Immigrant Settlement in Greater Boston, 1870-2010

This animated map shows the percentage of foreign-born residents in the cities and towns of Greater Boston since 1870. To see an interactive map with with community-level data over time and a fuller discussion of the trends, please click here. For historical profiles of specific neighborhoods and towns, see boxes below.

Source: US Census, 1870-2010

Immigrant Places
Italian Saints Festival On Hanover Street In The North End, Ca. 1930. Leslie Jones, Courtesy Of The Boston Public Library.

The North End

The North End is Boston’s oldest and most iconic immigrant neighborhood. Its proximity to the waterfront and the city’s downtown markets made it an enduring gateway for new arrivals from Ireland to Russia. But it was Italians who proved to be the neighborhood’s most important denizens in the twentieth century, and it soon became known as Boston’s Little Italy, a reputation it still has today.

Postcard Of Harrison Avenue In Chinatown, 1910. Courtesy Of The Trustees Of Boston Public Library.

Chinatown

Once the edge of Boston’s South Cove, the Chinatown neighborhood dates back to  the 1870s and remains the largest center of Asian-American life in New England. Chinatown Atlas, a digital project on the neighborhood’s history, offers an exciting window into its culture and evolution.

Corner Of Spring And Chambers Streets In Boston's West End, 1910. Courtesy Of The Trustees Of Boston Public Library.

The West End

Once an outlying rural peninsula, the West End became one of Boston’s most populous immigrant districts at the turn of the twentieth century. The expansion of the railroad and other industries attracted thousands of newcomers, especially Jews and Italians. When its population declined after World War II, the West End became the site of the city’s first major urban renewal project, displacing many of its immigrant residents.

Immigrant Workers' Homes On Marginal Street, 1909. Courtesy Boston City Archives.

East Boston

Situated just across the harbor from the North End, East Boston has been a zone of emergence for striving immigrants since its founding in the 1830s. Today it has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any Boston neighborhood.

Harrison & Plympton Edit

The South End

Built on landfill in the early nineteenth century, the South End became the city’s most diverse neighborhood. From the Irish and Germans of the 1840s to the Latino migrants of the 1970s, the neighborhood attracted a dazzling array of immigrants until redevelopment and gentrification made the area unaffordable for many.

Corner Of Dudley And Warren Streets (Dudley Square) In 1856, As Irish And Other Immigrants Were First Moving Into This Emerging Streetcar Suburb. Courtesy Of The Trustees Of The Boston Public Library.

Roxbury

Originally a separate town west of Boston, Roxbury began attracting immigrants even before it was annexed by the city in 1868. Since then Irish, Jewish, West Indian, Dominican, and African immigrants have all shaped the neighborhood’s development and culture–even as its African American population remains a strong presence.

Walnut Street Shul (Agudas Sholom) In Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Chelsea

Once known as the “Jerusalem of America” because of its many Jewish residents, Chelsea was a major industrial center that attracted thousands of immigrants. Today, it still has the largest foreign-born population in Massachusetts, with many hailing from Central America.

Corner Of Belgrade Avenue And Birch Street In Roslindale, 1899. Courtesy Of Roslindale Historical Society.

Roslindale

Once part of Roxbury, Roslindale became a “garden suburb” of Boston where immigrant Irish, German, and Canadian workers made their homes in the late nineteenth century. Migrants and refugees from Europe and the Mediterranean followed, establishing small ethnic businesses in this outlying Boston neighborhood. Since the 1980s, newcomers from the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Middle East have moved in, opening an array of ethnic businesses that give Roslindale Village its distinctly international flavor.

South Boston 1932

South Boston

Once known as Dorchester Neck, South Boston became a major industrial center and the city’s preeminent Irish and Irish-American neighborhood for more than a century. But it has also been home to eastern and southern Europeans as well as recent immigrants from Asia and the Caribbean.

Postcard Of Harvard Avenue In Allston Village, Between Commonwealth And Brighton Avenues, 1921. Courtesy Of The Brighton-Allston Historical Society.

Allston-Brighton

Once a center of Boston’s slaughter houses and its immigrant workers, the twin neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton are still brimming with newcomers from across the globe. But today many come via the area’s universities and live amid a diverse streetscape of ethnic eateries and businesses.

Postcard Of Dorchester Avenue Near Savin Hill Avenue, Ca. 1913.

Dorchester

A separate town until annexed by Boston in 1870, Dorchester attracted successive waves of Irish, Jewish, and other immigrants attracted by its extensive streetcar lines and triple decker homes. Today Haitians, Vietnamese, West Indians and Cape Verdeans call this neighborhood home.