Ronan Park / Fields Corner West
AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated March, 1995 and recorded by Edward W. Gordon.
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the Boston Landmarks Area Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]
Map showing boundaries:
For a pdf version of the map showing the boundaries of Ronan Park Fields Corner West, Click here
Ronan Park / Fields Corner West encompasses a sizeable portion of the residential area west of the Fields' Corner commercial area and south of Ronan Park. Much of this area takes in the western and southern slopes of Mt. Ida with Ronan Park situated atop Mt. Ida. Historically, this area has been considered part of Meeting House Hill, with Geneva and Park Street as the southwestern boundaries. For the purposes of this survey, the area south and west of Ronan Park will be considered separately from Meeting House Hill.
In terms of building materials, this is overwhelmingly an area of wood frame, one-, two- and three- family houses. The area's oldest houses, mid 19th century Italianate / Mansard dwellings, are situated along Arcadia Street - off Adams Street. Longfellow Street is an exceptional streetscape of Queen Anne single- family houses facing ample front yards which, in a sense, represent a continuation of Ronan Park, just to the east. By far, it is three decker housing that best characterizes this area, with great stretches of these structures bordering Draper Street and Mount Ida Road (overlooking Ronan Park). For the purposes of this survey, the Ronan Park/Fields Corner West boundaries include Adams Street on the east, Charles Street, up to and including the Grover Cleveland School, Draper Street and the entire length of Longfellow Street on the west and Bowdoin and Marie streets and the northern edge of Ronan Park on the north (see attached map for more refined boundaries). 3, 5 Charles Street, near Dorchester Avenue, at the extreme southern end of the district is an Italianate 6-bay x 2-bay house with a full length front porch featuring slatwork railings and square posts. Although covered with vinyl siding, this house retains its siting and distinctive original form. It is enclosed by a broad gable roof with a chimney at each end of the roof ridge.
A more unusual manifestation of the Italianate Style stands at 126 Homes Avenue. This ca. 1875 2.5 story gambrel-fronted residence measures 3-bays in width with a side passage entry. Its edges are accented by narrow corner boards. Its windows are fully enframed and contain 2/2 wood sash. Its main facade opens on to a full length front porch with slat work railings and square Doric porch posts. The use of the gambrel roof in Italianate housing is a little discussed aspect of this style, appearing here and there in Boston neighborhoods in both brick and wood frame housing. The occasional use of the gambrel roof during the mid 19th century is curious given that this form is associated with 18th century Georgian architecture, with its widespread use resurfacing as part of the Colonial Revival of the 1880's and 1890's.
The Italianate / Mansard Style is best represented in this area along Arcadia Street with a cluster of fairly well preserved cottage-scale examples of this type at the corner of Draper Street. These wood frame houses include 17, , 23 and 25 Arcadia Street as well as 3, 5 Draper Street. These T -shaped and rectangular houses exhibit full length front porches and massive, bell cast, hip on mansard roofs.
Queen Anne style single family houses with ample front lawns form memorable streetscapes along Longfellow Street and Bentham Road. Set back facing grassy front yards, these houses (6 to 44 and 3 to 45 Longfellow Street) stand with 3-bay end wall regular and clipped gables to the street; their front porches' pediments containing low relief sun burst motifs over the entrance bays. More substantial Queen Anne houses appear along Bentham Road (13/15; 17/19 and 21/23); a continuation of Longfellow Street.
Three-decker housing is ranged along Mount Ida Road overlooking the southwest side of Ronan Park, continuing northward to Bowdoin Street; noteworthy examples of this ubiquitous Dorchester house type includes: 49; 53; 57; ; 65 and 69 Mt. Ida Road. Rendered in the Queen Anne / Colonial Revival style, each of these 6-family three-deckers is characterized by flat center entrance bays flanked by 3-story octagonal bays. These houses culminate in flat roofs with broad entablatures and bracketed cornices.
Draper Street, between Robinson Street and Bowdoin Street is dominated bv three-deckers situated on raised stone foundations with flat entry bays and corner polygonal bays. Good examples.of these structures include: 77; 81; 85; , 89; 93; 95; 97; 99; 101; 103; 105; 107; 109 Draper Street.
The Grover Cleveland School (ca. 1919-1927) at 11 Charles Street is the single major non residential building in this area. Constructed of red brick with cast stone trimmings, this restrained example of Georgian Revival institutional architecture consists of a long rectangular main block with an extensive L-shaped rear wing. Its Charles Street facade is treated as a center pavilion with lateral wings. It was designed by O'Connell and Shaw, architects of the Boston Fire Department Alarm Building (1925) on the Fenway and Immaculate Conception Convent (1930) in Malden.
The Ronan Park /Fields Corner West area was historically an area of large, well landscaped estates. Today, Ronan Park sits atop Mt. Ida which prior to the late 18th century was called Bird Hill. Despite the fact than neither of the Bird Hill / Mt. Ida estates are still standing, it is worth discussing them in order to understand the evolution of Ronan Park, a public green space of vital importance within one of Dorchester's most densely built up residential sections. Situated just west of Meeting House Hill, a substantial portion of Bird Hill was purchased by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris (1768-1842), minister of Dorchester's First Parish Church from 1793-1836. He was one of the town's earliest historians. Born in Charlestown, his family was among those displaced by the devastation wrought by the British in June of 1775 . He grew up in Lancaster and Worcester, MA, and after a stint as a schoolmaster, entered the ministry. In 1793 he accepted Dorchester's First Parish pastorate and proceeded to develop a fine estate which he called Mt. Ida., an area still known for its panoramic views of Dorchester Bay. His estate was comprised of both gardens and pastureland and today is bounded by Bowdoin, Draper, Robinson and Adams Streets. The Federal style Harris House was located near Bowdoin Street on the site of the Ronan Park Playground. The carriage drive to the mansion was situated on what is now part of Mt. Ida Road. Dr. Harris died in 1842. After his death, his estate was purchased by Nahum Capen (1804-1886), a prominent bookseller and publisher. Born in Canton, MA., he was a partner in the publishing company of Marsh, Capen and Lyon in Boston and was later the area's postmaster, a position he held from 1855-1861. Capen is credited with the idea of iron mail boxes strategically placed in neighborhoods. He also began the practice of free house to house mail delivery. The Capen estate was slightly less extensive than that of the Harris family being roughly circumscribed by what is now Bowdoin, Percival, Robinson and Norton Streets. The story of present day Ronan Park West really begins with the subdivision of the Capen and Robinson estates during the early 1870's. In 1872, the Capens? sold a portion of the estate to the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for the building of St. Peter's Church and its rectory and convent. The puddingstone used to build the church was quarried on the rock ledge at the comer of the estate. As it was cut, Capen allowed the builders to store the pieces on his property. Around 1870, Arcadia Street was carved from the John Robinson estate. The Robinson House stood on the site of the Telephone Co. building at Adams and Robinson Streets. Arcadia Street was originally called Auburn Street.(Auburn / Arcadia) Street is not listed in the Dorchester tax rolls of 1869). Still extant on Arcadia is a small but choice collection of Italianate/Mansard houses including the George T. Andrews House at 17 Arcadia Street, the F.W.A. Pike House at 21 Arcadia Street, the E.J. Perkins House at 23 Arcadia Street and the Charles Blaney House at #25 Arcadia Street--all of these owners are listed here in 1874. 3 and 5 Draper Street, comer of Arcadia are part of this development and this cottage scale dwelling was owned by a James E. Swan from at least 1874 until as late as the 1930's.
During the last quarter of the 19th century the streets of Mt. Ida's southwestern slopes were gradually built up with multi family houses in the form of 2-family and three - deckers. A true, commuter middle class area evolved after the demise of Mt. Ida's hilltop estates during the 1910's. This development of "affordable housing", however, was slow. Homes Avenue, for example, is shown as a development unto itself on the 1874 Atlas bordered by 24 vacant lots owned by the heirs of William Homes. By 1884, Homes Avenue appears to be actually set out rather than existing only on paper. At that time its streetscapes were still devoid of housing. By 1894, two houses interesting primarily for their forms and current intact fabric were built at 122 Homes A venue for Caroline Hausman (later owners included Edward A. Huebner and Theodore H. Simpson) and 126 Homes Avenue (built for Margaret P. Hunt with Hunts living here well into the 1930's).
By far this area's premiere residential street in terms of aesthetics and consistently high quality, if modest house design is Longfellow Street. During the 1870s and 1880s it was a large 283,140 square foot vacant tract owned by Samuel P. Dexter and H.C. Wainwright. By 1894, Longfellow Street had been set out but only two of its 40 or so houses were built including #37 (A.C. Beckwith) and #45 (Alice M. Billings). By 1898, all of its houses are in place and the street, with its grassy median strip may be seen as an extension of Ronan Park or at least a charming approach to this hilltop recreation area. By the 1930's, a sampling of Longfellow street occupants and their occupations reveals Richard A. Long, clerk, at #3, Francis P. Aieta, Supervisor of Attendance, Public Schools at # 5, Catherine Hennessey, widow of William and Dennis J. McCarthy, chauffer at # 15, Timothy J. McCarthy, painter at #22, John G. Wassiege, clothing cutter at #26 and Timothy J. McCarthy, painter at #30 Longfellow Street. Bentham Road, which links Longfellow Street with Ronan Park was set out during the early 1900s and like Londfellow Street, its parcel had been owned by the Dexter and Wainwright families prior to development. Early owners of the attractive Queen Anne houses at 15, 19 and 23 Bentham Road include Margaret M. Yorke (19, 23) and George B. Jeffrey (15).
Returning to the mansion house of Mt Ida/Ronan Park it should be noted that Patrick Collins, mayor of Boston was a relatively late entry into the rarified world of estate living in this area.
Born in Ballina Fauna, Ireland, Patrick A. Collins (l844-1905) would become the quintessential American success story and 33rd mayor of Boston. Collins served as Mayor of Boston from 1902-1905. It is not dear when he moved into his Ronan Park estate but he is definitely here by 1894. This house was a cupola - topped Italianate mansion that stood south of the Harris-Capen House and had been apparently erected in the 1870s for the George Harding family and was later lived in by a Rachel Gill before Collins bought this property ca.1890. By that time Collins was nearing the end of a remarkable life that took him from immigrating from Ireland to Chelsea, MA in 1848 through varied work experiences as a fish market employee, miner, carter and upholsterer, Collins opened his own law practice after the Civil War, became involved in the Democratic party and was a delegate to the convention of 1867. An early historic preservationist, Mayor Collins "stood against injuries to the historical interests of the city, such as encroachments on the Common, tearing down the Old South Meeting House, changing Copp's Hill or the Granary Burying Ground." He died in office on September 15, 1905 and his funeral was held at St. Peters in Dorchester; he was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery. Again, nothing remains of the Collins estate but his associations with Mt Ida represent an important piece of Ronan Park's history. In a way his legacy as a hard working man lives on in the three-decker housing that was built on his former estate at 45 to 69 Mt. Ida Road that was builtc.1910-18 for working class, mostly Irish commuters such as John J. Finley, pressman. at #45, Frank Blake, chauffer at #47, Thomas J. Wharf, auto mechanic at #65, John J. Cummings, waiter at #57 and Joseph J. Comfrey, foreman, at 61 Mt. Ida Road. It should be noted that during the 19th century the Capen and Collins estates were accessible from the right angled intersection of Percival and Fox Streets. Mt. Ida Road extended as far as Marie Street by 1910 and, of course, started out as the driveway to the Harris/Capen estate. The remaining portion of Mt Ida Road was set out c.1915 and in 1916 the Capen House was torn and Ronan Park was in place by 1920.
Draper Street, an important street of well crafted, well designed three deckers evolved as slowly as Mt. Ida Road. In 1874, Draper Road extended only two blocks from Arcadia to Robinson Streets. By 1884, its path extended just short of Homes Avenue. By 1894, Draper reached Homes Street. 89-109 Draper Street represent fine examples of three-decker design. Perched on unusually high rubblestone basements and opening on to three- tier porches with monumental columns, these buildings add considerable interest and drama to the streetscape and although identical were not built all at once. By 1910, only 97 to 109 were built on what had been Mayor Collins' land. By 1918, 89 to 105 had been built. By the 1930's these houses were part of a larger, solidly Irish enclave with families like the Kelleys and Noonans at #97, the McDermotts at #99, the McNealy's at # 101. the Lenanes and O'Leary's at # 103, the Lynch's and O'Tooles at #105 and the Hennesseys at # 107.
Today this area represents an extraordinarily vital and diverse community of Southeast Asians, Irish, Afro Americans and Hispanic, as well as students from a variety of backgrounds. The glory days of the Bird Hill / Mt. Ida estates are over but the present Ronan Park with its playground, ample playing fields and spectacular views represents a real gift to the people of the city. Ronan Park was named in honor of Father Peter Ronan, pastor of nearby St. Peter's R.C. Church during the late 19th century.
Bibliography and/or References
Boston and Dorchester Maps/Atlases-1794, 1830, 1850, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1898, 1910, 1918, 1933
Boston Directories: 1870-1933
Orcutt, Good Old Dorchester, 1893
Sammarco,Anthony M. Dorchester Community News 5/14/l993-"ThaddeusMason Harris: A Devoted Historian Reaps His Reward
Taxable Valuation of the Town of Dorchester, 1869
Warner, Sam Bass, The Streetcar Suburbs.
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Created: July 18, 2005 Modified: March 14, 2012