2.8 min readBy Published On: April 22nd, 2023Categories: Features8 Comments on History Lesson: The South Boston Aquarium

Welcome back! It’s time for another CIS History Lesson! But first, a (terrible) joke:

Q: Why don’t fish play tennis?

A: Because they’re afraid of the net.

I swear that uncle joke will be relevant to this History Lesson!  Did you know that our neighborhood used to be home to the only aquarium in Boston? That it had 20,000 visitors in one day? Crazy, right?

In the 1880s, the Boston Society of Natural History wanted Boston to build a system of “Zoological and Aquaria Gardens” to rival similar places in major European cities. They decided to build the zoological part in Franklin Park, but they wanted the majority of the aquaria sites to be located in South Boston. The Society had to wait a bit on a decision by our federal government; they were deciding what to do with Castle Island and whether it should be connected to the newly formed Marine Park (formed by leveling the ground and filling in the marsh flats that were there).  The Society wanted the aquarium to be built on Castle Island, but that was not to be because of land use restrictions put on Boston by the federal government when they turned Castle Island over to it. The Society decided that putting the aquarium in the newly created Marine Park would be a great option. They wanted the aquarium to be open by 1892. 

It didn’t quite work out the way the Boston Society of Natural History wanted it to, but in 1912 construction of the aquarium was complete, thanks to a large donation to the City of Boston from the Parkman family. The Parkman family’s donation of $5.5 million dollars to the City of Boston in 1908 (Today, that would be the equivalent of a donation of over $150 million dollars!!!!) established the Parkman Fund. That fund helped to build not only the aquarium but the Franklin Park Zoo as well.

The aquarium opened on November 28th, 1912, at 1pm. The first paying customer? 11-year-old Patrick Flaherty of 64 O Street! The aquarium was only open for 4 hours on the first day, but it had 6,000 visitors! The first Sunday it was opened, it had 15,030 visitors! People think traffic in City Point is bad now! According to the Boston Globe, 17 cars were waiting to turn down Farragut Road that day!

The aquarium continued to be a destination for many years. On a Sunday in November 1919, 20,000 people went. At the time, South Boston enjoyed an elevated trolley line which many people took. Print advertisements from 1925 say, “ When Sight Seeing visit the Aquarium at City Point via the Boston Elevated.” Imagine that?!

The Great Depression and World War II hit the City of Boston and the aquarium hard. Very little investment was made in the site; the building and the exhibits fell into disrepair. Needed improvements were estimated to cost over $300,000 dollars in the 1950s. Due to a lack of interest and lack of will, to fund the repairs, the aquarium was closed on October 1st, 1954, and the building was demolished. Tennis courts and the ice hockey rink now cover where the aquarium once stood.

So back to our uncle joke, the fish can’t play tennis, but now you can!  Ouch.

Images via DigitalCommonweath.org

Here’s another Southie history lesson about Admiral Farragut.  


  1. Joseph A. Millette May 17, 2022 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Some folks, in the 40s, discussing Southie history back in the day, said that there was a petition to change Q street to commemorate a civil war hero associated w Southie by renaming n placing a Statue of Adm Farragut.

  2. Joseph A. Millette (84th year) May 17, 2022 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Back in the 40s, some Southie guys were discussing old-time history of The Town, of a petition to change Q St name to Farragut to commemorate a Civil War hero, Admiral n previously a local boy!

  3. Ralph Kelley August 28, 2022 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    I I was taken to the aquarium by a Curley family in 1959 I was six years old the only thing I remember was a huge turtle really cool!

    • Ann McLaughlin November 24, 2023 at 10:36 pm - Reply

      I remember that turtle, it was so big, and it would swim up to you and just appear out of nowhere. Murky water? I remember the gold railing between me and the glass of the aquarium. I must have been around ten or so and it was my grandfather Martin Earley who took me there on our way to Castle Island for some fishing. Great memories for a former Dorchester girl who has spent the last fifty-four years in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

  4. Sutera Laura April 23, 2023 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    My dad told me he remembered going to the Aquarium when was younger.

  5. Rev Francis X McGerity April 27, 2023 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I may be wrong but I believe the only thing left of the Aquarium Site is the STAIRS leading from the street down into the field on the left side of the Skating Rink.

  6. Ginny (Morgan) Pearcy January 2, 2024 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Was it near Farraguts Statue? My great aunts, who lived on Columbia Road used to take us there in the late 1940’s. I’m 79.

  7. Debbi Millette-Sanchez January 16, 2024 at 6:42 am - Reply

    Debbi Millette-Sanchez I was just telling my friends there was an aquarium in Southie and the Oleson girls remember listening to the trains in East First St at night,they have a lot of memories from the point, alot of us girls loved to fish remember fish on Wednesday and Friday,always a hat in church , opening the hydrants and all I did was bring up the aquarium. We miss the old Southie the one the Sun shine on!

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