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South End's Prestige Lost

Not long after its conception in the mid-1800s, the South End, somewhat unfairly, lost its elite status to the Back Bay. The literature of the time documents this exodus: the title character in William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham abandoned the South End to build a house on the water side of Beacon as material proof of his arrival in Boston society. In The Late George Apley, John P. Marquand's Brahmin hero tells how his father decided, in the early 1870s, to move the family from his South End bowfront to the Back Bay—a consequence of his walking out on the front steps one morning and seeing a man in his shirtsleeves on the porch opposite. Regardless of whether Marquand exaggerated Victorian notions of propriety (if that was possible), the fact is that people such as the Apleys did decamp for the Back Bay, leaving the South End to become what a 1913 guidebook called a "faded quarter."

Updated: 2014-04-16

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