Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Let's Go To The Movies!

The Citizen - May 4, 1939

Bromley - Roxbury, 1931 (BPL)

Bromley - West Roxbury, 1924 (BPL)

Bromley - West Roxbury, 1924 (BPL)

Centre street, Strand Theatre Marquee, 1920s (JP Historical Society)

Taken from photo above.

Remember the days of local movie houses, before the advent of Cinema 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12? I do, but I confess that by the time I was going to the movies in the 1960s, I had to go to the Rialto in Roslindale square to see Hard Days' Night and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. My parents often mentioned going to the movies at the Egleston Theatre - The Eggie to them. Unfortunately, I don't have a map available showing the exact location of the Egleston, but I believe that the lot is still empty where it once stood on Washington street. The Madison was opposite Bickford street and the Plant Shoe factory, and the Jamaica was near Hyde Square, at the site of the present Hi-Lo supermarket.

I've already discussed the Strand Theatre (AKA Emmett Hall) here and here. If you click on the black and white photo above (tip o' the hat to Frank N.), you can see the marquee of the Strand Theatre. The view is looking north on Centre street, with the corner of Burroughts street in the left foreground. The Strand marquee is up the street on the left. It certainly would have been neat to have a movie theatre at Centre street and Starr Lane when I was a kid, like earlier generations had the Eggie, the Madison and the Jamaica.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Amory Street Bums

The former Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House - 2008.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House was a social services organization serving the lower income families of Jamaica Plain through much of the twentieth century. It began as the Helen Weld house, on Lamartine street, and moved to Carolina avenue and the old Goodwin estate. When the city accepted the Goodwin land as a playground, the Neighborhood house moved to Boylston Hall on Amory street. There, it served as a children's club house, dispensary, adult education center and general neighborhood resource. At the time of this article, they would be in their first year at the Amory street site.

The article tells an interesting story of the girls from Cornwall and Amory streets. The writing isn't explicit, but "soldiers and sailors" made the point. I wonder where the games were played - perhaps at Cornwall street and Brookside avenue. It wasn't officially a playground yet, but it may have been an open field at the time. The girls are probably all gone now - they would be in at least their late nineties today - but their children and grandchildren certainly are out there somewhere. Did the grown girls ever talk about their squash games in the old days? When we read history, it's like we only see the chapter headings of a great book - most of what actually happened in the past is lost.

Bellingham Herald September 17, 1918

Local Woman Doing Settlement Work In Boston

An article in a Boston Paper tells of the interesting work done by Mrs Tom Deering,formerly a Bellingham girl, daughter of J.H. Everett, of Lake street, who is doing settlement work in the Neighborhood House at Jamaica Plain. Mrs. Deering is well known in Bellingham and after her several months' absence she will return with her husband soon to the West and make her home in Tacoma, where Mr. Deering has accepted a government position. The article follows:

"Mrs. Tom Deering, of Jamaica Plain, has solved the adolescent girl problem. Her solution is simple and unique -- keep them busy. One hundred girls, all between the ages of 12 and 16 years, were kept off the streets this summer through the medium of "squash baseball."

"There was a group of girls living in the armory(sic) and Cornwall street section, that the neighborhood workers seemed unable to reach, said Mrs Deering. Of course, they came to the clubs and classes at the Neighborhood House, but no one was able to get beneath the surface of their problems.

"And it was a problem, aggravated by the influx of soldiers and sailors. One group of girls, known as the "Armory(sic) street bums," were the greatest offenders. The moment they saw a settlement worker approaching, they would scurry out of sight like a bevy of furtive little animals.

Amusements Lacking.

"I made a survey of the neighborhood and found there was no moving picture house, no park, no dance hall, no opportunity whatever for wholesale amusement. I had no tools of that type to work with. It was then I conceived the idea of interesting them in outdoor sports -- and squash ball was my choice.

"I found the prejudice against allowing girls to indulge in baseball very strong among the mothers in that neighborhood. It was all right for the boys, but for girls -- never. When I explained their girls were in very real danger and some preventative step must be taken, they finally admitted the problem was worrying them and promised to co-operate with me.

"I was surprised at the eagerness with which the girls themselves entered into the spirit of the thing. While it was all pioneer work the whole plan was in working order in short time and teams had been picked, captains chosen, everything made ready for the games. These we had in the afternoon and the evenings were spent in practicing.

Get "Group Spirit."

"I didn't pick and choose my girls. I grouped them together at random. What we were working for was group spirit, which is rarely found among girls. They don't understand team work. But before the summer was over they grasped the idea and the result was splendid.

"They were a self-governing body -- they made their own rules and stuck to them. They played the game squarely and didn't lose their tempers even at times when bitterly defeated by opposing teams. I've seen the captain take her girls off to one corner of the field "If you girls can't play without fighting like cats" she would say, "we'll call the game off now." And they went back and played like good sports.

"Armory(sic) Bums Win.

"We played seventy games during the summer and the team which won the cup for good sportsmanship was comprised of the former "Armory Bums."

"Since working with the girls' league this summer, Mrs.Deering's opinion of girls has gone up 90 per cent. Those who have never seen the result of her pioneer effort feel sure she has started something which will become a permanent part of Boston's playground system."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Where In The World Is Benjanim Bussey(s house)?

Bromley, 1896 (BPL)

Benjamin Bussey was born in 1757. After serving as a soldier in the Revolutionary army, he settled down to the life as a Boston merchant. In time, he would use his wealth to invest in local industry, developing state of the art woolen mills on Mother Brook in the town of Dedham, where Bussey street still crosses a mill pond. As was common at the time, he retired from business and bought a farm from Eleazer Weld in Jamaica Plain, on the grounds of today's Arnold Arboretum. Over time, he added to his holdings, and Woodland Hills came to occupy over 300 acres of land. There, he occupied himself in scientific farming and landscape gardening. There were hay fields, barley, and fruit trees,including plums, apricots and cherries.

Of particular interest for this article is the house he built stood on the side of Weld Hill, what we now call Bussey Hill, in his honor. The house (which can be seen in the article linked below) was somewhere on the south side of the hill, and stood until it was demolished in the 1940s. So where was the house? The map above shows the buildings of the Bussey Institute, with one house and an outbuilding on Bussey Hill within the current Arboretum (see the red arrow). The picture of the front of the house in the Arnoldia article shows a driveway similar to that shown in the map, so I think we can be confidant that the map does show the original Bussey house.

The Arnoldia article linked below says that remnants of the Bussy outbuilding remained until the 1990: there is picture in the article showing a low wall section. I do remember some low walls in that part of the Arboretum, so I took a walk to see if I could find the location I remembered. I parked at the South street entrance to the Arboretum and walked up towards Bussey hill. After a bit of poking around, I came upon the site of the top two photos. A small foundation of about 23'x32' remains at the site, and matches the location shown on the map above. A massive European Beech tree overlooks the site - could it be a remnant of the Bussey estate? Down the exposed hill. the third photo above shows a row stones exposed in the turf. Based on the map view, these would perhaps have been at the front of the house, or perhaps part of the driveway.

The house in the Arnoldia photo seems to have a mansard roof, which would make it too late to be the original Bussey house. The house that was under construction in 1816 was decades before the craze for the French roof style that is still commonly seen in Jamaica Plain. Perhaps the house was modified over time. Or perhaps it's a different house altogether, and something has been lost from the story. In any case, something is still there, serving as a reminder for those who know what to look for. What could an archeological dig find at the site? There must be traces left in the ground of the lives lived at the old farm - the Welds and the Busseys both. I'd love to put a team of grad students on the job and see what we could find.

Source: Benjamin Bussey, Woodland Hills and the Origin of the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia, 64/1.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Jefferson School

Jefferson School, 2008.

Bromley, 1931 (BPL)

Somehow, I've managed to miss the Jefferson school until now. Schools in Boston had been divided into primary schools (K-3), grammar schools (4-8) and high schools (9-12), but by the time of this article, the Jefferson was kindergarten through eighth grade. Heath street was considered Roxbury at the time, but I'll include it here as fitting into my contemporary borders of Jamaica Plain. The map above shows the location of the school at the southern edge of Parker Hill. You can read the names of the students above by clicking on the listing below the group picture.

Addendum (10/11/2008): I had no idea until today that the Jefferson school was still standing! Photo above.

Boston Daily Globe June 24, 1911

Morality Play Given At Jefferson School Graduation.

Mayor Fitzgerald Speaks on Progress and Class of 49 Pupils Appears in Performance of Rhythmic Steps.

"Progress" was the graduation theme of the boys and girls of Jefferson school last evening at the exercises in the school hall. It was illustrated in song, story and play, followed by the class giving rhythmic steps. Mayor Fitzgerald gave an address on the same subject.

The program was under the direction of the master, Edward P. Sherbourne. It included singing by the school of "Awake, My Soul," "Nightinggale's Complaint," "Progress Song," "Alleluia," "The Merry Dance" and "Auld Lang Syne": the recitations of "The Foreward," by Irwin J. Haussler, "The Upward Reach" by Hester MacDonald and "Grow Old Along With Me."

The chief feature of the evening was the production of "Every Child," Lena Dalkeith Burton's morality play. This play is in keeping with the "progress" movement in the public schools under the direction of Miss Marion K. Brown. It shows a little fellow who is being tempted away from the path of duty by a group of careless children called negatives. While the negatives are trying to have him go their easy going and careless way, he is met by a group of positive or good children who persuade the boy to go the way of happiness and usefulness.

The play concludes with the spelling of the word "Failure" on shields worn by the negatives and "Progress" spelled on shields worn by the positives. The leading parts in the play were Lester Krone as Every Child, Irwin Haussler as Spirit of Youth and Carl Fischer as Spirit of Progress. There were 49 children in the play. The boys wore yellow with white baldrieks and the girls were gowned in white.

The mayor presented diplomas to the 18 girls and 31 boys. He said in part: "I am proud to say that Boston still leads in the educational world. We have as fine schools and equiptment and spend more money on education of the children proportionally, I believe, than any other city in the country.

"The schools are better than they were when I went to school in the old North End and later on to teh English high and Boston Latin schools. Five years ago we did not have trade schools, we did not have a school for practical arts or continuation schools or commercial schools.

"True progress means that one must work hard to succeed. Progress means that the one most valuable thing in life is education. If you boys and girls intend to go to work, then continue your education in one of the many evening high schools. It is your duty, boys and girls, to follow the right lines of progress, making yourselves all that you possibly can become."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Franklin Park Bear Dens

When men were men, and bears were out of luck. I left all these pictures full size to show detail. Click on the pictures to see the full versions.

Looking up at the approach to the bear dens.

From within the main bear cage, looking at the back right corner.

At the back of the main cage - bears stand guard over Boston - or are they attacking?

A bear's eye view, from inside the main cage.

Most of the doors at the back of the cage are sealed up. I had to crouch to shoot this picture inside the back wall of the cage.

The second cage, to the left of the main cage.

Not a happy place.

Inside the main cage - notice the round metal cage and barrel that protected a tree that grew within the cage.

Monday, July 14, 2008

William Bourne & Company - Piano Makers

Bromley & Bromley, 1895
David Rumsey Collection

In 1837, at a time when Ohio was still considered "the West," William Bourne set up a piano factory in Dayton, a city of 1000 souls. Within three years, he had removed to Cincinatti, where he took a lead position in another piano factory. In 1842, he took a job with Chickering in Boston, becoming a department foreman. In 1846, he started his own business. Bourne died in 1885, leaving the company to a son. In 1911, the company built a factory on Highland avenue in Needham.

The 1895 map segment above shows the location of the Bourne Piano factory on Lamartine st. The information I've located about the Bourne company is thin, but I thought it was worthwhile to record that Boston's extensive piano business extended as far as the edge of today's Jamaica Plain.

Sources: Pianos and Their Makers, History of the American Pianoforte, History of Needham Massachusetts.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Drivin' Round the Pond

I found this magazine advertisement for sale on Ebay. Below the front right wheel are the words "Jamaica Pond, Boston."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jamaica Pond Goes To Court

In the year 1693, the Freemen and other inhabitants of the Town of Roxbury granted Mr Joseph Belknap permission to draw water from from Jamaica Pond to run a mill for grinding grain. The amount of water to be taken was to be decided at a later date, and Mr Belknap was required to maintain the road where he would dig (The only place that water from Jamaica Pond could drain down hill would have been towards Ward's Pond, so we can assume that the road referred to was the one now known as Perkins street, which was laid out in 1662).

In 1739, a petition to the selectmen complained that the mill erected to grind corn for families of Roxbury and Brookline was being used to grind large quantities of wheat from Boston, and requested that Mr Belknap and his grantees and heirs cease drawing water from the pond to grind grain coming from outside Roxbury and Brookline. The selectmen met and wrote a report recommending that the grantees of Mr Belknap be required to post bond and cease grinding wheat from Boston. At the annual town meeting held in May of the following year, the report was accepted and confirmed by vote.

In 1783, another petition from Roxbury land owners claimed that large quantities of water had been drained from the pond in recent years, causing the selectmen to order the proprietors of the mill to cease taking water from the pond until conditions could be ascertained.

The year 1788 brought the pond back to the notice of the town. Following a petition of the current mill proprietor Mr. William Marshall, a committee consisting of Selectmen William Heath, Dr. Eliphalet Downer, David s. Greenough and Martin Brimmer was to consider conditions regarding the pond, the mill and nearby wells. The committee recommended that the mill sluice be set such that the level of the pond could be drawn down no more than six inches lower than its existing height. The report and its recommendations were put to a vote and rejected. A motion was then put forward to allow Mr Marshall to draw down the pond to the same level as was allowed to Joseph Belknap in 1698. That motion passed.

In 1791, an action by William Marshall against Martin Brimmer was referred to arbitration, the arbitrators ruling for Mr Marshall, with a recommendation that the drawing of waters from the pond be regulated by the selectmen in the future.

All of which leads us to the legal case of the Inhabitants of West Roxbury vs. Enos M. Stoddard & another. A report by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court describes the case, argued in October, 1862, as "Tort for breaking and entering the plaintiff's close, described in the writ as Jamaica Pond, and carrying away eight thousand tons of ice, the property of the plaintiffs, for the purpose of selling the same." Mr Stoddard owned the ice house at the south side of the pond, and stood accused of stealing the watery property of the town!

Along with the preceding history, the plaintiffs (the Town of West Roxbury) introduced a remonstrance submitted to the legislature in 1795 by the selectmen of Roxbury against the incorporation of the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Company. The selectmen claimed that the town of Roxbury should have exclusive rights to the waters of the pond, having never granted use of the pond's water except for the use of the mill discussed above.

The town went on to show that a part of the pond had been reclaimed in 1856, and a walk built along the eastern shore, with a policeman stationed during the day to prevent bathing. In January of 1860 the town posted a notice near the defendants ice houses giving boundaries within which ice could be cut. The defendants were informed by the town that there would be a charge for cutting ice. The defendants then cut and took away about eight thousand tons of ice from the pond, selling it outside the town of West Roxbury. The town then presented the defendants with a bill at a rate of three cents per ton.

In their legal argument, the Town of West Roxbury asserted the following: that an act of 1636 had granted the territory which includes Jamaica Pond to the town of Roxbury; that a 1647 ordinance granting the public access to all "great ponds" (those larger than 10 acres) for "fishing and fowling" did not dispossess the Town of Roxbury of its possession and control of the pond; that the act of separation between Roxbury and West Roxbury in 1851 had passed possession of the pond and its contents to the plaintiffs; and that the town had sufficient title to support a charge of trespass against the defendants.

The court was required to decide whether the 1636 grant, giving possession of Jamaica Pond to the town of Roxbury, took precedence over the ordinance of 1647, which guaranteed citizens access to great ponds for fishing and fowling, by statute, and for swimming, watering animals, and harvesting ice, by practice.

The court decided that the ordinance of 1647 made public all great ponds not previously granted to a single individual.The town of Roxbury had no possession adverse to the rights of the public to access the pond for accepted activities, including boating, bathing, skating, taking water for domestic or agricultural purposes, and for the cutting and taking of ice. The town could adopt by-laws that regulate unreasonable or excessive use of such liberties, and if such by-laws were insufficient, the only resort the town had was to be found in the legislature.

So, the town's case for breaking and entering against Enos M. Stoddard in 1862 failed. The town could regulate the use of Jamaica Pond as a commercial source of ice, but it could not prevent it through criminal charges. While the court seemed to support the rights of citizens to use great ponds for swimming, bathing, skating, etc., the rights of communities to regulate such uses seem to have overtaken and overridden the initial promise.

Perhaps the most interesting information coming from this case was the long history of corn and grain grinding at Jamaica Pond. Between 1693 to 1791, a mill was operating at the pond. The incorporation of the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Company in 1795 puts a late limit on the operation of the grist mill at the pond. Maps from the 19th century show building owned by the Aqueduct company along Perkins street between Jamaica and Ward's ponds, at the same spot where the mill must have taken water from Jamaica Pond.

As more legal decisions from our state's past come online, we may learn more about Jamaica Plain that has lain hidden in dusty court records.

Source: Reports of the Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts - Volume VII

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Brewer Necrology

A follow-up on the previous entry:

The photos above were taken at Forest Hills cemetery, where Captain Charles Brewer, his parents, wife Martha, and some of their children are buried or memorialized. The Captain and his wife had five surviving children, Edward M., Eliza, John Dominis, Joseph and William Parsons Avis.

Source: A Genealogy of the Descendants of John May, Who Came from England to Roxbury in America