Codman Square is a historic neighborhood within the larger Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. The older surviving buildings date to 1806, while much of the neighborhood was developed towards the end of the 1800s.
Potential for a strong and evolving commercial center. The square itself is in the geographic center of Dorchester, according to the Dorchester Athenaeum, and it has a long history one of several of Dorchester's commercial centers, including Fields Corner and Upham's Corner.
The earliest known extant buildings in the neighborhood date to c.1806, and there are a handful of pre-Civil War buildings, although more buildings date from the 1880s onwards.
Codman Square is a large neighborhood with one commuter rail stop (Talbot Ave.) at the center, and one just past the northern edge of the neighborhood (Four Corners/Geneva). Those in the eastern half of the neighborhood are a brisk walk from two Red Line stops, at Ashmont/Peabody Sq. and Shawmut.
Codman Square is at the western edge of Dorchester, with Roxbury and Mattapan to the west; Mount Bowdoin and Four Corners to the north; Fields Corner and Ashmont to the east; and Lower Mills to the south.
Long before it became known as Codman Square, the square itself dates to 1654, when it became the intersection of Norfolk Street – the oldest road in Dorchester, an ancient Massachusett trail from the salt marshes of Commercial Point to the fresh water of the Neponset River and the meadows and hills of Mattapan and Milton – with a new road commissioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony connecting Roxbury and Braintree. This new road was called the Upper or High Road, and was renamed Washington Street in 1789.
Codman Square, like much of the "Great Lots" of southern Dorchester, remained predominantly farmland through the late 1700s. From the settlement in 1630s, most development was concentrated in the northern sections, including Upham's Corner and Savin Hill, and a small settlement around Meeting House Hill. However, there were several estates along the Upper Road, including that of James Baker, and the Welles and Codman families.
By 1803 the intersection was called Baker’s Corner, after the estate of Dr. James Baker who developed the first chocolate mill in the United States in 1765, the Baker Chocolate Factory in nearby Lower Mills. In 1848, it was renamed for the Rev. John Codman (1782-1847), first pastor of the Second Church. The Second Church was established in 1806, but because of Codman's fire-and-brimstone approach, the more liberal parishioners – whom we would today recognize as Unitarians – split to form the Third Religious Society in 1813.
?The closing years of the 19th c are rich with significance for the feminine portion of the present generation, as bringing in their tide the inspiration of union among women,? sniffed the writer of the Dorchester Book Illustrated of 1899. He was referring to the Dorchester Women?s Club founded on Harvard Street in 1892. The Club opened its beautiful Georgian Revival clubhouse at 38-40 Center Street in November 1898. It was designed by the Dorchester architect A Warren Gould on a street then nicknamed ?old maid?s lane? because of the number of single women living in the fine homes on that street. Gould designed the hall in two distinctive but attached parts, one the auditorium and the second the parlors and grand staircase. It was called Whiton Hall after one of its founders and benefactors, Ella Whiton of Melville Avenue. The hall faced the Dorchester High School, then just starting construction in 1898. Not very active politically, it was nevertheless the most active of the State Federation of Women?s Clubs for over 50 years.
Among its works, it provided scholarships and musical instruments to Dorchester High School students, mittens and scarves to patients at Carney Hospital and was, of course, very active in supporting the armed forces in both world wars, from collecting books to making bandages. Whiton Hall was sold to Doyle?s Caterers in 1951, but the Women?s Club still remained in offices and meeting rooms and continued to offer teas, lectures and other programs until it closed in 1995. It is in 2008 The New Life Restoration Temple church.
The Codman Square Theater was built about 1917 on the site of the Dorchester Stable; a large wooden building at 635 Washington Street owned and operated by Charles Hinds. This was relatively early for neighborhood motion picture houses, most of which were built in the 1920?s. The Strand Theater at Uphams Corner opened in November 1918, but the one in Codman Square predates it by at least six months. The May 19, 1918 Boston Globe announced that the Codman Square Theater would feature Barney Gilmore starring in ?The Irish Honeymoon?. No photograph has been located yet of the Codman Square Theater but it was basically a brick box with a taller vertical wing in the back that housed the screen and a lower story in front for the box office and lobby on Washington Street; the fa?ade of which was no doubt lavishly decorated with terra cotta or more likely weatherproof plaster scrolls, sunbursts and masks. Over the glass front box office there was no doubt a tall neon lit sign and marquis announcing the next Gloria Swanson or Tom Mix feature with a Silly Symphony or Three Stooges opening short.
The theater did not seem to meet with the approval of Second Church; in its Nov 7, 1918 edition the Globe reported that 80 property owners and church members led by Mr. Charles H. Curtis of 18 Welles Ave petitioned Mayor Andrew Peters at a public hearing chaired by the mayor regarding Sunday night performances. The signers feared that stage and screen shows would draw young people away from regular church services meaning ?a financial gain for the theater at a loss to the church?. The outcome is unknown but the theater continued until about 1960, for many years as part of the Gordon Theater chain that owned and operated the Strand and The Scollay. Since demolished.
The area around Codman Square developed in an orderly fashion in part because they had been part of the extensive Welles estate just east and southeast of the square. In 1870, George Derby Welles (DATES), then 26 years old and living in Paris, inherited the estate. He retained an agent to begin dividing the land for housing development. Sales of the 6,000 square foot housing plots began in 1872. By 1900, nearly every house lot east of the square had been developed.
y World War II, the Codman Square area was a working to middle class area,
predominately Jewish to the west, and pre
dominately Irish Catholic to the east. Its
commercial strip was one of the largest a
nd most prosperous in Boston, with over 100
stores along its three-
quarter mile strip.
Redlining and dis-investment in the 1960s.
The community development corporation was started back in 1981, and it was the third organizational iteration of a set of activities that existed before it. It was founded by residents who lived in Codman Square, who were concerned back in the 70s about a lot of arson that was going on in the neighborhood as it was transitioning to a predominantly community of color.
It all went along with some of the block busting that was happening in the neighborhood at the time, with realtors kind of scaring white people off properties and getting them to sell their properties to people of color, and there was arson going on, arson for profit â€¦ people torching their properties. There was redlining also, with the banks not really investing in the neighborhood. There's a history of arson and blight back in the 70s.