Gaining Ground

Gaining Ground

A History of Landmaking in Boston

By Nancy S. Seasholes

Why and how Boston was transformed by landmaking.





Why and how Boston was transformed by landmaking.

Fully one-sixth of Boston is built on made land. Although other waterfront cities also have substantial areas that are built on fill, Boston probably has more than any city in North America. In Gaining Ground historian Nancy Seasholes has given us the first complete account of when, why, and how this land was created.The story of landmaking in Boston is presented geographically; each chapter traces landmaking in a different part of the city from its first permanent settlement to the present. Seasholes introduces findings from recent archaeological investigations in Boston, and relates landmaking to the major historical developments that shaped it. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, landmaking in Boston was spurred by the rapid growth that resulted from the burgeoning China trade. The influx of Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century prompted several large projects to create residential land—not for the Irish, but to keep the taxpaying Yankees from fleeing to the suburbs. Many landmaking projects were undertaken to cover tidal flats that had been polluted by raw sewage discharged directly onto them, removing the "pestilential exhalations" thought to cause illness. Land was also added for port developments, public parks, and transportation facilities, including the largest landmaking project of all, the airport.

A separate chapter discusses the technology of landmaking in Boston, explaining the basic method used to make land and the changes in its various components over time. The book is copiously illustrated with maps that show the original shoreline in relation to today's streets, details from historical maps that trace the progress of landmaking, and historical drawings and photographs.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262194945 552 pp. | 10 in x 9 in 300 illus.


  • A book of great import...

    Martin Zimmerman

    Landscape Architecture

  • Gaining Ground is a stunning compilation of material that documents over three centuries' worth of [changes].

    Richard Longstreth

    American Studies International

  • ...Seasholes has provided a document that brings history alive...

    Civil Engineering

  • Seasholes's well-documented study provides a unique perspective on Boston's history.


  • This book charts the 'made land' accretions in anecdote-laced prose...

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • This book will appeal to those with a special interest in Boston or in the process of landmaking.

    Harold Henderson



  • We city walkers and history buffs have all picked up a little architectural history. Architecture is fun, but it won't tell you why Boston looks the way it does. You have to know how there came to be land beneath the streets! Here at last is an easy-reading and complete history of Boston's three centuries of landmaking. With Dr. Seasholes you can follow the story neighborhood by neighborhood or view the city as a whole. This is public history at its best.

    Sam Bass Warner, Jr.

    author of Greater Boston

  • For nearly 400 years Bostonians have been busy digging, filling and making land. Whether it was simply dumping refuse into open spaces between wharves or laying out complicated plans to fashion new neighborhoods, we have probably made more land than any other city in America. Filling in is what Boston is all about. In a book that can only be described as a tour de force Seasholes takes us on a tour of 'gained ground.' With the precision of an engineer, the perspective of an architect, the sense of a historian and the perseverance of an archaeologist, she is our Baedeker across every inch of new ground. It is simply not possible to understand Boston without knowing this history, and it is impossible to know this history without reading Seasholes. If you can handle the weight of this hefty volume then tuck it under your arm and head out to the streets and use it to discover Boston underfoot.

    William M. Fowler, Jr.

    Director, Massachusetts Historical Societ

  • Gaining Ground is now the definitive treatment of Boston's landmaking. Its scope—from the central waterfront to East Boston and from 1630 to today—the depth of its research, and its use of historic maps to illustrate each project make it a truly encyclopedic work.

    Richard Garver

    Deputy Director, Boston Redevelopment Authority


  • Co-winner of a special 2004 Boston Authors Award for books about Boston presented by the Boston Authors Club