Ross Ledgers Tell of 1926-1941 Jamaica Plain
Early in September a resident in our area found two boxes of ledgers and letters in her cellar and after inquiry turned them over to the JP Historical Society. The ledgers needed cleaning and so caught our attention quickly. Four job account books and three individual account books of father and son carpenters, Thomas and Wallace Ross, had survived half a century in a corner until catching the eye of a person who did the best thing for them.
Though not all-inclusive, the ledgers run from 1926 to 1941. Thomas Ross took his son Wallace Ross with him on his jobs, and in March 1933 Wallace took over from his father. Happily the names of his father’s clients continue to appear on the accounts.
The individual accounts are quickly dealt with, as they merely contain sums owed by clients, but their alphabetical listing at each ledger’s start is revealing. The easy-to-read penmanship of the Ross’s reveals their work for Irish and German homeowners in the Green Street area between the elevated and railroad tracks by Washington Street with an occasional jaunt to the Pondside area. Thomas Ross worked at Mayor Curley’s Hibernian Savings Bank downtown a few times, several times at local churches, and occasionally for a local business, JP Trust Co. (now Bank of Boston), Green Street’s Potato Chip Co. and Raffety Fruit Man. An aspect of a past era is Ross’ work at several stables that were located on Green Street.
The job account books flesh out the money accounts by telling where, for whom, and what job was done day by day with materials and labor costs itemized. For example, in January 1940 Mrs. Flanagan had a baluster replaced and painted for a total of $1.35. Ross’s ledgers show rents from $30 to $70 and include work done at his own house, where the ledgers were brought to light 50 years later. In winter, he shoveled snow for hire, and his work must have been fine as it attracted heady real estate moguls here like B. F. Sturtevant and the Meehan’s.
The Sturtevant’s made metal products near Green Street, and their prospering business long allowed them to buy property in the area. A young Vermonter Eugene Foss, who later became Governor (1911-14), one of the gentlemen Ross worked for, married into the Sturtevant family. Two other properties on Sumner Hill, the Alveston Street Estate and the Elm Street Estate (no address given), kept Ross busy on his six-day workweek, with holidays happily noted. It is interesting to note that Ross always wrote ‘rhode’ for ‘road’.
The Meehan Estate
Without a doubt the Daddy Warbucks that kept the Ross’s going through the Depression was the estate of Patrick Meehan, whose holdings look like a Monopoly board in the Washington-Green Street area. Meehan Place atop the Stony Brook culvert across from Doyle’s is named for this enterprising Midas from Ireland, who could make money out of purchases and to his credit kept a fine carpenter on hand to keep everything up to standard.
Born in 1834, Meehan came in 1846 to America after national schooling in Ireland and worked here and there. By the end of the Civil War he was settled in JP as a contractor and 20 years later was counted among Boston’s top taxpayers. Meehan’s magical Midas touch passed onto his heirs, for the ledgers show new additions to the empire. One anchor in this real estate fleet was the hotel chain of the Amory, McKinley, Morse, and Williams-perfect for immigrants starting out in the nearby breweries.
Plate 2 of Bromley’s 1924 real estate atlas shows Meehan’s name over and over. The ledgers are of the same era and give this map more life. Readers will recall last year that Channel 2’s program “This Old House” featured a house on Greenley Place, the cul-de-sac between Amory and Washington Streets off Green Street. Ross refers to that “rhode” and probably worked there on what was another part of the Meehan Empire.
Bromley, Atlas, Philadelphia, 1924
Landmarks Commission, JP Inventory Boston 1978
By Walter H. Marx
Reprinted with permission from the November 15, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.