Remembering Walter Marx
by Paul B. Gill
My earliest recollections of Walter Marx go back to first grade at the Mary E. Curley School. Walter and I tied for tallest kid in the class. In an era when pupils lined up by height for filing through the corridors, he and I always brought up the rear together.
Three years later, we rediscovered each other in fourth grade at the Agassiz. We enjoyed going to his house on Castleton Street after school and walking his dog, Tippy, at Jamaica Pond. Walter always found plenty to talk about during our excursions. Perhaps because each of us was an only-child, we thrived on the companionship.
One Saturday my mother invited him to join us for lunch. He sat at our kitchen table, articulately iterating one story after another about the fourth-grade experience. As part of his soliloquy, Walter revealed that I had had a serious dustup with the teacher a few days before. My secret was gone in a flash! How could he? I glanced at my mother, expecting the worst – but by then, Walter had gracefully moved on to his next vignette. My mother was so highly charmed by this loquacious and interesting nine-year-old that (fortunately for me) she all but forgot about my incident with the teacher.
Walter was an avid reader as a boy. He occasionally referred to his mother as “Marmee,” suggesting early familiarity with Louisa May Alcott’s writing. Through his reading he had become enamored of life in the nineteenth century. Walking home from sixth grade with him one afternoon, I commented on how lucky we were to be living in the age of automobiles and television. I looked back and found him frozen in place – horrified by my remark! He went on to explain why he would be much happier living in the elegance of the Victorian era. That fascination would stay with him for life.
Although I never remember Walter any way but slim, he was a boy who very much enjoyed food. He occasionally liked to try his hand in the kitchen. He had carefully observed his mother’s culinary efforts and had learned from them. One rainy afternoon when his parents were out, he baked a layer cake. I watched in amazement as he lifted each half from the pan intact and then artfully assembled and frosted his creation, of which we each sampled a generous and tasty slice.
Walter’s parents left distinct impressions on me. His mother (“Ellie”) enjoyed gardening as well as cooking, and I noticed that she undertook these endeavors quite seriously. Walter told me that she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and had come to the U.S. at the age of nineteen (c. 1930). In those early years she had apparently worked in the factory district of Jamaica Plain, alongside fellow German immigrants. By the 1950s she was employed as bookkeeper at Sherry Motors in West Roxbury. Before she left for work on summer-vacation days, she routinely assigned “Vahl-tuh” a set of household chores, which he always completed dutifully.
Walter Herman Marx Sr. was born in Massachusetts in 1906, the son of German immigrants. He grew up in Holyoke. In the 1950s, he was an insurance agent who often worked at home. The dining room table was covered with his documents, and he usually worked on them with a stubby cigar in one corner of his mouth. No one else was allowed near that table. It was a safe island for both his paperwork and his cigar fancy. I remember that he enjoyed verbally teasing us boys in a sarcastic but witty way.
On a Saturday morning in 1950, Walter and I (and fellow sixth-graders) appeared on the M-1 Safety Squad radio program. We kids had helped write the script, and our delivery was worse than silly. After the broadcast, as Walter and I approached the house on Castleton Street, we sighted the stocky frame of Mr. Marx up on the porch. He was grinning down at us, with his characteristic stubby cigar in place. “Oh, oh, I can tell he tuned in to the program,” whispered Walter, bracing himself for a sharp critique that would be heard all over the neighborhood. Mr. Marx removed the cigar and bellowed, “Hey, CBS called with a contract!” Walter exhaled – delighted that the comment was more humorous than acerbic.
One fall afternoon, I accepted an invitation from Mrs. Marx to stay for dinner. I vividly recall Mr. Marx enjoying a mug of German beer with his meal (a new notion for this young observer). Throughout dinner Walter again played the knowledgeable young raconteur, focusing this time on the subject of cuisine. I had little to contribute. To save face, I made some comment about how my mother roasts a chicken. The usually serious Mrs. Marx chuckled and shook her head in the negative. My comment caused her respect for Boston-Irish cooking to drop another notch. Feeling obliged to right a wrong, she carefully detailed for me the proper way to roast a chicken. I noticed that Walter was enjoying my plight a little too much!
As the two of us walked along Castleton Street one day, Walter pointed to a particular house and muttered, “They’re prejudiced against Germans.” The revelation embarrassed me because that family, like my own, was Boston-Irish. He explained that the son had “said things” of an offensive nature directly to the Marxes. Walter suggested that there were others around who had behaved similarly. Soon I learned the disappointing news that Walter would not be attending Boston Latin School with me but would be enrolling at The Roxbury Latin School, where his parents believed he’d be better insulated from this kind of injustice.
We saw each other much less while attending the different Latin schools. Our visits were usually in the summer and on school holiday weeks. I snapped this photo of him with Tippy during Christmas vacation when he was about 13 or 14.
A particularly memorable get-together took place in August of 1954 at the house on Castleton Street. The morning started off ominously cool and damp, so Walter decided to light the fireplace. When he opened the flue, a tremendous gush of wind created a blinding flurry of ash residues that settled all over the living room. What would his parents say if they came home to this? Frantic, he vacuumed all morning. On the WBZ radio noon news, the announcer described Hurricane Carol’s surprise visit to New England, with winds over 100 mph. As the newsman continued, his microphone picked up the crunch of the Channel 4 TV tower toppling onto the roof above him. Walter seemed relieved that somebody was having a worse day than he.
Walter and I went on to attend different colleges. Although we faithfully exchanged Christmas cards every year (his was always stunning), we rarely saw each other. I recall a chance meeting at the corner of Centre and So. Huntington in the early 1960s. I outlined my plans for graduate work in engineering. He, in turn, updated me on his studies in the classics. He was beaming about travel to Italy on a Fulbright scholarship.
In the 1970s his Christmas cards revealed that he was teaching at the Middlesex School in Concord, not far from where my wife and I lived. For some reason, neither he nor I made a gesture to get in touch. Perhaps we had gone our separate ways a bit too far. However, over the decades afterward I thought of him often.
Out of curiosity one day in 2005, I entered his name on an Internet search engine. It was then for the first time that I encountered the J.P.H.S. website. I pulled up the list of Walter’s articles and was thrilled to read them one by one. Then came the shock when I arrived at his obituary.
Walter was an unforgettable character. I’ll cherish my memories of our childhood experiences, and I’ll always regret having missed opportunities to reach out to him in adult life.
Walter H. Marx, 1939 - 1995
Founder, historian and linchpin of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
The impetus for writing this short biographical sketch followed by my reminiscences dates back to the Society’s Member’s Night at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain on November 9, 2005. I was asked to offer spontaneous comments on the occasion of the dedication of a plaque honoring Walter, to be placed in the new archival files in recognition of his services to the Society since its inception in 1988. That previous February 2005 was the tenth anniversary of his death and it occurred to me that the Society had scant record of his achievements, both professional and “avocational”, particularly his role as Jamaica Plain Historical Society’s Historian. What follows, therefore, are my recollections of Walter’s education, accomplishments and unique contributions to Jamaica Plain’s recorded history.
I knew Walter only vaguely in his younger years, inasmuch as he was five years behind me at the Roxbury Latin School, from which he graduated in 1957. His early dedication to the Classics was evident in his tutorial sessions in Latin and Greek with fellow classmates. He also participated in the Soccer program and coached the school’s younger teams in that sport.
Walter continued his grounding in the Classics at Harvard University, receiving his BA (1961) and MAT (1962) in that discipline. His ambitious Master’s thesis tackled The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
His career as a teacher and Department Chair in the Classics led him to various locations from the early 1960’s through the mid 1980’s at: St. Stephen’s School, Austin, TX. (1962 - 1966), The Taft School, Watertown, CT (1966 - 1970), and The Middlesex School, Concord, MA (1972 -1983).
While at Middlesex, Walter procured a Vanity Plate with a modified version of the Roman Legions’ abbreviated motto, “S.P.Q. R.” (The Senate and the Roman People). Walter’s read ‘S.P.Q.C.” (The Senate and the People of Concord). This illustrates in a nutshell his immersion in the classical world and his attempts to make it more of an immediate experience for his pupils. In addition, he served as guide on numerous field trips to the major sites of Mediterranean Antiquity with those same students, demonstrating his deep hands-on involvement in his subject.
My later encounters with Walter were once again at Roxbury Latin School in the 1980’s where we both served on the Alumni Council. We also met frequently at gatherings of the West Roxbury Historical Society. These occasions led, quite naturally, to Walter’s recruitment of me as Treasurer of the fledgling Jamaica Plain Historical Society, only 10 months after its founding in late 1987. Up to that point, his German-born mother, Ellie, had tended to the Society’s financial duties. From that time on, I became closely acquainted with Walter’s activities with the Society.
The remainder of this essay will deal with my most vivid and lasting memories of Walter Marx; giving the reader an impression of what it was to know, work with, and hold with deep affection this immensely likeable man.
If we could define the working culture of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society early on, it was permissive, freewheeling, and thus very creative. Initially, Henry Scannell served as Archivist and he regularly produced interesting archival items from Jamaica Plain’s past. Somehow, we managed to organize lecture meetings, outdoor birthday parties and picnics, and hold annual elections.
Walter was very much involved in all our activities. He kept the spotlight focused on the Society through his countless articles in the local newspapers and by writing pamphlets such as “Jamaica Plain’s Streets”, which traces the historical roots of J.P. Street names. He conceived the idea of reprinting an 1890 bird’s eye map of Jamaica Plain. He and our current president, Michael Reiskind, served as “Ambassadors-at-Large” in the community, constantly immersing themselves in the important issues of the day and always advancing the Society’s concerns for what was best for Jamaica Plain.
Gradually, in addition to the regular meetings, there emerged the equally regular Newsletter, which is now a popular quarterly event. Happily, this served to increase our membership base from an original fifty souls to its present size of more than 150.
Through his contact with Richard Heath, a local historian and champion of preservation in his own right, Walter established contacts with the Forest Hills Cemetery and its President, Bud Hanson. From this liaison, informational walks in the Cemetery, led by Richard Heath, were developed. Walter’s association with the Cemetery was instrumental in planning and executing the dedication of the John Eliot Grove. This project memorialized “The Apostle to the Indians” and founder of the Roxbury Latin School. (Eliot is also memorialized in the present-day Eliot Street and the school bearing his name, located on Eliot Street, near Jamaica Plain’s Monument Square.)
Walter and Richard Heath were also instrumental in the restoration and beautification of the John Francis Parkman Monument located at the south end of Jamaica Pond.
Another noteworthy achievement was Walter’s scheduling of a visit to the Roxbury Latin School immediately following our dedication of the Eliot Grove. At the School we viewed various historical artifacts and souvenirs of John Eliot’s English period and saw the School’s original copy of Eliot’s translation of the Bible into Algonquin. This “Eliot Bible”, printed in 1663 was the first Bible printed in the Colonies in any language.
On several occasions, the Cemetery’s Trust opened the Chapel to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society meetings; notably, our Ghosts of November evening that recalled prominent historical persons interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery.
Another tradition established under Walter’s aegis and carried forth for several years involved Memorial Day Ceremonies. Not only were the Civil War and subsequent conflicts remembered, but also a long absent focus was thrown on the rich Revolutionary War local heritage in a ceremony near the Monument; at another located off Mendum and Walter Streets in Roslindale and at a Colonial burial plot known as Westerly, on Centre Street in West Roxbury.
When the historic Shirley-Eustis House was refurbished and reopened in the early 1990’s, Walter immediately became involved and emerged as Chief Docent and Tour Leader on the House’s august historical premises.
A further example of his unique talents as a researcher and popularizer of History was his “New Bern Caper”. He had researched the history of Newbern Street in Jamaica Plain for his publication on the neighborhood’s streets. He discovered a connection with the port city of New Bern, in North Carolina. The city, under Union control, had come to play a critical role in the interdiction of supplies to the Confederate Army. It had been captured early on in March 1862 by Federal forces and remained a Union garrison throughout the war. Walter decided to make New Bern a major port of call on one of his history excursions and he was able to identify various Union soldiers from Jamaica Plain who served there. Naturally, he later contributed extensive commentaries on his trip in the local paper.
I was privileged, along with a friend, to join Walter on what he would have termed his “General Knox’s Cannon Expedition”. On this trip we traced, in reverse, the course of the transfer of cannon by Revolutionary Army General Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, to Dorchester Heights in Boston. The plan was conceived in late 1775 and carried out in the late winter of 1776. This “mission impossible” enabled the Colonials to control Boston Harbor and all British Naval movements in the Boston theatre of operations. Walter was concerned in making an inventory of the monuments along the Knox route and we recorded their number and condition. We then filled out our weekend with a tour (which Walter had meticulously researched) of the palatial residences of the American plutocracy of the late 19th - early 20th century along the Hudson River. Of course, many articles and stories followed which kept the Jamaica Plain Historical Society in the eye of our audience.
I’d like to finish my reminiscences with what I call the “Walter Marx Loaves and Fishes Caper.” We could also think of it as “How Walter Marx Pulled the Rabbit Out of the Hat” This event occurred in the late 1980’s when we were grasping for issues and venues to create interest in the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. At the time, The Boston Beer Co. had just renovated the former Haffenreffer Brewery’s premises and began producing Sam Adams, “America’s Premium Beer”. A great deal of publicity was generated, since the product had been winning numerous annual International awards as the champion of beers. Amidst all this hoopla, Walter managed to convince the Boston Beer owners that it would be to their great advantage to sponsor a Jamaica Plain Historical Society meeting in the Oktoberfest Season (At the time, we had perhaps 70 - 75 members in good standing; none of them big spenders). He waved his wand again and somehow engaged the Community Hall of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, for our mid-week meeting. As the final touch in this miracle of Lourdes, the prohibited element of alcohol appeared in the form of “samples” of Sam Adams Lager. Thus, we succeeded in flying under the radar of the city and clerical authorities without untoward consequences. Incidentally, the sample size was 12 ounces, with no limit in quantities. Naturally, attendees remember, with a warm and hazy glow, that lecture on Sam Adams and the rebirth of beer brewing in Boston.
It would be difficult to conclude without recording a few personal impressions of my association with Walter Marx. The common experience that bound us closely was our attending Roxbury Latin, albeit a few years apart. There, we shared the school’s classical curriculum, in the course of which we studied under Gerhard Rehder, the school’s History Master for nearly thirty years. In his courses, Walter (and I) learned the maxim that any presentation, to be cogent, should be articulate (of course) but above all should have a discernable beginning, middle and end. I would daresay that Walter’s work in his teaching and with the Historical Society met this test. I hope my musings have come close to doing so as well.
How do I picture Walter now? He’s at his desk or on his couch somewhere in his beloved Elysian Fields, his lanky 6’4” frame hunched over his 1950’s typewriter, he is absorbed in cleaning the keys preparatory to writing yet another Gazette article. Beside him stands his humidor brimming with cigars, waiting to be plucked one by one after a day well spent. On his reading table await copies of Livy, Tacitus, Herodotus or Homer, all in the original, awaiting to be re-read and enjoyed along with a glass of lemonade by the “friendly talented giant” who was Walter Marx.
Edward L. McGowan
Treasurer, Jamaica Plain Historical Society
June 5, 2006
WALTER H. MARX
Walter and I came to know each other through my relationship with his father, who also bore the first name of Walter. We served together as board members of the Roxbury-Highland Bank for many years, and it was not uncommon for young Walter to accompany his Dad to the annual meeting of the bank. It was quite obvious that young Walter possessed a great love of history and, given his educational experience, he excelled in both the written and spoken word.
I shall share two occasions, which come to mind in remembering Walter. The first occurred on Memorial Day of 1993 when Walter delivered a scholarly treatise on “Civil War Monuments in Massachusetts”. The event took place at Forest Hills Cemetery to commemorate the magnificent Roxbury Soldiers’ monument on the 125th Anniversary of its dedication. A large crowd of young and old listened to Walter’s eloquent treatise on this and other monuments, dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Civil War, that adorn so many of our city and town squares.
The second was an equally scholarly treatise held at the Civil War Monument on Centre Street. Newly restored and replaced bronze plaques were proudly unveiled as Walter put in perspective the importance of Jamaica Plain’s most important monument.
To reflect on Walter H. Marx is to reflect on a man well suited to have been prominent in the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. He was truly a personification of erudition and a perfect gentleman.
Erling A. Hanson, Jr.
Former President, Forest Hills Cemetery
May 30, 2006
Memories of Walter H. Marx
I’m not sure exactly when I first met Walter Marx. I do remember the first time I became aware of him when he talked to me as if we had already known each other for some time. I remember wishing I had met him earlier, partly because he was so helpful to me in my research of the history of Jamaica Plain and partly because knowing him helped make the business of researching fun.
I do not think he was one of the representatives of the newly founded Jamaica Plain Historical Society who back in the spring of 1988 invited me, along with Carol Kennedy of the Boston Landmarks Commission, to speak at the James Michael Curley mansion. It is possible I met him at the event itself, although it was so crowded-thanks to the lure of the Curley house, which was usually closed to the public-I might not have remembered clearly if I had met him there or not.
Yet it is more likely that whenever we did first meet, Walter simply ignored the inconvenience of the absence of previous acquaintance and acted as if we had known each other for years. That would be like the man. Always on the lookout for people who shared his enthusiasms, Walter didn’t so much start a conversation as dive into the middle of a topic and swim vigorously for the other shore.
Walter’s appearance made a strong impression, that’s for sure. He was very tall, with yellow-white hair that fell in a few thick strands across his forehead, thick glasses, and usually had a cigar, lit or unlit, in his hand or mouth. He was somewhat awkward in his movements. Add to that his deep voice and articulate manner of speaking-he liked to drop in the occasional Latin phrase-and it is hard to believe anyone could meet Walter without marking the encounter.
For all his eccentric appearance, however, Walter was truly engaging. He enjoyed conversation, including a good laugh-whether over some strange historical coincidence or the human comedy. Whenever we met, we would have a good talk that ended only when one of us realized we were in danger of completely derailing the day’s business. Then Walter, who usually had a long list of things to do-an article to write or other business-would wave his cigar with a wide smile and stride hurriedly down the street.
Walter was a generous and trusting soul. When I had reached the stage of looking for historic images of Jamaica Plain to go into my book, Local Attachments: The Making of an Urban Neighborhood, 1850-1920, Walter declared that he would help solve the problem by loaning me the Jamaica Plain Historical Society’s picture collection to see if there were any I might wish to copy for my book. Without asking for any guarantee or collateral, he delivered the spiral notebooks whose plastic sheets held the old photographs and postcards. As I pored over the sheets of little visual treasures, I thought of Walter-both his generosity and also his tobacco habit-as the notebooks’ vinyl pages reeked of cigar smoke. Yet, never one to hog the glory, Walter also steered me to Suzanne Presley, a prodigious collector of old postcards, and he spent much time thinking about what other sources for pictures might be available.
Indeed, Walter was not only gregarious; he also genuinely liked people. Somehow he kept track of everyone even remotely connected to Jamaica Plain’s history and quite a few others. For him, it seems to me, history was the record of people gone but who would have been most interesting to know.
A little of Walter’s flair for life, friendliness, and busy pursuit of history-not to mention, sympathy for the downtrodden-is reflected in a note he sent to me on April 19, 1988. The previous day we had crossed paths in Harvard Square, although I can no longer remember, if I ever knew, why Walter was there. One side of the paper was a photocopy of British stamps from Jamaica and a type-written paragraph, apparently written by Walter, about the origins of Jamaica Plain’s name, which he argues came from the Algonquin word, “kutchemakin.” On the other side, Walter wrote the following:
Good meeting you in the Square! Had I known that was to occur, I’d have handed this sheet to you which comes from A Concise Guide to the Streets of Jamaica Plain, which the society will feature. This seems to be a final word on the term Jamaica Plain. I must say I heartily endorse it, for I’m a great Indian cheerleader & the English were not nice to them. Fortunately, John Eliot was a fine exception. All this comes from a Citizen article I’m doing on Jamaica Plain aborigines. We must not dismiss them so easily, although ‘tis so easy.
His cheerful way of sharing history was one of Walter’s many charms and one reason that those of us who knew him, miss him, and remember him fondly.
Alexander von Hoffman
Joint Center for Housing Studies
June 4, 2006
For more than four years, since the Jamaica Plain Gazette began in February 1991, Walter Marx provided the paper and its readers with a fresh account of Jamaica Plain History-making page two one of the most popular pages of the newspaper.
His tales from the past of this neighborhood entertained and edified a cross-section of local residents who became loyal fans of “Looking Back.” He never turned in an article past deadline, and he never missed an issue, except those times when he graciously allowed others to write in his place.
Last week, Walter became part of the neighborhood history he loved so much. When he died he left a void, not only in this newspaper, but also in the community he served. Walter not only wrote about history, but he also helped make it. As the historian and a founding member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society and as a member of the Jamaica Pond Association he worked tirelessly to see that pieces of the neighborhood’s past were preserved and protected. Just last month he persuaded the state to fix a monument on Kelley Circle that had been defaced.
Walter was history in action, tramping through wetlands, traveling to North Carolina and Maine, visiting libraries-all to get the story. Even though he wrote about the past, he probably conducted more current investigations than any other staff member. Walter Marx put his personal energy into everything he did. Approaching the Gazette office, if you smelled cigar smoke and heard a booming voice, you knew that Walter was around, copying documents, discussing events of the day while he joked with the staff.
Walter was such a vivid presence; it’s hard to imagine him gone. In a way, he is not. His writings and efforts to preserve Jamaica Plain’s history will be with us forever.
Editor, Jamaica Plain Gazette
He was just in my house only two weeks ago. He called as usual excited over an historical find and he wanted my help in identifying it. That was just like him: Walter loved facts and was always willing to share information. He loved whatever would teach him more about the city of his birth, but especially about Jamaica Plain. And he couldn’t wait to rush into the Gazette to tell everyone else what a famous place Jamaica Plain was.
Walter was educated as a scholar, a teacher and writer. He attended Roxbury Latin School and Harvard. Walter was never afraid to stretch his learning. He would call and ask me some clarification or he would give me copies of something he found or some photograph. His enthusiasm for the life of history was rare. For Walter the past made the present possible. I take pride that I led him to think about new things-especially about the significance of Roxbury history as the beginning of learning about Jamaica Plain. He and I loved the historic landscape. We shared a love and admiration for Francis Parkman, our mutual patron saint. Once, Walter sent me a map showing where all the trees were in the Arboretum that came from Parkman’s Jamaica Plain Pondside house.
Walter was a doer. He spent countless hours cleaning up and unearthing the secrets of the Eliot Street burial ground behind the Unitarian Church. Just before he died he rescued an obscure marker at Kelley Circle. Walter, Martha and I planted bulbs at the Parkman Memorial, and he would often go there alone and clean-up the site. He wrote the words to the plaque that honors John Eliot at Forest Hills Cemetery. His enthusiasm and energy helped make it happen. The Parkman Memorial will be Walter’s, too, for me. He loved the Shirley Eustis house and devoted thousands of hours to it over the years as a guide.
Walter did not suffer fools well. He suffered those who would destroy Jamaica Plain’s heritage with even more scorn. He could not understand the tortoise-like speed of government. He spent years trying to get the plaque replaced at the Monument. He loved Ward’s Pond and Nickerson Hill and the parkland behind the Kelly Rink, and he hated until the day he died its shabby condition and the way government ignored this precious park. Walter did not live in the past, but he didn’t want the past forgotten because the past was the only anchor he had. History-that straight line that ties us all together-was the spirit of Walter’s life. He was proud of where he lived and where he was born and he wanted everyone to be proud that they lived in Jamaica Plain too, because that pride would make us all better people. Better residents.
He didn’t want that steamroller of urban change to destroy the memories of the people that came before us. That’s why he loved plaques; Walter would have had a plaque for something or some event every sixteen feet in Jamaica Plain. That’s why he had to write history. Because he was afraid that people would forget and then they would lose their anchor. History ties us all together. It was the one thing that stopped the chaos that Walter saw all around him, from the changing landscape to the vanishing values.
Walter was unique. He was the soul of Jamaica Plain, the keeper of its treasures, the protector of its heritage. Above all else, he was a teacher. He would have been revered in Puritan Roxbury. His histories were not those of Plutarch or Livy-the Latin scholars he loved to read and quote, whom he admired along with the other ancient sages. His histories were for the common man and woman, girl and boy to read and learn and remember. But above all else, to be another ring on the anchor that would link us together as neighbors in Jamaica Plain. The past made the present possible.
Walter was my friend and Martha’s friend too. We will miss him. We will see his spirit at the Parkman Memorial. His like will not be seen again in Jamaica Plain.
Contributions by Sandee Storey and Richard Heath are reprinted with permission from the February 24, 1995 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
By Walter Marx
The recent sale of the shamrock-shuttered home of James Michael Curley has rightly drawn the attention of a new generation to this legendary mayor’s long residence in our area. Many residents have stories about the house in the Curley era: clients who came to the door in the morning for help (as seen in the Curley novel, The Last Hurrah), the long line of mourners at the double funerals of his children, Mary and Leo, in 1950, and the famous people who visited 350 Jamaicaway over the years.
Though His Honor lived in the house from 1915 onwards, this longest-serving mayor of Boston (16 years in all) did not die there. He and the second Mrs. Curley moved out of the big house with so many memories to a small house at 9 Pond Circle on Moss Hill in 1957. After her husband died a year later, Mrs. Curley’s brother moved in with her, and there she died quietly in 1980. Mayor Curley was not the first Boston Mayor to reside in Jamaica Plain.
Since our area joined Boston in 1872 (Boston has had almost 50 mayors since 1822), five chief executives of the city have lived here. Of most recent memory John Collins (Mayor, 1960-66) lived in a modest home at the curve on Myrtle St. He was a prime mover in the re-development of downtown Boston – in particular the Prudential Center and the New City Hall – and is still active in urban affairs. Polio paralysis in midlife kept this World War II veteran in a chair, but not from pursuing a career in public service before and after his mayoralty. This leader of the “New Boston” – his term coined for his city’s image – was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Harvard University – unique among all of Boston’s mayors.
Of World War II memory, Maruice Tobin, who lived at 30 Hopkins Rd. on Moss Hill, was Boston’s only mayor who went on to top-level posts in the state and the nation. The youngest member of the Massachusetts House in 1926, he served as mayor at the Depression’s end and the war’s start after defeating his mentor Curley in the bitter election of 1937 and again four years later. These were times of austerity, but with federal help the Huntington Ave. Subway was completed. The tall and handsome “magnificent Maurice” grew more popular and captured the State House as governor (1944-46). His backing of President Truman and his knowledge gained in the New England Telephone Company won him the post of Secretary of Labor. Tobin died only six months out of office in 1953 on the Scituate golf course.*
Malcolm Nichols who lived in the big gray house on the corner of Hathoway and Centre Sts. beyond the Monument, was Boston’s last professed Republican mayor (1926-29). A Maine native, Nichols was educated at Harvard and turned to public service at city and state levels. A short, stocky, jovial, friendly man, he finally became mayor after several tries and defeated Curley. Nichols was a strong believer in the metropolitan Boston concept and, as such, backed the Quabbin Water Project. A public and private building boom occurred during his sound fiscal administration, for example the Sumner Tunnel. Unable to succeed himself by law, Nichols stood aside and watched the third Curley mayoralty. He did run again in 1933 but lost his bid. Mayor Nichols lived until 1951, watching many of his pet projects finally flower.
Jamaica Plain’s first mayor of Boston was Andrews Peters of an ancient family here of the Arboretum area, where Peters Hill is named for the family that owned it in earlier times. Peters was a Harvard-trained lawyer who entered politics in 1901. Of stern jaw and executive mien he served on state and federal levels as a Democrat in heavily Republican districts. He was married to a descendant of John Philips. Boston’s first mayor from Jamaica Plain lived in a rambling old home atop Asticou Rd. and South St. by the Arboretum. He was elected mayor in 1917 over Curley after the first administration ended like Nichols’ did later. Also like Nichols, Peters favored the metropolitan Boston concept. He was mayor during the Boston police strike of September 1919, when the State Guard took up barracks in the old G.A.R. Hall on Thomas Street. Peters’ commitment to the city’s fiscal health was disgraced by some subordinates, and he left City Hall a disillusioned man, dying in 1938.
Thus of the nearly 50 men who have sat in the mayor’s chair, four have lived here while mayor, and one lived here all his life. Each administration had a flavor all its own, each with some color to broaden the swath cut by Boston’s most colorful mayor, James Michael Curley, whose bronze standing and sitting statues are rightly in the shadow of a City Hall he never new.
July 28, 1988
*Note: We have since learned that Tobin died in Scituate six months after leaving office of a heart attack. He did not die on the golf course; He was in bed next to his wife, Helen reading the paper.
Remembering 120 McBride Street, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
I am sure there are many people out there with wonderful memories of growing up in Jamaica Plain and experiencing all the diversity it had to offer. I have compiled some of my memories of Jamaica Plain and to this day in 2007 (47 years old), I believe Jamaica Plain was the best education I ever got about life, gut instinct and dealing with people.
My earliest memories of Jamaica Plain were my close surroundings and the streets I grew up on like McBride, Lee, Carolina, Child, Hall, Boynton, and South streets. There were very good people living there, all working hard to get by. The people were the most interesting aspect for me in regard to how I feel. I saw the tail end of an era of how people watched out for each other in a neighborhood.
Murphy Playground in the spring and summer was the best place in the world for a kid to learn about baseball and life. I remember Murphy Playground before the new Agassiz School populated the top field and clubhouse. There were always basketball games going on in the upper section over on the Carolina Street side where most of the older kids played, and there were always pick-up baseball games going on in the lower and upper fields.
When Little League started each spring, that is when you saw the personality of the neighborhood come out, and all of the parents would watch an innocent game on a hot night under the lights swapping stories. Back then everyone played and all we got was a tee shirt and hat, usually sponsored by one of the locals — Doyle’s, Bob’s Spa or Blanchard’s Liquor.
Curtis Hall could not have gotten any better in the 1960s. With all the transition going on in the country this was a safe haven to be a kid and have fun. I remember swimming for a nickel and you brought your own towel and soap. If I remember right there was a boys’ day and a girls’ day for swimming.
Upstairs in the gym was a life lesson and I learned about competition and that famous game of dodgeball, or as we called it, “Bombardment.” All the kids from Jamaica Plain used Curtis Hall and you learned at a young age there were a lot of tough kids in Jamaica Plain, and a lot of kids worse off than you, another life lesson.
Besides going to the library just about every day and studying or goofing off or just checking out girls, the chestnut tree outside was a memorable experience. Every year we would wait for the chestnuts to drop in those armored spiked green shells. We would toss them at each other and when we were done goofing around we would open them up and see that beautiful dark chestnut. We collected them or carved out the centers and made toy pipes (no, not crack pipes, just play toy pipes).
I could write a book about Bob’s Spa and all the stories, personalities, and families that used and relied on Bob’s Spa. Back in the 1960s this is where you got your day-to-day items for the most part. Friday night grocery shopping was at Stop-n-Shop on the V.F.W. Parkway, but the day-to-day was at Bob’s Spa. As a kid you have a very innocent perspective of things, and I thought Bob’s Spa was great. Where else could you get such a great candy selection or sit at a soda fountain stool? Bob’s also had great deli sandwiches and I loved how they added up your bill on the brown paper bag in pencil. My greatest treat was that I used to return all the Coca Cola bottles for my Aunt Betty, and back then they were in a heavy wooden case that held 24 bottles. I would load a couple of empty cases into my wagon and cart them up to Bob’s. Back then it was two cents a bottle and I would bring the money back to Aunt Betty and she would give me a nickel tip, and guess where I spent that?
120 McBride Street; this was home for me, a very safe haven and a wonderful environment. Once again, as a kid I grew up pretty naive and looked through the glass most of the time with glee. Our house was a two-family and the upstairs was where my Mom, Dad and brother lived with our own attic (my playground). On the first floor was a cast of characters like my Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob, Aunt Nancy, and from time to time everyone else like Uncle Al, Tom, Dan and Uncle Martin.
These are some of the finest people I will ever know and I have learned so many life lessons and a good portion of my personality was carved out of these times. Joy came simple back then whether you were out on the streets with your friends exploring the neighborhood or waiting for the produce truck to come down McBride Street so Betty could buy grapes, or just playing in what I thought was the biggest back yard in all of Jamaica Plain.
I will always love this street, neighbors and the times it represented. We lived right next to the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks when the Boston Gas Company used to be there. This was home.
Even though I went to public school and I am glad I did, St. Thomas School had a strong hold on me. From Sunday Mass with Father Kelly or the Sunday paper you could buy out front this was a great place. The fondest memory of St. Thomas was the St. Thomas parking lot across the street where the Band practiced. Growing up as a kid and walking up Child Street to hear the Band get louder was a great thing. The color guard used to practice out there as well.
CCD was quite a life experience and I learned a lot about the church, the crazy nuns who loved that wooden ruler, or how much religion was like a woven fabric in the community.
Where do I start about the Agassiz School? This was a microcosm of a world that I lived in. The students represented every aspect of Jamaica Plain, from the rich to the poor, white and black. There were two buildings that we called the old and new Agassiz, and when I went there in the 1960s I think they were already about 70 years old.
The teachers were fantastic; to this day I love Mrs. Manning, the third-grade teacher and principal of the old Agassiz. The new Agassiz was not much newer and I will never forget the boys’ urinals. There was a slate wall with water running down it into a trough and you would pee on the wall (this is too good to make up.) We had music class and wood shop and had very few amenities. You got milk at lunchtime and everyone brown- bagged it and hung their lunch on the hook in the coatroom.
Recess was a fun time. We played famous games like one-two-three-red-light, handball, and pimple ball. We flung baseball cards and coins up against the wall for keeps. The Agassiz’s roof had a large overhang, and that is where we hid during an air raid (birds flying over). You learned early to duck for cover, and I swear those birds enjoyed it.
These are some of my memories of Jamaica Plain, and I would have to say from time to time I miss those days, but I believe you cannot go back in time and you have to take the good from it and keep moving on.
I have included some family names that I grew up with: the McCormacks, the Donovans, the Maloneys, the Baronies, the Walshes, the Englishes the Genovese, and the Sloans, to name a few.
Our family moved away from Jamaica Plain in 1973, because at the time there was going to be a state road coming through, so the state took our house by eminent domain. The house at 120 McBride Street was eventually torn down. My family had lived there since the 1940s.
I will always cherish that time and that era in Jamaica Plain.
nhliving [at] yahoo.com
This article originally appeared in the Boston Daily Globe on July 27, 1919.
When President Eamon de Valera of the Irish Republic stated the other day that it was his intention to pay off the bonds of the Irish Republic, which were issued in this country in 1866, it is recalled to the minds of some of the people here that they had invested in these issues.
Patrick J. McManus, who lives at 28 Eggleston St., Jamaica Plain, and is one of the best- known Irishmen in the city, had one preserved carefully in his home for years. In fact, he had several, but they were lost, and the one he retains now is a keepsake.
"We Irishmen, who bought the bonds in 1866 are not looking forward to getting rich from them now," he said. "They served their purpose at the time, for the money raised kept the Irish question before the minds of the people everywhere and so they were worth what we put in.
"The bonds were authorized by the Fenian Brotherhood, at the head of which was James Stephens in Ireland. The bonds issued here were signed by John O’Mahoney and Daniel Sullivan. They were in issues of $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, and $500. I think there were enough issued to raise more than $100,000.
"A number of well-known Bostonians bought some, and they were not all Irishmen, either. The Civil War was ended and out of the ranks of civil life stepped officers and men trained thoroughly to fight. So the Irishmen figured out they would try to do something for Ireland.
"England had meddled so much in the war on the side of the South that the soldiers under Grant were sore. And the Alabama Incident, particularly when the English yacht rescued the officers, made the sailors anxious to get a crack at England.
"Money was needed to send men and munitions across, and to plan for an invasion of Canada. And the bonds brought in some of it. But bonds were not needed to finance any campaign because the cause had backers enough throughout the country. Still, it was thought advisable to give some sort of legality to the raising of funds.
"Stephens was arrested, but like De Valera he made his escape from prison in Ireland without any difficulty because in the Fenian movement there were men who held positions in the army, navy and other offices where they kept in touch with all that was going on.
"While the Fenian plans were not successful from the point of view of bringing independence to Ireland; yet they were not abortive, that is entirely. For today the Irish can point to what took place in the late 60’s as one of the evidences that Ireland never accepted the Act of Union any more than did Wolf Tone, Emmet, O’Connell, Mitchell and other leaders since Pitt and Castlereigh stole the country’s liberty.
"Looking back now we can see how our movements from time to time worried England as the Irish Campaign is worrying her diplomats today. As a matter of fact, when we planned the invasion of Canada in President Grant’s time it became noised about that as long as the Alabama Claims were unsettled a Union General was not going to be so particular about the fine points of neutrality. And there came a speedy settlement.
"When they talk so much about religious differences in Ulster, I know that much of it is not true. I was born in the north of Ireland and lived there as a lad. And some of my best friends were Protestants. They are today. It is the brewers, the lace and linen makers who keep the agitation alive. And Carson is doing a good job for them as their attorney.
"But the people are reading the papers more these days, and they do their own thinking. Look at the elections in Ireland and England of late. Carson and Lloyd George are both getting licked. That shows the trend of events. The elastic band that England’s aristocracy is trying to snap around the world is stretching to the breaking point. And America will break it by backing away from the tangle they are trying to get America into."
The $10 bond that Mr. McManus owns has pictures of Wolf Tone and Emmet on it. There is a red seal in the center at the bottom, at the left of Mr. O’Mahoney’s name. At the top in the center is a woman typifying justice, and a young man is reaching down to pick up a sword that has fallen from her hand. It is printed in green and even today, 53 years after its issue – Feb 2, 1866, it is dated – it is in a good state of preservation.
The first tour site was the home of Marie Zakrewska at 6 Peter Parley Road, a neatly painted white house one block off Washington Street. Smoyer said Zakrewska came to the United States from Germany in 1853 hoping to practice medicine. But when she graduated from Western Reserve Medical College in 1862, not a single hospital would hire her or even rent her office space. "Female doctors," Smoyer said, "were considered off the beaten track." Zakrewska solved the problem by founding her own hospital. The New England Hospital for Women and Children, which hired only female doctors, served only female patients. The hospital later opened a nurse's training school and graduated America's first trained nurses.
Margaret Fuller, the second famous Jamaica Plain woman on the tour, was also frustrated by the limits imposed on women. Tour assistant Emogene Gilman, standing in front of the Margaret Fuller School on Glen Road, described a brilliant-minded but "lopsided" young woman. Fuller, born in 1810, was an academic whiz with a great head on her shoulders but few domestic skills. She found herself starved for stimulating intellectual employment. Men were decidedly not interested in her.
Engraving of Margaret Fuller.
From 'A Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America, with Biographies' by Evert A. Duykinck. 1873. Used with permission of The Noel Collection.
Frustrated by social and economic restrictions, Fuller met the challenge. At 29 years old she created the first of a long series of feminist conversation groups. They were attended by the best-educated women in the area who met to discuss women's role in society. Fuller, also an author and critic, became a leading thinker of her day. Her thoughts, considered quite radical, were based on a belief in creativity, intuition and the human spirit and made their mark on the times.
Julia Oliver O'Neil
The tour group crossed back to a spot across from Green Street station to hear about Julia Oliver O'Neil. Born in 1909, O'Neil was the mother of ten daughters and two sons. She became famous for sewing smart matching outfits for her children to wear in Boston's annual Easter Parade. Photos of the children, lined up tallest to shortest, were printed all over the world. O'Neil's seventh child, Ginny, told tour participants that fan mail came to her mother from as far away as Australia.
Mother Mary Joseph Rogers
At the Bowditch School at 82 Green Street, Smoyer described the life of Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who founded the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic in 1920. Rogers set up an unusually democratic order, where the sisters shared equally in all seminary work and received extensive professional training.
A few blocks east and around the corner is the former site of the former Gordon Hotel, where Elizabeth Peabody lived the last five years of her life. Peabody, who lived from 1804 to 1894, was the mother of the kindergarten movement in America. An intellectual and author, she owned a bookstore at 16 West Street and published "The Dial," a radical literary magazine. Peabody, also the first woman publisher in the United States, published Thoreau's famous essay, "Civil Disobedience."
Pauline Agassiz Shaw
After a stroll over the hill to the intersection of Thomas and Centre Street, Smoyer told tour participants about the life of Pauline Agassiz Shaw, who devoted her life to supporting education.
Shaw, born in 1841, opened the first kindergarten in 1877; five years later she was supporting 37 of them. The Jamaica Plain feminist also founded day nurseries, the pre-cursors of day care centers, which later became settlement houses.
Susan Walker Fitzgerald
Around the block at 7 Greenough Avenue, the tour group paused in front of the former home of Susan Walker Fitzgerald, the first woman Democrat elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1922. She served one term, and then turned her energies to work with the General Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women. Fitzgerald was a feminist, Smoyer said, who shocked all of Nantucket in 1909 by lecturing on women's rights in her bathing suit.
Emily Greene Balch
In front of the Loring Greenough House and across the street from the Unitarian Church on the corner of Eliot and Centre Streets, Smoyer told the story of Emily Greene Balch, an economist, pacifist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Balch, born in Jamaica Plain in 1867, was recognized for her work with the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom. She taught at Wellesley College for twenty years, teaching economics from a women's perspective and included the writings of Karl Marx. Balch also focused on immigration issues. "She tried to refute the idea that the best way is the old English Brahmin way," Smoyer said. But Balch was considered too radical. She was dismissed in 1919, became a Quaker and spent the rest of her life working for peace.
Ellen Swallow Richards
Smoyer ended the historical tour at 32 Eliot Street, home of Ellen Swallow Richards. Richards founded the home economics movement. The first female student at M.I.T., she also became the first professor of sanitary engineering in the country. Richards, a chemist, conducted pioneering work in the testing of water and food and used her Eliot Street home as a laboratory. She developed cleaning and cooking techniques that dramatically altered the nature of housework in the United States.
Written by Susan Meyers. Reprinted with permission from the August 30, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
By F. Washington Jarvis
The following article is from the April 2008 edition of the Newsletter of The Roxbury Latin School and is used with their permission. James Drummond Dole, the subject of the article that follows was the son of the Rev. Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927). Reverend Dole served for more than forty years as pastor of the First Church of Jamaica Plain. His work for peace and free speech influenced Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Emily Greene Balch (recipient 1946) among many others. The Dole family home stands at 14 Roanoke Street.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of James Drummond Dole, Class of 1895. More than a century after he pioneered the growing, canning, marketing, and distribution of pineapples in Hawaii, his name still lives in the annals of American business and on supermarket shelves across the world. He was a daring innovator, a tenacious entrepreneur, a trailblazer in employee relations, and an exemplary citizen.
Dole was a member of one of the School’s most memorable classes, and graduated in the 300th Anniversary year in the heyday of Headmaster William Coe Collar. Alas, his records at Roxbury Latin and Harvard are missing from the respective files of both institutions. Tripod reports that he was pole-vaulter, and that he came in second (at 5’7”) in the high jump to his classmate Ford Holt’s 5’8” – which set a new school and New England record at the Interscholastic Meet in the spring of his Class I year. The results of his college examinations – also published in Tripod – were undistinguished (including failures in German and logarithms), but he was nonetheless admitted to Harvard.
Two Men of Influence
Both his parents came from Maine. His father, Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927), was pastor for forty years of the First Congregational Society of Jamaica Plain. This parish had, in fact, become Unitarian, and Dole was a “progressive” not just in theology but on social issues such as women’s suffrage, Negro rights, and pacifism-and, when he graduated from seminary, had a hard time finding a church that was willing to hire him. After teaching Greek for a time at the University of Vermont, he was called by the Jamaica Plain church. He was prolific writer of books and pamphlets.1 He often expressed the hope that his son would enter the ministry.
Charles’ first cousin was Sanford Ballard Dole, (1844-1926), son of the Reverend Daniel Dole, who had gone from Maine as a missionary to Hawaii. Daniel was the first principal of what is now Punahou School, where Sanford was born – making him a native Hawaiian. Sanford eschewed the ministry and became a lawyer, devoting his life to modernizing Hawaii – first forcing a constitution on the decrepit and corrupt monarchy, then overthrowing the monarchy and becoming the new republic’s first president, and finally taking Hawaii on its first steps to statehood by persuading President McKinley and Congress to accept it as a territory – of which he was appointed the first governor in 1900.
Sanford’s influence on young Jim, as he was called, appears to have been stronger than his father’s influence. While at Harvard, Jim concentrated on agriculture and horticulture, something that was then possible by arrangement with the Bussey Institute (now subsumed in the Arnold Arboretum). Dole’s love of farming had grown out of his boyhood experiences at the family’s summer home in Southwest Harbor, Maine. His summer chore was to take care of the family’s vegetable garden. What would have been a burden to most boys was a delight to Jim, and he gradually concluded that his “calling” was not the ministry but “the land.” His other summer delight was sailing, something he had to forego when he finished Harvard. Years later, he wrote nostalgically: “The summer of 1899 was my last summer of navigating the wonderful waters between the Camden Hills and Point Schoodie, in the days of sail and white ash breeze.”²
Innovator and Entrepreneur
Selling his beloved sailboat for $94, Dole made his way to Hawaii with his total savings of about $1,500, intent upon making his fortune. Having just turned 22, this 5’11½”, 120 pound Harvard graduate landed in Honolulu on November 16, 1899. At first he lived with his cousin Sanford. “Within two weeks I found the town quarantined for six months by an outbreak of bubonic plague. During the winter I saw the fire department, with the timely aid of a stiff wind, burn down all of Chinatown (the intention being to disinfect in this thorough manner only one or two blocks).”3
The Hawaiian economy was dependent on a single product, sugar, and its fortunes bobbed up and down with the fortunes of sugar. Efforts at broadening Hawaii’s economic base by growing rubber, coffee, and fruits and vegetables had all failed. Dole wrote: “I first came to Hawaii…with some notion of growing coffee – the new Territorial Government was offering homestead lands to people willing to farm them – and I had heard that fortunes were being made in Hawaiian coffee. I began homesteading a [64 acre] farm in the rural district of the island of Oahu, at a place called Wahiawa, about 25 miles from Honolulu.”4 Dole had only the meager funds he had brought from Boston and had to borrow almost three times his savings to acquire the land. “On August 1, 1900 [I] took up residence thereon as a farmer – unquestionably of the dirt variety. After some experimentation, I concluded that it was better adapted to pineapples than to [coffee,] peas, pigs or potatoes, and accordingly concentrated on that fruit.”5
Previous growers had tried to ship pineapples as a fresh fruit, but pineapple does not travel well and they did not prosper. Dole’s intention was to distribute pineapple in cans – also an endeavor at which others had failed. Undeterred, he planted about 75,000 pineapple slips on twelve of his acres, and simultaneously, with no knowledge of canning, he started a small cannery. “The people of Honolulu scoffed when, in December 1901, 24-year-old James D. Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company…”6 The Honolulu Advertiser labeled the company “a foolhardy venture which had been tried unsuccessfully before and was sure to fail again.” 7 In another editorial, the paper said, “If pineapple paid, the vacant lands near the town would be covered with them….Export on any great or profitable scale is out of the question.”8 The Hawaiian business community had little interest in another fly-by-night pineapple company, so Dole was forced to return briefly to Boston where he raised a meager $14,000 from family and friends.9 Critical financial support came the following year, however, from San Francisco’s Hunt Brothers, who were impressed by the young man’s passionate vision and vigor.
Thirty years later – in 1930 – the company (popularly known as “Hapco”) had well over a billion plants in the ground and was packing 104,515,025 cans of pineapple a year for world-wide distribution. The pathway to this phenomenal success had been strewn with obstacles of every sort. Dole had no money of his own and he was forced to make frequent trips to the mainland to secure the necessary funds to purchase land and equipment. He had to find just the right type of pineapple plant (Smooth Cayenne), and then come up with innovative methods of growing it. Fertilizer had to be applied first, then strips of asphalt-treated paper “mulch” were laid out; then ”slips” of pineapple were planted which grew through holes in the paper, which prevented the growing plants from being choked by weeds; finally, the crop had to be sprayed regularly. Dole also had to develop efficient canneries to process the pineapples (by the mid-1920’s, Hapco had the largest cannery in the world), and to find means of transporting the cans to the mainland. Each endeavor involved gargantuan difficulties and required new financing. Interestingly, one of his strongest backers was his Roxbury Latin classmate Philip Melancthon Tucker, whose gift of $100,000 in 1927 made possible the building of the new schoolhouse in West Roxbury.10
Dole’s prospectus of 1901 had said his object was nothing less than to “Expand the market of Hawaiian Pineapple to every grocery store in the United States.”11 When production began to outstrip sales by 1907, Dole gathered together all the Hawaiian pineapple growers and devised the first successful nationwide advertising campaign on the mainland to make consumers aware of pineapples – still a largely unknown fruit. As sales increased exponentially, Dole needed to improve the efficiency of his canning operation – by mechanizing what was being done slowly and expensively by human labor. In 1911, he hired Henry G. Ginaca, chief draftsman of the Honolulu Iron works, and by 1913 Ginaca had invented and perfected a machine that could core and peel 35 pineapples – after the bugs were worked out, 100–per minute. This expansion, of course, led in turn to the need to purchase new lands (he bought the entire island of Lanai in 1922 and turned it into a 14,000-acre plantation), build new canneries, organize new transport, advertise more widely. By 1932, Hapco, after much experimentation, discovered how to make pineapple juice – opening up still new markets.
But that same year, the Great Depression devastated the Hawaiian pineapple industry, and resulted in staggering losses for Hapco. The board, on which Dole had never had a controlling interest, forced him out of management into the honorary role of chairman. The company was “reorganized” by larger conglomerates and gradually recovered – largely on the sales of the new pineapple juice.
Many years before, in 1910, Sanford Dole had written to Jim: “The more I think about it the less I like the proposition of using the Dole name for your enterprise. It is a name which has long been associated in these islands with religious, educational, and philanthropic enterprises…I think it would be regrettable to give [the name Dole] an association of such a commercial character that would adhere to it if made a trade-mark or part of the business name of a corporation.”12 Jim Dole adhered to his cousin’s wishes while he controlled Hapco, but the leaders of the reorganized company soon began exploiting the Dole name in labels and advertising. And after James’s death, Hapco was renamed the Dole Food Company – its name today.
For the rest of his life, Dole continued working on innovations such as exchangers for removing impurities for the sugar industry and the development of natural-flavor apple juice. At his 50th reunion at Harvard in 1949, he wrote: “I am devoting much of my time to certain food and food equipment developments which seem to merit attention. I am distressed at the parlous state of the world….and at the apparent lack of human capacity to organize mankind for the safe and humane guidance of atomic energy. I should like to stick around this human turmoil a while longer and have a finger in the game.” He did so – hardworking to the end – dying in 1958 at 80.
His Father’s Son
“We have built this company on quality, on quality, and on quality,” wrote Dole of the principles on which the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was founded.13 He believed in product safety long before it was mandated, and the company earned a worldwide reputation for quality.
Dole was hands-on manager and knew his employees by name. He frequently left his office to make the rounds. Even when the employees numbered in the thousands, he would introduce himself one-on-one to those he didn’t know. He always believed that those who did the actual work were likely to have the best ideas about how to improve production and quality, and he was always eager to listen to what they told him.
Dole’s philosophy of business was directly influenced by his father. He remarked, “I come from stock, which measures things mostly by the golden rule. At least father did. Of course, being a minister, he wanted me to be one. But he didn’t urge it when he saw I wasn’t keen for it. However, he did counsel me to choose a calling which had in it some element of service to others.” 14 His father noted that”[Jim] knows that business demands more than capital and is not measured by profits: that it is founded on the lines of thoroughgoing cooperation, and is interwoven with mutual respect and kindliness.”15 He cared about his employees and believed their welfare was interwoven with the company’s. “I have been particularly interested in trying to organize our business in such a way that every employee, so far as possible, may feel that his interest is that of the company and vice versa. I don’t claim to have reached this point, but the recipe seems obvious: the Golden Rule…”16 He was committed to “the payment of good wages and providing safe, healthful and morally wholesome conditions for the work in the factory and on the plantations.”17 By 1915 there was workman’s compensation plan in place, by 1920 a generous pension plan, by 1921 a stock ownership plan had resulted in employees owning 31% of the company, by 1922 the company had built housing and “model village” amenities for its field workers, by 1924 the cannery had lockers, dressing rooms, a cafeteria, a medical dispensary, and athletic facilities, and by 1928 the company had a profit-sharing plan. During the entire time Dole ran the company there was never a strike.
Dole’s generosity, in fact, is probably what cost him the management of the company in the Depression. But another factor was Dole’s generosity towards his Hawaiian competitors. He could have used the Ginaca machine, for example, to put his competitors out of business, but he sold it to them at modest cost, and shared with them all of Hapco’s other innovations. He believed that a company should do its collective civic duty, and the company gave the city of Honolulu land for the expansion of Queen Street at a price way below the market. His youngest daughter Barbara says that her father told her the president of the reorganized Hapco thought he (Dole) was a Communist.18
Dole’s commitment to civic duty was nowhere more spectacularly – or tragically, as it turned out – attested than his backing of what came to be called the Dole Derby. After Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across that Atlantic, the governor of Hawaii and the editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin approached Dole and asked him if he would – for the good publicity Hawaii would garner – sponsor an air race to Hawaii. On May 25 of the “Summer of Eagles” Dole announced: “Believing that Charles A. Lindbergh’s extraordinary feat in crossing the Atlantic is the forerunner of eventual Transpacific air transportation, I offer $25,000 to the first flyer and $10,000 to the second flyer to cross from the North American continent to Honolulu on a non-stop flight.” ($25,000 is equivalent to $292,000 in 2007 dollars, and the prize money came out of Dole’s own pocket, not the company’s!) Burl Burlingame evaluates the challenge this way: “The 2,400-mile distance from San Francisco to Hawaii was 1,200 miles less than Lindbergh’s distance. But the distance over water was 600 miles further, and Lindbergh had been aiming for France, which is somewhat bigger than Oahu…Only four planes [in the race] had radios; only two could send as well as receive.”19
Arthur Goebel, 31, won the prize, arriving at Honolulu’s Wheeler Field, watched by a crowd of 75,000, in 26 hours and 17 minutes. Martin Jensen, 26, finished second in 28 hours. But the race had a tragic dimension. Time Magazine reported: “Eighteen airplanes entered for the prize. Eight started [the oldest pilot was 32]. Two crashed; two turned back; two disappeared; two finished.”20 Three of the eight pilots died. While others chalked up the loss of life as “the price of progress,” Dole was deeply affected and offered $20,000 to anyone finding those who were lost on the way; none was found.
Dole’s early “dirt farmer” years in Hawaii were a time of unrelenting labor and of almost non-existent social life. But when his sister graduated from high school, she persuaded her parents to allow her and a friend, Belle Dickey, to travel to Hawaii to stay with her brother. Dole forthwith fell in love with Belle and in 1906 they were married by Dole’s father in his church. Returning to Hawaii, the couple had five children in quick succession. They built a beautiful home which was staffed by a plenitude of servants, and they attended the Congregational church founded by their New England forebears. But Dole’s total immersion in the company meant that the upbringing of the children fell largely by Belle. Returning home exhausted, he could at times find the children irritating, and could be quite critical of them. He also tended to be rather too quick with long-winded advice – he was, like his father, a preacher. Nonetheless, both the marriage and family seem to have been happy, and his children loved and respected their father.21
The year before Dole died, Henry A. White, speaking at the Newcomen Society, summarized Dole’s achievements thus: “In every way…James D. Dole has won for himself the honor and title of Pioneer. In laying the foundation of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and of the pineapple industry, he was a man of foresight and tenacity, early recognizing the possibilities of an almost unknown food product when few others shared the vision. In shaping the destinies of the company, he was a man of daring in taking the calculated risks necessary to the establishment and expansion of the firm and its products. Ever seeking new and better ways of growing and processing his products, he was a man of inquiring and curious mind, always welcoming innovation. And throughout his lifetime he has been a man of the highest business and personal ethics. Foresight, tenacity, daring, curiosity and integrity. These are surely the attributes of a true pioneer, and these have been the qualities of James D. Dole.”22 – F.W.J.
Several photographs that accompany this article, courtesy of Roxbury Latin High School, may be found here.
Editor’s Note: Please visit the Hawaiian Historical Society’s web site for other points of view on the role of the Dole family in Hawaiian history.
1. Roxbury Latin, of which he was a trustee from 1894 to 1919, has 17 of his books!
2. Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
4. Tripod, vol.44, no. 1, October 1931
5. Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
6. Henry A. White, James D. Dole, Industrial Pioneer of the Pacific, Newcomen Society, New York , 1957, p. 13
7. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, The Story of James Dole, Island Publishing, Waipahu, HI, 2004, p. 34
8. White, Dole, p.14
9. In August of that year his brother Richard – who had struck out in his own way by joining the merchant marine – died of dysentery in Shanghai. One can imagine the thoughts of James’s parents as their only son now departed again for the uttermost arts of the earth.
10. Tucker, who committed suicide in the Depression after losing his fortune, was, by amazing coincidence, the great uncle of Charles T. Bauer ’38, who gave the school’s new science and athletic facilities and refectory at the end of the 20th century.
11. Harvard 50th Reunion report, 1949
12. Honolulu Advertiser, November 7, 1981 with correction November 12, 1981
13. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p. 76
14. Elise Theodore, “The Man Has Made Millions Out of Pineapples, Success Magazine, date unknown, circa 1926-27, p.64
15. Charles Fletcher Dole, My Eighty Years, E. P. Dutton, New York 1927, p. 274
16. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.78
18. Ibid., p. 79
19. Burl Burlingame, “The Dole Derby,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 29, 2003
20. August 29, 1927
21. Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.84-85
22. White, Dole, p. 27-28
F. Washington Jarvis
The first night I sat down with Ronald Reagan in the White House, the president wanted to hear all about James Michael Curley. The same was true of Jimmy Carter, and just about every other politician I’ve ever known. - Tip O’Neill
I hope that Tip didn’t try to tell the President the story about how Mr. Curley obtained license plate #5. Mr. Reagan, coming from a state that has long since loaded up every licenses plate with a jumble of letters and numbers, couldn’t even begin to grasp why Mr. Curley (or anyone else) would go to such lengths over a license plate.
Versions of the story differ, but the simplest one is that Curley fancied #5 for his own car, that he plotted a campaign of terror against the rightful bearer of that number (a prominent Republican), and that his henchman finally trumped up a charge against the poor man, revoked his automobile registration, and gave the license plate to their boss.
The story always made perfect sense to me. I grew up in the Boston area in an immigrant family and I watched my father and his father struggle to get a “good” license plate. And yet I had to wonder-knowing how people tended to exaggerate the misdeeds of Mr. Curley-was the story about #5 completely true? And when, exactly, did it happen? Who was the other fellow? I decided to see what I could find out. But before I get into the story I have to give a bit of background about the social dimension of these lowly embossments in Massachusetts.
“Father of the American License Plate” is probably not how Henry Lee Higginson would choose to be remembered. “Founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” perhaps, or “Civil War hero” would be more to his liking. But in fact it was Major Higginson, the prominent banker and philanthropist, who first recommended that the state put a numbered plaque on each motor vehicle.
Higginson hated the automobile. As the twentieth century dawned in Boston he was in a state of high complaint about the rudeness of the unlicensed “automobilists” whizzing past his front door at 190 Commonwealth Ave. (in both directions on both sides of the avenue). At his summer home in Manchester, Massachusetts He even arranged to set up an elaborate network of timing devices in order to prove that over half of that town’s motor traffic was routinely exceeding the speed limit of 15 miles per hour. But how to determine the identity of the offending motorists?
It was to address this question that Major Higginson submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature in January of 1903 “Relative to licensing Automobiles and Those operating the Same.” Since Higginson was perhaps the most influential private citizen in the Commonwealth at the time, his petition was sure to get prompt attention.
Sitting in one of the back rows of the legislature that year was a scrappy, 29-year-old rep from Roxbury named James M. Curley. Son of an immigrant laborer, champion of the Irish underclass, Mr. Curley was already staking out the epic boundaries of a career in urban politics that would take him to the mayor’ office four times (in four different decades) and twice to prison. In the 1950s he achieved legendary status with the release of the film “The Last Hurrah” (Spencer Tracy played him), which was loosely based on his life.
But back to 1903. Major Higginson’s proposal was approved by the legislature in June and the license plates hit the streets in September-the first state-issued license plates in the country. (New York had mandated numbered license plates one year earlier but left it up to motorists to make their own.)
Those first license plates in Massachusetts bore the unmistakable mark of that grant program of civic improvement that the Yankee elite felt was their sacred trust. In the first place the plates were made of high-gloss porcelain enamel, which far outshined the home-made license plates of the Empire State. Secondly, they bore a legend of self-importance: “MASS. AUTOMOBILE REGISTER.” The word “register” was seen to have the same connotation as it had in the “Social Register,” i.e., a list of the people properly located in society.
Indeed, when the first auto registration list was published in the fall of 1903, it was easy to see from the names that it was a system of registration by and for the Yankee aristocracy. More than 97% of the automobile owners came from the WASP upper and middle classes. This at a time when more than 60% of the population of Massachusetts was “of foreign parentage.” Those porcelain plaques quickly took on a totemic quality-they not only uniquely identified a motor vehicle, they also attempted to indicate the social caste of the vehicle’s owner.
The Irish, who were locked in a bitter battle for social respect with the Yankee establishment at the time, were conspicuously absent from the registration list. Only 15 Irish surnames appeared among the first 1000 registrants. Not that Major Higginson had saved all the low numbers for his pals. No. Except for a man named Frederic Tudor receiving #1 and #99, there is no evidence that favoritism played a part in issuing the numbers. (Mr. Tudor was an automobile enthusiast, coincidentally Higginson’s nephew, who had been working with state highway officials on other matters.) The failure of the Irish to register automobiles in that period was simply a function of their low economic status. While there were plenty of Irish chauffeurs around in 1903, there were not many automobile owners.
As for Mr. Curley, he didn’t need a car that year anyway because he had to go to jail. In December of 1902 Curley had been caught impersonating another man at a civil service exam. (“I did it for a friend,” he said.) Convicted,—the first Massachusetts legislator ever to be found guilty of a crime-and sentenced by Judge Francis Cabot Lowell to 2 months in jail, Curley would have seen his political career go off a cliff in normal times.
But, by playing the ethnic card, Curley was able to turn his disgrace into an advantage. Claiming persecution at the hands of the Protestant power structure, he announced that even while incarcerated he would be a candidate in an upcoming citywide race for alderman (the equivalent of city councilor). A convicted criminal campaigning from jail for high office. The walls of Indignation swept over Beacon Hill like a March blizzard. But there was nothing that Curley’s opponents could do. With his supporters delivering speeches written by him in jail, Curley easily won his seat on the Board of Alderman, finishing third in a field of 26.
Meanwhile, a man’s love affair with the motorcar had created a demand for license plates in Massachusetts far in excess of original estimates. By the end of 1907 almost 24,000 pairs of them had been issued. Then in 1908 the plates were redesigned and the words “AUTOMOBILE REGISTER” were dropped. With the average citizen rubbing hubcaps with the Peabodys and the Gardners, automobile ownership had lost its exclusive character.
However, a new kind of exclusivity was taking shape during these years-the possession of a low registration number, especially one with four digits or less. For the Yankee upper class, who shunned vulgar displays of wealth, it expressed their aura of entitlement in just the way they preferred, so quietly. Just a little reminder of who had belonged at the front of the line back in the beginning.
But there was a problem. From 1903 through 1910 there was no provision for motorists to keep their plate numbers from one year to the next. While some people appealed directly tot he Highway Commission for continuity, many did not bother. For example, Lowell businessman Paul Butler, who held plate numbers 6 and 7 in 1908, was bumped to 3078 and 3079 the following year. But if Lady Luck frowned on Mr. Butler, she had nothing but smiles for some of Boston’s most prominent citizens. In 1909, for example, Frank Peabody son of the founder of Kidder, Peabody, picked up #61 and #62; Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy got #225, and #80 went to a fellow who had just moved to town from Maine. He was William H. O’Connell, Boston’s new archbishop.
But all of these preferments paled before the one granted to a man I shall call, pseudonymously, Charles T. Appleton. He was chairman of the board of the Shawmut Bank and one of the largest landowners in the inner suburb of Brookline. In 1908 he was well back in the pack at #9960 but in 1909 he was issued two single digit license plates, #4 and #5.
All this preciousness about one number and the next was causing such a headache at the Highway Commission that in the following year, 1911, the “reserve system” was put in place. The new system allowed anyone with a license plate number below 5000 to keep that number automatically upon re-registration or to transfer it to a relative. The system has been expanded over the years and now includes all numbers of five digits or less.
Massachusetts is the only state to have held to such a far-reaching reserve system. In some other states (New York, Vermont, etc.) all the low numbers were withdrawn and redistributed as political favors, but here the people in charge seemed to realize that a whole takeaway would cheapen the very thing that others were trying to gain-prestige. So much better to pick off the low numbers one at a time, when someone died without heirs or moved out of state. This way, the newcomers would be able to mingle with the old money. To put it another way, when John A. Volpe, Jr. (#365) and Edward M. Kennedy (#202) take to the road with their coveted license plates, they want to know that the Converses of Marion (#52) and the Saltonstalls of Dover (#600) still have theirs. The so-called “immigrant” classes may love to mock the Yankees, but they love to imitate them too.
James Michael Curley, meanwhile, enjoying the benefit of ethnic bloc voting, went from alderman to U.S. congressman to mayor of Boston. Then, in the fall of 1934 he won his greatest victory and gained his only statewide office-governor. The boy who had spent 8 years at the reins of a horse-drawn delivery cart could now ride out the Great Depression in the back seat of a 12-cylinder Lincoln limousine with license plate “S1.”
Curley’s 2 years in the State House, 1935 and 1936, saw a personal extravagance on his part that was almost surreal in the context of the times. When he went on a golfing trip to Florida he took along state policemen as caddies. A routine trip across town in the governor’s limousine (which was known simply as “S1”) became a motorcade with sirens screaming. At his daughter Mary’s wedding reception at the Copley Plaza he laid on 2000 pounds of lobster and 6000 glasses of wine to quell her guests.
But if the Depression era had taken Mr. Curley to the peak of his power, it had put Charles T. Appleton II on a different road, a road to ruin. He was the grandson of the banker who had received license plates #4 and #5 back in 1909. The younger Mr. Appleton, who had inherited the license plates as well as the name from his grandfather, began his career in 1920 in the faltering New England textile business. In 1928 he left that to join the Boston brokerage firm of Gurnett & Co. Like many brokers, Gurnett allowed its clients to buy stock “on margin,” that is, with money that was pledged but not actually remitted. This method worked wonders when prices were rising but when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, Gurnett’s clients could not meet their margin calls and the firm was wiped out.
The fall of Gurnett coincided with the breakup of the great Appleton estate in the Coolidge Corner area of Brookline, and by 1930 Mr. Appleton was living with his father in a more modest part of town. The full extent of his finances is not known (he may well have had some trust income) but in 1931 the town assessed his total personal property, including real estate, as $1100. The irony was that those two pairs of license plates, which once had been a mere token of the Appleton wealth, were probably his most valuable possessions.
Somewhere between 1930 and 1933 he sold #4 to a wealthy lumber dealer named George E. McQuesten. At least this is what friends and family on both sides of the deal remember. It’s hard to see any other reason why Mr. Appleton would surrender such an heirloom to someone outside the family. If it were simply a case of him giving up one of his automobiles, he could easily have transferred the other set of plates to his younger brother, who was living in the western part of the state at the time. In any event the plate appeared as early as 1934 on Mr. McQuesten’s Rolls-Royce sedan. Precisely what Mr. McQuesten paid for the right to use #4 will never be known, but it is safe to say, given the lowness of the number and the needs of Mr. Appleton, that it was the most money ever to change hands over a license plate in Massachusetts. (The price might be inferred from an incident that occurred recently in Delaware, where the history of the registration of the automobile has some similarities with Massachusetts. There, in 1994, the right to use a single digit license plate was auctioned, legally, for $185,000.)
Anyhow, the worse seemed to be over for Mr. Appleton. He caught on with another brokerage firm and then in 1935 he bought a Ford beach wagon and moved with his wife and children to a rented house in Cohasset, a coastal community on Boston’s South Shore. And of course he still had his #5.
Appleton and McQuesten, both lifelong Republicans, didn’t know it at the time, but they were lucky to have finished their license plate business before 1935, because in that year they would have had to bargain with James Michael Curley. In fact, one of Curley’s first acts as governor was to fire the registrar of motor vehicles (the man had made the mistake of suspending the driver’s license of his son, Paul) and install his old friend and crony, Frank A. Goodwin, in that post. Through his registrar, Curley enjoyed, as has every Massachusetts governor since 1911, total control over the awarding of the reserve plates when they become available due to death, dislocation, or other reasons.
In Curley’s day it worked like this: every month a list would be delivered to his secretary, Eddie Hoy, showing which numbers had been vacated. The governor would then send the list back, after matching the numbers up with friends and “contributors.” A few of the lucky ones were Curley’s son Leo (#292), his son-in-law, Edward Donnelly (#176), his chauffeur, Charles Manion (#518), and Congressman John W. McCormack (#409).
No one, however, could match the ease of his only daughter, Mary, in commanding the favors of His Excellency. Since Curley’s wife had passed away in 1930, Mary became the stand-in First Lady of his administration. While still governor-elect Mr. Curley ordered for her a custom-made V-12 Cadillac Fleetwood “Town Sedan,” the original purchase order of which is on file at the Historical Services Office of the Cadillac Motor Division in Warren, Michigan. The maroon vehicle, which featured among other extras, a matching monogrammed lap robe, was mounted with the “S2” license plate, indicating a state-owned vehicle, but it was also listed at the registry as her personal vehicle with private passenger plate #350. Why 350? Simple, it echoed the address of the mansion her father had built (with “donated” materials) at 350 The Jamaicaway, Mr. Curley, who understood so well the power of words, also knew the magic of numbers.
But what about a license plate for the governor himself? This question was asked even more breathlessly in 1936 when Curley decided not to run for a second term as governor but instead to challenge Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for a senate seat. He lost that election (the only Democrat in the country to lose a senate race in ‘36), meaning that he would again be a private citizen in 1937. The man who held the keys to the vault, the vault that once held Higginson’s enameled registry, was not going to give himself any old top-of-the-pile license plate. No. He was going to penetrate deep within the reserve system before he left office. But how low could he go?
That question was answered in the wee morning hours of May 29, 1936. At 2:40am a Ford beach wagon passing through the town of Weymouth was stopped by police and the driver charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. On the car was license plate #5. At the wheel was, yes, Charles T. Appleton II. This much I have seen for myself on an ancient Weymouth police blotter.
But was Appleton fairly accused? The evidence says yes. The key point is that the arresting officers were not registry police or state police, which might have lent some credence to the “cops outside the barroom door” theory, but ordinary town patrolmen. Moreover, a week after the arrest Appleton appeared in Quincy District Court, pleaded guilty, and paid a $50 fine. So there was nothing to distinguish the affair from a typical Memorial Day weekend drunk driving conviction.
What happened next is a matter of some guesswork. (There are no records of the case at the registry.) Mr. Appleton’s daughter remembers that her father’s driver’s license was suspended for 6 months, and it is probably safe to assume that his registration was revoked as well, technically vacating his license plate number. Whatever the exact chain of events, there is no evidence that Appleton ever publicly protested any of these reversals. To have done so would, of course, have exposed him to much messy publicity about his earlier misadventure.
January 7, 1937, Mr. Curley’s last day as governor of the Commonwealth, was quite a day for him, even in his Homeric career. The morning began with a nuptial mass to mark his marriage to Gertrude Dennis, a woman 20 years his junior. It was the second marriage for both. The wedding couple left the church in the governor’s “S1” limousine and arrived at the back door of the State House around 11:20am. The Incoming governor, Charles F. Hurley, was to be sworn in at noon. This gave Curley a chance to do some last minute politicking. He met with Mr. Hurley briefly and gave him a Bible. Then, as the noon hour drew near, Curley made his way to the front door.
By longstanding tradition, the outgoing governor was required to exit the building as the new governor was taking the oath of office, walk solitarily down the front steps and continue on across Boston Common. On this day, however, tradition would take a back seat. Outside was a brass band and a noisy throng of 3000 well wishers waiting in a cold rain to see the Curleys off on their honeymoon.
At the edge of the crowd, awaiting Curley on Beacon St., were three things that he would take with him on his next campaign. (He would serve one more term as congressman and one more as mayor, in all, he ran for public office an incredible 32 times.) The first was a new Lincoln Limousine, a “gift” from his staff. The second was his bride, Gertrude, perched radiantly on the running-board in a lynx-trimmed wool coat. The third was a pair of license plates on the car showing the number 5.
That is all I can tell you about the transfer of #5. The facts leave much of the blame away from Mr. Curley. The rumor about Curley terrorizing the Appleton family was probably a face-saving attempt on the part of the Appletons. To my mind the story is interesting now not because it lifts the veil on a great scandal but because it highlights this curious concupiscence that afflicted Mr. Curley and continues to afflict generation after generation of Massachusetts motorists. License plates as objects of desire. Quaint, isn’t it?
In 1944 Mr. Appleton left Massachusetts for good and moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He died in 1960, two years after Curley. License plate #5 is now with Mr. Curley’s stepsons, and #4 is with a nephew of Mr. McQuesten, who passed away in 1975.
Written by Kevin Burke. Reprinted with permission from Antique Automobile. All rights reserved.
By Gerald F. Burke
At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday November 15, 1956, 50 years ago this month, George Sawyer, buyer of old books at Lauriat’s bookstore on Franklin Street in Boston was commencing the sale of approximately 1,500 old and rare leather bound volumes, most of them autographed by the authors, from the personal library of former Governor James Michael Curley.
Across town, at his residence at 350 Jamaicaway, the Governor had awakened to the prospect of a busy day. Today would be moving day, and he was already overseeing the packing or personal items for removal to the new residence at 9 Pond Circle, in Jamaica Plain.
Possessions including oriental rugs, collections of ivory, exquisite jade, Irish silver, crystal and numerous paintings were either to be sold or transferred to the new residence. Many valuable paintings and objects of art that had been acquired over the years were catalogued and put in secure storage to be sold subsequently as circumstances dictated.
The Governor was in a good mood as the movers went about their business. He granted interviews to old friends and newspaper reporters and stated that although he was sad to leave the mansion after forty-one years, it was simply too large a responsibility for him and his wife Gertrude to continue to undertake. The house with the shamrock shutters, built by Curley in 1915 during his first term as Mayor of Boston, which had served for decades as the symbol of the Irish ascendancy in Boston had been sold to the Oblates of Mary, a religious order, for $60,000.
Of all the possessions he was forced to dispose of, the contents of the library were the most painful. He managed to retain approximately 400 volumes, mostly classics, that he could not part with. The library at the mansion served as the nerve center of his activities over the years; a place of retreat, study and reflection. He was never happier than when he was in his library.
As the Governor oversaw the removal of the contents of the house he stepped outside to have his picture taken as he left for the last time, he had no knowledge that two years to the day, November 15, 1958, his funeral cortege would pass by this very spot on its way to his final resting place at Old Calvary Cemetery in Mattapan. Across the Jamaicaway from where he now stood, the park would be filled with mourners from the neighborhood.
They longed to see “Their Jim” pass the house one last time. It was to be, and remains, the largest funeral in the history of the City of Boston. The Solemn Requiem Mass, at the Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, was presided over by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing and said by the Governor’s son, the Reverend Francis X. Curley, S.J.
There were very few people who lived in the first half of the twentieth century in the City of Boston who could deny that Jim Curley did not assist their family in some way. To this day his name is mentioned with reverence by those who are aware of what he had accomplished for the people of Boston. He particularly enjoyed being referred to as “The Mayor of the Poor.” Although he enjoyed the appellation, he did not want to be of the poor himself and went to great lengths to garner every dollar he could, by any means necessary. His quest for personal economic stability guided his every move. There was always something in it for Jim. A product of the Roxbury slums, he vowed – because of his boyhood experience – that he would do everything in his power to elevate himself and the conditions of the poor he chose to serve.
Often referred to as the man with the golden voice and the brass touch, Curley was despised by some but loved by many. A child of extreme poverty, growing up in Roxbury close to the raunchy, stinking mud flats, he vowed at an early age to rise above his meager surroundings, become a learned man, achieve high political office and assist those in similar circumstances of deprivation, poverty and despair. He chose to do this by measures that those of inherited wealth would decry. He had a particular dislike for those Boston Brahmins whom he claimed possessed “an air of ancestral superiority” and delighted in antagonizing them.
However corrupt Jim Curley might have been, he was certainly competent. Recognized nationally as a very effective chief executive, he would never countenance slipshod workmanship or design in his many public works projects, most of which have withstood the test of time. His last project, the building of the George Robert White Schoolboy Stadium in Franklin Park, is still as solid as the day it was dedicated in September of 1949.
One will never be able to estimate how much money Jim Curley took from the public coffers, but a goodly amount of these monies that he received was given to those citizens in need of assistance. Every morning at the mansion, and all day at City Hall, he gave to the needy citizens most of what he may have taken by purloin. Although most of what he took was given away, he kept a comfortable amount for his own use. As he explained to Jimmy Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin Roosevelt, “If you’re going to look after the poor people, you have to look after yourself.”
His accomplishments speak for themselves. Elmer Davis, the preeminent social observer of his day, wrote in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in 1928 while Jim Curley was out of office, “Citizens who used to damn Curley when he was mayor, now wish they had him back again. The City is at present enjoying a “reform” administration … but people who count the merit of an administration by what it accomplishes even if the accomplishment costs money, point to a long list of public improvements that were put over by Curley. Much has been said against Curley, and many excuses have been made for the lesser accomplishments of other mayors; but the fact remains, as far as an outsider can discern, that with all his faults Curley saw what Boston needed and got it done, more successfully than any other mayor of recent times.”
Growing up in Jamaica Plain in the 1940s and 1950s one was aware of the presence of James Michael Curley by what they heard at home, in school, and on the street. His handsome stature was overwhelming. It was always a treat to visit the home at 350 Jamaicaway on Halloween and receive a silver dollar from the Governor himself. When he finally moved from the mansion in 1956, I saw much more of him as he now attended mass at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church on South Street, parish lines being very strict in those days. He would attend the 11:45 a.m. Sunday morning Mass, accompanied by his wife.
At 11:43 a.m., “Himself” would arrive and walk down the main aisle with Mrs. Curley to the first pew on the right, assuring that those in attendance have time to see him. Although out of office at the time for six years, he was still more widely known and admired than any office holder in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After Mass he would linger to talk, receive the acknowledgement of all, and then walk up Child Street to the parking lot and be driven away in his Buick Roadmaster, Massachusetts registration number 5.
Jim Curley was an intense, deeply committed member of the Catholic faith and practiced it fervently. A realist who took his share of plunder in public life, his personal life was exemplary and above reproach. After the death of his first wife in 1930, he built the new Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Jamaica Plain and caused the main alter to be dedicated to her memory and the side alters were dedicated to those children who had predeceased him. By 1956 he had not only buried Mary Emelda, his first wife, but seven of his nine children. His faith had been tested repeatedly over the years and only a deeply religious individual could have survived the terrible experience he endured. In order to show his unshakeable faith several years earlier, he presented to Archbishop Richard J. Cushing a monstrance containing the Curley family jewels in memory of his first wife, Mary Emelda Curley and his daughter Mary Curley Donnelly, to be used in daily exposition at the chapel of the Joseph P. Kennedy Junior Memorial Hospital in Brighton.
Although he carefully cultivated the illusion of poverty after he left office in 1950, members of the household staff, old friends and retainers would tell of plentiful food and supplies and a generous amount of necessities at all times at the mansion. There was never any shortage of resources at hand. Many people to this day believe, as Jim wanted them to, that he died broke. Although he only left $3,768 in personal property this was a man who was President of the Hibernia Savings Bank for over twenty years, never had a checking account and always dealt in cash or barter. Jim Curley was far removed from any impoverished condition. Even a cursory look at the record would indicate that Jim was very comfortable in his declining years.
During Curley’s six months in Danbury Correctional facility in 1947, Temporary Mayor John B. Hynes only acted upon necessary matters that would not admit of delay. Upon Curley’s release from jail, over forty million dollars worth of contracts were awaiting Jim’s approval and signature. At one half of the customary rate of ten percent, the cut for Curley, the take would be a staggering two million dollars.
In his last year in office in 1949 abatements to assessments ran to over ten million dollars or 11.6 percent of the total tax levy for the year. This practice flourished during his last term when over twenty million dollars in abatements were granted. Curley’s moneyman, Peter Allen, a graduate of Princeton University, who had been appointed by Curley to the position of Chairman of the Board of Assessors, would arrive at the mansion with pillowcases full of money from grateful petitioners. All assessing records at that time were kept in pencil. The entire process was extremely secretive.
Following his defeat by John Hynes in November of 1949, Curley let it be known through his minions that the city was for sale. Following a lifelong pattern of plunder on the way out the door, two and one half million dollars in abatements were granted in November and December alone. Transfers and promotions in various city departments were expedited during this short period. Contracts for rubbish and garbage removal were granted at exorbitant prices to those willing to pay the appropriate amount to Jim. One of the main issues of the campaign of 1949 was the controversy surrounding the granting of permits for erection of outdoor amusement theatres in the city. Curley, in a campaign statement, unequivocally stated that the granting of such permits would not occur as long as he was the Mayor of Boston. After his defeat, permits were promptly granted to establish a drive-in theatre in the Neponset section of Dorchester and one on the VFW Parkway in West Roxbury. To sweeten the deal in West Roxbury, Jim’s family was allowed to operate a nursery on the grounds. The family that the permits were given to is now one of the giants in the entertainment industry of the world.
In October of 1950, while gearing up for the mayoral election of 1951, the coffers were full and a mayoral run would garner at least $150,000 of which Jim, after expenses, could secrete $100,000. Although he was considered a long shot, anybody doing business with the City of Boston and knowing Jim’s vindictiveness was well advised to donate to his election effort. This pattern was repeated in the run-up to the mayoral election of 1955 and achieved the same results.
The years 1950 to 1955 went gently by, and Jim was still very much in demand as a speaker at functions around the state where he was always welcomed cordially. Regarded as one of the most effective orators of his day, Curley lectured at the Staley School of the Spoken Word in Boston and in 1952 traveled to New York City to the Speech Arts Studio to record six of his most memorable addresses which he successfully sold. The record album and the printed addresses were carried by an assistant to all his appearances and were available for purchase. As an orator he had few peers and to agree to engage in debate with Jim Curley would be similar to agreeing to enter the ring against Joe Louis.
In the spring of 1956, with no more hope of raising significant amounts by running for mayor, the still comfortable hoard of cash beginning to be slightly depleted and the exposure of Jim Curley becoming somewhat diminished, along came a savior by the name of Edwin O’Connor with a best selling novel entitled “The Last Hurrah.” Loosely based on the life and last campaign of Jim Curley, it received favorable review in the New York Times Book Review and was included in the May 1956 Reader’s Digest Book of the Month Club. The notoriety of this splendid work brought Jim Curley back into the spotlight for which he so eagerly yearned. O’Connor’s book, and the subsequent movie starring Spencer Tracy, put Jim back in business and the ever wily Jim, the acknowledged master of the hold-up, sued the producers of the movie and was able to squeeze $46,000 out of them for full release of all his claims.
The spring of 1957 would see the newly inaugurated Governor Foster Furcolo appoint Jim Curley to a $7,500 a year sinecure at the State Labor Relations Board. The average annual income in the United States in 1957 was roughly $4,900. Shortly after this appointment, his autobiography, “I’d Do It Again,” was published and went through six printings. The notoriety produced by these two books, plus the movie; brought Jim Curley renewed popularity and many invitations to speak. He was interviewed by Edward R.Murrow on his nationwide television program “Person to Person” and proceeded, book in hand, to talk about his autobiography “I’d Do It Again.” Anybody witnessing that interview which took place in the new home at Pond Circle could tell by the elegant surroundings that Jim Curley was living in anything but impoverished circumstances.
Death came to Jim Curley on November 12, 1958 and the City of Boston paused to mourn the death of this giant of a man. Over a million people visited The Hall of Flags where he was waked at the Massachusetts State House, and hundreds of thousands paused to view his funeral cortege. It was a spontaneous, genuine send-off to this remarkable man.
Boston will never see another Jim Curley because times and circumstances have changed. But let us not forget that it was he who built this town in the first half of the twentieth century. For those of you reading this today, he did it for one purpose: to raise the stature and living conditions of those who came in the great waves of migration of his day. For this legacy we owe a lasting debt of gratitude. Today he would be in the forefront in assuring equality for all the newer arrivals to Boston in the past four decades.
The house on the Jamaicaway is now owned by the City of Boston, through the intercession in 1988 of then Mayor Raymond L. Flynn and then City Councilor Thomas M. Menino who mounted a very effective “Shutter the Thought” campaign to thwart any effort to turn the ownership of the mansion and grounds to private ownership. It is presently being used sparingly for receptions, community meetings and private parties. It is not being utilized effectively and has been the subject of occasional acts of vandalism.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Jim Curley’s departure from the mansion it would be appropriate that the beloved building be better utilized than it is at present. I propose that the mansion, the symbol of the immigrant experience in Boston, become the residence of the next duly elected Mayor of the City of Boston. The Mayor of Boston has the most difficult position of any elected official in New England. I contend that it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of James Michael Curley to have his former home become the official residence of the Mayor of Boston and that it would be a small “Thank you” to the occupant for assuming the burdens of the position of Boston’s Chief Executive, a position that requires due diligence and a hard shell to repel the slings and arrows of critics who have no idea of the problems confronted by a mayor of such a huge and complex city.
Reprinted with permission from the November 2006 issue of the Jamaica Plain Bulletin. Copyright © 2006, The Bulletin Newspapers, Inc.
By Julia Spitz, The MetroWest Daily News, Saturday November14, 2009. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Judy Garland sang for him, and President Kennedy once pulled a prank
on him in church.
Confidante Louella Parsons chronicled his Beverly Hills parties. He
was on the set when Shirley Temple practiced dance steps for
He plunked out some of his biggest hits on a piano he got from George
Gershwin. Dean Martin’s daughter was his godchild.
Yes, James “Jimmy” McHugh, subject of a newly released biography, “I
Feel a Song Coming On,” and composer of such standards as “I’m in the
Mood for Love,” ran with a star-studded crowd. Still, “I never really
thought of him as a celebrity,” Dorothy Brooks said as she looked
through photos in her Milford home Thursday afternoon.
“He was … my uncle, and he was always there for us.”
When Brooks, her late brother Jimmy Kashalena of Medfield, and sister
Judy Kashalena of Brookline, were growing up, “he’d call all the time
and ask how our studies were. He wanted to know how we were doing.
“One of the things I do remember was he wanted me to take piano
lessons. I said, ‘I’d like to, Uncle Jimmy, but I don’t have a piano.’
” It wasn’t long before “a big truck came with a big crane” to her
family’s apartment in Brookline “to put it up through the third-story
window.” With a piano from her uncle, there were “no more excuses,”
she said with a laugh.
“He came at least once a year” to visit the extended family.
On his last trip home, he visited the Beaver Park Apartments in
Framingham, where Brooks was living in 1968.
“All my life I wanted to go to California to see my uncle,” Brooks
recalled. She finally made the trip three months before his death in
Last month, with the release of the biography by Alyn Shipton, Brooks,
her sister and their California kin had a chance to recall some of
their favorite stories about McHugh.
They also got a glimpse at the glamour that was once part of his life.
While in New York for an October concert in McHugh’s honor and
book-signing event, “we were treated like royalty. … We went to
Sardi’s” with Shipton, a music critic for the Times of London, and
McHugh’s youngest granddaughter “hired a stretch limo. We went all
over, looking for places where my uncle, when he was struggling,
worked, lived and played.”
The music man
Before he made his way to New York, where he teamed up with lyricist
Dorothy Fields - for whom Brooks is named - and where he would
encourage the Cotton Club’s managers to hire Duke Ellington in 1927,
McHugh made a name for himself closer to home.
Highlights included playing piano at the Boston Opera House, working
as a song plugger for the Boston office of Irving Berlin Publishing,
and rubbing elbows with James Michael Curley when the future composer
and the future Bay State political juggernaut were delivery boys.
Born in 1894, he was the eldest of the five children James and Julia
McHugh raised in Jamaica Plain.
It was assumed he’d follow his father’s footsteps into the plumbing
trade, and the musical gifts nurtured by his mother would be merely a
hobby, but McHugh had other ideas.
He arrived in New York in the 1920s and was soon composing for
entertainers at hotspots such as the Cotton Club, where he was the
house composer, and for Broadway shows. He and Fields had made their
way to Hollywood before parting company in 1935.
“I don’t think I actually met her,” Brooks said of the woman who
shares her name. “I remember getting presents from her” as a child.
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” one of the many standards that
bears both Fields’ and McHugh’s names, was inspired by watching a
young couple outside Tiffany’s in New York. “On the Sunny Side of the
Street,” “Diga Diga Doo” and “Exactly Like You” were also products of
their collaboration, as were songs for the movies “Cuban Love Song”
and “Dinner at Eight.”
In Hollywood, McHugh worked with Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and
Harold Adamson to create “I Feel a Song Coming On,” “I’ve Got My
Fingers Crossed,” and “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.” During
World War II, his “Comin’ In on a Wing and a Prayer” spent 21 weeks on
“Your Hit Parade.”
He staged his own nightclub acts in the 1950s, performed for Queen
Elizabeth II, and was instrumental in promoting competitive swimming
His Boston Irish ties cemented his affection for the Kennedy clan. He
wrote “The First Lady Waltz” for Jackie, and saw President Kennedy
during the commander-in-chief’s trips to California. During one such
visit, McHugh was surprised to see Kennedy place an inordinately large
donation in the collection plate during a service at the Church of the
Good Shepherd. It turned out Kennedy had folded a $10 bill to appear
to be $100 as part of a prank.
McHugh’s siblings, including Brooks’ mother, Helen, went to California
to be part of a “This is Your Life” tribute hosted by Ralph Edwards.
Brooks said her uncles, Larry on drums and Tommy playing the horn,
joined their brother for a jam session on the TV show.
“My mother’s family, every one of them played (an instrument) and
sang,” said Brooks. “That’s how they entertained themselves,” and it
was a tradition that continued when the family got together in later
Carrying the torch
When she was young, “we got to go to some of his shows when they
opened in Boston or Connecticut,” said Brooks, who is retired from
Natick Labs. “Every time my uncle released an album, we got a copy.”
She recalled McHugh’s “wonderful smile. He was a charmer,” and is glad
the music he made is still performed in shows such as “Jersey Boys.”
Jimmy McHugh III, son of McHugh’s only son, and Lee Newman,
great-grandson of McHugh and also Eddie Cantor, keep the legacy going
with Los Angeles-based Jimmy McHugh Music. They also maintain McHugh
sites on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
He is credited with more than 500 songs, and “I like them all,” said
Brooks, but, “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” well,
“that’s one of my favorites” and “Don’t Blame Me” is “a beautiful
She’s happy her uncle’s life caught the attention of the British
author who has also written books on Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie.
“It’s such a wonderful tribute to a wonderful, wonderful man.”
And also a chance to recall a time when a kid from Boston could end up
living a dream in the midst of stars.
(Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or email@example.com. Check
metrowestdailynews.com or milforddailynews.com for the Spitz Bits
By Walter H. Marx
Nestled on the back of Sumner Hill are a band of streets with names related to Civil War events. Among them is John A(lbion) Andrew – a name that is also seen above one of the arches on the Monument and in the Civil War camp memorial stone at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, inscribed “1861-1865, Second Mass. Infantry, recruited, mustered and drilled on the grounds known as Camp Andrew, left here for the war for the Union.”
Along Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill (once the watery west side of the Back Bay) is a plaque identifying the site of Andrew’s home, and atop Beacon Hill in the Doric Hall of the State House is the marble statue of a short, stocky man by Thomas Ball. Once near the battle flags of the Massachusetts Civil War regiments, the statue was erected as a memorial of affectionate regard for one of the Commonwealth’s most beloved Governors. Who is this well-memorialized man?
Although born in Windham, Maine, in 1818, and raised in that state (that freed itself of Massachusetts in 1820), John A. Andrew was the first of his family to be born outside of what is today Massachusetts, for the family had settled in Boxford in the 1600s and then Salem. In a happy family, in comfortable circumstances, he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1837 in the lower part of his class, mostly because he insisted on his own voracious reading program centered on current literature and politics. He was an anti-slavery and reform activist of the Unitarian persuasion. Andrew was not so much interested in rising to the top of his profession as he was in helping the widest possible band of people that he could. Never idle, he was a man of wide interests and was always ready for political discussions.
Johnny Andrew, as he’s known to Jamaica Plain residents, studied law with a Boston lawyer and was admitted to the bar here in 1840. He became noted for his efforts in defending poorer clients and was noted for his wit and anecdotes.
His career of public service began when he became a local organizer of the new Republican Party. He became a member of the House of Representatives in 1858 and was elected Governor in 1860. He was at the Chicago Convention that nominated Lincoln. As the Civil War inevitably approached in 1861, such were Andrew’s foresight and persuasive powers that militia regiments were recruited, armed, and trained (at Brook Farm and Readville among other places) so that Massachusetts furnished the first volunteer regiment to reach Washington and continued to do so during the War for a total of 146,730 men.
A man of intellect, enthusiasm, firmness, courage, and faith, Johnny Andrew served two terms as governor (1861-1865). He pushed for formation of black regiments, finally realized in May 1863 with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry under Robert Gould Shaw of West Roxbury. Its story is finally being told in the current film “Glory”, a fine supplement to the memorial opposite the State House. Andrew also kept a firm hand on state affairs and vetoed twelve bills.
He departed Beacon Hill on January 5, 1866 after delivering a successful valedictory address to the Legislature. Perhaps nothing made him so proud as governor as when he presided over the Return of the Flags in December 1865. Andrew returned to practicing law, but died suddenly of a stroke on October 30, 1867. He was first laid to rest in prestigious Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, but now rests with wife and children in the Old Ship Church Burying Ground in Hingham where he had lived before 1855.
January 11, 1990
Jamaica Plain, MA
The matter of Hancock's house here is easily set to rest. John Hancock, first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, rightly deserves recognition as a Founding Father and is forever immortalized in current Boston like Sam Adams, since his name and signature are featured by a leading insurance company, which has carved his head above the main entrance to its building on Clarendon St. and features a larger-than-life statue of him in its lobby. A modern monument on the left side of the Old Granary Burying Ground downtown prominently marks his burial place, and a bust of him exists in the State House's Doric Hall.
The inscription below the bust in Doric Hall mentions Hancock's presidencies of the Provincial and Continental Congresses and the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention as well as his signing the Declaration of Independence first and his position as governor twice. A wealthy merchant before the Revolution and essential to the American cause, he was the reason that Revere and colleagues were sent riding to Lexington on April 18, 1775. Rich and fussy, Hancock was not always easy to work with, as a reading of his biography by Northeastern's Professor William Fowler, The Baron of Beacon Hill, shows.
Hancock's connection with JP began like that of so many others in the 18th century. The Pond offered a delightful oasis from downtown Boston - even Beacon Hill, of which Hancock was chief owner. Thus in 1784 after leaving Congress, he purchased a lot with a house bordering on Centre St. beyond the Third Parish (the church at the Monument). This cottage was a story and a half tall in the West Indian style like the Penney-Hallet House at the corner of Orchard St.
Although generous to the Third Parish, Hancock did not escape the fierce eyes of ardent Whig parson, Rev. William Gordon (see March 1989 column). The old Scot, an Overseer of Harvard College, asked Hancock what he was doing about his handling of the finances of Harvard College as its treasurer - something never successfully unraveled - and Hancock left JP in a typical huff. This did not deter his nephew Thomas from residing in JP. He stayed on to demolish his uncle's place and build a grander house on the site in 1800.
Later, Thomas Hancock sold the house to the eminent Boston merchant, Nathaniel Curtis, of the ancient family in our area. When Drake wrote his Town of Roxbury in 1878, Mrs. Curtis still lived there (see map). A JP native thus described Hancock during his stay here: "Though only 45, he had the appearance of old age. He was severely afflicted with gout and was nearly six feet in height but of thin person. His manner was very gracious, and his face had been very handsome.
"His equipage was splendid - and such as is not customary at this day. His apparel was handsomely embroidered with gold and silver lace and other decorations fashionable among men of fortune at that period, and he rode on public occasions with six beautiful bay horses, attended by servants in livery. He wore a scarlet coat with ruffles on his sleeves, which soon became the prevailing fashion." All this quite agrees with John Singleton Copley's portrait of him in the Museum of Fine Arts.
November 8, 1990
Photograph of painting at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by John Singleton Copley, 1738-1815. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
Serge Alexandrovitch Koussevitzky was born on July 26, 1874 in the small town of Vishny Volotchok between Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia. He came from a musical family, with his father earning a living as a klezmer violinist, his mother being a pianist, and his brother Adolf becoming a teacher and conductor. After picking up some training in piano and cello in the small town, Serge made his way to Moscow at the age of seventeen, and tried to enroll in the Moscow Conservatory. Since it was after the term had started, Koussevitzky was denied admission and he tried the recently formed School of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. Refused admission there as well, the young musician changed his application to the double bass for which a scholarship opening was available.
Koussevitzky became a masterful player of the double bass, eventually known all over Europe for his richness of tone and the fluidity with which he played this usually stolid instrument. He developed an international solo career and soon started composing music for the double bass. In 1905, he married Natalya Ushkov, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant and they moved to Berlin to advance his professional career.
For four years, the new multimillionaire couple entertained within the music circles of the German capital, and Serge began a new dream of becoming a conductor. During 1910-11, in an unusual process, Serge Koussevitzky taught himself conducting by attending concerts and studying the conductors' techniques. He even hired for himself a student orchestra for two years of private rehearsal. Then in January 1908, he made his conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Russian program, and was an immediate sensation. For two more years in Berlin and London, Koussevitzky conducted his innovative programs with passion and dramatic flair. He returned to Moscow a success.
From 1909 on, he went from triumph to triumph. He conducted a series of concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, chartered a ship and orchestra for concerts on the Volga River, and even formed his own private orchestra through auditions to perform a series of innovative concerts in Russia's main cities. In 1920 after the revolution, he decided to leave the country permanently to work in Paris.
Concentrating on Russian composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Scriabin, he produced the Paris Russian Music Festival and gained the attention of the European music world. His "Concerts Symphoniques Koussevitzky" at the Paris Opera became the very latest fashion for the smartest French audiences. His musical reputation was worldwide when, in 1924, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Trustees offered the post of conductor to Koussevitzky.
After its formation in 1881, the BSO had developed into a world famous orchestra under the leadership of brilliant conductors such as Wilhelm Gericke and Arthur Nikisch. But the Boston Symphony Orchestra had been declining since World War One. Serge Koussevitzky arrived as the savior. With his flowing cape, perfectly tailored clothes and European air, he moved into 122 Pond Street in Jamaica Plain with Natalya, her niece Olga Naoumoff, a secretary and two servants. The house was rented from Isaac and Emma Harris for two years and had a view of Jamaica Pond through a curtain of trees.
Koussevitzky used to walk his dog, Drole, at the pond in the morning before being driven down to Symphony Hall by his valet Ivan. There he began the work of changing the Orchestra to his vision. After two brutal years, he had reformed the BSO into an ensemble that responded to his unique talents, and he had introduced a distinctively modern repertoire to Boston audiences.
In 1926, he moved to the house with the broad stonewalled patio at 39 Lochstead Avenue. It had been owned until recently by Edric Eldridge, president and founder of the Jamaica Plain Trust Company. From the Lochstead Avenue house, he worked on the Symphony programs with his secretary, Dr. Slonimsky. The musical seasons at Symphony Hall became more exciting as the conductor's love of music and his passionate way of conducting transferred over to the orchestra and the audiences. His intensity became a legend and a sense of magic came to the BSO.
In 1929, Koussevitzky rented the Conry Mansion at 50 Rockwood Street on Moss Hill. The large home was approached through a large stand of pine trees, reminding him of the Russian forests of his earlier days. Joseph Conry was the Russian Consul in Boston, and naturally had met the Russian expatriate. Conry moved next door to 60 Rockwood and became his neighbor on the hill. Koussevitzky had now successfully established himself at the front rank of American conductors, along with Stokowski and Toscanini. But he still considered himself a transient in America, an aristocrat passing through until his next appointment. To him, his rented houses in Jamaica Plain were winter residences; the Koussevitzkys' considered their French house their home. He never tried to learn English well, and many stories are told about Koussey's fractured communications to his musicians. But his musicianship and innovation covered all his faults.
He moved out to yet another rented house in Brookline in 1931. During the 1930's, he expanded the Boston Symphony Orchestra season into the summer with the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. In 1940, he opened the Berkshire Music Center as a music summer school and purchased his summerhouse "Seranak." (It was named after him and his wife.) He was beginning to put down roots in America. His wife, Natalya died in 1942, and he started the Koussevitzky Foundation in her memory to commission and perform modern works.
Just before he retired, he purchased his first Boston area home. When he died in 1951, he was as an American citizen with two American houses. He chose to be buried in Lenox, Massachusetts alongside his wife. Serge Koussevitzky, the international virtuoso and musical legend, had finally found his home.
Sources: Moses Smith, Koussevitzky, New York, 1947; Harry Ellis Dickson, "Gentlemen, More Dolce Please!", Boston, 1969; Dictionary of American Biography; Boston City Directories, 1925-1950.
Written by Michael Reiskind. Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, Serge Koussevitzky Collection. Photograph by Arthur Griffin.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
By Walter H. Marx
Sky watchers in the American West often report cloud formations in the shape of mounted cowboys, and indeed their ghost riders in the sky have made their way into song. The unseasonably warm night of Wednesday, April 18, 1775, in Massachusetts, seems to have produced more phantom riders on each succeeding anniversary. Even the most famous rider was veiled in obscurity until 1825. When Longfellow came across Paul Revere’s account of his ride in 1863, he made it into the subject of a ballad that makes Revere’s name live forever. Other riders became more ghostly, since they left no written reports except in their families.
Many different men rode out as news of the British marching into the countryside to seize colonial arms reached Roxbury-raised Dr. Joseph Warren after dark on April 18.
In Revere’s words, “Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement.” Thus began Revere’s northerly ride across the Charles through the towns there. A little while before William Dawes of Boston also began to take a southerly route (four miles longer,) toward Lexington through Roxbury, Brookline, and Harvard Square - in case Revere failed.
Besides bearing a letter, these men roused the country folk to arms, as neatly portrayed by Grant Wood in his surrealist 1931 painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Both riders arrived at the Lexington parsonage within a half an hour of each other, after midnight. They decided to go on as far as Concord to give alarm, since most of the colony’s arms were still there. They joined Dr. Samuel Prescott, “a high Son of Liberty” and proceeded to ride to Concord. Before the Lincoln-Concord line they were stopped by the British at a spot now well marked on Rt. 2A, but Prescott escaped to get the word to the center of Concord.
He then went on over the Old North Bridge to West Concord, Acton, and Stow. In Lincoln, Prescott already had sent Nathaniel Baker to South Lincoln; in Concord, he dispatched Josiah Nelson north to Bedford; in Acton, he stopped at John Robbins’ farm and sent that farmer all around his own town.
The total number of rides triggered by Dr. Warren on that fateful night may never be know, but it is a matter of fact that our area had its very own messenger sent out by Dr. Warren - perhaps with special concern for his birthplace. Without doubt Ebenezer Dorr was a “high Son of Liberty,” having served on the Roxbury Committee of Correspondence since the Boston Massacre of 1770. He was a 36 year old leather dresser, who lived between Eustis and Vernon Streets. In those days the town of Roxbury included Jamaica Plain.
All accounts state that Dorr left with Dawes over Boston Neck for Roxbury after 10 p.m. - both in the guise of peddlers with saddlebags on jogging horses- just before the Neck was closed by order of General Gage. They proceeded along the present Washington St. to Dudley St. to Eliot Square, giving the alarm. At this point Dorr’s activities grow fuzzy, some saying he went without Dawes to Cambridge, or eve Lexington. This confusion could be due to similar names. To make the truth more difficult to learn, Dorr is not an easy man to find in accounts of the start of the Revolution.
Some historians (probably more correctly) picture Ebenezer Dorr as the Paul Revere of the southwestern Boston area, taking the alarm throughout Roxbury and beyond. Given the roads in Revolutionary Roxbury, Dorr could have easily thundered down the Dedham Turnpike, whose terminus would later be Washington’s choice for a rallying point if the British ever sallied forth from their Boston blockade and overthrew the American camp in Roxbury. As suddenly as he plunged into history, Dorr became a ghost.
Yet what a fine picture of him with Dawes at Boston Neck: mistaken by English guards as a country bumpkin but carrying a message that would toss the British out of the area in less than a year! As Revere has made room for Dawes (whose family has commemorated him in Harvard Square) so the two must add Ebenezer Dorr to their spot in history. If alive, we may be sure that they would, these fellow ‘high Sons of Liberty.”
The Old Manse in Concord, intimately involved with the events of April 19, 1775, has featured a map showing additional known riders to further outlying towns after Dr. Prescott arrived with the alarm in Concord about 2 am. Strangely, Israel Bissel’s five-day ride from our area to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia has never been given full public honor.
Editor’s note: Dawes, Dorr and Warren were all from Roxbury. Warren lived on Warren Ave and Dawes lived in Eliot Square area. Dawes rode along Centre Street but then took the road to Cambridge (not to Dedham) perhaps along the edge of modern Jamaica Plain. Dorr, however, might have lived in the Jamaica End of Jamaica Plain although his exact address is not known. Conventional wisdom holds that he rode the Dedham Turnpike (Washington St) through Jamaica Plain.
Dr. Zakrzewska founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, the first American hospital with a school for nurses. The hospital is still with us, but is now doing business as the Dimock Community Health Center near Egleston Square. The old hospital's venerable buildings speak of more than one hundred years of service to our community. Sadly, most residents have forgotten the groundbreaking innovations that occurred there. From the New England Hospital came America's first trained nurse, America's first woman's medical society, America's first Afro-American trained nurse, and the first hospital social service department. Its founder was a remarkable doctor.
Marie Zakrzewska (pronounced Zak-SHEV-ska) was born in Berlin of Polish background in 1829. By the time she was 22, she was director of the prestigious Charite Hospital for midwives in Berlin, but her youth and gender led to resentment from the male doctors there. She came to the United States in search of more equal opportunities in medicine. In New York, she became friendly with Drs. Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, and with their help traveled west to enter Western Reserve College in Cleveland. Study must have been hard; because she had not learned very much English, but her European training became her advantage- Prussia was then one of the most advanced medical countries in the world.
When she graduated with her M.D. degree in 1856, she became known as "Dr. Zak" because no one could pronounce her name easily. She immediately returned to New York and helped the Blackwell's start the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (1857), the first hospital staffed by women in the United States. Dr. Zak stayed there without pay for two years, working as resident physician and superintendent, and trying to raise funds in New York and Boston.
Her contacts in Boston led to an appointment in 1859 as Professor of Obstetrics at the New England Female Medical College, which had been founded in 1848 as the first medical college for women in the world. Dr. Zakrzewska's dream was to open the medical profession to women. But the promises of the College were not fulfilled. Her attempts to change it from a midwife training school to a mainstream medical school with practical clinical training were opposed by the owner and trustees. Dr. Zak resigned and began work to found the New England Hospital for Women and Children, a center where women physicians would treat women patients.
Marie Zakrzewska's hospital opened in 1862, at 60 Pleasant Street in Boston, as a training hospital of the highest possible standards that would allow women to enter the best medical colleges in the world. Irregular physicians, such as homeopaths, phrenologists and magnetists, were not allowed to associate with the institution. It was the only hospital in Boston to provide obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics, as well as a complete medical ward and surgical wards. Dr. Zakrzewska's expertise in science and sanitary conditions made the hospital a leader in preventing contagious fevers and assured the success of the enterprise.
Two generations of women physicians were trained at the New England Hospital and spread throughout the world on their careers. Mary Putnam Jacobi became the leading woman doctor of the late 1800s. Sophia Jex-Blake led the fight for women physicians in Great Britain, and Susan Dimock went to Zurich and returned as the finest surgeon on the staff. Dr. Dimock reorganized the nurses' training school. This school graduated Linda Richards in 1873 as America's first trained nurse and Mary Eliza Mahoney as the first Afro-American trained nurse in 1879. Other pioneer doctors spreading the seed were Anita Tyng of Rhode Island, Mary DeHart of New Jersey, Mary Thompson in Chicago and Eliza Mosher at Michigan. Nevertheless, these professionals were repeatedly refused admission to the Massachusetts Medical Society and they formed their own society in 1878 with Dr. Zak as president.
In 1872, the New England Hospital moved to its present site near Columbus Avenue and continued its expansion. The area had recently become a part of Boston, and the suburban neighborhood was ideal for recuperation. Transportation was good, and the area's German population would have appealed to the good doctor. Dr. Zakrzewska moved to Jamaica Plain in 1890 and her Peter Parley Road home became a center of medical discussion, as well as feminist and abolitionist sentiments. William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Karl Heinzen became her close friends.
Dr. Marie Zakrzewska died in her Jamaica Plain home on May 12, 1902, three years after her retirement from the hospital she loved. The graceful buildings remain, but even more importantly, so does the legacy of forty years of women she trained to become the leaders in American medicine.
Sources: Walsh, Doctors Wanted, No Women Need Apply, New Haven, 1977; Drachman, Hospital with a Heart, Ithaca, 1984; Abram, Send us a Lady Physician, New York, 1985; Dictionary of American Biography. Photograph of Zakrzewska Building, Dimock Community Health Care Center, by Idris Bilal, courtesy of National Park Service.
Copyright © 1995 Michael Reiskind
Mr. Curley was a lifelong Democrat, but his distancing himself from Al Smith of New York when Smith sought the presidential nomination for a second time in 1931 is well known, though he had heartily supported Smith in his bid against Herbert Hoover in 1928. Both of Curley and Smith were ardent Roman Catholics, but the Boston mayor was very sophisticated politically and probably knew well that the spectrum of the United States populace in 1928 or 1932 was not yet able to elect a Catholic president, however well qualified. This ability to read this spectrum made Curley turn his support to the ambitions of another Democratic governor of New York.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an Episcopalian of the New York City and Hudson River Valley aristocracy, schooled at Groton and Harvard. It is hard to believe that Curley, the man from 350 Jamaicaway, could have supported a man of such background, given his well-publicized ethnical stereotypes. Yet there they were in 1936 together on the platform of the Harvard Tercentenary. His Honor supported FDR early on before his presidential nomination in Chicago in opposition to most other Democrats in Massachusetts.
Early in his own career Curley had been in Washington in the Wilson years with FDR and knew the power of the Federal government. Curley served as mayor (1930-34) for the third time and as governor (1936-37). All these machinations began soon after His Honor was elected mayor in 1930 upon his return from a European trip that had included Ireland and Italy (complete with a visit to his hero Mussolini).
Determined to get a prime seat on the Roosevelt bandwagon, for 18 months, Curley was in the fervor of presidential politics with Boston's mayoral duties in second place. By then he could do mayor's job in his sleep, says his most recent biographer. Though he did not in his solitary pro-Roosevelt stance deliver the Massachusetts primary to FDR, the Commonwealth went to the New Yorker in November 1932.
Given his strong backing in a pro-Smith state from day one and his appearances for FDR at the Chicago convention as a delegate from Puerto Rico when the Massachusetts delegation froze him out, something was going to be done for His Honor. Probably the story of FDR offering at an initial meeting "anything you want" as told in "The Purple Shamrock" is purple prose. Initially, on the cabinet level Curley hoped to succeed Charles Francis Adams as Secretary of the Navy just for the sake of ethnic contrast. That bubble of seeming commitment burst at the funeral of President Coolidge in January, 1933, when FDR's son informed Curley that the deal was off, but an ambassadorship was possible.
Rumors of other presidential appointments included Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Governor of Puerto Rico, or Governor-General of the Philippines. On the state level there might be an appointment to fill the senior senator's seat if the current holder was made an ambassador. Ah, that ambassador business! Curley was said to be in the running for Dublin or Rome. City Clerk Joe McGrath was ready to succeed him as mayor.
During his presence at the March inauguration, the shoe dropped. Curley had steadfastly acknowledged that the only man who knew was FDR, though His Honor's choice was the lovely palazzo on Rome's Via Veneto. The events during the Washington stay are much obscured by accounts in "The Purple Shamrock" and elsewhere, published after the Curley-Roosevelt relationship had soured, though they had never been too sweet. In any event the Italian story seems to have an air of unreality about it.
Curley's rejection of the Dublin post (when the Italian one still seemed possible) was fortunately lost in the clamor of His Honor's rejection of Warsaw. Thankful, but with full knowledge of Curley's reputation as a flamboyant Boston brawler, the President sent Curley's name up to the Senate on April 11 as ambassador to Poland with a wry remark to his intimates: "What is there for him to steal?"
Three days later the Boston mayor declined the appointment in a meeting with FDR. "The Purple Shamrock" enlarges the interview with Curley finally telling the President, "If it's such an interesting place, why don't you take it yourself?" In 1951 Curley stated that he looked FDR in the face and said "You double-crossing, two-faced SOB!" This was the start of a revenge motif Curley felt and described in his autobiography. This was not his last disappointment nor his last hurrah; his whole life is a study in these. The governorship of Massachusetts lay just around the corner, but so did his imprisonment, and more.
The Roman post was to be tricky once Mussolini earned America's enmity by plunging the sword into France and became a full member of the Axis Powers. Curley believed that Il Duce was only a New Dealer on a fast track. The later aggression in Ethiopia could have made Curley what Ambassador Kennedy was in London: a believer in appeasement. So it was back to Boston, where so recently he had buried his wife Mary Esmelda and his namesake son.
Until the recent administration of Ronald Reagan there was no ambassador to the Vatican. Until then, the Ambassador to Italy had also served as a link to the Holy See and had never been a Roman Catholic until the Truman administration to avoid any idea of dual loyalty. This alone could have axed Curley's appointment, while others claim he was ousted by Mussolini or Boston's Cardinal O'Connell, a powerful man here and in the Vatican. The whole tale will never fully be known now with all its luscious ingredients. Suffice it to say that an historical twist has brought a Curley student to Rome, and we await his mark there.
Sources: J.M. Curley, "I'd Do It Again," chaps. 17-18; J.F. Dinneen, "The Purple Shamrock," chaps. 15-18; J. Beatty, "The Rascal King," chaps. 7-8
Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the July 16, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc. Photograph of Mayor James Michael Curley, 1914. Courtesy of the Forsyth Institute.
DM: Doctor Arthur Nicholson Broughton delivered me at the Faulkner Hospital January 22, 1918. He took mother and me to the hospital in his sleigh. He lived on Eliot Street. He later had an office at 319 Longwood Avenue. A fine man, he was a combined psychiatrist, psychologist, gynecologist, and obstetrician, and everything else. He was a great big bull of a man who drove Buicks with 2002 on them, very fast. We lived there on Newsome Park until May 1923 when my parents bought the last of the three Seaverns' houses. The original Seaverns house was located in the old Boy Scout building which is now a health clinic on the corner of Prince Street, Orchard Street, and Centre Street. It was one of those beautiful south Caribbean houses a story and a half with Gothic windows, as I remember it, and that's where the superintendent of the Arnold Arboretum lived. Behind it was the gray mansard-roofed house on Orchard Street, the back of which came right out into Prince Street. Then there was an open lot, and our small shingle-style house was built by one of the Seaverns. It's still there, 35 Prince Street. My parents remodeled it to the neo-colonial which I would have done at the time, but I wouldn't do today. But they had a wonderful time doing it.
At that time Weld Park started directly at the end of Centre Street, and it had a six-decker, as I recall, a three-decker and a two-decker and there was a wood lot right there. The changes of the Arborway in the 1930's obliterated Weld Park, but it was there at that stage of the game. So you virtually could say that we lived right next to the Arboretum.
My parents did not have live-in help, but had a variety of people coming in to do the washing on Tuesdays, the ironing on Wednesdays, and cleaning on Thursdays. Out of this came a marvelous little red-headed Cockney lady by the name of Helen Harrison whose husband was a British Naval enlisted man. She had survived the big explosion in Halifax in 1919, and her daughter had survived but the daughter was very badly burned. I've always been fascinated about that explosion ever since because of Mrs. Harrison's telling us about it. There are marvelous books about it which anybody can get. Dr. Broughton went up with the Harvard doctors and saved lots of lives there because they had a major snowstorm and no windows or heat for two days.
Mother was a stay-at-home person all her life. Father was a vice-president and a minor stockholder of a company on Magazine Street in Roxbury at 100, called the E. Van Noorden Company. It was started by a gentleman from Terre Haute, Indiana who came to Boston to make his fortune after the 1873 Boston fire as a tin knocker or shop metalworker, and he made this fortune. This became the biggest of the sheet metal companies, so he was quite successful.
Father, Carl L. Mittell, Jr. was born in Jamaica Plain in the big square building on Boylston Street, on the corner of Chestnut Avenue, the southwest corner. Father was brought up at 29 Wyman Street. His father worked for Colonel Pfaff, the right-hand man, and when Colonel Pfaff had to go off with Teddy Roosevelt in 1898 to Cuba, my grandfather had to keep the brewery going while he was gone for three or four months. The Pfaff Brewery was where the college is on Columbus Avenue now, and the mansion is up on Parker Street if anybody wanted to have a look at it. Father went to Mechanic Arts High School which is where the Prudential Center is now, right on the railroad tracks, and did not take his admission to M.I.T. because his father had died, and that's how he eventually got with the Van Noorden Company.
Mother came from New York, and they met in Plymouth in the 1890's, and some ten or twelve years later they were married and came here. They first lived at the Robinwood, a high-class boardinghouse, one of the very big houses on Robinwood Avenue. A lot of young marrieds lived there, and, my oldest cousin lived there as a small child. Apparently this is what people did before they took an apartment or a house. Then they'd move out, and that's when my parents moved to Eliot Street.
The daily ritual those years of getting food was a lot of fun. I can hear my mother picking up the telephone and calling, "0-0-3-2," and saying, "Mr. Oakes, what's nice today?" And he'd say, "What do you want, Mrs. Mittell?" "Well, I thought I'd like a small broiler. Are they nice today?" "Yes, they are." "Well, why don't you send two of them up Mr. Oakes?" Oakes had the butcher shop on the corner of Thomas Street and Centre Street, the out-of-town corner, and that is where the work was done. Then Mother would call Robert Seaver & Son, the ancient grocery store where the liquor store is today, still in relatively the same building, and she'd give an order. Very often Connolly would be delivering the order with horse and team, just as we were getting out of the Agassiz School and we little urchins would jump up on the tailgate and get a ride home.
There was a stable in back of those stores between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street where the parking lot is now essentially. This was behind the school, the grammar school that I attended, which was the Agassiz School which had a primary school which was built about 1860 - and in the 1890's, fourth grade through eighth grade - a wonderful school, wonderful teachers, some tough, some of them had to be tough to handle some of the rougher kids who came to that school from all over Jamaica Plain. I don't regret it.
My older brother went to Miss Seeger's School on Eliot Street, which was about the fourth house on the right-hand side going away from the Pond. The house has been remodeled back to its original farmhouse style, but it has earlier been remodeled into an amazing neo-colonial. I have pictures of the graduating class at Miss Seeger's class in 1923, if anybody wants them, with names and so forth. It's said that Miss Seeger was either a sister or related to Alan Seeger, the famous World War I poet, the "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" poet. That school survived until 1936, when my brother's wife was the kindergarten teacher. It just died, I suppose, because of the Depression.
Mrs. Harrison came in among other people, and did the laundry on Tuesday and ironed on Wednesday, and cleaned on Thursday and Friday, and became a sitter for us whenever my parents had to go out. My aunt was in New York, and my grandmother was in New York, and so they did go off sometimes. This worked very well.
I think it's interesting to note that I was never allowed to have a haircut in Jamaica Plain, but was taken to the fancy place in the basement of the Hotel Vendome on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street, where all the "nice" little boys got their hair cut. My father was a haircut snob, and he did the same thing every two weeks, and believed that a gentleman had to have proper grooming, and that the old "bowl over the head and clippers up to the bowl," which a lot of the kids at Agassiz School had, he didn't approve of at all.
I have to say that it's suggested that I should talk about clothing. We used to have woolen hats that could be worn without a woolen strap that came down and protected your face in the jaw. Other than that, I don't think there were great differences. We wore corduroy knickers, which always smelled unpleasant when it rained. And we had to have knickers. Actually I went to Roxbury Latin later, and the seventh grade boys were not allowed to wear long pants, and if one came in long pants, they got taken off and pulled up the flag pole. So it was knickers until eighth grade, at least at that school.
I walked all those years from Prince Street to the Agassiz School with my chum across the street, Jim McLaughlin. They were a wonderful family. Grandfather Cotter was a successful storekeeper, I believe, in Roxbury or Dorchester, and he was successful enough to build three wonderful two-deckers for his three daughters. One who lived on Spring Park Avenue, did not get a new three-decker. I remember seeing that little gentleman when he was about 95 in 1925 or 1926, and that family that he started has just done very well. The first generation, one of the sons became a doctor out of Boston Latin and Harvard and Harvard Medical School, and did a lot of remodeling in Jamaica Plain; he was the one who turned the gingerbread house on the corner of Elliott Street, opposite the church, opposite the Greenough House around on its side, and that's where he had his office. And he built those brick stores that are on the corner of Elliott Street and Centre Street. They were a fine family although there was great opposition to either his or somebody else buying the Loring-Greenough House in the 1920's, and tearing it down to build more stores. That's another story which has been recorded elsewhere.
For fun, we used skate at Jamaica Pond in the winter. Mayor Curley had to get the fire department to spray the crowd to get them off the ice one night of a carnival on Jamaica Pond when the temperature went up to 60 or 65, and it seemed unsafe to go on with the carnival. In those years, there was a hockey rink over by the Parkman Memorial, and Jamaica Plain High School, and some of the other schools practiced hockey there. Most of the skating was done to the east, if I have my direction correct, of the landing where the boats are. Beyond that, we pretty much amused ourselves.
My father was on a baseball team called the Eliots, which won the city championship in 1897, if I have the year right. They beat everybody. They beat all the high schools and all the club teams. Their pitcher, Otto Deiniger, went up to the big leagues; and the catcher, (I think his name was Devine), went up to the New England league. The first base man was Harry Fitzsimmons, who became an orthopedic physician, lived on Centre Street near Aldworth Street. One of them became a funeral director down halfway to Plymouth on old 128. I've told you about Father. Deiniger's brother, I think, went up to the New England league, but that was a lot of fun.
But I was not allowed to go to the Carolina Avenue playground in the 1920's because it was a little too rough for a little boy from around the Pond. I did go my last year at Agassiz School and went down for one afternoon, and then the next year I went to West Roxbury, to Roxbury Latin School which is an independent school as everybody knows. But a lot of my friends did go to Jamaica Plain High School. Some other friends went to Boston Latin School which was as great in the 1920's and '30s, as it is today, in educating kids.
I was a tennis player. My father helped start the Loring-Greenough Tennis Club with that one court about 1923 or '24, when the Noanett Club, I believe, which was on Dunster Road was confiscated for private houses. Father went to Mr. Greenough and asked if they fixed up the court, could they use it. The club is still active today.
At home, for entertainment, Father was very musical. He had something like eight or ten songs published. Piano songs with words published between 1900 and 1925. I have copies of these. "Let Me Live in a House by the Side of the Road" was one of them. So he was on the piano, and of course, early on we did get a radio - not a very good one, but we did get a radio and we could listen to the Army-Navy game if we wanted to, and did - and listened to "Amos and Andy" and some of those soap opera programs that were on in the evening. Everything went silent - ours was in the dining room and everything went silent, and everybody listened to these programs. They were somewhat more innocent than what we have today.
As far as theaters were concerned, there was the Jamaica Theater in Hyde Square, but again I wasn't allowed to go to that. (I did get to the old Howard a few times when we were quite a little older). Mr. English, who lived in the big house, the red-roofed house on the corner of Prince and Centre and the Arborway, had a chauffeur, and his name was Dennis McNamara. "Denny" would take me and the younger son, Milton. I remember seeing the first talking movie. I can't remember the name of it, but it was at the old Metropolitan Theater, which is now the Wang Theater; and Denny drove us in a long Packard limousine. The Englishes were very generous this way. They were the ones who bought the Seaverns estate. Mr. English was the one who tore down the original, beautiful little white house that was there. He held it for two or three years, and nothing happened. Of course, once that happened all those houses from Centre Street to our house went in there. I suppose there are ten or twelve houses on what was on Professor Sargent's original nursery. There was a grass place there for growing flowers and various things like that, and all the vegetables there. They just moved it up Centre Street, and I think it's just been moved again further up Centre Street.
Summers, we went to the Cape Playhouse. And of course, we went to Chatham summers, which is on the elbow of Cape Cod, and we did go to the Cape Playhouse which started in the mid-'20s, and of course, the Orpheum Theater in Chatham showed silent movies. We used to go once a week when the movie changed, but in the city we didn't do it as much. I will have to put in here a colorful episode which happened in Chatham. My grandmother used to board in downtown Chatham. She was deaf and she loved the silent movies, because they didn't give her any trouble. She went in one night and in the mid-'20s when bobbed hair had just come. And a young lady in front of her - a lady, I say - combed her hair back toward my grandmother, and my 75 year old grandmother tapped her on the shoulder, and said, "Please don't do that. I don't want them on me."
First we went to Plymouth to the old Hotel Pilgrim, which has been torn down on the bluff on Warren Avenue. But about 1923, we went to a much smaller hotel in North Chatham, and for the next 15 years, we either rented a house there, or stayed in the Old Harbor Inn which was run by Rufus Nickerson, who is a direct descendent of William Nickerson, who was given Chatham in 1660 or something like that. It was a great experience.
We had to go to New York because my aunt and her family were there, and Mother's cousins were there. We went to New York by train or by car. It was pretty painful to go by car, but we did it. It was a long, long, long, painful trip for little boys. We went down the old inland roads, and it was a six-hour trip or a five and a half hour trip. We'd go down through Stafford Springs and through Hartford, and then on down to the coast - down through Windsor and New Haven, but we did it. It worked not too badly. Father always drove Buicks, except for the first one which was an Oldsmobile, and it was such a clunker that he swore he'd never drive it again if he could get it home from Plymouth one day. His friends were driving Buicks, and he drove Buicks until the Depression when he deteriorated to a new Ford, but it wasn't that bad.
We should talk a little about the Depression, because this was a pretty terrible, terrible, terrible time. We were very lucky. The Company that father was with had been very conservative and were able to keep going during the Depression. While income was cut down to something like 60% of what it had been, and it bought a lot in the 1930's. But this was a very frightening time. Mother called Thomas Campbell, who was the rector of St. John's Church where Father was a vestryman, and said, "Mr. Campbell, there is a poor family in our church." "Yes! The name is Stoltz, and they live down in a three-decker on Washington Street about two houses from the old Boston Elevator storage yard there." So Mother got up a Thanksgiving basket, turkey, everything for three children. Husband was up in Rutland in the tubercular sanitarium because he was gassed in World War I. We went down there in a long Buick which still had a 124-inch wheel base as I remember it, with all the fixings on it. We went up one empty floor, and a second empty floor, and on the top floor was this poor woman with three small children, and delivered this basket. I can honestly say I did smell poverty - there just was no question about it, it was frightening, and this was 1933, I guess, when I was 15. It was a terrible time. In Father's company, the superintendents went back to "tin knocking" - they had about six or seven superintendents, they went back to just being "tin knockers." The tin knocker made a $1.37 and a half cents during the Depression, and that doesn't sound like much, but it fed the family. And they were very lucky when they could be employed, which wasn't all the time.
Mother never learned to drive a car. She tried and she smashed one up in Chatham in 1929, so we always used the streetcars. She preferred down South Huntington Avenue, and in town that way. When I got freedom enough at 12 or 13, to do this, we much preferred to walk down to Green Street and take the rattler in, which was much quicker. But I do remember those streetcars, including the one that went up over the hill in Roxbury across Columbus Avenue, and into Dudley Street. You changed there for the elevated rattler.
CR: The rattler is the old Orange Line, the elevated?
DM: That is correct.
CR: Do you remember what the fare was?
DM: Ten cents. Now, the five-and-dime store that was always there, and next door to - and you know, that was fun, on the corner of Seaverns Avenue and Centre Street. Next to it was my brother's wife's grandfather's drugstore, a "Rexall Store." Next to that was Schafer, as I recall it was Shafer's eyeglasses store, and then it was the Jairis, Caliope Jairis was in my kindergarten, and she vomited the first day of school. This is a clear memory that I have of Mr. Kelly, the custodian, coming in and cleaning it up.
CR: Do you recall the businesses that closed during the depression?
DM: Let me just think - well, of course, Father's big Buick was bought from a Buick agency, which was in one of Dr. Cotter's stores there, on the corner of Eliot Street. I would think that most of the small merchants managed to keep going in the Depression. I just happened to be looking at an old Roxbury Latin magazine the other day, and here was Rose's Corset and Gift Shop which was in the Jamaica Pond Garage Building, which is directly opposite Burroughs Street. You know, Shea the Florist was there next to Seaver's grocery store. There was a German fellow who sold guppies and gold fish on the corner of Thomas Street.
You know, one thing that we must remember that old town hall on Thomas Street which was torn down for the parking lot was sort of everything. I believe it was originally a high school; then it was a veterans' building. I remember I had to register for the draft there in 1940, and it was kind of a handsome old building. Yumont had a hardware store on the corner of Burroughs Street across from Roger's Drugstore which everybody knew.
Mr. Rooney had a shoe store just toward the monument from Roger's Drugstore. Beyond Yumont's was another hardware store down beyond the fire station, Harvey's Hardware store. I mentioned Salisbury's Drugstores. It seems to me there was sort of a general dry good store in the old Masonic building on the in-town corner of Seaverns Avenue.
Down beyond Green Street, there was a man who had an automobile repair and paint shop, and he painted one of my Model A Fords.
I have written, as you know, a long report on Miss Margaret Souther. Those of us who grew up on the Pond side of Jamaica Plain went to her dancing school. So I'll not go into detail, but I think this sort of indicates that Jamaica Plain was divided into three parts. There were the big estates up on Moss Hill and over toward the Brookline line. Then there was the flat land area from May Street through to Lockstead Avenue, all those streets, all those lovely streets like Burroughs Street and Eliot Street and Myrtle Street and so forth. Then there was a real line; Centre Street sort of divided the more well-to-do people on the Pond side from the poorer people on the other side.
By the time that I came along, it would be my impression that the German area which grew up substantially in the 1880's and 1890's and 1910's had been pretty much taken over by more Irish families. Certainly this was true of the area towards Forest Hills and toward Green Street, and let's say, the area from around St. Thomas Aquinas down to Our Lady of Lourdes and Blessed Sacrament. So there really was a division. Jimmy Graham used to stand out on the corner of Burroughs Street and let all of the kids, who lived on that side of Centre Street, get safely across the street. He did this for 30 or 40 years, and did it rather successfully. I don't think that there were any accidents there.
But there was a real division. Some of these kids were real poor in the public schools. Some of them were pretty tough, but the teachers were able to handle them. And of course a lot of them went on and went to Boston Latin or Mechanic Arts or Boston English High School, and had very successful careers. But it really was a divided town, and it is today but not as much. It seems to me it's come together much more.
I met my wife in 1939 at a party in Scituate. While I went to all the parties at Eliot Hall and so forth and so on, nothing really took until then, until I met Mary Louise. We were married in 1941. We did not go to dancing spots, although my brother and his bride went to Totem Pole Ballroom out in Auburndale. It died after Word War II.
As far as musicians were concerned, my brother inherited some of my father's musical skills - not to the degree that Father had it, because Father had absolute pitch. He wrote quite a few songs for yacht club shows and so forth. As a result of this, my brother and I were given a portable Victrola. In the late '20s, he was the one who first discovered Bing Crosby when he was still with the Rhythm Boys, with Paul Whiteman out in California; and he was the one who discovered Glen Gray and The Casa Loma orchestra. Both of these led up to the big bands that came in the late '30s and during World War II.
Another place that my brother used to go that I didn't was the Hotel Brunswick on the corner of Clarendon Street and Huntington Avenue - had a room downstairs. I don't remember the name of it, but they had music there. He and his bride-to-be (seven years later) used to go in there often. I would say he had a more typical Jamaica Plain youth and growing up than I did. I sort of got attracted out of town.
There weren't many good restaurants, or any that I can think of. There was Mamigon's and it seems to me there was another small one somewhere there on Centre Street between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street. But we would get in a car and go to a restaurant over in Newton at the New England Peabody Home. They did this to make money for taking care of their crippled children. That was another place we'd go. We'd used to go to another place in Newton, Madame Vineo. (I never saw it written so I'm guessing.) But we also used to go to Sunday dinners sometimes at The Elms, which was a great Victorian building where the Rectory of the Congregational Church is, on the corner of Elm Street, but this was just a good boardinghouse, and so we'd go there. We used to go in town to the Hotel Canterbury which is on Charlesgate West at Newbury Street. We used to go the Boston City Club where Father was an active member and on committees. This was up behind the State house on Ashburton Place, I believe.
We did go out to dinner most Sundays. We'd go as far as Norwood. There was a restaurant in Norwood that we used to go to. There was one in West Roxbury in the old tavern that was there, which has been torn down to build a new library. But we didn't go very often in Jamaica Plain except for The Elms, and I would have to say that - and my parents did not like Mamigon's at that stage of the game - right on Centre Street. I think it's still there. It's across from - halfway between Thomas Street and Burroughs Street.
CR: Not one of the taverns?
DM: Yes, the one like Costello's. My parents were old, so they didn't get into World War I. Father was 37 in 1917, and had children. When I was a little boy there was a Bridle Path that came from downtown, out the Jamaicaway, out the Riverway, out the Arborway into Franklin Park. Some of my older Bostonian acquaintances tell me that their fathers and grandfathers used to take horses from downtown and ride out there. If you look carefully at the Arborway today, you can see that there is one very wide centerpiece, and that's where the Bridle Path went.
As I said earlier, Connolly from Seaver's grocery store used to deliver our groceries with a horse and team, and Oakes would do the same. Then, of course, I would suppose the early 1930's, the horses were basically gone. There was still a stable on Orchard Street right in back of our house, two or three houses over, between there and Aldworth Street. And there was one down on Williams Street -until 1990 or 1995. But gradually, gradually it turned to automobiles, and of course, we of the automobile age couldn't wait to get our hands on a car.
My first car was a well worn out 1929 Ford two-door, painted blue, that my brother had pretty well taken the good wear of. That lasted about six months, and for $50 more I got a nice blue touring car, a 1929. That lasted about eight months, and for about $25 more with a trade-in, I found one of the '25 convertibles in West Roxbury. That lasted a year, and then I found a perfectly wonderful roadster one that had been owned by an old man. It only had 10,000 miles on it, and that was a little more money. That got me through two or three years of college, before I swapped it in Scituate for a green 1932. But you had to have at least - I had to have a car in any case.
CR: Did you have a job during high school?
DM: No, no, I was spoiled. I did not work during high school. No, I had a lot of fun. I learned how to play tennis better - bang the ball against the back wall of our cement garage, and Father was a member of the Longwood Cricket Club. We used to go over and watch the great players in the 1920's, and '30s, and '40s. So I could emulate Tilden or Richards on the court, I hope. But that was a lot of fun. We were lucky that we did - if you looked in that garage, you'd still see a target that my brother painted up there; and I painted a net up there. I spent hours out there, hitting tennis balls.
CR: Some of the other boys and girls of your age, were they working?
DM: In general, they didn't work. My playmates on Prince Street, the McLaughlins went to Eleventh Avenue in Scituate. The Englishes had a big house at Second and Cliff in Scituate. The Faunces who lived, until 1928, over on the Arborway had a wonderful place on Hatherly Road in Scituate. So when we were in the city in the summer, I virtually had no playmates. The Witherells up the street had a family preserve in Ossippee, New Hampshire. These are just some of the ones that I can think of quickly that went elsewhere. I would say that the people who lived in that part of Jamaica Plain, mainly single houses, a few two-families, went somewhere in the summer - Green Harbor, or Fieldston, in Marshfield, or further down the Cape.
CR: You had mentioned that the Plath family lived down the street from you on Prince Street. Did you know the family?
DM: I've done quite a little research on Sylvia Plath because my daughter is a poetess in her own right, and it terribly interested in Plath. I've watched programs on Channel 2 on this. We've documented it pretty well that she lived on the first floor of the Crosbys' house at 24 Prince Street. But now this was in the early '30s, and the late '30s, I was as Roxbury Latin and gone all day long. Then I was at college and gone all week long, so I was not that aware of what was going on at the house diagonally across the street. We took time to go out and find the house that she lived in in Wellesley Fells, which is the far part of Wellesley just before you get into Natick because we had a house there in the early '40s, and we knew that area quite well. We identified that house, and she was there for quite a while. But she definitely, definitely, apparently was in the Crosby house.
Mrs. Crosby was another one of the Cotter's daughters, and she had two daughters and two sons. The oldest son, Tom, became a stockbroker, and was the oldest man rowing in the Head of the Charles before he died at the age of 93 or 94 a few years ago. The youngest boy, Joe, was a bit of a lively person, shall we say. He drove a Model T Ford that he parked in the yard. He had more touchdowns for Harvard in football than anybody else. They both went to Boston Latin and Harvard. Joe married a girl from out in Natick or out that way, and he moved out of Jamaica Plain. But he was a lot of fun, and a very, very, very good athlete. But that was the house, the Crosbys' house was the one that Sylvia Plath lived in on the first floor.
CR: When you drive or walk down Centre Street today, what strikes you?
DM: Not much, it looks so much the same - well, you know, the names of the stores are different. The signs are fancier and more flamboyant, but it still has the same feeling. Basically, I would say that my walking or riding a bicycle down Centre Street usually went as far as St. John's Street because one of my Roxbury Latin classmates lived at 28 St. John's Street. So I was down there quite a bit. But it still has pretty much the same feeling.
The Masonic building on the corner of Seaverns Avenue has been remodeled, and probably got aluminum siding on it. So it doesn't look the way it did in the 1920's. It had businesses in the downstairs, and the Masonic Hall upstairs. The other thing that I think would interest anybody who might be listening to this is that I lived through the period when the First National stores were founded by Michael O'Keeffe. You know, I can remember some stores on Centre Street, and I can remember O'Keeffe stores, and Ames stores.
Michael O'Keeffe was a business genius. He lived in the stucco house on the corner of Pond Street, the inbound corner of Pond Street, at the boat landing on the Jamaicaway. Three of his four boys went to Roxbury Latin, so I knew this family quite well. He was the genius who had the first supermarket, and he was a widower and had six children, I believe. It's interesting that I think we've had 12 or 13 O'Keeffes at Roxbury Latin since Adrian first came. This was a very, very interesting family. He was very, very successful, but he did put together the first supermarket.
Of course my family was Republican, and of course, the powers that be in Boston were Democrats, and this was always a fight. In my third grade year at Agassiz School, my classmate Nichols' father, Malcolm Nichols, was elected Mayor of Boston, and came into our third grade the next day in a Chesterfield and a Derby. We were pretty proud, although I learned later that the powers that be behind who was going to be mayor decided that he was the one who was going to be mayor.
When I was a little boy in Jamaica Plain in the 1920's, automobiles were still a relatively new item and people either used public transportation or went with a horse and carriage. My friend Tom Downes' family lived on Forest Hills Street in that lovely house halfway up the hill from Morton Street. He told me that he and his brother were taken by Malone Keene from the Arborway Garage on South Street (opposite the big apartment building there) near the Arborway. They went to Miss Seegar's School on Eliot Street and were delivered behind the horse every day.
Soon, however, the automobile took over and Mr. Malone kept the Arborway Garage and stored cars there. Pat Keene was with him and later took over Keene's Garage which was behind the present fire station on Centre Street opposite Thomas Street. Further down the street was the Jamaica Pond Garage in the very big brick building opposite Burroughs Street. One entered it through a tunnel between two stores. The tunnel has since been closed since it no longer was being used as a garage.
Sol, and I never knew his last name, ran that garage. I don't know if he owned it. There was a fellow by the name of Giles Barney, who came from a somewhat well-to-do family, worked full-time in one of those garages.
The automobile came before private garages, so if one wanted one's car housed in the winter, one had to rent a space in one of these garages.
John Malone was a handsome, blond fellow in my grades at the Agassiz School at that time on the corner of Brewer and Burroughs Street. John Malone lived on Brewer Street.
By the 1920's people started building their own garages. Prefabricated garages from companies like Brooks-Skinner Company in Milton became the easiest way to do it. Soon the need for these big public garages existed no longer and they then converted into other useful purposes.
Jamaica Plain, being located as it is, had the same juxtaposition to the Boston hospitals as Pill Hill in Brookline so it was a popular area for doctors to reside. As I recall, there was a doctor down on Centre Street opposite about where the Mary E. Curley School is, and he operated out of his house there. There was another doctor, as I recall, his name was Broderick who lived in a Victorian house or a shingle-style house on the right side of South Street going toward Roslindale beyond Sedgwick Street. I think he probably had a very large practice in that area.
Dr. Francis Balch lived in a Balch house way up on the top of Moss Hill. I believe he was the Chief of Medicine at the Faulkner Hospital in the 1920's.
As I said, Dr. Arthur Nicholson Broughton had a house and an office two houses toward Jamaica Pond from 44 Eliot Street. He picked Mother (and me) up in his sleigh and took us to Faulkner Hospital in a snowstorm and I was born the next morning. He was a wonderful genial man - besides being a general practitioner, he was a gynecologist, obstetrician, and psychologist all in one.
His brother, named Dr. Henry, I believe, lived and practiced in the Beaufort Road apartments.
Dr. Solomon lived on Lockstead Avenue. He was head of the Massachusetts Mental Hospital on Francis Street.
CR: Thank you for joining me today and agreeing to tell me a little bit about your experience growing up in Jamaica Plain. Why don’t we start with you telling me about where you lived, your family, and your early memories of Jamaica Plain?
JM: My name is Janice Murray. My maiden name was O’Hara. I was born in 1957 in Dorchester, and in 1960, my parents bought a big Victorian up at the corner of St. Rose Street and the Arborway, overlooking the Arboretum – not right at the corner, one house in. The man who built the big Victorians there, his name was Leonard, I believe. It was a huge 17-room house, he built a series of them – if you look along that strip, there are three houses that are almost identical.
So we lived there until – I don’t remember what year we moved out. I was probably, I’m guessing I was probably eight when we moved out, just simply because for that time, as soon as my parents would get finished doing something to the house, the house was so big, it was time to start doing something all over again; and they had six kids. It was just a huge house to heat at the time, and I think my mother said, for a 17-room house – probably not very well insulated because it was built before the turn of the century – I think my father used to pay about $200 a winter to heat it. My mother said he used to wonder how he was going to get the money together to heat a house for $200. - for the whole winter! That was big money then and he was pretty young then with six kids. They decided to get something that they didn’t have to keep working on.
I’m pretty sure they paid $22,000 to $27,000 for the house in the early 1960s. It was on the market a few years back for about a million dollars. When they bought the house, there was a beautiful – I can remember this pretty vividly – there was a beautiful reception area when you walked through the front door with the big leaded windows. There was a big staircase straight ahead that went across like a mezzanine, and one of those really beautiful, really nice old Victorians. But the staircase was painted that old bottle green color. And I can remember my mother saying she stripped every bit of the bottle green off of that staircase and the hand rails.It was a big sweeping staircase, a grand staircase, all painted in bottle green. When she stripped it all, it was that beautiful golden oak. She did it all by hand. So anyway, they did stuff like that, and then they decided, “We’ve had it.”
So they bought a house up on Moss Hill, off of Pond Street. I just drove through the neighborhood, and I think right now the school at the end of the street is called the Showa Institute. I went to part of my grade school in that school. It was owned by the Archdiocese of Boston when I was a kid. It was called Holy Childhood; it was an orphanage for Catholic kids called Nazareth, run by the Sisters of Charity. So we moved up to Moss Hill. My father passed away about 13 years ago. My mother held onto the house for awhile but it got to be too much for her and she sold it.
I went to kindergarten at the J.P. Manning School which is located behind the Faulkner Hospital. That school was built, I believe, for the politicians and for the lawyers and all, for the people up in the Moss Hill area. The school was built with political money, so that their kids could have a school up there. Off we went to the J.P. Manning School and I hated attending school there. I didn’t care for the kids. [chuckles] So I only stayed at the Manning School a couple of years and then I ended up going to Holy Childhood which was at the bottom of the street I grew up on. I grew up on a street that is parallel to Pond called Woodland Road.
The problem with Holy Childhood was that they were going through a period of unrest. I think there were funding problems. It was owned by the Archdiocese. So maybe things were starting to brew back then? I ended up at St. Thomas Aquinas, which was a great school, great teachers. It was an old Victorian school, and kids from Moss Hill went there; kids from behind the Faulkner went there; kids from the Forest Hills area went there. All up and down South Street, up as far as probably not quite Hyde Square, because those kids went to Blessed Sacrament – but up and down Carolina Ave., those neighborhoods, everybody went to St. Thomas.
I left there after the 8th grade and went to a private high school in Brighton because that was, you know, that was the time around busing and a lot of the school unrest. I got out of there, took a couple of years off, and went to art school for a year. I actually majored in architecture and decided I hated it, and went on to being an art history major at Simmons.
CR: What did you and your friends do for recreation? Where did you “hang out”?
JM: At that time, growing up here, there weren’t a lot of neighborhood groups nor a recreation hall you could go to with the exception of Curtis Hall. Kids would go swimming up there or go to the library. When I was in high school, they started a kind of after-school program at the new Agassiz School. Teenagers could go there. They had music lessons, and you could play basketball, and meet your friends.
We also went to a summer day camp where the MSPCA is now; it was The New Boston Athletic Association. It was a summer camp funded by the City of Boston, and lots of kids went there. All the kids from Hyde Square went there. My cousin who lived off Hyde Square went there. Kids from all over Boston went there. That property was called Monsignor O’Brien Seminary, I think, at the time. It was a Catholic seminary, and then eventually the archdiocese sold it to the MSPCA. It’s been that for at least 25 years that I know of but it was a seminary when I was growing up. I had a cousin that was at that seminary for a while.
I took boating lessons at the Jamaica Pond. There was a little program down there for Boston kids to learn how to sail a boat. And we used to go into the Arboretum all the time. We used to play hooky instead of attending Sunday Mass at the Arboretum when the weather was nice. We wouldn’t go to Mass; we’d go to the Arboretum, and wait around for Mass to get over. We’d get home and we’d get quizzed on what the Gospel was that day. So we’d have to check with our friends, but it was fun.
CR: Tell me about where you and your friends might go when you were dating.
JM: I had a boyfriend who grew up behind that furniture store, the name escapes me. Was it Jamaica Furniture that was right there, across from J.P. Licks where the health center is now? I think it was Jamaica Furniture. He lived on that little dead end street right there, last house on the left.
Dating here? There was nowhere around to go. It was like if you dated here, you maybe hung around with some of your friends here. You’d go to their house but if you were going out for fun, you went into Boston, where you would go out to the movies or something like that. I mean the only ice cream store in JP was Brigham’s.
CR: Did you have a job during high school?
JM: Yeah, I worked all during high school at C.B. Rogers Pharmacy and my sister worked there too. My (future) brother-in-law worked there. Both my brother-in-law’s parents worked there. My sister married the boyfriend she met there. It was a good place to work.
I think it was the second oldest pharmacy in the city of Boston still in existence at that time. It was a beautiful old pharmacy all lined with beautiful carved oak cabinets, and it had a soda fountain at one end. It was kind of converted into a cosmetic counter. But I think at the time, some years prior to that, it was a soda fountain all lined with apothecary jars with the old gold leaf labels on them, and carved owls at the top of it. It was beautiful. It was workmanship you just don’t see nowadays. That was a sad day watching that get liquidated, it really was. It had the old paddle fans and a tin – I’m trying to think, did it have a tin ceiling?
CR: The Bukara Indian restaurant is located in that building now.
JM: Is that the name of the Indian restaurant? It is right at the corner of Burroughs and Centre Street. The old Agassiz School was right behind it. That was probably there until maybe 1970, and it got torn down. I think there’s a municipal parking there now. We used to sit on the steps there after school; it was vacant for a long time and then the city tore it down which was sad. It was a nice old Victorian building. So that was right behind Roger’s Drugstore.
CR: What do you remember about some of the other businesses that were on Centre Street?
JM: Starting down at the Monument and coming up, there was a Lil’ Peach there and next to it was the driving school. I took driving classes there. My brothers took driving classes there too. Before it became Lil’ Peach, it was a drug/variety store, I think. At one time, it might have been an A&P, and then it turned into a Mayflower grocery store (where the appliance store is now). And then there was a hair salon on that block. The Dunkin’ Donuts was next door. Erco, a toy store owned by Mr. Eric Cohen, was located right after Blanchard’s. It was one of these little tiny stores compared to the stores now, just full to the rafters, up to the ceiling with stuff. You’d used to have to sign a paper if you’d buy airplane glue.
Anyway, then you’d go down by Mr. Cohen’s store, and there was another hair salon, I believe, which was around where the Laundromat is located. And there was Sammy’s Variety Store, Costello’s Bar. Then there was Pearl’s Candy Store. I don’t know what it is now. It was a good-sized storefront though. I think an Army Navy Store went in there later because we used to go in there to buy our jeans and everything when we were growing up. Then when you went a little further, I think it was an insurance company, a little storefront insurance company. Then C.B. Rogers was on the corner of Burroughs and Centre Street.
There was a nice old store, it was like an old ladies’ type of store called Jones’ Camera and Gift Shop, and they had cards and you’d go in and buy film; and all the old ladies worked in there, you know, with the blue hair. But that’s where Ted’s Shoe Repair was (next door), but he ended up moving down by Curtis Hall because I think the rents got too high. He was an older man too, so I’m sure that his family sold the business and he retired. But we used to love going to his store because he had one of those Automatons that was a cobbler repairing a shoe with a hammer. It was working all the time, and it was in the front window. Then there was like a man’s smoke shop, that’s what it was called, like “Somebody’s “Smoke Shop, and girls never went in there. It was like a guy’s shop. They’d buy cigarettes and cigars and girlie magazines and stuff like that.
Then there was Shawmut Bank, which is now that Fleet Bank. And then the next block is the one that we walked by earlier. George’s Shoe Store – I have to think about what was on that block. The art supply store that used to be down the street (near the Monument) moved up here. I bought my art supplies there when I was in college - it moved up next to J.P. Licks, that corner shop to the left of J.P. Licks.
The thrift store was right there then, but I don’t even know if it’s in existence any more, the Boston Thrift Store. There was a fish market next to Mr. Pavrone’s dry cleaning business. That’s all they sold there - fish; it was an old-fashioned fish market. Let’s see, Kennedy Butter and Eggs was in that block and a plumbing supply place.
There was a hardware store there also, a little small hardware store with creaky wooden floors. There was a dry cleaners there called Sparkle. There used to be a bowling alley upstairs too, on the second floor, because you could be in the shops down below and hear the balls rolling over your head.
There was another pharmacy on the corner of St. Joseph’s Street, a nice old pharmacy. We used to go in there and spend all of our money on penny candy when we were supposed to spend it on milk or lunch, but everybody did that. The guy who owned it was a cranky old guy, too – Mr. Farrell.
There was a barroom across from the Projects and we used to call it “The Chapel.” Everybody called it “The Chapel,” but it was a barroom. It was a crummy barroom too. I don’t know why it had that nickname.
CR: When we spoke previously, you mentioned about how some people saw Jamaica Plain as being on the wrong side of the tracks during those years.
JM: Oh yeah, when we were growing up, I went to high school in Brighton - I can remember I was going to high school with kids from Winthrop and Cambridge. For some reason, they had a perception that Jamaica Plain was the wrong side of the tracks. I have no idea why it was considered that way. When I was growing up, Jamaica Plain was mostly blue collar. There was a pocket of attorneys and other professionals, but for the most part, it was your average working stiff.
CR: What was the ethnic composition Jamaica Plain at that time?
JM: Where I grew up – I grew up on Moss Hill – it’s unfortunate because I think in these books little is written about that, and it was kind of an interesting background because at one point, I don’t remember this but my mother remembers going up to Moss Hill when she was a young woman. She’s in her eighties now, and you could only go so far up into Moss Hill; the road just stopped, and now it just goes around. It was a predominantly white area, a lot of Irish people, Italians, Jewish people. My best friend growing up was a Jewish girl. All different types but not people of color.
In the Centre Street area and South Street area there were lots of Irish and some Black people. We had Black kids in our school. I didn’t spend a ton of time in Hyde Square, but there were Irish and Germans living there . I believe there were also Puerto Ricans, Cape Verdeans, and Cubans as well.
Some merchants were Irish, such as the owners of the Galway House. An Irish American man owned C.B. Rogers. There were Jewish and German merchants. The Pavones are Italian Americans, I think, so there was a diverse group of merchants here.
CR: What was your father’s occupation? Did your mother work outside of the home?
JM: He was a Boston Police sergeant and retired at 65. My mother never really worked until we were in high school and then she ended up going out and getting a part-time job. She worked at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill until her retirement when she was in her 70s. She commuted from Weymouth after she sold her house in Boston. She liked it so much; she worked there for 25 years.
CR: Was your father ever stationed in Jamaica Plain?
JM: No, my father headed up the traffic division in Kenmore Square, that was his general thing, for years and years. Then when he got older, he ran the booting and towing division on Albany Street in Boston. He did pretty good for himself, you know, for a kid that just came out of Roxbury and didn’t have a lot of education – much the same as a lot of other youngsters from immigrant families, I would imagine.
CR: Your father was born in Roxbury?
JM: He was born here, yeah, but his parents were immigrants. My grandmother’s family was from County Cork, I believe; and my grandfather’s, County Mayo. But they lived off of Washington Street in Roxbury. It was by the St. Francis De Sales Church in Roxbury and my grandfather was a Deacon. My father came from a huge Irish family. I think there were 13 kids in his family.
CR: When did you leave Jamaica Plain?
JM: I’ve been out of Jamaica Plain probably 20 years now, since 1980 or 1982. My mother lived in Jamaica Plain, but most of my siblings were out of Boston by that point.
CR: Leading up to the time when you moved away from Jamaica Plain, what were the changes that you saw happening?
JM: I remember once I worked at a real estate development firm in the Back Bay, and I can remember reading an article in the Phoenix that was about Jamaica Plain. It was at the time that Jamaica Plain had a lot of influx of people that hadn’t grown up there and there was some resentment from people who had because what was happening was that the real estate prices were escalating so high that we couldn’t keep up with the prices in order to buy property here ourselves. I’d like to use a word softer than resentment, but it probably was resentment because people were getting displaced all over the place. They just were. Apartments were being turned into condos and things like that, and that was just the way it was.
CR: What do you remember about crime in Jamaica Plain?
JM: There were pockets of drug problems in Jamaica Plain, and I say that because it’s one of the deciding factors why C.B. Rogers closed. People would come in and try to pass fake prescriptions. There were also a couple of hold-ups. One of the pharmacists got shot. It was all drug-related. The pharmacists were behind glass, and he eventually ended up having a security guard at the door. In my crowd, no one was doing heroin but pot use was pretty widespread.
CR: Were there any special holidays that you remember?
JM: I can remember Lilac Sunday in the Arboretum being a big deal, and I think of growing up in our first house on the Arborway. If my mother had the window open, you could smell the lilacs across the highway, across the Arborway. You’d look out the windows and it would just be a sea of purple; it was just beautiful.
CR: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really enjoyed it.
JM: It was my pleasure.
© Copyright 2004 Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Gretchen Grozier interviewed Katherine Shea Roycroft on December 4, 2004 at the June Bug Cafe in Jamaica Plain.
GG: When and where were you born?
KR: I was born right around the corner, at 16 Paul Gore Street, on April 9, 1917. So I have been waiting 86 years for the Red Sox! I was born at home. My mother always mentioned the fact that there was a big snowstorm that day and the doctor had trouble getting to the house. He was traveling by horse and buggy and it was icy. I am the oldest of ten—four sisters and five brothers. Three of us were born in the house, the rest were born in Emerson Hospital.
It was a three decker house. We were on the first floor. It was the Magner family on the second floor, a husband and wife and their daughter. They were great friends. I remember them well. And on the third floor there was a family called Sheridan.
GG: Where did you go to school?
KR: I went to the Cheverus School at Blessed Sacrament Parish through the eighth grade. I was confirmed at Blessed Sacrament and] I got married there too. It was a Father Coyne that married us. He had a brother Bob Coyne, who was a cartoonist for the Boston Post. Blessed Sacrament was mostly Irish. The pastor was a man called O’Connell.
After Blessed Sacrament, I went to Notre Dame Academy in Roxbury. It was all the way down Centre Street, across through Jackson Square, up Marcella Street. It’s the Dimock Health Center there now. [The teachers — the] Sisters of Charity — they lived right there at the school. The building was about 100 years old when I was going to school. It was a beautiful building. It’s been torn down, I think. I think the primary school was the original church, and a wooden building was the school. Then there was a bigger building in back, with the 4th grade up. Then there was another building — a 2-year commercial school.
I had two aunts in convent — the oldest one went into Notre Dame when she was in her late 20s. And then the youngest one, Geraldine, entered Notre Dame when I was about 12. The last year I was at Notre Dame, my older aunt was there too. I couldn’t get away with anything!
After Notre Dame I went to Business School in Boston. There was an annex right next to the State House, on Bowdoin Street in Boston. And the main building was on Warren Street in Roxbury.
GG: What did your father do?
KR: My father and grandfather had a market down on Heath Street—Shea’s market — 112 Heath Street. It was a regular market, with meat and big wooden tables where they cut the meat as people came in and ordered it. They didn’t have display cases or anything like now. These big hunks of meat would be there. There was a refrigerator where they hung all the meat. They sold vegetables, meat, groceries.
They delivered with the horse and teams. That was before trucks and cars. I remember I was about 5 or 6 and my father bought a Model T Ford truck. And they delivered in the truck after that, but they kept the horse and team. My grandfather used to drive it home to lunch every day. There was a barn in back of the store where they kept the horse.
The store was started by my grandmother’s brother, who came from Ireland. And at that time, my grandmother and grandfather were living in Ware, Massachusetts and my uncle wanted to go back to Ireland and open a pub. So they bought the store from him and he went back to Ireland and opened a pub in Cork.
And you know it was thriving until the chain stores came — First National, A&P. Then his business really went downhill. But when he died we were amazed how many people came and said, particularly men whose work was seasonal, like carpenters, that he’d carry them through the winter. But that did make a dent in the business when the chain stores opened. When Tom and I got married, I always traded with private, individual stores because I remembered what a blow it was to them. My grandfather lived in the store. You know, gosh, since he was seventeen.
My Mother stayed at home, washing diapers day after day. She washed everything by hand, hanging them out on the line in the cold.
My grandparents lived on Oak View Terrace, next street over. And at some point my father decided it would be a good idea for me to live with them. And that’s where I ended up living, with my grandparents.
I was about seven. Because I remember I was making my first communion from my grandmother’s house and I fell down in the middle of the street and cut my knee
She had a hard life, my grandmother. My grandfather would go off, she’d have to run the store, and run the house. I could understand why she was cranky, when I stop to think about it. She used to tell me that it was no charity for her to bring me up. Now if she’d taken an orphan in, now that would have been a charity!
But she did take an orphan in once. In those years they used to bring these poor kids to church and parade them around the church to see if anyone would adopt them. I never knew where they came from. It just was so cruel. How did they feel if no one would take them? And she did take one, but the child got very sick. Had some kind of disease, and she didn’t keep her. I think she developed TB or something. That must have been terrible.
My grandmother sold the house after a while - I was 8, 9 or 10. They bought a house on Halifax Street. The house on Oakview Terrace was very big, three stories, and the people who bought it couldn’t keep up the mortgage, so my grandfather had to take it back again. After Paul Gore Street, we moved down to Burr Street, which runs between Paul Gore and maybe, Boylston. But after my grandfather had to take the house back we moved into Oakview Terrace.
When they sold the house on the hill they went to Halifax Street. There were 3 bedrooms there and they built another bedroom for me in the attic. I had to walk through the attic to get to that room! It was over the back stairs, the back entrance to the house, and it was cold in that attic. My grandfather made home brew up there. I used to help him make it.
He was a great guy, my grandfather, I liked him! I remember that when I was about 12, I persuaded my grandmother that in the summer time I should stay at Halifax Street and take care of him and not go down the beach! He died shoveling snow. My brother found him. He was 80 years old. My brother John went to pick him up to take him down to the store and found him lying in the driveway. He smoked a pipe that smelled terrible! My grandmother made him smoke down cellar!
GG: Do you remember your clothing as a child?
KR: I remember long drawers — they went down to your ankles. And they would get all stretched out and you’d wrap them around your leg and pull your stockings up over them. Your legs were kind of lumpy. At Notre Dame Academy we had to wear uniforms.
GG: What did you do for fun?
KR: I remember so much the Jamaica Pond, it was always frozen in the winter and we used to skate a lot. And coast, you know on the corner of Perkins Street. There were hills - they called it the Pinebanks. I don’t know why more people didn’t collide! There was always snow for such a long time and the pond was frozen. I had a friend, Betty Donahue, who lived on Sheridan Street, and we’d go skating every night. We did a lot of roller skating on Paul Gore Street, where it was flat.
In Hyde Square there was a bowling alley, but I was never in there —it was for men only. We used to go to a cobbler’s shop around the corner, Bowells. And there was the Jamaica Theatre. It was right on the corner of Barbara Street and Centre Street. I remember how excited everybody was when they began to have talking movies. It cost about 15 cents. They called it Vitaphone, when they first had talking movies.
GG: Did you have a radio?
KR: I remember the first set that somebody had. I don’t know what you would call it - it was just some boards and a plate that stood up, so if you looked you could see the tubes and the wires. It was just mind-boggling that you could get some sound out of all that! Then the first real radio was a Philco. My mother was entranced with that She used to listen to her stories - they continued from day to day.
I listened to Amos and Andy, which is a no-no in this day and age, but that’s the one I remember the most. It was on every night. I don’t remember that the news was that big. My father didn’t listen to the radio — he was never home. He was always at the store. Once they got a wine and beer license at the store, they stayed open until 10 o’clock at night. He’d come home to eat in the middle of the day, around twelve o’clock, then he’d go back until 10 o’clock.
We used to go to Franklin Park a lot. And we used to go down to Winthrop to visit my father’s aunt (my grandmother’s sister.) She had one daughter, Katherine was her name. They lived on Pleasant Street and there was a boatyard there on the corner. I was amazed to see in the winter how the bay how it froze. There were big chunks of ice. At that point, there was no tunnel, and you had to get on a ferry. You’d drive to Boston, drive your car onto the ferry and it would take you across to Wascausett The first car my father bought was a Reo. The car would never start when we’d get over there. He’d be grinding his feet on the starter trying to get it going. We’d all be crammed in the car and everyone in back was blowing their horns.
And my grandfather bought a Buick, it was an open touring car. They weren’t closed when they first came out, they had these isenglass sides that you put on them in the winter. But nobody drove in the winter, because they didn’t plow the snow just got packed down and people put their cars up in the winter. In the winter they used open sleighs called “pungs” . They just traveled on top of the snow. The milk man had them and the iceman and everybody.
GG: Did you go on vacations?
KR: My grandmother bought a house at Nantasket, on Edgewater Road. You used to be able to take a boat from Boston Harbor to Nantasket. They had five boats and they were all named after old times — Myles Standish, all these colonial names. They were nice boats. It took about 45 minutes to an hour. So they were on a regular schedule, and that’s how a lot of people got to Nantasket. It’s a beautiful beach. And there was quite an amusement park there, which isn’t there any longer, Paragon Park. I used to sneak down to the roller skating rink there and skate. I went on a roller coaster once with my brother John. I got so sick — I yelled “I want to get off” and I never went on a roller coaster again!
GG: What were holidays like in your family?
KR: We always went to my grandmother’s for Thanksgiving, Christmas. Every year there would be another baby and every year my grandfather would stand at the head of the table and say “Oh, the table gets longer every year, God bless it.” It would stretch into the living room! It was just our family, and my grandmother and grandfather and my aunt. A niece of my grandfather’s who worked at LaSalle Junior College out there in Newton.
My grandmother had all the traditional food. She was a good cook. She even made ice cream. We had a big ice cream maker that you had to turn by hand out on the porch in back to keep it cold and not to worry about too much ice. You packed it with ice and salt and you had to turn it by hand and not quit. We had boiled dinner twice a week— Tuesdays and Saturdays. She had a dinner in the middle of the day, and my grandfather would come home to eat. Always fish on Fridays.
My grandmother was a great cook, but I never understood the shortening mixture she used in pie crust and everybody would say what wonderful pies she made. She dried out the fat of meat in the oven — you know cut off of meat that she was cooking in the frying pan. And then she mixed it with I guess, lard and that was what she used to make pie crust. She always made pies on Saturday mornings. She always made bread. Doughnuts, every Tuesday she made doughnuts. They were so thick you could hardly find the hole in them, they puffed up so much! She’d use fat to fry them. Wow, just think of the carbohydrates!
GG: When you went into the city, what did you do? Did you take the trolley?
KR: We took the streetcar. We used to go to Dudley Street and then go on the elevated railway into Boston. But I had a friend Betty and we walked to town! We would just stroll along — we weren’t in any hurry. We’d stop and look in all the windows along the way. We’d just go through the stores, turn around and walk back home again.
GG: Did you ever go to restaurants?
KR: No, never. I can’t ever remember being in a restaurant as a kid. I’m just astounded now when I go to restaurants and see all these little kids. And even my own family, I have 8 children. We’d go out to eat on New Year’s Eve and that’s it.
GG: Since we are talking about your family, how did you meet your husband?
KR: Oh, I met him at work. I was a secretary. I use to transcribe from the dictaphone type — He was getting $15 a week and I was getting 18! Then I got a better job in a law firm. He wanted to travel, he wanted to be a salesman, but he had to train inside to know the stock. Finally did get on the road. He had the state of Maine and he used to go all the way up to Presque Isle.
GG: So what did you do when you went out?
KR: Go to the movies. Oh and we would go to, what was that place up in Norbega Park to dance? It was a beautiful place. They had all these big name bands and couches and the dance floor was in the middle. It was the place to go. Or we’d go into town to the movies or something.
I was 23 when we got married. And then when we got married we had to live with his parents. Because his father was sick, he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was an only child and his mother said he couldn’t get married unless we lived with them. After his father died we moved to Kilgore Ave and grandma moved with us. Then gradually she went into an apartment with her sister.
GG: What do you remember about the Depression?
KR: Well, I remember how bad things were in the store. People couldn’t pay their bills. And it just seemed to go on forever.
World War II was when it ended, when every possible business was involved in the war effort. There were so many things you couldn’t buy and you had to have ration tickets for everything — for gas, for meat. Everything changed into a defense business. My husband couldn’t travel anymore because there was no gas, and then there was nothing to sell because everyone was making uniforms or whatever they needed for the war. He was called up in the draft, but they said he had some kind of a spot on his lung and they didn’t take him. So he went to work down at Fall River shipyard as a welder.
He worked the night shift from 3 to whatever. And he had a lot of trouble with his hip in later years, I think it was from lying in the bottom of those ships in the cold, all day long, hours and hours welding. But he joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary and they would patrol the docks at night because they were afraid of German subs coming in. He did that for the rest of the war.
GG: Did the store stay open through the Depression?
KR: It did, yeah. It never closed. Finally my brother sold it — I think it was the 70s. The store was open for over 60 years. At one point the government came in and took the land by eminent domain. Do you know where Bromley-Heath is? Well, that’s were the store was. And they took that — there was the store, there was an apartment above it and there was a barn out back — it was a big piece of property. They had to find another location, so they moved across Heath St, but still on Heath Street.
GG: Did your brothers fight in WWII?
KR: My brother John was in the Navy, he landed up in Brazil. My brother Bill was in the Army, he had just graduated from Boston College in time to go in and he was in New Guinea. My brother Ed was in the Navy and he was in the Philippines. Then in the Korean War, my brother Paul was in the Navy and he was on the Missouri, which is at Pearl Harbor now.
GG: Where were you on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed?
KR: I was home in Arlington and Kathleen was a baby. I remember she was lying on the kitchen floor on a quilt. Some friends of Bill’s mother and father came to visit — the Kingstons, they lived in Brookline and they came up the back stairs in the kitchen and they said “did you hear about Pearl Harbor?” And that was the day. It was shocking. You know it’s clear in my mind, I can see it now, how horrible it was - just the thought of it.
GG: What do you think has changed the most in Jamaica Plain?
KR: Well, it’s just so trendy now. And you know there just wasn’t really much on Centre Street, I don’t know why, Betty and I would walk as far as the Monument and turn around and go back. That was the height of our excitement. I was trying to remember when the library was built. The Mary Curley branch, isn’t it?
GG: Do you remember Mayor Curley? He lived in the neighborhood.
KR: Oh yeah. My grandmother moved to Halifax Street, right next to Moraine Street where he lived. I’d see the governess - his wife had died - and his two younger children, George and Francis. The governess would walk around with the two boys and a big dog, like a wolfhound. They’d all be dressed up in camel hair coats and hats.
He was a wonderful speaker. He trained his voice when he was out at Boston College. My father was a big supporter. Oh sure, we all supported Mayor Curley. And Tobin, was another figure, Maurice Tobin. They named the bridge there after him. I never met him or saw him in person, but he was quite a figure too. Boston politics.
There were so many newspapers in Boston too. You know, Newspaper Row. That building in between where the Post was — they used to call that Pi Alley. It’s where they used to throw the type out — you know the pi type. And that’s how it got its name. The Boston Transcript was there, the American, the Advertiser.
GG: Do you have anything else you want to tell us?
KR: It just was a much simpler time.
GG: Thank you very much.
By Richard Heath
In the great council house stood the wisdom and valor of the confederacy, sachems; tall and stalwart figures limbed like Grecian statues.
Francis Parkman, The Old Regime of Canada
A majestic Iroquois stands witness on the shores of Jamaica Pond. He emerges from a single shaft of granite twenty feet high. The head and torso are cut deep into the stone while the legs, wrapped in a robe, appear to be the stone itself because of the low-cut relief. His thick left hand holds his robe and the pipe of peace. The stern face is often in shadow; the head is thrown back and his hooded eyes stare into time.
This is the memorial to Francis Parkman, American historian and summertime Jamaica Plain resident. It was designed by Daniel Chester French and carved partly on site in 1906.
Francis Parkman was born on September 16, 1893 on Beacon Hill; he spent his early years at number five Bowdoin Square. Together with the historian William H. Prescott (1796-1859), Parkman introduced American letters to the field of history written in Romantic prose, based on careful research from original manuscripts and documents.
It was as a student at Harvard that Francis Parkman determined to write about the American wilderness – the struggle for power in North America between the empires of Britain and France. “Here it seemed to me,” Parkman wrote in 1886, “the forest drama was more stirring and the forest stage more thronged … the course of the American conflict between France and England [was] the history of the American forest.”
Parkman’s fascination with the American forest was also with its people, the Eastern Woodlands Indian. This led him to read James Fenimore Cooper, the earliest American writer who, in the words of Parkman biographer Mason Wade, “recognized the importance of the Indian and the forest in the development of the nation.” Parkman’s histories took the romanticism of Cooper much further: for the historian, the Indian was a political and military power that had to be understood if the conquest of North America was to be accurately written. In that titanic struggle for continental hegemony – which was a dress rehearsal for the Revolutionary War a decade later – there were three centers of power: the French, the British, and the American Indian, principally the Iroquois Confederacy.
Parkman’s first book in the seven-volume history, Pioneers of France in the New World, was published in 1865, followed two years later by The Jesuits in North America. Jesuits opens with a chapter on the first continental power, titled “Native Tribes.” It is a 47-page study of all facets of American Indian life: tribal divisions, arts, festivals, medicines, women and families, religion, government, and most importantly to Parkman, an examination of the mighty Iroquois. In its struggle with Britain, France enlisted as allies the most significant tribe in the Northeast, the Iroquois. Of all the eastern tribes, the Iroquois were the most politically and militarily organized, and therefore to Parkman, they came closest to resembling the Europeans. This introduction, opening as it does the history of the beginning of New France, recognized that the Indian was the first of the three powers for mastery of North America. The concluding volume, A Half Century of Conflict, was published in 1892, a year before Francis Parkman’s death.
Parkman spent his life on Beacon Hill; in 1865 he moved to 50 Chestnut Street, where he kept a Sioux war bonnet, war clubs, and other Indian relics from his 1848 trip to the great West. In 1852 he bought three acres on Prince Street overlooking Jamaica Pond, and on the crest of the slope he built a summer cottage nestled among trees. In 1874 he rebuilt this house in bracket farmhouse style with truncated gable, bay windows and a veranda. The entrance drive came off Prince Street, and the grounds swept down to the pond where he had a boat dock. Flanking the pathway to the pond were lush flower beds of roses and lilies that he was famous for propagating. Francis Parkman celebrated his 70th birthday at the Jamaica Pond house on September15, 1893, but less than two months later he died there on November 8, 1893. He was buried on Indian Ridge at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
In 1875 the Boston Park Commissioners, with the advice of Frederick Law Olmsted, began to plan for a great system of parks for Boston. There was no doubt that Jamaica Pond had to be preserved as a public park because of its unique natural beauty, quickly being lost to icehouses and private estates. By January 1893, 65 acres had been purchased surrounding the pond for a park. Parkman’s estate was included in the acreage, but the city would not take his house and grounds while he was still alive (Parkman was offered $24,300 for his property).
In 1894 a few months after Parkman’s death, his cottage, carriage house and greenhouse were razed and the grading begun for Parkman Drive. The shoreline below the cottage was not changed, but the boat dock was removed. The 555-foot long supporting wall for Parkman Drive was built, and by the end of 1898 the Drive itself and the footpath through the old estate grounds were complete and opened to the public.
In 1895 a committee including Charles Sprague Sargent, founder and first director of the Arnold Arboretum, and Parkman’s eldest daughter Grace Parkman Coolidge, was formed and proposed a memorial to Francis Parkman on the site of his cherished summer home. The American Architect and Building News reported in its April 13, 1896 issue that “friends of the late Mr. Parkman are raising money for a monument … nothing would be more appropriate than such a memorial erected on the very scene of his labors.” It noted that $15,000 had been raised. The committee consulted with Frederick Law Olmsted, then at the end of his great career, for advice on the site. (Olmsted preferred that public art in his parks harmonize with the landscape). The committee turned to the architect Charles McKim (who had just completed the Boston Public Library) to design the memorial, but Mc Kim thought that it was one of sculpture not architecture, and he turned to his friend and library collaborator Daniel Chester French (who had designed the bronze entrance doors to the Library). McKim and French collaborated through several false starts until 1902, when McKim withdrew from the project and French proceeded alone to design the memorial.
Born in 1850 in Exeter, New Hampshire, Daniel Chester French in 1895 was in the forefront of American sculpture, largely for the acclaim he received for the Milmore Memorial of 1893 at Forest Hills Cemetery, and for The Republic, the 65-foot statue at the Court of Honor, which he designed for the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (This is where he first met Charles McKim. French also collaborated with architects on six statuary groups for the Exposition). His first major public sculpture was the iconographic Citizen Soldier – the “Minuteman Statue” – at Concord, Mass. (1875). In 1884 his seated bronze statue of John Harvard was unveiled at Harvard Yard. When he accepted the commission for the Parkman Memorial, French was nearing completion of the John Boyle O’Reilly statue in the Back Bay Fens. Designed with the architect C. Howard Walker, it was placed in 1896 at the corner of the Fenway and Boylston Street. This was the first piece of public statuary in the Olmsted Park system. The Parkman Memorial would be the second.
The Parkman Memorial sculpture is that of an Iroquois sachem staring north across Jamaica Plain. Nothing survives to suggest that any image other than that of an American Indian was proposed to honor Parkman. Francis Parkman himself described what the proper monument should look like and no doubt his daughter Grace pointed out the words in the chapter he wrote on Indian tribes in the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851): “Some races of men seem molded in wax, soft and feeble… but the Indian is hewn out of rock. It is in the native wilds alone that the Indian must be seen and studied. Thus to depict him is the aim of the ensuing history: and if, from the shades of rock and forest, the savage features should look too grimly forth it is because of the tempestuous clouds of war.”
The basic design we see today of a standing chief set in deep relief in a single block of granite had been roughed out by French by 1901. The concept of the figure emerging literally out of living rock was a unique sculptural style for French and in American sculpture, but it seemed to be almost an intuitive idea for him as he considered the life work of Francis Parkman. Grace Parkman Coolidge approved the bronze relief of her father that French designed and cast for the base of the shaft.
In her 1947 biography of her father, Margaret French Cresson (1889-1973) wrote about the memorial: “In the center [was] a shaft twenty feet in height with a figure of an Indian cut into the stone, the upper part in the round and projecting hardly at all beyond the face of the granite. It was a rather a new idea and very effective.” (D. C. French would carve only one other monument in deep relief, the majestic Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, dedicated in 1908 and clearly inspired by the Parkman.) The original design had both a male and female figure standing in deep relief on separate slabs of stone connected by a stone lintel, but this idea was discarded by early 1905 for the single Indian. The model of this was approved in June 1905. The thirty-foot-long foundation for the memorial was dug on the same site as Parkman’s cottage. In 1906 the huge block of gray granite was quarried at Quincy and shipped to Boston to be carved by the master artisan Francesco C. Recchia (1859-1921) in his studio at 359 Boylston Street1. French did the final carving in October 1906, on site after it had been erected, and the memorial was completed on November 20, 1906.
When it was finally erected in 1906 after nine years of effort, the Parkman Memorial was the first public sculpture in Boston to portray a Native American. One has to literally walk up to within a few feet of the monument to see the relief and the name of Francis Parkman. This was certainly the intention; it is a monument more to the achievements of the man, than to the man himself.
In 1912, a second statue using the American Indian was designed by Cyrus Dallin. The Appeal to the Great Spirit, a great equestrian Indian sculpture, was set up at the entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The Parkman Memorial and Appeal to the Great Spirit remain the only two statues to the Native American in Boston to this day. But they are two different Indians: Dallin’s Plains chief astride his exhausted horse is doomed as he lifts his arms for deliverance. But the Iroquois that French carved for the Parkman Memorial is proud and defiant, exactly the way Francis Parkman portrayed the Indian in his histories.
Neglect and vandalism plagued Boston public art in the 1970s, and in 1973 the bronze relief of Francis Parkman was stolen. In September 1988 this writer asked the Henderson Foundation if it would underwrite the restoration of the monument and replace the plaque. In response, Henry Lee, chairman of the Adopt-a-Statue program, visited the Memorial with John Galvin of the Henderson Foundation and Mary Shannon, Executive Secretary of the Boston Art Commission. Funds were approved in 1989 and the granite was cleaned and repointed. Replacing the bronze plaque required skill and ingenuity. The original plaster cast of the plaque was lost, and the only reference was a single photograph in the archives at Chesterwood, the summer home and studio of D. C. French in Stockbridge, Mass. (owned and managed since 1969 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation).
The outline of the original plaque was still plainly visible on the base of the shaft and this was carefully traced. The photograph of the plaster cast was enlarged until it fit exactly the outline drawing. Using that as a reference, Addio de Bascari made a new plaster mold cast by sculptor Robert Shure. The new bronze plaque was installed on September 14, 1990. Mary Shannon guided all the work every step of the way.
The Parkman Memorial did not have a dedication ceremony. To correct that mistake, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society rededicated the Memorial on Francis Parkman’s birthday, September 16, 1990.
Note: 1. Davis Monuments, Roslindale, Massachusetts.
A direct descendant of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence and her husband start a 114-year food and liquor enterprise in Jamaica Plain.
Based on interviews with Joe and John Patterson in July 2010. All photos courtesy of the Pattersons.
By Peter O’Brien
Beginnings in Laconia, New Hampshire
John William Patterson was born in 1859 in the town (later city) of Laconia, New Hampshire, about 100 miles north of Jamaica Plain in the New Hampshire Lakes Region. Incorporated in 1855 from lands in Meredith, Lakeport, Weirs and Gilmanton it was named after an early real estate enterprise, the Laconia Company, that sold land to the original colonists. It’s now the county seat for Belknap County. The town/city saw significant industrial development in lumber, hosiery, knitting machinery, shoes, textiles and the beginnings of tourism from about 1850. Despite the burgeoning Laconia economy, John decided to head south.
Jamaica Plain gets gerrymandered
John moved to Jamaica Plain around 1880. The family does not know why he chose Jamaica Plain and he, John William, certainly had no idea that one day, according to family legend, he would win the hand of a direct descendant of one of Massachusetts’ governors who lent his name to one of America’s most famous, or perhaps infamous, political processes. It’s with mixed feelings that voters and politicians alike view “gerrymandering,” or the redistricting of a given political constituency to keep a party or individual in power. The first manipulation of a district’s boundaries by Massachusetts’ Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1811 produced an odd shape resembling a salamander, thus it was called a “gerrymander.”
It started when Governor Gerry redrew electoral boundaries around Amesbury and Haverhill to benefit his own party, thus lending his name to a process that, for better or worse, has been with us ever since. Governor Gerry not only gave us a long-lived political process, he also helped win our freedom as one of the five Massachusetts signers of the Declaration of Independence along with John Hancock, John and Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine.
In 1882 John Patterson married Governor Gerry’s direct descendant, Mary E. Gerry, who was born in Roxbury on October 10, 1861, and together they started a retail food and liquor enterprise, J.W. Patterson & Company, that prospered for 114 years in Jamaica Plain.
A modest start in the grocery business
It all began when the young Patterson couple set up their home at 104 Jamaica Street, at the corner where Jamaica Street meets itself, looping back after failing to gain access to the Arborway. Soon after moving in, the industrious young man opened a store in the cellar of 104 Jamaica Street. It was not uncommon for people to open stores in their homes, long before the need for permits, health inspections, licenses, zoning variances, public hearings, etc. You just set up your shop and stuck up a sign.
While Mary ran the store during the day, John found work as a mechanic at the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad’s Readville Car Shops. In the evenings, he would be on duty in the store.
The business grows
The small cellar store soon needed more room so, in 1890, the couple opened a more substantial store a short distance away at 23 Jamaica Street, at the corner of Woodman Street. Soon after the store was opened, the family moved their residence to 35 Woodman Street, next door to the store. Note the staff of five people in the photograph of this store. For a neighborhood corner market that’s unheard of today but back then, service was paramount and help was needed to provide it.
It’s thought that John became a full-time grocer at about this time. He also obtained a liquor license and actually bottled his own whiskey in “guaranteed/registered full half-pint” bottles under a John W. Patterson label. Eighty years later, empty Patterson whisky bottles would be found in the rafters of the St. Thomas Aquinas grammar school during its demolition. The school was just a short walk from the market at Jamaica Street and during construction the workmen no doubt needed a little something to warmup or cooldown, whichever the need at the time. Long after the Pattersons moved on, the Jamaica/Woodman Street store remained in operation under the Pappas family’s ownership.
In 1908 the Pattersons left 35 Woodman Street and moved to 15 Custer Street. The eight Patterson children were put to work in the market. In those days, before telephones were in every household, they went door-to-door soliciting food orders which would be delivered by horse and wagon. The eight children (five boys and three girls) in descending order were: John W. (Jr.) (who was a clerk in the family market), Matthew G. (who became a Realtor at 707 Centre Street from 1910-1948), Edward J. (who worked for Schenley’s liquor distributors), Joseph A. (operator of the market and whose sons, Joe and John, were the last operators of J. W. Patterson’s liquor store), Frederick (who worked at Boston Gas Company), May (a single lady whose long working career was in the market and liquor store), Alice (who worked at Grove Hall Bank), and Marguerite (who married Dr. J. Ignatius Shea, a dentist upstairs at 707 Centre Street).
In 1905, by now a full-fledged and very successful grocer, John W. Patterson joined the Boston Wholesale Grocers Association. He would later become President of the Association and he remained active in it for many years.
In 1906 John bought the land at 128 - 136 South Street lying between McBride and Boynton Streets, from the owner, Eliza J. Henderson. The parcel is shown on the 1905 City of Boston Street map. The site was formerly the long-time location of a carriage shop that had burned down. Early proprietors of the carriage shop were Blackburn & Henderson. Later records show a Peter Henderson of 31 Orchard Street, as a carriage builder at the site.
John saw the potential of the property, opposite the Boston Elevated Railway’s Car Barns, with multi-family houses being built all along South Street and its many intersecting side streets, and a streetcar line connecting Forest Hills all the way to Dudley Street. He built a block of stores on the site with eight garages in the rear. Initially used for storage, the garages were later rented out to neighbors. In 1912, almost immediately when it became available, Bob Ristuccia, the Pattersons’ first tenant, leased 128 South Street, the end unit nearest McBride Street. Ristuccia started Bob’s Spa there and it stayed in the Ristuccia family for 90 years before being sold in 2001 to the Fernandez family who presently operate the store as Fernandez Spa. The Ristuccia’s long term rental arrangement with the Pattersons aptly reflects the solid business and personal relationship between the two families.
That same year, 1912, saw John Patterson opening his own store in the remaining space at the corner of Boynton Street. The pictures of the interior of the new store show a fully staffed and stocked store typical of the full-service markets of the era. They maintained a fleet of two trucks delivering food orders throughout the area.
May 10, 1912 marked the passing of John’s wife, Mary, whose obituary reported her to be one of the best known women in Jamaica Plain. Her funeral at St. Thomas’ was one of the largest ever seen in Jamaica Plain with over one thousand people attending.
As his business grew, John’s reputation as a businessman grew too. In 1914 he became a Director and the first Treasurer of the Forest Hills Cooperative Bank. He remained actively connected with the bank for many years.
1920 saw the implementation of Prohibition, a failed public policy whose benefits were greatly outweighed by the violations of the enabling statute. John lost his liquor stock and a significant portion of his retail business. Beer and wine were regularly consumed by the many European immigrant families who were moving into all of Jamaica Plain’s neighborhoods, and J. W. Patterson & Company had met that need for many of them. Prohibition also took down the Coffee Tree Inn, around the corner on McBride Street, undoubtedly a Patterson’s food customer also. However, there was an upside for a few entrepreneurs as local enforcement of the Prohibition statute produced several speakeasies on and near McBride Street, including one at the location of what many years later would become Woody’s Variety Store.
Expanding to Roslindale
In 1926 John bought land at Poplar and Washington Streets in Roslindale Square and opened a market at 4256 Washington Street. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 he obtained a liquor license for a retail liquor store called J. W. Patterson and Sons at 4268 Washington Street, a few doors away and next to the Pearl Shoe Repair shop. Patterson’s Market, at 4256 Washington, later became a Co-op Food Store.
Louis W. Pearl, the cobbler next to the liquor store, lived at 219 South Street, Jamaica Plain, in a building known as the Bride’s Block located opposite Fordham Court, just before the Arborway crosses South Street. We can find no reference to the Bride’s Block and don’t know why it’s so-named but it’s thought that many newlyweds lived there when it was first built. Louis Pearl’s father, J.M. Pearl, had also operated a shoe repair shop at 62 South Street in a store later occupied by Valenzola’s barber shop. Long after Mr. Pearl had gone, Sam Klass opened a shoe repair shop next door at 66 South Street.
John’s growing family helped with the various businesses as they flourished in the fast-growing south end of Jamaica Plain and the Roslindale Square area. The work was hard and hours long but the rewards included steady employment for all and a lovely summer home at Nantasket, which the family enjoyed for many years.
Death comes too early
In 1928, a heart attack took the hardworking businessman at just 69 years. His life was his family and the family business and his devotion to both provided livelihoods for many during the tough years of the Depression and World War II. He was buried in a family plot at Old Calvary Cemetery. His perseverance and solid business practices had put in motion a food and liquor enterprise that eventually ran for 114 years.
John and his wife Mary were memorialized in 1929 with a beautiful stained glass window depicting The Holy Family in St. Thomas Aquinas Church. The window is on the St. Joseph Street side of the church but the Patterson name has been removed. Two chalices were also donated that year to St. Thomas’ pastor, Msgr. Roche, in John W. Patterson’s name.
Another stained glass window, dedicated to their oldest son, John W. Patterson, Jr., who died very young, is located on the Jamaica Street side of the church and remains there today.
Joseph and May Patterson take over
After his death, John’s son Joseph and his daughter May took over the store and ran it from 1928 to 1945. During this time the Head Cashier was Mamie English of Jamaica Street. The store managed to survive the Great Depression and later, World War Two with its rationing, which, like Prohibition, spawned a “black market” of rationed foods and other goods. They extended credit to local families who faithfully settled their accounts, more or less on time. State law prohibited extending credit for liquor so that remained a strictly cash-only operation. Their two trucks were kept busy, when they could get scarce gasoline, delivering food orders throughout the southern part of Jamaica Plain.
A word about rationing during the war. It worked like this: families applied for and received Ration Books for each family member. Each book contained stamps to be redeemed for rationed items like meat, coffee, butter, sugar, shoes, etc. The intent was to fairly distribute the limited stocks of such items. Although the stamps had no cash value, there were tokens, small fiber coins, issued as “change” for fractional stamp purchases of rationed items. Gasoline was also rationed on the basis of one’s priority in the war effort. An “A” windshield stamp on the car got the owner 4 gallons per week while a person with a higher priority job, say in defense work, had a “B” windshield stamp and got 8 gallons. “C” was for Doctors, Ministers, mailmen, and others who were allowed even more, “T” for truckers and of course “X” for members of Congress. There was a 35 mph speed limit to conserve rubber. All whiskey production stopped in 1944 and throughout the war 30% of all cigarettes went to the military. The rationing rules grew more complicated as the war wore on, so for most, it was a great relief when almost all rationing ended in August 1945. Throughout the war, abuses of the rationing system were widespread.
The third generation
In 1930 Joseph Patterson married Mary J. Costello of 290 South Street. Their four children, Joseph, John, Matthew and Anne all attended St. Thomas’ grammar and high schools.
When business was somewhat slow at the market during the war, Joseph took a job as a shipfitter at Bethlehem Steel’s Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, leaving May in charge of the market and liquor store. Among others, Joseph worked on the second USS Wasp carrier. May never married and lived nearly her entire life on Dunster Road. She later moved to St. Patrick’s Manor in Framingham and died there at age 104. Alice occasionally helped out at the store as her time allowed.
In 1945, as the war ended, the market was leased to Tom Burke of Quincy for a few years. Burke renamed the store “Arborway Market” as it was known from then on. Then, Tom Bohan, Jim McDevitt and then the Kelliher Brothers ran it, and finally Donald Fennel managed it until 1981 when it closed forever. The 1953 construction of the housing project at the old Car Barns site across the street had significantly boosted both grocery and liquor sales, but the purchasing power of the large chain stores was too much for a corner market to overcome. Thus ended, after nearly 100 years, one of the longest runs of retail food businesses in Jamaica Plain and perhaps Boston, with the exception of the famous S.S. Pierce Company that ran for about 141 years.
With the market leased out, Joseph took a job at the Massachusetts blood center, later run by the American Red Cross, which was then located at Bussey Institute on South Street. When the Red Cross moved to Dedham, he took a job as a campus Police Officer at Boston University. He died in 1958 at 60 years, while his wife Mary passed in 1999 at 93 years.
During their school years, from 1946-51, Joseph’s sons Joe and John began their retail business careers by operating the lucrative Sunday newspaper stands at the side and front entrances to St. Thomas Aquinas church, where the crowded Masses every Sunday generated sales of hundreds of papers. Paul Lennon operated a fourth stand, just outside the Rectory. These stands were never sold, just passed on to new operators with never a dispute or turf war among the owners, nor an attempt to consolidate the operations. The nearby Farrell’s Drugstore didn’t sell papers so the four sidewalk stands did very well. James Kearney took over from the Pattersons in 1952.
About 1954, Joe and John, having completed military service in the Navy and Marines respectively, worked at Patterson’s Liquor Store, which was then a separate entity located between Bob’s Spa and the renamed Arborway Market. Joe had been on the plane catapult crew aboard the newer USS Wasp and John was in the Marine Honor Guard in Washington, D.C. John had the distinct honor of participating in the dedication of the famous Iwo Jima Marine Memorial.
Joe married Jean O’Hara of South Street. Jean’s mother, May Mudge, had been Miss Boston of 1926. John Married Anne Logue, also a St. Thomas graduate.
The brothers recall that they once were nearly arrested as teenagers out delivering orders in one of the trucks driven by their Uncle Fred, when a concerned local resident called the cops to report them riding the running boards! They also recalled the popular beverages during their time were Four Roses, Seagrams, Ballantine, Pickwick and Croft Ales. And, probably unique to liquor stores anywhere on this planet, one could buy a Mass Card issued by Don Bosco High School at Patterson’s Liquor Store. It was certainly not a reflection on the health implications of the products sold there; it was simply that one of the brother’s kids went to Don Bosco High.
In 1979, May Patterson turned the liquor store operation over to Joe and John. And in 1981, when the market became vacant and with not a clue of operating experience, and after a long wait for a natural gas connection, the brothers opened an unattended Laundromat in the former Arborway Market next door. They were able to monitor operations in the Laundromat from the liquor store and had many unusual events unfold there. For example, once they looked in and saw about 20 young kids standing around in their underwear. They questioned the two young women in charge and they said they had been on an outing at Lars Anderson Park and got caught in a downpour, and they didn’t want to bring the kids home in wet clothes! Another time, Joe found a young neighborhood boy out in the garages behind the store and during their chat the youngster proudly proclaimed “we got bedbugs!”
With the large population of apartment dwellers across the street, and fewer restrictions about water usage and discharge, the Laundromat business took off and soon an attendant was hired for the weekends. The Laundromat is still running. The brothers worked in the liquor store until retiring in 1996, thereafter working alternate days at the Laundromat until it was sold.
The Patterson era ends
Finally, in 2004, the Patterson family sold the South Street retail property they had owned since 1906 to the Fernandez family who was the tenant operating the old Bob’s Spa store.
The continuous run of over 114 years operating food and liquor stores and a Laundromat, along with the exposure to so many customers, has established Patterson’s reputation and historical significance in Jamaica Plain, and being run by descendants of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence is a distinct honor unlikely to be matched by any other Jamaica Plain enterprise.
Higher resolution of photographs shown in this article may be viewed in the gallery.
By Walter H. Marx
In January of 1990, I wrote about the person for whom one of our area’s full-named streets is called – John A. Andrew in the Sumner Hill district. Jamaica Plain has one other such street, in the Hyde Square district – Paul Gore. The search for the former is relatively easy in a library. The latter demands a trip to Gore Place, the museum home of a distant cousin, Governor Christopher Gore, on the Watertown/Waltham line. Gore was the fifth governor of Massachusetts.
The common ancestor was John Gore, who came to Roxbury in 1635 with Paul descended from John’s son of the same name and the Governor from John’s younger son, Samuel. The Gores prospered and early appear as selectmen in the Town of Roxbury. Their homestead (see picture from Drake’s “Town of Roxbury”) stood by Stony Brook (before it was put into a culvert) and Tremont Street near the old Roxbury Crossing. A piece of the estate was later sliced off when the railroad to Providence was built.
The homestead, however, continued to stand until 1876 and was inhabited by the Gores, until the land was sold and cut up – a prize location in a Roxbury that was rapidly becoming industrialized. The present Gore Street, running parallel to Tremont Street on the west side into Parker Street, still commemorates the ancient Roxbury family and is probably the reason why the municipal government ordered Paul added to the Gore Street in Jamaica Plain to prevent confusion.
John’s descendants stayed in the Boston area, while Samuel’s spread all over the Union. The first Paul Gore (1725-71) was the first of his name to come into possession of a large estate in Jamaica Plain that was to be in the family’s possession for over a century. First purchased in 1743, it was in the vicinity of the present Lamartine and Paul Gore Streets, bordering on the Wyman farm of 60 acres off Centre Street (hence Wyman Street).
The Gore estate in 1743 was described as a tract of land with a house, shop and barn containing by estimate five acres, and it bordered on Centre Street and Stony Brook. The ancient house stood first in a corner of the lot and was afterwards moved to the spot where it stood for most of its life.
Thus the estate was a sizeable tract, and sometime after the death of Mrs. Paul Gore in 1789 an inventory of her husband’s estate was made on May 28, mentioning, “the mansion house, barn and about five acres of land” with an additional “seven acres of pasture land near Jamaica Pond.” An inventory of Mrs. Gore’s personal estate survives from the same date to indicate her comfortable living circumstances.
At this point, the son of the same name (1767-1853) was appointed administrator of the estate and sold to the Curtis family, that ancient and vast landowning family of Jamaica Plain, the seven-acre tract – a part of which is the present Gormley’s Funeral Home. The second Paul Gore took over the five-acre tract and lived the longest of his family on the estate – which finally caused his name to be applied to the thoroughfare that was laid out across the old place in 1882 after it had been sold and cut up into lots after Paul’s unmarried daughter, and her married sister, Louisa Gore Woodman, and her children died by 1880.
September 6, 1990
Jamaica Plain, MA
In the summer of 1945 I was six years old and my brother David had just turned five. Our house at 73 Sheridan St. Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts was a big two family grey clapboard set back 25 feet from the street, angled up and back with large rectangular shrubs towards the front and sides. In the rear of the house was a small victory garden with a wood pile and small chicken coop that contained some very sharp beaked chickens. World War Two had been raging on since just after I was born. My father Joe, was not in the war. He was exempt because of his age (39) and his having to support two small children and a wife. He was not home often as he worked operating a crane at the Boston Army base in South Boston and put in many hours of overtime in those last years of World War Two. My mother Betty was at home doing duty as a housewife.
I knew about the war as my father had let my brother and I go to our first movie down the hill at the Jamaica theater. We saw Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, We saw the movie one and a half times. Dad told us not to come home until the movie ended. In those days the movies were continuous and so we just sat there until my father appeared along with the usher and his blazing flash light.
My sister Marilyn was born early the next year. My mother had a brother, Larry Towler from Holbrook St. who was in the Navy and stationed at Corpus Christy Texas as an instructor for the past three years. My brother and I would always look forward to my mother receiving a letter from Uncle Larry. He had previously sent my brother and I a picture of two horses that he was riding in Texas and when the war was over he was going to bring them back to us and they were to be ours. One was a beautiful silver stallion and the other a brown and white. In every one of his letters he would tell us all about the riding he had done and the adventures he was having in far away Texas. “TEXAS” a name that would conjure up wild west images gleaned from a diet of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I remember Gene and Roy and so many others riding the airwaves of our faithful Philco. David and I figured we could keep the horses in the back yard along with the chickens.
I remember the hot August day of 1945 that was to become known as VJ day. It’s been a long time now but I can still picture a sunny day with deep blue skies and high flying cumulus clouds, a tree lined street that led down the hill to the square. The fire station siren was wailing and all of the church bells were ringing. People were running from their houses and into the streets shaking hands and hugging each other My mother came running out with my brother in tow yelling with excitement that the war was finally over and the boys would soon be coming home.
I also knew that my uncle Larry would soon be home with those two beautiful Texas horses. It was a bitter truth when Uncle Larry came home without the horses. That was the point in my life that I became a skeptic. While he could never replace the fine stallions he did smooth things over with a large wooden model of a B-29 bomber for me and a fighter plane for my brother. His excuse was they would not let him bring the stallions home on the train. Years later while at a flea market I saw the very same picture of “my” stallions. Only this time a caption on the bottom read Silver and Scout. They are all gone now with the exception of me, and 66 years later It still brings a smile when I think of those wonderful people and those times.
Photograph courtesy of Peter Rolla
After her husband's early death in 1843, Mrs. Cleveland relinquished her share in Pinebank to Edward upon his marriage. By 1848 he had torn down Pinebank I to build a French-style mansion with mansard roof, which Sarah termed not to her liking. She described the first home's demolition to Charles, in Europe, and 20 years later, recorded the burning of Pinebank II due to a chimney fire on February 10, 1868.
Two years later, Edward built the Pinebank (number three) that we know today. Sarah termed its 11,000 white molded bricks from England "the 11,000 Virgins of St. Ursula" and gave her avid stamp of approval. She made her observation from her home, Nutwood, built in 1866 on the ridge opposite Pinebank on the tongue of high land on the Pond's north shore next to the Quincy Shaw's. This land she shared with Charles, now home from studies in Europe, in a house called Oakwood, approached by the now leaf-covered stairway at Perkins and Chestnut Streets.
Both sides of Chestnut Street on the Boston side were Perkins land until the area on the Ward's Pond side was sold to the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Company-to become parkland in the 1890's. Oakwood and Nutwood stood until the early 1970's when they became part of the Cabot Estate Condominiums and (unlike the Shaw House) were demolished.
As an art historian and author, Charles became the best-known Perkins of his generation. The former school on St. Botolph Street was named for him. Graduating from Harvard in 1843, he studied art in Italy and France, before turning to music. Some of his works survive. He specialized in Renaissance Art, and several books that he authored became basic texts in the field. Like his neighbors, he made time for civic causes like the Boston Art Club, the Boston School Board (1870-83), the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Handel & Hayden Society. Charles gave the Beethoven statue that today graces the New England Conservatory, and pushed for music and art training in American schools. He also lectured before the Lowell Institute.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Charles Perkins' life ended tragically in August 1886, when he was thrown from a carriage and instantly killed. His son Charles, Jr., an architect, took over Oakwood and lived out his life there. Though the Cleveland's had children, like the Shaw's, they were gone from the Pond by 1920.
Into Nutwood moved Charles Moorfield Storey and his wife Susan. Son of eminent jurist and author, Moorfield Storey of Roxbury (1845-1929), Charles graduated from Harvard in 1912, and had garnered a law degree by 1915. He entered a Boston law firm, but was in Washington on government business during World War I. A hater of political corruption like his father and endowed with a keen sense of public duty like his neighbors, Storey soon was on boards that watched over Boston City Hall. He was active in academic institutions and various societies, while also sitting on the boards of various companies.
Storey is remembered for his political collision with Governor Curley, who in 1935 removed Storey from the watchdog Finance Commission on a trumped-up charge to make room for a gubernatorial crony. Storey, a tall, slim man with a high sense of public duty, took it all in stride. The Governor's Council later passed a resolution proclaiming belief in Storey's integrity. He served the Commission again from 1939 to 1942.
Storey worked for the government once more in World War II and lost a son in action. The family regretfully moved out of 229 Perkins Street in 1974 and six years later Charles Storey died in Brookline at age 91. His recipe for longevity was walking three miles a day, eating fish, and being happy, satisfied, and interested in what one does. His Nutwood lives on in exterior and interior photographs preserved in various places in the City.
Sources: Dictionary of American Biography; National Cyclopedia of American Biography; Obituary, Boston Globe, March 20, 1980; C. Everitt, The Tavern at 100, 1984; Cabot, Skating on Jamaica Pond; S.P. Shaw, grandson.
Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the November 6, 1992 Jamaica Plain Gazette.
Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
“THE OLD HOUSE.”
Mrs. John W. Emmons. 123 Summer St. Hingham Mass.
It still stands, stately and serene. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “serene,” because it really isn’t any more. A busy street in front of it and houses now crowding it on three sides, no, it isn’t serene any more. When my Grandfather built it in 1841 it stood in the middle of many acres of orchards and fields. Today it still has a large lawn and a private road on two sides, still imposing, and one knows if “The Old House” could talk it would tell a lovely story of “Peace, Tranquility, and a large Happy Family,” living a life of which my generation (a granddaughter), and my children, have never had nor will, unfortunately, ever know. As “The Old House” has to be inarticulate I shall try to talk for it and tell you some of the “old Stories” My Mother and Aunts told to me of the house and the happy family that lived there so long.
It has known only two families in the one hundred and nine years. As I told you my Grandfather built it, it was inherited by his four daughters. My Mother and her three sisters. An Aunt married and moved to another part of the town, my Mother married and moved across the street. The two unmarried Aunts lived there until one was left alone, then she went to live with the other married sister. I remember being told how delighted the Sisters were when a dear old friend of theirs wished to buy the old home. It meant their association with their old home would not be severed; they could visit it as often as they wished. It was and is today as dear to their friend’s heart as to theirs. It also meant that it would be kept up, always, as it was in their day. The friend had many happy years there and now her daughter has kept on the tradition. My children and I are free to visit there and as certain of as hearty a welcome as in my Grandmother’s day. It is still a beautiful and stately landmark. Built similarly to the “Old Manse” in Concord, it is soft grey, two floors and of course “the attic.” There are three piazzas, the front one covered in Spring by a beautiful and unusually thick wisteria vine – the side piazza covering is Concord grape, the real old “Concord Grape,” so very fragrant. The back piazza is directly opposite the front door so that in Spring and Summer when the double doors are open one can look directly through the long stately hall. Around the front and side piazzas, in the Spring, I remember just one kind of flower (Fleur-de-lis), many clumps of them, not a rarity, but these have always seemed so to me, because I have never seen the same exact shade, nor smelt the same subtle perfume they had. It was as sweet as honey-suckle. (I know whereof I speak, for I have today a clump of these same “Fleur-de-lis” in my garden and friends exclaim over their color and perfume. Of many varieties it is the only one with any tangible perfume.) Around the back piazza were literally thousands of “Lillies of the Valley” and the perennial, odorless purple violets, both of which my playmates as well as myself could pick to our heart’s content. So much for the “outside” of “The Old House,” but one more thing I just couldn’t forget to tell you of are the two tin roofs over the front and side piazzas and how at the age of three onwards I have always loved the sound of rain on a tin roof. Often I went to sleep to its accompaniment on nights my parents went out and I was put to bed at the Aunts’ across the street. There is a story I shall tell you later on about “The Tin Roof,” so remember!
Now I want to tell you about the inside of this beautiful old home. I visit there today and it is scarcely changed. The old “what-not” that stood in the big hall is gone. But I remember all the shells, coral and many other interesting things that were on it, brought home by my Grandparents in their travels as well as “Sea-faring” ancestors. The old Spinet is gone and of course today, a Baby Grand with its classical sheets on the rack, but I still remember the old Spinet with the Hymn Book and another book with the old songs that on Sunday evenings were sung by my parents and Aunts. My Mother and one Aunt must have had good voices as they were always singing leading parts in Civic Operettas. The beautiful mid-victorian sofas and chairs grace the parlor (today upholstered in rich red velvet). Over the marble mantle is a very large ornate gilt mirror, also in the centre of the room a large crystal chandelier, both of which are “Collector’s items,” that my Grandfather picked up at a private auction.
As I said, when you enter the front door the wide hall goes through to the double doors at the back and it was in this hall that my Mother and the Aunts used to have their parties, small dances, and put on their “Louisa May Alcott” plays. Also where one Aunt used to conduct a “Small Select Dancing Class for Juveniles.” Off the long hall, to the left was “the parlor” with its lovely bay, where I’ve been told the large Christmas tree always stood. I have heard so much of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and all the parties, that I have only to close my eyes and I see so Plainly the “Big Family” clustered around the Spinet and the tree, opening presents, singing Carols and then of course dashing out to try the new skates and sleds. (Plenty of snow always in those days.)
A lovely brook ran nearby, that too is “another story.” The sitting-room was on the right of [the] front door, as you entered, and also another door at the left entering from the side door. On entering the side door your first view is looking through a lovely arch-way into the big hall. The winding stair-case curved, with its beautiful mahogany railing. (Another Collector’s item I am sure; it’s as lovely as any I have ever seen.) At the bend in the stairs, at the curve near the top there is a small arched niche. During my Mother’s day and my childhood it held a medium sized white plaster figure of a small “Boy-Angel” called “Little Samuel;” whether that was actually the name or a name that was given to it by the Sisters (my Mother and Aunts), I do not know. It was gone before the present owner’s day. Now remember about “the stair-case” I have just spoken of for that is still “another story.” The dining-room is large with a conservatory window, always in my remembrance and today filled with beautiful plants on its many shelves. The mid-victorian black walnut sideboard still graces one wall and the lovely old table, substantial, as well as the chairs for a growing active family. The big kitchen of course with its side oven and the worn floor boards scrubbed to light by many hands and feet.
Upstairs, on the first landing to left and right are the two large bed rooms. The front one my Grandparents, the other side the oldest of the daughters. Then you go up four steps to [the] next landing and find yourself in the “sewing-room.” Leading from that are two small bed-rooms, and the large bathroom. Also a very large closet with a window. Remember about “the big closet and the four steps down to the second floor landing” for these are still more stories.
When my Mother and Aunts dismantled “The Old House” for their friend to move into, the attic must have been priceless, all the old boxes, trunks, clothes etc. and had I been older and wise as I am today or been more interested I am sure I could have salvaged plenty for myself and children to come but at that time I was too busy having a good time to give much thought to the future, and didn’t realize or care how the treasures were disposed of. Some of course were kept and I have them today, treasuring them and think if [I] had only been interested then in antiques as I ultimately became how much I would and could have saved.
At the end of the house were two small bed-rooms (going down of course the inevitable few steps to that level), three this time. One a store room and the other the “hired-girl’s” room. Now I hope I have given you a pretty clear picture of the inside of this lovely old home. The large downstairs with its small and large halls, the parlor, sitting-room, dining room and kitchen, with upstairs the large bed-rooms, two small bed-rooms, and the other two rooms in the ell. I repeat all this because some of the stories I have promised to tell you will take place “within” and a few “without.” In my next chapter I shall tell you a bit about my childhood and some of the things I remember as well as some of the stories that have been told to me.
As I have said before when my Mother and Aunts were children and until after two of them were married the “Old House” stood alone in the middle of its fields and orchards. But about the time I was born my Grandfather had begun to sell some of his land and houses began to crowd in a bit, until today, while the house still stands on a large plot by itself, it is surrounded by houses on three sides. However they were built well in those days and in almost every instance, were occupied by friends of the family, so all through my childhood, not only the children, my playmates, but the parents were like one large family and neither had to go far afield for social activities. When our ‘teens’ came we began to drift apart as each went separate ways to boarding-schools, and different “Summer Resorts.” Some of us moved too to different cities; but no matter how far apart we are today I am certain we all look back on those days as the most care-free and happiest times of our lives and wish most sincerely that our children could have had the same. Those days, of course, there were no automobiles and we were allowed freedom that the children today can never know. I remember the steep steep hill and the boys’ long narrow double-runners that ten or twelve of us would pile on when the hill was covered with snow (and we did have “Snow” then), the ponds too were always frozen for skating. So frozen we never had to be cautioned, and when coasting the most that could happen would be a spill into a horse drawn pung, going of course at a snail’s pace, no hurry in those days. Saturdays were days for “Pung-rides;” sometimes way up in the country, at least we thought so, I suppose an automobile could do it in five or ten minutes today. Then home to someone’s house for “crackers and cocoa.” Later we graduated to “Heart and Fudge” parties. Dancing School of course. Sundays, always Sunday School. We never questioned about going, to us it was just more school. Some of my happiest recollections are the parties in the Church parlors and the Fairs and Plays. Easter too when we always returned home with a pretty red geranium. Halloween was still another time for fun; all the children, young and even very young went out in the evening dashing here and there, no automobiles for parents to worry about. One of my first remembrances was, after school, to go into my Aunt’s kitchen (the Big House) taking all the neighborhood children. Their German cook Sophie would give us all the Ginger cookies our mittened hands could hold and some delicious strange kind of cheese she used to make. I was a sort of “Queen-of-the-May” and loved it, as I was the only one that had access to “The Big House” so was very popular and why not, when my Aunts made life very lovely for us and each Saturday planned games and plays in the “long-hall.” By now I had moved, with my parents, across the street to one of the nearby houses. My two maiden Aunts lived alone, and one of them should have had lots of children she loved them so, and was always planning something for their entertainment. I was the only child in an adult family so quite naturally spoiled. I was far from beautiful but suspect my Aunt didn’t think so for I always was given “the lead” in the plays, witness “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Sometimes the parents were invited and I suspect, going home, they said “how much better Mary-Jane” or “Susie” could have done, but “WHAT WOULD YOU EXPECT?” I regret to think that it was at this time that the aforementioned “attic” must have come into its own for I remember all kinds of fancy costumes, fans, hats with plumes and numerous other regalia. How my children would have loved them – it I hadn’t been too busy myself when “the attic” was dismantled. I was a long way from being married then, so expect my Mother and Aunts never thought of asking me and if they had I would probably have said “Heavens No.”
A good deal of the time I was a lonely child, especially Sundays and Holidays when I was the only young person at “Family Gatherings.” However a few things do stand out in my memory of “good times and changes.” Every Summer I went with my parents to the sea-shore, and there I made new friends that have become older and dearer each year; never forgetting however my Winter playmates. On Saturday nights during Fall, Winter and Spring we used to go across the street to my Aunts for Saturday night supper. For some reason it was not the proverbial “New England Supper” of “Beans and Brown-Bread” it was always Sophie’s Scalloped Oysters, warm biscuits, apple pie and “cambric tea for me.” Baked Beans and Brown Bread and always Fish Balls were served Sunday for breakfast. On alternate Sunday noons we went to my other Aunts and to my Grandmother’s. At one always Boiled Mutton with Caper Sauce, the other Roast Duck and apple sauce. I must have been a real little “trencherman” remembering all these good things to eat, but never since have any of the same tasted quite so good. Perhaps it was because the same family, so to speak, cooked them as my Aunt had Sophie’s sister in her kitchen and my Grandmother a cousin. My Aunts, across the street, were frequently “Sitters” when my parents went to parties or to their Whist Club. Then I would be put to bed in one of the rooms that had the tin roof outside; if it rained I probably loved it, for I do today. Of course then I would be there for the nice Sunday breakfast, which I told you about. In my life, it has not been “What Mother used to make,” but “What Sophie used to make.” Cooks have come and gone but never one to match Sophie. She lived with my Grandmother and Aunts for twenty-five years, as dear to all of us as any relative and when my Aunts augmented her savings and helped her go back to Germany, with her Sister, she was sorely missed. A good and faithful friend and servant.
My two Aunts lived by and for “The Boston Evening Transcript.” I am glad that neither were living when the final edition was left on the door-step. I’m sure life would have stopped for them then; one of them particularly. This Aunt always kept a small pair of blunt scissors, on the end of a ribbon, handy on her desk and just the minute the Transcript came she put them around her neck (to cut out any clippings she might fancy). I remember, for years, a hat box in her room full of these clippings. Another item, if salvaged, that might be priceless today. They were all worth while of course and educational as the dear old “Transcript” would print nothing else. When my Aunt was a young girl she went around Cape Horn on a sailing vessel, to visit friends (Missionaries) in Honolulu. In those days it was never spoken of as “Honolulu” as it is today, it was always “Hawaiian Islands.” I have told you of the conservatory window in the dining-room. Another one of my recollections as a little girl, and a big girl too, was the great excitement when neighbors and ourselves were summoned to “Come this evening to see the “Night-Blooming Cereus” open and close. One that my Aunt had brought back and cherished as much as a “baby.” Proud too because it was a cousin of my Grandmother’s that first introduced the “Night Blooming Cereus” to the “Islands.” From the time of my Aunt’s return, to the present day, a steady correspondence has been kept up between her friends in those days (the Missionaries), and today, my friends, the descendants (daughters and granddaughters). Friendship furthered also by visits back and forth. Whenever a letter came from “The Islands” there was a gathering of “the clan” and after some rehearsal of the script, my Aunt would read the letter to her Sisters, Mother and friends. I can see today the very thin onion skin paper written and re-written across the pages, for in those days postage was high & paper scarce. The letters from so far (to those of us that had never been there) were as exciting as if “Dropped from Mars.” A conversation stands out in my memory between my Mother and Aunts at the termination of one of these letters. I had, of course, heard a great deal of “War” talk as the “Civil War” was still so fresh in my Grandparents’ minds. I remember my oldest Aunt telling me that she remembered seeing a lot of tents near the house (when she was a little girl), and asking her Father about them and his telling her “It was a ‘Union Army Encampment.’” “Little Pitchers had big ears” now as then, and I must have thought a good deal about this conversation, to have remembered it so vividly after so many years. Of course the recent “War” brought it back to me. It is “history Repeating Itself” because not long ago my seven year old Grandson said to me, “Nana I hope there won’t be another War because if there was Lane and I would have to go wouldn’t we, and maybe come back like Uncle Charlie with only one leg?” So – that at seven. Don’t tell me that the children today don’t think and worry. I pray he may never have to remember this conversation with me – as I remembered the other one. I have digressed a bit, but this is the conversation that I remember. My Aunt turned to her Sisters, after finishing this letter I speak of, and said “You must mark my word, some day there is going to be trouble between Japan and the United States, Japan wants those “Islands.” I do not remember what was in the letter, to occasion her remark. Most probably there had been other remarks, in previous letters, to occasion the comment. She finished with “I probably won’t live to see it, but “MARK MY WORDS.” How right she was and how glad I am that she didn’t live to see her dear “Islands” violated. Now the following is my last and final chapter and in it I am going to tell you the stories I have promised you.
One of the first stories my Mother used to tell me was of their “Valentine” exploits, and today my Grandchildren beg for “The Valentine Story.” Please Nana! It seems there was a neighbor (when my Mother and her Sisters were small) a very gruff disagreeable man, heartily disliked by all, even his own family. One very cold Valentine night the “Girls” took white chalk and chalked a big white envelope on Mr. Moore’s threshold; knocked on the door and then scooted down in back of the piazza. Mr. Moore came to the door and tried to pick up the envelope, of course without success. They thought it the joke they meant it to be until Mr. Moore said, “Sarah, bring me a lamp!” Then, “Sarah, bring me my hat and coat!” That was different and not funny, they knew he knew just where to go to find the culprits. So off they streaked it over the fields, thinking they’d never reach home first, the snow was heavy and crusty and every step their rubber-boots would almost come off. But they did arrive first and up the back stairs without being seen and into the big closet (I told you about, remember?). Pretty soon there was a knock on the door. “Mrs. Dickson your children have chalked up my threshold and tomorrow morning they can bring cloths and wash up their little prank; if they don’t I’ll have the police see they do.” Of course “she was sorry and would see that they took care of it,” so off they had to go next morning with wet and dry cloths and scrub the door-step. Mr. Moore did not appear, but ever afterwards, when they saw him coming they would cross to the other side of the street. The next story (and I might add here that all the stories my Grandchildren so delight in that they are told over and over for “Good-night stories” whenever they visit me). I tell them all but “The Burglar Story.” None of them have reached the age for that one yet.
This one is about “The Brook.” It ran across the nearest meadow and had a small rustic bridge over the widest part. It was not dangerously deep and a source of delight for paddling in the Summer and skating in the Winter. In early Spring or late Winter one year; anyway there was still a thin coating of ice in the brook, my Grandmother had made an appointment to take her three little girls to the Photographers. So, on a Saturday afternoon, after dinner, they were all scrubbed and dressed in their “Sunday Best.” Each, in turn, was admonished to watch the other and “they could wait on the side piazza until their Mother was ready.” My Mother, who was the “Tom-Boy” of the family and always in mischief, decided that rather than wait and be bored she would go and slide on the brook as she had in the morning. I expect the Sisters tried to stop her; on the other hand, perhaps they were bored too and thought a little excitement might be fun. The sun was high and the brook had melted some, the ice gave way and in my Mother went. Screaming and dripping she ran to the house. Instead of spanking her little daughter my Grandmother dried her off and put on her, her very very oldest clothes, not even “second best,” and off she went with the others to have her picture taken just the same. I haven’t the pictures (perhaps it was discovered later in the attic and destroyed, because I remember it was always understood that my Mother’s expression was not of the pleasantest; “Clothes and expression were probably in some contrast to the others.”
This is “The Chandelier Story.” In the side hall there was, and is, a very ornate chandelier, gilt with many prongs and four or five gas jets with glass shades. One summer afternoon my Grandmother said to her little daughter, Minnie go downstairs and see if your Father is at the door with the carriage.” Like all children “Minnie” decided it was a lot easier to just go down to the bend and lean over the banister to look through the door which was open. So, leaning over too far, she lost her balance and over she went; but instead of landing on the floor below, her hoop skirt caught on the chandelier, and there she hung. Her Father heard the screams, saw her hanging there and needless to say it didn’t take him long to rescue her, nor long for her to receive a “right good spanking.” Like all indulgent parents, I understand that on the ride he stopped and bought her ice-cream.
The next story is about “The Burglar.” Do you remember that I told you I would tell you later about “The Tin Roof?”
When my Mother was a small girl (she thought about eleven or twelve), she had gone to bed in her small room off the “Sewing-Room.” Both rooms had a window opening on the tin roof over the front piazza. It was a warm night in April and raining. She was just drowsing off to sleep when she heard a noise and saw a man standing, with his back to her, in the door-way of the sewing-room. He was at the top of the steps leading down to the second floor landing. He had on a “Cut-a-way coat and a Tall silk hat,” and held a lighted match over his head. She didn’t scream, but held her breath, knowing he had come in the sewing-room window and that he was going down into her parents’ room. She thought, “Oh I pray that Mother has her best jewelry on.” All was quiet for a few minutes and then she heard a noise and thought he had gone out the window, so she said “Is that you May,” thinking it was her sister. No answer – and she thought “Oh he hasn’t gone yet and he will know now there is someone upstairs.” Holding her breath what seemed like hours she finally did hear her Sister and springing out of bed rushed out to her and said “come with me quick.” She dashed downstairs, with her bewildered sister following her. Her parents looked up from their Cribbage game, her other sister stopped playing the Spinet, all to look at her in amazement. “Mother have you your brooch, rings and watch on?” “No. Why?” “Because there has been a burglar upstairs in your room.” “Nonsense,” said her Father, “go back to bed, you have been dreaming.” “Well you just come upstairs and see if Mother’s things aren’t gone.” Reluctantly he went upstairs, and discovered but fast, that his daughter had not been dreaming, for everything was gone. Neither did it take him long to don his hat and coat and make for the police station. Some months later the “Gang” were apprehended in Rhode Island and brought back to Massachusetts. My Mother and others whose homes were robbed the same night were called to identify them, but none could, except their clothes which were in the height of fashion. They were called, in the paper, “The Top Hat Burglars.” Later my Grandmother did recover some of her jewelry, but not all. I was quite a young lady before I was told this story or I would never have slept so peacefully in the little room, listening to the rain on the tin roof. I always think of it now, whenever I hear rain on a tin roof and think what a brave little girl my Mother was.
My Grandchildren have all been taken to visit “The Old House” and think it so interesting to see “The Chandelier” and the “Big Hall.” I skip, for a while yet, the “Tin Roof.” The Brook is gone, but Mr. Moore’s house still stands.
My last story is about the “Louisa May Alcott’s” Plays in the big hall. My Mother and Aunts always called them that because they were immensely proud of the fact that they came from the same “May” Family. My Aunt May was especially proud of her name because it was a family name and not the name of the month and always impressed the fact upon her friends. I have told you before there were four sisters in my Mother’s family. They called themselves “The Little Women” and substituted “Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy,” for Flora, May, Ada and Minnie. My Mother, the tom-boy of the family was always Jo. They even called their Mother “Marmee” much to her amusement. The Sisters were young girls when they used to produce these plays for their parents and neighbors. They took parts from “Little Women,” “Under the Lilacs,” “Old Fashioned Girl” and others, taking great pains with costumes and scenery, and rehearsing excerpts from the books. So, until marriage broke up the “Quartet,” they remained to their family the “Little Women.”
[signed] Margherita Emmons
Information courtesy of Mary Ann and Lane Mabbett. Transcription, additional research, and introduction by Kathy Griffin.
Based on an Interview with Robert K. Casavant in Wrentham, Massachusetts on December 5, 2008 by Peter O’Brien, Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
Bob Casavant’s working life in Jamaica Plain saw him grow from a skilled machinist at Buff & Buff Manufacturing Company to a prize-winning antique automobile restoration expert. Along the way he managed to meet two of the 20th century’s most notorious, and somewhat romanticized, bandits when he souped-up their cars. His automotive skills were so good he escaped a law enforcement stakeout when he borrowed one of the modified cars, a 1951 Mercury, for a “test drive.”
Robert K. Casavant was born October 30, 1922 at Richford Vt., near the Canadian border. At age three he moved to Jamaica Plain’s Forest Hills Street and then; moving often due to the rental market, to Germania Street, Rossmore Road, Orange Street, Roslindale, and Kingsbury and Kensington Streets in Roxbury. He attended the Lewis Grammar School in Roxbury and Boston Trade High School, graduating from the automotive course in 1938. He returned to Trade to take night courses in machine shop where he learned the skills that he would bring to his first job rebuilding carburetors for a firm in Brookline. In 1941, at 18, he married Helen Boudreau of Back Bay and the first of their two children was born a year later.
Robert K. Casavant in his home in Wrentham, MA, December 2008. Photograph by Peter O’Brien.
Bob joined Buff & Buff (B&B) as a machinist in 1941. His pay, considerably less than a dollar an hour, saw an unheard of raise of 15 cents an hour in a very short time after he was able to demonstrate that his production of “Centers” exceeded nearly all other machinists’ output. Centers; basically finely machined brass rods, were located in the innards of tripod-mounted surveying instruments called Transits, Theodolites and Levels which B&B manufactured. The Centers allowed the instruments to remain perfectly level when the telescopes were swung to take readings in different directions. He produced these brass Centers on a 48-inch bench lathe with a six-inch swing. All the lathes in the B&B shop were driven from revolving shafts at ceiling height which were powered from a central power source. Pulleys were located along the shafts above each lathe. Leather belts connected the pulleys above to each of the lathes below. Each lathe operator could control the speed of his lathe by shifting the belt to different positions on his lathe’s pulley. This would have been the standard arrangement of any machine shop of the period.
Bob’s workbench was on the second floor in the back of the B&B building at 329 Rear Lamartine Street. A window at his lathe overlooked the Bowditch Schoolyard. The school was located around the corner at 80-82 Green Street. His fellow machinist was Hayden Harris who lived next door to B&B. Harris’s father was also employed by B&B as a janitor. Another friend of Bob’s, Joseph Rose, worked for a short time in the Optics Department of B&B.
Bob’s foreman and mentor at B&B was Carl Wiedemann of 500 Beech Street, Roslindale. Carl trained him so well that he was quickly able to significantly increase his production and earn the large pay raise mentioned earlier.
While Bob never met any of the upper management of the company, their regular visits to his work area are remembered as times when all the worker’s eyes were on the work spinning on the lathes. The work ethic at B&B was all business, all the time.
Bob worked at B&B until 1942, leaving for a welder’s job paying a dollar an hour at the Boston Navy Yard. The WWII war effort was opening high paying jobs everywhere. With a young family already started, he had no choice but to leave for the higher pay in war work. His tenure at B&B was about two years.
Following his Army service from 1943 – 1945 in England and France, Bob found work on construction equipment, ships, trucks and cars as a mechanic at Franklin Field Motors, 972 Blue Hill Ave, Dorchester. He developed outstanding skills as a diesel mechanic and his uncanny ability to quickly and correctly diagnose diesel engine problems kept him very busy, often traveling far from home to get a broken down crane or commercial fishing boat back in business. However, his conscientious efforts to repair customer’s equipment as fast as possible often clashed with the shop owner’s desire to maximize the hours spent on a particular job. Bob didn’t like that business philosophy so he left to work on his own.
From about 1950 until 1955, Bob was partnered with Fred Sieve at Fred’s Auto Repair at 3042A Washington Street near the Donnelly Electric & Manufacturing shop and just a short way from the Egleston Square Elevated Railway Station. The “elevated” rattled along above Washington Street casting a shadow on everything below it for 80 years.
It was at Fred’s Auto that Bob got to know two of the notorious Brinks robbers; Joe McGinnis who owned the nearby Egleston Wine and Liquor Store at 3086 Washington Street on the corner of Seaver Street, and Joe “Specky” O’Keefe who was later turned by the FBI and testified against the other eight masked and peacoated Brinks robbers. (These two were played by Peter Boyle and Warren Oates respectively in the 1978 movie “The Brinks Job” starring Peter Falk.) O’Keefe was a neighbor as well as a customer at Fred’s Auto.
McGinnis did some “business” from time to time in Rhode Island and he was interested, for unknown reasons, in increasing the speed of his ‘51 Mercury. Bob, with his considerable automotive skills, was able to do just that. Soon, O’Keefe wanted his Pontiac beefed-up too and Bob obliged him as well. In an amusing testament to his ability to get more power out of standard car engines, Bob recalls that one day shortly after the Brinks heist on January 17, 1950, an obvious law enforcement team was staking out the parking lot shared by Fred’s shop. They were undoubtedly watching McGinnis and O’Keefe who were suspects in the “crime of the century,” as it was then known. Bob decided to take McGinnis’s Mercury out for a “test drive” and the cops, recognizing the McGinnis car, immediately gave chase. Within three blocks the powerfully modified Mercury easily outran the stakeout car. Bob knew engines.
In the 1960’s Bob went to work as a mechanic on heavy equipment, ships, cranes etc. for Atlantic Equipment Company of Hyde Park, MA. traveling all over New England to service distressed equipment. He left Atlantic and joined Dino Buick in Stoughton, MA. He finished his working years as a truck mechanic for the U.S. Postal Service and retired in 1985.
In 1960 Bob became interested in antique automobiles and for the next 40 years enjoyed the hobby of restoring and rebuilding some beautiful prize winning antique cars. While no longer able to do the work required to restore the beautiful old cars, Bob still enjoys reading about younger men who preserve the grand old automobiles of another era.
The next residence was that of Robert M. Morse, which seemed slated for demolition since it was so close to the Pond. Yet in the earliest Olmsted plans of Jamaica Park it and the Pinebank home of the Perkins family were both granted reprieves to be used as refectories, or concession stand, for people using the Park. The Morse house indeed served as such but only briefly and was torn down before the century was over.
Jamaica Park Plan, 1892. Frederick Law Olmsted.
Robert McNeil Morse was another Brahmin on the Pond. His first paternal American ancestor was a founder of the Town of Dedham, and Robert was once again a graduate of Harvard College (Class of 1857). Before going on to Harvard Law School he taught at the Eliot School, still being used as a public school. By the time of the Civil War he was in partnership with J.C. Ropes and later with classmate Charles Greenough (whose family is known through the names of Jamaica Plain's only remaining colonial mansion, the preparatory school in Dedham and the parkway along the Charles River towards Watertown.)
Thus began a 60-year career at the Massachusetts Bar, Morse's arguments appearing in the reports of the Supreme Judicial Court from 1862 to the year he died. He specialized in probate cases and in suits involving the value of land taken for public water supplies, parks, or other public purposes. In the constantly growing economy of the late 19th century his voice was often heard in cases of complex litigation affecting the expanding public utilities.
It is no surprise that Morse entered politics off and on as a Republican candidate, serving in the Legislature in 1866-67 and 1880. However, he preferred the organizational side of politics and was state chairman of his party in 1884. In the Legislature he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and in this capacity carried out a revision of the General Laws known as the Public Statutes. His committee granted the newly formed land to the City of Boston where its central library now stands and also authorized the first law of capitalization of the Bell Telephone Company.
Keen, astute and resourceful, Morse was esteemed by his colleagues for his knowledge, ability, and resolute conscientiousness in the performance of his duties. It was one of his cardinal principles that zeal in the conduct of the law must be consistent with unvarying courtesy and the most scrupulous regard for the truth. A man of stature in the community, he served on the Harvard Board of Overseers from 1880 to 1900.
Given all this, when his house was taken for the Park Project, Morse decided to stay by the Pond. Since no land was taken on the far side of Pond Street across from the boathouse to Orchard Street, he bought the old Smith house on the corner of Burroughs and Pond Streets and ripped down the old house (seen in the mid-19th century drawings of winter activities on the Pond). Architect William Ralph Emerson in 1893 built the big Colonial Revival house that stands there today with its neighbor, the home of old Jamaica Plain scion, Nelson Curtis - now both condominiums. Here Morse continued to raise his family of five children and here he died in February 1920.
The Morse house was a very special place in Jamaica Plain for children from 1936 to 1974, for it housed that beloved Jamaica Plain institution, the Children's Museum. In elegant surroundings were glass cases full of stuffed specimens and all sorts of models, a room of live animals, dollhouses, and the geology rooms with walls painted with words and pictures by Edwin Raisz of Harvard's Geographic Institute. Many a child spent many a day each year there on otherwise glum, inclement days learning about nature and history with a quiz sheet attached to a clipboard.
When the Children's Museum moved downtown in the '70s for better accessibility, Jamaica Plain lost much. Ironically, the museum had moved into the Morse home, a refugee from the Park Project, after outgrowing the capacity of Pinebank in the Park, which older residents can still recall. Along with the old Morse House, Pinebank had briefly been used as a refectory. Pinebank in its ultimate state still remains, now the only house by the Pond not torn down in the 1890s, but in indescribable neglect.
Sources: Boston Landmarks Commission, "1978 Jamaica Plain Inventory"; National Encyclopedia of American Biography; C. Zaitzevsky, "Olmsted & the Boston Park Systems."
By Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the January 27, 1995 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
I was born in Roxbury in 1958. By the time I was able to attend school, my family moved to 13 Orchard Street. We lived in a beautiful three-story duplex, just down the street from the new Boy’s Club, which was on the corner of Orchard Street. It was exciting, as a young boy, to see all the building going on down the street from my house.
I recall one day my mother, Kathryn M. (King) Perron, called the local Yellow Cab to go to my uncle’s house in Dorchester. When the cab arrived, we all piled in and told the driver where we wanted to go. I noticed a crack in the driver’s voice when he asked “where to ma’am?” I quietly told my mom that the driver was crying. Of course, my mom asked if everything was OK and the driver replied that his son, heading to Viet Nam on the USS Pueblo, was killed when he threw himself on a live grenade that landed near a group standing on deck. During the ride the driver cried uncontrollably but got us to our destination safely. We later found out that the cab driver lived on Orchard Street, just a few houses from us.
At that time I was too young to know the importance of such a moving experience, but I do now, and I will always remember that sad day for that Yellow Cab driver. As this story continues, I will explain more about the courageous men and women that I have met or heard about in Jamaica Plain.
Third Grade at the Agassiz School
It was the early sixties and I had started school at the Agassiz School. As I remember, there were the Agassiz and the “old” Agassiz schools. I went to both but I don’t remember which building was old and which was new. I can’t recall the names of my earlier teachers either, but my third grade teacher was Miss Manning.
What a great teacher she was! She took a liking to me because she said I had beautiful penmanship and she always picked me to write the day and date on the blackboard. I recall we were always being treated with the utmost love, care and respect by Miss Manning. I remember one day one of our classmates came into class a little late and you could tell that he had been crying. And it looked like his clothes hadn’t been washed and ironed for school either. Miss Manning took this young boy to the back of the room where there was a small closet. Miss Manning told the rest of the class to take an early morning break and to put our heads on our desks. Of course we did as we were told.
I peered out from under my folded arms to see Miss Manning washing up this little lad, and then, reaching up to a hanger behind the door, she gave him a clean pair of pants and a clean shirt to put on.
To this day I wonder about that boy and the unhappy conditions he must have lived with. It didn’t matter to the rest of the class; we were taught to respect others and never once did anyone ever say anything to that boy about the many mornings he came into class like that.
It was as if Miss Manning was more than a teacher to us. She was like having your mother as a teacher and she made my grammar school learning experience one of the best times in my life. Thank you Miss Manning.
Miss O’Hara’s Fifth Grade Class
My fifth grade teacher, Miss O’Hara, was a great inspiration to me. She was my home- room reading teacher. It seemed that for every holiday at the old Agassiz, Miss O’Hara and all the other classes would put on some kind of a play. From a Thanksgiving Day play to Valentine’s Day we always had fun performing and I always got the lead part for some reason. I can remember one Thanksgiving Day play I was to play the part of an Indian with long, dark, hair. Miss O’Hara was sure to put on a great show.
Well, my mother wanted me to look my best for the play so I was sent to our local barbershop (across the street from the Mary E. Curley School) to get a haircut. The next day, when I showed up for school, Miss O’Hara took one look at me and could have cried because my long hair was now short!
No fear …Miss O’Hara had an extensive wardrobe which included wigs. I think I was the first boy to wear a wig in one of her plays, for as Miss O’Hara would say, “the show must go on.” We would all gather in the auditorium on the top floor of the old Agassiz and give all the parents such a show! Often we got standing ovations and Miss O’Hara’s beaming smile meant we all did a great job. Boy, the fun we had!
People I remember from back then at the Agassiz and old Agassiz Schools, Grades 3 –6:
Principal – Miss Preble
Vice Principal – Mr. Clement
Miss Manning, 3rd Grade
Miss Platek, 4th Grade
Miss O’Hara, 5th Grade
Mr. Clement, 5th & 6th Grade
Mrs. Larson, 5th & 6th Grade
Miss Sullivan (Boudreau) 6th Grade
Miss O’Rourke, 6th Grade
Mr. Butler, wood-shop teacher
Mr. Dickey, drum teacher
Mr. Kelly – who became Principal in the late sixties
Then there are the students:
Joe, Paul and Wayne Saulnier
Derek Anderson (or Sanderson)
If you know of the whereabouts of any of these people, please contact me for more fun and let’s see if you remember some of the things I do. If you have pictures …WOW!
224 Greenbrier Drive
Palm Springs, Florida 33461
Justonetriker @ netscape.com
Probably few of the thousands who daily pass the establishment of
Robert Seaver & Co on Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, realize that this
is the oldest grocery store in Greater Boston and probably in
Massachusetts, and that the store has been continuously in the hands
of the Seaver family since its foundation by Joshua Seaver in 1706.
Joshua Seaver, who was born in 1737, was for many years an instructor
of youth in Jamaica Plain. In 1796, after retiring from the teaching
profession, he bought an old store where the present establishment
stands, and where Gen Washington and his troops had obtained their
supplies during the Revolution. Seaver erected a new building on the
site where the old store stood, and Robert Seaver and his brother
Frederick, are still doing a flourishing business in the same
building, which is unchanged save for an addition in the front of the
In the olden days the store was the first stop for the stage coach on
its trip from Boston to Providence, and here the travelers stopped to
eat their lunch and sip their toddies. President Adams was a frequent
visitor to the store, as well as many of the military and political
celebrities of the time.
The business grew from year to year, and for upwards of half a century
it was the only grocery store south of Ruggles Street, Roxbury, between
Boston and Providence. From 1833 to 1885 Robert Seaver, the father of
the present owners, presided over the destinies of the store with
marked success. Mr. Seaver was a man of mark in the community, serving
in the lower house, the Senate, and holding positions of selectman,
foreman of the Fire Department, and many other responsible offices in
the old town of West Roxbury.
Frederick and Robert Seaver, sons of Robert, who have conducted the
store since the death of their father in 1885 are among the most
Prominent citizens of Jamaica Plain, being members of the Eliot Lodge
of Masons, the Jamaica Club, the Eliot Club, and many other prominent
organizations of the district.
Included among their customers are many the names of whose families
have been on the books of the firm for upwards of three-quarters of a
century. Francis Parkman, the famous historian, whiled away many an
hour with Robert Seaver. seated on the flour barrels, and trudged home
at the end of the day with his purchases. William J. Peters, father of
Congressman Andrew J. Peters, was, like his son, a steady customer, as
was Gen Francis Greene, who won his fame and title in the War of 1812.
The members of the Curtis family have traded with the Seaver firm from
the dawn of the 19th Century to the present day, as have nearly all
families of note in the ancient town of West Roxbury.
Joshua Seaver was one of the largest landholders of his time. He lived
in the house in which he as born, which still stands in the rear of
the store. His acres embraced nearly all the territory surrounding
Jamaica Pond, now dotted with hundreds of residences of the
well-to-do, and he drove his coach and four through the streets of
The Seavers hold among their most prized possessions every license
which has been issued to their family since the establishment of the
store in 1794 up to the present day, and are justly proud of the fact
that they are the owners of the oldest and one of the busiest grocery
stores in the state.
Both Messrs Frederick and Robert Seaver are also proud of the fact
that they have been constant subscribers to the Globe since its first
From the Boston Daily Globe November 30, 1913.
This article is based on a lecture by Richard Heath presented on April 12, 2011 at the former Cheverus School in Jamaica Plain. The lecture was sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Editorial assistance has been provided by Kathy Griffin. A PDF and an identical PowerPoint file with photographs and other images illustrating the lecture is available to accompany the article.
Robert Treat Paine was named for his great-grandfather, the lawyer and judge. Judge Robert Treat Paine was born at Boston in 1731, and was part of the generation of the first Americans. As delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was Attorney General of Massachusetts and a justice of the State Supreme Court.
Robert Treat Paine’s father Charles was born in 1808 and died in 1865. He was an attorney, but preferred a quiet practice that gave him time to do historical research.
Robert Treat Paine attended Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard College in 1855 and Harvard Law School in 1856. His classmate Phillips Brooks became a lifelong friend.
Paine came out of the Civil War generation – those who came of age personally and professionally during and after the American Civil War – a war in which he did not participate. All three of his brothers served in the war. His youngest brother Sumner was a second lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers; he was killed at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, at the age of 18. One of the stone lions in the Grand Staircase of the Boston Public Library honor the officers and men of the 20th Massachusetts.
Paine practiced real estate law. Through the war years he wisely and very profitably invested in Michigan copper mines. He was the principle investor in two western railroads, the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. Foreseeing that land values would increase as a result of these railroads, he invested heavily in Nebraska land bonds. He was very wealthy by 1866.
In 1862 he married Lydia Lyman. They lived and raised a family of seven children at 6 Mt. Vernon Place, a row house built in 1833. Mr. and Mrs. Paine summered in a house in Waltham on land given to the couple by Mrs. Paine’s father from his own land holdings. In 1883 Paine asked the architect H. H. Richardson to enlarge the house. The magnificent result, built out of glacial boulders dug up on site, is one of the greatest houses in America. It was completed in 1886. Paine lived at 6 Joy Street and summered in Waltham for the rest of his life.
Paine’s boyhood friend Phillips Brooks returned to Boston in 1869 when he was made Rector of Trinity Church then located on Summer Street. Paine and his wife Lydia quit King’s Chapel and became members of Trinity Church. In 1870, the Church voted to move to a new location and on January 1, 1872, it acquired a triangular lot on Copley Square. Eleven months later the old granite church was destroyed in the Great Boston Fire. Granite blocks from the old church would be used in the foundation of the new building.
In 1870 Paine became chair of the building committee charged with raising the money required to build the new church; the first gift was his own $2000. Paine and his committee selected H. H. Richardson in June of 1872 to design the new church. In practice since 1866, the Louisiana-born architect had designed Brattle Square Church in 1869, recently dedicated two blocks from Trinity Church’s new site. Trinity Church would make Richardson famous, and it would also change the direction of Robert Treat Paine’s life: in 1872 he quit his law practice and followed what Phillips Brooks preached – to live a purposeful life. In 1904 Paine wrote in his autobiography that he regretted the decision to quit his business for years, but in the end concluded that “we had this life on earth only once [and] I was not willing to devote the last half of it to the mere business of making money.”
If there is a monument to Robert Treat Paine, it is Trinity Church. After his death, his children donated the carved wooden pulpit in honor of their father. Carved by one of the talented artisans in the John Evans Studio, “the Great Preachers’ Pulpit” was dedicated on December 10, 1916.
Boston Cooperative Building Company
Tenement house reform – the elimination of slums and unsanitary housing – became a major urban movement in large eastern cities after the Civil War because of the enormous influx of impoverished immigrants. Desperate for housing, they lived in alleyway shacks, basements and attics, often crowded several families to a room by unscrupulous landlords in a city without zoning or building codes. Good housing was rightly seen as a health issue, and the first reformers were physicians.
Dr. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, a friend of Phillips Brooks (and a Jamaica Plain resident), had been concerned with the health conditions of the overcrowded North and West Ends of Boston since he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1832. Looking for solutions, he became interested in the successful efforts of British housing reformers, and in 1870 spent six months in London. He met the distinguished housing reformer Sir Sidney Waterlow, who founded the Industrial Dwelling Company in 1863. This company built model tenements for factory workers that Bowditch toured with Waterlow. Dr. Bowditch returned home convinced that Boston could do the same.
No doubt learning of Bowditch’s travels, and inspired by ideas from Phillips Brooks, Paine likely talked over the housing problem with Bowditch. In his 1904 autobiography, Paine wrote: “In 1870 my attention was drawn to the need of more and better homes for the masses of poor people. I was thus led to study housing conditions…”
In May of 1871 Bowditch formed the Boston Cooperative Building Company (BCBC) with Martin Brimmer as President. Robert Treat Paine and Phillips Brooks were board members; Mary Parkman (sister of the historian Francis Parkman) and architect and contractor George W. Pope were also on the board. Pope would play a significant part in the next 25 years in design and construction of affordable housing.
The BCBC was the first of the private stock companies that offered shares for limited dividends of 5% to 7% — well below the market interest rate of that day. The board sold shares and soon raised $300,000 to capitalize the renovation of existing tenements and also to build small homes for working-class men. Its first venture in new housing was 23 small homes on East Canton Street in Dorchester, built in 1872 to 1873. These were rented out to workers who had to pay one month in advance and provide references. (These homes have since been demolished.)
In 1873 the BCBC board approved a program to build small houses in the suburbs near a commuter rail station. Early in 1874 it bought ten acres on Harvard Street, near the Mt. Bowdoin railway station and not far from the Washington Street horse-car line. Two new streets were laid out and George Pope designed and built 16 wood-frame homes between 1874 and 1876. The streets were named Waterlow and Sidney after the English housing reformer who greatly influenced Boston’s first efforts to build homes for the working poor. (Sidney Street is now Elmont Street.) Sales suffered because in 1873 the nation was crushed by the worst depression in its history, causing unemployment and reduced wages. Only five homes were sold by the end of 1874. These cost $650 with a $200 down-payment and a $25-per-month mortgage. Three more homes were built and sold in 1876. By the end of that year a total of eight homes had been sold; three were rented and five were empty. The mortgage plus the train fare proved too big of a burden for the average factory worker, and he did not buy. All the other lots were sold at market rate after the economy improved in 1878.
In 1902, the BCBC closed its books on a thirty-year career in which it only built 78 houses and built or renovated 311 apartments. Nevertheless historians credit the Boston Cooperative Building Company as being the first significant model housing company in the United States. It also motivated Robert Treat Paine to build low-cost homes himself. All the Waterlow houses remain today.
Workingman’s Building Association
In 1878 Paine organized Associated Charities as a way to better coordinate philanthropic giving; he remained its president until 1904. (Today it is known as the Boston Foundation.)
Paine believed in self help, not handouts; all his ventures to help the poor and low-wage earner were based on self reliance, part of which was home ownership. A person needed to become part of the community, and owning a home was the best way to achieve that. Owning a home would also increase Americanization – the assimilation of the foreign born into the American way of life. Boston’s tenements created a problem pattern of the same people living together, speaking the same language and sharing the same culture. The foreign born felt more comfortable this way but the tenements were also self isolating, and the tenants easy prey for the loan shark and slumlord. Living in one’s own home in a diverse community made good Americans.
Most housing reformers looked at zoning and building codes and public health laws as the answers for unsafe housing (the only government involvement they could understand); or they raised the capital themselves and sought to recoup their investment through low-interest mortgages. Paine sought a way to finance the homes he would build through a unique and wholly American way – the cooperative bank. In his 1904 autobiography Paine wrote that the cooperative banking system he began in Massachusetts in 1877 was based on the Philadelphia model: “I became president of the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank [in]1880 and guided it for 23 years.” In the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank shares were purchased at $1 each and would earn $200 at the end of ten years. The wage earner was able to save modest amounts, which would earn income to make a down payment on a home.
In 1886 the Workingman’s Building Association – an arm of the bank – purchased a tract of land off Tremont Street in lower Roxbury near Madison Park. The land was at the edge of the factory district near rail and streetcar lines. Architect George Pope designed several blocks of row houses on Sussex, Greenwich, and Warwick streets, modeled after the brick row houses that architects in Philadelphia began building in 1810. Pope designed 80 small, narrow attached townhouses, built between 1886 and 1890. Greenwich Street and Sussex Street row houses were built in1886, and Warwick Street in 1888 to 1890. Paine, his brother and father-in-law supervised construction and held the mortgages. They were sold at $2500 each with a $100 cash down payment and a 5% mortgage.
In an undated memorandum pasted in Paine’s scrapbook, probably written in 1888 before the Warwick houses were built, he describes the Greenwich Sussex houses: “I have built 45 small brick houses, 7 on Hammond St., 16 on Greenwich St. and 22 on Sussex St. These were built up on the usual pile foundations on thick stone [caps].”
Investors were enthusiastic. In a letter to Paine dated July 29, 1888, Reuben Kidner expressed his “gratitude for the buildings which we opened today. Without you these would not be…you have been willing to give your time, thought and money…”
But not everyone was happy. A writer in the Feb. 20, 1892 issue of the Boston Weekly Index Knights of Labor (which Paine saved in his scrapbook) stated that “six years ago [Paine] was concerned in a charitable building association which operated in the vicinity of Hammond Park [sic]. He built houses which would be charitable to call dog houses. He sold them like hotcake at 35% interest.”
Workingman’s Building Association
Following the lead of the Boston Cooperative Building Company, the second phase of Paine’s housing program consisted of single-family homes on a large tract of land outside the core city, along a railroad and electric car lines. Homes for workingmen in the suburbs – living outside the crowded city – was Paine’s ideal housing. He felt that the expansion of electric streetcar lines – a cheaper mode of transportation that he strongly advocated – would enable the worker to afford to buy a home and take the streetcar to his factory job.
Using Paine’s own funds added to those of investors in the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank, the Workingman’s Building Association bought twelve acres of the Susan Weld farm in a valley below Centre Street on March 21, 1888 for $45,000 (Suffolk Lib. 1826 Fol. 570. It was originally part of the William Heath farm, sold to Joseph Weld, a barrel maker, on April 15, 1700). Another acre was acquired soon after on Creighton Street. The land was adjacent to breweries and near the Heath Street rail station. The tract was large enough to demonstrate that with sufficient capital and enough land, a large-scale housing development could be built that was affordable to the working man. In a way not realized on Waterlow Street, Sunnyside-Roundhill introduced city planning ideas to low-cost housing development. Common lot sizes, repetitive building styles and curving streets all added to the suburban quality with a density that kept costs down.
Architect George Pope was vice president of the Workingman’s Building Association and Paine was president of the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank (from its opening in 1880 until 1903). Pope designed housing styles and supervised construction of 112 wood-frame cottages far superior to the usual cheap construction of similar housing. “[I was] greatly aided,” Paine wrote in 1904, “by the advice and indefatigable supervision of my friend George Pope who took the whole practical charge of construction…my share being chiefly that of working out plans for greater comfort of the occupants.”
Included in the Weld farm property was a farmhouse, two attached stables, and one outlying barn. Paine decided not to raze the house and subdivide the property into two house lots; instead, in 1889 he had the house repaired. An L-shaped addition was added and the stables taken down. The renovated and enlarged farmhouse was sold to John Morrell who had been living in the house before it was acquired by the WBA. On March 21, 1889 the WBA board approved funds for the construction of two streets through the Weld property that were named Sunnyside and Gayhead streets. Morell’s house became Two Sunnyside Street. In 1897 Morrell built two storefronts onto the house – numbers 341 and 343 Centre Street (permit dated April 21, 1897).
It is possible that the double lot and enlarged house were sold with the potential in mind for storefronts on Centre Street. What is not described in the available scholarship on Sunnyside-Roundhill houses (or indeed in all of the three Paine housing developments) is that the WBA included rental and retail in their subdivisions and these were among the first constructed.
Housing reformers like Paine looked on rental housing as a problem. Most post-Civil War tenements were badly built, unsanitary, and badly managed; moreover, in the minds of the housing reformers, renters did not have any stake in society that only property ownership would provide. However, reformers realized that rental housing was necessary, but required better sanitary construction, better screening of leaseholders, and property management that also overlapped with social services. At lower Roxbury Paine built at least two documented apartment houses; one built in 1874-1875 was at Three Ruggles Street, at the corner of Tremont Street. It was big enough to include ground-floor retail (the apartment house was replaced by Whittier Street public housing about 1951). The other was a four-story attached apartment house at 86-88 Hammond Street, built in 1875, eleven years before the Greenwich-Sussex-Warwick row houses were begun. In fact, number 86-88 Hammond Street – presumably designed by George Pope, although this is not documented – abuts numbers 1-3 and 5 Sussex Street, the first houses built at the Greenwich-Sussex development.
No doubt to raise capital for the ownership houses, two buildings were built in 1890 at 319-329 Centre Street, and each had ground-floor retail with four apartments (permit date May 2, 1890). The annual report of the WBA for 1893 stated that these had earned $3300 in rental income from the merchants and the families who lived above. Number 319 Centre Street was built next to St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church, built between 1874 and 1884 at the corner of Walden Street. The church was built on a 5000 square-foot subdivision of the Gardener Brewer estate. Walden Street was built in 1874 through Brewer property, which suggests that the church – the first one in the community – was constructed about 1875. On June 5,1889 WBA bought 77,230 feet of Brewer land for $6000, land through which Roundhill Street was built in 1893 (Suffolk Lib. 1881. Fol. 390-391). In a dramatic departure from anything Paine and the WBA had built before, the parcel in the middle of the 1890 apartment houses, numbered 323-325 Centre Street, was built in 1892 with a one-story store (permit Oct. 2, 1892). Designed by George Pope, it was a big building that filled the whole lot. Because of the steep slope, the Roundhill Street side was two stories high and may have contained a livery or wagon shed. As reported in the 1893 annual report of the WBA, this brought a total of six stores and four apartments to the Sunnyside-Roundhill development. These stores and apartments were owned by, and brought income to the WBA for nearly twenty years, until all three buildings were sold to Alfred E. Baker on March 1, 1910, a few months before the death of Robert Treat Paine (Suffolk Lib. 3431. Fol. 304). In 2004, the three lots were combined – the bulk of which by that time was just a cellar hole – and a three-story brick and wood frame, eighteen-unit apartment block with ground-floor stores and offices was built, called Hyde Square Commons (permit Jan. 5, 2005). This was developed by the Mayo Group and designed by Myron Hartford. A garage was built under the building, taking advantage of the steep grade at Roundhill Street.
In 1889 one of the earliest houses designed by Pope was number 333 Centre Street at the corner of Gayhead Street, next to the apartment house. Purchased by Julia Hayden by 1899 from the original owner, who bought it from the WBA, she had the house razed and built a three-story brick apartment house with two ground-floor stores in 1901 (permit Sept. 25, 1900).
Paine and the WBA were also not averse to selling house lots for one to (presumably) build one’s own house. This also brought in revenue. The third annual report for 1890-1891 stated that eight lots had been sold, including a 3700 square-foot lot at 351 Centre Street, sold to Mary Lathrop for $1494. (She built a two-family house on the lot by 1895). The fourth annual report for 1892 of the WBA stated that 21 vacant lots had been sold and that number 58 Roundhill Street had been built by the purchaser. The lots averaged 3500 square feet, and the average price was $900.
Sunnyside-Roundhill houses were built largely between 1890 and 1892. The first house was number Five Gayhead Street, sold in May 1889 after the street was built. The final houses sold were numbers 5-26 and 53-65 Edgehill Road, and 54-56 Day Street in 1893. All houses sold quickly, yet at an average price of $2600 it was well beyond the income of the regular shop-floor worker, who had the down payment and the $17-per-month mortgage to pay. Moreover, in 1893 the worst depression of the nineteenth century gripped the country, forcing unemployment and wage reductions for all working people. (One recorded foreclosure occurred in April 1893 when Thomas Fitzgerald’s house at 21 Sunnyside Terrace was taken by the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank and his furniture was auctioned off. An assistant keeper at the county jail on Charles Street, Fitzgerald had purchased the new house on Nov. 9, 1891.)
Speaking at a housing conference in 1896, Paine said that the Workingman’s Building Association had “carried through successfully a scheme [to build] wooden houses just outside the city proper…the land bought by the Building Association was bought for 9 cents a square foot, retailing 20 cents after streets, sewers and construction expenses had been paid.” A month later Paine read another paper in which he said that the Sunnyside-Roundhill houses “were sold at prices varying from $2500 to $4000, in demand as fast as they were built by artisans, railway conductors, engravers, by clerks and small tradespeople. (The fourth annual report of the WBA said the average price of a home was $3300.) In 1888-1889 some of the occupations of homebuyers were listed as mason (39 Sunnyside), housepainter (37 Sunnyside), railroad engineer (40 Sunnyside) and a professor (43 Gayhead).
Like the Boston Cooperative Building Company, the Workingman’s Building Association also had investors to satisfy – usually at 3% to 5% limited dividends. Most mortgages were six years (24 Edgehill Road, for example, was bought in August of 1890 and the mortgage was paid off on March 14, 1896). The sixth annual report dated March 15,1894 summarized the completion of Sunnyside-Roundhill houses. “The experiment of purchasing a large tract of land in the suburbs of Boston and dividing it into lots of about 4000 square feet to be sold to workingmen of moderate means [now] in the sixth year has completed the venture. Six storefronts have been built and 112 houses built totaling $340,000 [to build]. Roads, sewers and grading cost $19,488 and the land cost $61,504.” In total Sunnyside-Roundhill cost just over $420,700, all starting with investors’ capital of $79,100. “A fair return for fair [prices],” declared philanthropist Alfred T. White of New York in 1885. “Not that which is falsely called charity. To make a good example [of good homes] accomplishes a great goal, it must be shown that is in the interest of capitalists to follow it.”
In the words of historians Eugenia Birch and Deborah Gardener writing in 1981: Paine was not seeking to adjust capitalism, but to work within its constraints.
In his 1971 Ph.D. dissertation, historian David Culver called Robert Treat Paine the most prominent housing reformer in the nation. Culver wrote that the slum became the vivid symbol of America’s class divisions and social problems. Better housing would transmit middle-class values to the foreign-born immigrant and the working-class man (often one and the same). Paine was prominent among housing reformers, but he called himself simply a friend of the working-class man and the poverty stricken. He saw that the tenement dweller was also America’s victim.
Housing reformers believed that housing determined character; Paine himself addressed the issue in highly moralistic terms. In ways a Puritan would understand, Paine put the words of Phillips Brooks spoken from the pulpit of Trinity Church into works – in heavily charged Christian terms. “The moral impulse,” wrote Edward Saveth in 1980, “was the most important motive. … [Paine] did not hope to eliminate poverty, [he] wanted to make the deserving poor [out] of the undeserving poor.”
Paine saw three levels in urban American society: the “submerged tenth,” the unskilled working immigrant, and skilled artisans and mechanics. One of his earliest uses of the term “submerged tenth” appeared in a February 10, 1895 Boston Globe column – “There is in city life a population of the ‘submerged tenth sinking to lower levels’ that must be reduced.”
In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “The Negro race is going to be saved by the talented tenth.” Paine worried that another tenth – the submerged tenth – would ruin urban society if efforts were not taken to improve the lot of the “armies of immigrants and unskilled people who pour into [our] city.” For forty years he worked to find ways to elevate the submerged tenth into the ranks of the skilled workman with an increased earning capacity.
This was the world that Robert Treat Paine lived in for forty years. Saveth named him a patrician philanthropist, one of those who felt it a responsibility to alleviate poverty and help the poor. No other man or woman of his class and no other philanthropist devoted forty years to the task of being a friend to the poor.
Paine did most of his work through the Wells Memorial Institution that he founded in 1879. It soon became the largest workingman’s club in the country. It first opened in rented quarters at Washington and Dover streets with a recreation hall, reading room and classrooms. In 1881 he bought a parcel of land at 985 Washington Street (about where Herald and Washington streets are today) and erected a five-story brick clubhouse, certainly designed by George Pope. Paine endowed it with $70,000 and enlisted the Lowell Institute to provide free classes in steam engineering, carpentry, mechanical drawing, and electrical engineering, among other courses; for women he sponsored classes in cooking, millinery, hygiene and dressmaking. He even allowed labor unions to meet there. Each summer members and staff of the Wells Institute joined him and his family for a picnic at Stonehurst – a short walk from the Waltham railroad stop. In the Wells Memorial Institute building were located the Workingman’s Cooperative Bank on the street level and the Workingman’s Building Association; Paine served as president of all three for 23 years.
Sunnyside-Roundhill was followed by a housing development in Dorchester that is not well known or studied. In the spring of 1892 Paine bought 13.5 acres between Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue. Only 55 homes were built before all operations ceased in 1900. Unlike the first two developments, Bowdoin-Geneva was never completed; indeed, barely one-quarter of the house lots were built on, and much of the land was still vacant at the time of Paine’s death in 1910.
Paine realized by 1902 that the private-sector capitalist could not build housing affordable to the working man. Ten years later the Boston Dwellinghouse Company was incorporated and began building Woodbourne (in Jamaica Plain) in the last attempt of the private sector to build homes for the wage earner; it met the same fate.
The 1890s were difficult for Robert Treat Paine. In 1893 his lifelong friend Phillips Brooks died and in 1897 his beloved wife Lydia died. Sunnyside-Roundhill floundered during the 1893 depression. Paine did see the completion of the great decorative porch of Trinity Church in 1897 – a project he supervised. A pacifist since the Civil War, he was a pioneer in the peace movement from the 1890s, in the American Peace Association which advocated European disarmament; he was its president until the end of his life.
His fortune was made by the age of 35; it was vast enough and safely invested enough to withstand the two worst economic depressions of the 19th century in 1873 and 1893. His philanthropic goal to raise up the submerged tenth and help the unskilled immigrant thrived for another half century through the Wells Memorial Institute, before it closed in 1950.
In 1887 the St. Andrew’s Mission opened at 27 Chambers Street, funded by Paine as a place to minister to the sick and destitute. In 1906, when the neighborhood was by then largely Jewish, the Episcopal Mission became a settlement house.
Paine spent his last decade active in the Wells Memorial Institute and the peace movement. He died on August 14, 1910 and was buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
“Chairman of the Building Committee: Robert Treat Paine” by Thomas M. Paine, chapter 3 of The Makers of Trinity Church, edited by James O’Gorman, UMass Press, 2004.
“Autobiographical Sketch dictated in 1904 by Robert Treat Paine” from, The Paine Ancestry, The Family of Robert Treat Paine, compiled by Sarah Cushing Paine , edited by Charles Henry Paine. Printed for the family. 16 State Street. 1912.
“Patrician Philanthropy in America: the late 19th and Early 20th Centuries” by Edward N. Saveth, Social Services Review ( University of Chicago), March 1980.
Hall, Peter D, Inventing the Non Profit Sector, Johns Hopkins Press, 1992.
“Tenement Reform in Boston: 1870- 1920. Philanthropy, Regulation + Government – Assisted Housing”, Christine Cousineau, Tufts University, 1989. American City and Regional Planning History.
Culver, David M, Tenement House Reform in Boston: 1846- 1898, PhD dissertation, Brown University, 1971.
Sam Klass, “Scientific Shoe Rebuilder,” learned the cobbler’s trade at his father’s knee, and he kept at it for nearly 40 years at 66 South Street, Jamaica Plain. Based on a 2012 interview with Sheila Klass Lepley.
By Peter O’Brien
In the days before we became a “throwaway” society, no one was more important than the local cobbler, or shoe repairman. In 1950, there were 449 shoe repair shops in Boston and 23 of them were in Jamaica Plain. (In 2012 the numbers are 24 in Boston and none in Jamaica Plain.) Sam Klass’s workmanship was unrivalled and his prices were fair. With a competitor just a few hundred yards away, Sam had to work hard to survive. Many will remember the sounds and smells of Sam’s one-man shop at 66 South Street where he could put new life into a pair of worn shoes, or dye a pair to meet a new wardrobe’s needs – and he always did it with a smile. He was a happy man.
Simon “Sam” Klass was born in Boston on April 23, 1907, and he died in Tucson, Arizona, March 9, 2007, reaching the 100-year milestone with neither fanfare nor, because he had left Boston, a Boston Post Cane.
In 1905, his parents, Solomon and Massa, operated a shoe repair shop at 2945 Washington Street, near Egleston Square. They had three children: Max, Esther, and Albert, and they all lived above the shop, which has been replaced by condominiums.
1910 finds Solomon – now called Sam – and Massa, moving the shop to 706 Centre Street, near the present Galway House Pub. They now have four children, with the addition of our Simon “Sam” Klass.
In 1925, Sam Klass, shoe repairman, is listed with a home address of 119 Humbolt Avenue, Roxbury. He is working in his father’s Centre Street shop, because at 18, Sam was hardly ready to be running his own shop and he was, in fact, helping to raise his three siblings when his mother, Massa, died.
By 1930, Sam Klass, shoe repairman, now 23, is shown at 59 South Street, near Custer Street. His home is listed at 62 Crawford Street, Roxbury, where he lives with Albert and Meyer Klass, Joseph Cohen, and Max and Hannah Rines.
By 1940 Sam is across the street at 66 South Street, where he worked until retiring in 1967. He and his wife, Helen, whom he married in 1934, are renting an apartment at, coincidentally, 66 Boynton Street until 1959, when they moved to 20 Wellington Hill Street, in Mattapan.
In 1976 Helen decided it was time to leave the Boston area for warmer climes and the love of family, especially two grandsons. Sam absolutely refused to leave. This was the land of his parents, siblings, work and many memories. Helen packed up, sold some of the furniture, gave things away, and bought an airline ticket for Arizona. Only then did he reluctantly agree to leave with her. After one year of living in Tucson, he admitted that it was indeed beautiful, in fact unbelievable, compared to cold, snow and ice. When asked if he would like to move back to JP, the answer was a definite “NO.”
The business grows
Sam’s shop was always humming as his business and reputation grew. Sam’s price of 94 cents for new leather soles and rubber heels and his shoe-dying clinics – where every eighth customer’s shoes were dyed free – along with his price list for shoe repairs, makes one wonder where the profit was, and how hard he must have worked to make a decent living. He must have wondered too, because before long, he branched out to selling women’s upscale shoes on Saturdays. He found a source of closed-out shoes from an expensive shoe store on Tremont Street, downtown, and advertised widely in the local and Boston newspapers. As a result, he drew customers from all over the city, selling only on Saturdays, at two pairs for $5, a true bargain in those days. Sheila Klass Lepley, Sam’s daughter, remembers staffing the store on those busy Saturdays, standing at the cash register where the shoes were flying out, keeping her fingers dancing on the keys. She also remembers Sam’s permanently discolored hands from the dyes, polishes, glues and lacquers he used every day, and the smell of leather that he carried wherever he went. She still has some of his leather-cutting knives and uses them daily in her kitchen.
The bare-bones shop of the ‘30s later filled up with updated shoe-repair machinery, storage for new and repaired shoes, and seats for new-shoe customers to be fitted. Sam, always in shirt and tie, wore a red monogrammed smock tied tightly at the waist. His broad smile greeted everyone entering the store. He was a happy man. World War II, with the introduction of rationing, saw Sam’s business pick up significantly but without, necessarily, a corresponding boost in profits. Nevertheless, he was always busy, and that’s when he seemed to be happiest.
Notwithstanding the hard work and long hours, Sam Klass was always ready to sew a kid’s baseball or hockey glove, or a dropped stitch in a leather pocketbook or belt, or any other leather repair beyond the owner’s skill, as a goodwill gesture for his customers and neighbors, waving off any offer of payment. He became a fixture on South Street. At a recent gathering of 22 Jamaica Plain seniors, every one of the over-eighty, but still spry, guys fondly remembered Sam and his shop. Sam’s goodwill is still around. And now that he’s gone, one of the great ironies, his daughter Sheila notes, is how her dad, Sam Klass, faithfully rode his bike to work every day, long after people were buying cars, and now there’s a bike shop at 66 South Street, in his former shoe shop. He would be happy about that.
Sheila Klass Lepley
Sam and his wife Helen (Cohen) were married in 1934. Helen (1910-2002) was originally from Chelsea. Sam and Helen had one child, Sheila. Sheila lives at 8841 North Calle, Loma Linda, Tucson, Arizona, 85704. Sheila was a New Year’s Eve baby, born on December 31, 1939, at the Evangeline Booth Memorial Hospital, 202 West Newton Street, in the South End, yielding her parents a much welcomed just-under-the-wire tax deduction. They brought her home to 66 Boynton Street where she remembers a happy childhood among the Irish-Catholic kids who dominated the neighborhood.
Although Sheila was not Catholic, this never discouraged her girlfriends from inviting her to sit outside the Saturday afternoon confessional box as they performed the weekly ritual in the lower level of St. Thomas Aquinas Church on South Street. Sheila remembers being accepted as just another kid in the neighborhood, even if the Klasses didn’t display Christmas lights in the apartment windows during the holiday season. She enjoyed the confessional visits, the smell of the candles, and looking at the 14 relief-carved Stations of the Cross on the church walls. Much later ,while touring Europe, she felt completely at home in the many Cathedrals she visited. And now, her Arizona home has year-round Christmas lights running along the eaves.
Among her pleasant memories of a Boynton Street childhood, Sheila remembers the ice-cream man, the taffy-apple man, the horse-drawn rag-man’s wagon, the hurdy-gurdy man with his trained monkey, the war-time scrap drives, Lilac Sunday at the Arboretum, and playing in an open fire hydrant on a hot summer’s day. She also recalls the lamp-lighter (Mr. Shields), who serviced the gas streetlight across from 66 Boynton Street, various street peddlers and the bowling alley up at the corner of South and Boynton. On the list of unpleasant memories is the terrible odor of the horse-drawn garbage man’s wagon picking up feed for his Dedham pig farm, and the stale beer smell and loud noise reaching the sidewalk from Boyle’s Tavern on South Street.
Although her mom regularly shopped in Roxbury for Kosher meats, Sheila remembers the wonderful fresh fruit from Morris and Sons Fruit Stand at 666 Centre, next to Kennedy’s Butter and Egg store near Seaverns Avenue. Woolworth’s and Kresge’s were favorites and she remembers Gale’s Department store and the Odd Fellows Hall above Gale’s. She enjoyed many a treat at the Centre Candy Shop at 713a Centre and, consequently, visits to her dentist, Dr. Dan Mahoney, right above it. And a family friend owned Bell’s Department store at 706 Centre Street near Mamigon’s, at 712 Centre Street, now known as the Galway House, where Sam regularly had lunch. General shopping was done at the First National Store at the Monument. There, during the war, Sheila would proudly handle the ration book stamps and the red-and-blue tokens given as change for sales of meat and processed foods. This was a responsible job for a little girl which would lead later to her cashiering for Sam at the Saturday shoe sales. Nearby Brigham’s Ice Cream Shop and Dorothy Muriel’s Bakery offered wonderful treats on any trip to the Monument.
The Klasses enjoyed outings at Jamaica Pond and the Fourth of July celebrations there. Sheila remembers the clean restrooms beneath the bandstand and nearby, the small store that rented boats. Sheila’s mom, Helen, loved taking her to the Boston Pops concerts at the Esplanade, going to the Metropolitan Opera at the Opera House on Huntington Avenue, seeing ballet performances, and taking her to the Museum of Fine Arts and Symphony Hall. The Children’s Museum on Burroughs Street was many a Saturday’s destination for Sheila. She loved playing the clue-hunting games there and the movies shown in the auditorium.
Off to School
Sheila went to the Agassiz School in its old location on Burroughs Street, followed by the Mary E. Curley School. By then, however, her mother noticed her preoccupation with boys and thought it better if she went to the all-girls Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Roxbury instead of co-ed Jamaica Plain High. Notwithstanding its girls-only student body, she enjoyed the Burke School and made life-long friends there.
She then went on to Suffolk University where she earned a degree in Education and later, from the University of Arizona, a Master’s Degree in Reading, thus fulfilling her mother’s wish for her to graduate from college, the first in the family. She taught in the Saugus School system for two years and in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, for one year where she had to develop an ear for the old English spoken there, tuned previously by the Gaelic and Welsh she heard as a child on Boynton Street. She then taught in Montreal and finally landed a teaching job in Honolulu where she met her husband, Larry Lepley, a farm boy from Michigan. She took a one-year professional leave to travel through Europe and work at an Israeli Kibbutz while studying Hebrew. She returned to Hawaii and married Larry Lepley.
Larry became a geophysicist and worked in Europe and the Middle East, finally doing research at the University of Arizona while Sheila taught in Tucson. They settled in Tucson in 1969. They’re both retired now, and enjoy trips to visit their three sons and two grandchildren from Michigan to St. Kitts and Beijing, China, where their youngest son is an architect.
Sheila’s memories of being a Jewish kid in a completely welcoming Irish-Catholic neighborhood have endeared her Jamaica Plain childhood all the more. And, although she’s lost touch with most of her Boynton Street friends, she’s never forgotten them: Barbara Flanagan, Gordie MacDonald, the Hall boys, Barbara Gill, Ellen Conway and Agnes Cuddy are just a few of the friends who introduced her to some of the mysteries of the Catholic Church, but more importantly, to the meaning of real friendship and acceptance.
Her mother’s stress on the value of education rewarded her humble beginnings as a shoemaker’s daughter with a college education and advanced degrees. She has passed this on to her three sons.
Sheila misses her childhood friends, the rich cultural life, and the mountains and shore lines of New England. And when she is asked if she would like to move back, the answer is a resounding “YES – New Englanders have it all.” But she can at least lay claim to having grown up in Jamaica Plain and played with some of the best kids in the world.