Taking a Glance Back Into The Iconic Back Bay’s Elegant History

back bay history

Elegant and iconic are two perfect words to describe Boston’s historical and aesthetically pleasing Back Bay neighborhood. On the whole, Boston is one of our nation’s most historical cities due to age and the numerous important historical events that have taken place in it.

A visit to Boston is to pay homage to the past while enjoying the accomplishments and indulgences of the present. Yet, out of all of Boston’s uniquely different neighborhoods, the Back Bay is one of the most breathtaking and popular. Any visit to Boston should include a stroll through the Back Bay to enjoy the original architecture, delectable libations, and the lovely Copley Square park.

Here’s Your Back Bay History

To enhance your stroll through the Back Bay, here’s a brief and engaging history of the area.

The Back Bay Sits Atop What Used to be Part of The Bay

Technically speaking, the Back Bay is a man-made part of Boston, as before the 1820s it was a small saltwater bay. Eventually, Boston’s needs expanded as it’s shipping and manufacturing industries grew, and the salt water bay was partially filled it. Over the course of 25 years, land was hauled in and eventually the entire Back Bay was filled in creating the neighborhood we know and love today!

Plan Your Boston Getaway

back bay history Arthur Gilman

Back Bay Architect, Arthur Gilman Source: Wikimedia

The Back Bay Plan Was Influenced By Paris and Georges-Eugéne Haussmann

Known for its wide, tree-lined avenues, the Back Bay was purposefully designed by Arthur Gilman, who is said to have taken inspiration from the renovation of Paris, which was done by Georges-Eugéne Haussmann. At the time, wide, tree-lined streets weren’t a feature anywhere in Boston.

Uniform Houses Developed Partially Because of Specific Standards Set

Arguably most famous for its row of Victorian brownstone homes, homes which did not develop that way by chance. As the former salt marsh, shallow bay land was filled in, the lots were sold to developers and individuals. Construction began, but nearly every sale of land came with a deed that included certain restrictions and rules.

Buildings were not to be wooden, each building had to be a certain distance from the next, there were minimum height requirements, and more. The restrictions were not only binding on those who originally purchased the land, but also on any sales afterward. A few of the original deeds did not include any restrictions or rules, but for the most part, all who purchased them adopted the same guidelines. Because of all of that – the patterns of the buildings became uniform!

Today the brownstone Victorian houses are considered one of the best-preserved examples of 19th-century urban architecture in the U.S.

It Wasn’t Long Until the Back Bay Became a Cultural and Artistic Hub

What the Back Bay is known for today is what’s it’s been known for since the late 1880s – a cultural and artistic hub. The original Museum of Fine Arts was originally in Copley Square, as well as the original Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not long after, in 1895, the nation’s first branch library was also installed in the neighborhood – the Boston Public Library.

Prestige From The Get-Go

back bay history

Source: Wikimedia

Originally the Back Bay was meant to be solely a residential area, prestigious and affluent from the start. By the 1880s-1890s, the Back Bay was a highly sought-after neighborhood to live in. Not only were the houses beautiful, but they were bigger and featured the latest amenities of the time, i.e. indoor plumbing.

The Back Bay – From Then to Now

Between the late 1800s to today, many important buildings have become part of the Back Bay, each adding elegance and culture. Though the area was originally meant to be solely residential, over the years cultural and retail establishments took hold, changing the course of the neighborhood. From the late 1800s to now, here are a few examples of cultural and retail features which call the Back Bay home:

  • Newbury Street – It is unknown exactly when Newbury Street came to be as it is now, but history remembers that in the 1920s, it was considered the “Rodeo Drive of the East.” Serving as the fashion and style mecca of Boston, on par with San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.
  • The Prudential Tower – Not nearly as old as many of the Back Bay’s buildings, but iconic nonetheless. The Prudential Tower joined the Back Bay family in 1960, becoming the 2nd tallest skyscraper at the time.
  • Trinity Church – The parish of this church is older than the building itself. The original Trinity was in a different neighborhood and ended up burning down in 1872. Today’s Trinity Church was erected in Copley Square in 1877.
  • Boston Public Library – A proud part of the Back Bay and Copley Square since 1858.

A Hotel as Historic as The Back Bay Itself

To fully embrace the delights and history of the Back Bay, we recommend staying in the Back Bay during your Boston visit! Of course, you won’t want to stay just anywhere, for the full historical experience you’ll want to stay in Boston’s second-oldest hotel in continuous operation – Copley Square Hotel.

back bay history

Copley Square Hotel 1909

Built on the corner of Huntington Avenue and Exeter Street, Copley Square Hotel became a Back Bay icon in 1891. As elegant as it is today, at the time it was built, Copley Square Hotel was one of the finest, swankiest, and first-class hotels in all of Boston. The Back Bay was already a distinct neighborhood, which made Copley Square the most desirable place to stay.

Besides its beautiful aesthetic and location, Copley Square was also extremely convenient as it was near railroad stations, trading centers, entertainment, and the new (at the time) electric car service.

Copley Square Hotel was strategically built near Copley Square, Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, and Old South Church. The hotel has played host to a plethora of celebrities including Babe Ruth, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. President William Mckinley used Copley Square Hotel as his election headquarters.

A Blend of History and Modern Luxury

Our Double Rooms through the ages. 

Though it’s historical exterior has remained the same, the interior of Copley Square Hotel has evolved. In 2008 the entire hotel briefly closed for a multi-million dollar renovation. The hotel has always provided the utmost in luxury and comfort, and with its renovation, it continues to do so. Copley Square Hotel emerged in January of 2009 as a historical, yet contemporary, luxury, boutique hotel.

See How All Copley Square’s Rooms Look Today >>

Let’s Toast to 126 Years Gone By, and 126 Years to Come

Last year marked a huge milestone for Copley Square Hotel – 125 years. This year, of course, marks the 126th year, and Copley Square has never looked, or served, better. Whether you decide to spend a few days in the Back Bay taking in all it has to offer, or wish to simply go for a stroll, stay or pop-in to Copley Square Hotel, grab a drink at Minibar, and toast to the incredible history of the entire neighborhood, as well as to the beautiful future that lies ahead.






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