Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fire At The Arboretum

Richards, L.J. 1899 (copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates)
David Rumsey Collection.

This is a bit of a puzzler. The old coachman's house of the old Bussey estate was part of the Arnold Arboretum at the time of this article. The article puts the house "under Hemlock hill." The map segment above shows a house and a shed at the edge of Hemlock hill along South street in the Arboretum. The map also locates the tunnel under the railroad tracks, so we know that the house was directly opposite the tunnel. The photo shows the site now. It's difficult to see, but there appears to be a cut in the hill right where the house and shed were, but unfortunately there is no evidence of any foundation. The site also seems smaller than the map would suggest, so it's hard for me to imagine the two buildings fitting into the cut in the hill. The site is also a good deal higher than South street, so it would have required a steep incline to get up to the shed/carriage house. Why would the put the building up that high above the road, when the ground closer to the South street gate was near street level?

The map brings up another question: why was the tunnel under the railroad tracks put in precisely that place? South street already passes under the tracks on the way to Roslindale, and the tunnel is quite small. The article has the firemen passing across a Muskrat village - did they go under the tracks at this tunnel? Where exactly was Muskrat village? A trip to the Arboretum headquarters may be in order.

Boston Daily Globe October 19, 1908

West Roxbury Firemen Put In Hard Day's Work Old Bussey House in Arnold Arboretum Destroyed - Jamaica Plain Barn Twice Afire - Two Brush Fires.

Fire, supposed to have been of incendiary origin, early yesterday morning destroyed the old Bussey house in the Arnold Arboretum, on South st, Forest Hills. The house is said to have been more than 150 years old.

It was situated under the famous "Hemlock hill," and in the lifetime of Benjamin Bussey, who deeded his large estate to Harvard university, was used as a coachman house. It was a 2 1/2 story pitch roof, wooden building and had not been used for a long time. There was an L and back of it a large shed, 60 by 18 feet, used as a storage place by the park department. It is said that the shed has been used as a lodging place by tramps.

The fire was discovered by patrolman Lorden at 1:55 and he sounded an alarm from box 528. Engine company 45 and ladder company 16 of Roslindale were first to reach the scene, by cutting across the meadow land on Washington st near "Muskrat village."

The fire had started in the large shed at the rear of the old house, but when the firemen reached the place it had communicated to the dwelling and was eating its way into the ancient building. Difficulty was found in getting water on the fire, for there was no water service in the street at that point and more than 1000 feet of hose had to be laid. It was a short fight when water was obtained.

The fire has left the shell of the house, which was constructed of hewed oak timbers. The shed contained an old steam boiler, many park seats and tools. All were destroyed. The loss is estimated at $1500.

[I snipped out the remaining West Roxbury fire stories]

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