History of the Development of Green St. 1836-1900
The Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain has long served as a research model for patterns of urban expansion. Over a period of seventy years in the later nineteenth century, the neighborhood was transformed from an agricultural region peppered with the country estates of wealthy Bostonians to a "streetcar suburb," densely populated with middle class commuters. The suburbanization of Jamaica Plain dramatically changed patterns of land division, architecture, and the neighborhood's overall character of place in the late nineteenth century as living and production patterns shifted.
The development history of Green Street in Jamaica Plain provides a unique window through which to observe the patterns of change that took place in the community over the last three quarters of the nineteenth century. Just under a mile long, Green Street was laid out in 1836 by a private real estate speculator. The street played a pioneering and central role in Jamaica Plain's development history, functioning as a residential, commercial, and transportation conduit in the local lives of the district's residents. When it was built, Green Street was one of the first roads to connect Jamaica Plain's two main thoroughfares, Centre and Washington streets. Green Street additionally linked these important roads to major commuter and freight lines operated by the Boston & Providence Railroad and the area's oldest industrial zone along the Stony Brook). The development of residential and commercial lots along Green Street was also one of the first speculative real estate ventures in an area that would see a tremendous increase in such activity within a few decades.
Green Street's creation and growth exhibited many of the patterns seen on a larger scale across Jamaica Plain in the nineteenth century, but the street could never be categorized as typical for the area. While neighborhoods to the north, south and west of Green Street were consistent with the ideal of the residential, upper-middle class, garden suburb, Green Street's pivotal role as a connector for the neighborhood's major transportation routes made it a heterogeneous mix of social classes and uses. The street's essential function in the neighborhood makes it a unique opportunity to observe locally oriented commercial and residential suburban development rather than development geared solely towards a new commuter population.
To fully understand the development patterns present on Green Street, one must be familiar with the forces that reshaped Jamaica Plain as a whole. The neighborhood of Jamaica Plain is roughly bounded by Heath Street on the north, Neponset Avenue and the Arnold Arboretum on the south, Columbus Avenue and Forest Hills Street on the east, and Brookline on the west.Jamaica Plain was part of the town of Roxbury until 1851 when the western half of the township formed its own municipality, West Roxbury. Until West Roxbury's annexation to Boston in 1874, Jamaica Plain was the town's dominant neighborhood, hosting the seat of town government and serving as home to many of the town's prominent citizens.
Jamaica Plain was primarily an agricultural community through the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Like many areas on Boston's urban periphery, Jamaica Plain's economy was geared towards exploiting the market opportunities available at the entryway to a growing city, providing Boston markets with large quantities of farm products, water, and ice. Farmers, innkeepers, wholesale merchants, and proprietors of noxious or land-intensive manufactures like tanneries or brickyards made up Jamaica Plain's business community in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Most industrial sites in the district were located in the Stony Brook valley because of its remote location and access to waterpower.
Although farmers were the majority of Jamaica Plain's population in its early stages, wealthy country estate owners made up a small, but significant portion of Jamaica Plain's residents. John Hancock and provincial governor Francis Bernard were just two of the notable part-time residents of Jamaica Plain in the eighteenth century. The rural and genteel country character of the area persisted well into the nineteenth century.
The middle years of the nineteenth century brought a new demographic to Jamaica Plain: the urban commuter. With the building of the Boston & Providence Railroad lines through eastern Jamaica Plain in 1834, the horse streetcar service that began in the area in the 1850s, and the electric trolley service that took over in the 1890s, the neighborhood had continuous public transportation to downtown Boston in the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century. Easy transportation combined with crowding in Boston and the rising popularity of the rural ideal among the middle class encouraged many urbanites to move outward from the city center during this time period.
Between 1850 and 1900, Jamaica Plain's population increased from 2,730 to 32,750. The rising demand for real estate in Jamaica Plain created a robust market in land sales and construction in the area. Most of this development was privately funded and unregulated by any governing body or public agency and Jamaica Plain's surface gradually became a complex arrangement of streets, avenues, and rights-of-way. (Figure 2)
The early history of Green Street is representative of the development pattern of much of the land in Jamaica Plain over the course of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. The land now occupied by Green Street began its European settlement history as agricultural property. In the eighteenth century, the land extending from Centre Street to the Stony Brook was described as "a marsh with a cow-path and bars at the head of it." In the later years of the eighteenth century, as wealthy Bostonians began building their country estates in Jamaica Plain, the land that is now Green Street passed through the hands of several affluent families. In 1828, Samuel G. Goodrich, a popular children's author, purchased a large vacant parcel of a former estate to the north of present-day Green Street. Goodrich built a sizeable home and several servants' cottages on his estate and cultivated elaborate gardens in the rocky, wooded hollow surrounding his house.
It was under Goodrich's ownership that the land surrounding Green Street entered its first concentrated development phase. Less than ten years after purchasing his estate, Goodrich fell on hard financial times and was forced to sell his mansion and 38 acres of land along the southern border of his property. Instead of selling it as one large parcel to another wealthy family, however, Goodrich privately financed the construction of two roads and subdivided the land along them into 32 lots.
The plan Goodrich commissioned for the project in 1836 shows a subdivision design mixing small, narrow lots with larger tracts. Lots ranged in size from a third of an acre to roughly six and a half acres. A parallel road we recognize today as Starr Lane runs behind the lots on the southern side of Green Street to provide a right of way for the residents through the Greenough land. The variety of lot sizes was probably designed to attract a variety of buyers. Builders or individual homeowners could purchase small, less expensive lots for constructing houses, while real estate investors could purchase and subdivide the larger tracts to sell in turn to builders or homeowners. In the course of three months in 1837, Goodrich sold 21 of the 30 lots to local real estate investors. With one exception, Goodrich's buyers were all local residents and listed their occupation as "gentleman." Nearly every buyer bought multiple lots and soon sold them off to builders or others rather than build on them for personal use.
Goodrich's plan and the initial purchasing patterns for the lots on Green Street demonstrate that a market for modest-sized, individual home lots existed in Jamaica Plain before convenient or inexpensive public transportation brought large numbers of middle class commuters. In the early 1840s, irregular rail service via the Boston & Providence line and horse-drawn omnibuses were citizens' only public commuting options. Green Street's initial form also shows that a dense settlement pattern along Green Street was planned from its conception, a development pattern distinctly different from Jamaica Plain's earlier agricultural and genteel country character.
Without conducting significant title research, there is little evidence by which to determine the first residents or earliest buildings on Green Street. Directory information, residential atlases, and insurance maps are not available for the area until after 1868. The evidence that does exist suggests that Green Street began as a diverse neighborhood of modest, freestanding single-family homes and businesses. The Boston Landmark Commission's historic resource survey for Green Street dates two extant houses to the early 1840s. The first is a two-story, double pile Greek Revival house with front porch and two rear ells creating an overall U shape. (Figure 4) It was owned by John and George Williams whose harness and carriage shop sat on the corner of Centre and Green streets by 1868. The Williams House held two units, presumably one for each brother and his family. The second house is a one and half story, double pile Greek Revival "cottage," originally owned by a widow. (Figure 5) 
Similar modest, Federal and Greek Revival houses are assumed to have characterized the first phase of residential development on the street.
Although Green Street was predominantly residential for most of its history, the street was perfectly poised to become a business district because of its central location and connection to major transportation routes for goods and people. Only one commercial building from Green Street's early days survives into the twenty-first century: a modest, two-story shop with Italianate styling. The shop was owned by John and George Williams, but is unlikely to have been their harness and carriage operation. The building later served as a plumbing and carpentry shop. Its scale is similar to that of the houses on the street, and visually Green Street in the 1840s and 1850s may have been a street of primarily two-story, wooden commercial and residential structures.
Subdivision on Green Street continued well past 1840. An 1849 map of the lots along the Boston & Providence rail lines shows a new street laid across lot #28 on the original Goodrich plan with the land on either side subdivided into sixteen parcels of various sizes. (Figure 7) An 1856 parcel map advertising 41 lots along Green and a new intersecting road shows that lots on the eastern side of the railroad tracks had also been subdivided into smaller, very narrow parcels. These lots were advertised for sale for use as "stores, factories, and houses," showing mixed residential and commercial development from the onset. The plan also shows two locally oriented commercial ventures in place near the tracks, D.A. Brown's grocery store, and another unknown retail shop across the street). Based on such evidence, it is clear that by 1850, development on Green Street had completely obliterated the rural garden setting the southern portion of Goodrich's estate. The early evidence of Green Street's development, particularly the retail shops serving a local market and the residents who owned businesses close to their place of residence, seems to indicate that this section of Jamaica Plain began as a locally oriented sub-district rather than a suburban community for Boston commuters.
When map evidence becomes available again for Green Street in 1874, twenty years have passed and much has changed in the larger Jamaica Plain community. The neighborhood had been annexed to Boston that same year. Streetcar service that would take commuters to Boston every half-hour for five cents now went down Centre and Washington streets (Figure 9). The neighborhood's population had tripled since 1850, rising to just over 9,000 residents and its demographic had changed, favoring middling professionals and variously skilled workers instead of farmers and major proprietors. The percentage of foreign-born residents also rose to one third.
Map evidence from 1874 shows that the changes in Green Street's landscape since its development were significant, but did not obliterate its early subdivision pattern. Some of the original 1836 subdivision boundaries are still visible, particularly for the small, individual house lots on the southern side of the street near Centre Street. Most lots from the 1836 plan, however, have been subdivided by their purchasers, resulting in parcels ranging in size from just shy of two acres to less than a tenth of an acre, significantly smaller than the original lot sizes of one third of an acre to two acres on divided lots. Seven new intersecting and parallel streets now give access to the new lots subdivided from the original 32 Goodrich lots and to industrial sites along the Stony Brook (Figure 10). Green Street in 1874 was still predominantly residential with house lots outnumbering commercial or light industrial lots three to one.
Green Street's inhabitants during this time period were primarily central middle class merchants and artisans. Carpenters, painters, assessors, bookkeepers, widows, gardeners, teachers, policemen, and even a curled hair manufacturer all had homes on the street. Real estate speculation was still happening along Green Street, but speculators tended to be Green Street residents rather than gentlemen investors. Many, like the Williamses, had homes, businesses, and investment property on the street. Absentee landlords owned about one fifth of the residential property, and were almost all middle class. Most landlords lived elsewhere on Green Street or in other parts of Jamaica Plain.
Green Street's early physical history was one of agriculture and gentlemanly horticulture and the first building development along Green Street tried to keep in tune with its early character in several ways. Although lot sizes were small, attempts were made by developers to create an artificial suburban ideal: the freestanding house in a garden setting. Virtually every residential building on the street built before 1885 sits several feet above the road line and has stone retaining walls running along the road frontage to form a grassy terrace for the house lot (Figure 11).
Houses varied in their orientation on their lots depending on location and lot character. When both lot and house were large in size, the house tended to face away from Green Street, reinforcing a garden-type setting. The Evans house on Lamartine Street faced the side street, as did the J. Alba Davis house on the corner of Chestnut and Green. Alexander Dickson's large home did not have any side streets surrounding the property, but its entrance facade was still oriented away from Green Street. (See Figure 10.) Smaller houses on smaller lots tended to face Green Street, with the exception of those on lots between Green Street and Starr Lane. Many of these houses fronted on Starr Lane, perhaps because of the stables and artisans' shops located across Green Street. Setback distance from the street on each lot varies, but each home was situated on its lot so as to create a yard.
Based on surviving examples, all domestic architecture on Green Street was of wooden construction. Brick was reserved for commercial architecture. Whether this was because fire was not a major concern for residents or because brick construction was too "urban" and out of step with the overall character of the neighborhood is unknown.
The most elaborate homes on Green Street sat on the largest lots during this time period. Leather merchant J. Alba Davis built an ornate two-story neoclassical home for his family on his large garden lot (Figure 12). Just next door, blacksmith and carriage builder Alexander Dickson's home was also neoclassical in style, complete with ionic columns supporting his porches (Figure 13). Green Street's inhabitants were not all well to do, however. Directory evidence shows that most residents were central middle class artisans working in trades like carpentry and painting, or employed as bookkeepers, teachers, policemen, and gardeners. A row of four modest two-story homes towards the center of Green Street probably characterizes the housing norm during this time period (Figure 14).
As seen with the Williams house, multi-family housing was present on Green Street from the very beginning, but it was in a distinct minority on the street. Other than the Williams House, there was only one other multi-family unit on Green Street by 1875 (Figure 15).
Its form was similar to the Williams House: two stories, double pile, and split down the center into two units. It is interesting to note that multi-family housing in this era tended to be similar to single-family domestic architecture in scale and styling. The differences are formal; single-family housing tended to be more vertically oriented and multi-family housing tended to be more horizontally oriented.
Commercial locations along Green Street in the 1870s clustered near major transportation corridors like the rail lines, Stony Brook, Centre Street, and Washington Street. Most of the commercial lots were densely packed with buildings set flush with the road line. There does not appear to have been a strict segregation of commercial or light industrial use and residential use in the neighborhood. Several people who lived on Green Street also had their businesses there. Paul Lincoln, a carpenter owned a shop near Centre Street and lived in a house near the rail lines and Alexander Dickson, a blacksmith and carriage builder his shops near Centre Street, his home on a spacious lot next door, and a rental unit in between.
Commercial activity on Green Street saw tremendous growth between the 1840s and the late 1860s when the first business directories become available for Jamaica Plain. The directories show a remarkable number of businesses, with retail shops selling clothing, groceries, hardware, crockery and glassware, dry goods, fish, woodenware, millinery goods, and stoves and tin ware as largest category of commercial activity on Green Street. The most common services on Green Street were related to transportation. Five blacksmiths, carriage smiths, carriage trimmers, carriage builders, and wheelwrights had shops along the street. Other common occupations for residents and commercial owners on Green Street were carpenters and builders, sign and house painters, and boot and shoemakers.
Although it is not a wholly reliable statistic, three times as many businesses were listed in the 1874 directory as in that of 1868. Most occupations and services remained the same, but a greater specialization in trades and a trend towards professional services began to appear. Upholsterers, cabinetmakers, a grainer and glazer, tailors, and watch and clockmakers moved into shops on Green Street. Lawyers, civil engineers, real estate agents, and a female obstetrician also took offices there. The first saloon and restaurant opened near the rail station. In contrast to the agricultural economy of thirty years previous, most of the commercial activity along Green Street in 1874 is geared towards serving the needs of the local market rather than production for Boston.
With the increased commercial activity on Green Street through the 1870s, a new type of commercial architecture appeared. Where small-scale, wooden shop buildings might have been the norm thirty years previous, now large brick commercial blocks began to take the stage. Alden Bartlett, a real estate, insurance, and mortgaging agent, owned the majority of the commercial land on Green Street, clustered on the southwestern edge of the rail lines. Bartlett built a three-story, mansard-roofed commercial block building near the railroad, attracting many business tenants who wanted to capitalize on the commuter traffic. (Figure 16) Competitors soon followed suit on the opposite side of the rail lines, and the Woolsey and Elson Blocks sprung up there within a few years, creating a rather urban feel to the streets near the railroad. (Figure 17) These new developments indicate that Green Street was becoming a central location for business in Jamaica Plain.
Other developments in the 1870s reflect Green Street's important place in the local community. Sometime between 1850 and 1875, the town built a wood frame primary school on Green Street, providing education to students through the third grade. The unnamed primary school undoubtedly reflects the population growth in the area and the need for a conveniently located school in the sub-district.
The years between 1885 and 1900 brought significant change to Green Street and Jamaica Plain as a whole. The neighborhood's population more than doubled during that time with skilled and semiskilled workers and clerks and salesmen dominating the work force living in the area. Through the 1870s, Green Street's physical development appeared to be somewhat immune to the influx of commuters and immigrants coming to Jamaica Plain. There were few verifiable commuters living on the street in that era. As Jamaica Plain's population ballooned in the 1880s, however, Green Street began to show more conventional patterns of suburban development. The street became more densely settled with increased subdivisions of large lots for the purpose of constructing sizeable multi-family rental dwellings (Figure 18). A bird's eye view of Jamaica Plain in 1890 shows a Green Street with very few open spaces and most buildings very close to the road line. The streetscape near the railroad tracks in particular evokes an urban feeling, with four and five-story buildings lining the street (Figure 19).
By 1890, residential lot sizes on Green Street shrunk to a quarter of an acre on average, with few measuring larger than a half acre and many lots at only one tenth of an acre. Single-family houses enjoy more lot space, whereas multi-family dwellings were densely packed on small lots. Because lot sizes were so small, most houses fronted on the nearest road and sat very close to the street. The sizeable lots with ample yard space of fifteen years previous were gone.
Most residential property owners still occupied their parcels in the mid 1880s, but the absentee landlord rate rose considerably as construction of speculative housing grew. According to residential atlases, renters occupied one third of the residential properties on Green Street in 1884, but by 1900, absentee landlords outnumbered owner occupied residential properties by a large margin. Out of nineteen verifiable residential property owners on Green Street in 1905, only three were listed in the directory as residing at that property address. All three owner-occupied properties also had an additional dwelling on their lot that could have served as rental property. Most of the residents on Green Street who owned their own homes continued to be lower middle class artisans: painters, contractors, grocers, gardeners, sheriff's keepers, teachers. Tax records reveal that residents occupying multi-family and renter-occupied houses on Green Street in this era were a varied group. Coachmen, electricians, carpenters, machinists, and painters lived in large apartment buildings near the rail lines, whereas bookkeepers, lawyers, salesmen, tailors, apothecaries, and artists lived in smaller-scale multi-family units on the western end of Green Street.
The years between 1885 and 1900 saw more building of multi-family dwellings than any other type of domestic architecture. Multi-family dwellings made up nearly half of all residential property on Green Street in 1898 whereas in 1874, there were only two multi-family dwellings on the entire street.
Two of the most dramatic subdivisions and multi-unit developments on Green Street in this era took place on Alexander Dickson and J. Alba Davis's former garden parcels. Alexander Dickson split his lot into six parcels and built seven two-story, two-family homes surrounding his own house. (Figure 20)
Dickson's spacious rental units mark the first sign of urban architectural influences in domestic buildings on Green Street. The units' side-hall and bay window design mimics the urban town house. On the interior, the buildings are split vertically into units, which take the form of end houses in plan. Interior finishes are stylish, with heavy moldings and carved marble fireplace surrounds. This rich interior finish was characteristic of early suburban multi-unit dwellings as builders tried to achieve parity with the freestanding single-family house. Dickson's elaborate rental units show that multi-family housing set in close quarters was not necessarily the second-rate living situation we might associate with them today and that the garden setting was becoming less and less important to home buyers in the area.
J. Alba Davis, who left Green Street in the 1880s, subdivided his lot and sold parcels to speculators who constructed four multi-family units, two of which are connected (Figure 21). The style of multi-family housing being built in the 1890s was much different from the small-scale variety seen in the street's early days and units like Alexander Dickson's "townhouses." For the first time, multi-family units broke the two-story, two-family threshold and were divided horizontally into units rather than vertically. The homes built on the Davis lot were also much more urban in feel, sitting directly on the road line and connected like true city townhouses. It is not clear how many units were in these buildings, but they were certainly built to house larger numbers of people. This style of multi-family housing appeared elsewhere on the street in the 1890s, and not always on lots left behind by their wealthy owners. Smith Cofran built a three story multi-family unit right next to his own home, capitalizing on the influx of immigrants and workers coming to the area (Figure 22).
It is interesting to note that the connected row houses built on the Davis lot each had a name: Malvern, Courtland, Waldenmere, and Rockview. Naming apartment buildings was a common convention in the late nineteenth century when they first began to appear in cities. Although the connected row houses we looked at might not really qualify as full-fledged apartment buildings, Green Street was not long without its first true apartment "hotels," located between the rail lines and Washington Street (Figure 23).
Local investor and entrepreneur Patrick Meehan built the Hotels Morse and McKinley shortly after 1890. These four-story, brick apartment blocks had retail space on the first floor and four units per floor above the ground level. Each unit featured two chambers, a kitchen, parlor, dining room, and bath. Meehan's apartment hotels were the first brick residential buildings on Green Street as well as the first multi-family dwellings of their size. It is interesting that both buildings were located in what, by 1885 was primarily a commercial and light industrial area. Part of the explanation for the hotels' setting is that Meehan owned most of the land east of the railroad tracks and naturally would have built there. The hotels may also have been in the commercial district because of their great size and many nineteenth-century homeowners' dislike for the form in general. Overall, Meehan's apartment buildings and the other multi-family units built on Green Street in the 1890s indicate that the early suburban ideal of a garden setting was completely eroded as population pressures increased.
Commercial development on Green Street increased one and a half times over the ten years between 1875 and 1885, taking over most of the land on the eastern side of the rail lines. There were only a handful of residential properties east of Lamartine Street by 1900. In fact, the number of commercial buildings east of the rail lines almost equaled all residential buildings on Green Street during this period. Boston business directories for these years are too voluminous to search for specific business listings, but livery, carriage building, and retail were still the most common commercial enterprises on Green Street according to the occupations of known property owners. Heavy industry had also extended to Green Street from further up the Stony Brook valley. Benjamin Sturtevant built a large industrial fan manufacturing plant just south of Bartlett's Block in 1878 (Figure 24).
Most commercial and industrial architecture on Green Street was smaller in scale, however. Canadian immigrant Alfred Pappineau constructed an impressive four-story, mansard-roofed carriage factory and livery stable in 1879 (Figure 25).  Diagonally across the street were even plainer two-story commercial buildings with shops on the ground floors and office and storage space above (Figure 26). Commercial activity on Green Street near the close of the nineteenth century changed little from what it had been ten years previous, however there was much more mixing of residential and commercial use within individual buildings. By 1898, Peter Kolb's former shoemaker's shop held four shops in the front block and a dwelling in the two blocks to the rear (Figure 27).
Civic life on Green Street also saw marked change in the 1890s. In 1890, the City of Boston replaced the small primary school with the three-story, yellow brick Bowditch School (Figure 28). This new school was at least four times the size of the small, frame schoolhouse from a decade earlier. Secondly, the Jamaica Club built a clubhouse and bowling alley on the corner of Green and Rockview streets where they hosted minstrel shows, mock trials, concerts, and prize military drills for the public (Figure 29). These two late nineteenth century construction projects on Green Street signal the central role the street played in Jamaica Plain, offering not just residential and commercial uses, but also community services and meeting places.
The transformation of Green Street from an agrarian parcel to a complex landscape of residential, commercial, industrial, and community uses occurred decisively and rapidly over a seventy-year period. The street's increasingly dense development and decreasingly central middle class population over time follow traditional suburban growth patterns set forth by scholars such as Sam Warner. Green Street's unique location in Jamaica Plain as a connector for the neighborhood's major transportation conduits influenced the street's development away from the typical nineteenth-century suburban growth pattern, however. The street's central location attracted resident businessmen and artisans who served the local market rather than bringing their labor and services to Boston as residents of many other parts of Jamaica Plain did.
Green Street's early heterogeneity created a landscape displaying distinct patterns of social hierarchy in its architecture and division patterns. Elaborate homes on spacious lots like J. Alba Davis's were situated only a block or so from very plain multi-family housing. Handsome factory spaces like Alfred Pappineau's carriage company sat across the road from unremarkable wooden shops. The disparity of resources in terms of styling, setting, and manner of use served to reinforce social hierarchies on a diverse street by segmenting owners with visual symbols into social classes. Over time however, new construction on Green Street became more uniform in style, use, and siting as the residents' social class became more homogeneous.
Beginning with Samuel Goodrich himself, it was always Jamaica Plain residents, if not residents of the Green Street itself who developed property along the street. Many property owners on the Green Street capitalized on its prime location and built speculative housing, purchased additional shops or homes for rental use, or chose to locate their business on the street. Building inspection reports from the 1880s and 1890s also show that many of the builders with shops on Green Street were the same people who built much of the multi-family housing that sprang up there during those decades. This entrepreneurial spirit and response to market changes signals that the suburbanization and increasing urbanization of parts of Jamaica Plain was not a negative, but rather a positive opportunity for local residents.
In this sense, Green Street illustrates scholar Henry Binford's point that Boston's suburbs were created by the people who lived there. Population pressures and the presence of convenient transportation to Boston were catalysts for change in Jamaica Plain, but not the sole agents of the area's transformation. As evidenced by Green Street's early development, Jamaica Plain was already a thriving community complete with its own industry, commerce, educational systems, and social organizations. It was the neighborhood's original residents responding to new living patterns who created the densely settled, semi-urban landscape we see on Green Street today.
By Elaine Stiles
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Copyright © Elaine Stiles 2001