Historical Sketch of Jamica Plain

From Leading Business men of Back Bay, South End, Boston Highlands, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester

Published 1888 Mercantike Publishing Company, Boston

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No suburban region of Boston has acquired a wider fame for its beauty of landscape and of stately residences than that part of West Roxbury known as Jamaica Plain. Early recognized by observing and enterprising men of Boston as unrivalled for quiet and lovely homes, easily accessible to the city, its advantages have been extended and improved with generous foresight, until now its name is synonymous for the highest architectural and horticultural art as well as natural beauty of high order, and the value of its real estate has arisen to an extremely high figure, such as only the wealth of a great city can produce. The history of Jamaica Plain has been mostly quiet and uneventful, merged invisibly in that of the surrounding region, so that there is not much in this line for the historian to specify.

When the first settlers began to know the region round about Boston well enough to name it, this particular part was for some time called “Pond Plain” on account of its large and beautiful sheet of water. It formed the “end” of the town of Roxbury but was not so quickly settled as the region nearer the sea. About the year 1667 it was named, by whom it is unknown, by its present cognomen, in honor of the Island of Jamaica, in the West Indies, which was captured from the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell at this time. The soil was unusually rich and fertile so that as the colony grew it came to demand a higher price and was mostly taken up by the richest men of Boston and vicinity. This accounts for the fact that it has been more sparsely settled than any other place around Boston, and this has made it particularly adapted for large villas. The Warren and Loring estates are good examples of the old-time manors. Jamaica Plain shared in all the movements of the colonial and revolutionary periods as a part of Roxbury, so that its history is contained in that of the latter town. During the siege of Boston, the Plain was used as a camp by the Rhode Island forces under General Greene.

When the town of West Roxbury was incorporated it became a part of it, and continued under its load government until it was annexed to Boston in 1873. At this time the valuation of West Roxbury was $22,148,600, of which Jamaica Plain furnished no small share. Jamaica Pond has several other uses than purely ornamental. In 1795 a company of Boston men were incorporated as an aqueduct company to supply water for the city, and Jamaica Pond was selected as the source of supply. Modern science had not then enlightened the ways and means of such enterprises, so that the pipes used in conveying the water from the pond to the city were made of pine logs. Though financially unsuccessful at first, the company was eventually put upon a paying basis, and about fifteen hundred city families were supplied, An improvement was introduced in 1820, in the shape of an iron main, ten inches in diameter, which was laid through the whole length of Tremont street to Bowdoin square. This served by largely increasing facilities of supply until about the middle of the century, when it became evident that the city would need a larger source than Jamaica. Lake Cochituate was then decided upon, and in 1851 the city paid the Jamaica company $45,000 for its property and franchise. Since the aqueduct business was removed, the only practical end which the Pond has served has been the production of ice, for which it is a favorite center in this vicinity. A large number of extensive store houses have been erected, especially on its southern side and an immense quantity is taken off and stored every year, making a considerable industry here during the winter and summer. But Jamaica Pond is even more famed as a skating-pond than for its water and ice. Great numbers from the city and suburbs flock here during the winter season and the Pond presents a beautiful and animated scene. There is also a famous drive around it which is considered one of the thost beautiful sights of Boston. Many very costly and palatial residences are situated near and within sight of its shores. En summer also it is largely patronized for all sorts of aquatic sports, and in addition to the pleasure, rowing and sailing regattas are occasionally held.

Ride where you will among the charming hills and vales, park-like avenues or country roads, you cannot find a spot which is not distinguished by some beauty. The place is surrounded by hills on all sides, forming a sheltered plain, which is always cooled by the breezes from the hills, yet always protected by them from the storms.

It is safe to say that nowhere in this country has the art of making beautiful homes and placing them in the loveliest environment reached a higher stage than in this charming suburb of Boston. Matthew Arnold, when he was last in this country, said that the Americans were lacking in the beautifying arts, such as architecture. Had he taken a drive through Jamaica Plain we are sure his criticism would have been modified. One great feature of Jamaica Plain is its extreme healthfulness, it being shown on the best of authoritative statistics that the death rate for many years has been only one in one hundred, a remarkably low proportion. The salubriousness of the soil, the perfect facilities for water and drainage, the sheltered position and splendid location have become widely known and have aided no less than the natural beauty of the place in its great upbuilding.

Among the prominent churches at Jamaica Plain we may mention the Central Congregational Church. This edifice, erected in 1872, is one of the most beautiful in the city, of substantial, yet graceful, Gothic style. The church was earliest known as the Mather Church, and has exercised a wide and increasing activity in every line of good work. The First Congregation (Unitarian) Church in Jamaica Plain is one of the headers in its denomination and in the best thought and work of Boston. It separated from the Second Church of Roxbury in 1770, and among its best-known pastors have been the Rev. Wm. Gordon, Rev. Thomas Gray, Rev. Grinclall Rey nolds, Rev. James W. Thompson, and Rev. Charles V. Dole. The Third Church is also well known for its great benevolence and wide sympathies in all departments of christian work. Most of the leading denominations are represented here by strong and active societies.

A noble institution, and one that is ably conducted is the Bussey Institute, near the Forest Hill station. This part of New England has always been especially interested in horticulture, and this institution is an embodiment of that interest. It was organized in 1870, and its large and beautiful building of Roxbury pudding-stone was erected in the same year. It is 112 x 73 feet, three stories high, and elegantly finished off in Victoria Gothic style. It was established by bequest of Benjamin Bussey of Roxbury, and given by him to Harvard University, to found a department in agriculture and horticulture, in that great institution. In the main building are the offices, the library devoted to books on agriculture and horticulture, recitation and collection rooms, laboratory, store rooms and conservatories. The cost of the main and outlying buildings, among which there are several greenhouses, was $62,000. James Arnold, of New Bedford, bequeathed $100,000 to the university in 1872, which was to establish a professorship of tree-culture, and an arboretum containing all trees which will grow in the open air here, in connection with the Bussey lnstitute. This arboretum now contains about one hundred and forty acres and is very carefully and thoroughly conducted, containing an immense variety of valuable and rare trees. It forms a most beautiful park, and one of the most unique things in the country, having no parallel this side the water. For those interested in tree culture it contains an immense source of pleasure and instruction. The Bussey estate containing 360 acres is now entirely owned by the university, and all the work in connection with this department is admirably carried on under the direction of the Dean, Professor Francis H. Storer.

The West Roxbury Soldiers’ Monument is another interesting feature of Jamaica Plain. It is placed at the corner of Center and South Streets, opposite Curtis’ Hall formerly used for a town hail. It is thirty-four feet high, the shaft being of gray granite and the pedestal of dark Quincy stone. The whole is planned in the Gothic style, there being a pyramidal pedestal upon a broad square base supporting the figure of a soldier. On each of the four sides of the pedestal is an arch, over which are the names of Lincoln, Thomas, Andrew and Farragut, and within the vaulted chamber is a pillar of Italian marble, on which are inscribed the names of the West Roxbury soldiers who were killed in the war. Military trophies are elegantly carved on the pinnacles at each corner of the monument. W. W. Lummis was the talented architect, and the monument is in many respects unique among the large number of commonplace designs for this purpose which are seen throughout the north. At the dedicatory services which took place Sept. 14, 1871, Rev. James Freeman Clarke delivered an address.

Near the Bussey Institute is the Adams Nervine Hospital, a well-known scientific and benevolent institution. It was founded in 1877 by Seth Adams, of Boston, who gave to it $600,000, and it was opened in 1880. The estate contains twenty-four acres on which is situated a beautiful and commodious building capable of maintaining thirty patients. Its object is to furnish a place of retreat to residents of the state suffering from nervous exhaustion and debilitation, yet not insane, and has accomplished much gQod in its eight years of existence.

For decades and centuries it is safe to say that Jamaica Plain will remain a favorite resort for Boston people and an unsurpassed region for surburban residence. Its position and occupancy at present render it impossible to be seriously impaired by the inroads of Boston’s great commercial interests. All the local departments of education, charity and religion are generously conducted. The business interests, though unoscentatious, are thoroughly first-class, and everything about Jamaica Plain. shows that it is almost entirely occupied by well-to.do and wealthy people. And it would not be possible to wish it any better destiny than to maintain its present admirable condition as a most beautiful place, pre-eminent for its model homes.

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