Friday, February 20, 2009

Forest Hills Square - 1899

Forest Hills Square, looking south. The microfilm this image is based on is lined with scratches, but the sketch is still clear and legible. Click on the image to expand.

Perhaps no part of Jamaica Plain has changed more over time than Forest Hills square. At the turn of the 19th century, a toll road was built from Roxbury south to Dedham and on to the Rhode Island line. A toll gate was placed at the valley between the hills of today's Arnold Arboretum and higher land of the Forest Hills cemetery. In the 1830s, the Boston Providence railroad tracks were put through the same valley, with a station at the same site. Over time, Morton street, Hyde Park avenue and the Arborway would all connect at the location, creating the square seen above. Horse car lines were run down Washington street, and electrified streetcars of multiple companies filled the square, as shown above. Soon after this sketch was drawn, the elevated train line was extended down Washington street to a terminal station at the square. In the 1950s, the Casey Overpass was built to relieve traffic congestion, and in the 1980s, the current MBTA station replaced the old Elevated terminal.

Jamaica Plain News October 28, 1899

The above sketch, kindly loaned to the News by the Boston Globe, gives a clear idea of the proposed plan for widening Forest Hills square. Probably no needed public improvements have received more attention in the news than this widening of the Square, and the carrying to the square of the South street car tracks. That these two things would be of incalculable benefit to many property owner and residents of all parts of this section we have always believed, and so have for years past agitated and urged some such action as is now about to be taken in these matters.

As to the Square, we have maintained that the present congestion is unbearable, and that immediate relief is not only imperative, but also much less expensive than it will be later. The present dimensions of the Square and the use made of it by the different street railway lines have many times been described in our columns. It was not until this year, however, that a united effort resulted from this agitation. The drawing up of a petition to the Street Commissioners and its circulation by Councilman Newhall and others, and the consequent hearing upon the matter, have been duly reported.

At this hearing there was practically no division as to the proper steps to be taken, although Mr. R.S. Barrows and one or two others strongly maintained that the widening to 150 feet instead of 120 would not more than provide for future increase of traffic in the Square.

The Square is already the terminus of three street railway companies: the Boston Elevated, West Roxbury & Roslindale and Norfolk Suburban. With double tracks and turnouts, the safe capacity of the Square, with pedestrians and carriages, is much exceeded. In the near future, the Elevated will have another line in the Square from South street. It will not be long before tracks are run in from Milton, and a line from the Newton direction is not an impossibility.

Altogether, it has seemed to us that 150 feet would not make too great provision for the future increase of traffic. Nevertheless the change from 60 to 120 feet will be a wonderful improvement, and the people of this section are to be congratulated on the prospect of its early realization. We hope that the time is not far distant when the financial condition of the city will allow the commissioners to go a step further and have removed the block of buildings between Washington street and Hyde Park avenue. This would solve for all time a problem which will grow more and more serious and far more expensive of solution. There is, however, a possibility that when the Boston Elevated extends the elevated tracks to Forest Hills Square this block will be taken by the company for a station. When this comes, either the city or the Railroad must take this tract, or the remaining section of the Seaver estate to the Brook, a distance of only forty feet beyond what has already been taken.

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