Boston Fish Pier

Seaport Boulevard and D Street, South Boston

Boston Fish Pier, May 2016. Photo by Newton Court. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Constructed in 1911-1913, the Boston Fish Pier has been the focal point of the city’s fish industry for over a century. According to one study, the efficient and sophisticated nature of the Pier made it a model for the world’s fishing industry in the early 1900s. In 1936, 339 million pounds of fresh fish passed through the Boston Fish Pier. By 1975, however, the amount was 22 million pounds, a manifestation of a dramatic decrease in fish stock due to overfishing, a decline that has intensified since. Massachusetts once had, for example, the world’s richest cod stock. Today, the cod catch is a tiny fraction of what it was.

As a result, the Boston Fish Pier, now owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), has undergone substantial changes in recent decades. Originally focused on the landing and distribution of fresh fish caught in the waters off of Massachusetts, the majority of the fish now processed and sold there arrive from afar. One wholesaler and retailer housed at the Pier reported to The Boston Globe in 2016 that 75 percent of his fish was transported from overseas, arriving in Boston by plane or ship.

The Boston Fish Pier is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located in the Seaport District of South Boston and consists of three buildings, all of which were constructed in 1910-1914; one of them serves as a multipurpose function facility. As of 2020, the pier complex housed 20 commercial fishing boats and 19 seafood-related businesses.

While Massport subsidizes the rents of its tenants, many associated with the pier fear for its future. The key reasons are the lucrative nature of the space the pier occupies in an economically booming Seaport where the fishing business is an outlier and the ever-changing nature of the food industry.

Boston Fish Pier, circa 1910-1930. Public Domain. Source: Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

Getting there:

About 1.1 miles (about a 20-minute walk) from South Station (Red Line). The Silver Line bus from South Station passes close by.

To learn more:

David Abel, “A Milestone in the War Over the True State of Cod,” The Boston Globe, April 3, 2017.

Michael Bodley, “Fish Pier’s Seafood Business Evolving with the Industry,” The Boston Globe, June 16, 2016.

William Francis Gavin (Secretary of the Commonwealth), “Boston Fish Pier for Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places” (press release), March 21, 2017.

Hanna Krueger, “The Last of the Seafaring Life, at the Boston Fish Pier,” The Boston Globe, February 15, 2020.

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Mintz Associates, Boston Fish Pier Feasibility Study, Boston: Mintz Associates, Sept. 15, 1976.

Hyae In Park, Alex Poniatowski, Meryl Prendergast, and Calli Remillard, “Boston’s Last Fishing Pier,” Northeastern University School of Journalism, 2019.

Alana Semuels, Cape Cod’s Namesake Fish Population Rapidly Disappearing, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2014.

The Rabbit Inn

265 ½ Dorchester Street, South Boston

A small bar directly across the street from the Old Colony Housing Project, the Rabbit Inn and its White clientele were victims of police brutality. That it took place when and where it did was related to the often violent protests in opposition to what was popularly known as busing or forced busing, a federal-court-ordered program launched in September 1974 to desegregate the Boston Public Schools.

Around 8pm on Saturday, October 5, 1974, about 14 members of the Boston Police Department’s Tactical Patrol Force (TPF)—allegedly in response to “officer in trouble” phone calls from the bar—entered the Rabbit Inn after removing their badges. Using their billy clubs, Boston’s elite police squad proceeded to destroy much of the interior and assault the bar’s patrons—as well as individuals who happened to be in front of the building, including a 17-year-old on his way to buy milk. The attack lasted approximately five minutes and resulted in at least 10 individuals going to the hospital for head injuries, and about $20,000 in damage to the tavern.

Former site of the Rabbit Inn, April 2016. The bar was located in the left side of the building. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

The attack appears to have been revenge for what transpired the previous evening: someone had thrown a rock through the windshield of a TPF vehicle parked outside the bar. When three TPF officers tried to arrest a suspect, 25-30 people ran out of the Rabbit Inn and assaulted them.

The Rabbit Inn incident resulted in a City Council hearing, and investigations by the Boston Police Department’s Internal Affairs division and the FBI. While twelve TPF members were charged and tried in court, it appears that none were convicted.

Most TPF members (almost all of whom were White) were strongly opposed to busing. However, as the police officers often on the front lines of law and order in anti-busing strongholds and almost exclusively White neighborhoods such as South Boston and Charlestown, they became very unpopular in these areas as they clashed with protestors. Many in these neighborhoods referred to them by nicknames such as “the goon squad” and “Garrity’s Gestapo”—the latter a reference to W. Arthur Garrity, the federal judge who mandated and designed the desegregation effort.

The site of the Rabbit Inn is now a private home, and the TPF was disbanded in 1978.

Getting there:

Red Line to Andrew Station.  The former site of the Rabbit Inn is about 0.4 miles away (approximately a 7-minute walk).

To learn more:

J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families, New York: Knopf, 1985.

David Rogers, “Conflicting Stories Told in South Boston bar incident,” The Boston Evening Globe, October 7, 1974: 3.

David Rogers and Bob Jordan, “Police brutal, City Council told,” The Boston Globe, Oct 8, 1974: 1+.

Jerry Taylor, “Civil Service lifts TPF suspensions in Rabbit Inn case,” The Boston Globe, July 8, 1976: 1+.

There are several school desegregation- and busing-related sites in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston. Among them are South Boston Heights Academy, Carson Beach, Charlestown High School football field, and the Christopher Gibson School.

Nearby site of interest:

St. Augustine Chapel (the oldest Catholic church building still standing in Boston), 181 Dorchester Street.

Fort Independence (Castle Island)

Castle Island, South Boston

Fort Independence, Castle Island, South Boston, 1884. Source: Boston Public Library, Digital Commonwealth, Creative Commons.

A huge explosion rocked South Boston in the early afternoon of December 6, 1898, shaking homes and breaking windows in the City Point area. In April of that year, the federal government had re-taken control of Castle Island (much of which is occupied by Fort Independence) from the Boston Park Department due to the Spanish-American War. This involved the U.S. military’s using of the island as a mine depot.

The imperial war had a geographically extensive and long-term impact—it was through the war that the United States colonized the Philippines, for example, Puerto Rico became a U.S. semi-colony, and Guantánamo a U.S. military base. However, the war as a whole was fairly brief: with the important exception of hostilities in the Philippines, which endured for over a decade, it only lasted three and a half months. So soon after deploying 256 mines to Castle Island, the Army began to decommission them. In the process of doing so, one of the mines exploded, killing four men.

The history of Castle Island and the series of forts (eight in number, the first one built in 1634) that have dominated it over time is a complicated one. One of the oldest fortified sites in what was Britain’s empire in North America, the 22-acre island is today a venue for recreation and relaxation. For much of its history, however, it played a significant role in militarily maintaining relationships of domination and subordination at home and abroad—from its use by British forces to control a rebellious population in colonial-era Boston to the deployment of troops from Fort Independence to enforce the return of at least one fugitive slave and the putting down of anti-draft riots during the Civil War in the North End. Perhaps the most famous solider ever stationed at Fort Independence was an 18-year-old named Edgar Allan Poe; in 1827, he spent five months on Castle Island.

Since 1892, Castle Island has been linked to South Boston proper—first by a wooden bridge and today a landfill. During the summer months, free tours of the fort take place on a regular basis during the day.

Fort Independence, on Castle Island, in the harbor approaches to Boston. Copyright (c) 2006 Chris Wood, Creative Commons.

Getting there:

Red Line to Andrew Station or Broadway Station. MBTA buses to Marine Park in the City Point neighborhood are available. Walk across Marine Park and around the lagoon to the fort.

To learn more:

Daniel Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.

William J. Reid, Castle Island and Fort Independence, Boston: Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston, 1995.

Serena Zabin, The Boston Massacre: A Family History, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.