Boston real estate can be confusing. For example, Dorchester Heights is in South Boston, not Dorchester. And West Roxbury is not actually west of Roxbury. But both are reminders of how the large colonial-era land grants split into smaller towns, and many were gradually annexed to Boston.
West Roxbury was once the more rural part of the colonial town of Roxbury, which included the areas that became Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale. That long history shaped the neighborhood today, and why West Roxbury feels like a suburb within the city of Boston.
West Roxbury's housing stock is largely the result of several building booms. One was during the Victorian period, with a number of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses. The other was during the 1920s and 30s, with Tudor, Georgian Revival, and Dutch Colonial houses, especially around Willow, Weld, and Schirmer streets.
The neighborhood's housing stock is suburban in its product mix. Roughly 55% of housing units are single-family, whereas apartments of three or more units comprise just 25% of the housing stock. That said, the triple-deckers within the neighborhood are largely found on major thoroughfares like Washington Street and Belgrade Avenue.
The commuter rail has two stops in the neighborhood (West Roxbury, and Highland), and one nearby in Roslindale (Belgrade Ave.). It is about 30-50 minutes to Downtown Crossing.
More suburban and car-dependent. That said, it is a very suburban neighborhood, and more residents here rely on vehicles than do those in more densely-developed neighborhoods closer to the downtown. According to the City of Boston, 86% of West Roxbury households have vehicles, compared to 65% for Boston overall.
West Roxbury is at the edge of Boston, with the town of Dedham to the west and south; the town of Newton's Oak Hill neighborhood to the northwest, Chestnut Hill in Brookline to the northeast, and the Boston neighborhoods of Roslindale and Hyde Park to the east.
Before 1630, the area was inhabited by the Wampanoag tribe. The first Puritan settlers arrived in 1630, led by William Pynchon (1589-1661) – ancestor of the distinguished author Thomas Pynchon (b.1937) – who became one of the wealthiest men in the colony, but who was forced to return to England after writing a book critical of the Puritans. That said, he did manage to be the first author banned in the New World, and the first to have his book burned on Boston Common in 1652 – the same year as the first of the misguided Witch Trials. Colonial America was not an entirely welcoming place.
In 1635, Rev. John Eliot (1604-1691) founded the Roxbury Latin School. It moved to its current site in West Roxbury in 1922. As an aside, Eliot co-wrote the first book printed in the colony (Pynchon's was printed in London and shipped to Boston), an Algonquin translation of the Bible in 1663, printed at Stephen Daye's print shop in Harvard Square. [Editor's note: the credit for being the first printer/publisher in the United States ought to go to , for whom Stephen Daye was a locksmith and indentured servant.]
Today's West Roxbury was the more rural part of the colonial settlement – and later, town – of Roxbury, founded by Pynchon. He had an eye for choosing strategic locations for settlements, places that would be well-suited for both farming and trade. But the soil was not suited for farming, as it was full of rocky outcroppings of what would become known as Roxbury Puddingstone. The town's name of Roxbury was a corruption of Rocksberry, perhaps an expression of frustration with the soil quality here.
The colonial town of Roxbury at one point included the area which are now Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and Roslindale, in addition to West Roxbury. The borders got even more complicated when the Back Bay was filled to create new land, much of which was still claimed by Roxbury until the late 1840s. The settlement dictated that the land southeast of where Massachusetts Avenue meets the Charles River would remain as part of the town of Roxbury – and this is the Mission Hill section of the neighborhood which contains much of the Fenway, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Northeastern University.
The northern section of Roxbury – Mission Hill and Lower Roxbury – were urbanizing rapidly, and incorporated as a city in 1846. However, the more rural West Roxbury did not want separated in 1851, taking with it the section of Jamaica Plain south of Atherton Street. However, within a few decades, both would be annexed to the growing city of Boston.
Noise issues from quarry blasting. The neighborhood also contains the West Roxbury Quarry, a rarity in any American city. The 350-foot deep quarry has been a source of some friction in the community, with ongoing blasting as stone is quarried, and a contentious proposal to use part of the site as a dump for soil from construction projects, according to Wicked Local.
Community opposition to high-pressure gas pipeline near quarry. The five-mile-long West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, built by Texas-based Spectra Energy Corp., began operating in December 2016, over the opposition of residents and Boston mayor Marty Walsh. The high-pressure pipeline will carry gas at 750 pounds per square inch (psi), through residential areas including West Roxbury and Dedham. For context, regular distribution lines usually carry gas at 20-60 psi. Residents are concerned about decreased property values and the possibility of explosions, given how close the gas line runs to the blasting at the quarry, according to Northeastern University. As a result, West Roxbury is one of the neighborhoods at risk from LNG fires.