5 facts from our Field Guide to Boston that even locals may not know

People fill seats and tables outside the South End Buttery on Shawmut Avenue in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
People fill seats and tables outside the South End Buttery on Shawmut Avenue in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's Saturday morning newsletter, The Weekender. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

My family moved to the Boston area when I was 3 years old and, apart from vacations, never left.

After high school, I commuted to college in the Fenway, spending early mornings on the Green Line and late nights out in Allston. Like many locals, I have a few rules to live by. For example, everyone knows you’ll find the best food further away from downtown. And don’t even try to park overnight in Brookline.

I figured I knew everything there was to know about Boston. But even for a long-time local, the city still surprises.

I’m always stunned at how Seaport Boulevard has transformed from a largely undeveloped stretch of land to a mini-Manhattan the past few years. For someone older, like my father, a trip to Fenway does the same trick. “There used to be nothing here,” he’ll remark, driving down Boylston. “None of these tall buildings. Just the ballpark and a few shops!”

And after reading our newsroom’s new Field Guide To Boston, it turns out there were many things about the city I’ve been living in for decades that had passed me by — and not just in the spots being actively developed. In fact, there are surprises hiding in what I’d consider some of the city’s classic stomping grounds.

Thanks to nearly a year’s worth of shoe-leather reporting from my colleagues, even the savviest Bostonians have a chance to learn something new about this oddly mapped, quirky place we call home.

Here are a few fun facts that stood out to me:

If it were a separate city, Dorchester would be the fourth-most populous in Massachusetts, behind only Boston, Worcester and Springfield.

  • The historic neighborhood — which actually was once its own town until it voted to be annexed — is home to a fifth of Boston’s residents. And as you’ll read about in our Dorchester guide, it’s hard to define as a singular neighborhood.

There’s no truth behind the urban legend that Boston’s crooked streets are based on 17th-century cow paths.

  • Historians say the real reason for Boston’s windy layout is thanks to crowding during settlement. In 1600s-era Boston, everyone tried to build their homes on what was still just a tiny peninsula, rather than spreading out.

The Boston Public Library can help you get a patent.

  • It’s hardly just books. You can have high tea and even your wedding at the BPL, and they even have a center for business help. Budding entrepreneurs can find all kinds of technological support to help launch a business, from graphic design and editing lessons to pro bono consultations with lawyers who specialize in patent applications. Explore more of the BPL’s hidden resources here.

The nickname "Beantown" may be even more contrived than you think.

  • Before reading our culinary guide, I couldn't have told you where Boston's nickname, "Beantown," came from. After all, does any self-respecting Bostonian actually ever use the moniker? The general consensus is that the name is derived from a once-popular regional plate, Boston baked beans cooked with molasses, which dates back to New England's original colonizers. However, that's likely not even true! Some historians say the dish itself was only created in the late 1800s as part of a superficial campaign to create a distinctly New England cuisine that romanticized Anglo-Saxon Protestant settlers' relationship with Native people. That later timing alsojust happens to coincide with a drop in sugar prices. Read more about Boston's surprising culinary past and present in our food guide.

The Puritans aren’t to blame for Mass. alcohol laws.

  • Walk into a Massachusetts Wegman’s at 11:15 p.m. and you’ll notice the alcohol selection chained up, while all other foodstuffs remain on sale. Why? In fact, it’s the law — one among a whole suite of strange alcohol regulations in the state. I’d never thought too much about it as a resident, but it was interesting to learn why stores have to lock up the liquor at night.

Surprised? Trust me, I was too! You can find the rest of the field guides — and contribute some of your own local know-how — right here.

P.S. — Share your hidden gem: Did we miss any of your neighborhood haunts in our guides? Let us know by filling out this form and we may include them in a later update!

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Hanna Ali Associate Producer
Hanna Ali is an associate producer for newsletters at WBUR.



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