By Zac Ladouceur, ’20
Just a few weeks ago we talked about some of Boston’s best sights and sounds for when Spring finally arrives. Well now that it is looking like it will be any day those flowers will start to bloom, I figured we would highlight one of my favorite sights in Boston. The Swan Boats. It’s possibly one of the only things in the area that is beloved by so many people both young and old. After all, it is a fourth generation family that has run it for over 125 years! Let’s take a quick look into some interesting history of Boston’s favorite birds.
The Swan Boat story dates back to the 1870’s when Robert Paget, whose descendants continue to operate the business, was granted a boat for hire license by the City of Boston. In 1877, Robert and others introduced a new kind of boat to the waters of the lagoon. With the popularity of the bicycle expanding, he developed a catamaran, which housed a paddle wheel arrangement that was foot-propelled. To cover the captain, Robert suggested a swan. This idea came from his familiarity of a German folk tale.
Robert Paget lived only one year after the first Swan Boats were launched. He died in 1878 at the age of 42 and his wife Julia, a young widow with four children, assumed full management of the new enterprise.
From 1878 through the early 1900’s, Julia persevered to keep the family business alive. Because she was a woman, she was required for many years to gather signatures from local business owners in the Back Bay to provide testimony to her ability to run her business.
Her children carried on the family trade, and with the growing popularity of the Swan Boats they decided to design larger vessels. These new boats had five benches on each boat. The current fleet consists of six boats, the oldest of which was built under John, the eldest son, in 1910. John and his wife Ella raised six children, all of whom spent many summers working on the boats.
In 1977, the Swan Boats celebrated their 100th anniversary. A huge celebration with music, and free rides for children was held for the Boats’ 125th. In 2011, the Swan Boats were bestowed the honor of becoming a designated Boston landmark. Today, the fourth generation of the Paget family continues to own and operate the Swan Boats season after season, bringing the people of Boston the same joyful experiences they have for over a hundred years.
The Boats are such a wonderful, relaxing experience and is something everyone should get a chance to do. It’s an important box to fill on your ever growing Boston Tourist To Do List. This year, the opening ceremony will be held on April 14th at 10 a.m. with Mayor Marty Walsh! Tickets can be bought at the dock upon arrival, and are $4.00 for adults, $2.50 for children(2-15 years of age) and $3.50 for seniors. The boats operate every day until Labor Day, weather permitting. Next time you are visiting Boston, especially when the weather is nice, don’t forget to stop by the Public Garden with your student and your family and take a ride with the Swans!
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