Transportation

One Last Question: Why Is Logan Airport in East Boston?

East Boston seems like a weird place for an airport. So how did it get there in the first place?


Welcome to “One Last Question,” a new series where research editor Matthew Reed Baker tackles your most Bostonian conundrums. Have a question? Email him at onelastquestion@bostonmagazine.com.


Photo by Michael Philip Manheim for EPA/National Archive

Question:

I’m flying home to Denver to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, and once again the mere thought of getting through cramped and crowded Logan Airport fills me with dread. Ever since I moved here, I’ve always thought East Boston was a weird and lousy place for an airport. So how did it get there in the first place?

—S.W., Allston

Answer:

Let’s see, S.W., what’s not to love about being shuttled through tense, interminable ticketing and security lines, only to be rewarded by travelers who would rather throw a hot cup of Dunkin’ in your face than move their bag at the gate so you can sit down? Ahhh, Logan at Thanksgiving! Look on the bright side: Each miserable second reminds you that you’re not physically dead, even if your soul was crushed to death hours ago when your flight was delayed yet again.

So how in history did you end up here, in this very spot, choking down soggy nachos at a barstool while yearning for a fully dressed turkey and the family couch? Let’s look first at East Boston, which once existed as five separate Boston Harbor islands. Starting in 1833, they were connected into one mass by landfill over several decades—a crucial expansion for Boston as immigrants flooded in between the Civil War and World War I.

The site was close to the heart of the city and it was all new land—hence, prime for such a large-scale purpose. The first airfield opened at Jeffries Point mainly for the military in 1923, and by 1929, the city took ownership from the Army and switched to passenger travel. As air traffic skyrocketed over the decades, Logan took over more of the East Boston harborfront. At the same time, the district’s population was exploding, leading to still-simmering controversies, such as the removal of Wood Island Park and the Neptune Road neighborhood to make room for more runways from the ’60s through the ’80s.

Eventually, that once-new land would end up limiting growth: Today, East Boston is home to some 45,000 residents within 5 square miles, with a mere 1,700 acres of that hosting Logan’s 38.4 million air passengers. That makes Logan the second-smallest airport among the country’s top 20 busiest, which helps explain why it ranks low in customer ratings and high in delays. Even so, I’d rather have an airport accessible to everyone, whether by car, public transit, or boat—unlike Denver International, which is 25 miles away from that lovely Mile High downtown. Let’s be honest, air travel is a nightmare nationwide, so I’ll give thanks for my short commute and soggy nachos, then treat myself to another beer.