One of the most iconic symbols of Boston’s public parks is the Swan Boats found in the Public Garden. While it seems that every Bostonian has a childhood memory involving a trip on a Swan Boat, many people aren’t aware of the rich history associated with them. Here’s the story behind the Public Garden’s swan boats.
In 1870, the city granted Robert Paget a boating license for the Boston Public Garden. Going for rides in small boats was quite common at this time, but Paget’s boats in the Public Garden were unique because they were bicycle powered. The bicycle was brand new at the time, and seen as a very advanced upgrade to the simple row boat. In order to cover the captain while he cycled, Paget suggested adding the swan facade, inspired by Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, one of Paget’s favorites.
Paget died in 1878, and his wife, Julia, then took control of the business, along with raising their four children. Through the early 1900s, Julia persevered to keep the family business alive, despite arcane regulations that required her to gather signatures from local business owners in the Back Bay to provide testimony to her ability to run her business as a woman. In 1914, the Pagets’ youngest son John took over. To this day, visitors can ride one of the boats he’d built in 1910.
John’s son Paul then took over in the 1950s and ran the business for over 50 years. During that time, two new boats were constructed, bringing the total number to six, all of which are still in operation. The fourth generation of Paget’s, Paul’s daughter Lynn, now runs the operation, which was designated as a Boston landmark in 2011. The Swan Boats continue on today as a symbol of Boston and its public parks.