Jamaica Plain’s Boundaries

Man standing by boundry marker. Photograph provided courtesy of City of Boston Archives

Man standing by boundry marker. Photograph provided courtesy of City of Boston Archives

I wrote previously about a series of Paul Dudley milestones in the area. Now it’s time to look at similar but smaller inscribed granite shafts about waist high that mark Jamaica Plain’s boundaries.

As the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council formed in 1985 and in 1987 when the Jamaica Plain Historical Society was founded, the location of Jamaica Plain’s boundaries became a subject of discussion.  From time to time, especially at the edges of the neighborhood, residents wonder where Jamaica Plain begins and ends.

One of the problems is that Jamaica Plain was never a political entity in and of itself.  Between 1630 and May 1851, Jamaica Plain was within the bounds of the City of Roxbury.  Then it was part of the Town of West Roxbury until January 1874, when all were annexed to the City of Boston.  During that period all communities took great care, for reasons of collecting revenue, to make sure that their boundaries were carefully delineated.

Small wonder that the infant Town of West Roxbury included among its officials, as had the City of Roxbury, a “Perambulator of the Bounds,” who was kept very busy making sure that the old limits of Roxbury were preserved as Boston swallowed up old Roxbury in 1868 and Dorchester in 1870.

Our neighborhood’s incorporation within the City of Roxbury is still marked on a West Roxbury/Roxbury granite boundary stone marked “WR” and “R” at the corner of School and Amory Streets.  Somehow the stone has escaped removal over the years.  When Roxbury joined Boston in January 1868, the “R” was fittingly altered to “B.”  Similar stones in Jamaica Plain are known to have existed in Egleston Square and at Hyde Square. 

A 1953 letter in the archives of the West Roxbury Historical Society also reports the existence of a triple town marker at Willow Pond on the Muddy River chain between Jamaica Way and Riverdale Rd.  It showed the corporate limits of Roxbury, West Roxbury, and Brookline (itself set off from Boston in 1703).  When the parent and daughter neighborhood of Roxbury joined Boston in 1874, the old marker was removed and replaced by a solid Boston/Brookline marker still visible on the non-water end of Willow Pond Road. 

Brookline has guarded its boundaries from any threats of reunification with Boston, and, appropriately, all the bridges over the Muddy River in Olmstead Park have a BR/B sign inscribed on their stone parapets.  Once Riverdale Road ends at Jamaica Pond, it heads out to South Brookline as Perkins and Goddard Streets.  Opposite the initial gates of the Hellenic College is another BR/B stone marker.  And if the light is right, one can see that WR was chipped out before the B was added.

On the eastern side of the Town of West Roxbury, where it bordered on the Town of Hyde Park (not annexed to Boston until January 1912), triple markers showing the limits of West Roxbury, Hyde Park, and Dedham and Boston, West Roxbury, and Hyde Park are still visible.  No one knows how many of these stones still stand in backyards as the land was developed or how many in later construction were simply tossed aside.

The Perambulator of the Bounds may have originated with those old logical Romans, who fittingly made Terminus their god of bounds and held a feast for him on February 21.  Then neighbors walked their bounds, mended stone fences, and concluded by jointly putting garlands on posts and placing products of their fields on a common cairn.  We can only hope that our local Perambulator of Bounds did his job on a more comfortable date.  Or perhaps we know now why the position no longer exists.

By Walter H. Marx

Jamaica Plain, MA