The Walk to the Sea panel at Government Center has been temporarily removed to facilitate an MBTA remodeling project.
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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 at right. 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.

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.

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.

The English settlers of 1630 would recognize neither modern Boston nor the landforms on which it stands. Their 487-acre Shawmut Peninsula, barely connected to the mainland, was ringed by marshes and tidal mudflats. Bostonians needed much imagination and enterprise to make the peninsula and its hills more suitable for homes and farms. They leveled the steepest slopes and filled the tidal flats to accommodate a growing population. Over the centuries, Bostonians doubled the size of the original peninsula by continually adding land at its edges. Boston then sprawled beyond the Shawmut Peninsula, absorbing towns and adding land, eventually growing to many times its original acreage.

Like much of the local terrain, Boston's 34 Harbor Islands were formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age. The islands provide natural protection for the harbor. Their use dates back to the region's first native people. Ancient heaps of seashells and refuse on the islands testify to the presence and seafood diet of the local Native Americans.

To early European visitors, the islands presented both a hazard and, once charted, a help to navigation. Today, they are an important recreational asset for residents and visitors, overseen by the National Park Service, with ferries serving many of the islands.

Bostonians found various uses for the islands over the centuries. Early English settlers made homes on the islands and farmed them. Spectacle Island, one of the closest, was used in the 18th century as a quarantine area during smallpox outbreaks, and in the 19th century as a gambling resort. Boston also began to use Spectacle Island as a garbage dump in the 19th century, expanding the landmass by 32 acres before the dumping stopped.

Managing the waste of a large population became critical to Boston in the late 20th century. The construction of a sewage treatment plant on Deer Island helped clean the harbor and increase the recreational use of the harbor and its islands.