Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Border, What Border?

Both images Sidney & Smith, 1852 (copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates)
David Rumsey Collection

Both pictures above are from the same map, published one year after West Roxbury seceded from Roxbury. The upper image shows most of both towns, with the bordering towns as well. Dorchester, on the right, consisted of all the land between the coast and the old town of Roxbury. Notice that there is no Hyde Park on this map. The town of Hyde Park was later to be made up from parts of Dorchester, Milton and Dedham. Today's Cleary Square was part of Dorchester at the time. The lower left corner of the map segment shows Dedham in green. Parts of Dedham were later sold off to West Roxbury and Hyde Park to create today's border between Dedham and Boston. The borders of Brookline and Newton are the same as today. A general look at the same image shows that West Roxbury was more south west of the remaining town of Roxbury.

The lower map detail is a closer look at the north section of the east border between West Roxbury and Dorchester. That would be where the green of Dorchester meets the yellow of West Roxbory. If you enlarge the image, you might be able to discern that where the three towns meet is approximately the corner of Seaver street and today's Blue Hill avenue. The Roxbury - West Roxbury border followed Seaver street up from Egleston square along today's Franklin Park to Blue Hill avenue. From there, the West Roxbury - Dorchester border generally follows today's Harvard street in a straight line southwest to a point near today's Morton street, where it angles in a more westerly direction. It crosses Walk Hill street, continuing on across the railroad tracks that now run near Hyde Park avenue.

The verbal description gets a little labored, but if you know the contemporary streets and you look closely at the maps, it should all make sense. The point of this exercise is to ask the question What happened to Franklin Park, the State Hospital property and Mt Hope cemetery? Franklin Park has been considered by most people I know as Dorchester, and the old State Hospital facilities on Morton street were known to all in Jamaica Plain as the Mattapan hospital.

On its north border, Jamaica Plain expanded from its old West Roxbury border to include everything as far as Heath street and the bottom of Parker Hill. In the east, Jamaica Plain contracted from the old West Roxbury borders to the west edge of Franklin Park, the west edge of Forest Hills cemetery, and kinda-sorta Canterbury street. The situation begs for wild speculation. Here goes.

In the north, the straight-line border made no sense geographically or socially. The line actually cut through individual house plots from Egleston square through Hyde square. The breweries that would be built were a logical extention of the Roxbury industrial district, but the residential district was another matter. The railroad tracks and Hogg's bridge separated the area south of Parker Hill from the rest of Roxbury, and it's the residents that define neighborhood identity. It was only natural that people living on Day street would associate more with their neighbors on Paul Gore street than with the rest of Roxbury once the entire district was part of Boston.

The east border of West Roxbury is another matter. Here, there were few residents. Once Franklin Park and the Morton street institutions were built, the non-residential use of the land would make the identiy of the area problematic. Who decides which community "owns" a parkland that sits between the two. My theory is based on the surrounding neighborhoods. Jamaica Plain borders Franklin Park on residential streets. In Seaver street and Blue Hill avenue, Roxbury and Dorchester had major roadways and dense populatios bordering the park. Jamaica Plain residents could go about their business in their communtiy without ever passing by Franklin Park. I suspect that Jamaica Plain residents never felt posessive of Franklin Park because it was "out of sight, out of mind." The "Mattapan" state hospital would have a similar explanation. With the property on the far side of Forest Hills cemetery, there was no residential district in Jamaica Plain to consider it part of the neighborhood, ceding it to the bordering Mattapan.

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