First Newspaper in Jamaica Plain

The Jamaica Plain News, Jamaica Plain’s only previous one-hundred percent local newspaper, was printed by the Jamaica Printing Co. from 1872 — with roots from 1855 — until 1932 during the Great Depression.

The weekly of 12 to 16 pages led off with a general section that was followed, after May, 1893, by three pages each for Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury. Ads revealed local businesses and the life of the times. Illustrations were few, since the copper plates required for them, made out-of-house, were expensive. Since the newspaper was founded during the existence of the Town of West Roxbury, its specially targeted pages reflected the three regions of the old town that still continue long after incorporation with downtown Boston in 1873.

The 19th century bannerhead read West Roxbury News Jamaica Plain, but with the century’s turn became simply The Jamaica Plain News. The office was first located next to the railroad and Green St., in the Bartlett Building on the Washington St. side of the tracks, as the Jamaica Plain News Co., from 1901 to 1908 (as the Jamaica Plain Printing Co. until 1907), it was then at 674 Centre St. opposite the old firehouse, in a building where the post office boxes are now.

 Home of the Jamaica Plain News Co. at 66 Seaverns Ave. beginning 1908. Photograph by Charlie Rosenberg, January 2003. 

Home of the Jamaica Plain News Co. at 66 Seaverns Ave. beginning 1908. Photograph by Charlie Rosenberg, January 2003. 

In 1908, the company built its own two-story brick building at 66 Seaverns Ave. between Alfred and Elm Streets. The printing plant was in the basement, the newspaper office on the ground floor, with a rental hall above, mostly used by a fraternal organization.

Jamaica Printing employed an editor, two female clerks, a female proofreader, a janitor, and seven men in the printroom. In addition to the News, the printers were kept busy producing The New England Medical Journal. As with many local journals, submitted material comprised a great part of the paper.

When local resident Henry Keaveney was employed there in the early 1920s, he worked under editors Olyde Ordway and Stephen Von Euw as a teenage apprentice or “two thirder” in the plant, setting type and ads. Besides working downstairs, he often became “the outside man,” bringing the finished products to the post office, then located at Green and Alfred Sts. on a two-wheeled pushcart. Henry often submitted sports stories, and in the spirit of artists who put their friends’ names in their paintings, he often tacked on a fictitious account of a post game party with his cronies. Even now he wonders if his editors were onto him or not.

To Mr. Keaveney, who followed the newspaper trade all his working life, Jamaica Printing was “a quality place - a great shop in which to learn the trade.” His job with the news was a fine first stepping-stone to a career that lasted decades at the Boston Globe. At the News, he had done everything but feed the big presses.

The firm was owned by Rouge Ledru Brackett, who resided on Robinwood Ave. He took it over in 1899 after being its managing editor for two years. When Brackett’s son, Anthony, a star on the Harvard College swimming team, graduated in 1927, he became the manager. He brought aboard another Harvard man, Gurden Worcester, son of a prominent Brahmin minister in the Back Bay, as editor.

In the it-will-never-end spirit of the Roaring Twenties, new machines and methods were brought into play. But in the bleak 1930s, the company went bankrupt, unable to pay for all the new equipment. During its last five years, the printing firm did business as Jamaica Publishing Company.

The building was sold. In payment for his legal services, Mr. Keaveney’s brother-in-law, J. J. Leonard, took three bound volumes of the News. After Mr. Leonard’s death, Henry deposited these volumes in the Boston Public Library and, with a touch of local pride, justly insisted that microfilm copies of them be sent to the Jamaica Plain Branch Library.

Another person took the 1900-01 bound volume, later acquired by Tom Hughes of the former Harvey’s Hardware by the Post Office. Mr. Hughes, a collector of Jamaica Plain memorabilia, gave the volume to Cary Keith, who presented it to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society in August, 1990. Microfilm copies of it are available from the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

Sources: Interview with Henry Keaveney, November 1990. “Change of Ownership,” Jamaica Plain News, December 23, 1899.

Written By Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the February 1, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.