Jamaica Plain's Role in the 19th Century Back Bay Fill

O fons Banusiæ, splendior vitro”
— -Horace, Odes III, 13

The well-publicized activity surrounding the Big Dig and the Third Harbor Tunnel had its 19th Century counterpart in the Big Fill. From 1858 to 1898 the cities of Roxbury and Boston, the Commonwealth and a power company participated in the well-known filling in of the Back Bay from Massachusetts Avenue to Charles Street. The project increased Boston's land area by 70 percent and cost the taxpayers nothing, since the land created was sold for lots in a fashionable section. Five-hundred-fifty acres of tidal marshland were covered to an average depth of fifteen feet.

The constant land filling began in 1858 with the contracting firm of Goss & Munson. Drawing on sand and gravel left by the Ice Age in Needham just west of the Charles River, the contractors very easily brought the material in on side-dump railroad cars and added spurs to already existing lines as needed. Thirty-five-car trains made 25 trips each day and night, six days a week arriving every 45 minutes to dump their loads quickly. A total of only 80 men worked on the Big Fill, including loading, transportation, and dumping.

Making loading extremely easy were two 25-horsepower steam shovels built by John Souther (1816-1911) at the Globe Locomotive Works in South Boston, as they moved on a track parallel with the gravel mounds and the railroad cars. "Souther's monsters" would also be responsible for leveling 89-foot Fort Hill from 1866 to 1872. In 1884 Souther's son Charles moved with his family to Jamaica Plain into a house called "Allandale" on the Moss Hill road named after the house. He had bought the spacious house from his wife Maria's cousins, the Wellingtons, and it was duly registered in her name.

Though Henry W. Wellington was a dry goods merchant in Boston, he was also an entrepreneur. He owned 88 acres of the land where currently the old Boston State Hospital stands unused on the Jamaica Plain/Dorchester boundary. Nearby Wellington Hill, now crowned by the Lewenberg School, is named after him.


Wellington's Jamaica Plain estate consisted of high ground, meadowland and marshes immediately south of Allandale Road. He bottled and sold the water of the well-known spring on his land, thus showing that today's Poland Spring bottled waters are nothing new. The springhouse still survives and is to be the centerpiece of the retirement village being developed on the site currently by another Jamaica Plain institution, the Mt. Pleasant Home, founded in 1901.

Wellington had bought his 20-acre estate from the Allen family, who had it from the vast area holders, the ancient Williams farming family with their pre-Revolutionary farmhouse were Our Lady of Annunciation Church now stands at the start of the VFW Parkway. The Allens built the house and named it by linking their name with the rural setting. Already in 1851 a dirt road known as Franklin Avenue connected Centre Street with the spring and, in an improved state, took its name from the house in 1863. The house stood on a high plateau overlooking the meadow and the highest rocks in what is today called the Allandale Woods.

Allandale partially burned in July 1888, and the Southers tore it down and built the two-and-a-half story house on fond memory at 14 Allandale in 1889-90, now marked only by the entrance posts at the start of the long circular drive. Sitting on a curving terrace of Roxbury puddingstone, the new Allandale overlooked a 60-foot long greenhouse, terraced gardens on the south, and meadow, through which a stream meandered to Elephant Pond on the south corner of the estate.

The estate stayed intact into modern memory because daughter Marguerite P. Souther (1882-1975) lived most of her 93 years there. No recluse, Miss Souther is still mentioned in hallowed tones in our area. Plunging into community activities, she joined the Tuesday Club of Jamaica Plain and in 1924 put up the collateral for the Club's mortgage on the Loring-Greenough House, the last remaining pre-Revolutionary mansion still in Jamaica Plain, thereby preventing its demolition for storefronts and house lots-the fate of all such prior houses along Centre Street.

Most memorable were the dancing classes Miss Souther ran at Eliot Hall, home of the Footlight Club, from the '20's to the '60's of rigorous but graceful instruction," as the Boston 200 Plaque on Eliot Hall still attests. When Miss Souther moved to a nursing home in 1968, the estate was quickly sold to Faulkner Hospital.

The hospital quickly razed Allandale and leveled the ground in hope of building on it. Denied permits amid cries by the Jamaica Hill Association, the hospital dumped earth and rubble into Allandale's foundations, and an ugly landfill is what the once beautiful Souther Estate, a byproduct of "Souther's monsters," looks like today. A happier future awaits it as Mt. Pleasant's Springhouse community takes shape.


W. Holton "What's So Big About the Big Dig?" W.M. Whitehill, Topographical History of Boston; Ballou's Pictorial, October 1858 and May 1859; R. Heath, Allandale Woods; The History of the Loring-Greenough House; Mr. David Mittell.

Written By Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the March 12, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.