Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Western Hills of Jamaica Plain

Here's a nice history of the area between the Arborway and Allandale street. Note: "May lane" is May street.

Jamaica Plain News May 18, 1907

"Ye Olden Time" In Jamaica Plain.

Stories of the Life and Times in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury in the Early Days.

The following very interesting article is a condensed summary of an address given before the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club by Mr Frank E. Bradish. It is printed in the News, both because of its interest and value historically, and at the request of many members of the club who listened to it when Mr Bradish spoke before the club.

The article is appropriately called "Stories of Woodland and Pasture, and of Life in the Old Days on the Western Hills of Jamaica Plain."

This paper is the result of studies in the titles of the real estate around the site of the old "Peacock Tavern," which stood on Centre street, on the southerly corner of Allandale street, the southwesterly boundary of the property nearly coinciding with the southwesterly line of Mrs. Souther's place on Allandale street. The whole district from May's lane to West Roxbury village was originally divided as wood lots among the inhabitants of Roxbury who lived in the neighborhood of Dudley Street Terminal, and who visited this remote country only to cut their winter's fuel.

Near the top of the hill, including Butler's Pasture, was the lot of William Cheney, whose homestead was on Dudley street near warren street. His son and his grandson inherited this property, and the grandson sold it to Edward Bridge. Next below Cheney on the hillside was the lot of Deacon George Alcock, one of the founders of the town and church of Roxbury, and brother-in-law of Rev Thomas Hooker, who led the settlers from Cambridge to Hartford. The son of Deacon George was Doctor John Alcock, a famous physician, first in Roxbury and later in Boston, who married the daughter of Doctor Richard Palsgrave of Charlestown. He inherited his father's wood lot and left it to his son, Palsgrave Alcock, who sold it to Edward Bridge.

Between Alcock's land and Centre street lay five narrow lots which at the beginning of the eighteenth century belonged to Thomas Morey. Mr Morey was one of the first white men to build and live in this district; he bought numerous lots adjacent to each other, and his house is supposed to have stood near the brook which runs beside the house of Mrs. Cross, and thence under Centre street through Nervine grounds. Lowder's Lane was originally a "private town way" laid out across these lots to give access to the back land. The Moreys, father and son, never sold any land if they could help it, and it was by an exchange that Edward Bridge became possessed of the parcel between Alcock's lot and Centre street, and south to Green Lane. The Moreys were people of substance, having not only books and a little silver, but also what is an invariable mark of aristocracy - slaves. Thomas Morey and his son, and grandson owned a large tract of land on both sides of Centre street for nearly a century, and when they parted with it, just after the American Revolution, the larger part of it became the property of Gulliver Winchester, the great grandfather of Mr Artemas Winchester who still occupies some of his ancestral acres, in the one hundred and eleventh year of the family ownership.

While Edward Bridge was buying, one after another, the lots above described, he as also acquiring many other parcels, until finally he owned most of the land between Lowder's Land and West Roxbury village, Edward Bridge, his grandson, bought land on Bowditch's hill, and still father east, beyond May's Lane; he is supposed to have built the house in which Mr. Abijah Seaverns afterward lived on Centre street, where the parkway crossed it.

In the earliest days all of Roxbury, from the salt water to the old Dedham line, composed one parish, but when the settlers in the western hills became more numerous they found it too far for women and children to travel from May's Lane to Dr. De Normandie's meeting house, so they built a meeting house of their own early in the eighteenth century, on Walter street, which was then a part of "the country road to Dedham." The town and the General Court were slow to ratify this division of the old parish, but finally all the residents west of Eliot street were permitted to worship by themselves in their new meeting house, and were relieved from the obligation of supporting the minister of the old first parish.

The so-called "First Parish Church" at the corner of Centre and Eliot streets is comparatively new institution. The Second Parish has removed the place of worship from Walter street to Centre street at the corner of Church street in West Roxbury, where Theodore Parker preached seventy years ago to the descendants of the original settlers near Walter street. The salary of the minister in the olden days was not very liberal; he usually had all his firewood cut and hauled to his door, and was thus relieved of the most laborious of all tasks in the country; he had some small part of his stipend in coin, and as coin was then very scarce this gave him a considerable advantage in his purchases; but he was expected to understand something about farming, and especially about gardening, and in this way to supply his table. In fact the person usually lived as well as the prosperous farmers, but not quite so well as the merchants and sea captains. The principle return which the minister received from his profession was wholly intangible - it was the importance of his rank, and the great power which it yielded to his direct use - he did not request, he commanded - and the public sentiment of the community enforced his wishes.

No amount of wealth, no office however high, could give a layman precedence over the clergy, and much of this distinction descended to their families. The most powerful and the best trained minds of the time were thus attracted to theological studies. Long before any professionally educated lawyer sat on the bench of the Province every pulpit was occupied by a man having the best education of his day, and carefully trained to reason about theological problems. Edward Bridge, as has been said, possessed a handsome landed property, which might almost rival that of his neighbor Mr. Dudley, but his frontage on Centre street, except near May's Lane, was small - only about a thousand feet - and this whole front line with land in the rear sufficient to make about forty-seven acres, became the Peacock Tavern Estate. This included the Faulkner Hospital, Mr. Wallis' place, the soil of Allandale street, as far as the land being leveled by the stone crusher, and Mrs. Souther's place on Allandale street.

The Peacock was a very popular hostelry, and was surrounded by orchards and kitchen gardens; the outlook was extended and beautiful, and the climate was salubrious. For about thirty years it contributed to the comfort of travellers and to the gaiety of the towns of Roxbury and Boston, until in 1794 Governor Samuel Adams bought it for his summer residence. Jamaica Plain is an attractive locality for governors - Samuel Adams had been here before he became a resident, for he had visited Governor Bernard and Governor Hancock in their rural retirement, the one on Pond street and the other on Centre street at Aldworth street, but Adams held very different views of human society from Barnard and Hancock. They were aristocratic in opinion and in feeling as well as in taste; Adams was thoroughly democratic. Although he started in life with many advantages, Adams used them all for the benefit of his fellow citizens at large, not for the gratification of his own vanity and the advancement of his children. The desire for American independence, and the social as well as the political equality of all Americans was with Adams a consuming passion, which dominated all his conduct from his college days to the day of his death. After a life of turmoil and strife for these great objects, he spent a few quiet years, some of them in the retirement of Allandale, comforted by the assurance that all of the objects he had aimed at had been gained.

By the generosity of the partners and the son of Francis B. Balch, Esq, his title books have been the foundation upon which these antiquarian labors have been built, and thus the many kindnesses he extended in his lifetime have been perpetuated since his decease.

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