Map of the City of Boston Massachusetts, 1926 - first edition

Map of the City of Boston Massachusetts Published by The City Planning Board November, 1926 - first municipal map published by the City of Boston
Boston, Massachusetts, 1926
two-color print on four joined sheets, backed with thin linen, mounted on wood rods
Unrestored original condition
as found original condition, complete, good color, paper has some toning, paper stains, abrasion and some tears in lower quadrant, sneaker prints of recent vintage
84 × 75 inches
Sale Status: 
For Sale

[Please see elsewhere on our web site under Publications an expanded article about the  Map of the City of Boston Massachusetts 1926 that discusses the mapping of Boston and images of the City.]

The large scale Map of the City of Boston Massachusetts of 1926 (the "1926  Boston City Map") is the first municipal map to be published in the history of the city. The City of Boston Planning Board's decision to publish this wall map as the foundation for its current work was made in the historic context of that year's landmark U.S. Supreme Court zoning case 1/ and state law in its infancy. In 1922 the Massachusetts legislature amended the Massachusetts state constitution with Article LX  with enabling legislation to permit it to limit buildings "according to their use or construction to specified districts of cities or towns". In 1924 an expanded zoning authority was conferred by the Massachusetts legislature on the City of Boston authorizing  a "Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance".  Thus by 1926, the City of Boston was embarked on implementing the first comprehensive zoning ordinance of the City of Boston. The leap from 1914 when the City of Boston Planning Board was established with a limited scope of regulating building dimensions such as height, to preparing a comprehensive land use plan required a paradigm shift.2/ The 1926 Annual Report includes the list of land use and planning tasks for 1926 and subsequent years, including new parks, traffic studies to address the new phenomenon of car traffic in and through the center of the city, the new concept of "thoroughfares" to guide heavy traffic and studying travel within the city itself. 3/

The 1926 Annual Report of the City of Boston Planning Board explains the Board's reason for authorizing the in-house preparation of this map:

"During the past year the Board has completed a new wall map of the City of Boston and has arranged for its publication on the scale of 800 feet to the inch, and also reduced to the scale of 1,600 feet to the inch. This is the first municipal map to be published in the history of the city and has been copyrighted in the name of the City Planning Board of the City of Boston....

The preparation of this map was considered a necessary undertaking for the reason that the latest available 800 foot scale map of the City of Boston was published in 1915....Plans are being made to place one for these wall maps in each department of the city free of charge, together with a limited number of the smaller maps." 4/

An unusually large capital "C" in a circle surrounded by "C.P.B." brands the new copyrighted map. The map is laid out with the Massachusetts State House as the zero coordinate. By centering the map on the State House, all of a geographically decentralized Boston may be shown with very little of the map sheet used for waters of Boston Harbor or the harbor islands. The 1926 municipal map was based on existing maps, aerial photographs, certain Board of Survey materials, some original traverse notes, and coast and geodetic survey maps, presumably governmental.

This large wall map of 1926  we learn from the report was a working map in Boston City Hall for some part of its life. It is now possibly the only extant example of this 1926 publishing effort. There is no record of this 1926 map in the City of Boston Archives.5/

The Planning Board politely defends its budget in the 1926 Annual Report. The smaller maps based on general demand, were to be distributed by the City and privately for a fee so that the maps will be available to all of Boston's citizens and generate income.  The City Planning Board paid for the large 1926 map: its annual financial statement shows  overall $403.16 for printing, with office and drafting room supplies of $475.73. A line item for "Special Investigations" of $5,736.51 may hide a multitude of sins, including research on the ground to establish the existence of all street passage. Some of these expenses were for the 1926 map project. With Yankee thrift the Board reports that publishing its own map saves the City the cost of royalties previously paid to other map publishers.

In 1926, the first U.S. Supreme Court zoning case to consider whether a municipality may, under its police powers to protect the public health, welfare and safety enact a zoning ordinance and map creating an exclusively residential use is Village of Euclid vs. Ambler Realty Co cited in the Notes. The City of Boston Planning Board of 1926, with its first municipal city map, was thus poised and guided by this U.S. Supreme Court holding to develop a comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance fitted to Boston's major residential neighborhoods and other less developed areas.6/ The Euclid case underscored that such zoning did not unconstitutionally deprive a landowner of property rights, provided that the government followed established principles for municipal governance and the due process rights of land owners. The 1926  Euclid holding provides the legal foundation for all subsequent land use regulation in America, including local and state laws regulating use of wetlands, open space, historic districts, public access to shorelines and other matters. The decision is clear and worth reading especially on the legal concept of the immutability of Constitutional principles being consistent with the adaptation of the court to new sets of facts and circumstances that the future presents that require judgment and interpretation.

Thus we may view as consequential the Boston Planning Board's November, 1926 date approving its Map of the City of Boston. This rare and possibly unique example of the Boston Planning Board's wall map may fairly be regarded as the first municipally published map of the City of Boston and the cartographic foundation for its comprehensive ordinance and zoning map soon to be drafted and made law.


1. Village of Euclid vs. Ambler Realty Co., 1926, 272 U.S.365(1926) VILLAGE OF EUCLID, OHIO, et al. v. AMBLER REALTY CO. | Supreme Court | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

2. "The City Planning Board naturally feels a certain responsibility toward the administration of the law and has accordingly co-operated in every way possible. In this connection, it is a matter of no little satisfaction to record that so far as can be ascertained, the Boston zoning law is being adhered to at least as well as any zoning law in the country. The fact that it has been applied with very little friction to a city where habits have become crystallized over a period of nearly three centuries of existence speaks well not only for the efficiency of the plan itself but for the public spirit of the citizens when called upon to accept comprehensive regulations in the interests of the health, safety, morals and welfare of the people."

3. Massachusetts Bay Colony Province Laws of 1692 conferred authority to limit the location of certain "uses". The historic role of late 18th and 19th c. municipal government was to build and maintain roads and bridges. The conceptual tension and debates between municipal bodies building and widening streets and citizens asking for land use planning recognizing quality of life values express this embedded history. Pave the planet, vs. living with the landscape and our history.

4. found in City of Boston Planning Board, Annual Report of 1927, Document 10-1927.

5. The only example of this map listed in the City of Boston Archives is a 1959 edition. In 1960, the Planning Board was abolished and replaced by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Therefore, there may be extant the first and last annual municipal maps of the City of Boston.

6. The 1926 City of Boston Map shows a well developed street grid in Boston's "streetcar suburbs" e.g. Dorchester, Brighton and Jamaica Plain. These street grids are a proxy for enormous population growth in these neighborhoods from 1870 to 1926. Dorchester is a prime example. The 1870 census counted 12,000 inhabitants. The 1900 census counted 80,000 inhabitants. The population  grew past 150,000 residents and in 1920 the count is 200,000 in Dorchester alone. In 1927, the Boston Elevated Transit Co. expanded street car service before the crash of 1929 set in.

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