Monday, August 15, 2011

Urban Archeology

View Urban archeology location 2 in a larger map

Ever go for a walk in the woods and find an old foundation or a broken down wall or a concrete footing that once supported a mystery something that is no where in sight? Back in the 1990s, I was walking along the Charles river at Millennium Park in West Roxbury and I noticed some carved stone blocks on the ground. A recent fishing trip took me back to the site, and I'm taking this opportunity to expose my find and put out a call for information.

Millennium Park was created when an old city landfill was capped. The site sits along the Charles river, and the old hill of rubbish now provides a wonderful view of downtown Boston, the Blue Hills and the adjacent Charles river wetlands. While kite fliers and soccer players enjoy the top of the hill, dog walkers and canoe/kayakers use the lower parking lot to access a path along the river. And along this path, along the banks of the Charles, I found these two carved stone panels.

These panels are sitting on the ground at angles under trees, so it was hard to get good photos of them. As you see, the first is overgrown with vines. Both combine words, images and standard carved architectural details.

Machinery (click on photo for larger image).

Machinery (closeup).

The first is labeled 'Machinery.' above the word are two machine gears, and to the sides are two classical figures swinging hammers. In the middle of the stone is a large shield, with a smaller American stars and stripes shield above it. On a ribbon running behind the American shield are the words E. Pluribus Unum (with V substituted for U).

E Pluribus

Unum (closeup).


The second block is labeled Leather. Again, there is an elaborate shield in the center of the carving. This time, the smaller shield at the top represents the shield of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Note the bow in the right hand of the Indian and the arrows in the left. Unfortunately, much of the motto on this block is lost. Luckily, we do have 'Plac,' which suggests the motto of the state: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem - By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.

So here, at an old landfill at the edge of Boston, we have, together with assorted other construction rubble, two carved panels. Both represent an industry once fundamental to the state economy. One also honors the state, the other the nation. They represent a melding of patriotism and civic pride in local economic successes. The obvious questions? Where the heck did they come from, how did they end up under trees along the Charles river in West Roxbury, and when were they put there?

We can speculate reasonably on the second and third questions first. This was, after all, a city dump. Construction/demolition fill could have been trucked there any time the facility was in operation. For that fact, they could have been brought in after the dump closed in a night-time job. Of greater interest is the first question: what is their origin? Since it was a Boston dumping ground, we can guess that they probably came from a Boston site, or at least nearby. But what kind of building would have had such panels in it?

There could have been commercial building downtown with such celebrations of local industries, but my guess would be Mechanic's Hall, Boston's main exhibition space for many years. I've already discussed Mechanic's Hall here,
so I'll just say that the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association seems to have been exactly the kind of booster group that would tie patriotism, both local and national, with the encouragement and celebration of industry.

Mechanic's Hall was torn down when the Prudential Center was built, and it seems entirely possible that some of the debris would end up in West Roxbury. Photographs of the outside of the building show no evidence of the panels, but they may have been inside. If anyone knows more about these long lost carvings, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. Interesting post! I don't have an answer for you, but Mechanics Hall does seem to make sense. I hope you write another post if and when you ever solve the mystery.

  2. Mechanics Hall seems right. It had a big arched entrance with (I think) more-or-less triangular carvings on each side (fitting the curve) and above - probably other decoration too. Most of the building, inside and out, was pretty basic.

  3. Right size, right shape...if these asre indeed parts of Mechanics Hall you should see if the city can do something about preserving them- they may be the only physical parts of the hall left in existance.

  4. The "Leather" engraving makes me think of the old Mechanic Arts High School which was also torn down to build the Pru.

  5. Caleb Snyder Di CesareApril 25, 2015 at 4:44 PM

    I was just here yesterday and found even more carved stones, if you're interested in seeing them.

  6. I've discovered it! The seals were part of the "First National Bank of Boston" fa├žade. I found some photos/ artist renderings along with a news article describing the building as having 5 of these carved "plaques" in recognition of Bostons significant contribution to the textile industry. Here's a couple links...

  7. Not sure this is correct. The article in American Wool and Cotton Reporter in the link provided in the Jan 2022 post describes the bas-relief as being Transportation, Cotton, Wool, Paper and Lumber. The items along the Charles are Machinery and Leather. (We saw these yesterday. Search turned up the blog post from 2011....)