« PreviousContinue »
water and distant horizon that ever was opened into the heart of any great city that I have ever seen, except Naples. The parks in London, the Central Park in New York, offer nothing of the kind. This view, kept open, would bring the country into the city, and blend them together in a manner as rare as it would be delightful. We do not see this, but strangers do; and I, perhaps, am more impressed with it, because Boston is less familiar to me. We do not know what we are losing, and shall not, perhaps, till it is lost beyond recovery.
The health consideration, I am persuaded, is a great one. I have watched the vane from my chamber window for the last four months, and I believe that I am entirely within bounds when I say, that twenty-seven days out of thirty it has pointed to the southwest. The Back Bay and the Common are now a grand tunnel to let the fresh breezes of the country into the city. How it will be when that avenue is choked up, future generations will have time to lament; but there will be no remedy.
But, whatever the decision shall be, you at least, my dear sir, will have the comfort of reflecting that you have done what you could. Wishing that I could as hopefully, as I do earnestly, desire success for your public spirited efforts,
I am, with sincere regard, yours truly,
GEO. H. SNELLING, Esq., Boston:
Dear Sir, -Your favor of February 29th, asking my opinion on the hygienic influences of movements upon the Back Bay, so called, was duly received, and has been but hastily considered for lack of time.
The advantages which your plan presents to the future health and welfare of our city appear to me too obvious to need much argument.
The great subject of public health, and the influences which affect, or the laws which regulate it, have received but small consideration among us. In England, the sanitary question is said by high authority to be the question of the day.
I do not think that the plan now being pursued in filling up the Back Bay would be tolerated in any English town, especially when the modification which you advocate presents the promise of such immense advantages for the benefit of all coming time.
Our American cities are negligent - notoriously so in matters of health and physical comfort. Pecuniary interests are uppermost, and men seem disposed to add wealth at the expense of life. This is short-sighted. It is sinning on credit where there is no bankruptcy; but future generations must pay dearly for the improvident policy of the present.
But these are general statements. Specific facts tending to prove the incalculable benefit to the health and vital energy of our citizens, which would result from the adoption of the plan you propose in filling the Back Bay, might be drawn in large numbers, and of the most convincing character, from the many reports of the British Board of Health, which are before me.
But, without going abroad, let us look for a moment at lessons derivable from examining some sections of our city. For the sake of comparison, let us consider Wards Six and Seven, which occupy opposite sides of the city, in a middle section between its northern and southern extremes.
Ward Six lies on the western side of the city, and embraces that elevated portion between Cambridge, Temple, Mount Vernon, and Beacon streets, with Charles River for the remainder of its boundary. This section is well located by nature for drainage and comparatively pure air, having the Common contiguous on the south, and the water on the west. It includes the site of the State House, and covers the western slope of the hill on which the capitol is so conspicuous. This region is inhabited by many of our most opulent, as well as many of our more indigent citizens. More than one-half of all the colored population of our city dwell in Ward Six. The population of this ward is shown by the census of 1855 to be 11,597; and the deaths during 1855 were one hundred and sixty-seven, being a little less than one in seventy (69.4) of the population. This is 1.44 per cent, and proved to be the most healthy ward in the city during the period of observation.
Ward Seven lies on the easterly side of the middle portion of
the city, and is bounded by a line running from Central Wharf up Milk street to Washington, thence to Winter, through that to Tremont, thence to West, and down through West and Bedford streets in nearly a straight direction to the water of the harbor at the foot of Summer street, having the shore for the remainder of its boundary. This embraces Fort Hill, the whole of Broad street, Federal street, etc., localities well known for their insalubrity. It also contains some first-class residences in the vicinity of Summer, Bedford, and Washington streets, and between Winter and West streets. But a large portion of its territory is densely peopled, badly drained, low, and filthy. Its population consists of 18,430, only twenty-two of whom are colored. The deaths during the twelvemonth were five hundred and five, which is one in thirty-six and a half, or 2.74 per cent of its population, being in comparison with the mortality of ward six as TWENTY-THREE to TWELve. Thus, as will be seen at a glance, ward seven exhibits nearly twice the mortality that ward six does. Had the proportion of deaths to the living been as low in ward seven as it was in ward six, there would have been only two hundred and sixty-five deaths during the twelvemonth, which would have been a saving of no less than two hundred and forty lives in that single ward during one brief year. This would have been no less than 1,200 lives saved at the same rate during the past five years. Who can say that this might not have been done by proper sanitary regulations, which are specifically under the power of the government. Are not the protection and preservation of life as much the subjects of municipal regård as the protection of property? It is made so in other countries, at least.
The foregoing is extracted from my report on the census of Boston in 1855, made to the city government.
Many of the advantages to health now enjoyed in ward six are due to the free exposure to pure air from the water, and many of the destructive influences in ward seven are due to the absence of
The entire enclosure of the Back Bay will tend to produce the conditions, in this particular, now inflicted on ward seven, and the
modification proposed by you will tend in a great measure to secure the advantages in this particular now enjoyed by ward six.
The subject might be pursued, but time forbids. I sincerely hope, in behalf of posterity, that a fatal error, now easily avoided, but, once committed, irreparable, will not be committed by those to whose wisdom and discretion such weighty interests are intrusted. I trust, sir, that the authorities of the Commonwealth will act wisely in relation to the welfare of the metropolis, and exercise a practical, operative belief in the sentiment of an eminent foreign writer and divine, who says, "The facts of sanitary science are at once so notorious and so easy of comprehension that ignorance in an educated man must be either wilful and deliberate, or the consequence of a stupidity which ought to unfit a man for any office or responsibility." *
Dear Sir,- Agreeing with you in your opinion as to the necessity of a wider central opening in the building over of the Back Bay, I regret that I cannot second you with influence and ability equal to the strength of my conviction that this closing up of the city on one side will compromise the health of its present and future inhabitants, and that the modification you propose would greatly lessen the evil.
A large basin of water on the west, renewed from the ocean at every tide, would purify the atmosphere and tend to equalize the temperature in summer and winter. It would, by increasing the tidal flow, facilitate the drainage of this section of the city, and in some degree compensate for the injury which has been done to the channel of our harbor by encroachments upon its marginal waters, and the driving of numerous bridge piles in the bed of Mystic and
* Rev. Charles Kingsley.
Charles Rivers. It would, moreover, unquestionably so much enhance the value of lots in its neighborhood as to render the whole receipts from the Back Bay lands much greater than they could otherwise be.
In every city of the world, where an extensive water front, unappropriated to business purposes, exists, it will be found to be occupied by the wealthiest inhabitants. The most valuable land for residences is to be found, at St. Petersburgh, on the banks of the Neva; at Hamburgh, on the Jungfernstieg and Allsterdam; at Dresden, on the Terasse; at Frankfort, on the Schöne Aussicht; at Florence, along the Arno; at Naples, on the Chiaja; and in this country, at Charleston on the Battery, and at Chicago on Michigan avenue.
You desire me to repeat to you some remarks at an informal meeting on this subject.
Some thirteen years ago, at Frankfort on the Maine, a city occupying a very small area, compactly built and densely populated, I was attracted by a broad open space, nearly encircling the city, laid out as a garden, and used as a public promenade. Dr. Schott, an eminent physician of the place, said to me, that although this ground was of great advantage for recreation and exercise, he conceived that it was desirable chiefly as a ventilator for the narrow, high-built streets and lanes of the city; that formerly this space was occupied by walls for defence; that formerly Frankfort had been noted for the prevalence of scrofulous diseases, and a great number of cripples and rickety persons; but that in the lapse of one generation after the removal of the ramparts, the physical characteristics of the population had changed, and the cripples had disappeared.
It has, I believe, been lately decreed by the Austrian government that the walls around Vienna shall be levelled. This city has long been surrounded and separated from its suburbs by spacious pleasure-grounds, and probably the chief, if not the sole object of this levelling, is to allow a freer circulation of air through the narrow limits of the city proper.
Hoping that in this respect we shall be not less intelligent and provident than the cities of Europe, and that our western boundary