James and Helen Storrow


Street sign on Storrow Drive, which misrepresents the legacy of James and Helen Storrow.

The Hatch and the Charles River Esplanade are built on land secured by the Storrows in the early half of the 1900s, but the way that they are memorialised by the Hatch completely misrepresents their contribution to Boston. 

In 1901, James Storrow spearheaded a campaign to build a dam around the Esplanade. He built on the foundation of Charles Eliot’s work, a former planner who had devoted his energy and influence into acquiring land along the Charles River, with the ultimate vision of building a waterside park. Eliot’s plan was contingent on the construction of a dam though, which had met too much resistance from the residents of Beacon Hill to be realised before Eliot’s death. As a resident of Beacon Street himself, Storrow had to stand in opposition to his neighbours, but persisted and saw the dam through completion in 1910. 

“[Storrow] believed that beautiful open spaces and fresh air were essential to everyone, both physically and spiritually...His dream was to create a broad basin for the joy and refreshment of the city’s millions” (Cox, 4). 

However, this space was not immediately well-received. The dam made waves choppier and deterred people from boating. Critics questioned the utility of this space, and several proposed solutions such as “shade trees, boathouses, band concerts, fireworks, and riverside cafes to attract more people to the Esplanade.” Despite Mayor Fitzgerald’s attention toward the problems of the esplanade at the time, the city lacked money to act upon the proposed solutions.

"Only an occasional figure braves the glitter and heat of the sunlight on the unprotected esplanade” (Cox, 5).

Upon Storrow’s death, his wife Helen Osbourne Storrow sought to memorialise his efforts and ensure that his vision would be fulfilled. She generously donated one million dollars in his name “to enlarge and beautify the Boston shores of the Charles river" (Cox, 7). The City of Boston also contributed $400,000. By 1929, efforts were underway to improve the esplanade, offering enough seating, shade, and interesting diversions to make the esplanade a destination worth visiting.

In subsequent decades, Helen Storrow stood up against the construction of a freeway that would cut into the Esplanade, protecting the space. Only after her death in 1944 was the freeway constructed, forcing planners to then shrink the width of the Esplanade and lengthen it instead. 

Frustratingly, today that freeway which Storrow resisted is named for her. This incorrect memorialisation would probably mislead many into forgetting or confusing her legacy for Boston. 


Cox, L. M. (2000). The Charles River Esplanade: Our Boston treasure. Boston, Massachusetts: Metropolitan District Commission.

Pearson, H. G. (1932). Son of New England: James Jackson Storrow, 1864-1926. Boston, MA: T. Todd.