A descendant of Boston’s famous Boylston family and one of Jamaica Plain’s largest property owners meets Jamaica Plain Historical Society member Tom Sullivan on a walking tour. And now we know Chris Boutourline of Portland, Oregon, and his famous kin including his 500-year old Russian antecedents. Chris Boutourline’s sharing of his family history in a June 2016 interview leads to fascinating bits of world and Jamaica Plain history, with names like Patrick Meehan, James Michael Curley, Annie Oakley, Yuri Gagarin, President John Adams, Harriet Seeger, Iver Johnson, and many others.
By Peter O’Brien, Copyright December, 2016
Christopher Alexis Boutourline
Chris Boutourline signed up for the Jamaica Plain Historical Society newsletter and learned about the walking tours. On a visit to Boston in May 2016, he took the tour that included Eliot Street, which he had passed hundreds of times, but never visited. He was unaware of the famed Eliot School and the Weld gravesite in the First Church cemetery. But he knew that his 1903 letter from Miss Seeger’s School on Eliot Street was a nice bit of Jamaica Plain’s history. He met Jamaica Plain Historical Society member Tom Sullivan on the tour and Tom quickly spotted a great story, which unfolds here.
Chris Boutourline was born at Boston City Hospital in February 1956. His parents were Joan and Serge Boutourline, Jr. Joan (Hill) was from Newton and later moved to Beacon Hill. She attended Newton public schools and the Brimmer and May School. She met her first husband, Chris’s father, Serge Boutourline, Jr., in Boston. Serge was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in March 1932. A bright young man, he won the Massachusetts Science Fair twice. He graduated with an AB degree at Harvard in 1954 and an MBA at Harvard Business School in 1957. Joan and Serge divorced in 1960.
Serge had a promising career with his Harvard MBA. Chris describes his father as a charismatic social scientist. He was involved with the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. He worked briefly for Kimberly Clark as a researcher. Later, he had a one-client business off Times Square called Interactive Systems. The one client was IBM.
While in New York, Serge had an un-credited role in the spoof movie “Brand X,” written and directed by Win Chamberlain. Others appearing in the counter-culture movie were Abbie Hoffman, Jimi Hendrix, and Sam Shepard (in his first film role). Serge’s other creative endeavors included involvement in the NYC arts scene during the “flower power” era of the late 1960s, creating installations for “happenings” around the city.
In his better days, Serge had the prescient idea of microbiological communications. A few years later, computer-assisted microbiological diagnosing systems were developed. Serge died in 1982, age 50, after a sad 15-year decline.
Joan married Bob Weiss in 1967 and they lived on Edgehill Road in Brookline. That marriage produced Chris’s half-brother, Douglas Weiss. He also has a natural brother, Peter Boutourline. Chris’s step-father, Bob Weiss, still lives in Brookline.
Chris’s mother, Joan (1932-2009), attended Radcliffe. She was the family historian and while Chris acknowledges he didn’t hear most of the family history until he was an adult, he grants that he may not have been paying close attention before that.
Chris grew up in Cambridge near Harvard Square. He attended the Buckingham School, the Martin Luther King School, and the Park School in Brookline. He studied for a year in England and then at Noble and Greenough and the Commonwealth School on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst briefly, but decided it wasn’t for him. He then worked as a mail boy at a Boston advertising agency and a server at several greater- Boston upscale restaurants, meeting many interesting clients while waiting on them. He also tried real estate and furniture moving, but his funnest job was at the Jazz Workshop in Boston. He’s retired now and volunteers at an after-school program, and continues his passion for playing pool a couple of nights a week.
Chris lives with his wife, Beth Ann Fischberg of Durham, North Carolina, in Portland, Oregon, where they have found a very relaxed way of life compared to their former east-coast residence in Revere, Massachusetts. They lived on Crest Avenue in the Beachmont section of Revere from 1982 to 2014, in a house high on a hill with spectacular 360-degree views of land and sea, and occasional scary views of low-flying planes headed to and from Logan.
Chris had lived on Moraine Street in Jamaica Plain from 1978 to1980, and his best friend still lives on Everett Street. However, his strongest connection to Jamaica Plain is his maternal lineage through Patrick Meehan (1832-1916), running all the way back to Ward Nicholas Boylston (1747-1828), whom we shall learn more about later.
Chris has been rebuilding the family history from documents, pictures and artifacts that have survived. He hopes that what he remembers here, along with his extensive archives, will be the basis for further family and Jamaica Plain research.
Chris’s paternal roots go back some 500 years in Russia where the Buturlin family, enamored of all things French, changed the name to Boutourline several centuries ago. The Buturlins form a significant part of Russia’s history. Some historians believe the source of the Buturlin family is in Germany, moving to Russia at the end of the 12th century. Some family traditions do get broken, however. Chris is the first male child in 400 years NOT to be named Serge! This break in tradition greatly upset Chris’s grandfather, Serge. Chris’s mother told grandfather Serge, that his son, Serge Jr., was starting new traditions here in America by naming their son Christopher Alexis.
Chris’s great-grandfather, Sergei Sergeevich Boutourline, was born in 1842 and died 1920. He was a general and served in the diplomatic service abroad. Chris has visited the Buturlin home in Moscow. That former Moscow home is now a music school near the Kremlin. The house next door is Chris’s great-grandfather’s birthplace, a historic preservation landmark, now known as “Buturlin’s House.” Another Buturlin home, called Jasnevo, was inherited from Sergei’s mother. It dates to the 14th century and was once owned by the grand-duke of Moscow, Ivan Kalita.
In an unpublished family history by “Uncle Sasha” (Chris’s grand-uncle, Alexander Meyendorff), a Buturlin ancestor, Gavrila Alexich, is described as one of the knights participating in the Battle of the Neva in July 1240. However, there is some doubt such a battle ever occurred since only a Russian account of it exists. Nevertheless, descendants of this knight served Russia with honor in various capacities as governors, generals, judges, vice-regents, and in the Duma (the Russian legislative body).
One of the descendants, in the first quarter of the 15th century, was Ivan Andreevich, who was nick-named “Buturlya,” and from him stems the family named “Buturlin.” During the 15th to 17th centuries the Buturlins survived Moscow’s subjugation of former landed families because of their positions in the Duma. Peter the Great abolished the Duma at the beginning of the 18th century. One of Peter the Great’s first generals, in his newly-formed regular army, was Ivan Ivanovich Buturlin. Another early Buturlin, Vassilyi Vassilyevich Buturlin, took the oath from Ukraine when it was annexed to Russia in 1654, thus earning great rewards from the Tsar. There’s a monument to this event in Kiev, Ukraine.
At the time of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, the Buturlins were divided into those with titles and those without when she granted the title of Count to Field Marshal Alexander Borissovich Buturlin. Alexander’s grandson, Dimitry Buturlin (1763-1829), once owned the Buturlin House described earlier, where he installed a library thought to be among the best in Europe. After it was destroyed by fire in 1817 Dimitry moved to Florence, Italy, and built another outstanding library. Later, many other Buturlins fled to Italy during the Communist regime to avoid imprisonment or execution. The descendants of this branch of the Buturlins still live in Florence, where they have prospered. Chris has met several Italian Buturlin relatives via Facebook.
Another Buturlin ancestor, Serguei Petrovich Buturlin, lacking nobility after Empress Elizabeth separated the nobles from the non-nobles, was part of a large family around Moscow. He was a member of the Life-Guards Horse Regiment and remained loyal to Tsar Nicholas the First in the 1825 revolt. He was a career soldier from 1820 to his death in 1873, rising to the rank of General, and he was a member of the Russian Military Council. His three brothers distinguished themselves as generals, and another as a member of the Privy Council. One brother, Dimitri Petrovich Buturlin, was a well-known Russian historian who wrote the first Russian book about Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. In addition, he was present at the famous meeting where it was decided to abandon Moscow to Napoleon. He later headed a reactionary censorship committee known as the Buturlin Committee.
Another uncle of Chris, Alexander Sergueevich Buturlin, was a student activist at Moscow University. He was expelled and exiled to Yaroslavl, about 160 miles northeast of Moscow. He later moved to Switzerland and fell in with revolutionaries there. He returned to Moscow but was booted out again, this time to Simbirsk, now called Ulyanovsk, about 555 miles east of Moscow, where his son attended high-school. That school was directed by the father of Alexander Kerensky who rose to become Prime Minister in the Provisional Government established after the 1917 Revolution. Vladimir Ulyanov Lenin had also been a student at this school.
A street in the city of Ulyanovsk (formerly Simbirsk) is named after the Buturlins. And a portrait of Serguei Alexandrovich Buturlin hangs in the Simbirsk high school. He was a friend of Leo Tolstoy and helped settle his estate. This Serguei graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial College and became a noted naturalist. He was awarded a gold medal from the Russian Imperial Geographic Society for his work in the Far East related to the pink seagull. Sadly, however, when the 1917 Revolution erupted in Russia, Serguei’s collection of 12,000 bird specimens, unpublished manuscripts, archives and library were destroyed, including an unpublished classification of the birds of Russia. Starting over, with the help of G. Dementiev, he finally published his classification of Russian birds.
Later, despite the difficulties the Buturlin family experienced during and after the Revolution, Serguei Alexandrovich stayed in Russia and served on a Committee to assist the people in Northern Russia. One of his brothers had been shot as a hostage, another emigrated, his sister was imprisoned, and his oldest son perished in the Russian Civil War. Serguei was awarded a doctoral degree in 1936 and died in 1938.
Uncle Sasha Meyendorff, the author of this family history, served in World War II (the “Great Patriotic War”) and was wounded in Breslau. After the war he stayed in the Russian Army and earned a degree in engineering. In 1967 he worked in a military research institute near Moscow.
Uncle Sasha lost his job after he invited Alexander Solzhenitsyn to speak to the military institute’s club. The speech was an emotional plea for the KGB to stop censorship of literature and return his (Solzhenitsyn’s) confiscated manuscripts. Solzhenitsyn described his childhood, his life in the military, his life in a concentration camp and finally, his writing career. The audience was stunned by the revelations and a high-ranking officer rushed to the stage and embraced Solzhenitsyn to thunderous applause. This was the last public appearance of the famous Gulag Archipelago author. The next day, Uncle Sasha Meyendorff was told to retire.
Chris’s grandfather, Serge S. Boutourline, was an officer in the White Russian Army during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The White Army opposed the Bolshevik Red Army in the Russian civil war from 1917 to 1921. This high-ranking position obviated Serge from learning to work for a living. Soon after the Revolution, Serge learned that his name was on a “list,” a clear indication that it was time to leave Russia, and fast. He left Russia with the French Army of Occupation in 1918, and was stationed on Malta by the British until moving to London. In 1924 he moved to New York and then to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Chris’s grandmother was Countess Sophie Koutousoff. She was born in 1888 at Nice, France. Through Sophie, Chris is a descendant of two great Russian military leaders, Alexander Suvorov (1729-1780) and Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813). Family lore says the Countess’s first husband, Baron von Meyendorff, was shot to death following the Revolution. The Baroness then met Serge S. Boutourline in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is not known why they went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Chris’s father, Serge Jr., was born in 1932.
When he came here following the timely tip to leave town, Serge Sr. and his wife Sophie lived in Cambridge, where Serge was woefully unprepared to earn a living. However, he luckily landed a job as a translator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In a brief flurry of notoriety, Serge claimed that Yuri Gargarin, the first cosmonaut, was his nephew, citing his Gargarin relative named Princess Gargarin. However, this wasn’t true, but was just a coincidence of names. The Countess/Baroness Sophie taught French in Cambridge.
On a visit to Russia, Chris found a relative’s portrait hanging in the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow. Anna Vasiliyevna Buturlina was painted by Alexsey Antropov, a noted Russian portraitist, in 1763. Her portrait may be found at the Gallery’s website.
Chris is related to the famous Boston Boylston family, too. Ward Nicholas Boylston (1747-1828) was born in Boston and lived in Jamaica Plain under his birth name of Ward Hallowell. His mother Mary (Boylston) Hallowell was the first cousin of Susanna Boylston, the mother of John Adams, the second President. On the promise of a large inheritance of £4,000 ($381,000 in 2016 dollars), from his uncle, and by royal license, Ward Hallowell dropped the name Hallowell and became Ward Nicholas Boylston.
The Hallowell story is well documented in several stories in these Jamaica Plain pages. However, some details of that family’s history were refuted by Benjamin Hallowell’s biographer, Sandra L.Webber, in 2007.
Against his Tory family’s wishes, Ward fell in love and married the daughter of one of Boston’s leading patriots, William Molineux. He soon left America for a two-year grand tour of Europe – some say because of the unhappy state of his marriage.
Soon after his grand tour began, he received word of the Boston Tea Party, but he was certain the Crown would deal decisively with the rascals responsible for it. After his grand tour he settled in England and developed an extensive business network. He returned to America 25 years later, in 1800, to settle his Uncle Thomas Boylston’s estate.
Ward had amassed a fortune in trade and was one of the 35 richest merchants in Boston. He spent the winters in Jamaica Plain and summers in Princeton, Mass., on a large estate of several thousand acres granted from King George III to his mother, Mary Boylston, before the Revolutionary War. The Boylston streets in Boston and Jamaica Plain, and the town of Boylston, Massachusetts, are named for him.
Boylston’s grand tour of 1773-1775 is detailed in a 49-page paper by John W. Tyler, who was editor of publications at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, a longtime teacher at Groton School, and the 1986 author of Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution. Boylston’s incomplete journal of the tour and several letters were the basis for Tyler’s paper in which he noted Boylston’s intolerance of many of the cultures he encountered on the grand tour.
In one of the many letters John Adams wrote to his cousin, Ward Nicholas Boylston, Adams acknowledged, on November 3, 1819, that his many hasty and uncorrected writings (most of which he couldn’t remember) were all motivated by a sincere desire to promote the public good. He then listed four groups of the papers he wished he could collect for a list Boylston had requested. Most had appeared in the Boston Gazette and had dealt with instructions and advices to various agencies and persons relating to civic responsibilities. Adams also said that, “although sometimes, much boldness of expression escaped me—yet no scurrility ever flowed into print from the pen of your Cousin.” He concluded that writing his autobiography at that juncture was as impossible as casting the Blue Hills into the sea.
In 1975, Chris’s mother, Joan, received a call from a lawyer advising that Barbara Boylston Bean had died, and that among the heirs, she, Joan, was the only blood relative. This was the first clue that Chris was related to the historic Boylston family.
Barbara Bean’s mother and father, Alice and Nick Boylston, spent summers at Upper Dam, Maine, at an inn called Mooselookmeguntic House, on the lake by that name, which means “moose feeding place.” Alice and Nick wintered at Leesburg, Florida.
The inheritance did not include real estate. It was located on a farm owned by Barbara Boylston Bean at 144 Lake Street, Auburn, Maine. When Chris and Joan got up to Auburn, all the Barbara Boylston Bean material was laid out for a pending auction sale. Chris remembers the volume of stuff as being enough to fully stock a large antiques shop! They gathered up three carloads of artifacts and documents, but unfortunately, some family documents were auctioned without full appreciation of their historic and genealogical value.
Some antiques found their way to museums including the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, and the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), which received one or two paintings. The items donated to the MFA included Queen Elizabeth’s pocketbook. There is no clue as to how that was found in Maine. In 1925, several pieces of antique silver were appraised by Albert J. Hill, Chris’s great-grandfather, an antiques appraiser. Much of that silver went to the MFA also, and can be found on the MFA website as Boylston Silver. More recently, Chris has donated two of Ward Nicholas Boylston’s books to the MHS.
The surviving documents include an album of old, lacy, Valentine cards. Chris has prepared a list of names associated with the cards in 1882. The album had belonged to the last Ward N. Boylston in the 1870s and it includes the Wing brothers (1878), who once lived in the Hallowell House, and the Swett sisters (1877), who may also have been Jamaica Plain girls.
Another surviving document is a five-foot-long panoramic photograph of the Jess Willard-Jack Johnson, 26-round, heavyweight boxing match in 1915, at a racetrack near Havana, Cuba. And another document is a note from Harriet F. Seeger of Miss Seeger’s School, 50 Eliot Street, Jamaica Plain, to Mrs. Boylston, dated June 3, 1903, confirming that she has sent the textbook Plant Life (25 cents) for Ward N. Boylston’s summer reading.
In the note Miss Seeger writes,
My Dear Mrs. Boylston, I sent the above by mail the day after Marie called and hope it reached you - I should like very much to hear how Ward is (and) if he has whooping cough? Tell him we miss him very much and are sorry he could not finish the year. Very sincerely yours, Harriet F. Seeger.
The Ward in this note was probably the last family member named Ward Nicholas Boylston, the older half-brother of Barbara Boylston Bean.
Other artifacts escaping the auction hammer included loads of 1920s toys, a gift to Chris’s ancestors from the Marquis de Lafayette, and a huge stuffed moose head. Loads of china, clocks, and other rarities did get auctioned. Regrettably, they allowed the sale of an autograph book that included Dizzy Dean, Christy Mathewson and other baseball greats. Chris did, however, keep autographs of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, some Spanish-American war heroes and Mr. and Mrs. McKinley. He also kept a personal note written by George E. Train, the founder of the Union Pacific Railroad, one-time candidate for President and an early supporter of women’s suffrage. They also salvaged a photo album full of Boylston family photos – all new faces to Joan and Chris Boutourline.
Chris’s mother’s maiden name was Joan Hill. Her father, Albert P. Hill, worked his way up from teller to president of the Hibernia Savings Bank in Boston. He never worked anywhere else, to the best of Chris’s knowledge. The Hibernia bank was founded in 1912. James Michael Curley was president of the bank in 1919. In 1946 Albert Hill testified against Curley in a case involving a $3500 bounced check endorsed by Curley and a colleague named Fuller. It appeared that the check had been tampered with. Albert was called as a prosecution witness. He testified that Curley made regular cash deposits at the bank and that Curley brought in $3500 cash to back the bad check.
Chris’s great-great-grandfather was Patrick Meehan. His maternal great-grandfather, Albert J. Hill, married Patrick Meehan’s daughter, Katherine. Patrick Meehan was born in Ireland in 1832 and came to America in 1846. He achieved great success in real estate, mostly in Jamaica Plain, and by the late 19th century he was among the top taxpayers in the city. He and his wife, Mary Sheehan (1841-1911), had nine children: Katherine, John, Thomas, Minnie, William, Alice, Annie, Helena and Florence. Patrick and Mary are buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury, with a modest headstone, not far from John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Patrick Meehan died in 1916.
Patrick Meehan’s daughter, Katherine Meehan, married Albert J. Hill (1865-1943), and their granddaughter, Joan, was Chris Boutourline’s mother. Katherine’s son, Harold Meehan Hill, wrote an eight-page family history that described the Meehan footprint on Jamaica Plain.
Harold Meehan Hill was born in 1900 at 58 Union Avenue “in a red house set high with a stone retaining wall on the corner lot surmounted by profuse lilac bushes making the air very fragrant.” The house lacked electricity but had an icebox in the cellar. It was not far from Grandpa Meehan’s house at 3451 Washington Street, at the corner of Union Avenue. Harold spent many hours in Grandpa’s stable of fine horses, tended by Thomas Fallon, the stable man. Patrick Meehan, an austere man, loved fine horses and carriages and drove his carriages up to a few weeks before his death, even though he could easily afford a fine chauffeured automobile.
The Union Avenue house was close to both elevated and surface-level public transit available for five cents a trip. Harold noted that in those days, a good salary for a 56-hour week was $25.00. The Hill children attended the Margaret Fuller School on Glen Road in Jamaica Plain, and later the Agassiz school, making four trips a day, including the trips home for lunch.
The Hills’ neighbors at 63 Union Avenue were the O’Briens, who owned a string of greenhouses there. Holly and Mary Vincent were the daughters of Alice O’Brien and were Harold’s playmates.
Harold reports that Patrick Meehan was once a partner with Andrew Peters and Theodore Haffenreffer in forming the famous Haffenreffer brewery. Andrew Peters was the father of Boston mayor Andrew James Peters, who was born in Jamaica Plain in 1872. Mayor Peters served during the Boston Police strike of 1919. Chris learned recently that Meehan’s participation in the brewery enterprise ended when he became a teetotaler. Patrick Meehan also owned profitable sand pits in the Canterbury section of Forest Hills.
Patrick Meehan helped Michael O’Keefe start a grocery store on the corner of Brookside Avenue and Green Street. O’Keefe merged his store with stores owned by John T. O’Connor and a man named Ginter to form the First National Stores chain, in order to compete with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) chain. For many years, First National used the name “Brookside” on many of their dairy products, carrying forward the Jamaica Plain Brookside Avenue connection.
It was reported that the residents of Jamaica Plain were served by many businesses on Green Street in the 1920s. There were five barbers, three tailors, four cobblers, two Chinese laundries, three independent grocers, six chain grocery stores, two garages, two real estate offices, two bakers, two florists, one painter, one carpenter, one electrical contractor, one music teacher, one tea-and-coffee shop, one drugstore, four meat markets, two delicatessens, two fruit stores & ice cream parlors, one hardware store, two dry-goods stores, one fish market, two auto-repair shops, one plumber, one dentist, one dress shop, one dress manufacturer, the Jamaica Plain Floor Company and the Buff & Buff Instrument Company.
Alice Meehan married Ward Nicholas Boylston’s great-grandson of the same name. Ward was a wealthy playboy and never worked a day. He had a son by a previous marriage. Alice and Nick Boylston and their daughter, Barbara Boylston Bean, are buried at Lone Oak Cemetery in Leesburg, Florida. Barbara was a 1931 graduate of Leesburg High School and had served as a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) during World War II. Boylston Street in Leesburg was named for Alice Boylston after her death in 1938.
Chris has an autographed photo of Annie Oakley, signed at Elmhurst, North Carolina, that Chris and his mother found in Barbara Bean’s estate in Auburn, Maine. Miss Oakley had hunted in the Florida Everglades with Alice and Nick Boylston, staying at a hotel directly opposite the Boylston home in Leesburg, Florida.
Nick’s grandmother, Lady Boylston, owned the aforementioned estate of several thousand acres in Princeton, Massachusetts. They had a beautiful southern colonial mansion furnished with priceless antiques on the Princeton property. In a corner of the huge barn on the property sat a covered 1902 Cadillac. Another outbuilding was called the Club House and was full of Nick’s hunting trophies from hunting trips in Upper Dam, Maine to the Florida Everglades. In 1912 the Boylstons traded the 1902 car for a new Cadillac touring car with electric lights and an electric starter, chauffeured by a young man named Tierney from Worcester. That Caddy was replaced later by a Hupmobile Touring Car.
Patrick Meehan’s will bequeathed the use of 111 Morton Street, Jamaica Plain, to his son, John J. Meehan, the executor of the Meehan estate. The Morton Street place was torn down and a long-standing Howard Johnson’s restaurant was built there on what later became the Franklin Park rotary. John worked all his life in his father’s business office on Green Street driving his horse-powered buggy every day. John had married twice, the second time to a Mrs. Skinner who had a son, Joseph Skinner by her first husband.
Thomas Meehan died a single man. Florence Meehan also died single. She loved fast horses and fancy buggies. She died at age 30 from a runaway horse accident on Sippewissett Road in Falmouth.
Helena Meehan married Frank Flanagan, a printer at a Boston newspaper. They had one daughter, Frances.
Minnie Meehan married Paul McAuliffe. They had three children: Paul, Dorothy and Marian. Another daughter may have been living in Falmouth. Paul McAuliffe was never again spoken of, for reasons described later.
William P. Meehan was a lawyer and became a judge. He never married and built a house at 6 Houston Street, West Roxbury.
Annie Meehan married Fred Iver Johnson, son of the locally-famous sporting-goods family. The Johnsons had a factory in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Fred, a playboy and gastronome of significant proportions, was so impressed with Russian food that he bought $200,000 in Imperial Russian Government bonds, which became worthless after the 1917 Russian Revolution. He often invited Harold Hill’s father to the famous Locke Ober restaurant (Boston) for lunch, insisting that his guest order more than he could eat so that Fred could finish the meal. He owned a 1912 McCue Torpedo touring car.
Iver Johnson’s, once a premiere sporting-goods store at lower Washington Street, Boston, just this side of Scollay Square, failed due to mismanagement. Back in the day, as one headed to Scollay Square, the Iver Johnson store merited a long gaze at the high-quality sporting goods and firearms displayed in its windows, before dropping in to the great old Wilkinson Hardware store across the street for a browse, all while the printing presses of the Boston Post newspaper clanked noisily nearby, its pressmen leaning out of the windows watching the world go by on Washington Street!
Patrick bought a farm in Falmouth for a summer retreat and called it “Little Sippewissett.” He had a year-round caretaker who regularly shipped homegrown vegetables by train in barrels and jars up to Jamaica Plain. The early trips to Falmouth were by horse-drawn carriage, requiring a two-day journey with an overnight stop in Middleborough. Later, Patrick commuted to Falmouth daily aboard a special train called the “Dude,” a round trip of about 150 miles and three hours’ time. In 1915, Patrick hired Paul McAuliffe, a cousin of Harold Hill, to run the farm which was renamed the Falmouth Poultry Farm. McAuliffe’s tenure lasted until his wife’s distaste for farm life forced Patrick to hire another farmer. Thereafter, the McAuliffes were never mentioned again.
Harold Hill’s family left Union Avenue and moved to 3 Pomfret Street, West Roxbury in 1914. Harold opined that the Hill family came close to fortunes a couple of times, but due to estrangements and hard feelings, they never realized the joys of inherited wealth.
The Meehan real-estate empire
Patrick Meehan owned six brick apartment houses, five brick factory buildings, two three-decker houses and 30 single-frame houses located along Green and Washington streets from Amory Street to Glen Road, in Jamaica Plain. The empire included properties on Brookside Avenue, Greenley Place and Meehan Place, as well as Union Avenue, with a few buildings on Washington Street, either side of Glen Road.
Meehan also built the hotels Morse and McKinley in Jamaica Plain, shortly after 1890. These four-story, brick apartment blocks had retail space on the first floor and four units per floor above the ground level. Each unit featured two bedrooms, a kitchen, parlor, dining room, and bath. Meehan’s apartment hotels were the first brick residential buildings on Green Street, as well as the first multi-family dwellings of their size. It is interesting that both buildings were located in what, by 1885, was primarily a commercial and light-industrial area. The hotels may also have been in the commercial district because of their great size, and many nineteenth-century homeowners’ NIMBY attitudes back then! Overall, Meehan’s apartment buildings and the other multi-family units built on Green Street in the 1890s indicate that the early suburban idea of nicely landscaped garden lots was already history. Meehan’s office was on Green Street, opposite Brookside Avenue.
An undated appraisal, ca. 1936, by John C. Kiley, the long-time real estate appraiser for the City of Boston, describes the Meehan properties and their incomes and outstanding mortgages. Kiley had lived in Jamaica Plain in 1914 and knew Meehan personally, and had been in many of the properties held by Meehan. Unfortunately, the 48-page appraisal is incomplete and lacks the important Kiley date/signature page. A blueprint which Kiley refers to in the appraisal is also missing.
It appears from the appraisal that Meehan’s five heirs would inherit properties in groups for each heir. So, Kiley placed the properties in five groups with a total appraised value of about $30,000 ($515,000 in 2016 dollars) per group. It isn’t clear whether the properties would be inherited by chance, by choice or assigned to them by Meehan’s will, but Kiley was obviously trying to make all five groups nearly equal in value. Kiley said he was appraising the properties based on estimated selling prices, and not investment (rental) income.
The appraisal is a fascinating look at the 1936 real estate market in Jamaica Plain. His detailed description of each property and how its condition affected his appraisal could be used today. He noted that in the present (1936) depression older homes in good condition suffered more losses in values than newer properties. This was just the opposite of the change in values in the 1893 depression when the older, well-maintained houses performed better than any other segment of the real estate market.
Kiley’s appraisal also offers a glimpse into Jamaica Plain’s future. He noted that Meehan’s keen judgement and confidence in the future of Green Street led him “to put many eggs in one basket.” The Jamaica Plain steam railroad station (later renamed Green Street Station) was the business center of Jamaica Plain when Meehan began building his empire in the 1890s. The two squares on either side of the tracks; Woolsey Square on the Centre Street side and Bartlett Square on the Washington Street side were thriving. The two sides were joined by Green Street’s passing beneath a bridge carrying the tracks above. Those tracks, laid down in 1834, ran on an elevated embankment until being depressed in the late 1980s.
Other factors impacting real estate, Kiley said, were that the steam railroad was the best available mode of transportation; the nearby Sturtevant Blower Works was growing rapidly with nearly 650 employees, and the exploding population of immigrant brewery workers needed homes. There were many small industries within walking distance of the squares as well, all of which were encouraging factors for alert real-estate investors.
These Green Street growth factors were, however, abruptly slowed by the development of Centre Street at Seaverns Avenue and construction of the elevated train above Washington Street. The slowdown continued, despite construction of the Green Street Elevated Station and creation of the large Lady of Lourdes parish.
Meehan’s investment strategy had been based on Centre and Washington streets as the main gateways to points north and south. Then, the Arborway, Riverway and South Huntington Avenue roadways arrived and created a flow of auto traffic away from Meehan’s empire. The new traffic patterns, the gloom and fear spread by the Great Depression, high taxes and the slow migration of Boston’s population to the farther-out suburbs led to a buyer’s market for Meehan properties.
The housing market changed despite the new Boston Gas facility on McBride Street, the new Metropolitan Coal and Gulf Oil facilities at Forest Hills, and a thriving new business in the old Sturtevant facility. In addition, personal auto ownership forced location of small industries to cheaper land farther out. Jamaica Plain, between Boylston Street and Forest Hills and the railroad and Washington Street, had become one of the oldest residential sections of Boston; adding to the decline in values there.
Kiley believed the negative impacts of the elevated railway on Washington Street extended a quarter mile to each side of that noisy and sun-blocking structure. Added to the foregoing, Kiley’s appraisal of Meehan’s properties was heavily burdened by the conditions of the properties and the gloomy future of the Green Street area. Kiley recommended removal of the elevated railway and widening Green Street to boulevard proportions from Jamaica Pond to Blue Hill Avenue, providing another cross-town route, similar to Ruggles Street in Roxbury. This, however, was a hefty slice of pie-in-the sky in those 1930s depression years.
Kiley made some other interesting observations: rental property suffered under absentee landlords; Meehan’s “hotels” were actually apartment buildings and would do better with retail stores on the ground level. He suggested “super gas stations” for properties with large frontages on Washington Street, a conclusion which may have been inspired by Morris Hatoff’s busy gas station, then located under the “El” at Forest Hills. And he noted the obvious conclusion that the noise and perpetual shade from the elevated railway had a significant impact on real-estate values and the quality of life.
A generally depressed market around 1936 prevailed at the time of Kiley’s appraisal. Assessed value of the 45 or so Meehan properties was $384,000 ($6.6 million in 2016 dollars). Appraised value was $152,000 ($2.6 million in 2016 dollars). Notwithstanding the sagging real estate market, Meehan, who was listed in Who’s Who, managed to build an estate of $680,000 ($15.6 million) when he died – $550,000 ($12.6 million) of the fortune was in local real estate.
In addition to the listed real estate, Meehan held 22 mortgages on properties totaling $84,000 ($1.4 million in 2016 dollars). The mortgages were on properties in Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, West Roxbury and Falmouth. Handwritten notes indicate the mortgages are grouped by values for a fair distribution to the heirs, as the real estate had been sorted. The mortgages are given three ratings: Good, Full and Under, the latter being what we’d today call “under water,” i.e. the outstanding mortgage is more than the value of the property. The other ratings indicated the mortgage was at either 80-100% of the value (Full) or there was a 20% difference between the mortgage and the property value (Good). The appraisal classifies the mortgages by these definitions.
Mr. Kiley’s comprehensive appraisal certainly attests to his experience and the value to the Meehan estate of a qualified expert in such matters. It also provides the basis for further study of Jamaica Plain’s real estate development, including the possibility of Green Street as a boulevard to Dorchester and points south that was once blocked by the “El” and the corridor of depressed values alongside it. That idea may arise again with sunlight now falling brightly on Washington Street, which is now free of elevated and surface transit noise as well.
While a Jamaica Plain resident for a relatively brief time, Chris Boutourline’s Jamaica Plain roots through his great-great-grandfather, Patrick Meehan, are deeply embedded along our town’s east-west centerline that we call Green Street.
Finally, Chris notes that if his father’s parents hadn’t left Russia, nor Patrick Meehan left Ireland, and Ward Nicholas Boylston hadn’t returned from his 25-year sojourn in England, the lives of their descendants would never have intersected in Jamaica Plain to form this story.
In any case, we know much more about Jamaica Plain now because of a chance meeting on one of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society walking tours.
Special Thanks to JPHS member, Tom Sullivan, for suggesting the story and to Kathy Griffin who provided editorial assistance.
“Memories of Green Street in the 1920s” by Mary Glynn, Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
“History of the Development of Green Street 1836-1900” by Elaine Stiles, ibid.
“Towards the Commercial Unraveling of Green Street” by Walter H. Marx, ibid.
“Richard Goolsky’s 1940s Jamaica Plain” by Richard Goolsky, ibid.
“Ross Ledgers Tell of 1926-1941 Jamaica Plain” by Walter H. Marx, ibid.
“Benjamin Hallowell Family and the Jamaica Plain House” by Sandra L. Webber, ibid.
“Captain Benjamin Hallowell Homestead,” Boston Globe, December 29, 1901, ibid.