Walk to the Sea

Long Wharf

The sea is Boston’s front door. From the city’s inception, Bostonians relied on the sea for transportation, trade, defense, and the city’s expansion. Though these interests still influence the use of Boston Harbor, its public role as a cultural and recreational asset has received greater prominence since the 1970s.

Maginfy icon Photograph of brick building on Long Wharf
Maginfy icon Printed image of ships in Boston Harbor
Maginfy icon Photo from between 1928 and 1938 showing the Custom House Tower from the end of a busy long wharf
Maginfy icon Photo of Long Wharf Salt House originally built in 1720 and rebuilt in 1886
Maginfy icon 1973 photograph of the Long Wharf Chart House in the process of being restored
Maginfy icon 1973 photograph of Long Wharf, with Chart House visible across from the Custom House Tower and the newly built New England Aquarium

Like an arrow pointing back to the Old World, Long Wharf, built in 1711, dominated Boston Harbor. It reached well past approximately 80 other wharves bristling out from the Shawmut Peninsula. About a third of a mile long, it extended the town’s main commercial street, King Street (now State Street), far into the harbor.

In addition to its prominent commercial role, Long Wharf witnessed the arrival of royal governors, chained pirates, British troops, and other historic spectacles. In 1774, British General Gage and his troops arrived here to quell Boston’s rebellious spirit in a scene captured by Paul Revere’s engraving. Gage and his men fled Boston in 1776 from this same wharf.

When fugitive slave Anthony Burns was brought to the wharf in shackles in 1854, to be returned to slavery in Virginia, all of downtown Boston shut down and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest.

Modern water transport includes commuter boats, water taxis, a shuttle to the airport, and cruises around the harbor and to several islands. While some goods still arrive in Boston by ship, much of the commerce around Boston’s harbor relates to tourism and recreation. As in colonial days, Boston’s harbor remains an important gateway to the nation

Landfill operations at Boston’s shoreline continued into the 1980s. Three great fill efforts during the 20th century created the land for Logan Airport, visible across the harbor. Modern as it is, the airport continues an important tradition. Even by air, people still arrive in Boston at the harbor.


  • Middle Passage Port Marker

    The Boston Middle Passage Marker looks two ways: Out to Boston Harbor, where enslaved Africans and enslaved Indigenous people arrived and departed, and also inward, down State Street, where these enslaved people and their descendants lived, worked, and fought for freedom. The Port Marker was designed to echo the Walk to the Sea and serves as a final stop on your walking tour.

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