Sunday, January 13, 2008

The West Roxbury Park Scheme

When I was growing up, I was under the impression that Franklin Park was in Dorchester. At least I would have said that if asked. I really didn't know the city well enough to make such a judgement, so I must have been told that by someone. I assume it was because I considered Franklin Park to mean the Zoo, and the front entrance of the zoo was over on Blue Hill avenue. On the other hand, my mother tells me that she and her Jamaica Plain friends spent so much time at the zoo that they had names for the different animals. All this has made me do some thinking - just where is Franklin Park? When it was under consideration, as described below, it was referred to as the West Roxbury park. And in fact, the land under consideration sat at the northeast corner of the short-lived town of West Roxbury, on the borders of Roxbury to the north and Dorchester to the east. As such, if any community had a claim on the park it would be Jamaica Plain. Still, the entire area covered by the park was never really a part of Jamaica Plain. If streets had been laid out, and houses built east from Forest Hills street, Sigourney street and Walnut avenue, those streets might well have been claimed for Jamaica Plain. But the land was taken, the park built, and with no residents to decide, the park became more a separate buffer zone between communities than part of any one. So in the end, I would now argue that Franklin Park is not in any one district - it is shared by the bordering Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. And since, under that assumption, it is as much a part of Jamaica Plain as it is of any other community, I've decided to add some entries about the history of the park. Jamaica Plain baseball teams played in the fields, Jamaica Plain bicycle clubs races on the roads, Jamaica Plain children filled the zoo. In lieu of legal borders, I'd say that use is nine tenths of possession, and for generations, Franklin Park - or West Roxbury Park - was as much a part of Jamaica Plain as the Arboretum or Jamaica Pond. We just shared it with others.

Here is an 1874 map of the area that would become the park, with the property lines and owners' names.

The following is an argument published in 1879 in favor of the creation of the park. By that time, it had been under discussion for many years.

Boston Daily Globe November 20, 1879

The Park Scheme

As business looks up and the market valuation of real estate increases, it becomes evident that if the city is to save for public use the lands included in the scheme for the West Roxbury section of the great park, they must be secured at once. This West Roxbury park is the second of the series proposed by the park commissioners, and is in many respects the most important.

In the report of the commissioners it is stated that this "would rank as the chief park of the city by reason of its extent, its fine landscapes and scenery, its supurb views and its central situation; it possesses every element of genuine park scenery within its limits, admirably disposed of in their relation to each other; broad, open copses, picturesque glens covered with tangled undergrowth, and an ample supply of water from springs and brooks for ornamental use. The landscape has for the most part a southerly aspect, with a wide horizon line cut by the Blue Hills of Milton. This reservation is worthy of the highest skill of the landscape gardener and engineer, under whose treatment it would become a park in the true sense of the word, and adequate to the enjoyment of the people of Boston for many years. Thousands can occupy its green hill-sides and glades with mutual pleasure, and find refreshment and relief from city sights and sounds which rural surroundings can only give.

At the time when the proposition to include these lands in the park was first made the cost was estimated at $1,387,100. It is now possible to secure them for considerably less than $1,000,000, and it is understood that the property, or nearly all of it, has been bonded on reasonable terms.

Prompt action on this matter is necessary, for the reason that the present low rates cannot be maintained under the influence of the general rise in real estate; and, especially in this section, the extention of horse-car lines will open it up for building and at once place it beyond the ability of the city to purchase at any acceptable price.

This is the most pressing of the several features of the park scheme, and it is urged as a matter of economy. The purchase of these lands, at present prices, would soon be offset by a return of money to the city through increased taxable valuation of adjoining property and betterments, as in the case of Back Bay park; while at the same time the great landscape park of the future Boston would be secured to the city. The scheme is one that we hope to see carried to completion at an early day.

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