Hopkins Road – Home to a Boston Mayor, a Massachusetts Governor, and a U.S. Secretary of Labor. - - - and they all lived in one of the houses on the street! Based on a 2011 interview with Edmund A. Weiss of Ashland, Massachusetts.
By Peter O’Brien, January, 2011
Jamaica Plain’s Western Hill Country
Perched on the shady side of Moss Hill, one of Jamaica Plain’s highest hills, Hopkins Road is surrounded by world-famous landmarks including Larz Anderson Park, The Clay Center Observatory at Dexter School, Showa Institute on the former Nazareth Home site, and The British School of Boston. Hopkins Road was named for Sabina Hopkins McCourt, mother of Francis M. McCourt who developed the street in 1926. *
Situated along Jamaica Plain’s western border with Brookline at St. Paul’s Avenue, several Brookline estates had working farms with cows and other domestic animals when Ed Weiss and his three brothers, William, Paul and Donald lived at 26 Hopkins Road from 1927-1938. Nearby Allandale Farm, Boston’s last working farm, produces organic crops in its 250th year of operation. But Slocum farm where Ed learned to milk a cow and the Sears farm where he pitched hay for a dollar-a-day in 1935 are now long gone. Ed also remembers a Maryknoll Seminary which was (later) located on St. Paul’s Avenue.
Located off Pond Street, near the entrance to Larz Anderson Park, the other end of the ‘L’ shaped street joins St. Paul’s Avenue, Brookline, opposite the entrance to the renowned Dexter School with its state-of-the-art Clay Center astronomical observatory. With only five houses in 1930 (there are 14 now), Hopkins Road was home to a Boston Mayor, a Massachusetts Governor, and a U.S. Secretary of Labor, all of whom lived in the same house!
Hopkins Road isn’t Jamaica Plain’s highest point at elevation 250’ but it easily tops the famous Dorchester Heights (95’) and Bunker Hill (110’), and it is only 80’ below Boston’s highest elevation of 330’ on Bellevue Hill, West Roxbury.
Ed Weiss, at 92, remembers all the neighbors during the ten years he lived there and can list them and their occupations with extraordinarily sharp recall. The World War II veteran and former New England Telephone engineer can even recall his 1937 phone number: Jamaica 3631 — a private line, rather than a party line, for those who can remember that interesting phone-sharing arrangement.
Ed also remembers a little mom-and-pop store that was located about opposite the entrance to the Country Club at Brookline on Clyde Street, Brookline. He also remembers with pleasing olfactory recall a wonderful delicatessen at 744 Centre Street owned by Henry Schober.
Edmund A. Weiss Remembers
Edmund A. Weiss was born September 13, 1919 at Paul Gore Street in Jamaica Plain. His parents were William R. and Clara M. Weiss. William was Sales Manager for the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Corporation which many years later became American Standard. William managed to stay fully employed during the Depression so that the four Weiss kids noticed only one lean year in Santa’s deliveries.
Leaving Paul Gore Street, the family moved to East Boston where his parents had lived earlier. A few years later they returned to Jamaica Plain, living at 6 St. John Street. Ed remembers a neighbor named Murray on St. John Street who was a prominent Jamaica Plain resident but he can’t recall how or why Mr. Murray was famous. In 1927 the Weiss family moved to the house they bought at 26 Hopkins Road. Ed’s maternal grandparents, Michael and Christine Moran of Nova Scotia, lived in their house next door at 30 Hopkins Road. Michael was a retired ship’s carpenter.
While they were at Hopkins Road, Ed remembers neighbors Mark Russo at #10 who was a teacher, William F. Riley at #15 who was in real estate, Charles E. Herlihy at #22 who owned Herlihy’s Milk Co. in Somerville and who hired Ed at $5 a day for summer work, John F. Cray at #25 who taught at Boston Latin School, Francis M. McCourt at #34 who had developed the street, and a Mr. Lynch who was the golf pro at the nearby Country Club.
Ed attended Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Thomas Grammar Schools, Mission High School Class of 1937 and graduated from Boston College in the class of 1942 with a Liberal Arts degree. Ed walked to Our Lady of Lourdes from his house on St. John Street and later, at Hopkins Road, his mother drove him to St.Thomas Aquinas School and his altar boy assignments there, in their Graham-Paige automobile. Graham-Paige was a beautiful, but not-too-well-known car of the 30’s which went through several financial crises and reorganizations, ending its corporate life as part of Kaiser-Frazer, who built some interesting but unreliable cars for a few years after WWII. Kaiser-Frazer then morphed into Willys Motors and finally ended as American Motors. Ed played baseball in high school but claims only modest skill at the game and he enjoyed hockey on the shallow Larz Anderson lagoon.
Enter Maurice J. Tobin
The Weiss family tradition is that in 1938 they had to quickly vacate their house at 26 Hopkins Road. While not discussed by Ed’s parents, it’s thought that the bank called the mortgage. Ed’s grandparents at #30 also had to quickly vacate at the same time. They’ve always believed that Maurice J. Tobin moved into #26 shortly after they left, but contrary to the family legend, the Boston City Directory for 1949 shows Maurice J. Tobin at #30.
Maurice J. Tobin, born on Mission Hill in 1901, entered politics very young. At 25 he became a State Representative serving from 1927-29, then a Boston School Committeeman from 1931-37. Next, he became Boston’s 47th Mayor from 1938-45, and then Massachusetts’ 56th Governor from 1945-47. President Harry Truman appointed him to serve as the sixth U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1948-53. During his single term as Governor, he created Massport, the independent public authority responsible for the Commonwealth’s airports and the Port of Boston terminals and waterfront facilities. He died very suddenly in 1953 and the Mystic River Bridge was named for him in 1967.
While on Hopkins Road the Tobins were communicants at St. Thomas Aquinas parish on South Street. A tall, very handsome man, Tobin would stride down the center aisle at the 11 o’clock mass at St. Thomas’ Church beautifully dressed in a black Chesterfield overcoat with his perfectly-blocked Homburg hat tucked under his arm. His entrance was an event that turned all heads and awed those of us serving as altar boys at that “big” Sunday mass.
Monsignor William J. Casey, namesake of the now-doomed Forest Hills overpass, often said that Mass. Monsignor Casey, born in 1871, was a bit shaky on his feet and was very likely to fall over when arising from a kneeling position, which he did often. So we really earned the 10-cent tip he awarded each of us after Mass for keeping him upright.
While entering through the massive front doors of the church, Maurice would exit at the St. Joseph Street side and pick up his Globe, Post, and Herald newspapers from Joe and John Patterson, later proprietors of Patterson’s Market and liquor store on South Street, who held the St. Thomas “side door” Sunday-newspaper franchise at the time. Tobin was not a big tipper, but the 45-cent sale for the three papers was always welcomed.
Following their abrupt departure from Hopkins Road, the Weisses lived at 361 Weld Street, 19 Parklane Road, and 109 Bellevue Street, all in West Roxbury. Ed’s parents later retired to a condo in Hancock Village, West Roxbury.
The War Years
After college, Ed went to work in Hawaii for a year as a civilian Technician for the U.S. Army Signal Corps prepping bombers at the famous Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor. Ed doesn’t recall any internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, as was done on the west coast, but he does remember that they were prohibited from owning short-wave radios. Ed remembers his shop disabling the short-wave function on the radios the Japanese-Americans were ordered to bring in for modification.
Ed then entered the Merchant Marine and served from 1944-46 in the north Atlantic with 15 crossings to France, England, India, Morocco, and South America aboard a C2, 16-knot freighter. Ed served as the Radio Operator aboard the freighter. The U.S. Navy 5-inch gun crew on the ship often shot at submarines lurking near the convoys that were transporting vital wartime materiel, food, and fuel. The ships dropped depth charges at night at subs the crew knew were present but cruising unseen beneath the surface. Ed remembers the major challenges of the north-Atlantic crossings were the severe weather and the submarines.
Back to Civilian Life
After the war Ed worked for 33 years in the Transmission Department of New England Telephone in the Television circuit division that was responsible for TV-show transmissions. Ed is a Massachusetts Registered Professional Engineer and since 1941 he has held an FCC Amateur Radio Extra Class license. In addition, for 32 years he has been the Head Radio Instructor for the Framingham Radio Club.
In 1956 he married Mary J. (Casella) of Framingham. They had four girls who entered medicine, teaching, and engineering. The Weisses have 13 grandchildren and have for many years enjoyed retirement in Ashland, Massachusetts.
Sources and References:
* Remember Jamaica Plain? by Mark Bulger.