Monday, April 30, 2012

Streets in the Air

Not a particularly good reproduction of the drawing that went with the article. If you squint, you can see two elevated highway structures running down a wide, imaginary street. They seem to have seen this proposed elevated highway as simply a stacked up downtown street that would relieve traffic, rather than a through highway connecting the North and South Shores. The artist who drew the image above not only invented a very wide street with buildings on either side, he also managed to ignore the necessary on and off ramps. In any case, the planned roadway in the sky did get built, and it became the Central Artery. 

Daily Boston Globe December 21, 1930

Streets In The Air Only Solution To Boston's Traffic Problems

So Says the Planning Board That Asks for Two-Level Road Across City, Costing $28,000000, as First Item in a Big Scheme

Boston's plans for a system of overhead express motor highways withing the city for general relief of traffic congestion as still only on paper; New York city last week opened to public travel the first $6,500,000 "leg" of such an elevated thoroughfare, which is eventually to stretch along the Hudson River shore from the Battery clear through the Bronx.

The Boston scheme for about $50,000,000 worth of such overhead, unintersected highways, handsomely set forth in a Boston City Planning Board report of the thoroughfare plan for Boston, based on a three-year study of local problems by consultant Robert Whitten, who had to do with the New York project, is still being explained to and debated by local civic and professional organizations.

This is imperative, prior to Mayor Curley's effort to get Legislative sanction for it, wholly or in part.

Losing $24,000,000 a Year

Sorely as Boston apparently needs the relief that some such plan would give, nothing more is likely to be done about it for at least a year or two. Yet all who like to visualize the Boston of a half-century hence will secure and study a copy of this fascinating document, for some such means of public travel will inevitably be a part of the future Bostonian scene.

Arguments for abolition of street-traffic grade-crossings would be superfluous to motorists and truck-men driving through the present-day Boston. They know all the arguments, daily halting as them must, from two to eight minutes, at the city's multiple existing traffic-jammed crossroads.

Men whose word is authoritative calculate that delays in traffic movement in Boston impose a daily loss of $81,000 upon the collective Bostonian pocketbook. This conservatively-estimated $24,000,000 annually is computed as losses to ultimate consumers of foodstuffs and other merchandise caused by delays in trucking these across the congested city, and to time-losses to passengers in congestion-stalled automobiles.

Only a Beginning

The City Planning Board's overhead express highway system embodied in the report is based upon the authorized construction of the $16,000,000 East Boston vehicular tunnel. This tunnel will not be completed for four years, but unless the major part of the board's plans are in operation a few years after the tunnel is opened, downtown Boston traffic movement will come pretty near to complete paralysis by reason of heavier burned of tunnel traffic imposed upon an already strained situation, these authorities are convinced.

Anticipating that the next two or three decades may see in this corner of the country a doubling of the number of vehicles now upon the highways, and, convinced of the inadequacy of city-proper channels to handle with expedition even the loads that are now upon them, these authorities predict that the East Boston vehicular tunnel must necessarily have two two-way lanes, as has New York's Holland Tube, properly to accommodate the volume of traffic between Boston and the North that will eventually use the local under-harbor tunnel.

They are urging amendment of the enabling tunnel to act so as to provide this double tunnel act so as to provide this double tunnel, at perhaps a 70 percent increase in cost over the prescribed $16,000,000 for one double-lane tunnel.

Air the Only Room Left

The main feature of the relief plan sponsored by the Planning Board is a broad two-level highway, stretching from teh vicinity of the North Station through the heart of the city's business district, through Forest Hill sq and to the junction of Kneeland and Albany streets.

The upper-level structure, of reenforced concrete or of steel and granite, would be carried from the North Station to the junction named and then extended out over Albany st to a point beyond Dover st.

The cost of such a highway is reckoned at $28,000,000, since for many stretches it would require demolition of existing buildings and purchase of right of way. The argument for it is that it would for a century to come furnish adequate facilities for the rapid movement of north-south bound traffic that now stagnantly flows through the city proper.

The most potent argument against such a highway is the argument against all overhead structures within a city - the argument that eventually will bring the Boston Elevated superstructures in Charlestown and Roxbury underground.

Proponents of this 100-foot wide general overhead express motor highway scheme can answer, however, that inasmuch as Boston's present transportation-subway layout forbids some such tunnel underpass for traffic through the heart of the city, the natural alternative is to put such a highway on stilts rather than underground.

Picturing Future Conditions

A system of periodical ramps by which this upper-level surface could be mounted or demounted by through traffic would put this semi-loop in easy touch with local traffic centers, like the East Boston tunnel, the Northern artery, and all water-bridges linking Boston with northern and westerly points, its proponents claim.

To postpone adoption of some such general plan for relief of vehicle-crowded downtown highways would be about as disastrous to Boston's future as postponement a generation ago for the digging of the Park-st subway would have been, Planning Board spokesmen say.

They picture conditions as they might have been today had not the community the foresight to provide means of eventually taking all the trolly cars out of the downtown section by putting them underground.

In contrast to characteristic local inertia in tackling in a big way the solution of city-wide traffic congestion, they point to relief measures already adopted by New York and New Jersey, which has now in partial operation an elevated express highway for motor vehicles extending from the Jersey end of the Holland tunnel through Newark, Elizabeth and toward Philadelphia; they point to Detroit, Chicago and to California metropolises which have adopted the two-level express highway principle.

Items 1 and 2

They reckon that this proposed Boston two-level express highway for north-south traffic would reduce by 40 percent, at least, the existing congestion on surface highways in the downtown district - mainly, Washington and Tremont sts.

The Chamber of Commerce Retail Trade Board has approved all of the suggestions in principle.

The entire plan is, or course, tentative, and its execution would be staggered over 10 or 15 years. Thus there would be ample time to make amendments or modifications of the plan, as warranted.

The twin two-lane East Boston vehicular tunnel scheme and the Central Artery for express traffic between the North Station terrain and Dover st are simply Items 1 and 2 of this Boston City Planning Board scheme of wide scope. They are the immediately pressing ones, it is urged.

But, in order that maximum benefit may be derived, they must eventually be tied in with other mainn-stem through traffic routes; a two level Roxbury, crosstown double-decked highway and the North Shore radial, extending between Lynn and Boston between the lines of the present B & M R.R. and Narrow Gage Railroad rights of way, would be built by State appropriation, it is hoped.

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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Daniel Nason, and Roxbury's Locomotive Works

I just stumbled on this video someone made at the St Louis Transportation Museum.

This locomotive is the Daniel Nason , built in 1858 for the Boston & Providence railroad line. She's a wood-fired locomotive designed by George S. Griggs and built at the Roxbury shop. The eponymous Daniel Nason was the Superintendent of Transportation at the Boston depot of the Boston and Providence line. I knew from maps that the shop facility was there, mostly on the west side of the railroad tracks just north of Ruggles street, but I didn't know that they built their own locomotives there.

Boston and Providence shop, 1849 (Charles Whitney, BPL).

Note the location of the locomotive works on this 1849 map. To orient yourself, Tremont street runs across the bottom of the map, the Boston and Providence tracks come through Roxbury on the left and cross the Back bay (the water, that is) to the right. And the peninsula pointing towards the upper right is Roxbury's Gravelly Point. Parker street runs out to the point. Today, the tip of Gravelly Point would be near the intersection of Boylston street and Massachusetts avenue.

Boston & Providence shop, 1852 (Henry McIntyre, BPL).

Boston had at least two dedicated locomotive manufacturers, the Hinkley Locomotive Works, between Harrison avenue and Albany street, and the Globe works in South Boston. Both were located along the South Bay, and before Albany street was laid out on fill, both had access to piers and the harbor. The Boston and Providence, on the other hand, was land-locked, and had to bring in raw materials overland. Of course, since they owned the track, the B&P could no doubt bring it its necessities at cost.

George S. Griggs was the master mechanic at the B&P shop, and designed the locomotives built there. Griggs was hired in 1934 just as the company was getting off the ground, and built his first locomotive in 1845. At this early stage, locomotive designers had to be inventors as well as mechanics, and Griggs owned multiple patents, including a critical one for using a brick arch inside the firebox, which allowed higher burning temperatures and the use of coal.

1852, wider view (Henry McIntyre, BPL).

George Griggs lived at Milford place, shown above. It ran from Tremont st (the main street from upper right to lower left) to Grinnell st, which ran along the railroad tracks. So as was common during the 19th century, Griggs could walk (and probably see the factory) from home. He died still living there in 1870, and the company was still producing locomotives at the time based on his designs.

B & P shops, 1873 (Wards Maps).

Repair shop, 1931 (Boston Atlas).

Notice that Columbus avenue has now been laid out through Milford place, where Griggs lived, and it is now Sarsfield st. To help orient yourself, Milford place/Sarsfield street is now the short connector between Columbus avenue and Tremont street, directly opposite Melnea Cass boulevard. And the old locomotive works is now part of the campus of Northeastern University.

For a look at a very early carriage that ran on the Boston & Providence line, check out a related post on my Jamaica Plain history blog.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lawley's Shipyard

Launching at Lawley's yard, Neponset (BPL Flickr photo group).

This entry starts with the photo above, from the wonderful Boston Public Library Flickr photo group. It was this treasure trove that first revealed the existence of the Lawley shipbuilding business to me. And of course, as usual, one thing leads to another, and the story grows. I began with the intention of discussing the Lawley yard in Dorchester - a classic example of the kind of forgotten enterprise I enjoy sharing with you on this site . Once I got digging, it quickly became obvious that there was more to tell.

Lawley's Yacht yard, City Point, South Boston, 1899.

Remember that I said this story started with a yacht building yard in Dorchester. At the time, I didn't realize I was coming to the story late. George Lawley came from a shipbuilding family in London, and when he immigrated to the United States went to work for the famous Donald McKay in East Boston. Just after the end of the Civil War, Lawley and a partner opened a shipyard in Scituate, specializing in yachts. Success brought them back to Boston, where they set up shop in South Boston. On a site near City point, shown above, they built the winners of the 1885 and 1886 America's Cup, Puritan and Mayflower. One more move took them out of South Boston, and down to Neponset, at Port Norfolk. Over time, four generations of Lawleys would build boats in Boston.

Lawley & Sons shipyard on the Neponset River, Port Norfolk, Dorchester, 1918.

Satellite photo of the mouth of the Neponset river. Arrow points to former location of Lawley's shipyard. Also note above and to the left of the arrow at the mouth of the river, the gas tank that now sits along the Southeast expressway.

Beyond their work with yachts, Lawley & Sons also produced boats for the US Navy during both world wars. The built sub chasers, and, in WW II, landing craft. tank barges and tugs. Their last listed boat was a landing craft, January 3, 1945, the year the company went out of business.

Some great photos of Lawley yachts here.

George Lawley & Sons Wikipedia page.

A list of boats produced by Lawley & Sons here with their history.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Brighton Cattle Call

Brighton, 1819 (BPL). Note the Agricultural Hall and Cattle Fair.

Brighton's history as a market center goes all the way back to 1776, when the Winships provided meat to General Washington's troops. By the end of the century, they were the largest meat packers in Massachusetts. Originally part of Cambridge, the town of Brighton was formed in 1807, allowing a focus on the cattle market. The state agricultural fair was soon located in Brighton, and the coming of the railroad in the 1830s allowed access from the rest of the state.

The Brighton Market on market day (BPL Flickr photo group).

The Cattle Fair Hotel became the center of business for the trade, and was run by Zachariah Porter, whom Porter square in Cambridge and the Porterhouse steak were named after.

As the town grew in population and agriculture gave way to industry in Massachusetts, the meat packing business was moved to empty land along the Charles river, where the Brighton abattoir was built. The abattoir would remain until the 1950s, when it was demolished for the Leo M. Birmingham Parkway and Soldier's Field Road.

Rather than go into more detail, I'll just point you to the links below, which already tell the story.

Brighton Allston Historical Society

Brighton Abattoir

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

Since I started blogging about Boston area history, I've come to the conclusion that 95% of what goes on is lost to history. Perhaps the Internet has changed that, but for the times I'm looking at here I think it holds pretty well. I have an example of this phenomenon here below. Although baby boomers tend to imagine that they (we) invented illegal drug use, of course use of such substances goes well back in the history of the Republic. It wasn't until 1914 that the Harrison Act required narcotics to be restricted to prescription sale and use only. Various bureaucratic and legislative actions soon blocked even those legal sources of narcotics.

The two articles transcribed below do not represent the first notices of narcotic drug use in Boston. There are earlier examples, going back to the 1920s. It seems as if the South End was the first illicit narcotic district in the city (I'm discounting what may have been done by sailors in the North End during earlier years or in Chinatown for lack of documented cases). The South End had begun as a residential district that might rival the Back Bay, but quickly failed that aim and turned to a mixed district of boarding houses, factories and institutions.

So what was the South End really like in the 1930s? Was it a high crime district, or was it just shabby? Did the neighborhood attract the narcotics dealing, or did the narcotics dealing help create the neighborhood? The answer to these questions would require a dissertation's worth of effort, so I'll leave such questions hanging.

Daily Boston Globe September 6, 1933

Hides Narcotics In Flower Bed

Seller Uses Public Garden as Base - Four Arrests.

An alleged seller of narcotics, who, it is charged, his wares among the flowers in the Public Garden and peddled them to addicts among the crowd watching horse-shoe players on the Charles-st. Mall of Boston Common, was arrested, yesterday, by Federal Narcotic Agent Charles E. Burrows and Inspector Daniel J. Curran of the Boston Police.

The arrest was one of four the two officers made during a period of three hours yesterday afternoon. Three men were charged with being sellers of narcotics, the fourth being an addict and having narcotics in his possession.

The men taken into custody were booked as Andrew Oreno, 41, Broadway, South Boston; George Rochman, 30, Wellington Hill st, Mattapan; William Pratt, 34, Dudley st, North Cambridge, and Nathaniel Fox, 30, Main st. Charlestown. Fox was listed by Police Commissioner Hultman, recently, in his list of public enemies, submitted to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.

Oreno is the man, police say, who used the flower beds of the Public Garden as hiding places for narcotics. Oreno would contact addicts on the Common, learn how many grains the customer wanted, then cross Charles st. to the Garden, obtain the drug an return to deliver it, police say.

Agent Burrows and Inspector Curran watched Oreno Lean over a flower-bed near the bridge across the pond in the Garden. As he started through the gate from the Garden to Charles st the officers grabbed him. They found a deck of heroin, 10 grains, on Oreno, the officers said.

The other three arrests were made in the South End. Nathaniel Fox was sighted on Davis st, near Washington st by Agent Burrows. Fox saw Burrows and fled. He was chased to Washington st, where Burrows collared him.

Rochman and Pratt were arrested on Washington st near Dover st. Rochman, an addict, according to Agent Burrows, put up a fight when Burrows grabbed him. Inspector Curran grabbed Pratt. Rochman had five grains of the narcotic in his possession and Pratt 10, the officers said.

Pratt has twice served terms in Leavenworth Penitentiary for violation of the Federal narcotic laws All four will appear in Federal Court today.

Daily Boston Globe February 28, 1937

'King' Of South End Is Taken By Raiders

Narcotics Net Also Traps 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' Pair

Following up a narcotics clean-up campaign started by Capt James F. Daley, formerly in charge of the South End police district, Federal and Boston narcotic squads yesterday afternoon broke into a three-story apartment house on Columbus ave, South End, and arrested five men and a woman. All six arrested are Negroes.

The raid was precipitated by a sale of a small quantity of heroin in an automobile outside the Columbus av address. Police arrested John Preoleau, called the 'King of the Colored District,' and John Thornton and Reba Morris, both of whom are said to have played in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" on one-night stands several years ago. All three resided at the Columbus av address, the woman on the second floor of the building, and the two men on the ground floor. Only a small amount of heroin was seized.

Others arrested are Chester Smith of Putnam st, Cambridge; Wilbur Harkins of Amory st, Jamaica Plain, and Jack Wilson, who gave an address on Northampton st.

Smith and Preoleau were arrested in the automobile outside the house after police had said they had made the sale of heroin to a police informer. Following the arrest of the two men, the Boston police narcotic squad, Sergt Frank Sliney and detectives Frank Sweeney and Daniel Curran, broke into the first floor rooms aided by Wade H. McCree, William J. Ford and William J. Kelley of the Federal Narcotic Bureau and special officer William Becket of Station 10, who had been assigned to the case by Police Commissioner Joseph Timilty several weeks ago.

Marked money passed to the sellers of the drugs in the automobile, officers said, was found on Smith.

Federal agent McCree, who had worked with special officer Becket on the case for seven or eight weeks, had all the groundwork laid for the raiding officers. Charges of violating the Harrison Narcotics act will be preferred against Preoleau, Thornton, Smith, Harkins and Miss Morris tomorrow morning when they are arraigned before United States Commissioner Harry N. Guterman in Federal Court. Wilson will face narcotics charges in Roxbury Court Monday morning.

Novel Method of Sale

Agents discovered a hypodermic needle in the hallway of the building and two capsules, containing heroin, which had been partially dissolved, in the first floor apartment.

Police declared that the sale of narcotics had been going in the district for years.

Police said that a rather ingenious system of selling has been used in the South End district. In response to a telephone call, a package of heroin is hidden outside the building, under an ash barrel, under a sidewalk brick or a milk bottle and the buyer, after he had paid his money to an agent, was told where to pick up the drugs.