Life on the Corner: The Old East Boston Ferry

The name of the ferry was Noddle Island which was the old name for East Boston. I think it only held fewer than twenty automobiles. Getting to Oak Island or Revere Beach took a while on a hot summer day.

Two of our more forward thinking City Councilors, Sal LaMattina and Bill Linehan, recently proposed the idea of reviving ferry service between the various Boston waterfront neighborhoods, the North End, the Seaport, East Boston, South Boston and Charlestown.

I think this is a terrific plan and I hope it comes to fruition.

Those of us who live in the city experience the daily nightmare of trying to get around our city and going from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Traffic in Boston is horrific and is getting worse. If you look at the Financial District and Downtown Crossing, you see a forest of construction cranes. Suddenly everyone wants to live and work in Boston. The problem is, all these people have cars and our old meandering, Colonial streets were not designed for this influx of automobiles.

Traffic patterns and stop lights in downtown Boston are designed to move commuters and tourists through Boston, in and out of the downtown area, but in doing that they are impeding intra-city travel. Last week, I went to a dinner meeting in the Seaport district at the old fish pier conference center. I had to drive because I needed my car for another stop. It took fifty minutes to get from Lewis Street in the North End to the fish pier. If we had a ferry I could have made the trip in ten minutes. This is wrong and the city planners at the Boston Redevelopment Authority have to step back and consider how to move people through and within the city before approving the mega-projects they have planned for downtown.

Years ago, we had many more choices for intra-city travel. We had a wonderful system of trolley cars that was abandoned in favor of busses which are causing many of our traffic problems. My grandfather never drove a car but he could take the trolley from his tavern on Lewis Street to his home in Medford, all for 10 cents.

I don’t have a picture of the North End terminal but it was the twin of this one in East Boston. The inside had a ticket booth and a waiting room with benches. You could stay in your car during the ride.

We also had ferries and the post cards I’m sharing illustrate the old North End/East Boston ferry. This ferry brought passengers and automobiles from the ferry terminal on Atlantic Ave. about where the Pilot House is to the ferry terminal on Lewis St. in East Boston. I remember the cars lined up on Atlantic Ave. waiting to get on. I think the fare was 5 cents for a passenger and 25 cents for a car and on July 4th it was free.

In the mid Fifties, the old ferry terminal was closed and boarded up. Of course, we street kids knew how to sneak inside and explore the old building which was a great adventure. Last week, I was reminiscing with Paul Passacantilli about how we used to jig for eels and herring from the dilapidated ferry pier. Living on the waterfront was great fun.

Boston has one of the most beautiful harbors of any major city in the country. Having a robust ferry service between the many city neighborhoods which border the harbor will help relieve traffic and improve the quality of life for those of us who actually live in the city. Congratulations to Sal and Bill for getting this dialog started.

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.

16 Replies to “Life on the Corner: The Old East Boston Ferry

  1. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Nick? A ferry between neighborhoods would surely alleviate traffic which is almost out of control. Let’s hope, at some point , it comes to fruition. Loved reading this! Thanks!!!

  2. Yes ! I agree with Margie S. re: out of control traffic. NYC and Venice have ferry service, and Boston, being on the water, would benefit from ‘water taxis’. Naturally, Venice is a no-brainer….gondolas on the canals!

  3. Hi Nick
    Oh do I remember riding The ferry back and forth with all of my friends, when we were bored and could not think of something better to do, it was great, and to have it back would be wonderful, thanks for the memories.
    Bobby Church

  4. Don’t forget Nick~~~~~there are still some of us that do not have a motor vehicle. A Ferry would be great !!!

  5. I also remember the East Boston Ferry~~~~My Auntie Filly would take my cousin Rita May and I to visit our relatives in East Boston. I think youngsters had to pay 2 cents, but we still got shoved under the iron arm to get in for free ! I remember coming in and leaving the ports~~~when the water and motors excelled and we would yell out “LEMONADE”~~~~ that’s what it looked like to us !!!

  6. The water transport facility has been promised as an amenity of our harbor
    front development projects.I am not aware that this has been abandoned
    so it should not be a question of if but when.

    1. Indeed, but having a transport facility isn’t the same as having dedicated ferries. Ferries are expensive and need subsidies to survive and be affordable.
      I’m almost afraid to suggest it but our magnificent harbor islands are an underused resource. Perhaps some low impact development could be considered on the larger islands. Then a ferry service to and from the islands could be extended to connect the waterfront neighborhoods.

  7. My cousins lived in the Maverick Project. I used to walk over from Beacon Hill and buy a passage. They would get on in East Boston when I landed and then we would ride back and forth for hours. They never asked for another fare.

  8. in the 1930s the fare on the ferry was one cent. I used to go on board to cool off when it was hot.

  9. I lived in Somerville as a kid, and a friend and I rode the very last trip of the East Boston Ferry from Boston to East Boston. I believe we were in the eighth grade, and I’m pretty sure it was November, so that would have been November 1952. We had the day off from school, so I’m guessing it was Tuesday, November 11, 1952 that we made that sad and historic trip. Incidentally, funeral processions were allowed FREE passage. Perhaps the Bostonian Society has the sign that used to list the various fares. It was nice seeing those old postcards, thanks!

  10. Does anyone know the exact site of the North Ferry Treminal in East Boston ? I realize the building has been gone for years. Many years ago, my mother told us on a Sunday afternoon she would put us in the baby carriage and take us to the North End. I would like to visit the spot if it still exists. Thanks.

    1. Giovanni, I’m pretty sure the East Boston terminal was near Lewis St in East Boston which is right off Marginal St. We had a Lewis Street in the North End as well, which is where I lived, and the ferry ran from one Lewis St. to the other.
      The East Boston terminal is long gone and the area is being built up with fancy condominiums and parks.
      The Cunard Wharf was near there and Donald McKay had his clipper ship boat yard along the East Boston waterfront. There is a lot of maritime history in East Boston.

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