Monday, April 23, 2012

The Secret of Grab Village - Revealed

The recent entry Locomotion in the Hub - And Saucy Boys Too! was a repost from a 2007 entry to my Remember Jamaica Plain blog. Commenter Anonymous asked a question that occurred to me when I first transcribed the article. In this sentence: "Cars likewise came down Tremont street, from Jamaica Plain, Brookline and "Grab Village," and passed through Waltham street, to connect with the Washington street track, returning by a spur track about Dover street on Tremont street,"what does "Grab Village" refer to, and where was it?

There was a horse-car line that came from Brookline by way of today's Huntington avenue, turning at Tremont street through Mission Hill, and turning again at Roxbury Crossing towards Boston. The Jamaica Plain line came in by way of Centre street through Hyde square to Jackson square, turning there towards Boston. But where was this "Grab Village" that also fed a horse-car line into Tremont street?

When I first saw the reference in 2007, I was curious, so I did some online digging. And I came up empty. I think I came up with one other reference to Grab Village, but it gave no information as to where it might be. And so I filed it away in my little grey cells and forgot about it. Now, with a re-post and a query from commenter A. Nonymous, I figured it was time to try again.

This time, I hit the jackpot. I found two references to Grab Village in the Boston Globe archive during the late 1880s. One was a passing reference in a letter to the editor that told me very little. The other laid out the boundaries of the mysterious Grab Village.

In a long feature article titled "Roxbury Explored," I found the following passage:

"To those not initiated, and this, probably implies(sic) to a majority of the residents of Boston, the uneuphonious term Grab Village has an unmeaning sound. This large class will feel surprised when informed that the title applies to a large part of the territory of our fair city, a nickname to be sure, but one that sticks as closely as a burr in thick hair in the recollections of a number of persons. It applies to territory located in the southern district, or, to be more definite, to that portion of Tremont street lying between the Lenox street horse car stables and the Roxbury stables at the Providence railroad crossing, and includes the contiguous streets and places. This is a picturesque and unique locality, especially the parts on Tremont street, which reminds one considerably of the Bowery in New York, and the more notably so from the frequent recurrence of Teutonic names upon the signs displayed.

It is, in fact, the mercantile portion of Germantown, which is concentrated in this vicinity in consequence of the number of breweries in Roxbury, Boylston station and Jamaica Plain, with which hundreds of the inhabitants are connected. Where or when the sobriquet named came to be applied is a profound mystery to the present generation. The oldest inhabitant of the region knows naught regarding the inception of such a queer name. What it implies may be only dimly inferred, and likely as not the deduction will be abandoned as not offering a clew to the mystery. "

Roxbury at Boston Neck, 1832 (BPL). The Roxbury-Boston border is at the far right side, which followed the meandering brook that drains towards the upper right corner, towards the back bay. Tremont street has been laid out, and is marked in red. Tremont street ends at what became Roxbury Crossing, where the old Road to Brookline turns west. Eliot Square and the Eliot church are at the bottom center, and Parker street goes off towards Gravelly Point at the top.

Grab Village, 1849 (BPL). In seventeen years, the same district has been built up dramatically. Again, Boston is shown to the right, and Tremont street runs right to left to Roxbury Crossing, where the new Boston & Providence railroad tracks cross the road to Brookline at grade. Multiple streets have been laid out off of Tremont street, and the little black squares show that houses and shops have been erected.

So now we know. Grab Village consisted of a portion of Tremont and adjoining streets, extending over both sides of the Boston-Roxbury border on Boston Neck. We also know that it was part of Germantown, another lost name for an area that housed and employed many of the area's German residents. It seems to have been a retail district, full of shops with German names. Sadly, the origin of the name was already lost in the 1880s.

I think that there is a good chance that my readers and I are now the only people in the world who know where Grab Village once was. There may be a few more who have stumbled on the Boston Globe article quoted above, but you may be confident that you have a local history trivia nugget that your friends are guaranteed not to know.

Source: Boston Sunday Globe, Sept. 23, 1888.


  1. I was the first poster to ask, and now I am the first to congratulate you on this wonderful resesarch! Thanks.


    Some interesting quotes at the link above about a Boston Town Crier.