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Boston is the capital and the most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the largest city in New England. Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the oldest and most culturally significant cities in the United States, and is recognized as a global or world city. The city’s economy is based on higher education, research, health care, finance, and technology—principally biotechnology. Citizens of Boston are called Bostonians.
The city lies at the center of Greater Boston, which also includes the cities of Cambridge, Quincy, and Newton, the town of Brookline, and many suburban communities farther from Boston. The Greater Boston area also encompasses portions of the state of New Hampshire. The city also lies at the center of the Boston-Worcester-Manchester Combined Statistical Area (CSA), the fifth-largest CSA in the nation. The Boston metropolitan area, which covers less ground than the CSA, is the nation’s eleventh largest.
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The 18th century Old State House in Boston is surrounded by tall buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Boston was founded on November 17, 1630, by Puritan colonists from England, called the Pilgrim fathers, on a peninsula called Shawmut by its original Native American inhabitants. The peninsula was connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, and surrounded by the waters of Massachusetts Bay and the Back Bay, an estuary of the Charles River. Boston’s early European settlers first called the area Trimountaine; but later renamed the town after Boston, Lincolnshire, England, from which several prominent “pilgrim” colonists emigrated. A majority of Boston’s early citizens were Puritans. Massachusetts Bay Colony‘s original governor, John Winthrop, gave a famous sermon entitled “a City upon a Hill,” which captured the idea that Boston had a special covenant with God. (Winthrop also led the signing of the Cambridge Agreement, which is regarded as a key founding document of the city.) Puritan ethics molded an extremely stable and well-structured society in Boston. For example, shortly after Boston’s settlement, Puritans founded America’s first public school, Boston Latin School (1635), and America’s first college, Harvard College (1636). Hard work, moral uprightness, and an emphasis on education remain part of Boston’s culture. Until the 1760s, Boston was America’s largest, wealthiest, and most influential city.
During the early 1770s, British attempts to exert control on the thirteen colonies, primarily via taxation, prompted Bostonians to initiate the American Revolution. The Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and several early battles occurred in or near the city, including the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston. During this period, Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride.
After the Revolution, Boston quickly became one of the world’s wealthiest international trading ports because it was the closest major American port to Europe — exports included rum, fish, salt, and tobacco. During this era, descendants of old Boston families became regarded as the nation’s social and cultural elites; they were later dubbed the Boston Brahmins. In 1822, Boston was chartered as a city. By the mid-1800s, the city’s industrial manufacturing overtook international trade in economic importance. Until the early 1900s, Boston remained one of the nation’s largest manufacturing centers, and was notable for its garment production, leather goods, and machinery industries. A network of small rivers bordering the city and connecting it to the surrounding region made for easy shipment of goods and allowed for a proliferation of mills and factories. Later, a dense network of railroads facilitated the region’s industry and commerce. From the mid-to-late-nineteenth century, Boston flourished culturally — it became renowned for its rarefied literary culture and lavish artistic patronage. It also became a center of the abolitionist movement.
In the 1820s, Boston’s ethnic composition began to change dramatically with the first wave of European immigrants. Groups such as the Irish and Italians moved into the city and brought with them Roman Catholicism. Currently, Catholics make up Boston’s largest religious community and since the early 20th century the Irish have played a major role in Boston politics — prominent figures include the Kennedys, Tip O’Neill and John F. Fitzgerald.
Boston in 1772 and 1880. The original area of the Shawmut Peninsula was substantially expanded by landfill.
Between 1630 and 1890, the city tripled its physical size by land reclamation, specifically by filling in marshes, mud flats, and gaps between wharves along the waterfront, a process Walter Muir Whitehill called “cutting down the hills to fill the coves.” The largest reclamation efforts took place during the 1800s. Beginning in 1807, the crown of Beacon Hill was used to fill in a 50-acre (20 ha) mill pond that later became Haymarket Square. The present-day State House sits atop this shortened Beacon Hill. Reclamation projects in the middle of the century created significant parts of the South End, West End, the Financial District, and Chinatown. After The Great Boston Fire of 1872, workers used building rubble as landfill along the downtown waterfront. During the mid-to-late 19th century, workers filled almost 600 acres (2.4 km²) of brackish Charles River marshlands west of the Boston Common with soil brought by rail from the hills of Needham Heights. Boston also annexed the adjacent communities of East Boston, Dorchester, South Boston, Brighton, Allston, Hyde Park, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Charlestown.
By the early and mid-20th century, the city was in decline as factories became old and obsolete, and businesses moved out of the region for cheaper labor elsewhere. Boston responded by initiating various urban renewal projects, including the demolition of the old West End neighborhood and the construction of Government Center. In the 1970s, Boston boomed after thirty years of economic downturn, becoming a leader in the mutual fund industry. The city already had a reputation for excellent healthcare services. Hospitals such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital led the nation in medical innovation and patient care. Schools such as Harvard University, MIT, Boston College, and Boston University attracted many students to the Boston area. Nevertheless, the city experienced conflict starting in 1974 over desegregation busing, which resulted in unrest and violence around public schools throughout the mid-1970s. The unrest served to highlight racial tensions in the city.
Housing prices sharply increased in the 1990s. In 2004, the Boston metropolitan area had the highest cost of living of any in the country, and Massachusetts was the only state to lose population.
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A simulated-color satellite image of the Boston area taken on NASA‘s Landsat 3
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 89.6 square miles (232.1 km²)— 48.4 square miles (125.4 km²) of it is land and 41.2 square miles (106.7 km²) of it is water. The total area is 46.0% water. With an elevation of 19 feet (5.8 m) above sea level at Logan International Airport, Boston is bordered by the cities and towns of Winthrop, Revere, Chelsea, Everett, Somerville, Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, Brookline, Needham, Dedham, Canton, Milton, and Quincy—often known as, and considered a part of, Greater Boston.
Much of the Back Bay and South End are built on reclaimed land—two and a half of Boston’s three original hills were used as a source of material for landfill. Only Beacon Hill, the smallest of the three original hills, remains partially intact. The downtown area and immediate surroundings consist mostly of low-rise brick or stone buildings, with many older buildings in the Federal style. Several of these buildings mix in with modern high-rises, notably in the Financial District, Government Center, Back Bay, and the South Boston waterfront. To this day, the South End Historic District remains the nation’s largest surviving contiguous Victorian-era neighborhood. Smaller commercial areas are interspersed amongst single-family homes and wooden/brick multi-family row houses.
The Charles River separates Boston proper from Cambridge, Watertown, and the neighborhood of Charlestown. To the east lies Boston Harbor and the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. The Neponset River forms the boundary between Boston’s southern neighborhoods and the cities of Quincy and Milton. The Mystic River separates the neighborhoods of East Boston and Charlestown from Chelsea and Everett.
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Beacon Hill in the winter.
Boston experiences a continental climate that is very common in New England, but with distinct maritime influences due to its position on the Atlantic Ocean. The weather in Boston changes rapidly. It is not uncommon for the city to experience temperature swings of 54 Fahrenheit degrees (30 Celsius degrees) or more over the course of a couple of days. Summers are typically warm and humid, while winters are cold, windy and snowy. It has been known to snow in May or October but these events are extremely rare.
The earliest recorded 90 °F temperature in a year was in late March 1998, while February in Boston has seen 70 degrees only once in recorded history, on February 24, 1985. Spring in Boston can be hot, with temperatures in the 90s when winds are from offshore, though it is just as possible for a day in late May to remain in the 40s due to cool ocean waters. The hottest month is July, with an average high of 81.9 °F (27.7 °C) and a low of 65.1 °F (18.4 °C), conditions are usually humid. The coldest month is January, with an average high of 35.8 °F (2.1 °C) and a low of 21.6 °F (-5.6 °C). Periods exceeding 90 °F in summer and below 10 °F in winter are not uncommon, but rarely prolonged. The record high temperature is 104 °F (40 °C), recorded July 4, 1911. The record low temperature is -18 °F (-28 °C), recorded on February 9, 1934.
The city averages 42 in (1,080 mm) of rainfall a year. It also coincidentally averages 42 in (108 cm) of snowfall a year, although this increases dramatically as one goes inland away from the city. Massachusetts’ geographic location’s jutting out into the North Atlantic also make the city very prone to Nor’easter weather systems that can dump more than 20 in (50 cm) of snow on the region in one storm event. Fog is prevalent, particularly in spring and early summer and the occasional Tropical Storm or Hurricane can threaten the region, especially in early autumn.
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As of the censusGR2 of 2006, there were around 600,000 people, 239,528 households, and 115,212 families residing in the city. The population density was 12,166 people per square mile (4,697/km²). There were 251,935 housing units at an average density of 5,203 per square mile (2,009/km²). However, according to “Insight” in 1996, the population of metropolitan Boston in the day time can accumulate to 1,171,253. This fluctuation of people is caused by commuter’s traveling from surrounding communities for work, education, medical purposes, historical sites ext. Normally, Boston ranked by population would be the 20th largest city in the U.S.; But with this unique scenario, Boston would fall within the top 10 largest cities in the United States. According to the census, the racial makeup of the city was 54.47% White, 25.33% Black or African American, 0.40% Native American, 7.52% Asian American, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 7.83% from other races, and 4.39% from two or more races. 14.44% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race. (These figures became less reliable because of the large Brazilian population, estimated by some studies to approach 250,000 in Massachusetts. Census data may not have fully accounted for this significant segment of the community because Brazilians speak Portuguese and often do not consider themselves to belong to one specific racial category, such as white or black, or to the Hispanic/Latino ethnic category.)
People of Irish descent form the largest single ethnic group in the city, making up 15.8% of the population. Italians also form a significant segment of the city’s population, accounting for 8.3% of the population. People of West Indian ancestry are another sizeable group (6.4%); about half of them are of Haitian ancestry. Some neighborhoods, such as Dorchester, have received an influx of Vietnamese residents in the past few years.
Per capita income in the greater Boston area, by U.S. Census block group
There were 239,528 households out of which 22.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 27.4% were married couples living together, 16.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 51.9% were non-families. 37.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 3.17.
In the city the population was spread out with 19.8% under the age of 18, 16.2% from 18 to 24, 35.8% from 25 to 44, 17.8% from 45 to 64, and 10.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $39,629, and the median income for a family was $44,151. Males had a median income of $37,435 versus $32,421 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,353. 19.5% of the population and 15.3% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 25.6% of those under the age of 18 and 18.2% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
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Boston’s colleges and universities have a major impact on the city and region’s economy. Not only are they major employers, but they also attract high-tech industries to the city and surrounding region, including computer hardware and software companies as well as biotechnology companies like Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Millipore, Genzyme, and Biogen Idec. Boston receives the highest amount of annual funding from the National Institutes of Health of all cities in the United States.
Other important industries include financial services, especially mutual funds and insurance. Boston-based Fidelity Investments helped popularize the mutual fund in the 1980s, and has made Boston one of the top financial cities in the United States. The city is also the regional headquarters of major banks such as Bank of America and Sovereign Bank, and a center for venture capital. Boston is also a printing and publishing center. Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin is headquartered within the city. The city is home to four major convention centers: the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay, the Bayside Expo Center in Dorchester, and the World Trade Center Boston and Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on the South Boston waterfront. Because of its status as a state capital and the regional home of federal agencies, law and government is another major component of the city’s economy.
Major companies headquartered within the city include Gillette, owned by Procter & Gamble, and Teradyne, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of semiconductor and other electronic test equipment. New Balance has its headquarters in the city. Other major companies are located outside the city, especially along Route 128. The Port of Boston is a major seaport along the United States’ east coast, and is also one of the oldest continuously-operated industrial and fishing ports in the Western Hemisphere.
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Boston Colleges and Universities
Boston’s reputation as the Athens of America derives in large part from the teaching and research activities of more than 100 colleges and universities located in its metropolitan area. These include some of the most famous universities in the world. More than 250,000 students attend college in Boston and Cambridge. Thousands more attend the colleges in the surrounding suburbs.
Boston College, the first institution of higher education established in the city and one of the oldest Jesuit universities in the country, is in Chestnut Hill. Boston University, located along the Charles River on Commonwealth Avenue, is the largest university in the city. Northeastern University, a large private university, maintains a campus in the Fenway district.
Harvard University, the nation’s oldest institution of higher learning, is located across the Charles River in Cambridge. The business and medical schools are in Boston, and there are plans for major expansion into Boston’s Allston neighborhood. This will put a majority of the students, faculty and physical plant in Boston. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which originated in Boston and was long known as “Boston Tech,” moved across the river to Cambridge in 1916.Tufts University administers its medical and dental school adjacent to the Tufts-New England Medical Center (Tufts-NEMC), a 451-bed academic medical institution that is home to both a full-service hospital for adults and the Floating Hospital for Children. Its undergraduate campus is in Medford. Additionally, Wheelock College, Simmons College and Wentworth Institute of Technology, founding members of the Colleges of the Fenway, are located in the Fenway area. Adjacent to them is Northeastern University, prominently known for its cooperative education offerings. Suffolk University, a small private university known for its law school, maintains a campus on Beacon Hill. Emerson College, located near Boston Common, is a small private college with a strong reputation in the fields of performing arts, journalism, writing, and film. The city is also home to a number of conservatories and art schools, including the Massachusetts College of Art, New England Conservatory of Music (the oldest independent conservatory in the United States), Boston Conservatory, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Berklee College of Music. Roxbury Community College and Bunker Hill Community College are the city’s two community colleges. Boston has one major public university, the University of Massachusetts Boston, located on Columbia Point in Dorchester.
Boston Primary and Secondary Schools
Boston Public Schools, the oldest public school system in the U.S., enrolls 58,600 students from kindergarten to grade 12. The system operates 145 schools, which includes Boston Latin School (the oldest public school, established in 1635; a public exam school admitting students in the 7th and 9th grades only and serving grades 7-12), English High (the oldest public high school, established 1821), and Mather (the oldest public elementary school, established in 1639). The city also has private, parochial, and charter schools. 3000 students of racial minorities attend participating suburban schools through the Metropolitan Educational Opportunity Council, or METCO. In 2002, Forbes Magazine ranked the Boston Public Schools as the best large city school system in the country, with a graduation rate of 82%.
Boston shares many cultural roots with greater New England, including a dialect of the Eastern New England accent known as Boston English, and a regional cuisine with a large emphasis on seafood and dairy products. Irish Americans are a major influence on Boston’s politics and religious institutions. Boston has its own collection of neologisms known as Boston slang.
Many consider Boston a highly cultured city, perhaps as a result of its intellectual reputation; much of Boston’s culture originates at its universities. The city also has a number of ornate theatres, including the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston Opera House, The Wang Center for the Performing Arts, Schubert Theater, and the Orpheum Theater. Renowned performing arts groups include the Boston Ballet, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Boston Lyric Opera Company, and the Handel and Haydn Society (the oldest choral company in the United States). There are a number of major annual events such as First Night, which occurs during New Year’s Eve, and several events during the Fourth of July. These events include the weeklong Harborfest festivities and a Boston Pops concert accompanied by fireworks on the banks of the Charles River.
In contrast to what might be considered the more “refined” aspects of Boston’s culture, the city is also one of the birthplaces of the hardcore punk genre of music. Boston musicians have contributed greatly to the hardcore scene over the years (see also Boston hardcore). Boston had one of the leading local third wave ska and ska punk scenes in the mid-1990s, with bands such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mr. Cranky, The Allstonians, and Skavoovie and the Epitones. The 1980s hardcore compilation This Is Boston, Not L.A. highlights some of the bands that built the scene. Several clubs in the city, such as The Channel, Bunnrattys in Allston, and The Rathskeller, were renowned for showcasing local and out-of-city punk bands.
Boston Sites of interest
Because of the city’s prominent role in the American Revolution, several historic sites relating to that period are preserved as part of the Boston National Historical Park. Many are found along the Freedom Trail, which is marked by a red line or bricks embedded in the ground. Along the Freedom Trail is Boston Common, which is the oldest public park in the United States. Along with the adjacent Boston Public Garden, it is part of the Emerald Necklace, a string of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to encircle the city. In the winter, the Frog Pond at Boston Common doubles as an ice-skating rink. Another major park is the Esplanade located along the banks of the Charles River. A major recreation site for many Bostonians, it is also the site of the Hatch Shell. Other parks are scattered throughout the city, with the major parks and beaches located near Castle Island, in Charlestown and along the Dorchester, South Boston, and East Boston shorelines. The largest parks in the city are Franklin Park and the nearby Arnold Arboretum (both part of the Emerald Necklace), and Stony Brook State Reservation.
The Back Bay district includes many prominent landmarks such as the Christian Science Center, Boston Public Library, Copley Square, and Newbury Street. Back Bay is also the home of New England’s tallest two buildings: the John Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center. Near the John Hancock Tower is the old John Hancock Building with its prominent weather forecast beacon. Other notable districts/neighborhoods include Beacon Hill, Charlestown, Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, North End, and South Boston.
Boston is home to several museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Museum of Science. The University of Massachusetts campus at Columbia Point houses the John F. Kennedy Library. The New England Aquarium, Franklin Park Zoo, Boston Athenaeum (one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States), and the Boston Children’s Museum are located within the city.
Along with the Freedom Trail, there are two other self-guided walking tours: Harbor Walk, which is designed to follow the entire shore of Boston Harbor, and the Black Heritage Trail. A popular guided tour is the Boston Duck Tour, which uses World War II-era duck boats. The outer suburbs of Boston, which tend to be forested, have vibrantly colored foliage every autumn that attracts many tourists.
Boston is home to the Bull & Finch Pub, whose building is known from the television show Cheers. Exterior shots of the building were used in the show.
The Boston Red Sox (the “Sox” as they are colloquially called) are a founding member of the American League of Major League Baseball. The team plays its home games at Fenway Park, located near Kenmore Square in the Fenway section. Built in 1912, it is the oldest sports arena or stadium in active use in the United States among the four major professional sports. Boston was also the site of the first game of the first baseball World Series, in 1903. The series was played between the Red Sox (then known as the “Pilgrims”) and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The TD Banknorth Garden (formerly called the Fleet Center) is above North Station and is the home of two major league teams: the Boston Bruins ice hockey team of the National Hockey League and the Boston Celtics basketball team of the National Basketball Association. The Bruins was the first American member of the National Hockey League and an Original Six franchise. The Boston Celtics was a founding member of the Basketball Association of America, one of the two leagues that merged to form the NBA. The Celtics have the distinction of having more World Championships than any other NBA team with 16 championships from 1957 to 1986.
Although the team has played in suburban Foxboro since 1971, the New England Patriots are Boston’s football team. The team was founded in 1960 as the Boston Patriots, a charter member of the American Football League, and in 1970 the team joined the National Football League. While in Boston, the team played at Nickerson Field (at the time still known and configured as Braves Field), Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium, and BC’s Alumni Stadium. The team has won three Super Bowl titles (2001, 2003, 2004) since the 2001 season, and is now second in popularity to the Red Sox. They share Gillette Stadium with the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer.
Boston’s many colleges and universities are active in college athletics. There are four NCAA Division I members in the city: Boston College (member of the Atlantic Coast Conference), Boston University (America East Conference), Northeastern University (Colonial Athletic Association), and Harvard University (Ivy League). All except Harvard, which belongs to the ECAC Hockey League, belong to the Hockey East conference in hockey. The hockey teams of these four universities meet every year in a four-team tournament known as the “Beanpot Tournament,” played at the TD Banknorth Garden over two Monday nights in February.
One of the most famous sporting events in the city is the Boston Marathon, the 26 mile (42 km) run from Hopkinton to Copley Square in the Back Bay. The Marathon, the world’s oldest, is popular and heavily attended. It is run on Patriot’s Day in April and always coincides with a Red Sox home baseball game that starts at 11:00 AM (the only MLB game to start before noon local time all year). Another major event held in the city is the Head of the Charles Regatta rowing competition on the Charles River.
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Longfellow Bridge across the Charles River, with two MBTA Red Line trains. The Beacon Hill neighborhood is in the background.
Logan International Airport, located in the East Boston neighborhood, handles most of the scheduled passenger service for Boston. Surrounding the city are three major general aviation relievers: Beverly Municipal Airport to the north, Bedford/Hanscom Field to the west, and Norwood Memorial Airport to the south. T. F. Green Airport serving Providence, Rhode Island, and Manchester-Boston Airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, also provide scheduled passenger service. There are also many smaller airports within a 30-mile (48-km) radius of the city.
Since September 11, 2001 Attacks to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, exceptionally strict security has been implemented at some of Boston’s airports, especially Logan and Hanscom fields because some of the perpetrators of this attack boarded planes at Logan. Because of this and Boston’s location as the closest American port to Europe, it is one of the main destinations for airliners that experience security breaches or disturbances while enroute to the U.S. However, in many cases airplanes are diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, or other Canadian airports.
Boston Streets and highways
Downtown Boston’s streets do not seem to follow a logical pattern, as they were not planned when built centuries ago; they were created as needed, and as wharves and landfill expanded the area of the small Boston peninsula. Along with several rotaries, roads change names and lose and add lanes seemingly at random. In its March 2006 issue, Bicycling magazine named Boston as one of the worst cities in the U.S. for cycling. Boston has been described as a “City of Squares”, referring to the tradition of naming the intersections of major thoroughfares after prominent city residents.
On the other hand, streets in the Back Bay, East Boston, the South End, and South Boston follow a grid system. However, these grids are built around the existing chaos from the city’s early growth.
Boston is the eastern terminus of I-90, also known as the Mass Pike. I-95, which surrounds the city, is locally referred to as Route 128, its historical state route numbering. U.S. Route 1 (also known locally as ‘Route 1′) and I-93 runs north to south through the city. The elevated Central Artery, which ran through downtown Boston and was constantly prone to heavy traffic, was replaced with an underground tunnel through the Big Dig.
Public Transit and Rail
An MBTA sign at the Chinatown stop on the Orange Line. The MBTA rapid transit system serves urban Boston and surrounding suburban areas.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operated the first underground rapid transit system in the USA,which has since been expanded to 65.5 miles of track, reaching as far north as Malden, as far south as Braintree, and as far west as Newton. Collectively known as the “T”, the MBTA also operates a network of bus lines and water shuttles, and a commuter rail network totalling over 200 miles, extending north to the Merrimack River valley, west to Worcester, and south to Providence, Rhode Island. The extensiveness of the T is responsible for the fact that 31.5% of Boston commuters use public transit.
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and Chicago lines originate at South Station and stop at Back Bay. Fast Northeast Corridor trains, which service New York City, Washington, D.C., and points in between, also stop at Route 128 Station in the southwestern suburbs of Boston. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s Downeaster service to Maine originates at North Station.
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