Forest Hills is, along with Woodbourne, one of the two southernmost sections within Jamaica Plain. The neighborhood is in a valley between two of Boston's iconic green spaces, the 281-acre Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and the 275-acre Forest Hills Cemetery, a monumental cemetery of sculpture and woodland.
The neighborhood began to be developed in the 1890s, after the arrival of the train. Parts of the neighborhood, particularly the area south of Walk Hill Street, was developed using principles of theGarden City movement proposed by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) in 1898, including tree-lined streets that curved around rocky outcroppings, in order to preserve a sense of nature within the city.
Until the middle of the 1800s, there were only about six homes in Forest Hills. Two of which were on the southeast hillside overlooking Stony Brook where Orchard Hill Road is today. The arrival of the railroad in the late 1890s led to considerable housing development in the neighborhood, from Arts & Crafts, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and Tudor Revival styles.
Inspired by Garden City planning ideals. Forest Hills and neighboring Woodbourne were designed in part on the ideas proposed by Sir Ebenezer Howard (DATES), who proposed that communities be surrounded by greenbelts of parks, and that tree-lined streets should curve around hills and rocky outcroppings in order to preserve a sense of wild nature within the city. This is most evident in the section of the neighborhood south of Walk Hill Street.
The neighborhood is served by one stop on the Commuter Rail and one for the Orange Line, both at the Forest Hills station.
Forest Hills is a section within the larger Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. To the north is the Stonybrook section of Jamaica Plain, to the south are Roslindale and Woodbourne. It is between two large open spaces: the Arnold Arboretum to the west and the Forest Hills Cemetery to the east.
A HISTORY OF FOREST HILLS
FOREST HILLS is the most complex area of Jamaica Plain.
Transformed by transportation over two centuries, Forest Hills challenges the definition of
neighborhood. About a mile long and a half-mile across, Forest Hills has been shaped by
geography more than any other part of Jamaica Plain. It sits in a valley at the confluence
of two streams flanked by two hills on which have been landscaped two Boston
landmarks and American institutions: The Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery.
In the 1600s, Forest Hills was a corner of the then-town of Roxbury called Canterbury. It was a crossroads for three of the oldest roadways in the area: today's Centre Street (then South Street), Walnut Avenue, and Walk Hill Street. ... At Forest Hills the traveler could go to
Roxbury, Dedham or Dorchester.
Forest Hills is the center of two great Roxbury families, Weld and Seaver. The mark of these families was felt until the early decades of the 20th century.
Among the earliest grants of Roxbury commons land at Forest Hills was to Captain Joseph Weld (1599 - 1646). Captain Joseph and his brother Rev. Thomas Weld sailed with John Winthrop on March 7, 1632 and arrived in Boston in July. Rev. Weld was made pastor of Roxbury First Church and his brother became a shopkeeper and joined the Roxbury Artillery Company. Joseph Weld’s store was on Roxbury Street (Washington Street) at the corner of Vernon Street. Rev. Weld lived across the street at the corner of Ziegler Street. Captain Joseph Weld led the Roxbury Artillery Company in the Pequot War of 1634 - 1638. In consideration for this service in the first war with the Native Americans, Capt Weld was granted 270 acres of land on the lower road to Dedham that is today largely the Arnold Arboretum. This land and a great deal more added over the years between Forest Hills and Brookline would be owned by seven
generations of Welds.
Colonel Ebenezer Weld, the great grandson of Captain Joseph, distinguished
himself in the Revolutionary War. It is his grandson Stephen Minot Weld (1806 - 1867)
who is of most interest in the history of Forest Hills because he seems to be the first
owner of the land between Washington Street and Forest Hills Cemetery.
Stephen Minot Weld graduated from Harvard College in 1826 and for thirty years
taught at a boarding school he founded in 1827 in Jamaica Plain. He lived in a large
house on one acre of land at the corner of Centre and South Streets. (The house was still
standing in 1924.)
His first wife was Sarah Balch (1817 - 1854). Stephen Minot Weld was a shrewd businessman who believed in the growth and future of Jamaica Plain. In part with inherited wealth from his father, a prosperous shipowner, Stephen M. Weld bought up large tracts of undervalued land because transportation was not improved enough to encourage population growth. At the time of his death in 1867 his holdings extended from Forest Hills Street to South Street along the valley that he knew would inevitably be developed because of its location; some of this land was subdivided as late as the 1920’s.
He raised money to recruit soldiers for the Civil War and his son Stephen M. Weld Jr. served with valor at Appomattox. After the war he raised most of the quarter of a million dollars to build Memorial Hall at Harvard University.
Margaret and her mother removed to Jamaica Plain from Groton; the death of her
father Timothy in 1835 left the family in great debt and Margaret sold the farm their
father bought along with much of their household goods and his books and removed to
Margaret Fuller was brilliant. Well read, well spoken (and outspoken), bold,
competitive and well connected socially and intellectually. Forest Hills was a turning
point of her life, but why move to Forest Hills?
Her mother apparently chose the location because the family wanted to live in a
rural area. Boston was not unknown to the family. Margaret lived at her uncle’s house on
Avon Place in 1836. Two reasons suggest themselves. Stephen M. Weld’s wife was
Sarah Balch and the Balch’s were related to Timothy Fuller (Carolyn Williams Balch was
Timothy Fuller’s cousin). Stephen M. Weld rented the house to the Fullers – members of
his extended family – as soon as he bought it.
The second reason is Ralph Waldo Emerson, a complicated self-absorbed man in
a complicated relationship with Margaret Fuller. Emerson was friend, protégé, critic and,
to Margaret, a romance. She knew Ralph Waldo Emerson well enough to be invited to his
Concord home in 1836 for induction into his select salon of transcendentalists (in whom
she never fully believed). Seven years older than Fuller, Emerson (1803 – 1882) lived for
two years himself in Canterbury in a rented farmhouse on Walnut Avenue less than a
mile from Forest Hills. He taught at his brother’s Young Ladies School in his mother’s
house on Federal Street, but enjoying neither the school nor city living he took the advice
of his aunt and rented a farmhouse from Stedman Williams in May 1823.
1825 Emerson left to attend Harvard University and go on to fame as a writer of
pretentious philosophy. Emerson clearly loved the Roxbury countryside and he may have
recommended it to the Fullers.
Margaret Fuller tutored at least two women at Willow Brook and thoroughly
enjoyed walking through Bussey’s Woods – the estate of Benjamin Bussey on South
Street. She loved the meadows and walks through what is today Hemlock Hill. In her
letters she describes the waterfall that gave her so much pleasure; this was more than
likely the ruins of the old sawmill with its crumbling stone platform for the waterwheel.
On May 15, 1839 she wrote to a friend about Blossom Sunday at Bussey’s Woods in
which the apple trees were in full blossom and the woods bustling with violets.
Margaret moved into Jamaica Plain society soon enough (moving easily into
different settings was a lifelong trait). In a letter of June 8, 1839 she wrote that she joined
Joseph Balch and Dr. Christopher Weld for boating on Jamaica Pond.
To support herself and her mother Margaret conceived of hosting Conversations
in the bookstore of Elizabeth Peabody – whom she met in 1828 – located at 13 West
Street (not far from today’s Brattle Bookshop). She took the idea from Bronson Alcott
with whom she met to discuss her plans in August of 1839. These Conversations would
be different; they would be
women on topics selected by and of concern
Fuller had the very revolutionary idea that women could think and talk on their own.
She invited a circle of well-read and well-connected women to join the first
Conversation on November 6, 1839 at Miss Peabody’s bookstore. The method was
simple: a topic was chosen and the women would discuss it. Margaret kept the
conversation on topic and encouraged everyone to speak.
Emerson planned a periodical he called The Dial which would publish critical
thinkers of and be the organ for Transcendentalism. He asked Margaret to edit the
publication and she spent the early winter of 1839 at her Forest Hills home working on
the first issue that came out in January 1840.
In 1841 Margaret declined to renew her lease and she moved out of her Forest
Hills home on April 6, 1841 with her luggage and a bundle of Dial manuscripts under her
arms. After a year and a half as a wandering guest in one household or another, she
removed to New York City to become foreign affairs correspondent for Horace Greeley’s
New York Herald Tribune.
On July 10, 1849 Jacob W. Seaver (1820 - 1914) married Sarah Abby Weld. For
the rest of the century Forest Hills would be influenced by these two great Roxbury
families Weld and Seaver. In 1850 Jacob W. Seaver and his wife Abby are listed as
living in Jamaica Plain. It is highly likely – although undocumented - that the home they
moved into was the stately Greek revival house at no. 40 Orchardhill Road perched on
the approach drive, overlooking Stony Brook. The date of the house is unknown but the
“land with buildings was surveyed” by TB Moses on April 23, 1856 as noted in the deed
when Jacob W Seaver bought the property from Franklin Weld, Jacob’s nephew, on
January 1, 1872. (Norfolk deeds. Lb 434. fol 281)
The classic Greek Revival style of
the house was in high vogue in 1850’s America.
It does not seem that this is the same house that Margaret Fuller lived in although
it’s on the same corner location. In her letters Fuller says she is moving into a “little
house” and 40 Orchardhill Rd is a stately porticoed country house.
The home was probably built by William Fletcher Weld as a wedding gift for his
only daughter Sarah; Sarah’s two uncles Stephen M. and Dr. Christopher Weld may have
added to the dowry.
Sarah Abby Weld (1829 - 1911) was the only daughter of the
richest merchant shipowner of his day in the nation, William Fletcher Weld (1800 -
1881). At the height of his fortune he owned fifty-one merchant ships and ten steamships;
when he saw merchant shipping declining he invested successfully in railroads
and urban real estate. On his death in 1881 his income was listed at $20 million.
Jacob Weld Seaver was born in Roxbury on the Seaver lands above Blue Hill
Avenue. Robert Seaver (1608 - 1685) was the first to arrive from England to Roxbury in
June 1634 and his land grant extended from Warren to Walnut Avenue. The Seaver
farmhouse stood near Schuyler Street and Blue Hill Avenue where the Grove Hall
Motormart garage is today at 4 - 18 Cheney Street.
The most famous Roxbury Seaver was Jacob’s father Ebenezer whose namesake
grandfather was Roxbury town constable. That Ebenezer bought forty acres a farmhouse,
mill (probably a blacksmith shop) and barn on that location in 1796. A cartpath through
the farm connected it to Walnut Avenue was known as the Long Crouch in the 17th
century and was named Seaver Street in 1825 after Jacob’s father for his service to
Roxbury among which was a seat in Congress and as state representative.
A branch of the Seaver family had been living in the Jamaica Plain (or Jamaica
End) section of Roxbury as early as 1700 (see for example Ebenezer Seaver. Suffolk
deeds Lib 19, fol 369 (1700) and Lib 79, fol 151 (1701).
Jacob W. Seaver was descended from the brother of Joshua Seaver who was born
in the family’s home on Centre Street (near approximately Thomas Street) in 1779. He
established Seaver’s store in 1796 that he built on the site of an earlier general store. It
would be one of the longest lasting businesses in Jamaica Plain when it closed in 1928.
The Jamaica Plain Seavers, Joshua and Jacob, were of the merchant class. Joshua
owned one of the first retail general merchandise stores in the area; Jacob was a
commercial wholesale food merchant dealing largely in flour from a storehouse at 19
Commercial Wharf (1850
The Seaver-Weld marriage was not only the joining of families but of two great
arms of the early American economy: shipping and commercial wholesale merchants and
brokers. William Fletcher Weld, like his father William Gordon Weld, took enormous
and costly risks to trade in the Mediterranean, East Indies and the southern part of the
Caribbean. Pirates, Privateers, European conflicts, and storms could and did cost the
shipowner a fortune. The Welds required dependable home markets and trustworthy
brokers to sell their goods and to trade with abroad. One of those was Jacob W. Seaver
with his warehouse and counting rooms on Commercial Wharf. He took the grains and
other commodities in the holds of Weld’s ships and sold them to the retail trade, such as
Seaver’s Store. The shipowner and commercial wholesaler were powerful partners in the
city’s economy; together they set the prices and influenced the business of Boston and
When Jacob W. Seaver and his wife Sarah moved into their Orchardhill Road
home in 1850, Jamaica Plain politics were in class turmoil which resulted in the
formation of the separate township of Jamaica Plain when it broke off from the parent
city of Roxbury in 1851. The first town hall was on Thomas Street behind the Seaver
On January 1, 1872 Jacob W. Seaver bought the house and grounds on
Orchardhill Rd from his uncle Franklin Weld (Norfolk deeds Lib 434. fol 281). The
property was about ten acres from approximately Tower Street to Morton Street and
included a large mansion house that for decades was the home of Jacob W. Seaver. The
1874 GM Hopkins atlas shows three houses on the property, the big white house at 40
Orchardhill Road, a smaller house and the mansion on the lower slope above Morton
Presumably Jacob W. Weld built this large house for his four children; Franklin Weld may have lived in one of the other houses. A postcard from about 1910 shows a three-story home with mansard roof and cupola with an L-shape wing. It was designed in the French Second Empire style, a very popular design for men of wealth of the 1870’s so
it’s possible the house was built when Seaver bought the land. It strongly resembles the Samuel Riddle house at 6 Roanoke Avenue on Sumner Hill. The way the Riddle house today sits high up on a grass lawn fringed by a stonewall resembles the Seaver mansion. The deed states that one house had been rented by “ Miss Balch” since 1868 so
presumably Seaver found the Greek Revival house too small for their growing family.
Franklin Weld died 10 months after he sold the property at the age of 71.
The Seaver mansion sat on a hill with a boundary wall still in place today that
fronted Morton Street. The Town of Roxbury built Morton St in 1850 from Washington
Street to Canterbury Street. In 1853 abutting landowners paid to have the road extended
to Harvard Street, the boundary of Roxbury and Dorchester. The road was completed to
Blue Hill Ave in 1859. The Town of Dorchester probably built the leg from Harvard St.
to Blue Hill Avenue in that way making Morton Street the connection between the two
former turnpikes The Norfolk and Bristol (built in 1806) and The Brush Hill (Blue Hill
Avenue) built in 1809.
Two years after Seaver took the deed to his hillside estate Jamaica Plain was
annexed to the city of Boston; the vote was taken n October 7, 1873 and took effect in
January of 1874. By then the Seaver Weld families owned vast tracts of valley and
hillside land above Hyde Park Avenue as far as Walk Hill Street and along Washington
Street as far as Lotus Street.
FOREST HILLS BECOMES THE TRANSIT HUB OF JAMAICA PLAIN
When Jacob W Seaver moved into his new home on Orchardhill Rd., Forest Hills
had been transformed from the crossroads known by his father to a transportation center
with the development of the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike and later the Boston and
Providence Railroad. Both took advantage of topography the flat plain of the Stony
Brook valley wedged between two hills.
“The History of Forest Hills.” covers the topographical and architectural changes that have happened to the neighborhood.
“For its entire history, Forest Hills has been influenced by transportation,” said Heath.
He added that Forest Hills is the only place in the city, except perhaps East Boston, that has not been able to control its own destiny because of the need of regional transportation.
But Heath said the most important event for Forest Hills was the failed I-95 expansion. The plan was canceled in the early 1970s after significant community opposition. The Southwest Corridor Park and the MBTA Orange Line and Amtrak railroad track currently reside where the highway was to be built
Heath said the plan was designed by “madmen” and would have transformed Forest Hills into a highway interchange.
“I-95 not being built is the single biggest turning point in the history of Forest Hills,” he said.