In the northern section of Dorchester, close to the South End, Upham's Corner is a neighborhood with a particularly rich history.
While Beacon Hill is perhaps the oldest intact neighborhood in Boston, Upham's Corner predates it by almost 160 years. The first Puritan settlement in Dorchester occurred here in 1630, and the neighborhood played a role in many key events in American history from the American Revolution to the Civil War. While only a handful of buildings from the 1600s and 1700s survive, tangible reminders of this early history include the North Burying Ground (585 Columbia Rd.), created in 1634, and the Blake House (735 Columbia Rd.), built 1648 and one of the oldest surviving houses in Boston. The neighborhood also had the first public school in America – the Mather School, founded in 1639 – and the first supermarket, established in the 1920s.
Significant potential. Upham’s Corner is an architecturally and historically significant commercial district that forms an urban center for several surrounding residential neighborhoods, including Jones Hill, Meeting House Hill, and Mount Bowdoin.
The dense commercial infrastructure surrounded by substantial houses lends itself to a revival that echoes Davis Square in Somerville. Upham's Corner is anchored by the historic Strand Theatre (543 Columbia Rd.). Built in 1918, it is described as “probably the city’s first movie palace built from the ground up as opposed to a remodeling," by architectural historian Douglas Shand Tucci. Over the past three decades, the Strand has hosted artists including B.B. King, Phish, LL Cool J, and the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. The theater is currently home to the Fiddlehead Theatre Company. Parts of Gone Baby Gone were shot in Uphams Corner.
That said, in an attempt to stop rising prices and gentrification, as of early 2018, the city of Boston has been buying up properties to convert them to affordable housing, according to Curbed.
In 1885, a guide book noted of Upham’s Comer that “nowhere else can be seen the blending of old and new than here.” Of course, 'old' and 'new' are relative terms. What was old then is seen an ancient now, and what was new then is now worthy of historic preservation.
Today, Upham's Corner is a compelling mix. The historic commercial section is surrounded by streets that have large, almost suburban, houses – particularly on Jones Hill, and along Monadnock and Virginia streets. As the neighborhood continues to revive and evolve, this will likely be one of its points of attraction. In terms of its architecture and housing mix, it evokes an early version of Davis Square in Somerville, even to the parallels between the Strand Theater here and the Somerville Theater there – but as of early 2018, the neighborhood's retail and dining options are improving but still somewhat limited.
Jones Hill is a hillside enclave immediately east of Upham's Corner commercial district. The enclave consists primarily of single-family houses of architectural distinction, many with views of both the harbor and the city skyline. The neighborhood was built on the estate of Samuel Downer (1807-1881), who made his fortune in the development of kerosene, but who is equally known as a philanthropist and abolitionist (and incidentally, as a cousin on his wife's side of author Herman Melville). He is remembered in the name of Downer Avenue. The Jones Hill Association works to preserve the neighborhood's history and encourage thoughtful development.
Geraldine Pindell Trotter House. (97 Sawyer Ave., Jones Hill) Geraldine "Deenie" Trotter (1872-1918) served as the accountant and associate editor of The Guardian, the Boston civil rights newpaper founded by her husband William Monroe Trotter. Deenie was raised in the elite African-American society of Boston. Her work on behalf of racial justice included organizing anti-lynching campaigns, raising money for St. Monica’s Home for elderly black women, and supporting equality for African American troops in the first World War.
Anna Clapp Harris Smith House. (69 Pleasant St., Jones Hill) Anna Clapp Harris Smith (1843–1937) is a direct descendant of Nicholas Clapp, one of the original settlers of Dorchester. She lived in the colonial house built by her grandfather Samuel Clapp in 1804 on a foundation from the 1600s and land that was once part of the extensive Clapp estate. In 1899, she founded the Animal Rescue League after hearing of the growing number of cases of animal cruelty in Boston. Restored by Historic Boston, it is now a private residence.
Columbia Road once had a median park. In 1897, Columbia Road was widened, acquiring a park-like character which made it a link in the Emerald Necklace park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. However, in the 1950s – an era of misguided planning – the parklike median strip was removed for more traffic lanes. Over the long term, the neighborhood would improve significantly if this median park were restored.
James Blake House (735 Columbia Rd.) was built c.1650, and is one of the oldest surviving structures in the United States. It is also a rare example of post-medieval timber-frame construction techniques, as it was built by English-born carpenters with methods typical from the west of England. In the 1890s, the building was saved from demolition when it was moved several hundred yards from its original location to the current site in Richardson Park. Open to the public as a house museum.
The Monadnock Apartments (3 Monadnock St., 715-723 Dudley St.), built in 1898, is regarded as one of the architectural treasures of Upham's Corner, with architecturally-significant Classical Revival/Renaissance Revival facade. Former residence of suffragist Alice Stone Blackwell (1857–1950), who graduated Boston University and edited Woman's Journal. Her mother was Lucy Stone (1818-1893), the first woman to earn a college degree in Massachusetts, the first woman editor of a nation-wide newspaper, and the first woman in the United Sates to retain her name after marriage. (Her determination to attend college derived in part from a specific resolve, made as a child, to learn Hebrew and Greek in order to determine if those passages in the Bible that seemed to give man dominion over woman had been properly translated.) Her aunt was Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate medical school in the United States.
The Denmark Apartments (713-715 Dudley St.) are another architecturally-significant residence, built in 1890.
And the Comfort Station (611 Columbia Rd.), built in 1912 and designed by architect William Besarik, is a highly-visible building that offers a glimpse of Upham's Corner revival. The historic terracotta Mission-style building is being adapted into the Sip & Spoke a coffee shop-and-bicycle-repair shop.
The neighborhood is one of the main business districts for Dorchester, along with Fields Corner.
Upham's Corner is at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, Columbia Road and Dudley/Stoughton Street. The commercial area includes the section of Columbia Road from Bird Street to Holden Street and it extends down Columbia Road to Edward Everett Square.
The neighborhood is served by the Upham's Corner station on the commuter rail, and it is two stops to South Station.
Uphams Corner is a section of Dorchester, once an independent city and today the largest neighborhood of Boston.
To the north are South Bay and the Polish Triangle; to the south is Mount Bowdoin; to the west, across the train tracks, is Roxbury; to the east is Jones Hill.
Dorchester was founded in 1630, several months before the city of Boston. The settlers from the William and Mary landed at Columbia Point
For most of the 1800s, Upham's Corner was known as Columbia Square. It was renamed for Amos Upham (1788-1879), who opened a dry goods store here in 1804, at the site of the current Columbia Square building. (As an aside, James Humphrey Upham, the son of Amos Upham, cast the deciding vote in 1869 to annex Dorchester to Boston.)
However, the neighborhood became famous for another market - the first 'supermarket' in the United States, founded by Paul and John Cifrino in the 1920s at 600-618 Columbia Road. Unlike the dry goods stores of Amos Upham's era, this was the first self-service store where the customers could handle the goods. It was the prototype of the modern supermarket.