"DORCHESTER, WARD 16?"
by Marion Booth and Ordway Tead , included in The Zone of Emergence: Observations of the Lower Middle and Upper Working Class Communities of Boston, 1905-1914 by Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy.
It would be easy but unenlightening to say that the most distinctive thing about Ward 16 is its lack of distinctiveness. Still clinging to a faint suggestion of eighteenth century village life, and having a strong substance of nineteenth century suburban-ism, with these two encroached upon and retreating before the twentieth century three-decker, this section of Dorchester re?quires particular rather than general statements. The quite arbitrary lines of territorial division increase the need of par?ticularity; since little of what may be said of the Polish colony about Andrew Square applies to the section about Edward Everett Square and this in turn bears no likeness to the Mt. Harrison streets [hill crossed by Howard Avenue]. The few general statements which can be made will become apparent as the several districts are described, and will be brought together by way of conclusion. Suffice it to say at the outset that we have to consider a region almost wholly residential, comprising a population of over 25,000 people.
The approximate ward boundaries at present are: Columbia Road from its intersection with Newman Street in South Boston to Quincy Street, across Quincy Street to Blue Hill Avenue, down the Avenue to West Cottage and along through East Cottage Street to the midland division of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The line follows these tracks to Massachusetts Avenue and then takes in all the marshland on the South Bay over as far as Southampton and Dorchester Streets whence Newman Street runs to meet Columbia Road again. Topo?graphically, except for the cutting through of streets, the elevating of railroad tracks, and the filling in of the marshes, the ward remains practically unaltered. The building of Columbia Road across the harbor front has been the means of draining much marshy land and the building of Massachusetts Avenue has meant the permanent reclamation of still more. In the not very far future the dump-carts will have done with their dumping and there will be no more sea between Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street. When this land as well as that between the Old Colony division of the railroad and Columbia Road is at last made, the ward will have taken on its permanent aspect so far as actual terra firma goes. The distance above sea-level in?creases very gradually from the Andrew Square (formerly Wash?ington Village) section to Upham's Corner, but beyond Dudley and through to Quincy Street the land is quite hilly and even sightly. It is also important to note the way the ward is crossed by through thoroughfares. Dorchester Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, Dudley Street, Blue Hill Avenue, all serve to make the place easy of access to the city and serve equally well to take much of the "emergence" beyond the zone altogether into Wards 20 and 24 [central and outer Dorchester].
Ward 16 has shared largely in the historical traditions of "good old Dorchester." A Dorchester writer has summarized the early history of the Five Comers region (now Edward Everett Square) as follows: "General Washington marched with his troops to Dorchester Heights, passing the spot where Edward Everett was born. The first church and the first school house, stood but a moment's walk from here and the first town meeting was held in Town Meeting Square just opposite. This spot where the William E. Russell school now stands, which was once a swamp, was partly filled by slaves belonging to General Oliver who lived in the house in which Edward Everett was born. In this swamp only about 160 years ago a cow got stuck in the mud and the wolves came in the night and devoured her." [from Dor?chester Day Celebration, 1913]
The Blake House which dates from 1648 still stands on Pond Street and nearby tablets mark the site of the first free public school in America and of Edward Everett's house, which, how?ever, was not built until 1745. Although the first church early moved and gave the name to Meeting House Hill, the section about the Five Corners continued to hold its own; for the Rev. Richard Mather, the grandfather of Cotton Mather, lived opposite the Blake House during his pastorate at the First Church and other old and prominent families settled on what became Boston Street and thereabouts. Most of the land was apportioned among several large estates; and this colonial country village with its truck gardens, prolific orchards and ample pastures remained intact until long after the Revolution. Indeed the fruit farms of Dorchester were so renowned that the Andrew, Clapp, and Harris families, to mention only a few, gave their names to various rare species of pears which they produced. Grapes, cherries, and blackberries were also largely grown; in fact we are told that as late as 1850 the German women used to come out from Boston to pick and pack this fruit. Today the City of Bos?ton maintains in this same neighborhood very attractive hothouses and a nursery from which bushes, shrubs and flowers are dis?tributed to its parks.
Much of the land on Mt. Harrison apparently remained barren and wooded until the 1830's when several pretentious estates were built and a deer park was fenced off. However, its northwestern slope remained as pasture and orchard until a comparatively recent time. For years a stage coach ran out Dor?chester Avenue, formerly a turnpike, to the Lower Mills, but in the 1850's it was superseded by horsecars. The first station out of Boston on the New York and New England Railroad was at Dudley Street and this early made for an influx of people of com?fortable means who could commute from their estates in this country suburb. The gradual advent of the electric cars altered all this land and was one of the prime causes of the change in population.
There is little to record of the developments hereabout until well into the nineteenth century. There had been more than half a dozen tanneries near the marshes and a glass factory stood between Dorchester Avenue and the Old Harbor. But by 1860 these had all disappeared. The growth in population up to this time was small and was confined almost exclusively to Yan?kees. It was not until after the Civil War that the real flow of immigration began. The streets on Mt. Harrison began to be broken through after this time and for twenty-five years there?after a steady growth in substantial one-family houses can be noticed. The families who settled thus were Yankees many of whom still remain. The community life was congenial and an air of smug, suburban complaisance still gives to these few streets that odor of sanctity which brings to mind the fulsome and uncritical eulogies of American family life which we like to roll like sweet morsels on our tongues. If we were at liberty to write a psychological rather than a sociological study nothing would be more interesting than to study the true significance of this standard of Me in its reaction on those who enjoy it. For it becomes painfully evident that it does affect their minds and hearts unwholesomely. In the face of the outward march of Hibernian and Jew the Yankees have girt their garments well about them, snatched up their skirts that so much as a hem might not be defiled by contact with "foreigners," and have betaken them elsewhere in a spirit little and shallow, if not mean and snobbish. This unsocial, inhuman and unintelligent attitude of the "native inhabitants" is one of the sad attendant facts which would have to be recorded and explained in a study of the psy?chology of emergence. The subtle way in which the invading host has heaped coals of fire on the heads of the better-than-thous deserves recognition. In every instance the newcomers have in short order established the foundations of a local life quite as refined and substantial as that which the Yankees had left. And only blindness can make them fail to see that the life of the new?comers is in its own way exactly as human, as ambitious, as loyal to family, God and country as their own. In a broad survey such as this the truth is again brought home that the things which bind are in reality more numerous and more significant than those which keep apart the human family. The only difficulty is to see and appreciate the samenesses through the differences.
On the other hand it is possible that this bearing of hostility unwittingly represents a blind desire to maintain a well-founded standard of living against encroachment and cheap imitation. The more one has to lose the more one has to fear, may be a possible explanation; and it may very well be that the economic status and the cultural background are in some peculiar way rendered more secure by this attitude. Again, humanity has ever spurned the rungs by which it did ascend. The prospering newcomer for some odd reason arouses not an admiring but a resenting emotion in those already successful. If this should prove to be a necessary adjunct of the struggle for a fair economic standard it shows both how intense the struggle is and how narrow the standard.
The other end of the ward from Mt. Harrison has quite a different story to tell. Its nearness to South Boston was a potent factor in determining the nature of the population and of its housing. For in the middle 70's when the streets between Dor?chester Avenue and Boston Streets were being cut through many of the lots were bought at the outset by young men from South Boston who refused to live in the wretched "cheese boxes" [small alley 134 story houses] where their Irish fathers had been content. Some German families also moved in and some Yankees. But from the first opening of these streets the incoming of the more ambitious and prosperous Irish was most pronounced. In the streets nearer Edward Everett Square the development was largely in one- and two-family houses of a modest suburban type - with front lawns, yards with a small garden and fruit trees. Through Howell, Washburn and Rawson, and along Boston Streets, however, the buildings have been erected more recently and are of the three-family type. Some of the families that settled here have by this time moved farther out but most of them remain and constitute a fairly successful class whose chil?dren can start life on a normal, hopeful basis.
It may not be amiss to insert at this point the reasons why even in its least attractive streets Ward 16 can never quite ap?proach the dreariness and dilapitude of so much of Ward 17.In the first place the houses here are largely separate wooden buildings with some inlet for light and air on all four sides. At their worst they have been built closely together with a minimum of yard space in the rear; but at their best they are set back fifteen and eighteen feet from the street, are fifteen feet apart and have decent yards. Probably the majority of three-deckers, especially those built several years ago come somewhere between these two limits. All this contrasts with the brick blocks of Ward 17, where light and air are available on the two ends only, where the buildings are set close up to the sidewalk, where there is no way of painting up or rejuvenating the brick structure to give it an appearance of youth and freshness, and where there are few trees, back yard gardens or front lawns. The fact of the general environmental superiority of Ward 16 stands as both a cause and an effect of the incoming of a decidedly worthy and progressive type of Irish family. The whole life of the district noticeably retains much of its tone and quality because those of this better class have made comfortable homes here and have had some interest in preserving and cultivating the green and fertile areas which they found. Gardens, window boxes and trees, be it said again, have been the means of cherishing to a con?siderable degree this valuable appearance of out-of-townishness. Although the origins of a quite new departure in suburban dwellings go back of 1890, the more well-defined development of the three-family wooden house, or three-decker, has come in the last fifteen years. The growth and success of this type of house throughout Dorchester and elsewhere is important to understand. The actual cost of construction becomes the first consideration. It is easy to see that by eliminating the expensive pitched roof of the two-family house, and substituting a flat tar and gravel roof the first substantial reduction is made. One cellar, one water and gas main, one plumbing shaft for three families, divide the cost of these by three for each family. The number of tenants that can be accommodated is of course multi?plied by three, and this is what has made possible such a large outpouring from the city proper. At first, as has been said, the three-deckers were packed together and run up to the street in a manner and with a speed calculated to ruin all property values; and as a matter of fact the values do fall before this advent, although in the long run such a result would inevitably follow as the city population moved out. But experience has shown that tenants insist upon privacy from their next door neighbors and upon adequate yard area front and back. Hence the new three-decker is a more rational structure although it will never be able to boast of either beauty or variety. The values which the tenant receives in this modern Sat are so little short of luxurious that it is no wonder they are in demand. A flat which rents for from twenty to twenty-five dollars a month includes a parlor, dining room, kitchen with set tubs, cook stove with gas stove and water heater attached, two bedrooms, front and back piazza, hot air furnace, electricity, and hardwood floors. Such a home, so located and so fitted out, is well calculated to appeal to the ambitious clerk, mechanic and the like whose weekly wage aver?ages in the neighborhood of twenty-five dollars. To be sure all three-deckers are not thus equipped and these less up-to-date ones rent for from sixteen to twenty dollars monthly. Admittedly the houses are cheaply constructed of medium grade material and with hurried workmanship. But they do offer and establish a standard of living which is well above what most of their occu?pants were accustomed to in the more crowded parts of the city. And as it is this class of citizens, in ancestry Irish, German, Swed?ish and British, which predominates in the ward, these apart?ments have supplied a very urgent demand. The police polling lists for 1912 show 2,800 clerks and business men, and 2,853 skilled workmen as residents here, with only 2,112 unskilled and 251 professional men. As the type of dwelling just described be?comes more popular the tendency is for the one-family houses to go out of business altogether. The impression derived from walking through the Mt. Harrison district is that well nigh a third of the single-Family houses are white elephants on the hands of their owners. It is probable however that here the property will simply be bought by prosperous Jews and not be remodelled in any way.
The three-decker has, of course, attracted both the builder and the small investor as a money-making proposition. For the builder the advantages are in large scale production inasmuch as the profit on a single house is small; but if a man builds thirty three-deckers a year and gets only three hundred dollars out of each, he has no need to complain of business. About half of these houses the builders unload as soon as possible on to families who live in one apartment and rent the other two. If a house is kept full all the time and the owner does not expect to live on his rentals the investment is a reasonably good one. But that the houses are expensive for the average man without capital to try to pay off mortgages on is undeniable. Yet be that as it may, the actual number of bona fide foreclosures on three-deckers is no more in proportion to their numbers than in other types of build?ings- in fact it is actually less.
The pros and cons of the fire hazard of these structures are many and devious. It is admitted that the loss by fire in these sections has been less in the last few years than ever before and less than in the parts of the city where second-class construction prevails. It is admitted that the three-deckers are over-insured. It is admitted that with stairways and piazzas on two ends of the house it would be practically impossible for people to be burned alive - and thus far losses of life in three-decker fires have been infinitesimal. Furthermore it is generally agreed that if a big fire ever did get started its path of destruction would be wide. It is a fact that so far as certain parts of Dorchester are concerned the water supply and pressure are inadequate. It is a fact too that whereas the fire department here included six engines in 1880, today there are only seven - and that with a population which has increased in that time from 16,600 to about 130,000 at present. Numerous commissions have in view of these considerations, recommended the extension of the (first and second class] building limits to coincide with the city bound?ary- thus making the erection of any house with a wooden exterior or a shingle roof illegal in the city of Boston. Naturally opposition to this has been great and the matter stands today about where it has for several years. There are two factions each with strong convictions either for or against the three-decker. Bills are regularly introduced to extend the building limits but sufficient hostile public sentiment has thus far been abroad to kill them in committee. Meanwhile the building in wood goes on; more people are moving out from the city; Dor?chester is becoming more thickly settled, and the end is not yet.
Finally, it seems to be reasonably fair to say that if third-class construction were made illegal, dwellings in more attractive kinds of brick and in some form of concrete or hollow tile would become in a very few years quite as cheap as the wooden house today. The argument has always been advanced that if second-class construction were made obligatory, brick blocks which occupy about 90 percent of the lot will be erected, and the North and West End type of dwelling will prevail. But it is a fact that the price of three-deckers is climbing because of the in?creased cost of labor, and it may well result with the reputable builder that the place where either kind of construction is in the long run equally cheap will soon be reached. When that time comes, if not before, because of possible legislation, the thought and care which now go into the three-decker will be directed toward devising a desirable type in brick or other substance. The question is a complex one; it is a problem in housing as well as in fire hazard. More and more, however, it will become a problem in transportation and when it is at last considered on that basis a more extensive and thoroughgoing solution may be in sight.
A further aspect of the building extension is seen in the rise of the family hotels, for the most part along Dudley Street. A few of these were built over twenty-five years ago to supply the demand of wealthy businessmen for apartment hotels near the city. The accessibility of the Dudley Street railroad station has already been mentioned; and the kind of building now going on in certain parts of Brookline was at that time promised for this section. These hotels however are not on the increase. Those that there are provide for tradesmen and physicians who have to live in res medias and for traveling salesmen with small fam?ilies.
Having outlined the way in which the several types of homes have grown up to supply the demand of varied kinds of people, it is now possible to look at the dwellers themselves more directly. Solely for the sake of convenience, and not at all be?cause the life is capable of such definite division, the people will be considered in their ancestral groups. The Yankees we have said reigned practically supreme from the days when the pastor of the flock was paid out of the town treasury down to the second quarter of the nineteenth century when Irish and German women used to work in truck farms and orchards. The impress of this life is still strong in Dorchester and in a tangible way it is being artificially preserved through the observance of Dorchester Day every seventh of June. This celebration, originally a humble affair of the Dorchester Historical Society, has of late been made to include the many civic, social, political and educational bodies of the city. An attempt is made to exalt local tradition and foster pride, and in this the older ones who speak tenderly of "dear old Dorchester" are joined by all who for any reason are anxious that the locality may appear well in the eyes of men. There is no doubt that this feeling of pride in its fair name has been taken up and cherished by the Irish and Jews who have now entered so largely into this goodly heritage. However the life of the city so far as it is distinctly Yankee focuses above Ward 16. There are but four Protestant churches actually in the ward. The club and secret orders are likewise centered elsewhere, although two strong Masonic lodges meet at the Masonic Building at Upham's Comer. [Note: According to the 1905 census: 45% had Irish parents, 20% had Provincial, English and Scotch, 6% German, 4% Italian and a scattering of Scandinavian, Russian and Polish. These proportions have since altered in favor of the Jews, Italians and Poles.]
The preponderant element here is, of course, of Irish descent. The advance of this nationality from Washington Vil?lage to Edward Everett Square has already been spoken of. In the middle of the century the Village was filled with Irish families, the men of which worked in the iron, boiler and glass factories thereabout. The opening of the streets from Dorchester Avenue to Boston Street in die 70's brought a movement of popu?lation which still goes on. The Willow Court region was early given over to the Irish and the land about East and West Cottage Streets was rapidly built over in the 80s. The streets off Blue Hill Avenue, however, do not present the same appearance of thrift as do those on the Dorchester side - the (cause of] which can be in part accounted for by the early introduction of three and six-family houses built with no restrictions on the distance from sidewalks or between dwellings. Along Quincy Street also the Irish have lived, and here likewise the apartment houses were built some time ago. Of late, however, this part of the ward has been preempted in favor of the Jews.
The history of the Roman Catholic Church in Dorchester reflects closely the movements of the Irish population. St. Peter's Church on Bowdoin St. in Ward 20 established in 1872 was the first parish in this part of Boston. Its chapels which have in the course of time become parishes, portions of which lie in this ward, include St. Monica's just out of Andrew Square, St. Margaret's on Columbia Road and St. Paul's on Woodward Park Street. St. John's Church on Blue Hill Avenue was set off from St. Joseph's in Roxbury. The expansion of St. Margaret's offers a typical example of a parish among a thriving body of Irish Americans. Organized in 1893 with 1,500 souls, housed first in a wooden chapel since used as a hall and now in a fine brick church built in 1899, having added a parish house and, in 1909, a large parochial school which already contains four hundred children in the first few grades, this church today counts 6,000 souls as under its ministrations. It has the usual church societies with a flourishing organization of the Society of the Holy Name. Here as throughout the city the Knights of Columbus are prom?inent.
St. Paul's Church began as a Mission Chapel in 1896 and became a separate parish in 1908. Something over 4,000 souls are enrolled in the church, as compared with 1,500 when it opened its doors. Its rectory was formerly the mansion of the Hooper estate which for years occupied a large part of Mt. Harrison. The use of this beautiful location for the church itself is anticipated in the course of time; and if the prosperity of its parishioners counts for aught this should be a noble edifice. St. John's Church was built in 1895 and is the center of a large parish. Its parochial school taught by the Sisters of Charity who live near-by is attended by 600 children. It is significant to note that over 500 souls have moved from the parish in the past year or two on account of the incoming of the Jews. The streets immediately about the church will no doubt be held for many years by faithful families, but large numbers will inevitably move on in the next few years. But a superficial statement such as this of the facts about the Church gives no adequate clue to the secret of its power. The loyalty of its people and the person?nel of its priesthood have both been large factors in bringing it the wealth and the influence now existent. Dorchester has been fortunate in having enlisted among its priests men of fine character, broad outlook, and marked ability. And of this, the success of their work and the esteem in which they are held are sufficient proof.
We see then so far as the Irish are concerned a consistent and progressive rise in economic and social stability as they move through this part of Dorchester and go up, as many are already doing, into upper Dorchester, West Roxbury and Hyde Park. Ever followed by their church which they loyally sup?port and creating social ties both there, in labor and in neighbor?hood organization, the Americans in Ward 16 who feel the Celtic blood in their veins have every reason to be proud of their descent and hopeful of their future.
In point of numbers the race that claims next consideration is the Jews. The police listing of 1912 reveals 568 Jewish men, which would mean a total of between two and three thousand individuals. The inflow has followed the lines of Blue Hill Avenue and Quincy Street. In the streets in this southwestern corner of the ward the Irish are being rapidly displaced. From Ward 21 where they first settled the Jews have extended their colony in every direction. The first movement brought those of German and English nativity of a more assimilated type; but the Chelsea Fire marked the beginning of an immigration of Russian Jews which has yet to cease. Where the newcomers have been content to buy and maintain the single houses the result has been a clear and noticeable gain from every point of view but that of the disturbed Yankees. These houses have in the main been well kept up with attractive gardens and good lawns. And the prop?erty is used to its full. All the relatives are apparently brought in to create a happy family gathering and the menage overflows to piazzas and yards with an evident thorough enjoyment of these new advantages. But where the Jews have built or have gone into the more tenement-like houses, the evidences of clean?liness and good order are farther to seek. It is here that the danger lies. The Jewish property holders do not hesitate to build cheap brick blocks or poorly constructed three-deckers, and in the event of this [building of cheap brick blocks] a type of family lower in the economic scale is attracted and the richer families go farther out. It should be a matter of no little concern to the present inhabitants of this section to see that there do not come more people than can be educated into a decent sense of community welfare and interest. If the streets are to be kept clean, the houses repaired and the general air of orderliness maintained, the traditions which have made for such conditions must not be swamped by an inrush of those who still conform to West and North End or even Russian standards.
There is little distinctive to be said of the Jewish life here. The men folk are mainly shopkeepers, tailors and cigar makers. The younger generation stay longer in school and the number of those who finish High School is large. These find their livelihood in mercantile and clerical occupations. The sense of social grada?tion among their own people is very strong and often puzzling although in the main it depends, as always and everywhere, upon economic status. This is particularly noticeable in the synagogues in Ward 21 [Roxbury highlands] where the levels of the several congregations seem to be adjusted by a sort of pecuniary barom?eter. Here, as elsewhere among this people, the younger genera?tion finds the faith of their fathers inadequate and unintelligible. But be that as it may, the feeling for the ethical values inculcated in the Jewish home-life and hallowed for some at least by the religious observances, is very strong and permanent. The most casual glimpse of candles burning in frequent windows on Fri?day evening with the family groups gathered about cannot but impress one with the strange power of a religion which has exalted purity, fertility, and an obedience which promised that "Thy days shall be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
The Italians in this part of Dorchester, although they do not represent as advanced a standard as the other groups, have shown energy, common sense and intelligence enough to get away from the North End. Around Quincy, Dacia and Dove Streets, along Norfolk Avenue and through Willow Court on the opposite side of the ward there are settled some five or six hundred of this nationality. Their settlement in these streets has been of rather long standing although the individuals come and go as their place of work changes. The men are day laborers, stone cutters, masons, marble and mosaic workers and the like. Especially about Willow Court and Norfolk Avenue their colony presents a most refreshing appearance of thrift and prosperity. Each house has its vegetable garden in front or side yard and the profusion of brilliant flowers shows what Italy could transplant to our shores would we but give her half a chance. The great majority of this group are foreign born and many speak no English. Here again we look to their children to make a marked advance as they come up into the schools. Yet even as we watch for this "marked advance" we cannot be sure that the change from simplicity in home, amusements, and outlook to sophistication and crude, superficial American mannerisms is at all to be desired. The preservation of all the particles of genuine gold in this refining process is truly a difficult and subtle task - and its fulfillment is rather in the hands of the capricious gods than of us prejudiced humans.
The Polish population centers about Andrew Square. In fact the ward line runs through the streets which they occupy and thus the polling lists show only 214 men in the ward in 1912. In the entire neighborhood however there are over 1,000 Poles. The arrival of the first few families antedates the inception of their parish in 1893 by several years. Under able leadership they at once set about the erection of an attractive church and parish house on Dorchester Avenue, and a parochial school accommo?dating over 200 children has lately been added. The parish numbers more than 2,000 souls but since it is one of only three Polish communions about Boston it draws largely on the outlying district. Brought here by the industrial opportunities in foundries and woodworking concerns the Poles have prospered as only a thrifty folk can. In the iron-working and boiler factories and as machinists their strength has stood them in good stead. Today the property on these streets is gradually coming into their hands. The difficulty which the English language presents has figured largely in the reasons for the seeming isolation of the Polish colony. Thrown back upon itself it has created social ties which are as numerous and diverse as they are valuable. Its clubs, mutual benefit fraternities, patriotic societies and political organi?zations are legion. All belong to several insurance societies to which they pay fifty cents a week. The National Alliance, the Young Men's Society and the Polish Citizen's Club - practically all the men belong to one or the other of these, and especially the last which offers every encouragement to naturalization to the end of attaining citizenship. There are two Socialist Clubs among them if not more; but most of the Poles are too loyal churchmen to make possible the introduction of new ideas as successfully as has been possible among the Lithuanians. Taken all in all, their twenty years here have brought decided progress. The second generation is now at school and it has proved to be as educable and as ambitious as could be desired. The sturdy qualities which made this people the champions of liberty and freedom in Europe find an opportunity for expression here which should enrich their lives and bring new vigor to our national spirit.
We have now considered the racial groups that stand out as such in the community. As a matter of fact, however, there are about as many people of German as of Italian parentage. There are certainly 500 Scandinavians and many from the Provinces. But as all of these are scattered and absorbed into the American atmosphere it leaves little or nothing to be said concerning them. The tie which binds the family to its native church is often the only index of its ancestry. And Sunday finds the German and Swedish churches in Roxbury and the South End each receiving back members who now live here. The Norwegians and Danes (Methodists) have in the past four years bought the church on Howard Avenue formerly occupied by the Baker Memorial Church, but only about a fourth of the congregation is in resi?dence hereabouts. For the rest, these people are to all intents and purposes already merged into that "American race" for the amalgamation of which "tine fires of God are burning."
The character of most of Ward 16 is such that the search for amusement does not present quite the acute problem that it does in some parts of the zone. Much of the life has reached the point where except for occasional trips to the theatre or movies or a social party, dance or church affair, the desire for recreation can vent itself in more quiet, homelike and normal ways. The pos?session of a parlor and of a piano - these two assure an almost immediate simplification of the whole problem; and these two are found almost universally throughout the ward. The movies have not as yet become numerous. Blue Hill Avenue and Colum?bia Road have the only two theatres. One more, seating 700 people is about to be built on Dudley Street near Upham's Corner. The virtual exclusion of the saloon speaks well for the local morale although it must be admitted that the vote is about two to one in favor of license. The explanation of this lies in the fact that the vote is on the question of license for the city and not for the ward. Excepting drug stores there are at present five places where liquor can be bought, of which only three are barrooms. The city provides a playground adjacent to the John Winthrop School; and another small ball field is being temporarily used on Massachusetts Avenue. There is a field and locker building on Columbia Road at the foot of Preble Street. A de?velopment of this whole waterfront in such a manner as to make it a more attractive breathing place should soon become the con?cern of the residents of South Boston and Dorchester. At present it is a shadeless, ahnost barren place, emphasizing too much the fact that it is a recently covered dump. In consequence the park area is used more by automobiles in haste and such as would sleep off a drunk unmolested at leisure, than by the people of the neighboring streets. The bathing place known as Mc-Kenzie's Beach is much patronized in summer although it is entirely inadequate in point of size; in winter the Municipal Building on Columbia Road above Upham's Corner is available. This building contains not only public shower baths but a swim?ming tank, large gymnasium and branch of the Public Library. The attendance at the gymnasium and baths average nearly 2,000 a week. But even so, little in the way of healthy recreation is provided when it is remembered that there are over 5,000 children growing up here. That there are still open lots which serve for baseball and football is not much consolation when building is going on as fast as it is. The question of the provision of playgrounds presents itself as a very real concern of the near future. As far as the less Americanized groups go the social and recreational life is quite simple, spontaneous and homely in its character. Taking the ward as a whole, therefore, one cannot but reflect upon the importance of this oft mentioned standard of living in solving almost automatically divers and sundry prob?lems of which that of amusement is one.
The industries here demand a word which must be more prophetic than actually descriptive; for at present they are on almost negligible quantity. They include three laundries, a boiler, refrigerator and showcase manufactory none of which are large, and an ice factory. All of these are on the edge of the residential sections. The recent building of a large plant for one of the public utilities corporations just inside the district is an earnest of what may well be expected to follow on the outskirts of the ward where more land is found to be available for manufacturing sites within a few years. The tendency will then be for many of the unskilled to live about these factories while the better paid workers move farther out. In this connection it should be said that the [rapid transit] tunnel about to be dug from the South Station to Andrew Square will mean that a still wider zone will be accessible with no corresponding increase in the running time into the city; and this again will tend to push many residents onward and upward.
It will now be readily seen that if the growth of Dorchester has meant anything it has meant a well-marked advance in the standard of living for a large number of people. Irish, Swedes, Germans, Poles, Jews and Italians - all have come to make up this ward; and for all life here has revealed itself as more abundant and interesting than it could possibly have shown itself elsewhere. These gains in the character and quality of life must now be held fast. Values both objective and subjective must be retained. For example, the dwellings erected on the twenty percent of still vacant land must be of sufficiently desir?able type to assure tenants of a worthy grade. The houses many of them already in their second and third decade must be kept in repair; for the three-decker is notoriously short-lived if no out?lay is ever made for up-keep. Much of the building on the water side of Dorchester Avenue is already badly deteriorated, and more on the Cottage Avenue side is about to duplicate it. Only a constant expenditure will keep much of the property from something far worse than shabbiness in the next fifteen years. Property owners and tenants should see that it is a matter of self-protection to have houses well painted, yards and lawns green, and clean streets.
On its subjective side the life of the established must be protected from such an inrush of the unestablished as is likely to occur in the Jewish quarter. If the present rate of growth should keep up for another ten years there will be real danger of congestion - moral and spiritual if not physical. To be lived well life cannot always be passed in crowds. Dorchester can afford to prize and cherish its disappearing relics of leisurely, ample village life. But if its proud traditions are to remain un?sullied there must be self-knowledge, vigilance and organized effort Yet only as this is carried on in a spirit which values the whole of life - its environment as well as its soul - will it be effectual. And lastly only a spirit of widest human understanding and of respect for divers peoples and creeds is adequate for the conservation of the best in the old loyalties and for the creation of new ones which shall be finer and more worthful. Anything less than this choice spirit augurs ill for the common weal.
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Created: October 13, 2008 Modified: February 21, 2011