Back Bay, October 2014, transportation


storrow drive without traffic (sonya kovacic)

storrow drive without traffic (sonya kovacic)

Some readers may be stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive on their way home today. Ironically if James Storrow, who the parkway was named after, had his way, there would be no Storrow Drive. 

James Storrow (1864-1926) was a prominent investment banker from Boston. He was business partners with Henry Higginson (founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), was the third president of General Motors, and the second president of the Boys Scouts of America. His wife Helen Storrow, (1864-1944) also led a prolific life. She was a philanthropist who among other things was involved in the Girls Scouts of America. Both of the Storrows were passionate about parks and land preservation and helped develop the Charles River Esplanade. Esplanade means "flat promenade along a shore" in French.

According to Linda M. Cox's book, The Charles River Esplanade, our Boston Treasure:before the esplanade the "Charles river was still a tidal estuary, rising and falling nearly ten feet. The mudflats at low tide exposed revolting sights and smells: raw sewage, waste from factories, offal from slaughterhouses The fashionable riverside homes on Beacon Street (on new-filled land) were separated from all this by a narrow road, sometimes flooded at high tide." Thanks to Storrow and others, legislation approved the esplanade project in 1903, and in 1910 the project started. After James died in 1926, Helen donated a million dollars in his name to enlarge the esplanade with the stipulation that there be no road.

Five years after Helen's death, a road was built anyways. Storrow Drive was approved by legislation in 1949 as a way to alleviate traffic in the Back Bay and in 1951, construction began. Storrow Drive is a four lane highway through the Esplanade between Leverett Circle and Soldiers field near the Boston University Bridge. It sees over 100,000 cars a day.

A postcard sent on December 4th, 1947, only 4 years before the construction of Storrow Drive, shows what the esplanade used to look like.