Surrounded by some of Boston’s leading educational, cultural and medical institutions, the Back Bay Fens is an eclectic mix of formal and community gardens, ball fields, memorials and historic structures. With places for passive recreation and active pursuits, the park offers a range of experiences such as gardening and sports and is a popular spot for birders.
Within the Fens, The Shattuck Visitor Center, originally designed by H. H. Richardson as a pump station to control water flow in the Back Bay Fens, now serves as the headquarters of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. You will also find the oldest remaining wartime “Victory Garden” planted by citizens in 1941 during World War II to provide much needed fruits and vegetables. Today it is a well-loved community garden. The World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorial, behind the Kelleher Rose Garden, is a favorite picnic site for area residents while the playground at Mother’s Rest attracts children from the neighborhood and beyond.
Starting in 1878, Olmsted’s challenge in the Back Bay was to restore a stagnant saltwater marsh that flooded and threatened public health. Combining landscape architecture with sanitary engineering, Olmsted’s efforts transformed a foul-smelling tidal creek and swamp into a scenic pool within wooded banks; gaining interest from the meandering course of the water. Olmsted renamed the area the Back Bay Fens.
In 1910, the damming of the Charles River turned the Fens into a freshwater marsh. Over time, noted landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff added new features such as ball fields and the Kelleher Rose Garden employing the more formal landscape style popular in the 1920s and 1930s.