Mount Bowdoin is a hillside neighborhood that was developed as an affluent enclave in the mid- to late-1800s on the estate of James Bowdoin (1726-1790), the Revolutionary War hero who later served as governor of Massachusetts (and an amateur scientist who collaborated with Benjamin Franklin on a paper about electricity).
The neighborhood was planned by the architect (and privateer and smuggler) Cornelius Coolidge, who designed some parts of Beacon Hill, including Louisberg Square, the most prestigious address in Boston. It contains a significant collection of Greek Revival, Italianate and Mansard cottages dating from c.1840-1870, as well as more substantial 1880s and 1890s Queen Anne residences. The elevation offers panoramic views of the Boston Harbor and the Blue Hills. Within the neighborhood is a commercial district known as Four Corners, the intersection of Bowdoin, Harvard, and Washington streets.
Mount Bowdoin was named for James Bowdoin (1726-1790), the Revolutionary War patriot and governor of Massachusetts during the late 1780s. Bowdoin summered on this hill during the mid-to-late 1700s.
Mount Bowdoin Green. The heart of the neighborhood was planned by Cornelius Coolidge (1778-1843), one of the architects (and formerly, privateer and smuggler) who designed sections of Beacon Hill, including Louisberg Square – one of the most prestigious addresses in Boston. In 1836, Coolidge divided the Bowdoin estate on Mt. Bowdoin into 90 house lots centered on an oval park. This grew into a hill-top area of Greek Revival, Italianate, and Mansard cottages dating from c. 1840-1870, as well as more substantial 1880s and 1890s Eastlake and Queen Anne residences.
The Mount Bowdoin neighborhood is served by one stop on the Commuter Rail (Four Corners/Geneva).
Mount Bowdoin is situated west of the center of Dorchester. To the west is Roxbury, and to the east is Meeting House Hill. To the north is Upham's Corner, and to the south are Codman Square and Fields Corner.
The neighborhood is loosely bounded by Washington, Bowdoin and Eldon Streets and Geneva Avenue.
The neighborhood was named for James Bowdoin II (1726-1790), a merchant and American political and intellectual leader. He opposed British colonial policy, and eventually became an influential advocate of independence. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, he was chosen to investigate the event and published his report as A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. That report has been described by historian Francis Walett as one of the most influential pieces of writing that shaped public opinion in the colonies. He also collaborated with Benjamin Franklin on his pioneering research on electricity. In 1780, He was a founder and first president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to whom he bequeathed his library. Bowdoin College in Maine was named in his honor after a bequest by his son James III.
From the mid 1750s, had a summer estate .... he began spending summers on the area that would be named in his honor - Bowdoin Hill or Mount Bowdoin. His mansion survived as late as 1910, and was demolished for the yellow brick Georgian Revival apartment building constructed in 1915.
In the 1880s, large estates dominated the slopes of Mount Bowdoin
In 1894 the map of Dorchester shows no evidence yet of Jewish property owners along Blue Hill Avenue. However, by 1906 the maps reveal quite a number of Jewish property owners and a new and impressive synagogue on Blue Hill Avenue, called Adath Jeshurun.25 This huge and influential synagogue was built by a congregation of only 140 families in 1906.26 Some of the leaders of the synagogue were also in the real estate business. With the attraction of the new synagogue and the assistance of its leaders, the Jewish community nearby grew rapidly. Three other centers of Jewish settlement on Elm Hill, Erie Street/Mount Bowdoin, and Woodrow Avenue (Mattapan) grew rapidly in the coming years until they all merged into one large Jewish community. The early upwardly mobile, middle class Jewish residents were soon joined by thousands of lower income Eastern European Jews from the West End and Chelsea, where the 1908 fire had left many people homeless. For example, the Russian grandparents of the famous author and journalist, Theodore H. White, bought a wooden-frame house on Erie Street in 1912 for $2,000.27 He was born there three years later. His extended family was representative of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants settling into the area. White describes the neighborhood at that time, “When I was a child, milk was delivered in winter by horse-drawn sleigh… and Erie Street was lit by gas; and a real lamplighter passed before our house each dusk. Storekeepers had transformed Erie Street from the quiet residential neighborhood my grandparents had sought as Jewish pioneers in the district into a semi-permanent bazaar…Herrings were stacked in barrels outside fish stores…All butcher shops were kosher, sawdust on the floor, chopping blocks scrubbed clean every day, unplucked chickens piled in flop heaps in the store window…Pedlars, leading their horse-and-wagons through Erie Street, would yodel and chant their wares.”28
In this same area about two blocks from the Mount Bowdoin train station, Beth El, the Fowler Street Synagogue was completed in 1912. By that time 300 Jewish families had settled in the Mount Bowdoin/Franklin Park district, and by 1920 the number had grown to 1,300 families (6,000 people).29 The congregation itself had grown to 400 members, with a women’s club, a men’s club, a free loan society, adult study groups, a Young Israel group, and a large religious school.30 In 1915 the Crawford Street Synagogue was built in the Elm Hill district and by 1923, under the leadership of Rabbi Louis M. Epstein, had grown to 1,300 members.31 Also in the Elm Hill district, the Jewish community was building what would become a great central synagogue-center for New England. The $750,000 Temple Mishkan Tefila was dedicated on September 13, 1925 and became the dominant Conservative Jewish institution in the area.32 That same year the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) building opened a block away to provide gymnasium and meeting facilities for young men of the area. To meet the needs of the rapidly growing Jewish population, many substantial apartment blocks were built during these years. Notable leaders included Rabbi Mordecai Savitsky, an authority on Jewish law and kosher inspections, who was “reputed to possess the greatest memory of any living Rabbi.”33 In 1932 Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who was regarded as the leader of modern Jewish orthodoxy, came to live on Ruthven Street. He and his wife Tonya founded the Maimonides School in 1937. Their educational goal was to produce young men and women who “integrated the secular knowledge that fits them for the American scene and the religious and spiritual wealth of their own tradition.”34