John Lowell and Bromley Park, the Origin of the Name

  An aerial view of Bromley Heath taken in 2017.  

An aerial view of Bromley Heath taken in 2017.  

  John Lowell (1743-1802), the ‘Old Judge’, son of the Reverend John, founded the triple line that shaped New England history for two centuries. As a member of the Continental Congress, he widened the family horizon Harrison Gray Otis called him ‘the very mirror of benevolence.’ Painting by Gilbert Stuart, on display at Lowell House, Harvard University. Image from The Lowells and their Seven Worlds, Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1946.

John Lowell (1743-1802), the ‘Old Judge’, son of the Reverend John, founded the triple line that shaped New England history for two centuries. As a member of the Continental Congress, he widened the family horizon Harrison Gray Otis called him ‘the very mirror of benevolence.’ Painting by Gilbert Stuart, on display at Lowell House, Harvard University. Image from The Lowells and their Seven Worlds, Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1946.

Bromley Park today is one half of the twenty-three acre public housing development in the north end of Jamaica Plain known as Bromley Heath. Early in the creation of public housing in Boston, it was decided by the Boston Housing Authority that developments would be named for a major street or landmark in which they were located. The Authority board wanted the tenants to feel they were part of the community and not in a separate corner of it. Heath Street Houses took its name from the thoroughfare on which it was built. The name also commemorates Major General William Heath, George Washington's second in command. The development was built on what was once the pasture of the Heath farm. Bromley Park development - built ten years after Heath Street was completed - takes its name from a street which no longer exists but which was very familiar to local residents fifty years ago.

Bromley Park was a 680-foot long residential square set perpendicular to Bickford Street and dead ended at the old Boston and Providence Railroad right of way. The street was lined with brick bow fronted row houses and divided by three rectangular strips planted with trees, grass and shrubs exactly like those town house blocks built in the South End such as Rutland Square, Worcester Square and Braddock Park. Bromley Street and Albert Street came off Bromley Park at right angles and connected it to Heath Street. The Bromley Park playground, 50 - 60 Bickford Street and 950 to 954 Parker Street occupy what was Bromley Park for 75 years.

Bromley Park has a more significant history which is forgotten today and obscure a half century ago: it was the country house of the venerable Lowell family. All of Bromley Park Houses was the 18th and 19th century estate of Judge John Lowell, his son and grandson. Another son, Francis Cabot Lowell, brought the industrial revolution to America when he built the first integrated cotton mill on the banks of the Charles River in Waltham in 1813. This enterprise was expanded into the great mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River in 1823 named Lowell in his honor. On March 10, 1785, Judge John Lowell bought a 10 1/2 half-acre farm and farm house which fronted on Center Street for 750 pounds. (Suffolk deeds. Book 147. Page 269). Center Street - known then as The Great Road to Dedham and Providence - was one of the principle thoroughfares through Roxbury. The house stood about where 267 Center Street is today. In the 17th century the land was originally owned by and John Weld, one of the founding families - and one of the richest landowners - of Roxbury. (Note: until 1851 Jamaica Plain was a part of Roxbury; called Jamaica end of the town of Roxbury as early as 1667). The Weld planting fields adjoined the farm of William Heath - another founding family - which stretched up against Parker Hill.

The Lowells were not one of the founding families of Boston or Roxbury but settled on the North Shore at Cape Ann after they arrived in Boston on June 23, 1639. The patriarch, Percival Lowell, described as a "solid citizen of Bristol", determined at the age of 68 that the future was in the New World. A man of wealth, he left England in April, 1639 with a party of 16 people: his two sons John and Richard and their wives, servants, furniture and livestock.

Governor John Winthrop needed solid dependable people to settle the North Shore area as a buffer against the French from Canada and he urged that the Lowells remove to Newburyport. It was there that Judge John Lowell was born in 1743. His father was the pastor of the Third Parish Church of Newburyport. After graduating from Harvard like his father, Judge Lowell clerked at a Boston law firm for three years before opening his own office in Newburyport with two of the richest merchants in that town as his chief clients. His wealth was such that at the age of thirty he built twin houses on High Street in Newburyport which were among the finest in the port. His contemporary and colleague, the future president John Adams, wrote jealously to his wife that Lowell has "a palace like a noble man and lives a life of great splendor."

It was out of the chaos of the revolutionary war that the Lowell family emerged as a family of enormous wealth and influence in Massachusetts and established them among the highest of the Brahmin class. Judge Lowell was by inheritance, temperament and the society in which he lived and worked a Loyalist type. But he was a shrewd man and like his forebear Percival was alert to the fact that the New World had greater things in store than the monarchy of England. So although he knew the last two Royal governors personally, he threw his fortunes in with that of the nascent nation and joined the political arm of the nationalists, the Committee of Safety as an elected Selectman from Newburyport. On March 7, 1776 British General Lord William Howe abandoned Boston and removed to Halifax, Nova Scotia taking with him many of the most distinguished families in Boston who left behind large empty houses on corner lots filled with gardens and orchards. Judge John Lowell moved into one of those houses, the former home of John Amory at the end of 1776. The Amory House was at the corner of Tremont and Beacon Street opposite King's Chapel. A peach orchard grew in the spacious grounds which stimulated Lowell's interest in agriculture.

Lowell seized the opportunity left by the fleeing Loyalists by filling the void they left behind. The capital was almost empty of attorneys and Lowell prospered as legal advisor to the State Commissioners responsible for Tory property seized by authorization of the 1779 Confiscation Act. This closely followed the Banishment Act of 1778 which ordered all those who sided with the King to leave the Commonwealth. Lowell drew up deeds of sale and arranged leases and auctions of the properties. The sale of Loyalist properties and leases of others - such as the Amory House which Lowell rented from the Commonwealth - helped pay for the costs of the Revolutionary War. But he made most of his fortune during the war years in managing the legal work on captured ships and commerce seized by privateers from the British. In 1782, Congress appointed him Judge of Appeal for admiralty cases. After the war, he worked as the executor and estate administrator for numerous Tory emigres such as the former Royal Governor Hutchinson whom he knew personally.

Lowell also represented Commodore Joshua Loring whose Jamaica Plain mansion stills stands on Center Street, as well as the Vassal, Lechmere and Coffin families and others living in London and Bristol. (Loyalists from Salem moved to Bristol). Lowell handled all their affairs in America and for comfortable fees regularly sent substantial sums from the sale of property and income from estates across the Atlantic.

Judge Lowell took great interest in the growth of Boston. If his contemporary John Adams worked on the national level, John Lowell worked to strengthen Boston and Massachusetts in the years after the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Lowell was one of the founding directors of the First National Bank of Boston (His son John would be one of the first vice presidents of the Provident Institute for Savings in 1817). He invested in shares in bridges, canals and toll roads.

Judge Lowell also worked to improve the state of agriculture left in shambles after a decade of warfare. He was an avid gentleman farmer and one of the members of what Tamara Thornton describes in her book Cultivating Gentlemen ( New Haven, 1989), as the Boston Federalist agricultural society who preferred to live in country seats in the manner of British gentry.

Lowell House.jpg

This old house on a Roxbury hilltop in the centre of an estate of thirty acres was purchased by John Lowell, the Old Judge, just after the Revolution.  There at the early age of forty-two he retired from the more active practice of law. His son, John Lowell the Rebel, who inherited it, christened it Bromley Vale, and added three new greenhouses, a windmill, a swimming pool, and the tower of a ruined castle. Through the lives of both it was a centre of hospitality for foreign travelers and leading Federalists. Entertained there at different times were both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Just after the Civil War, the Vale was pierced by a railroad, and the Old Judge’s great-grandson, Augustus, sold the land for development and moved to Brookline. The Rebel’s two daughters, Anna and Amory, lived in a small cottage on a corner of the estate for another decade.  The house was built before 1765 by Joseph Gardner who owned the land from 1701 to 1779.  Image taken from The Lowells and their Seven Worlds, Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1946. 

After he moved to Roxbury he commuted across the Boston Neck to his law office but mostly he conducted his business on the farm. And for good reason. Writing in his 1946 biography of the Lowell family (The Lowells and Their Seven Worlds from which much of this history is taken), Ferris Greenslet described the Lowell estate just above Hoggs Bridge where Center Street crossed Stony Brook: "In the old Judge's time and that of his son, it must have been retired and lovely. To the north across the short pitched valley of Stony Brook, the steep acclivity of Parker Hill hid the spires and soft- coal smoke of Boston. Towards the sunset stretched the shaded hills and bowery hollows of Brookline. The old Judge taking his hundred steps on a sunny morning could see the bright waters of Boston and Dorchester Bays." Another reason why Judge Lowell enjoyed the estate - and probably why he bought it - was that it was owned 90 years earlier by Joseph Gardener whose family also had deep roots in Salem.

Joseph Gardner was a member of the small but very wealthy Brookline wing of the Gardner family. Like the Lowells they were originally from Salem. The family began with Thomas Gardener (1592 - 1674) who was probably born in Scotland but moved to Dorsetshire, England. In 1624, Thomas Gardner landed at what is today Gloucester Harbor to manage a fishery plantation established by a group of investors from Dorchester, England. About five years before the Pilgrims landed, merchants from the south of England had sent fishing vessels to the shores of New England. This was a long trip and the catch often spoiled so it was decided to build a fishing plantation at Cape Ann where the fish could be caught in season and preserved before returning to English markets. But the rocky coast proved unsuitable and the venture failed. Gardner stayed on and with Roger Conant built a permanent settlement at Naumkeag or what is today called Salem about 1626. Gardner was made a freeman of the Church on May 17,1637 two years before Percival Lowell arrived. Thomas Gardner's two sons - both of whom were born in England - were Thomas and Peter. They each married Roxbury women and as each received land as part of the marriage, the brothers removed there to begin a second branch of the family (Until 1705 Brookline was a part of Roxbury called Muddy River).

Peter Gardner was born in England in 1617 and joined his father at Salem in 1635. On May 9, 1646 he married Rebecca Crooke (or Cooke) and their son Joseph was born on Jan 11, 1759. Peter Gardner lived in Roxbury at the junction of Warren and Dudley Streets where he had a garden and nursery. For many years in the 17th and into the first decade of the 18th century what is today known as Dudley Square was called Gardner's Green.

His brother Thomas settled in Brookline and by 1674 owned 175 acres of farmland over what is today Leverett Pond, Pill Hill, Cypress Street and Route 9. He became the richest landowner in the Muddy River section of Roxbury. On March 22, 1682 Joseph married Mary Weld daughter of John Weld, one of the most famous of the great Roxbury families. They settled on land owned by her father on the Great Road to Dedham. The house in which Judge Lowell lived was probably built by Joseph Gardner about the time of his marriage. John Weld had a house in the town center and a another on South Street in what is today the Arnold Arboretum. Weld used the Dedham Road land as income by renting it to a tenant farmer. All property owners whose land was located on a main thoroughfare of Roxbury incurred certain public responsibilities: by order of the town selectmen, all property along the road had to be fenced and those fences kept in good condition; any large rocks in the public way along a property owner's land had to be removed and no private owner could remove or damage a tree on the public wayside.

Failure to comply with any of these rulings meant a fine. He built his house well back from the busy road. Of the four principle highways leading into Roxbury, the Great Road to Dedham was arguably the most important because it was a direct land route to Providence which was always an important southern ally to Massachusetts governors. Joseph Gardener no doubt met many a traveler on the way to and from Roxbury or Boston which kept him up to date with the news of the colony. The house and barns were listed in the deed when the widow Mary Gardner sold the estate in 1765 (Suffolk deeds. Book 103. Page 209). Her late husband made out his will in 1754 and is identified as being a collarmaker - or harness maker- for horses. This Mary Gardner was probably married to Joseph Gardner second, son of the first Joseph. Either that or she was over 100 years old at the time she sold the farm.

The land passed quickly between various executors who bought it for rental income from tenant farmers until John Lowell acquired the houses and farmland just after the end of the Revolutionary War. The Gardner farmhouse was. set on flat ground in the elbow of a ridge behind which was a dairy barn and, later on, greenhouses. It was built at an angle to catch the views of the Stony Brook valley at the southerly corner of the property. A circular drive led in from Center Street. The Judge enlarged and "modernized" the 17th century farmhouse with the fashionable Georgian style hip roof, tall windows and a porch. But more than this Roxbury farm linked the Lowells and the Gardners; the two great families of Salem were connected by marriage too. In September of 1797 John Lowell's daughter Rebecca Russell married Samuel Pickering Gardner at the Roxbury house. Pickering Gardner was born in Salem in May of 1767 but like his father in law recognized that the future lay in the capital city of Boston and he moved there in 1793.

(Their grandson, John Lowell Gardner, married Isabella Stewart in 1860). Judge Lowell and his growing family settled comfortably into the post war Roxbury society to live a country life . But, as Thornton points out, rural pursuits took on a new meaning after the Revolutionary War; no longer was it sufficient to simply linger among well tended lawns and gardens, These estates had to be practical; they had to contribute to the growing new nation in some way. That way was scientific, experimental agriculture. In 1792 Judge Lowell was one of 29 men who petitioned Governor John Hancock to incorporate the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, one of only three in the United States and one of the few in the world at that time. The MSPA was responsible for introducing many different varieties of fruits from Europe into cultivation in New England.

Although none of the incorporators were farmers, the Society was dedicated to the promotion of scientific agriculture designed to increase crop yields and increase the diversity of fruits, vegetables and livestock in the New England market. Despite several questionnaires sent to them, almost no one who earned a, living from farming participated in the MSPA. Nevertheless, these gentlemen farmers should not be underestimated; they were serious; they used their wealth and time to advance agriculture and horticulture in the very young nation. They were the only ones with the means and the time to experiment with fruits, trees, flowers and livestock. Farming was a civic responsibility to Judge Lowell and his son John because the broken state of agriculture in New England after the War threatened the economic growth of the region and made it still dependent on British trade. John Adams was the first president of the Society (1792 to 1796; he resigned when he became the second US President). John Lowell was the second MSPA president and he served until his death .

Judge John Lowell lived out his life on his Roxbury farm and he died there at the age of 59 on May 6, 1802. The property by then had increased to 17 acres and was valued at $10, 500 (a very high sum in 1802). Judge Lowell's principle investments were $30,000 in eight ships owned by his son Francis Cabot Lowell engaged in bringing raw cotton to Britain and returning home with milled cloth for the New England market (When the War of 1812 stopped this trade, Lowell took British industrial techniques and built his own cotton mill to manufacture raw Southern cotton into cloth). The Roxbury estate and the Tory agency and property business was left to his eldest son John Lowell, called The Rebel ( 1769 - 1840). Described by Greenslet as "short, slender, frail and fiery", he graduated from Harvard in 1786 and in 1790 built a stone house for himself on School Street where Old City Hall is today. He married Rebecca Amory, daughter of John Amory, in 1793. (Amory returned to America and Boston after the War. He was never formally banished - his name is not listed in the Act; rather he simply stayed on in London where he had gone on business in 1774 when he saw how the American political winds were blowing).

Amory Street - formally School Street - takes its name from Rebecca Amory and her father. This street began near the Lowell estate and was for many years the only road from Center Street to the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike (Washington Street). An attorney like his father, The Rebel was a passionate Federalist and its most fluent propagandist in Boston. He wrote many pamphlets and the Roxbury hilltop home was the center for visiting Federalists during the Jefferson and Madison administrations. (One particularly strident pamphlet against James Madison so riled the Democrats that they threatened to burn the Roxbury house down).

In 1801 a client whom he represented in a murder case was found guilty and executed. Convinced of the man's innocence, the verdict shocked Lowell. The next year his father died and he suffered a nervous breakdown and his physician ordered a long rest. The Rebel resigned his law practice, entrusted his investments and real estate to his brother Francis and sailed for England with his wife and daughter Rebecca Amory Lowell in 1803. In a state of depression, he stayed away for three years traveling in England, France, Germany and Italy. He wrote back to his brother that he would abandon commercial law and devote himself to farming and agriculture. From England he sent back books and seeds and trees for the Roxbury farm; from Italy he shipped back Merino sheep, among the first to be bred in America.

From London and Europe he bought marble mantelpieces, statues and furniture for the Roxbury house as well as the town house on School Street. The twin shocks of a client's execution and the death of his father at only 59 years of age, turned John Lowell The Rebel into a pioneer of Massachusetts horticulture. A great lover of England, he revisited London in the spring of 1806 and toured the hilltop market town of Bromley ten miles south of London. In the words of the 1876 Handbook to the Environs of London, Bromley is situated "on the banks of the Ravensbourne River on high ground in the midst of richly wooded and picturesque country much in favor with city merchants". It reminded the now homesick Lowell of the Stony Brook valley in Roxbury. Greenslet writes, "the long ridges overlooking the smokey valley of the Thames and the distant spires, towers and domes of London recalled the Roxbury hilltop he had inherited. . . Then and there he determined to christen the estate Bromley Vale."

In Bromley town he sketched a stone castellated tower and when he returned home in mid 1807, he had his sketch made into a stone tower on his estate near the present day Bickford Street corner of the housing development. He also built a small pond to swim in and to irrigate his planting field. A windmill pumped the water out to the vegetable beds. Judge John Lowell built one of the first green houses in Massachusetts shortly after the MSPA was organized. John Lowell the Rebel added a second glass house and made Bromley Vale famous for the cultivation of exotic flowers; he cultivated some of the first orchids grown in a greenhouse in America. Bromley Vale had a total of five greenhouses. (His son and inheritor John Amory Lowell built one greenhouse to cultivate pineapples; in another he grew orange trees).

He lived in his Boston town house in winter, but from April through October he was in Roxbury. He turned only one acre of his farm into a kitchen garden, the rest he made into orchard, vineyard and greenhouses. He experimented with sweet potatoes and sea kale, but he was most active in horticulture. And he worked the land himself: he employed only one full time gardener and a seasonal laborer in the summer. (He signed all his pamphlets critical of the policies of Presidents Jefferson and Madison, "New England Farmer". This was ironic given how much he had in common with Thomas Jefferson who also experimented with fruits, trees and flowers at Monticello). Lowell loved fruit trees in particular. "No man in the early period of this century did more for the promotion of pomology than Mr. Lowell.", wrote a fellow gentleman horticulturist who specialized in pears on his Dorchester estate, Marshall P. Wilder, in 1881.

Lowell The Rebel succeeded his father as president of the MSPA. He was an honorary member of the Horticultural Society of London, founded in March of 1804, and he corresponded regularly with its founder and president Thomas Andrew Knight. Knight sent scions of pear, cherry and plum trees to Lowell as well as seeds for distribution to members of the MSPA. In 1806 six bundles of fruit trees arrived from France and in 1823 the first fruit trees cultivated by the London Horticultural Society arrived in Roxbury. Lowell would plant the trees and vines at Bromley Vale and determine which ones were hardy enough for the New England climate. He would distribute cuttings from his fruit trees to anyone and in time this established a New England fruit nursery system. As he wrote in 1822, "We are utterly destitute in New England of nurseries for fruit trees. We have no place to which we can go for plants to ornament our grounds." In another letter of 1824, he had in his mind the germ of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. "As to horticulture. it is newly explored. I recollect the first boxes of cultivated strawberries ever sent to the Boston market; they are now in profusion, of excellent quality, although they can be better."


John Lowell (1769-1840), ‘The Rebel’, the Old Judge’s eldest son by his first wife Sarah Higginson, Federalist pamphleteer, bitter opponent of Jefferson and Madison, was considered by future generations of the family it’s most brilliant member. After the shock of his failure to save the life of Jason Fairbanks, he abandoned the law and devoted his life to travel, agriculture, and good works. He was active in the national and civic affairs from the days of George Washington to those of Andrew Jackson. Painting by Gilbert Stuart, on display at Lowell House, Harvard University. Image taken from The Lowells and their Seven Worlds, Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1946. 



In 1801 Judge John Lowell, as president of the MSPA, contributed $500 to endow the first professorship of Natural History at Harvard University. In 1805 his son contributed money to buy land for and build the Harvard Botanical Garden. Seven acres were purchased outside Harvard Square on a road known today as Garden Street and Lowell served as chairman of the committee which supervised the Garden. (Sixty-seven years later, Charles Sprague Sargent would become Director of the Botanic Garden. In 1872 he founded the Arnold Arboretum).

John Lowell The Rebel was asked to preside over the first meeting of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on February 29,1829. The first history of MHS, published in 1880 said that it was only natural that Lowell should moderate this founding meeting as he "stood at the head of the horticulturists of Massachusetts." He was a founding member, but he declined any leadership or chairmanship in MHS. He gave money and encouragement. At the first anniversary dinner, the head table was decorated with orange trees in flower from his greenhouse and black Hamburg grapes from the Bromley Vale vineyard.

John Lowell The Rebel - like his 17th kinsman Percival who came to New England at the age of 68 - believed in America. He was an early investor in the start of a native agriculture that would strengthen America's farmers. In his remarks at the second anniversary of MHS on September 10,1830, he summed up the reasons why he and his father had become - in Thornton's phrase - cultivating gentlemen. "[The United States is] too long accustomed to rely upon foreign nurseries for fruit trees and other plants. We should depend our own resources and learn to appreciate them. It has been the prevailing fashion to underrate everything of domestic origin and to attach value to exotics . . everything that bore the impress of a foreign original was sought after and admired... [but] these prejudices are fast receding before the beaming light of intelligence and patriotism."

At his death on March 18, 1840, the periodical, New England Farmer (established in 1822) wrote that "the agriculture of Massachusetts was indebted to him more than to any other individual living." John Lowell The Rebel served as president of the Boston Athenaeum from 1816 to 1819. In 1834, several members of the Athenaeum commissioned the sculptor John Frazee to carve of bust of Lowell which they presented to the library the next year. It resides today in the second floor art and architecture room. In 1872, his son John Amory Lowell gave a marble bust of his father to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, possibly a copy of the Frazee bust.

The estate and the family law practice passed to John Amory Lowell (1798 - 1881). Amory Lowell was just as much an enthusiast about horticulture as his father and grandfather. Like his father he cared for the orchards and vineyard at Bromley Vale, he was president of the MSPA and active in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. In 1846 he contributed $1000 to establish the Lowell Award for advancement in horticulture. He was also a contributor to the building fund for the second home of the Society on Tremont and Bromfield Streets, which opened in September, 1865. But it was John Amory Lowell's primary responsibility to face the future of the Bromley Vale, which now stretched to thirty acres.

On June 11, 1834, the Boston and Providence Railroad opened its passenger line along the valley of Stony Brook through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, making it one of the first rail lines in Massachusetts. The railroad skirted the Lowell property and crossed Center Street at grade. In 1866 when the Boston and Providence Railroad announced that it planned to widen its right of way and expand service to include freight cars for the burgeoning industries in the valley, Lowell and his son Augustus, both living at Bromley Vale, realized that section of Roxbury was dramatically changing. Augustus (1830 - 1900) moved to a nine and a half acre estate on Heath Street in Brookline that he bought in that same year which he called Sevenels (after the seven Lowells in his family). John Amory made plans to subdivide the estate. The first land sale was a 1/4 acre parcel with buildings on it situated between the railroad right of way and Center Street which Lowell sold to Magnus Lefstrom on April 29,1859. The deed contained a set of restrictions which bound Lefstrom to how the land could be used. First it could be for his use only (thus preventing speculation) and second "that any building built will not be for a factory, manufacturing of any kind or for a blacksmith or foundry shop or machine shop" (Norfolk County deeds, Book 275. Page 292). It's interesting that the founding family of the factory city of Lowell did not seem to want such things built near their estate. On January 13, 1870, Amory Lowell sold a 7,562 square foot parcel to the Boston and Providence Railroad Corporation for $13,216. This was a long strip of land which paralleled the existing right of way thus doubling its width. A new passenger station - Heath street - was built on this parcel midway between Heath Street and New Heath Street (the latter was laid out by the City of Roxbury through a land purchase from John Amory Lowell in 1861). The next day, he gave the mansion house and 59,360 square feet of land (roughly one and one third acre) to his two unmarried sisters, Rebecca Amory and Anna Cabot Lowell to be theirs as long as they lived. (Book 987. Page 176). Rebecca - known all her life as Amory - died at the age of 79 in December of 1873; her sister would live another twenty years. Now that his sisters were taken care of, John Amory turned to the remainder of the property. He acted as both planner and developer. Although he did sell large parcels - particularly along Center Street - to a single buyer, for the most part he made certain that the property would be built up with attached town houses. The principal residential street he called Bromley Park to commemorate the name of Judge John Lowell's farm. John Amory financed three new streets all which came off Bromley Park: an extension of Parker Street, Bromley Street and Albert Street; the latter was parallel to the railroad right of way. Parker Street extension was completed in August of 1871. Albert Street more than likely takes its name from Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. The street was laid out in 1872 the same year that the great Albert Memorial was unveiled in Kensington Park in London. The earliest plan showing the layout of three new squares perpendicular to Bickford Street is dated May 10,1870 (Book 1001. Page 275). Bromley Park was built in 1872.

A plan dated January 2, 1872 accompanying a sale of one parcel shows a row of house lots facing a square labeled Bromley Park (Book 1086. Page 271). On May 10, 1870, three large parcels totaling 3 and 3/4 acres facing Center Street were sold to his neighbor Owen Nawn for $85,000. Nawn lived in a large house on 2.29 acres of land directly opposite Bickford Street. (Chestnut Street goes through what was the Nawn property today ). This sale included the stone tower and walls near Bickford Street which John Lowell The Rebel built in 1807. The deed restricted that the road which Lowell intended to build from Heath Street (i.e. Parker Street) be kept open as a through way. A second large parcel of almost two acres was sold to the brewer William Alley on April 17,1871. Alley built a small brewery and three stables on the square parcel bordered by Bickford, Parker and Heath Street. This transaction seemed to contradict the restrictions placed on one of the first sales of Lowell land on March 12, 1870 near Heath Street : "nothing shall be built except a dwelling house. No factory or store and nothing built in which spirituous or intoxicating liquors shall be sold" (Book 993. Page 73). Development of Bromley Park began in earnest so that by 1873 the entire street was built up with 28 brick row houses. On the west side of Bickford Street, Abraham Lent built twenty-seven brick row houses on a lot he bought from Lowell on June 2, 1872 (Book 1109. Page 220). This whole lot is shown built up on the 1873 Atlas of Roxbury. (The last of the houses, all in a state of dilapidation, was razed in 1977). Eighteen other brick row houses were built on Parker and Bromley Streets adjacent to Bromley Park. The timing was perfect: in September of 1873 the United States slipped into the worst depression in its history caused ironically by chaotic railroad expansion. This halted any business investment in the country for six years. By then John Amory Lowell had determined the character of the subdivision of his family's estate in one of the first planned residential communities in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.

John Amory Lowell lived out his last decade in his town house at number 7 Park Street opposite Boston Common and there he died at the age of 83 in 1881. His trustees continued to sell off a few house lots but all rowhouse construction on Bromley and Parker Streets ceased after 1884. Thirteen of these house on the east side of Parker Street were still vacant when the BHA purchased them in 1952. A bakery was built on Bromley Street house lots by 1919.


The Lowell family burial plot at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. The stones for ‘Old Judge’ John Lowell and for his son, ‘The Rebel’ are on the left. The Old Judge was removed from the family tomb at the Boston Common Burial Ground in 1895 to allow for the construction of the Boylston Street subway. The author acknowledges with gratitude Ms. Dee Morris for her assistance in locating the Lowell plot.  Augustus Lowell, who sold and subdivided his family’s estate, is buried with his family in another part of the cemetery. Photograph courtesy of Richard Heath, April 28, 2001

On April 1,1884, Owen Nawn sold a 30,000 square foot lot for $2000 on the east side Bickford Street to the City of Boston for the Lucretia Crocker School. ( Book 1631. page 614). This was the second school built in this rapidly growing corner of Jamaica Plain; in 1874 the Lowell School was built on Center and Mozart Streets. Anna Cabot Lowell died at her home in the remnants of Bromley Vale on November 14,1894 at the age of 86. The Boston Post wrote that with her death, Boston "has lost one of the last survivors of the older generation. her charities were numberless and during her life she did what she could to help the community in which she loved. She died at her home [of] many years near Hogg's Bridge in what was formerly the City of Roxbury." [Hogg's Bridge carried Center Street over Stony Brook where Center and Columbus avenue intersect today]. "Miss Lowell's family has long been known throughout the Commonwealth and many of her ancestors have had much to do with building its present prosperity." The Lowell mansion was razed soon afterwards.

The next year the Boston and Providence Railroad began the enormous project of eliminating the many dangerous grade crossings along its right of way from the South End to Forest Hills. Beginning in August of 1895, its crews built a 20 foot granite causeway starting at Cumberland Street in the South End and extending to just beyond Forest Hills Between Roxbury Crossing and Jackson Square, this work required rerouting Stony Brook and placing it in a brick culvert over which the granite causeway was then built. Steel plate bridges supported by iron beams were built at the Center Street, Heath Street and New Heath crossings. By the end of 1897, a solid wall of granite separated Bromley Park from the rest of Roxbury.

Trains now roared past at the same level of the row house rooftops. By then many of these houses had been converted to tenements for the workers in the growing brewery businesses which were expanding rapidly on Heath Street. On June 12, 1912 the Ward Baking Company of New York City bought the last parcel of Bromley Vale which had been the home of the two Lowell sisters. (Book 3668. Page 401). But the company never built on its land and it remained vacant for the next 40 years until it was bought by the Boston Housing Authority in 1952 for a second planned residential community, the Bromley Park development. Buildings Number Three (275 - 279 Center Street), Number Four (265 - 267 Center Street) and Number Fifteen (today next to the MBTA station) were built on the site of the Lowell mansion and gardens. After the mansion was destroyed, the only architectural fragment that recalled the name of Lowell was the school at the corner of Mozart Street. This was razed in 1959 and Mozart Playground was built. Today only the name Bromley Park remains to recall the Lowell family.

Richard Heath
June 30,1999

Catharina Slautterback helped me greatly by finding travel books about Bromley in England and for helping me with portraits of the Lowells.

Sally Pierce vastly improved this paper for suggesting I look at Cultivating Gentlemen.