Roslindale is often described as a suburb within Boston. The neighborhood's roots go back to 1630, when it was part of the then-colonial town, of Roxbury. In 1851, Roslindale was part of West Roxbury when that area seceded from the urbanizing Roxbury in order to preserve its rural character – and the neighborhood finally became known as Roslindale in 1870, shortly before it was annexed to Boston. This history has helped shape the neighborhood today.
Roslindale Village (also called Roslindale Square) is the commercial heart of the neighborhood, with local and independent businesses. Much like Union Square in Somerville, there is a farmers market every Saturday, June through Thanksgiving (bonus points that it accepts EBT and SNAP), as well as a winter farmers market (30 Birch St.).
Roslindale (like West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain) was part of the historic town of Roxbury which was settled in 1630. Roslindale was established as a separate parish in 1712, and it remained farming estates with relatively few residents for the next 150 years. The neighborhood did not begin to take on its current character until the 1870s, and development accelerated with the arrival of the train in the 1890s. The majority of the housing stock dates from this period onwards.
The sections of Roslindale closest to West Roxbury feel more like that neighborhood in terms of one- and two-family residences, while the area closer to Jamaica Plain is more densely developed with two-family and triple-decker houses.
The Commuter Rail runs through the center of Roslindale, with stops at Belgrade Avenue and Roslindale Village. It is approximately 11 stops or 45 minutes to Downtown Crossing. The closest T stop is the Forest Hills station on the Orange Line.
Six miles southwest of downtown Boston, Roslindale is near the southern edge of the city. To the north is Jamaica Plain, to the west is West Roxbury, to the south is Hyde Park, and to the east is Mattapan.
Roslindale was formerly part of the colonial town of Roxbury, founded in 1630 by William Pynchon (DATES)– an ancestor of novelist Thomas Pynchon, one of the wealthiest men in the colony, and who also wrote a book critical of the Puritans, which became the first book banned and burned in the new world.
What was then the town of Roxbury, settled on September 28, 1630, only three weeks after the official date of the settlement of Boston; it was about two miles wide and eight miles long, running from Boston to Dedham. The region abounded in rocks, and thus became known as Roxbury, originally spelled “Rocksbury.” The western part of Roxbury was known as Jamaica End or West Roxbury, and our community of Roslindale was part of this area. It was not until the establishment of a post office on March 15, 1870, that this community became known as Roslindale.
Ancient volcanic activity created the region's distinctive 'puddingstone'. ... geological reasons, which influenced the history of this area. Going back 500 million years, this region under the sea, with a volcano spouting lava at a spot near the present junction of Washington and Grove Streets. ### MAP THIS. The famous Roxbury “puddingstone” was a result of this volcano and the action of the sea. With the ice age, a great sheet of ice, as the climate became warmer, created drumlins, of which Bellevue Hill is one. The water, which was trapped, formed kettle holes. Two of these kettle holes are Jamaica Pond and Muddy Pond. The Charles River, which formed the boundary of old Roxbury, formed its winding course around the glacial deposits. These windings were what made the narrow Boston Neck, which set Roxbury off from Boston. This neck was all but covered with water at high tide, in the early days of Roxbury and Boston.
As Roxbury grew, the early settlers moved out along the main path from Boston to Dedham, the Old Dedham Post Road, now Centre Street. Although there were few Indians left in the area, due to a smallpox epidemic, it is certain that this early road had once been an Indian trail. The Indians usually traveled along rivers and ponds, and would quite likely pass by Jamaica Pond and along the banks of the Stony River. Stony River began on the slopes of Bellevue Hill and in Muddy Pond woods, and went through what is now Roslindale Square. Until it was forced underground, it was an important river. The early settlers ignored the law against settling more than one half mile from the church, as well as taking chances with the wolves and bears which were plentiful in the heavily wooded areas.
As early as 1626, Miantonimo, King of the Narragansetts, traveled over the Dedham Road with his wife and attendants. King John of the Nipmucks brought Matoonis, another chief, to be put to death on Boston Common for his part in King Philip’s War. John Eliot used this road on his way to preach to the Indians. Ann Hutchinson probably traveled over it on her way to Rhode Island to seek religious freedom. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the Dedham Post Road carried Minute and Militia to Bunker Hill, among them Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. George Washington made four trips over this road, one of which was to take command of the Continental Army in Cambridge.
A famous spot on the Dedham Post Road, near the corner of what is now Allandale and the Centre Streets, was the Peacock Tavern. This tavern was kept by Captain Child, who was a captain of one of three Minute Men companies from Roxbury who answered the call to arms on April 19, 1775, and fought the British at Lexington and Concord. Before the Revolutionary War, the Peacock Tavern was favorite gathering place for British officers, who headed there after holding skating parties on Jamaica Pond. During the siege of Boston, George Washington inspected his battle lines, which included Weld Hill in what is now the Arnold Arboretum. Washington had picked Weld Hill as a rendezvous in case the British succeeded in driving the Continental army back and in capturing the stores of ammunition located in Dedham. After his inspection in the area, Washington would partake of refreshment at the Peacock Tavern.
Opposite the Peacock Tavern, there stood, and still stands today, a stone milepost, which says: “6 mi. from Boston 1753 P.D.” These initials stand for Paul Dudley who erected the stone, as well as others on the road leading from Boston.
Another important road for Roslindale was Washington Street, called the Dedham Turnpike, which ran all the way from Boston through Roslindale Square to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It was opened for traffic in 1805 as a toll road, and was the principal stagecoach route. Taft’s Tavern, situated at the corner of Mayo’s farm on the Dedham Turnpike, was famous for its game dinners and hearty brew. It made Roslindale a major stopping place on long trips. The Tavern later became the Union Inn until the top part of it was destroyed by fire. Eventually it housed the school, and finally the Roslindale Brach Library in 1900. In 1919 it was torn down, and in its place is the Irving W. Adams Park in Roslindale Square.
From the Revolutionary War to the last part of the 19th century, West Roxbury, of which Roslindale was a part, was primarily a rural community, consisting of large farms supplying agricultural goods to the city of Boston. There was virtually no industry. On the west side of Church Street, between Centre and South Streets, was the Weld Farm, owned by Captain Joseph Weld, and “The story of the naming of Roslindale is a very interesting one.” My father, who was a newsdealer, passed it down to me. It was down to him from the man who was reputed to have named it. It seems that in the early 1800’s, Roslindale was part of Old Roxbury. Roxbury extended from what is now Roxbury Crossing out to the Dedham Line. We had West Roxbury, which was the West part of Roxbury, then we had Roxbury, but the land in between didn’t have a name except for that of “South Street Crossing.” It was called this because the railroad crossed South Street at the street level.
The people in the community wanted to apply for a post office. The name “South Street Crossing” wasn’t acceptable to the government. So all the landowners got together to give the area a definite name, a name of distinction. There were perhaps a half a dozen big landowners that owned a great section of the community. They had a meeting, and each landowner suggested a name.
“When it came John Pierce’s turn, he, an Englishman by birth and a person who had traveled extensively, told the assembled citizens that the so-called “South Street Crossing” and its vicinity reminded him of a certain historical town he had visited in Scotland. Mr. Pierce said that the rich and romantic landscape of this section composed of so fine a variety of hills and dales, stately trees and profuse shrubbery recalled in the mind of the beautiful little historic town of Roslyn in Scotland, outside of Edinburgh. Pierce also said that this area was like a dale because of all the hills surrounding the area. So he thought that a combination of “Roslin” and “dale” would be an appropriate name. That was the name that was submitted to the Post Office Department and the name that was subsequently adopted.”
lly part of the Town of Roxbur
y, which was settled in 1630, the area now known as
Roslindale was established
in 1712, when a small group of settlers living west of Jamaica Pond
broke away from the original Roxbury church parish to establish a parish closer to their homes.
was primarily rural farmland for the
next 150 years. The Dedham Post Road
was the main thoroughfare
through the area in the 1700s. The Dedham Post
Road completely bypassed Roslindale Village
commercial area remained small. This changed in 1804 with the expansion of Washington Street, which connected Boston to Dedham and ran through Roslindale. The Taft Tavern, pictured to the right, was soon constructed to
cater to the new traffic on the Dedham Toll Road. The tavern and hotel, which survived into the
early 20th century, was built on the land that is now occupied by Adams Park.
Roslindale was originally part of the town of Roxbury. In 1851, current day Jamaica Plain, Roslindale and West Roxbury seceded from Roxbury. The area voted in 1873 to be annexed to the City of Boston.
In the 1860s, the area was called South Street Crossing, due to the railroad's intersection with South Street. However, when the community applied for a post office district of its own, the name "South Street Crossing" proved to be unacceptable to the government. The name Roslindale was suggested by John Pierce, a well-traveled member of the community, who told the assembled citizens that the area reminded him of the beautiful historic town of Roslin, Scotland, outside Edinburgh. Pierce thought the area was like a dale because of the hills surrounding it. Thus the combination of "Roslin" and "dale" was submitted to the United States Postal Service and the name Roslindale was formally established.
Roslindale grew residentially as a classic streetcar suburb. The railway was built after the American Civil War, and spawned a new round of commercial development. Roslindale saw steady growth in its residential population, beginning in the 1880s, with the introduction of the horse-drawn street railway service between Forest Hills and Dedham.
On March 14, 1887, a Boston & Providence Railroad train consisting of a locomotive and nine passenger cars inbound from Dedham to Boston with over 200 passengers, was passing over a bridge at Bussey Street, in the current Arnold Arboretum, when the bridge collapsed causing the rear five cars to pile up on top of each other, killing twenty-three and injuring over one hundred. This is considered one of the first major rail catastrophes in the country, and contributed to the widespread inspection of train bridges across the U.S.
Prior to the rise of suburban shopping malls and in the 1970s, the Roslindale business district, Roslindale Square, was a major shopping district for the city of Boston, with department stores, showrooms, food markets, and a movie theatre. After suffering years of vacant storefronts and increased vandalism during the 1970s, 80s & 90s Roslindale Square enjoys limited success today as a local shopping district.
Starting in the mid-1970s, a new wave of immigrants came to Roslindale, after a military coup in Greece. These Greek immigrants purchased homes and businesses in Roslindale, and built a church at the corner of Cornith and Belgrade Streets. These immigrants are often regarded as crucial to stabilizing Roslindale at a time of tremendous economic flux.
Roslindale, once part of Roxbury (and then part of West Roxbury when it formed its own government in 1851), was a rural village until the late 19th century, when improved transportation routes made it more accessible to Boston. Much of the district’s and several of the buildings that were part of that era remain today.
However, like many urban neighborhoods, Roslindale began to suffer from hard times. In 1968, the suburban shopping mall was introduced in nearby Dedham, and several grocery stores with large parking lots were built. The small neighborhood commercial district no longer seemed relevant as more and more people took to their cars and shopped outside of the area. Paired with the general migration of the white middle class to the suburbs and 1974’s busing laws, the commercial district, (and to some extent, the adjacent residential areas) fell into a state of decline. In the 1970s, businesses suffered through arson fires, crime, and general neglect. By the 1980s, the area was challenged by increasingly deteriorated building stock, empty storefronts, and vast disinvestment.
“A character who lived in the Roslindale woods intrigues these same boys, inspiring romantic conjecture: “There is the story of the Hermit of Grew’s woods. Grew’s woods was a section of Roslindale bordering Hyde Park. It’s almost an extension of Beech Street. There was a hermit who lived in an old hut that he had built. He lived by trapping animals and selling the fur to people. He lived by himself, and he became known as the Hermit of Grew’s woods. Some people said he had a love and he was disappointed. By birth, he was an Englishman. I don’t know whether the love affair took place in England or in the United States. He would entertain you if you went up to see him.”
During the 1930’s, the new Parkway Transcript published reminiscence about some of Roslindale’s citizens – people who implanted themselves in the community’s collective memory. Blacksmith shops seemed to have served as the “smoke-filled rooms” of a previous era.
“Parker Weeks’ blacksmith shop was the actual quarters for most of the politicians of the upper section of Ward 23, regardless of party in days gone by. Many a deal was hashed out and cut and dried under the music of the old blacksmith’s hammer.
The words of Roslindale people give a vivid visual picture of the way it used to be:
“The Roslindale that my father came to was very much a rural area. There were several small farms in the area. Around where the Charles Summer School now exists was a farm. It had cows and sold milk to the local residents. You came down, brought a container with you, they filled it with milk and you took it home. There was another farm on Dudley Ave (now Durnell Ave), and the Hayes Road area was at the that time all pastureland.”
The financial and social center of Roslindale was called the “Village “ and until after World War II had the flavor of a small town meeting place.
In 1706, there were about 45 families living in the territory west of Jamaica Pond. In that year, Joseph Weld and 44 others filed a petition asking to form a separate Church and parish. They stated that they lived in the west end of Roxbury toward Dedham; that it was difficult for them to attend church at the First Church in Roxbury in bad winter weather; and that even in good weather, it takes a great deal of their time coming and going. They would like to be freed from taxes in connection with the old church, and ask for assistance in building a new one. This petition was largely ignored by the First Church, which quite naturally did not like to lose the income from these parishioners. So the ingenious settlers went ahead and built a church anyway. The church was built on land donated by Joseph Weld, and stood on Peter’s Hill, on what is now Walter Street, near Mendum Street, next to what is now the Arnold Arboretum.
After the church was built, again the settlers petitioned, begging the humble pardon of their brothers for what they had done. This request was of course granted, and the west end of Roxbury was made a separate percipient. The second Church of Roxbury was gathered on November 2, 1712, and its first pastor was Ebenezer Thayer.
Next to the church was the “Burying ground”, which still exists today, as the only sign of this early church. The first meetinghouse served a whole generation. When it became too dilapidated, a new church was built at the corner of Church and Centre Streets. Some of the timbers from the original church were used in this building.
Thus it was here in the little church on Walter Street that the community, which is now Roslindale, had its beginnings. Here in the meetinghouse, the people gathered to worship on Sundays, and on weekdays, to regulate the affairs of the town. From gatherings such as these came the principals on which our nation was based.
Roads played a great part in the development of all the early communities. The main road, which now passes through Roslindale, is Washington Street, but this road, called the Dedham Turnpike, was not built until 1804. Before that date, the main path or road from Boston to Dedham was what we now call Centre Street. This road was called by many names, including the Dedham Post Road, and was not given the name Centre Street until 1825. The old road traveled up the present Centre Street from Jamaica Plain, and turned left after passing Allandale Street, over what is now called Walter Street, and up South Street to the present junction of Church and Centre Streets, and then on to Dedham via Centre and East Streets. The Dedham Road not only connected the east and west portions of Roxbury, but connected Boston with providence and points west and south.
It was not until 1870 that Roslindale, until then a section of West Roxbury, known as “South Street District”, and then “South Street Crossing”, became a postal district and chose a name for itself.
Despite, or because of, the ambiguity of Roslindale’s identity, its citizens have developed a special pride in their community, which expresses itself in several legends explaining the naming of the community. Mr. Parker Weeks, a fondly remembered Washington Street blacksmith, claimed that the area was named after the Scotsman’s home:
“Roslindale was originally, of course, a part of the town of West Roxbury, but this particular section was known as “South Street Crossing.” Later a Scotchman names Laurie, from Roslyn, Scotland, build a house, now standing on Florence Street, which was known as the Freemantle house. He built an arch over his gate, and called it Roslyn Cottage.” He was very active in all town affairs and from “South Street Crossing”, the place came to be known as Roslyn, and later the name was changed to Roslindale.”
Another story holds the name to be a derivative of “Roseland”, because of the rose gardens characteristic of its fertile land. The most popular version of the naming of Roslindale connects Roslindale with Roslyn, a town in Scotland. Mr. Dick Davis, a longtime Roslindale resident, and for many years editor of the area newspaper, The Parkway Transcript, tells of the legend this way:
“Roslindale is unique from other parts of Boston. It is the only town, it is the only community by the name of Roslindale in the world. I have never heard of another Roslindale. We have Dedham, Mass., and Dedham, England; Dorchester England; Newton, England. Most of the towns in early America were named after their counterparts in England. But Roslindale was a unique name. It is a coined name, a manufactured one.”
“In 1887, people had to be at work at an earlier time than at the present, and since there were no car lines, they bought five-strip tickets for 35 cents to commute from local suburbs on the Boston and Providence Railroad.”
The community of Roslindale, names for its lovely hills and dales, has felt the squeeze of urban living. Open space is disappearing as the population becomes more crowded. However, Roslindale is a mature community with an awakening consciousness of its identity. Recognizing the problems and challenge of urbanization, Roslindale maintains the friendliness and spirit of a “garden suburb.”