Thursday, May 14, 2009

JP Historical Society Tour

House on Alveston st., Sumner Hill.

This Saturday, May 16 will be the first of three Sumner Hill tours through the season. The tour begins at 11:00 AM, weather permitting, and starts at the Loring-Greenough house at Centre and South streets. The tour combines architectural gems with historical context, and tells the stories of a variety of fascinating past residents.

Tour info.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Susan W. Fitzgerald

Susan Walker Fitzgerald was born in 1871 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to well to do parents. She attended Bryn Mawr college, graduating in 1893. After time working at Bryn Mawr and Barnard College, she married Richard Y. Fitzgerald, an attorney. His family's business interests took them west, where Susan and daughter Rebecca left San Francisco just four days before the great earthquake. An illness suffered by Richard returned them east, and after a time Susan took a paying job supervising Pauline Agassiz Shaw's social work in Boston. In 1911, they moved to Greenough avenue, Jamaica Plain.

Susan was active in the suffrage movement, serving as an officer in various local and national organizations. From 1911-1915 she wrote a column three times a week in the Boston Evening Traveller. After a failed campaign for the Boston School Board, she won election to State Representative from Jamaica Plain, being the first woman Democrat to serve in the Legislature (Sylvia Donaldson was elected the same year as a Republican). After a single term, she left politics but remained active in public life.

Boston Daily Globe December 3, 1922


Susan W. Fitzgerald Talks on Place in Public Life

Representative-Elect Speaks Before Twentieth Century Club

Susan W. Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain, one of the first two women to be elected to the State Legislature, representing the 22nd Suffolk District, spoke at the Twentieth Century Club yesterday afternoon on was (sic) "The Function of Women in Public Life."

Mrs Fitzgerald said that women were in political offices really to learn, as well as to serve. She emphasized the point that she wished people to regard her as representing the district as whole, and not as simply a women representing women in a district. On the other hand, she said, her interest should be that of the entire community rather than personal or sectional interests.

she said she believed women in office had really more to learn than to give, and that politics was a great school in which women might learn in a great many ways to be good sports, to take work as it comes, to seek no favors, no deference, no advantages - in short to be treated as man to man.

She spoke of the personal interest people had taken in women's work in politics, and said that in her own case that interest had strengthened a personal bond between her and her neighbors as nothing had done in the past. This bond she said was a basis for the right kind of political activity.

She stated that men voters had shown an interest in the candidacy of women for public office, and that this was a proof of the trust in woman's ability to represent people capably.

A question period followed. Samuel Hubbard presided. Dr. E.A.Winship gave a short talk on his travels in Dakota.

Source: Susan Walker Fitzgerald Papers

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Church and State

J.G. Hales, 1819 (BPL)

Ward Nicholas Boylston was the son of Loyalist Benjamin Hallowell. After the Revolution and the seizure of the family homestead by the new government, Ward Nicholas, having taken his maternal uncle's name, returned to Roxbury and won back the property in a lawsuit. The house and property were on Centre street, near the corner of what became Boylston street. Read more about The Hallowells and Mr. Boylston here.

Massachusetts was the last state to go through disestablishment - the legal separation of church from state - and that did not happen until 1833. In 1802, residents were still required by law to attend and support their local church. In this case, Mr. Boylston had to get an act of the Legislature to allow him to leave the First Roxbury parish in Roxbury proper and join the Third parish at Centre and South street. Since the parishioners supported the meeting house financially, any movement among parishes could harm the fiscal health of the church, and as such was of concern to the state. In this case, Mr. Boylston got his wish. Perhaps coincidentally, when the Town of West Roxbury was cut from greater Roxbury in 1851, Mr. Boylston's land would sit just inside the northern border of the new town.

Columbian Minerva September 14, 1802.


Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In the year of our LORD one thousand eight hundred and two.

An act to set off Ward Nicholas Boylston, of Roxbury, and his estate on Jamaica Plain, from the first to the third precinct or parish in Roxbury.

Section I

Be it enacted by the Senate & House of Representatives, in General Court assembled and by the authority of the same, That Ward Nicholas Boylston, of Roxbury in the county of Norfolk, with his estate there consisting of a Dwelling-House, and nine acres of land more or less, be, and hereby is set off from the first and annexed to the third parish in Roxbury on Jamaica Plain. Provided the said Boylston shall pay his proportion of parish charges due from his to said first parish prior to the date of this act.

June 21, 1802.

By the Govenor approved..

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Postal History of Jamaica Plain

I've already posted two entries on the Jamaica Plain post office - here's a history that adds much to the story.

Jamaica Plain News April 29, 1899


The Local Historian Traces Its Existence from 1829 to 1899 With Relative Facts that Bear on the Progress of Jamaica Plain.

The history of our local post office is a coincidence in the growth of Jamaica Plain. It bears weight in evidence of what our own district has been and assumes a position in indicating what Jamaica Plain is.

A search into the records of the Boston postal department show that in the beginning of the second quarter of the century Jamaica Plain formed a community too modest in point of numbers to justify a post-office. However, four years later this order of things was changed.

Whether by this time the place had received an impulse towards growth or the voice of these few inhabitants had been heard at headquarters, true it is, that in January, 1829, Mr Joshua Seaver was appointed post-master with the full authority of the office. Mr. Seaver was a merchant of the village, and the distinction that fell to him would imply an enterprise on his part and an esteem on the part of his fellow townsmen, two qualifications that his grandsons, of the firm of R. Seaver & Sons on Centre street, bear today.

On the site occupied by the present store of this latter firm, Mr.Joshua Seaver conducted the duties of his office with the honorarium, for propriety permits no other name, of twelve dollars per annum. In 1833, Mr.Seaver was succeeded by his son, Robert Seaver, himself later accepting the office in Roxbury which he held from 1845-49.

The records read at this time, not without uncertainty in the matter of date, that Andrew Jackson, on a visit to Boston during his presidency, called at the Jamaica Plain post-office. One is left in doubt as a result of this absence of specification on the chronicler's part whether Joshua the father or his son Robert had the honor of receiving the nation's chief executive.

The present store, of the firm that we have alluded to, being built at this time, Mr. Robert Seaver set apart a corner in the building for the purposes of the government. Evidently Mr. Robert Seaver and his office agreed, for we find him holding it 16 years, with an interval of six years, from '49 to '55, when Mr. Jacob P. George assumed the duties and temporarily removed the department to a building on the site now occupied by W.F. Fallon's fish market.

During this time the emoluments of office were keeping pace with the growth in sales of stamps. In 1839 the amount was $151.68 and in 1849 the incumbent drew, during his first year's term, the salary of $215.68.

The share of receipts received by the government for the year 1849 was $320.94.

Not until 1870 did Jamaica Plain rise in dignity from a fourth class postal division to a third class, with receipts of over $1000 per annum. Ten years later it assumed its present status of second class which demands an annual income exceeding $8000.

Upon the reappointment of Mr.Robert Seaver in 1855, the salary had risen to $452.79, and in 1859 to $495.44, with a net reserve to the government of $474.29. Here observe that the postmaster was more fortunate than the government and this became frequently the case in fourth-class postoffices now that the salary was based on the cancellation of stamps and not on their sale. Yet, in face of the advantage to the postmaster that this new order of things there have frequently been found unscrupulous enough to avail of the opportunity to increase their income by surreptitiously passing city mail through their own particular department.

With no evidence to indicate that Mr. Robert Seaver had a successor during the period covered from 1855 to 1863, we are safe in assuming that he enjoyed another eight years of postmastership in spite of his democratic principles in opposing the Lincoln administration of the last three years of this period. But by this time a change of functionary, evidently anticipated by the friends of the government, was incumbent if the principle be maintained, to the victor belong the spoils, for we find the office in 1863 passing into the hands of Dr.Marcus T.Robinson.

Coupled with his professional duties the doctor for a short time only, however, handled the mail constructing for the purpose a primitive building on Centre street, now occupied by the Dillingham Express Company. With the death of Mr. Robinson, his widow took charge, and in 1873, when Mr. Silas Poole was appointed to the postmastership, was still discharging the duties.

During the three latter years of Mrs.Robinson's term the receipts of the office exceeded $1900 annually. This now made the department a third-class office and a gift at the disposal of the President. The salary attached thereto was $1000, a comfortable income for the good widow.

As we look back it seems, as far as permanency of location is concerned, that our post office of those days fared no better than the tent of the Arab.

With the installation of Mrs. Poole came another change of locality, the government this time taking up its quarters at 725 Centre street, in the store now rented by the Messers. Libbey Bros. Two years later this growing factor in the industrial life of the community was about to assert its importance and secure a recognition it had for some time been entitled to. In 1875 the Jamaica Plain post office became a branch of the Boston general office and the advantages connected with the step were soon felt in the district. Mr. Silas Poole became Superintendent Silas Poole and a more central locality for the postoffice was a question that was started.

The following year when Superintendent Poole handed his office over to Superintendent Wilson H. Fuller, Woolsey Block became the favored location. From here, occupying one half of a store of which Mr. A Haxton occupied the other half, the office was transferred to the stores 7 and 9 Call street. Though out of the way as far as the public was concerned, and inconvenient to the officials themselves, the location on Call street served for a few years.

In April, 1887, Mr. John Lewis, who now holds the office, was appointed superintendent, and in March, 1897, Mr. M.C. Coin was appointed acting superintendent, having been transferred from Cambridge. Mr. Coin called the attention of the general office to the defects of the locality, and as a result, in October, 1897, the office was replaced to Woolsey Block, where it now stands.

On the same date the demand of the district for better service was met in the establishment of sub-station 25 at 672 Centre street, in the store of what was until recently, the New York Dry Goods store. Forest Hills was the next to be acknowledged in this respect, and in November of the same year a sub-station 28 was opened at W.H. Blake's drug store. In September 1898, Boylston station had to be considered, and as a result sub-station 38 was located at J.L. Locke's drug store, 158 Paul Gore street. The last to be established was sub-station 3(?) in the drug store of L.O. Wallace, 380 Centre street, being placed there January of this year.

The Jamaica Plain post office has kept pace with the advance of Jamaica Plain. From one officer drawing a salary of one dollar a month has it grown to a staff of twenty-five officials with a pay roll of over $1800 for the same period, ranking today as one of the best equipped suburban branches of the Boston General Office.

The staff comprises six clerks (including superintendent) eighteen carriers and a messenger boy.

From consolidation with the Boston office came the box delivery and the first carriers appointed were Mr.J.R. Dickson of 12 Harris Avenue and Mr.J.E. Page of 2 Alveston Street, who are still active in their offices.

The district covered by the delivery includes an area of some five miles, extending from Hoggs Bridge, Roxbury to Walk Hill Street, Forest Hills, and from Franklin Park to Brookline. By uniting her postal interests with those of Boston, Jamaiaca Plain gained ten years of the advantages of the free delivery. So indispensable is the system to the comfort of the community that the extension in this department should not escape notice. At the present time we find that sixteen of the routes have four deliveries daily and two each have but one less.


A final paragraph discusses contemporary revenue numbers - not particularly interesting to us.

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's Tour Time!

This coming Saturday, May 9th begins the 2009 tour season for the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. This year's series begins with the Monument Square walk and adds a new Jamaica Pond tour, for a total of seven different walks, all repeated three times through the season. I'm scheduled to lead three tours later this year, and I'll make note of each when the time comes. So come out, bring a friend and learn the secrets that surround you when you walk the streets of Jamaica Plain.

JPHS tour schedule.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stephen Minot Weld - Schoolmaster

Weld School - Centre and South streets, 1859 (BPL).

The Weld School - Centre and South streets (1874 map, JPHS).

This entry is less a biography than an excuse to use some information I found in the 1850 census records. Schoolmaster Weld deserves a more thorough treatment, and when I have the time I'll give it to him.

Stephen Minot Weld was the son of William Gordon Weld and Hannah Minot. The first Weld to live in Jamaica Plain was Joseph, who was granted a large lot of land in the vicinity of today's Arnold Arboretum for his service in the Pequot War during the late 1630s. Welds continued to live on the homestead until the early 1800s, and stayed in the area for another 100 years.

While William Gordon Weld and his son William Fletcher were both wealthy shipowners and traders, son Stephen Minot Weld (1806-1867) chose to open a preparatory school in Jamaica Plain. There were few public high schools at the time, so the sons of the well-to-do in Greater Boston were sent to boarding schools to prepare for Harvard College. The Weld school was one of the most successful in the area, and attracted students from remarkably diverse sources.

The 1850 census gives us a window into the schoolhouse and its inhabitants. Weld and his wife, Sarah, had three daughters and one son, aged 2-10. There were 4 domestics (women), three from Ireland and one Massachusetts native. The record also lists 4 laborers (men). The students, aged 10-17, came from many different states and countries:

Massachusetts: 6
Maine: 1
New York: 2
Maryland: 1
Tennessee: 1
Louisiana: 3
California: 3

Cuba: 4
Yucatan: 1
Mexico: 1
Spain: 1

Which tells us that the former village of Jamaica Plain was, by 1850, fully connected to the outside world. Other 1850 census records for the community list many Irish domestics, so while there were few places for Irish to set up homes in Jamaica Plain at the time, they were fully integrated into the workforce, living within the households of Yankee residents. How Stephen M. Weld attracted students from such a wide geographic area is not yet known. Perhaps it was just the proximity to Harvard that encouraged fathers to send their sons to Jamaica Plain. The school of Charles Greene at Centre and Pond streets also had Cuban students. Perhaps trade connections between Boton ship owners and captains and their far-away trading partners made Boston the popular place to send one's sons. We certainly know that the first Spanish-speaking residents of Jamaica Plain didn't arrive in the 1970s.