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Gridlock in Dock Square Boston, Massachusetts

The roads and streets in the City of Boston, Massachusetts are laid out in a most haphazard pattern in various areas that confuses visiting drivers and even some area residents; the streets have long been plagued by traffic jams. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1860: “We say the cows laid out Boston. Well, there are worse surveyors.”

The reality of the situation is the City’s origins go back to 1630 when English settlers began to lay out the street patterns. In time the center of Boston was made up of a series of early neighborhoods with streets laid out in grid patterns, although where the roads of one area meet those of another, the result was a jumbled series of connecting thoroughfares.

Today’s feature image by photographer Arthur Griffin was taken in the late-1930s from above Dock Square (near the waterfront) gives a partial view of some of the  spot and its odd traffic patterns at the time. The Square is adjacent to Faneuil Hall, a marketplace and a public meeting hall constructed in the early 1740s and opened in 1743.

Share with us what you find of interest in this photograph courtesy of Digital Commonwealth where it can viewed in its entirety and enlarged.

22 responses to “Gridlock in Dock Square Boston, Massachusetts

  1. In the lead picture, center right foreground, 2nd car back, facing the lower right corner of the photograph, is what looks like a four-door 1937 PACKARD One-Ten [model 115C].

  2. In the lead photograph, parked at the corner on the left, is a 1939 LA SALLE Series 50 Touring Sedan [with running-board].

  3. My eye went to the mid-engined heavy truck pulling in from the left. That and the ’39 Buick convertible in the foreground.

    It’s been said that truck drivers from elsewhere making deliveries in Boston often hired cabbies to guide them to where they needed to be.

  4. The van with the ill fitting tarp is a Ford BB. Another one with 2 licence plates is a 1932 BB Ford. The GMC pickup with long running boards near the light pole is an interesting truck circa 1936. The dark truck with 3 roof hatches is a pre 1934 International. It might be a Brinks truck. The J.R.Kelley truck is a 1938- D series International. To its left looks like a Ford Vanette. The C cab coe heading for the circle is an Autocar. The newspaper delivery truck looks like a 1929 Model AA Ford. The two dark Ford vans in the middle rear are 1931 and 1934. A feature not seen today on restored trucks is the loose chain across the tail gate and the row of cast iron knobs up the rear corner posts for ropes. These are direct carry overs from the horse drawn era an can be seen on the two trucks closest to the viewer.

  5. Black sedan bottom left in first picture looks like a 1941 Ford and has a radio antenna in the middle of the upper windshield, but would be too new for this picture. I wonder if it might be a 1939 or ’40 Mercury?

  6. Gone, Gone, Gone, nothing remains of this except Sam Adams statue, and I’m not sure , but I think that was moved also. Freedom trail passes through here as well.

    • Yes, the 1880 bronze of Anne Whitney’s Samuel Adams sculpture was moved in the 1960s when Government Center was built.

  7. In the middle of the bottom picture, trying to get between the 2 stake body trucks, looks like 31 Dodge Coupe.

  8. How can I send you photos of my husbands grandfather with his race cars. Niles Gary is mentioned in one of your articles and named in a photo. The phot is not of him, but we do have some photos of him and his cars

  9. Maybe Boston is laid out in the European manner.Have streets going ever which way in order to slow down and confuse an invading horde.
    Visigoths,Huns,Vandals but an American version of em

  10. This is an amazing photo of big city traffic in an earlier time period. I have been in some really bad traffic jams but nothing that would compare to this. With traffic coming and going in every direction it still appears that cars and trucks are moving. I can not imagine a driver from today being able to handle such a traffic jam. Which brings up the question, were earlier driver more skillful or just more patient? Or maybe I just was never exposed to such traffic.

    • Something to remember, communication was more personal. All signals were given by hand watching the other guy was key.

    • I suspect that the fact that so many trucks still had open cabs, and everyone had open windows, also led to a free exchange of opinions.

  11. In the second photo, directly below the ’36 Ford convertible sedan is what I believe to be a ’36 Yellow Cab, which utilized Chevrolet body components with a lengthened Fisher A-Body. Also in the view a ’41 Studebaker Cruising sedan to the far right.

  12. I love all pictures with AA & BB Fords , the Trucks that built the Americas and then built Russia, (last manufactured in 1952 !!! (GAZ- AA & GAZ AAA) and many other places on the planet! Ours is requested for local parades & festivals, (she is Not a “trailer queen”, in any way , —ust a well appreciated “rolling Museum” of important Commercial Trucking, and we are honored to maintain her and share her, for all of the children & families who love her! “Belle”, — a: 1930 Ford 157″ W.B. Stakebed, known for her bells, whistles & horns ! an “active retirement” for her!, she was in commercial (mountain -resort & farm use); 1930 to 1956, rescued from a barn in 1984!, busy ever since!!! for 34 years, now, in two states. We are her 4th: owners/keepers.

  13. I love “The Old Motor”, and life would now be horrible without it. Thank you so much for the efforts, and sacrifice it takes to make it comes to us every week. As an antique motorcycle collector, devotee, and restorer; I am always amazed at how rare it is to see motorcycles in these busy early photographs. I’ve heard historians say that Harley, Indian, and Excelsior didn’t market their products right, and should have stressed the fun aspect over the utilitarian function. I guess it really came down to how little disposable income most people had , and how frivolous motorcycles were for average people.

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