Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jamaica Plain's Little Ireland

Plan of the south portion of the Greenough estate - August, 1850.

Keyes street extension - east of the railroad tracks.

Five generations of Greenough inhabited Jamaica Plain, between 1783 and 1924. The original 50 acre estate stayed in the family until the third generation of Greenoughs began developing the estate and selling off property. I'm focusing here on the south-most portion of the property, which was developed by the eldest sibling, David S. Greenough the third. The plan above shows Carolina avenue, Starr street (later Call street), Lee street and Keyes street. Keyes street later became McBride street (discussed here), and it's Keyes street that we'll be looking at today.

The name Keyes comes from John Keyes, who purchased the south-most end of the Joshua Loring property at the same time as the Greenoughs aquired the larger, northern portion. The Keyes property ran from the edge of this plan - the McBride/Boynton street back yard border - south towards Forest Hills, and probably included today's Boynton, Hall, Rosemary, Spalding and Anson streets. Keyes was a tanner, and ran a tannery somewhere on the site.

While this and other plans of the Greenough property show house lots with frontage of 90 feet and more, the lots of Keyes street were mostly a uniform 50 feet wide. Before the 1840s and the development of Green street, Jamaica Plain was dotted with estates of an acre and larger, so Keyes street was clearly aimed at a different market than the Boston businessmen who had settled into the Jamaica Pond area. In fact, as the list of buyers below shows, Keyes street was laid out to provide homes for the Irish laborers who had flooded into Jamaica Plain in the immediately preceding years. These small lots for the Irish immigrants were put on the far edge of the Greenough property, away from Centre street, Jamaica Pond and the northern part of the Greenough estate, which would be sold off in much larger lots to wealthier buyers.

The second plan shows Keyes street extension, on the Washington street side of the railroad tracks. This was the location of the Jamaica Plain Gas Company, which provided the fuel for the gas lamps of the community until bought out by Boston Gas at the end of the 1800s. They actually produced gas on the site from coal, as I've discussed here. At least one lot on this plan appears on the list below, so I've added this plan for completeness.

Going down the list of buyers below, the first thing that jumps out at me is that most of them appear to have already lived in the town of West Roxbury (which existed from 1851-1874). Most of those probably lived in Jamaica Plain, rather than the less populous Roslindale or today's West Roxbury district. So if the Irish just arrived in Jamaica Plain in the 1840s, and this was one of the first developments of housing for lower income workers, then where had they been living before they bought these lots? My guess is that many of the listed laborers probably lived in on the existing Yankee estates as live-in handymen. The 1850 Census lists many such Irish in Jamaica Plain, women as servants and men as laborers. They may also have lived and worked on the farms that still operated of the outskirts of the community, such as those near today's Morton street and Franklin Park. There are house builders, carpenters and masons among the buyers, a blacksmith and a plasterer. Edward Ward, the plasterer, got his lot by virtue of his wife Mary, who purchased the land in her own right, free and clear of her husband's interference. You'll often see the generalization that women had no legal independence during this era, but deeds such as this one show otherwise.

With the Gas company at one end of Keyes street and the horse car barns soon to come to South street (1858). Keyes street was well situated to serve as the new Irish district of Jamaica Plain. Over time, the neighborhood would extend north to Carolina avenue and south to new streets along South street. It's no accident that the first Catholic church in Jamaica Plain was built a block from Keyes street and next door to the horse-car barns and the jobs they provided. Where the Irish went, the church followed.

August, 1850 - Peter Dolan, Roxbury - Lot 9.

September 1851 - Daniel Sweet, Roxbury, Housewright - Lot 60.

October 1852 - Michael Dunlavy, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 6.

October 1852 - Patrick Condray, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 7.

January 1853 - William O. Farrell, housewright - Lot 11.

May 1853 - John D. Neif, Blacksmith - Lots 1 & 2.

June 1853 - Michael Harney, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 5.

October 1853 - John Mahar - Lot 3.

October 1853 - Patrick Fahy, Yeoman - Lot 12.

October 1853 - Edward Dolan, West Roxbury - Lot 4.

March 1855 - Michael Mulry, West Roxbury - Lot 22.

November 1856 - Lawrence Kelly, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 6.

December 1856 - Thomas Byrne, West Roxbury, Stone layer - Lot 13.

June 1857 - Patrick Comerford, West Roxbury, Carpenter - Lot 17.

July 1857 - Mary Ward, wife of Edward, of West Roxbury, Plasterer - Lot 16. ("Sole and separate use and free from the interference and control of her husband.")

August 1857 - Patrick Lawler, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 15.

August 1857 - Henry and Elizabeth McDonald - *** Lots 1,2,3.

February 1858 - Thomas Harney, West Roxbury - Lot 18.

July 1858 - Martin Seaver, West Roxbury - Lot 20.

May 1859 - Richard Corcoran, West Roxbury - Lots 58 & 59.

May 1859 - JP Gas Co. - *** Lot 4 plus a passageway.

May 1859 - Peter Dolan, West Roxbury - Lot 1.

May 1861 - James Gatlety, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lots 41 & 42.

February 1862 - James Dolan, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 57.

May 1863 - Henry Land, Weymouth, Merchant - Lots 44 & 45.

July 1863 - Patrick Gavin, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 46.

October 1866 - Thomas Cunningham, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 47.

October 1866 - Michael Shanahan, West Roxbury. Laborer - Lot 45.

December 1867 - Patrick Condray, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 54.

March 1868 - Roddy Doyle, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 53.

December 1869 - James Gately, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 43.

September 1870 - John and Patrick Devine, West Roxbury, Laborers - Lot 51.

October, 1870 - Michael Donnely, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 54.

September 1872 - John Corbett, West Roxbury, Laborer - Lot 53.

Source: Norfolk County Registry of Deeds.