Joint standing Committee of the City Council, on the Nomenclature of streets, made in 1879.

To understand the process by which our ancestors laid out their primitive highways, the natural features of the land must first be considered.

On approaching the land at the foot of State street (present names are employed for convenience), the traveller stood on solid ground at high-water mark at about the corner of Merchants row on one side, and of Kilby street on the other. The northerly side of the cove ran above Faneuil Hall, and so across nearly to North street, and followed that street about to its junction with Commercial street. West of State street a little cove ran in about where Congress street is, and reached to the corner of Franklin street. It thus cut off direct approach to Fort Hill, which rose to the south-east. [176]

The water-line of Fort Hill, at the south, was substantially the same as it remained to our day,--Broad street, from Batterymarch to Federal street, being substantially the boundary. A sharp turn was made at the junction of Federal and East streets, and the South Cove stretched due west about to Washington street, near Essex street, and wholly north of Beach street.

Turning southerly again, the South Cove ran parallel with Washington street, at a distance which allowed but a single houselot in depth up to Dover street, and beyond.

Crossing Washington street at Dover, and journeying north, we find the Back Bay sweeping almost to the street, then widening out towards the north-west, parallel to, but outside of, Pleasant street. Then the Back Bay curved inland, covering the Public Garden and Parade Ground, while Boylston and Tremont streets marked the lines of occupancy Above, rose Beacon Hill, uncrossed by any path, and effectually ending the town in that direction.

Tremont, Court, and Cambridge streets wound around its base, the high water-line crossing Cambridge street, at the junction of Anderson street. A peninsula, stretching towards the north-west, ran across to Brighton street, and was bounded east by the Mill Cove. Here the land extended below Leverett street, but above Lowell street, and reached nearly to Hanover street. The water crossed Gouch and Pitts streets at half their length, and crossed Sudbury street, between Bowker and Portland streets. Where Blackstone street now is, there was a canal connecting the Mill [177] Pond with the Town Dock (where the market now stands), rendering the North End an island.

Hanover street then, as now, was the main avenue north-easterly through Salem street; it was laid out at an early date, skirting the west side of Copp's Hill.

Boston was built originally upon the narrow reaches of level land lying at the foot of its three hills, bordering on the numerous coves and arms of the sea which environed it.

The “Book of Possessions,” which may have been prepared within fifteen years of the settlement of the town, and certainly in less than twenty-five years of that date, gives us the proof that a certain number of highways had been established. Although no regular names were given to these streets at that time, nearly all of them have continued, in about the same places, to be used down to the present time. Thus, we find State street with the Town House at its head. Then Washington street, running south to Boylston and Essex streets. School street stretched up to the foot of Beacon Hill; that is to say, about to Tremont place. Milk street extended a little distance, until crossed by the marsh. Summer and Bedford streets existed to their junction at Church Green, and from there a road stretched up to Fort Hill. Essex street was to be found, and from its corner there was a road along the beach at the South Cove to Roxbury. West and Winter streets were lost in the open Common, wherein Tremont street probably existed as a cart-road. Court street and Tremont row were in existence; Sudbury street led directly to the water, or the Mill Pond; Cambridge, [178] Green, and Leverett streets had a beginning then, and Hanover street was well defined, Elm street meeting Washington street at the Town Dock.

Governor Winthrop, and many of the leaders of the community, were assigned house-lost near the Old South Church, and this became one centre of population. Another colony was planted on the northern peninsula, and Hanover street and its branches were occupied by various notabilities.

In the first book of our records, only one street, Sudbury, is designated by name. The “High street,” or the way leading towards Roxbury, designated Washington street. Other ways were: “To the Mill Cove,” “from Cove to Cove,” “to the Fort,” “to the Bridge,” “to John Barrett's,” “to Century Hill,” etc.

A careful study of the methods pursued in laying out our primitive highways, with the many changes and improvements made from the beginning, will serve to present a very correct and interesting topographic view of the Town and City of Boston in its growth and progress from time to time.

The Compiler.

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