the Fort Hill area

Searching for further information on the development of Boston's Financial District led me to some important bits of topographical history. In colonial times the harborside eminence known as Fort Hill was the site of a protective battery overlooking Boston's inner harbor. Early maps show it clearly:

Fort Hill in 1806 offers this engaging summary:

Fort Hill was the most southern of the original hills on the Shawmut Penninsula. Because of its commanding presence over the harbor, it had a fort built on it. After the Revolution, it became a desirable place to live, and wealthy people, involved in the shipping industry, built fancy homes there. In the 1820's and 1830's these wealthy people moved away to other neighborhoods. Institutions (such as the Perkins School for the Blind) acquired these buildings. Unfortunately these institutions then left as well, and by the 1840's Fort Hill became a poor neighborhood for Irish immigrants (who were fleeing the Irish potato famine to Boston at that time). The neighborhood became overcrowded and unhealthy (largely due to the actions of irresponsible absentee landlords). For example, some people found themselves living in apartments with no ventilation and open sewage draining into their dwellings. These conditions helped lead to a cholera epidemic in 1849.

A proposal was put forth in 1854 to create land for exanding businesses along the waterfront. The businessmen who proposed this idea suggested cutting down Fort Hill and using it to fill in more of the waterfront (in the present Atlantic Avenue area). At first, the city simply tried to cut through the middle of the hill along Oliver Street, but when the hillsides began to collapse, they tore the whole hill down and used the material as land fill.

There are photographs of the houses around Fort Hill before it was carted off to fill in a nearby cove of Boston Harbor: offers eloquent images of the process of the hill's removal, and grounds its consequences in the State Street Bank story:

The next important event was the Great Fire of 1872, which obliterated a large area around the present Financial District:

These are a few of the many photographs of the aftermath:

The fire was, among other things, a great opportunity for rebuilding, according to then-modern construction technology (brick buildings, mostly 5-6 stories, including water and fire protection).