Jamaica Plain Police Report, 1872

It is fairly certain that the lockup for the prisoners described herein was in the old Town Hall, later the Grand Army of the Republic Hall on Thomas Street where the parking lot now is. Yet local legend insists that the lock-up was in the basement of 743 Centre St. with its iron doors. Here are the opening pages of the watch book with its unique spelling once again.

Police officers pose in front of the former District 13 Police Station at 28 Seaverns Ave.

Police officers pose in front of the former District 13 Police Station at 28 Seaverns Ave.

The following description of the lockup is from the Town Report of 1872/73: “The cells are built of wood, and the danger of their being set on fire is very great. There are no conveniences for the comfort or cleanliness of the prisoners. The ventilation is bad. We have as many as ten prisoners and lodgers crowded into the cells of a night. Many of these prisoners are brought in with damp and filthy clothing, which with the fumes of bad whiskey make the place anything but agreeable or healthy.”

April 18th-The town all quiet during the night.

April 28th-Town all quiet except we had a ruf and tumble with force men.They were drunk; they had been to Canterbary to a wake and they were noyse and desputed our right to hale them after hours We thretened to loock them up; one of them, Edward Salby, shoed fight. We had to take him towardsthe Lockup. He begged of and promised to do better for the future. Welet them all go home.

May 11th-Town quiet except Samuel Chamion was drunk and noyse down onFew. St., and when he was requested to stop his noise and go home, heshoed fight. But he was subdued after he had thretened vengence on all the watch. He was taken to the Lockup up in a carriage and was left thereto reflect on his good behaver. He was let out to go on his way in the morning rejoicing.

Night of the 13th-Town all quiet. Mike Kelly was drunk and had lade him down to repose on the street. We had to put him in the Lockup so that he might have better quarters.

June 2nd-Town all quiet during the night. Charles Williams opened a drinking saloon on the corner of Stan Lane. He gave the boys a free blow: they drank a barrel of Beer and then they left for the streets. They got intoa fight. There ware no room for them in the Lockup, for it was all fullof poor travelers. There was a blinde coulard woman, a woman and three children, and fore men. The boys had there fight on Green St. Edward Duffyand Joseph Kingsley was drunck and noisey. John MacDonald and a man by the name of Heley was drunck and noisey. Had to send them all home, for we found that we had no accomodations for them, our own Lockup being too small for once.

June 17th-Town all quiet during the day. There had been a good deal of noise, through the day being Sunday. There was drincking and fighting.George Curley from Roxbury and a man from Canterbary by the name of Tracey.Mr. Frank Weld had to arrest him and put him in the Lockup, but he brukeout the next day and got clear.

June 22nd-Town all quiet. Patrick Leonard was drunk; had to take Leonard to the Lockup. Let him gow in the morning on condition that he would go and take the pledge.

August 4th-Town all quiet during the night except there was a dance at Cabtabary, being Saturday night. I thought we had better go over and see what they were doing. I had with me Joseph H. Row, and we found the house and a great many people, men and women. When a man at the door spoke,I asked him if he was the propreter and he tolde me that I had not foundeout. I picked his name. He refused to tell me. I tolde him to come infi he belonged to the house, but he refused and used some hard language,for which I threatened to handcuf him.

He with others sprang at me, got me out of doors, renched away me billey,commenced to beat. Two with a board came at me with sticks and stones,nocked me down senseles. They cut three places on my head, bruses on myback lages and arms. Beat raw consierarebe about the bodey. We got away from them. One man chased me some wase and tryed hard to hit me again.He had one of our billyes.

Officer Chase was sent for to quel some desterbence at a wake. He arested Thomas McDonald, who shoed fied and struck the officer. Chas nocked himdown with his billey. Then a crowd gathered around and beat the officer and rescued the man away from him. Thus endeth the night of the forth& the mornog of the fifth of August.

By Walter H. Marx. Originally published in the October 5, 1989 Jamaica Plain Citizen.

The More Things Change   A 130-Year-Old Police Report

This exterior shot of the District 13 police station was published in a 1901 souvenir book.

This exterior shot of the District 13 police station was published in a 1901 souvenir book.

Readers probably know that Jamaica Plain was once part of the town of West Roxbury, which separated from its parent, Roxbury, in 1851, followed by both joining the City of Boston in 1874. During the Town of West Roxbury’s existence, police duties were handled by the West Roxbury Town Watch. Because the Town centered around the Monument in JP, it is not surprising that police work centered there also. The imposing High Gothic style police station was built on Seaverns Ave. in 1870, and it served as Precinct 13 until the 1970s.

From an updated column in The Quincy Patriot Ledger by Curt Norris found in the JP Branch Library, we print in the first of two reports the Watch’s official records for several days in 1860 and 1861 as America was sliding into the Civil War. The reports show a JP very different from that of today and yet very similar to the human condition portrayed in the Police Report in this issue of the Citizen. Spelling and punctuation are left, as they occur, to show an age of less formal education.

Sept. 13 - Town all quiet during the night except the Republicans had a torch light pocession. Put a manin the station for to lodge the night. There was a danse on Heyesand they broke up in a row. They made so much noise that the watch hadto interfere. Edward Duffy and his son Thomas Duffy was drunk and hadgot into a fight. Dan Helly wasdrunk. Had to dispers and take the Duffeys home.

Sept. 14th - Town all quiet during the night. Duffy still drunk & his son not sober.

Sept. 15th - Town all quiet during the night. Duffy still drunk.

Sept. 16th - Town all quiet during the night. Duffy still drunk.

Oct. 1st - Town all quiet during the nite. There was two more watchmen put on duty. We tuck posseion of engine house No. 1 for a watch house. Had three lodgers to start with.

Nov. 25th - Town all quiet during the night exept There was a man Put in the lock up for being dutnk.He came to himself at 10 o’clock and thought he would get out. He tucka chane and breek the sash and glass out of the windows but the iron bars would not yeald he had to stick it out till morning & then take five months in the house of correctionat Dedham.

Dec. 16th - Put a man in the lock-up for strolling around the streets. He sade he was from Charlestownand that his name was Loud. A man pased on the stret with a bufalo robeon his back. Sade he was going to Munroes.

Interior view of District 13 police station.

Interior view of District 13 police station.

Feb. 1st - Town all quiet during the night. Coldest of the season 28 belo zero.

Feb. 9th - Town all quiet during the Night except there was a fire. Mr. Goldsmiths house was burnt &a woman burnt to death in it. Fountain I was there and dun good service in quashing the fire.

May 8th - Town all quiet during the night except Mrs. Dunicjer was locked up for trying to Break her Husbands head with a Teakettle. she used her tung very freely.

August 31st - John Chadwick locked up Thomas Gash for being drunk. He was brought before the court,found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of three dollars and costs, which he failed to do. He was sent up.

Officer Chadwick Reports the following nuisances: Hugh Mays yard and prvey on Glenn st Also Own backyard filthy and Owen Ringes has a filthy place. Patrick Cisick has a filthy place: hog pens and swill. Michael Farral has a filthy Pig Pen. Therewas a bad place near the osscar stables on Jamaica st. consisting of a hole of stagnant water which I filled up with grabel.

By Walter H. Marx. Originally published in the February 16, 1989 Jamaica Plain Citizen. Photographs courtesy of the Boston Police Department,  Donna M. Wells, Records Manager and Archivist.


Jamaica Plain History was Something to Sing About

The chorus of London bobbies in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance may sing that a policeman’s lot is not a happy one in Act II, but Jamaica Plain police and citizens are glad to have coverage based in a Jamaica Plain location once again for many reasons.  When Precinct 13 on Seaverns Ave. closed in 1976, it was the first time in our area’s history that there was no local station, and despite modern telecommunication and transportation, residents felt more vulnerable.  For even in the days of the Town of West Roxbury our station was headquarters for Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury.

As in many towns today our police were quartered in the Town Hall, first where the Footlight Club now resides on Eliot St. and then a block over on Thomas St. in the G.A.R. Hall, not so long ago demolished for the City’s parking lot there.  When the Curtis family in 1868 gave the hall named for them today as a Town Hall, the Town Watch (as it was then called) moved in there until their own quarters were ready.  Just where the lockup was before Seaverns Ave.’s Precinct 13 was built in 1873 is now obscured in legend, which insists it was located in the basement of 743 Centre St. with its small rooms and iron door rather than in earlier town halls.

Previous columns reprinted entries from the Town Watch Books of 1860-1 to reveal a Jamaica Plain quite different (a total force below 10 men) and yet much the same with the eternal human condition.  Each of the 23 Town Reports contains a police report with statistics on crime of all sorts and on the department itself.  Proximity to the cities of Boston and Roxbury prompting a larger police force becomes a constant theme.  In the 1870 Reports the growing town of West Roxbury was preparing to go the route of its parent, Roxbury, which had joined Boston in 1868.  The Reports are thicker and constantly showing increased expenses as the Police Chief filed his own report – no longer mixed in with the Selectmen’s Report.

Chief McDonald reports a force of 10 men now with the usual statistics and deeds of the Department and mentions that for lack of room in the station many vagrants had to be turned away.  In his 1872 report, McDonald devoted a section to the then-current station.  “The building contains the Trial Room, a room for the police, and five cells for prisoners – built of wood and not safe.  The woodwork is liable to get filled with vermin, and the danger of it being set on fire is very great.  There are no conveniences for the prisoners’ comfort.  The ventilation is bad, and we have had prisoners crowded.”

The Chief then pointed out the small size and closeness of the Trial Room – particularly during criminal trials.  “There is great need of a larger building, so that there may be a place separate from the criminal cells to put lodgers in, since there is quite a difference in those that come to the Station for a night’s lodging.  I urge the necessity of providing a new and larger Court Room and Police Headquarters.  The present building, poorly contrived and contracted, cannot be altered to answer the purpose.  The different trial judges here will bear a willing witness.”

As the Town of West Roxbury prepared to join Boston, it constructed a number of municipal buildings.  Precinct 13 on Seaverns Ave., a superior example of High Victorian Gothic style by City architect, George A. Clough, was one of these.  In his last report Chief McDonald noted:  “A new police station was finally brought to consummation in March 1873 mainly through R. M. Morse, who deserves great credit for the effort with which he labored to obtain the appropriation for the new station and for his discrimination in selecting a committee.

“They have been untiring in their efforts to secure a building which is second to none in the City of Boston for beauty, convenience, and durability.  In behalf of the Police Department I desire to thank Mr. Morse and the gentlemen comprising the committee for their kindness.”  Chief McDonald may also have been pleased with the well-crafted Colonial Revival 1890 brick addition, the work of City architect, Edmund March Wheelwright, who also did the former Forest Hills Elevated Station and Glen Road’s Margaret Fuller School (1892).

This then is the account of the events that led to the prior Precinct 13.  Its municipal task may have finished in 1976 while it now has private status.  The civic function must go on and once again here.  May the policeman’s lot be a bearable one!

By Walter H. Marx, September 20, 1990