Towards the Commercial Unraveling of Green Street
When the Jamaica Plain Historical Society was founded in mid-1987, one of its purposes was to understand better the Jamaica Plain that had preceded us. Some longtime residents of Jamaica Plain can recall a vivid and thriving commercial Green Street. Little remains today except on the Washington Street end. When the archives committee began looking for pictures of this area in the various depositories around Boston, we found the photograph reproduced on the next page in the Print Department of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.
Shown is a then spacious Woolsey Square off Green Street along the railroad tracks, when they yet stood on their 1896 embankment and before their depression in the late 1980’s. Woolsey Square was on the Centre Street side of the tracks and Bartlett Square on the Washington Street side. Each square centered about the in or outbound commuter Jamaica Plain Railroad Station and the tracks, which had first been laid in 1834. Of the squares today nothing remains but a street sign some several feet above the original level in the picture.
Yet here was the seed that led commerce along Green Street to both Centre and Washington Streets. Thus on the far left of the photo one can just see the Victorian style railroad station. Across the street is a building that included Jamaica Plain’s Post Office, before its move up Green Street to its present location. The next store with its distinctive turret on the corner of Gordon Street is the Gordon Building named for its owner who gave his name to the street as well. In 1891 it served as offices for the Jamaica Plain Gaslight Company; E.B. Taylor, paperhanging’s; B.E. Murray, undertaker; and G.W. Stuart Co. upholsterers. Later it became the Hotel Gordon.
Crossing Gordon Street one comes to a block built up by the Woolsey's, who in turn gave the square its name. The block is in three sections each increasing in size and grandeur as the proceeds from one fueled the building of the next. The 1891 bird’s eye view of Jamaica Plain shows this block as #20, and lists the occupants as H.H. Nelson, grocer; C.H. Cilley, news depot; L.L.P. Atwood & Co., real estate; and A. Haxton, dry goods. All are seen easily in the original photo. Also in the building were L. Vogel, bolts and shoes; B.L. Page, insurance; and Dr. Swett, dentist.
Such was the commercial cluster around the Jamaica Plain Railroad Station that led up Green Street. Green Street too contained storefronts, usually attached to houses – all gone now – and onto a less bustling and cluttered Centre Street than we have today. Progress has its problems too.
By Walter Marx