Wednesday, December 5, 2007

West Roxbury - Ward 23

When the Town of West Roxbury was annexed to Boston, it became Ward 23. In time, the ward was broken up, and West Roxbury the political entity ceased to exist in any official form. People already thought of themselves as living in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale or West Roxbury (we might call it West Roxbury the Lesser), but the ward had kept them connected, as in old Town days. A similar thing happened to Dorchester, with Mattapan breaking away, but Dorchester remained a large community still. With West Roxbury splitting in three parts, the component communities became little brothers to the larger Dorchester.

All this raises an "alternate history" issue for me. What if the Town of West Roxbury had voted against annexation, as Brookline did? So much of the appearance of the district came about through Boston projects, like the Arboretum and the Emerald Necklace parks, but then the Town already had Forest Hills cemetery and Harvard had the Bussey land, so maybe the results would have been similar. Would the district have been worse off without Boston money, or better, without Boston's problems? Interesting to think about.

A note on the article: the Boston Globe was a booster of annexation in the 1870s, and they remained boosters of the results. It was a time of "bigger is better," and the elites of Boston wanted to keep up with the growing cities of the West.

Boston Daily Globe March 17, 1895

Ward Of Big Things. West Roxbury Larger Than Any of 10 Cities. Has a Third of Boston's Area. Most of the Parks and 10 Stations. Longest Police Beat, Biggest Fireman, Best Wardroom, 500-Acre Farm.

Ward 23's preeminence as a ward of big things, the Texas of Boston wards, is threatened just now by the city fathers, who are considering the question of redistricting the city, as allowed by the statute every decade.

In the redistricting some of the North and West end wards will have to be joined together probably, owing to the relative decrease in their population, and the big outlying wards like 23 and 24 will probably have to be carved up and divided, making at least four wards out of the two.

When Boston and the Town of West Roxbury joined hands in January 1874, the wise men of the Hub rubbed their hands in glee, and predicted a great future for greater Boston.

It was the hour of consolidation, and the fever caught all around, but in many instances annexation was not brought about without a hard and stubborn contest, and the annexation of the town of West Roxbury to the city of Boston was no easy matter for those who undertook to deliver the goods.

West Roxbury was set off from the city of Roxbury in 1851, and was the rural section of the city, which was destined in another decade to join her sister city, and form one of the principal sections of the growing municipality of Boston.

The town was not unlike most New England villages of her time, and matters went along smoothly until the breaking out of the war.

Boston being the seat of government, all attention was naturally turned to her during those stirring times. The little town raised more than her quota of troops to save the union, and quartered a regiment in her limits on the Brook Farm, now used as the Martin Luther orphan home, but famous as the rendezvous of the Brook farm phalanx, organized for the purpose of making life sweeter by such eminent literary people as Hawthorne, Ripley, Charles A. Dana and others.

When the war was over the town erected a beautiful monument to her beloved dead who fell battling for the union. Among her residents the town claimed by birth the hero of fort Wagner, Col. Robert G. Shaw, after whom the latest school erected in the upper part of the ward is named.

When the excitement of the rebellion ceased, and the town recommenced to settle down to business, some of her go-ahead young men thought the proper thing to do would be to become a part of Boston, and so they began the agitation under many adverse circumstances finally winning the day.

Many of the older inhabitants of the town threatened to move away if the town voted to annex itself to Boston, and all sorts of harsh things were said of those who were instrumental in pushing the matter through.

As in most cases of this kind after the hot-headed opponents cooled down and saw the benefit the town derived from being a part of Boston, they were sorry for what they said, and regretted running the town in debt to the extent they did, when they found that annexation was sure to come.

But the city fathers of the hub knew that they were adding to the city a great territory. In 20 years this section of Boston has had a remarkable growth.

A few interesting facts about ward 23 observed by a Globe man, are as follows.

It comprises one-third of the area of the entire city. Boston's acreage is 23,707 acres. There are 8078 acres of land in this single ward.

The population is, according to the census of 1890, 21,XXX(?).

It has more people than the counties of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket put together, and casts a bigger vote than these communities combined.

It has a larger population than the cites of Fitchburg, Quincy, Newton, Waltham, Woburn, Everett, Marlboro, Northampton, Bevery or Newburyport, and casts a bigger vote than any of these cities.

There are 10 railroad stations in the territory - Boylston, Jamaica Plain, Forest Hills, Clarendon Hills Roslindale, Central, Highland, West Roxbury and Spring st.

Three post offices are within the ward lines, Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Roslindale. Mail is delivered by carriers.

There are engine houses at Egleston sq, Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Roslindale.The Roslindale house is regarded by the fire commissioners as one of the finest houses they have in the department.

There is a district court at Jamaica Plain, and under the same roof is the police station, and, adjoining, the patrol house. A finer municipal building would be hard to find in the city, and it was built by the town a few years before annexation. There is also a lockup at West Roxbury.

In the ward are 59 electric, 1247 naptha and 902 gas lamps, and still the cry is for more light.

There are two libraries, one at Jamaica Plain, containing 12,363 volumes, and one at West Roxbury, with 3321 books and a delivery office at Roslindale.

Most of the great Boston park system is within the ward, which contains the Arnold arboretum and Franklin park.

It has more acreage devoted to burial purposes than any other ward. There are Mt Hope, Forest Hills, Mt Benedict, St Joseph's and parts of Mt Calvary, and other smaller cemeteries like the Jewish burial ground near the Dedham line.

The valuation, real and personal property, of the ward last year was $35,795,000. At the time of annexation it was $22,116,000.

There are 74.39 miles of streets in the ward, and each year is adding to the number.

The highest point of land in the entire city is in this ward, being the elevation known as Mt Bellvue, 334 feet above the level of the sea.

What is recognized as the finest wardroom in the entire city is in this ward. It was formerly used as the town hall, and called Curtis hall, after its builder and the town benefactor, Mr Nelson Curtis, uncle of the present mayor. It cost in the neighborhood of $200,000, half of which Mr Curtis gave the town.

Most of the citizens in this ward desiring to attend a caucus of either political party have to travel further than any of their fellow citizens or the other Boston wards. Take for instance, a man living up in the Germantown end of the ward. He is obliged to travel at least five miles to attend the caucus in Jamaica Plain, where the ward room is.

No other ward can boast of a 500-acre farm, as can ward 23.

The longest police route, and one of the biggest policemen on the Boston force to patrol it, is credited to this ward, the route being nearly five miles long.

The same may be said of the letter carriers' routes. Carrier George has the longest route to deliver in the entire postal district.

And right here it may be said that the biggest fireman doing duty in the city today is said to be Capt J.B. Prescott of engine 30, West Roxbury.

It has more miles of railroad than any other ward in the city, and the largest body of fresh water in the city limits. Jamaica Pond is credited to the "garden ward."

Nearly 4000 pupils crowd the ward's public schools and many do not attend, owing to the lack of accommodations.

Within the boundaries are a large number of churches. Some of them rank among the finest in the city, and they represent nearly every Christian faith.

Taken as a whole, ward 23 is a great ward, and is growing every day.

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