Before it became one of Boston's most expensive neighborhoods, the Back Bay was just that: an actual bay. For Boston's first two centuries, the Charles River actually extended into Boston all the way to (what is now) the South End.
As Boston's population grew into the 19th century, however, the small peninsula needed more room to grow. Beginning with small coastal areas, the city created new land using soil cut from from nearby hills. The filling-in of the Back Bay began in 1857.
Today's Back Bay is unique, and not just because of its 19th-century architecture — it's one of Boston's best planned neighborhoods. Its grid system, designed by an architect, stands out against Boston's typical random-seeming roadways. It even has alphabetical street names — going east to west, the neighborhood's cross streets are named (in order) Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, and Hereford.
It's not just the Back Bay — a lot of Boston used to be water. Thanks to Boston College, here's the city's landfill history in a gif.
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