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by Jacob Marmor (pseudonym)

Friday, August 29, 1941

in What's New In Town

W. J. Sidis


                Some time ago the Back Bay was a real bay―over three square miles of water, held up to high tide level by the Mill Dam for over forty years, and separating Boston from Roxbury and Brookline. Behind this dam were two unusually long railroad trestles crossing the bay―the lines to Providence and to Albany―with a “cross-over” point in the middle of the bay. In the course of time the Back Bay was filled in―and still the “cross-over” remained, where two busy railroads crossed each other at grade, presenting a difficult traffic problem. During the Great Fire of 1872 this proved a convenient point for temporary passenger platforms, while the Boston railroad terminals were in serous danger from fire. When South Station was built, the abandonment of the Providence Depot and its yards brought about the end of the cross-over―it became merely a point of divergence, where a railroad station was built to serve Back Bay passengers on the Providence line, who had previously found the Providence Depot handy. Beside it, the Boston and Albany soon built its own little stations (Trinity Station is almost the exact location of the old cross-over), where the two old-time trestles crossed, has now become a cluster of railroad stations, on Dartmouth Street. The original Back Bay Station, a massive gray stone castle-shaped affair, was replaced in 1927 by a new brick building about half the size of the former station, the rest of the old station site being used for a parking space.


          The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was originally started in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, for the purpose of training engineers for the army; after the war was over, it became a general engineering school. It was then located on Franklin Street, at about the present location of Stone & Webster. It was burned out in the Great Fire of 1872, and, when the smoke cleared on November 11 of that year, not much remained of the school besides ashes and charcoal. They found, however, a new location in the Back Bay, a section which was just being built up at the time, and which underwent a considerable boom after the Great Fire. This new location was on Boylston Street, between Berkeley and Clarendon, where three brick buildings were put on that served M.I.T. as a home for over forty years. One of them is still standing, being now used as a natural history museum. The rest of the old Back Bay location of the school is now occupied by the new building of the New England Mutual. In 1912, M.I.T. planned a new site across the river in Cambridge. The location they selected was then a broad marsh, but a spot where they would have plenty of room to build. In 1916 the first bit of building in Cambridge was ready, but only gradually did they move out of Back Bay. The original Cambridge building has been extended in so many directions, and now covers so much territory, that, were it possible to straighten out all the bends in the maze of corridors, and then set the result on one end, the outcome would be a building about 3000 feet high.


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