Mission Hill
Part of: Roxbury
United States > Massachusetts > Greater Boston > City of Boston > Roxbury > Mission Hill

Mission Hill is historically part of Roxbury, but it feels more like Jamaica Plain. The neighborhood draws comparisons to sections of San Francisco, with its Victorian houses and glute-burning hills.

Strong university and cultural presence. The neighborhood is anchored by the museums and universities just past the northern edge of the neighborhood, including the Museum of Fine Arts and Isabella Stewart Garner museums, as well as Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health, Museum School, MassArt, Wentworth Institute, Northeastern University.

Proximity to Longwood Medical campus. Mission Hill is wraps around the Boston section of Longwood and the sprawling Longwood Medical Campus, home to some of the country's leading hospitals including Beth Israel Deaconess, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Joslin Diabetes Center, and over twenty major health care and research institutions. Longwood is the largest employment area in Boston outside of downtown.

Properties positioned for rising values and rents. Given the strong demand from students and medical professionals to live close to their work and schools, the neighborhood is likely to see prices continue to rise until they are on par with more established neighborhoods.

Considerable parkland and urban wilds. To the west is the Riverway, part of the Emerald Necklace of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. And to the south are Olmsted Park and Leverett Pond. The Back of the Hill Urban Wild (Huntington to Parker Hill Ave.), Iroquois Woods (between Iroquois Street and Parker Hill Ave.), and the Parker Hilltop Urban Wild are protected hillside forests within the neighborhoods.

The housing stock in Mission Hill reflects the neighborhood's long and rich history, from a few surviving estate houses to blocks of brick rowhouses and later, triple-deckers. Many rowhouses in Mission Hill were influenced by the architecture in Back Bay and South End, and the rowhouses range from Georgian and Romanesque Revival to Queen Anne and Second Empire styles.

The streets with Native American names, including Calumet and Iroquois, were developed between 1890s and the turn of the century with triple deckers in the Queen Anne style.

Roxbury puddingstone is the distinctive conglomerate beneath much of Roxbury, Dorchester, Brookline, and parts of the surrounding areas. Geologists believe it originated with a long-since-dormant volcano beneath the current neighborhood of Roslindale. Within Mission Hill, a large puddingstone quarry that ran between Tremont Street and Allegany Street produced the stone foundations of most of the late 1800s houses in the neighborhood. Indeed, some buildings are made entirely of puddingstone, including
682-688 Parker Street, 2-5 Sewall Street, and 1472-74 Tremont Street.

Pros and cons of significant institutional presence. Just past the northern edge of the neighborhood are a significant cluster of museums (including the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Garner Museum), universities (Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health, MassArt, Museum School, Northeastern University, and the Wentworth Institute), and the Boston section of the Longwood Medical Campus. While this creates significant demand for rentals and housing prices, it contributes to significant traffic and the demands of institutional growth can at times conflict with residents' desire to maintain the neighborhood character.

Urban renewal. Mission Hill is one of many neighborhoods in Boston, and across the United States, affected by misguided urban renewal policy. The 1978 documentary, Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston explores the effects of urban renewal upon Mission Hill.

Best blocks and notable buildings

The Mission Hill Historic District is comprised of brick row houses built between 1872 and 1892. The buildings were constructed as single-family residences, which range in height from two to four stories. The brick row houses are enlivened with brownstone, marble, and sandstone facing.

The Mission Hill Triangle District. (PDF) is an Architectural Conservation District bounded by Huntington Avenue, and Tremont and Worthington streets. The houses in this district are built between 1871 and 1910s, and are mostly wood-frame on stone foundations. Notable buildings include:

The Helvetia (706-708 Huntington Ave.), a Queen Anne apartment built in 1884-1885. It is the largest historic building in the neighborhood.

The Esther (673 Huntington Ave.) is a Georgian Revival apartment building built in 1912.

Timothy Hoxie House (135 Hillside St.) is a stately freestanding Italianate villa built in 1854 across from its present location. The Hoxie family left Beacon Hill for pastoral Mission Hill. Houses of this size are rare in the neighborhood today because as demand increased in the late 1800s, real estate speculators built triple-deckers on smaller parcels of land to maximize profit.

Cantwell House (139 Hillside St.) This Gothic Revival cottage was the former residence of builder John Cantwell, who purchased the Hoxie House after Timothy Hoxie's death, and moved the house to its present site so that upper Sachem Street could be cut through.

Commercial and retail

Tremont Street and Huntington Avenue are the two main commercial streets for Mission Hill.

Brigham Circle, at the intersection of Tremont and Huntington avenues, is the commercial center for Mission Hill. Despite the name, it is not actually a circle.

Roxbury Crossing is a secondary commercial center now anchored by the Orange Line train stop. It was previously known as Pierpoint Village, named for the Pierpoint family and their mills which dated to the 1650s. Prior to the urban renewal of the 1960s, it was a lively area with restaurants, a Woolworths, and a 700+ seat Criterion Theatre.


Mission Hill is regarded as one of the more commuter-friendly neighborhoods of Boston. It is well-served by public transit, with the Green Line running through and near the south, west, and north sides of the neighborhood (with stops at Heath Street, Riverway, Mission Park, and Fenwood Rd., Brigham Circle, Longwood, Museum of Fine Arts). The eastern side of the neighborhood is served by the Orange Line stop at Roxbury Crossing.


Mission Hill is at the edge of Boston and the town of Brookline. To the north is the Boston neighborhood of the Fenway-Kenmore. To the east are Roxbury's Fort Hill neighborhood, and the South End. To the south is Jamaica Plain, and to the west is Brookline.

Before 1630, the area was inhabited by the Wampanoag tribe. Mission Hill was once part of the colonial Town of Roxbury, founded in 1630 by Thomas Pynchon (1589-1661).

Pynchon 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 or Rocksbury (spelling was somewhat optional then), perhaps an expression of frustration with the soil quality here.

Pynchon later founded Springfield, Mass., and became one of the wealthiest men in the colony. However, he was forced to return to England after writing a book which criticized 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. One of his descendants, author Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937) carried on the literary tradition but has thus far managed to avoid having his work burned on the Common.

At one point, the colonial town of Roxbury included Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and Roslindale. 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 part of the town of Roxbury. Today, this land includes the Fenway-Kenmore and Mission Hill neighborhoods. However, when Boston annexed Roxbury in DATE, they all became neighborhoods of Boston.

Until the American Revolution, Mission Hill was known for farms and large country estates for Boston families. Much of the area was an orchard farm, originally owned by the Parker family in the 18th century. Peter Parker married Sarah Ruggles, whose family owned large areas of land including most of what became known as Parker Hill (later renamed Mission Hill). His life ended when a barrel of his own cider fell on him. (Much of this story is outlined in "The History of Peter Parker and Sarah Ruggles", a book by John William Linzee, published in 1913.)

The orchard continued for some time thereafter, but gradually pieces of the land were sold and developed. Boston’s reservoir was once located at the top of the hill. Many of the older apple trees along Fisher Avenue and in an undeveloped area of the playground are probably descendants of the Parker family’s original trees. The lower portion of the eastern hill was a puddingstone quarry with large swaths owned by merchants Franklin G. Dexter, Warren Fisher and Fredrick Ames.

Mission Hill was previously known as Parker Hill, and only began to be known as Mission Hill after the Mission Church complex was built in the late 1800s. Much like the Mission District in San Francisco, Mission Hill is also named for a church, or mission. In 1870, the Redemptorist Fathers built a humble wooden mission church that was replaced by an impressive Roxbury puddingstone structure in 1876. In 1910, dual-spires were added that now dominate the skyline. The church was elevated to basilica in 1954 by Pope Pius XII and is one of only 43 in the United States. Officially named Our Lady of Perpetual Help after the icon of the same name, it is uniformly referred to as "Mission Church",

Many German immigrants also immigrated to the US in the early 1900's, quite possibly to escape the effects of the first World War. German immigrants also settled in the Mission Hill area of Roxbury, and were instrumental in developing the many breweries that prospered along the Stony Brook until prohibition. In the early 20th century, a Jewish community was also established.