The Father of Forest Hills

Synonymous with Forest Hills and all that pertains to the welfare of that place is the name of Richard E. Cochran, more generally known to the residents of the West Roxbury District as “Uncle Dick”.  Aside from being its most public-spirited citizen, he also enjoys the distinction of having resided in that place for a longer period than any other person.

Although not a lifelong resident, he claims to remember perfectly the day, now nearly 65 years ago, when, under the guidance of an older cousin, he first toddled into what is how Forest Hills, then a part of the old town of Roxbury and known as the Toll Gate.  He was then a youngster of but three years, the previous part of his life having been spent at Palmer, Mass., where he was born, the second oldest of a family of six children.

During his early boyhood in Forest Hills, he attended the old Elliot School in Jamaica Plain.  Among his classmates he recalls men, many of whom are now dead, but who, during their lifetime, were numbered among the most distinguished citizens of the State.

Upon leaving school, “Uncle Dick” went to work on the farm of the late Joseph M. Weld, which at that time consisted of nearly all the territory that at present comprises Forest Hills.  Here he received the meager salary of one dollar a week for watching cows.  He continued in the employ of Mr. Weld for the greater part of the next three years, receiving during the latter eight months of his employment what at that time seemed to him the most excellent compensation of three dollars a month and board. 

Later he was employed on the Providence Railroad conducting at the same time a boot and shoe store in Forest Hills.  A drug store, the management of a real estate office and the publishing of a weekly newspaper, namely, the Toll Gate Advocate, were among the various business enterprises of the versatile “Uncle Dick”.

Uppermost in his mind at the time he started the newspaper was the booming of Forest Hills as a suburban home resort which, although the surrounding places were developing rapidly, was, at least in his eyes, standing perfectly still.  Realizing the equal, if not superior, advantages of his section over those of the surrounding places for residential purposes he sought to bring these facts before the public and the starting of a newspaper was one of his numerous ways of booming the section, many of which he has since continued.

In the opinion of many of the older residents of the place it is to these unceasing and seemingly tireless efforts on his part that Forest Hills, today one of the most progressive sections of the city, owes much of its present prosperity.

Ever taking an almost fatherly interest in the younger generation of Forest Hills, he has in times past devoted much of his time and expended a large amount of money for their enjoyment.  Among the various forms of amusement, which he had provided for them perhaps the more memorable, were the numerous band concerts, and later dancing parties which he conducted in a pavilion he had erected solely for that purpose.

An occasional banquet was also one of his methods of gathering the population of Forest Hills together, one which, as President of the Forest Hills Coon Club, he gave to the members of that association and their friends, and another monster banquet which he gave to the residents of Forest Hills and numerous State and City officials are events still fresh in the memories of many residents of the place.

Although never an aspirant to any political office, he takes an active interest in politics in which his sympathies are with the Democratic Party.  The times when he is not working for or has not got in mind some improvement or in fact anything that will prove beneficial to Forest Hills are indeed rare.  At present and for the last few years he has led a fight for a new fire station in his section, which project at present seems close to realization. 

It would indeed be a difficult matter to find a person with a larger acquaintance in the locality in which they reside than has “Uncle Dick” about the West Roxbury District.  Even today a public celebration of any kind would seem incomplete were not a speech from him forthcoming. 

An ambition, which “Uncle Dick” has harbored for several years, is the writing of a book upon Forest Hills and vicinity and for which he is at present compiling information, intending to publish the book in the near future.  He is nearing the 70th milestone of his very active life, but despite his numerous years he is enjoying excellent health and bids fair to remain Forest Hills’ “Uncle Dick” for many years to come.

Published in the Boston Daily Globe on July 5, 1908.