This large, colorful, separately issued, Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895, describing Boston's downtown area bounded by Boston Harbor, the Charles River, Fort Point Channel and to the west Massachusetts Avenue (including Charles Gate West) is rich with over two hundred years of survey work describing Boston's waterfront and urban development.1/ The Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 includes a color coded key that is essential to reading the map. Using different colors to indicate the shoreline over two hundred years, the map represents the Boston shoreline and streets from as early as 1630 based on late 17th c. surveys as compiled in 1852 by Ellis S. Chesbrough for his Map of Boston Harbor2/ (shown in Grey), the wharf line and streets existing in 1795 based on work of Osgood Carleton (shown in pale Buff), the 1850 wharf line and streets based on surveys by Boston Water Authority surveyor A. Andrews and on other city plans of wharf line and streets (shown in Olive Green), and then current wharf line and streets based on surveys updated from 1869 to 1895 (shown in Dark Blue). The key also explains how both old and new street names are shown, street layout changes (pale blue) and certain parks and squares (shown in Green), most notably the Boston Common and Public Garden, Charles Gate East and West. This map shows Charlestown and South Boston wharf lines.
The Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 is the work of Charles Carroll Perkins, as Surveyor in Charge of City Proper Surveys, a role distinct from the city surveyor role, whose map provided the first accurate, large scale and updated municipal compilation of Boston surveys of the downtown area since 1869 when Boston had ceased publishing this large scale series of Boston proper surveys. In 1880 the Boston Map Company published its updated large scale Boston map based on "the latest authorities" . For an excellent discussion of early surveys and mapping of Boston please see Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston by Nancy S. Seasholes 3/. Seasholes explains that what makes Charles Carroll Perkins' Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 exceptional is that it shows Boston's historic shoreline as far back as 1630 based on Chesbrough's research and map in 1852, it shows the 1795 shoreline from Carleton's 1795 survey of Boston and it shows the 1850 Boston shoreline based on Boston Water Commission surveyor A. Andrews's plan. Seasholes regards the Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 map essential for an understanding of "landmaking" in Boston from the 17th to the late 19th century. There are other kinds of Boston maps that concentrate on buildings and streets, such as insurance maps and the Bromley maps. Uniquely, the Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 provides a comprehensive view of the city shoreline and streets as surveyed, guiding us from Capt. John Bonner's The Town of Boston in New England of 1722 to an almost contemporary view of the city. This map also overlays then new 19th c. institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over 18th c. Boston land forms such as the fens.
From a current perspective, the Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 provides a recognizable late 19th c. baseline of Boston's shoreline and physical profile against which to compare 20th c. physical additions to Boston's shoreline in the form of infrastructure (bridges, tunnels and roads), changes to the working waterfront, the removal of railroad yards, and the addition of urban highways during the latter half of the 20th century. And for a comparison from 2000 to 2020 during the speculative explosion of changes in use and form to Boston's waterfront, street plan and downtown neighborhoods abutting Ft. Point Channel, South Boston and Charlestown the Plan of Boston Proper 1795 to 1895 reminds us that structural change to the urban plan is yet ongoing. This 19th c. comprehensive, historic survey map of Boston's waterfront and downtown urban plan is found in several institutional collections, such as the Leventhal Map Center and Harvard Library.
1. The map was published by Geo. H. Walker & Co. for the City of Boston Engineering Department.
2. cited in Seasholes, below.
3. Seasholes, Nancy S., Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2018.