Colonial Stones Mark Miles from Old Roxbury to Old State House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in the Jamaica Plain Citizen on December 11, 1986.