Colonial Stones Mark Miles from Old Roxbury to Old State House

Recent discussion concerning a section of the City of Boston known as Roxbury brings to mind the fact that this area existed as its own political unit from its founding in 1630 until its inhabitants voted for incorporation with Boston in 1868.

Five monuments remain in the early Roxbury town limits (including West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain until 1851), untouched for the most part by politics, urban redevelopment, and other forms of change and still performing their original function (if one knows how to read them). There is another five such monuments that can be found in Brookline, Brighton, and Dorchester. They are milestones showing the distance to the Boston Town House (now the Old State House).

Pictured at right: Marker #5 located by the monument at Centre and South Streets in Jamaica Plain. Photograph by Frank O. Branzetti in 1940. Library of Congress.

All these milestones have a common name associated with them. Dudley, a family that lived in the town of Roxbury in colonial times and which served prominently in the colony's politics and acted generously toward the town's Latin school and the local college, Harvard. The name Dudley remains in the heart of old Roxbury (if only to some readers as an MBTA stop).

Paul Dudley (1673-1750) was born in Roxbury and educated at Roxbury Latin (Class of 1686) and later at Harvard (Class of 1690). He studied law in London, and he returned home to become a successful attorney general of his colony. Dudley was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court and elected Chief Justice in 1745.

He left a permanent legacy by erecting milestones. From 1729 onwards Dudley erected several granite milestones showing the distance to the Boston Town House (now the Old State House) with the judge's initials usually added. All distances assume a route along Washington Street to Eliot Square in the heart of Roxbury, where, as a crowning touch in 1744, Dudley had a Parting Stone carved. The stone still remains and can be seen at the junction of Centre and Roxbury Streets.

Pictured at right: Marker #4 at 366 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. Photograph by Frank O. Branzetti in 1940. Library of Congress.

The road to the left of the Parting Stone which leads to the south is dotted with these informative milestones: stone #3 built in a retaining wall diagonally opposite the junction of Centre and Gardner Streets, stone #5 by the Civil War monument in Jamaica Plain (the chattiest of all the Dudley stones), and stone #6 set in a retaining wall of the Arnold Arboretum opposite Allandale Road.

If one takes the right-hand road at the Parting Stone, as did William Dawes, Paul Revere's fellow rider of April 18 and 19, 1775, one meets another series of Dudley milestones on the original route to Cambridge. Stone #4 still serves on Huntington Avenue, nicely built into the western end of a brick wall that now encloses Mission Park. Stone #5 is on the grounds of the United Parish Church on Harvard Street near Coolidge Corner, while stone #7 stands in a cement block before 240 North Harvard Street in Brighton.

Dudley continued marking the roadways through Roxbury and Dorchester and on out toward Milton. Thus an action early in the 18th century set in motion a chain of events that evolved into the mile signs we take for granted while driving. It is truly amazing that so many of the Dudley stones have survived.
Originally published in the Jamaica Plain Citizen on December 11, 1986.

Milestones, not signs, marked the way

By Walter H. Marx
En route to a recent meeting this chronicler was on the southern end of Blue Hill Avenue. On the outbound side, a rectangular granite marker almost four feet high, eight inches thick and nearly two feet wide was revealed. It had to be an early milestone in the tradition of the Judge Paul Dudley milestones (seen in finest form at the Civil War Monument here in JP).

In the early 1950's, two investigators, C. Howard and H. Hannaway, checked out the old milestones leading form Boston and produced two maps with pictures of the stones they found and brief descriptions of each. Their 1950 map featured several chains of milestones (as these inscribed stones are) south out of Boston, while their 1952 map featured two western chains that broke off from the southerly ones by the Dudley Street Station.

The two westerly chains, one following Centre Street out to Dedham and the other swinging through Brookline and Brighton to Cambridge, were the work in 1730 of Judge Paul Dudley, whose descendents still live in the area. The hard-to-follow Cambridge route is ridden by a modern William Dawes on horseback every Patriots Day. For the first milestones chain to Dedham a Jamaica Plain driver watching his odometer (preferably on Sunday) starts at Eliot Square in Roxbury and ends at the Faulkner Hospital. He will easily spot stone #3, #5 and #6, and possibly #4.

Marking miles (1,000 paces, named by those master road builders of antiquity, the Romans) is hardly new. Many inscribed Roman milestones have survived with modern terminology: destination, distance, sponsor and date. Boston milestones may be the earliest. Boston judge and diarist Samuel Sewall noted in 1707 that he had set two milestones on the road over the Boston Neck to Roxbury.

The Romans erected their Golden Milestone in the Forum at Rome to mark the point from which all distances in their empire were measured; Sewall made his origin the Old State House. The custom was continued as the chains of milestones increased, but today distances in the Commonwealth are measured from the center of the dome of the (New) State House. Sewall placed his stones along Washington Street, since it was the only land route out of the then peninsular Town of Boston.

The Upper Road from Boston, which breaks with Washington at Warren Street, was marked by Judge Dudley, who erected another of his familiar stones at Blue Hill Avenue and Warren Street (Grove Hall) at the Roxbury/Dorchester boundary to the Neponset River at Lower Mills. Here the Upper Road met Lower Road into Adams Street. The Blake House at Everett Square preserves stones #4 and #6 with #7 by Dorchester Park.

The road beyond the river through Milton Village and up the hill continues the chain of stones; past the panoramic Hutchinson's Field, the home of the next to last colonial governor (1769-74), Governor Belcher (1730-41), and on out to Braintree. This was the coast or Bay Road to Plymouth and the Cape, which had a rebirth when it was marked with granite rectangular markers with the Old Colony seal during the Pilgrim Tercentenary in 1920. These are seen from Dorchester Lower Mills to Provincetown.

Sewall's tradition was carried on in 1823 by J. McLean (1761-1823). The Boston merchant who gave Massachusetts General Hospital the psychiatric hospital that was named after him and still continues.

McLean simply continued with six stones from the 1735 Paul Dudley stone at Grove Hall. The road today continues its service as Rt. 138 to the Blue Hills and beyond. Boston's other milestones have a tale to tell of survival despite change all around them. They were the markers until the task of signing roads between municipalities was taken up by the state.

Sources: "Connecticut's Milestones," Boston Herald, August 2, 1987; "Old Milestones from Boston," Mass. Historical Society, 1909; "Milestones In and Near Boston," Brookline Historical Society, 1909.

Reprinted with permission from the November 20, 1992 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright, Gazette Publications, Inc.

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