Dorchester Turnpike or South Boston Turnpike
In 1805 the South Cove District of Boston and the Commonwealth Flats in South Boston were under water, and the present Fort Point Channel was a portion of so broad an expanse of the harbor that the term Channel had not yet been applied to it. The northerly point of South Boston, known as Nook Point, barely reached north of Fourth Street, hence the first bridge connection from Boston to South Boston was on the line of the present Dover Street.
On March 6, 1804, the Proprietors of the Boston South Bridge were incorporated for the purpose of building a bridge from Front Street, now Harrison Avenue in Boston to Foundry Street in South Boston. The bridge was opened for public travel on October 1, 1805, and was operated as a toll bridge for twenty-seven years, being sold to the city of Boston on April 19, 1832. By vote of the city council it was named Dover Street Bridge in 1857. The approach to the South Boston end was over the road now known as West Fourth Street.
While the bridge was under construction, a proposition for a turnpike to lead from it was brought forth, and in consequence the Dorchester Turnpike Corporation was created by act of the legislature on March 4, 1805, with a franchise to build a road from the bridge over the Neponset River, commonly called Milton Bridge, to Nook Point, in Boston. The northerly part of South Boston had been taken from Dorchester and annexed to Boston in 1804.
Under the authority thus given, the Dorchester Turnpike was laid out and built from the bridge at Milton Lower Mills to Fourth Street in two straight stretches, passing through Ashmont, Harrison Square, Savin Hill, Washington Village and South Boston. At Milton Lower Mills, except for a short intervening distance, it connected with the Blue Hill Turnpike. The Dorchester Turnpike is known today as Dorchester Avenue.
The road costs were more than anticipated, which obliged the corporation to charge higher tolls, making the road unpopular. Many people preferred to go a longer route through Roxbury without the toll. Returns show that this was one of the best paying of the turnpikes. Receipts began to climb in 1826 and reached a peak in 1838, when the gross earnings were fourteen percent and the net earnings were nine percent. Earnings dropped immediately upon the opening of the Old Colony Railroad in 1844.
The Dorchester Turnpike was laid out as a public way April 22, 1854 by public subscription and was then named Dorchester Avenue. In 1856 the name was changed to Federal Street, but Dorchester Avenue was restored in 1870.
By its connection to the Blue Hill and the latter's connection with the Taunton and South Boston, the Dorchester Turnpike offered a direct and improved road all the way from Boston to Taunton, which in those was foremost in the production of brick and iron as well as a shipping port. Two years after the Corporation relinquished its control, horse cars appeared on the new public street.
Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge, 1893.
Wood, Frederic J. The Turnpikes of New England. Pepperell, MA: Branch Line Press, 1997. Originally published in 1919.
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Created: February 20, 2005 Modified: February 19, 2007