Mattapan is one of the southernmost neighborhoods of Boston, just across from Milton and Quincy. It had been a village within Dorchester before it was annexed to Boston in 1870.
It is a neighborhood with a rich history, and one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, a 1786 farmhouse, is being restored as a working urban farm. Notable former residents include conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), jazz critic Nat Hentoff (1925-2017), and journalist Theodore White (1915-1986).
Mattapan has several distinct sections, including:
Mattapan is a large neighborhood that in unequally served by the subway. The commuter rail has one stop in the center of the neighborhood (Morton Street) and one just outside the neighborhood, in Dorchester's Codman Square (Talbot Street station). The last stop on the Red Line (Mattapan Station) is in the southwestern corner of the neighborhood, and there five more Red Line stops nearby – four in Milton (Capen Street, Valley Road, Central Ave., and Milton), and one in Lower Mills (Butler). It is approximately 40-45 minutes to South Station.
Mattapan is at the southern edge of Boston, where it meets the city of Milton. To the west are Roslindale and Hyde Park; to the north is Roxbury; and to the east are the Codman Square, Ashmont, and Lower Mills sections of Dorchester.
Mattapan was historically part of the Town of Dorchester – and indeed, all of Dorchester was briefly known as Mattapan – before both became neighborhoods of Boston when Dorchester chose to annex in 1870.
The native Americans who lived here for centuries called the area Mattapanock, and when the colonists arrived in 1630 on the Mary and John, they briefly named their entire settlement Mattapan, before renaming it for the area where many of them had come from – the town of Dorchester, in Dorset, England.
While today Mattapan and Dorchester are neighborhoods within Boston, the original colonial settlement extended south almost to Rhode Island. It included the land that would become much of South Boston, ______, and _______. Dorchester became a town in DATE, and over the centuries, for various reasons, settlements broke off to become independent towns. MORE A large section of South Boston was previously part of Dorchester, but annexed itself to Boston around 1804, [after a real estate venture by the Boston Proprietors, in order to ________]. The area around Andrew Square [seceded] from the town of Dorchester and was annexed to Boston in 1855, and the entire town of Dorchester annexed to Boston in 1870.
Mattapan became the name of the village in Dorchester that grew up around the upper falls of the Neponset River, while the lower falls became known as Lower Mills. MORE ... largely rural and undeveloped until 1800s. Some mills to take advantage of the power from the upper falls.
Among those who built country estates was John Conness, a retired US senator from California who related to Boston in 1870,. MORE
One of the oldest surviving buildings in Mattapan, the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm is a testimony to this period of the region's history. ...
Fowler-Clark farm (487 Norfolk St.) in Mattapan. Built 1786-1806, it is possibly the oldest remaining farmhouse in the city, was once one of many dotting a fertile Boston countryside, a rich ecosystem of arable land, orchards, and livestock. Now, sitting on a busy residential corner of Mattapan, near streets that have all too often seen gunfire and violence, the farm has fallen into disrepair. The farm, which once covered more than 11 acres on Norfolk Street, was designated a city landmark in 2006, though, until Saturday, little had been done to maintain or improve the house. Historians speculate the house was built earlier, however, and moved to Mattapan from another location. In any case, city officials say the Fowler-Clark residence is one of only four farmhouses built in the city prior to 1806; its central chimney, wood sash, and pedimented entry porch make it emblamatic of late 18th-century Massachusetts architecture.... this small piece of Boston’s agricultural and architectural history at 487 Norfolk St., whether as a private residence or neighborhood museum.
At the time of his death, Samuel Fowler, the Dorchester yeoman who was the farm’s first owner, had these items in his possession: farming utensils, an ox yoke, hay, potatoes, turnips, a cow, a pig, and four bushels of corn. Along with other members of his family, Fowler had inherited land from his grandfather, Stephen Fowler, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
As the years went by, the countryside began, bit by bit, to shrink. By the mid- and late 19th century, significant improvements in transportation transformed Dorchester into a street-car suburb, where land was subdivided and developed, though the plots near the Fowler-Clark farm remained largely untouched. By the 20th century, the farmhouse would be one of the only remnants of a bygone era, passing through a series of five families before the city seized control.
Redlining, urban renewal - and changing demographics
From a strongly [and affluent] Jewish neighborhood ... to a center of African-American culture and _________. The story of how Boston’s Jewish community was coerced out of Dorchester— and African-Americans moved in — via despicable real estate practices like redlining, blockbusting, and discriminatory banking. By the 1980s, virtually no active Jewish presence remained in Dorchester, Mattapan or Roxbury. [during the 1960s, they went outwards, to Brookline, Newton, and other suburbs like Milton, Randolph, and Canton.
The specifics of neighborhood change in Mattapan have been the subject of remarkable legislative and scholarly attention (Levine and Harmon 1992; Gamm 1999). in the fall of 1971, when Michigan senator Philip Hart convened three days of subcommittee hearings in Boston to investigate the causes and consequences of neighborhood transition in Mattapan, a subcommittee staff member told the New York Times that “We believe that the set of events in Boston illustrates what is going on all over America” (in Gamm 1999:13).
Jewish community of Mattapan, Boston’s last inner-city Jewish neighborhood.
Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group (B-BURG)
B-BURG intentionally concentrated poor residents of color into Mattapan - under the guise of 'creating homeownership opportunities for lower income buyers' ... but chose to do so within a small area. Not coincidentallyh, one which was predominantly Jewish, and which was not profitable for the bank because most Jewish residents had paid off their mortgages.
The subtitle of Levine and Harmon’s book, “A Tragedy of Good Intentions,” seems to me more than a little ironic. The behavior of many of the real estate agents, who took advantage of an ill-conceived red-lining scheme proposed by the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group (B-BURG) consortium, is the epitome of bad intentions.
As one anonymous broker wrote concerning the block-busting games he played with his vulnerable clients: “And it got to a point that to have fun while we were working, we would try to outdo each other with the most outlandish threats that people would believe…I’d go from street to street with the [black] buyer…I’d ring the doorbell and say, these people want to buy your house. If the lady said no, I’d say the reason they’re so interested is that their cousins, aunts, mother, whatever, it’s a family of 12, are moving in diagonally across the street…”
very little scholarly attention has been paid to Mattapan in the years since it became a center of the African-American, Haitian, and Caribbean immigrant communities of Boston. As one community partner commented, there is “almost nothing written” about the history of people of color in the neighborhood.
In 1915, Connecticut’s tobacco growers faced a crisis: their cheapest source of labor, European immigrants, had left the tobacco fields. Some had returned home, ready to fight in what would be the century’s first world war. Others were drawn to the relatively high wages offered by the booming war industries. Desperate, Connecticut’s tobacco growers contacted the National Urban League in hopes of “experimenting” with black southern laborers. Soon, Connecticut’s tobacco fields were filled with black workers and other industries, seeking their own pool of cheap labor, caught wind of the experiment. In less than a year, the idea had spread throughout the Northeast and between its industries. The first Great Migration was thus, through the efforts of tobacco growers, given an enormous push.
Northeastern and Midwestern cities owe much of their current geographic arrangement to the first Great Migration. Laborers’ places of residence were often designated by the industries that drew them north. Critically, those geographies held certain commonalities across cities: they were close to the laborers’ place of work, segregated from white residential areas, and unsanitary and decrepit in the condition of their housing. Often, blacks and recent European immigrants would occupy the same or adjacent neighborhoods. Segregation by class and segregation by race and ethnicity was thereby quickly implemented and fortified. Wealthy Anglo-Saxons were well separated from the poor Eastern Europeans, Italians, Irish, and blacks that provided cities with manual labor.
The nation’s relentless pattern of housing discrimination continued well past the first Great Migration. In the following decades, a plethora of tools, both legal and illegal, were used in confining immigrants, blacks, and the poor to well-defined geographic areas. Wide-scale redlining, discriminatory housing contracts and neighborhood agreements, inflated rents, artificially high taxation, neglect of property, and physical violence were all used in efforts to maintain strict boundaries. Even as many of the above methods were outlawed during the civil rights era, subtle forms of discrimination emerged, plaguing housing markets across the country. Unequal lending practices, racial steering in the real estate market, home buyers’ biased housing preferences, and white flight have all stood in the way of genuine and lasting integration.
In Boston, a particularly fascinating piece of history gave rise to the city’s current spatial arrangement when, in the 1960s, the Federal Housing Authority reversed its longstanding and discriminatory mortgage lending policies. Suffering from the same uneven housing patterns as many other American cities, the city of Boston encouraged banks to offer FHA-insured loans and mortgages to the city’s black population. The city’s request led to the establishment of the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group (BBURG), a consortium of banks.
While the consortium did indeed offer Boston’s black population mortgages, it also stipulated the very particular neighborhoods in which those loans could be used: parts of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. The initial, and equitable, impulse toward fair lending practices was soon subverted. The consortium drove out populations in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, and manufactured a carefully drawn inner-city in their stead. Needless to say, rampant speculation, blockbusting, and rapid demographic transitions led to violence and rage in the areas BBURG targeted. Mattapan, in particular, saw much change. What was a long-established and middle class Jewish community became, in only a decade, a lower-income black neighborhood suffering from inflated housing prices and unreasonable loan agreements.
The 20th century’s legacy of housing discrimination against immigrants, blacks, and the poor still defines Boston’s geography. The most common measure of segregation, the dissimilarity index, sheds light on the extent of separation between Boston’s economic classes and racial groups. Measured on a scale of 0 to 100, the dissimilarity index is a measure of unevenness across space. According to Brown University’s S4 project, “a value of 60 (or above) is considered very high. It means that 60% (or more) of the members of one group would need to move to a different tract in order for the two groups to be equally distributed.”
In 2010, the dissimilarity index between blacks and whites in Boston was 69.2. Between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, it was 54.6. Not surprisingly, between blacks and non-black Hispanics, the dissimilarity index stood at 39.6. While all three figures have fallen since 1980, by approximately 9, 5, and 12 points, the causes of those drops may not suit versions of history that highlight increasing racial integration. Much of the residential mixing can be accounted for by steady gentrification: what may be a mixed geography today is likely a racially uniform neighborhood a decade from now.
Further exacerbating Boston’s geography is the startling upward trend in segregation by class. In 1970, the proportion of families in the Boston Metropolitan Area living in poor neighborhoods was 8%. By 2011, that figure rose to 20%. Over that same time period, the proportion of families living in affluent areas grew from 5.6% to 15.3%. Other indices of income segregation confirm the above figures: in Boston, segregation by class is steadily increasing, threatening to reinforce already firm class-based boundaries.
The consequences of living in a severely polarized city can be dire. In our next piece, we will explore the effects of segregation on individual, and collective, social and economic opportunity.
Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed
By GERALD GAMM
Harvard University Press
Read the Review
Class, Crime, Homes, and Banks
Catholics and Jews have responded differently to urban change. This observation is so common that it is generally offered as folk wisdom or simple fact. In exaggerated form, cause and effect become intermingled and muddled in a circular argument: the very presence of Jews becomes an explanation for a neighborhood's vulnerability to change. Scholars have suggested several hypotheses for the differences between Catholic and Jewish behavior, though no one has systematically studied these differences or tested these hypotheses.
Studies of neighborhood change have emphasized the period of racial change that extended from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Consequently, existing explanations—socioeconomic differences, proximity to African-American neighborhoods, levels of arson and other crimes, redlining, blockbusting, discriminatory banking programs, and homeownership levels—generally focus on this specific period. These explanations cannot fully account for long-term trends in the urban exodus, trends that began early in the twentieth century and without relation to race. And even as efforts to explain patterns of racial change in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, these explanations are not sufficient to explain the different neighborhood attachments of Jews and Catholics.
Geographic mobility is often a function of socioeconomic mobility. Most Jews rose faster and earlier into the middle class than did most Catholics. "Wherever studies have been made," Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan write, "Jews have been found to be moving out of the working class into the middle class at a surprising rate." From the early 1920s through the middle 1950s, socioeconomic differences contributed to the more rapid pace of Jewish suburbanization. As I show in Chapter 9, the exodus of Dorchester and Roxbury's middle-class and upper-middle-class Jews began in the early 1920s and never slowed. While institutional membership rules facilitated this exodus—exit costs were lower for Jews than for Catholics—the high rate of Jewish upward mobility was also a factor.
The federal census did not report aggregate data for census tracts or other small territorial areas in 1920, but census-tract data from 1930, 1940, and 1950 suggest that the socioeconomic level of Jewish neighborhoods was higher than that of Catholic neighborhoods through the early 1950s. Maps 3 and 4 show the average rent in each of Dorchester and Roxbury's census tracts in 1930 and 1950, respectively. As a comparison of Map 1 with Maps 3 and 4 illustrates, the census tracts reporting the highest rents corresponded closely to the tracts with the heaviest populations of Jews. (The correlation is less exact in Map 3 because many of the 1930 census tracts were larger than the 1940 and 1950 census tracts.) Just one Jewish tract, in Roxbury's Blue Hill Avenue-Grove Hall district, did not conform to the general pattern. Various other indicators—the number of homes with mechanical refrigerators in 1940, the number of homes with central heating in 1940, the number of homes with televisions in 1950, median education levels in 1950—demonstrate that the socioeconomic advantage of Dorchester and Roxbury's Jews persisted through the early 1950s. This advantage, relative to Catholics, persisted despite the steady Jewish migration to the suburbs and an absolute deterioration in the socioeconomic level of the Jewish community.
But this relative advantage ended in the 1950s. The 1960 census reported no significant socioeconomic differences between Dorchester's Jewish and Catholic districts. As Map 5 shows, median rents in 1960 were no higher in Jewish than in Catholic neighborhoods; the median rent in Mattapan, like rents in Dorchester's other outer neighborhoods, was relatively high, while median rents elsewhere in Dorchester, among both Catholics and Jews, were relatively low. Median levels of education in 1960, as Map 6 shows, were also no higher in Jewish neighborhoods than in Catholic neighborhoods. And, as Map 7 illustrates, median family incomes were significantly lower in 1960 among Dorchester's Jews than among Dorchester's Catholics; only in Mattapan was median family income at least $5,500, a level exceeded in almost every census tract that was predominantly non-Jewish.
Large numbers of Jews still lived in Dorchester and Roxbury in the late 1950s; indeed, though many tens of thousands of Jews had left these neighborhoods since the 1920s, about 47,000 Jews still remained in 1960. But the Jews who remained in the late 1950s differed profoundly from the Jews who had lived in Dorchester and Roxbury in earlier decades. Once home to Boston Jewry's emerging middle class, Dorchester and Roxbury had become a distinctively working-class enclave. The three-decade-old movement of middle-class Jews to suburban communities had effectively filtered the old neighborhoods.
A study of Boston's Jewish community conducted in the middle 1960s observed that Dorchester's Jews "have the lowest level of education in the metropolitan area (less than 15 per cent went to college) and the highest proportion of blue collar workers." As the study concluded, "The kinds of Jews remaining here are typical of those who do not move." By the late 1950s, Jews possessed no advantages of education or income over Roxbury and Dorchester's Catholics, no set of resources that could facilitate an exceptionally fast rate of suburbanization. Yet it was at this very moment that the Jewish exodus was accelerating, in absolute and in relative terms. At no time were the differences in the Jewish and Catholic exodus sharper than in the 1960s and early 1970s, when urban Jews and Catholics had become indistinguishable on socioeconomic grounds.
Proximity to African-American Neighborhoods
Some scholars have suggested that simple proximity explains differences in neighborhood stability. New areas of black settlement, this hypothesis suggests, develop as extensions of older areas of settlement. Yet, as Map 8 demonstrates, Roxbury and Dorchester's black neighborhoods in 1960 bordered Catholic neighborhoods as well as Jewish neighborhoods. Proximity alone cannot explain why Blue Hill Avenue—rather than, say, Columbia Road or Washington Street or Quincy Street or Geneva Avenue—became the principal route for the expansion of black settlement into Dorchester. It was only because Jews were leaving Dorchester at a more rapid rate than Catholics that black neighborhoods expanded into formerly Jewish districts.
Two miles separated Mattapan's Wellington Hill district in 1960 from well-established areas of African-American residency, and more than one mile of Jewish neighborhoods separated Wellington Hill from even the frontier of racial change. No Catholic enclave in 1960 was farther removed than Jewish Mattapan from African-American neighborhoods. St. Peter's Parish stood at the very edge of the city's burgeoning black district in 1960, and less than a mile separated St. William's Parish from the racial frontier. As Blue Hill Avenue ran from the black settlement in Roxbury straight to Mattapan, so Columbia Road ran from that black settlement directly to St. Margaret's Parish, adjacent to St. William's.
But by 1970, as racial change and panic transformed Mattapan, St. Peter's Parish remained predominantly white and Catholic. In the 1990s, a generation after the collapse of Mattapan Jewry, St. Margaret's Parish and St. William's Parish still contain large white Catholic communities; racial change in those districts has been steady but gradual. The exodus of Jews has long been associated with the influx of African Americans into Mattapan, but it was not Mattapan's nearness to the racial frontier that caused the Jewish exodus. Rather, it was the Jewish exodus itself that brought the frontier down Blue Hill Avenue and into Mattapan.
Real-estate agents encouraged panic selling and rapid neighborhood upheaval. In July 1967, "real estate agents' tactics of scaring whites into moving" were a primary concern of the Mattapan Organization. "There are persistent reports of `panic selling' tactics by real estate agents," according to minutes of the Mattapan Organization's steering committee. "The agents reportedly capitalize on fears of neighborhood change and deterioration and urge people to sell their property at low prices. The Real Estate Committee noted that this practice is one of the neighborhood's main enemies, and determined to try to put a stop to it."
Real-estate agents engaged in blockbusting not only in Dorchester's Jewish neighborhoods but also in its Catholic neighborhoods. By 1969, Uphams Corner residents had grown concerned about "Block-busting activity in the area." Five years later, the Dorchester Community News reported that Michael F. Kenealy, a real-estate agent who had "made his fortunes by block busting in the Mattapan area," was attempting to disrupt other Dorchester neighborhoods. "The neighborhoods of St. Ann's, St. Mark's, and St. Brendan's parishes have been leafleted. The yellow leaflet says Park Realty will sell your home for you `discreetly and in strict confidence.' It is not unlike the ones distributed in Mattapan," the Community News stated in April 1974. "Kenealy will patiently develop the exodus of whites from Dorchester. There will be more propaganda, more terror and more chances to get out, all provided by Kenealy who will milk Dorchester for every penny he can get out of it."
Blockbusting was more successful in Jewish than in white Catholic neighborhoods, but it is clear that real-estate agents also attempted to use these tactics in the latter. That blockbusting was more common and more successful in Jewish neighborhoods suggests that these neighborhoods were especially vulnerable to such tactics. "We have had widespread reports of real estate salesmen's activity designed to scare persons into moving," Mark S. Israel wrote in the summer of 1967, describing Mattapan's Jewish community. "Much of the panic is self-generating, however." Though they took advantage of it, real-estate agents did not create the peculiar vulnerability of Jewish neighborhoods.
The massive Jewish exodus affected all of Mattapan. It knew no bounds, literally. The third belief surrounding BBURG—that the existence of the line undercut the Jewish community in Mattapan because black families could obtain mortgages only within the BBURG line—is not supported by the evidence. Yet the belief persists that the BBURG program defined the boundaries of racial change. "Real estate brokers just didn't show houses outside of the lines marked on the map by the banks because if they wanted to make a sale, it was fruitless. They knew the banks would reject them," Sadelle Sacks explained to the Senate subcommittee. "In fact, when the line was announced there were many families who were caught in negotiating for houses just outside the line, some even just across the street, who had to give up on the houses. They couldn't buy them. The BBURG coalition had decided where the black communities could live." As the New York Times reported in 1971, "Loans from the pool were made to blacks buying homes within the boundary, but no loans were made for homes outside it."