Jamaica Plain's Great Wall
A person who wanders across Allandale Road with care will pass into the Allandale Woods, a vast natural tract of public land with ancient farm roads and newer bridle paths that extend to the valley of Saw Mill Brook and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Parkway.
One wonders how the Williams family was able to farm it for two centuries, beginning in the 1700's. By the 20th century most of the land was in the hands of Mrs. Mary Pratt Brandegee, who built the vast Georgian Revival mansion that still dominates Allandale Farm. When the city of Boston decided to add the Saw Mill Brook Valley to its Park System in the 1890's as a connector to a projected parkway leading to the Blue Hills south of the city, it bought some of Mrs. Brandegee's tract and developed bridle paths through the area. The parkway was finally developed through the vast public works programs of the Depression.
As part of the deal, the city agreed to build a low stone wall 18 inches wide and two-and-a-half feet high to mark the Brandegee border. The Roman Emperor Hadrian's Wall on England's northern border was originally built to mark the edge of Roman territory. Later, Hadrian's Wall served as protection from Scottish attacks.
The Boston/Brandegee wall, finally built in the Depression, may be only a mile in length, easily walked or followed within a hour, but in different seasons it has views just as good as those from Hadrian's Wall. The Emperor's Wall has been robbed over the years but is easily traceable. Our local wall has weathered its New England winters well. Here and there the wall's top strip of concrete is gone. But, like Hadrian's Wall it still has some fine straight runs and turns.
The wall begins just beyond the Recuperative Center at the VFW Parkway and Centre Street, starting at the sidewalk to the right of the newly-installed Allandale Woods sign.
A walk on the wall is easy since there is little overgrowth to maneuver around. Moss often covers the wall's smooth cement top.
Walking back atop this masonry's delight one wonders how its builders got the stones and supplies into place to build this chain of uniform quality. They surely had some tricky moments at the turns, dips and inclines.
Once past the view into the abyss of the Recuperative Center, a splendid straight run of wall appears behind the Orthodox Church on the VFW in the distance on the left. Here at one of the fifteen openings in the wall (unfortunately never narrow enough for stepping across) the Allandale Trail passes through toward its namesake road. Any wall traveler has already noticed the frequent steep angles of ascent and decent, but it is easy enough to hop down to Mother Earth for a while and get back on the wall once one feels more confident.
After passing along Elephant Pond and the Allandale condominiums, the wall bridges two brooks connecting the Elephant to the Saw Mill ponds in the valley. This is an ideal spot to look for signs of spring after a bleak winter.
After crossing the brooks, the wall climbs Roxbury puddingstone to touch an old farm road at the height, turns and follows it downhill, and stops to let that road enter the old Brandegee Estate in the valley of another stream.
Beyond the arches, traces of wooden fencing put up by later owners of the southern Brandegee tract lie strewn about as victims of harsh weather, but the wall remains. From the highest point in this wooded area, there is a fine southern view of the Blue Hills. Having gotten used to the breaks in the wall, the steep inclines, and the rare growth next to it, one must look for five generous indentations left in the wall by its builders for neighboring trees to pass through.
The wall soon makes its final turn after the high point and has another fine straight run up and down a valley with a freshlet at the bottom. All around are nature's quiet sounds. The presence of mankind is minimal here and held at a distance. But that changes after the last rise! Properties along Crehore Road near Brookline's southern border strike the wall with their backyards, and Neoland Road ends right at it!
The wall becomes a back fence until it terminates at the circle where the VFW and West Roxbury Parkways cross and again ends at a sidewalk.
By Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the December 4, 1992 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.