Today, in summer, green is the color of the Back Bay. Trees form canopies of shade to protect walkers from the heat of the sun. Glorious gardens add a back beat of color to the scene. But all that green is a 20th Century addition to a 19th Century neighborhood.
From the Boston Public Library Collection, this is the "Residence of C. H. Dalton" on Commonwealth Avenue. Notice the lack of garden or trees except on young sapling on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
As Barbara W. Moore and Gail Weesner wrote in their book, Back Bay a Living Portrait,
“By the 1870 summering had become fashionable, and most Back Bay houses were used only as winter residences - from nineteenth-century reminiscences, one senses that the seasonal Bostonian often considered his country house the family's true home; the town house was merely a snug accommodation during the fall weather of the social season.”
Today the streets of the Back Bay are lined with carefully designed and cultivated gardens.
Street trees add cooling shade as we walk along the sidewalks.
Even in this rare summer photo circa 1878 - 1910, from the BPL Print Department, only the park is planted.
Plantings like this Kousa Dogwood are treasured as neighborhood amenities.
Annuals add accents of color and variety to even small, narrow spaces.
This 1880 photo of Marlborough Street taken from the Public Garden shows few trees and a much barer park. From the Boston Public Library Collection.
These days we walk Marlborough Street to enjoy the lush gardens. And, while some of the residents of the Back Bay relocate to summer homes, many stay here and enjoy the quieter months in the city. This June has been an ideal month to enjoy this wonderful neighborhood.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photography: © 2016 Penny & Ed Cherubino and Boston Public Library collection as noted in the captions.