The shipbuilding industry that enlivened Boston's waterfront for two centuries ended with the advent of steamships around the time of the Civil War. Port operations diminished. Boston's maritime infrastructure became obsolete.
In the 20th century, the proud Custom House came to dominate a waterfront in decline. Instead of shipped goods, the vacant wharves began to store a different kind of commodity — parked cars for downtown office workers.
Within a generation, however, the bustle at Boston's waterfront returned. The ships and longshoremen were gone. Great granite warehouses were converted to apartments, and cultural institutions, such as the New England Aquarium, were built. Hotels took choice waterfront locations. Tourist cruises and pleasure boats re-enlivened the docks. Today, the waterfront is once again crowded with activity, its uses re-imagined.