Every place has a story – the story of what‘s there now and what was there before – the people, the animals, the insects, the elements and the land. Each place has it’s nocturnal tales and daylight facts.
Sometimes those stories remain unknown to you for a lifetime. You only know generalities – some people lived here. They worked; they died. Other times you learn more about the stories through a conversation, a newspaper or magazine article, or book, or a tour.
I got to thinking about stories on a tour I went on yesterday that was sponsored by Historic Boston, Inc. (HBI). HBI is a non-profit preservation and real estate organization that rehabilitates historic and culturally significant properties in Boston’s neighborhoods so they are a useable part of the city’s present and future.
The tour started in Chinatown in the Hayden Building on the corner of Washington and LaGrange Streets. It was designed in 1875 by HH Richardson is the only surviving commercial building designed by him. It’s a building I have passed by dozens of time but never much noticed except as a nondescript building that had not yet been restored, a reminder of seedier times in the former Combat Zone. It has now been stabilized and will be turned into residences. What magnificent windows it has!
Eustis Street Fire House – before
We then went to the Eustis Street Fire House (1859), where HBI will have its new headquarters in the spring. That this Fire House is still standing is remarkable given the state of disrepair it has been in for decades. It’s proximity to the Eliot Burial Ground will bring new attention to this historic treasure as well. Nearby businesses like will reap benefits as well, except, perhaps, for long-time business Aga’s Highland Tap, whose clientele may not be so much in to history.
While on the tour, we saw a trio of neighborhood children who came in to see the gravestones and were happy to learn a little of the history of the building. I told them about Discover Roxbury and the tours and programs they sponsor and about HBI. I wrote down the websites for them and my email. One spunky girl in the trio promised to stay in touch.
The next stop on our tour was the Alvah Kittredge House (1836) in the Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury. It is barely standing. HBI is working with the BRA to acquire the property and has two options. Option A – a complete exterior renovation or Option B – a full rehab to 5 housing units.
The beehive oven uncovered during the stabilization phase of the Anna Clapp Harris Smith House (1804) spoke to me. I could imagine the smell of bread baking in that oven. (While passing through Upham’s Corner on our way to this Pleasant Street house, we saw the original building of the merchant family for whom Upham’s Corner is named.) The ACHS House is nearly finished being stabilized for the winter by preservation carpentry students from North Bennet Street School, who spoke to us about their work – foundation repair, sill repair, back kitchen and façade repairs and restoration. I was impressed by the craftsmanship that went into the original house. A modest home, the carpentry it is far superior to much of what goes into houses today. (I wish I could remember the lingo of the carpentry but, trust me, it was impressive.)
The final HBI property we toured was a rather non-descript commercial building in the heart of Field’s Corner, the Golden Building on Dorchester Avenue. Unfortunate sidingfrom the 60s or 70s covers the facade but it will soon be restored to a more historic look with new signage, lighting and other storefront improvements. The tour bus parked in the Field’s Corner Mall which I learned used to have railroad tracks. The mall – recently remodeled and full occupied with stores that are always busy with patrons – is an improvement on what was there before.
The tour ended, as all good tours do, with food and conversation. We had supper at Pho Hoa , Field’s Corner’s newest Vietnamese restaurant. It’s a huge new building and the food was delicious! The restaurant used to be in a smaller space p across the street. That it could morph into such a impressive place is a story that I’ll find out about next time I go.
Boston is a town full of historic places and bustling neighborhoods whose stories linger in the architecture, streetscapes, street names, school buildings, pathways and faces of people.
I encourage you to go to a tour or history speakers series with Discover Roxbury, Dorchester Historical Society and other similar organizations. You’ll probably learn things that you didn’t know.
***A special part of this story is that I went on the tour with my special one and so it becomes part of our story, too.
Coming up – the last in the fall History Speaker Series sponsored by Discover Roxbury.
Somali Roxbury – free – Dec. 15, 7-9p.m. at Haley House Café (dinner available beginning at 5pm)
Two previous offerings in the series, Haitian Roxbury and Jewish Roxbury were resounding successes with a combination of historical presentation and people sharing stories. Do attend if you can.