Ropewalks of the West End and Beyond

From the mid-17th century to the end of the 19th century, the rope-making industry thrived in Boston. Ropewalks—long, narrow plots with covered walks and sheds that housed rope-making facilities—dotted the landscape of West Boston and supplied rope primarily for seafaring vessels. One of the city’s earliest ropewalks lay less than 100 yards from today’s West End Museum.

“The making of rope for outfitting ships was of utmost importance to the maritime economy of old Boston,” says
Duane Lucia, executive director of the West End Museum. “Because of its undeveloped pasture land, more than half of the town’s ropewalks were located in the West End.”

Ropewalks of the West End highlights the history of these unusual and iconic structures, beginning with the first “ropefield” of John Harrison established in 1642—just 12 years after Boston’s founding—and continuing beyond the onset of the War of 1812 when a West End ropewalk supplied the anchor cable to the U.S.S. Constitution. The exhibit features a 20-foot long scale model of a typical ropewalk as well as graphic panels that highlight the chronological development, construction, operation and topography of the city’s ropewalks. Video presentations and other graphic panels explain the rope-making process, including why it took a structure a quarter-mile long to make a rope about 800 feet long. An interactive exhibit area allows visitors to try their hand at making rope while other areas showcase rope-making tools and artifacts alongside related artwork, photographs and letters. Lucia and Beacon Hill resident Thomas K. Burgess curate the show.

Archival imagery and artifacts are supplied by: The Print Department and Norman P. Leventhal Center at the Boston Public Library, Mystic Seaport Museum, Plymouth Cordage Museum, NPS Charlestown Navy Yard, Massachusetts Historical Society, Bostonian Society, Boston Athenaeum, Fenimore Art Museum of the New York State Historical Society and the University of Virginia Art Museum.

Exhibit and design copyright Duane Lucia & Tom Burgess

Colonial Period

Colonial Era-Page 1

1630-John Winthrop

Colonial Era-Page 2

1630-1640

Colonial Era-Page 3

1641-1642

Colonial Era-Page 4

“Fort Field” Area

Colonial Era-Page 5

1662-1666

Colonial Era-Page 6

1666-John Harrison

Colonial Era-Page 7

1685-1697

Bonner Map of Boston

Bonner’s Map of Boston

Colonial Era-Page 8

1705-1712

Colonial Era-Page 9

1700-Barton’s Ropewalk

Colonial Era-Page 10

1742-1765-Expansion

1743-William Price Map

William's British Forces sketch

Williams’ Sketch of British Forces

Federal Period

Federal Period-Page1

1770-1776-Revolution

Federal Period-Page 2

Tarring & Feathering

Federal Period-Page 3

Tarring & Feathering

Federal Period-Osgood Map

1803-Osgood’s Map

Federal Period-Page 4

1794-Pearl St. Fire

Federal Period-Hales Map

1814-Hale’s Map

Federal Period-Page 5

1795-1797

Federal Period-Page 6

1798

Federal Period-Page 7

Direct Tax of 1798

Federal Period-Page 8

S. Russell and Joy St.

Federal Period-Page 9

Cambridge St

Federal Period-Page 10

Tremont and Boylston

Federal Period-Page 11

Boston Common

Federal Period-Page 12

1803-1814

Federal Period-Page 13

1814-Hale’s Map Details

Federal Period-Page 14

1815-Boston Common

Federal Period-Page 15

1819-Charleston Ropewalks

Industrial Period

1831-Boston Hemp

1831-Boston Hemp

1832-McIntyre Map

1832-McIntyre Map

The Charlestown Yard Ropewalk

Charlestown Navy Yard

Page 2

Charlestown Navy Yard

1835-1841

1835-1841

Sewall & Day Cordage

Sewall & Day Cordage

1880-Charlestown Fire

1880-Charlestown Fire

Ground Plans-1890

Ground Plans-1890

1890-1898

1890-1898

1993-2002

1950-1975

1950-1975

1998-2002

Perkin's Map-1895

Perkin’s Map-1895

The Process of making Hemp Rope

Growing and Shipping

Growing and Shipping

Growing and Shipping

Growing and Shipping

Spinning the Yarn

Spinning the Yarn

Tarring The Fibers

Tarring The Fibers

Farming the Strand

Farming the Strand

Making Hemp into Rope

Making Hemp into Rope

Ropewalks-of-the-West-End-and-Beyond-press-release-link

Press Release