Saturday, November 24, 2007

Raise The Flag

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

This is an insignificant story in itself, but it tells us something about the history of a particular plot of land. The housing block that is now across from St Thomas Church on South street was a parking lot in the 1960s and '70s. In 1873, the town directory lists a school on Child street, and an 1874 map shows the building on this site. Maps from the late 1800s show the plot as some kind of city yard with multiple building, but the actual use is not specified. Here, we learn that it was a sewer department yard. Which makes sense. During the 1880s and '90s many residential streets were being laid out, and each would have required a sewer line, so that department would have been very busy. Once the streets were supplied with sewer mains, the local yard could have been closed, and the work crews centralized a main yard. Around the same time, parishioners were probably buying cars, and a parking lot would have been needed. No doubt an important neighborhood institution would have been favored when the city no longer needed the land for its old purpose.

The story also reminds us that the sewer department was once far more active than it is now. All over the city's outer districts, the laying out of streets and utilities would have been a major undertaking of the day. Once the work was done, those departments involved became maintenance departments, an annoyance that blocks traffic on otherwise good roads when they need to go back underground and do repairs. We take a lot for granted these days, no?

Boston Daily Globe May 22, 1898

Little Ones Hail The Flag.

Sewer Department Employees Unfurl "Old Glory" at Jamaica Plain.

"Old Glory" was flung to the breeze yesterday by the Jamaica Plain division of the sewer departemtn at their yard on South st.The flag was purchased by a popular subscription among the men, and measures 12x21 feet.

When the flag was thrown to the breeze a band played "The Star Spangled Banner." This patriotic air and also "America" were sung by about 300 children, pupils at St Thomas parochial school, in charge of Rev Fr Donahue, grouped around the flag pole.

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