Back Bay is located just off the Massachusetts Turnpike to the west of Boston downtown and across the Charles River from East Cambridge, Boston.
Perhaps dating to 3000 B. C. or earlier, Native Americans had fish farms and dams in Back Bay. When Boston was constructing its subway system in the early 1900s, workers found the ruins of the ancient fisheries and water barriers. In 1814, developers built a milldam that also became part of a toll road from Boston to Watertown. When the bay was filled in the late 1800s, filling started where the Kenmore Square stands now, and most of the milldam is under Beacon Street.
In 1966, the Massachusetts Legislature set up the Back Bay Architectural Commission to oversee and restrict any altering of the exteriors of the brownstone buildings in the neighborhood. Today, Back Bay is on the National Register's list of Historic Places.
An earthquake centered close to Cape Ann occurred in 1755 with a probable strength of 6 or more on the Richter Scale. Boston received significant damage at that time. Another seismic earthquake is inevitable according to seismologists. The historic architecture near and throughout the filled region of Back Bay is not built to withstand a strong earthquake so the neighborhood is at high risk for major earthquake damage, but new buildings are reinforced.
Back Bay is known for its brownstone townhouses and homes from the Victorian age. These residential buildings are excellent preserved examples from the time period. A smaller neighborhood within the official Back Bay neighborhood is called Saint Botolph. The row houses within Saint Botolph are almost entirely brownstone. Then, several other historic buildings are included in the neighborhood. The 1860 Gibson House is now a museum. Arlington Street Church was built in 1861. Old South Church on Copley Square dates from 1875. The impressive Museum of Fine Arts first opened in 1876. In 1877, the beautiful Trinity Church was constructed. Several other notable historic and contemporary structures complete the collection of Back Bay architecture.