Jamaica Plain Once Part of West Roxbury

Some years ago when the old Jamaica Plain High School was being redone for housing, a photograph of the school appeared in the Citizen showing an ivy-crowned metal plaque with the words “West Roxbury High School” over the door. Puzzled persons asked about this seemingly misplaced sign, but the marker was retained from the predecessor when the Tudor-style school was built in 1901.

Boston did not acquire its present boundaries until the annexation of Hyde Park in 1912. In colonial times Boston was a peninsula leading out of Roxbury at the Neck (the present Washington and E. Berkeley Sts.), which was later tripled by landfill. Tourists to historical Boston view only the area we consider “downtown.” Directly south of Boston two towns were established at the same time in1630: Roxbury and Dorchester. All three municipalities had their own identities until Dorchester joined Boston in 1870 as Roxbury had two years earlier.

The industrialized and populous City of Roxbury that joined Boston had been stripped of three-quarters of its former area when its southwesterly section broke away and, by permission of the Legislature, became the Town of West Roxbury in May, 1851 – an effort dating back to 1705. The chief reasons given were to preserve the bucolic nature of the region and to prevent exploitation from officials more concerned with Roxbury’s center. The Town of West Roxbury survived annexation to Boston until January 1874.
Thus from 1851 to 1874 the area of Roslindale, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain had to see to their own town functions. The West Roxbury/Roxbury line ran from Seaver St. to Columbus Ave. from Egleston Square to behind Hyde Square down to Willow Pond (between Ward’s and Leverett’s). Though West Roxbury and Roslindale had main roads with some houses, most side-roads led to farms; Jamaica Plain was more developed, though it still had many country estates.

The town government grew up around the ancient junction of Centre and South Streets, first called Eliot Square from its first owner, the Rev. John Eliot, that unique Apostle to the Indians. The name changed to Monument Square when the town (like so many others) built its striking temple to its Civil War dead in 1871.

Town government was first housed in the former wooden building on Thomas St. that later served the Civil War vets association, the Grand Army of the Republic. The more fitting Curtis Hall was built in 1868 largely by a member of that old Jamaica Plain family in those days before income tax provided funding for public works. Curtis Hall also served as the town library. A transcript of the speech given at the dedication of the municipal building is available in the Sedgwick St. Library.

Towards the end of the town’s existence the fire brigade was housed in the same building on Centre St. just vacated by its successor, while the police continued to work out of the Precinct 13 building on Seaverns Ave. The Town of West Roxbury built these sturdy buildings purposely to be sure of the excellent service once taken over by a more distant City Hall. The wheels of justice grind slowly but surely. Our latest courthouse, built in 1922 and now in Forest Hills, retains the name of our former town, West Roxbury.

The granite shaft serving as a boundary stone with Brookline at the end of Perkins St. next to a gate to the Hellenic College has WR and the B inscribed on its eastern side. These are the more easily seen traces of the Town of West Roxbury in Jamaica Plain. Readers may be able to think of more.

By Walter H. Marx