Historic Seawalls of the Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Region: Evolution, Construction and Repair

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by David B. Vine, Nucci Vine Associates, Inc, Newburyport, United States,
Peter S. Rosen, Nucci Vine Associates, Inc, Newburyport, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Ports '92

Abstract: The earliest seawalls in the Boston region were of crib construction. Cobb cribs had an open framework and could readily be floated into position and sunk with rock from local sources. As fill material became scarcer due to ongoing wharfing and landfilling activities, solid cribs were used which were filled with a large variety of materials, including soil and refuse. These wooden structures underwent continual repair due to the rapid deterioration of wood resulting from marine borers. Stone seawalls date from the late 1700's in the region, although early construction was difficult. Methods to efficiently cut, or hew, the stone weren't developed until 1803 and weren't widely used until about 1830. Some early stone seawalls used wood platforms as foundations, which sunk in the mud as weight was added. With cut stone, a vertical wall with fewer wood supports was possible. In the 1800's, the importance of the characteristics of the fill material behind the wall in reducing lateral forces and promoting drainage was recognized. Concrete was developed in the mid-1800's. The harsh environmental conditions in Boston may have resulted in the common practice of constructing a seawall of concrete, and continuing to face the structure in stone. In the 20th century, concrete was predominantly used for shallow seawalls, while steel sheet piling was used for deeper structures.

Subject Headings: Sea walls | Construction management | Ports and harbors | Rocks | Concrete | Wood structures | Steel structures | Concrete structures | North America | Massachusetts | United States | Boston

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