The Blue Hills Parkway (#1 on the data sheet), beginning in Boston (Suffolk County) but located almost entirely in Milton (Norfolk County), Massachusetts, is a 1.5-mile-long, multi-lane, divided-roadway connecting parkway in Boston’s regional parkway system. It is a heavily traveled formal boulevard through a medium-density suburban residential neighborhood. At its northern terminus, the Blue Hills Parkway connects with Blue Hill Avenue, a major north-south artery (also known, from Franklin Park southward, as State Route 28). The southern terminus of the Blue Hills Parkway is Unquity Road  (discussed in a separate nomination for the Blue Hills Reservation Parkways) and the Blue Hills Reservation. The Blue Hills Parkway provides a direct connection to the Blue Hills Reservation from Boston and the Neponset River Reservation. The Blue Hills Parkway is described from north to south, generally the historical order of its development.

The Blue Hills Parkway begins in Boston near the southern edge of Mattapan Square, a busy, late 19th-and 20th-century commercial hub on the southern edge of Boston. Mattapan Square is formed by the intersection of three major Boston roadways—Blue Hill Avenue, River Street, and Cummins Highway— as well as Edgewater Drive, and the Mattapan MBTA station and its access road. Located at the southern edge of the square is the Neponset River Reservation—with MDC-owned parkland that borders both sides of the Neponset River in the area of the parkway. The northern terminus for the parkway corresponds to a line of convenience drawn across the northern edge of the Mattapan Bridge, a structure that was built to carry the Blue Hills Parkway across the Neponset River. The bridge also crosses the Boston/Milton municipal line, which corresponds to the southern edge of the Neponset River. South of the river, the parkway travels exclusively through Milton.

Built 1901-1903, the Mattapan Bridge (#2 on the data sheet) serves as the formal entry to the Blue Hills Parkway. It is a massive, granite-faced, triple-arched bridge that features granite side rails topped with flat, granite capstones that measure two feet wide and four feet long (PHOTO #1). This is a wide bridge, two to three lanes each northbound and southbound, with a three-foot-wide concrete median in the center, all lined with vertical granite curbs, and four-foot-wide concrete sidewalks on either side. Beneath the roadway, the two smaller fourteen-foot channels to the south silted in long ago, and the Neponset channel is now restricted to the fifty-foot main arch of the bridge, on its north end. The partially granite-faced, cement wing walls are now almost completely hidden in brush and trees, and topped by the continuous granite-faced rail. This bridge is an important element of the parkway and is considered a contributing structure.

On the northern bank of the Neponset in the City of Boston, in a patch of turf adjacent to the northwest corner of the bridge and directly adjacent to its northwestern wing wall, is the Mattapan Veterans Memorial Monument (#3 on the data sheet), seven feet by five feet, and two feet deep, picturing an eagle and bearing the following inscription: DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE FROM MATTAPAN WHO SERVED IN THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. It is not dated, but appears to be ca. 1920. It is within the boundary of the parkway and is considered a contributing object.

South of the Mattapan Bridge, the Blue Hills Parkway continues as a divided boulevard. Like the northern side, the southern side of the bridge marks the junction of several major roads, all branching off the main route of the Blue Hills Parkway. The most significant is the MDC-managed arterial Truman Parkway (discussed individually in a separate nomination), formerly the Neponset River Parkway and also known as Brush Hill Road. Blue Hill Avenue, the Boston arterial, also reemerges at this corner, heading southward toward the western end of the Blue Hills Reservation where it merges with Canton Avenue at the base of Great Blue Hill. To the east are two smaller side streets, Eliot Avenue and Curtis Road, a former private lane. All of these roads appear in a 1901 ground plan for the Mattapan Bridge in a configuration similar to their present one. Unlike the northern side of the bridge, however, where all roads meet in an open circle at Mattapan Square, the roads here are connected to one another through Blue Hills Parkway.

A system of landscaped traffic islands, the Blue Hills Parkway Median Islands (#4 on the data sheet), divides the northbound and southbound lanes of the parkway and are located at this intersection to aid in traffic maneuvers. Located immediately south of the Mattapan Bridge, these islands appear on the 1901 plans for the parkway. Turn lanes have been opened through the islands for Curtis Road, and the several miters (small triangular islands) in the southbound lane direct traffic onto Truman Parkway and Blue Hill Avenue. The islands have been landscaped and appear parklike with approximately 50-year-old oaks, maples, pine trees, and a massive copper beech. Some young replacement trees of like species have replaced older trees that were lost as a result of disease or age. The Blue Hills Parkway Median Islands are quite wide in this stretch, reaching their widest point (about 25 feet) where the parkway intersects with Eliot Avenue to the east and Truman Highway to the west.

In the area of the Blue Hills Parkway Median Islands, the Blue Hills Parkway widens considerably to four lanes northbound and southbound, with the inside lanes doubling as turning lanes. The northbound lanes are relatively straight in this stretch, but the southbound lanes curve west substantially to allow for the central islands (again, consistent with the 1901 ground plan). The roadways are bituminous concrete, and the curbing on the sides and the islands consist of vertically placed granite block. The lights on islands and along the parkway consist of cobra-head fixtures on cement poles. Concrete and asphalt sidewalks, set back behind a six-foot-wide planting strip, parallel both roadways.

Despite the volume of traffic, the setting in this first stretch is picturesque, especially with the large trees on the islands. To the east of the parkway is a late 19th– to early 20th-century residential neighborhood of substantial two-story houses. To the west is the meandering Neponset River corridor, at this point a park with turf, modern wooden park benches on metal poles fixed into concrete pads, and mature trees (ash, locust, beech, and evergreens). Across from Eliot Avenue is a small dead-end street, Eliot Circle Road. Just south of Eliot Circle Road and oriented towards it is the Neponset District MDC Special Services building, a two-story brick structure with a hipped roof, apparently a former residence. In addition to these elements of setting, between Mattapan Bridge and Eliot Circle on the west side of the parkway, within the planting strip, are a standard modern MDC sign for the Blue Hills Parkway and the rough granite J. McLean Mile Marker (#5 on the data sheet). Only two feet from the roadway, this marker, squared and smoothed, is four feet high, two feet wide, and six inches thick. Heavily worn, it reads: BOSTON 7 MILES J McLEAN 1823. Although it predates the parkway, it has been present during the parkway’s entire history and is considered a contributing object in this nomination. Unlike many other mile markers in Massachusetts, this one has not previously been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The character of the roadway changes somewhat south of the Truman Parkway intersection, as the Blue Hills Parkway Median Islands give way to the fifteen-foot-wide Blue Hills Parkway Median (#6 on the data sheet) (PHOTO #2). The parkway corridor here narrows slightly compared to its width north of the Truman Parkway intersection. The median, original to the parkway, is planted with 50- to 75-year-old maples and oaks in an allee formation. The planted median dramatically frames the inner edges of the parkway and is a contributing feature of the parkway. The roadway here is three lanes wide in each direction, each lane about twelve feet wide, with the outside lanes doubling as informal parking areas. There are several turning breaks in the median here, sometimes without accompanying side streets. The medians in this section are turf, with a mix of new and established trees. Vertically placed granite blocks continue to define the inner edges (along the median) and outer edges of the parkway throughout this section. In the planting strips that border the outer edges of the parkway are mature, deciduous trees of a species consistent with those in the median (Tree Allee, #7 on the data sheet) and cobra-head light fixtures on cement poles. Beyond the planting strips are concrete walks. The setting in this stretch is one-to three-story, early 20th century residential. This configuration is consistent, with some minor variations, for the rest of the parkway until it terminates at the northern edge of the Blue Hills Reservation. South of Brook Road, State Route 28 follows Brook Road to the east and traffic on the Blue Hills Parkway lessens considerably. The median here is cut into to form a miter and to accommodate a cut-off from the Truman Highway to Brook Road.

South of Brook Road, the road travels directly south without the slightest curve. The roadway here is two lanes southbound (the former Mattapan Road and the original parkway travel lanes) and three lanes northbound (land acquired for the parkway, which became the pleasure lanes) (PHOTO #3). Median breaks here usually correspond to side streets, but are not present at all side streets. The outside lanes on both sides function as impromptu parking, and the roadway curbing becomes intermittent after Kahler Avenue. The setting is one- to three-story, early 20th century residential, with a school and several churches (with a sidewalk laid across the median in front of one church). The tree allee that frames the outer edges of the parkway combines with the trees in the median to form a picturesque canopy of trees down this uncharacteristically flat and straight corridor. The roadway, which is as flat as it is straight south of Brook Road, travels consistently at approximately 32 feet above sea level.

At Audubon Road, the parkway passes along the edge of Pope’s Pond Park, a 47-acre municipal park. The section of the park along the parkway is mostly brush and multi-story deciduous woodland. The sidewalks in this stretch are bituminous concrete, with the walk on the west side narrower, only three feet from the roadway, and nearly buried in places. In the center of the raised turf median, a faint trace of the former dirt bridle trail remains.

The parkway passes over the Pine Tree Brook Culvert (#8 on the data sheet), a diagonal concrete drainage structure that allows a small outlet from Pope’s Pond to flow northeast under the parkway to the Neponset River. The top of the culvert is visible in the median. Concrete bridge side rails above the

channel here bear an incised date of 1962. Although drainage systems are generally not noted in these nominations, the prominence of this structure makes it an integral part of the parkway. Since it was constructed after the period of significance, however, it is considered a noncontributing structure.

Both sides of the parkway immediately south of Pine Tree Brook are wooded. Just south of Pine Tree Brook, outside of the parkway boundary, on the east side of the road, two large fieldstone gate piers (with cement caps topped with ball finials) frame a now overgrown path. This was the entry to the former Rosamund Lamb Estate, now redeveloped as elderly housing and accessed from a side street. Pine Tree Brook Road, to the east, is the one modern intrusion on the parkway, the roadway a spine leading up into a 1980s housing subdivision. The wooded setting continues on the eastern side south of this point. Across from the subdivision on the west side of the parkway is an early to mid-20th century, one- to two-story residential neighborhood, with Pope’s Pond Park woodlands intermittently visible behind this row of houses.

From Parkway Crescent to Canton Avenue, there are no side streets, with the single exception of the later Pine Tree Brook Road. Fences flank the parkway, near the back edge of the sidewalk, double-lapped wooden rails on square and triangular reinforced cement posts. Except in places where they are broken or missing, these are intermittent on the west and consistently present on the eastern side, apparently marking the former bounds of the Lamb Estate. As such, they are part of the setting rather than a feature of the parkway. The Blue Hills Parkway ends at its intersection with Canton Avenue, an intersection rebuilt in 1900 as a broad circle (Canton Avenue Circle, #9 on the data sheet) without a center island. The parkway ends at the southern edge of the rotary where Unquity Road and the Blue Hills Reservation begin.

Archaeological Description

While no ancient Native American sites are known within the boundaries of the Blue Hills Parkway, sites may be present. Sixteen Native sites are located in the general area (within one mile). Environmental characteristics of the area indicate the presence of locational criteria (slope, soil drainage, proximity to wetlands) that are favorable for locating Native sites. Well-drained soils on level to moderately sloping topography characterized much of the parkway prior to road construction. Most of the route is also located within 1000 feet of wetlands including the Neponset River, Pine Tree Brook, and Pope’s Pond. In spite of the above information, construction of the road surface, sidewalks, utilities and drainage precludes the survival of cultural resources within the narrow nominated corridor. A low potential exists for the recovery of archaeological resources, either ancient Native American or historic in the nominated area.

The Blue Hills Parkway, a 1.5-mile-long boulevard in Boston and Milton, is significant as one of the earliest connecting parkways designed for the Metropolitan Parks Commission (MPC) by Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot and its successor firm, Olmsted Brothers, and it is emblematic of the firm’s principles of parkway creation. A divided highway that runs directly south through early 20th-century residential neighborhoods, the Blue Hills Parkway directly connects the Blue Hills Reservation (the largest open space in Metropolitan Boston) with Boston, the Neponset River Reservation, and Truman Parkway (the subject of a separate nomination).

Blue Hills Parkway possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. It meets National Register Criteria A and C in the significance areas of community planning and development, engineering, landscape architecture, and transportation at the state level and fulfills the Parkways Registration Requirements for the associated Connecting Parkway property subtype, under Section F of this Multiple Property Documentation Format nomination. The period of significance for the Blue Hills Parkway is from 1894, the beginning of acquisition for the parkway, through 1939, the last year any major changes were made to the parkway.

The Blue Hills Parkway was laid out in 1894, running south from Mattapan Square in Boston—taking advantage of the widening of Blue Hill Avenue just completed by the city—to Canton Avenue at the north end of the Blue Hills Reservation. The Blue Hills Reservation’s 6,700 acres today comprise nearly 40% of the total holdings of the Metropolitan Park System, and from its beginning, access to the reservation was essential. In the second annual report of the MPC, Charles Eliot included a sketch map showing the importance of the two connecting parkways that would tie the two great reservations, the Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills, to Boston.1 The nine-mile distance from the Massachusetts State House to Crossman’s Pines, the northwesternmost corner of the reservation as then proposed, made the Blue Hills four miles further away than the Middlesex Fells. But Eliot still saw an important symmetry:

Owing to the fact that the municipality of Boston extends four times as far south of the State House as it does north, and because Boston has undertaken the construction of a broad highway out to her uttermost boundary at Mattapan, the length of the Blue Hills parkway proposed to be acquired by the Metropolitan Commission is no greater than the length of the proposed Fells parkway.

Eliot proposed a Blue Hills Parkway three miles in length, composed of the current parkway, from Mattapan south to Canton Avenue, and a further extension south from Canton Avenue to Crossman’s Pines. This southern half became the park drive known today as Unquity Road (Unquity Road is considered separately from this nomination, as part of the Blue Hills Reservation Parkways).

Eliot acknowledged other key differences between the two parkways. Unlike the twin reservation access points for the Middlesex Fells Reservation (i.e. where Fellsway West and Fellsway East enter the Middlesex Fells Reservation from the south), the Blue Hills Parkway had a single entry point from the north (where Unquity Road is today). The Blue Hills Parkway was not curvilinear, like the Fellsway (the Fellsway, Fellsway East, and Fellsway West are discussed in a separate nomination for the Fellsway Connector Roads) but plunged straight south through a sparsely populated countryside. Because it did not serve an established neighborhood, its primary function was “only as a means of approach to this great public domain.” But its arrival would open these areas up for rapid development. Eliot noted, “its electric railroad will . . . populate a large region that has hitherto been inaccessible from the city.” Although the railroad was never built, the Blue Hills Parkway did speed development in Milton.

Two key design ideas would characterize both the Blue Hills and the Middlesex Fells parkways. Eliot proposed a standard right of way 120 feet wide, “simply the narrowest width within which it is safely practicable to make a separate reservation for electric cars.” Secondly, one of the two parallel travel lanes was planned as disproportionately wider, “to be restricted to pleasure carriages, except for the necessary service of the houses fronting upon it.” Despite the fact that the surface trolley and the horse-drawn carriage both have long since vanished from the parkways, their presence remains in the design of the wide medians and 3:2 lane ratios that still characterize both of these parkways.

In 1896, the MPC began building the parkway link (Unquity Road) from Canton Avenue south into the new reservation, and in April began acquiring land for the Blue Hills Parkway from the Neponset River south in Milton, mostly along the pre-existing Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan Street, to Canton Avenue. Construction of the first segment of the Blue Hills Parkway, from the Neponset River 1,500 feet south to Brook Road in Milton, began September 3, 1897, and finished July 21, 1898. The parkway here ranged from 120 feet to 230 feet wide, with an average width of 136 feet. Each of the two roadways had “broken-stone surfacing,” and the taking lines were defined with stone bounds. At the same time, Milton widened Brook Road, and the MPC realigned its intersection slightly to accommodate it. This stretch of road, from Blue Hill Avenue in Boston to Brook Road in Milton, via the Blue Hills Parkway, is known today as State Route 28.

In 1898, the MPC completed plans for the second segment of the Blue Hills Parkway, from Brook Road to Canton Avenue. The following year, the MPC began construction, based upon the designs of Olmsted, Olmsted, & Eliot. The plans called for a total width of 120 feet with a straight alignment, terminating in a large circle at Canton Avenue. Two driveways, 26 feet and 36 feet, separated by a 32-foot strip of lawn, extended the complete length. The narrower western roadway, the former Mattapan Road, was given a broken stone surface “suitable for combined travel,” while the broader eastern roadway, all new

construction, was given a fine gravel surface, more suitable for “pleasure driving.” Construction was completed May 8, 1900.

In 1899, the MPC began the final link in the Blue Hills Parkway, as it commissioned a design for a new bridge to replace the existing bridge) over the Neponset River to connect the Blue Hills Parkway to Blue Hill Avenue. The following year, architect Edmund M. Wheelwright of Wheelwright & Haven, in cooperation with the engineer William T. Pierce and the landscape architect, Olmsted Brothers, produced a final design. The primary bridge architect for the MPC (including the Longfellow Bridge on the Charles River), Wheelwright was Boston’s City Architect, designing schools, fire department headquarters (Pine Street Inn), the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Horticultural Hall in Boston, as well as the Harvard Lampoon Building in Cambridge. In their section of the January 1901 annual report, the Olmsted Brothers firm compared two approaches to the design of “this important bridge”:

Two different methods of treating this problem present themselves: either to consider the bridge as a mere part of the formal parkway, under which openings or culverts have to be provided for the water of the river; or as an important bridge, spanning the second largest river in the district, the scenery of which has seemed of sufficient importance to justify a large expenditure for its preservation…It seems to us that in view of the part which the Neponset is to play in the park system of the future the latter treatment is more appropriate and more dignified than to subordinate its continuity to that of a roadway.

Construction began in 1901 on a Mattapan Bridge that fulfilled the second, loftier set of goals. Construction necessitated the demolition of Mattapan Station on the Boston side of the Neponset, but the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was given other land, in exchange, for the construction of a new station. Given the importance of the design, the ground plan, elevation, section, and even an architect’s sketch were printed in the annual report for January 1902, along with a description of its distinctive design by MDC Chief Engineer William T. Pierce:

The plans adopted provide for the extension of the parkway, of the full width of 130 feet, northerly, towards Boston, across the raceway to the proposed bridge. The total length of the bridge and curving wing walls will be 175 feet, with a clear width of 80 feet over the arches. There will be three arches for the river, one of 50-foot span and two of 14-foot span each. The raceway will be carried across the parkway through a culvert with an arch of 20-foot span. The entire masonry construction will be of concrete faced with granite, the arches reinforced with arched steel ribs on the system known as Melan construction.

The bridge would even boast 12-foot-wide sidewalks. The descriptions and views of the bridge (including a photograph of the bridge as completed) in the 1904 report show the structure of the bridge has not changed appreciably during the past one hundred years, although the banks of the Neponset are overgrown and the two smaller arch channels have silted closed. The main change is the disappearance of the raceway at the southern end of the bridge, which has either been completely channeled or simply filled in, as the area above it now is lawn. The first lighting, Welsbach naphtha lamps on tall poles, was added in 1903, shortly after the bridge was completed.

Within the first decade of the Parkway’s existence, automobiles began to displace horses along the Blue Hills Parkway. In its first years, horse-drawn conveyances were the only traffic. In 1902, a portion of the easterly pleasure roadway without side streets was closed off for an automobile speedway on certain days, while the westerly roadway was left open to traffic and for observing the sport. In 1904, a recreational bridle path was laid out in the median of the Blue Hills Parkway between Brook Road and Canton Avenue to accommodate equestrians. But by the next year, reckless automobile drivers were tearinguptheroads and frightening horses. The MPC addressed the problem temporarily with motorcycle police officers and experimental tar and petroleum road treatments. Between 1910 and 1912, the MPC surfaced the entire length of the western travel roadway with bituminous macadam, although the pleasure road—the southern section of the eastern roadway—remained surfaced with crushed stone only. By the middle of that decade, Mattapan Bridge often had the highest traffic counts of any MPC roadway. A weekly census for October 10 to 16, 1915, yielded 35,835 automobiles, 2,780 other motorized vehicles (primarily trucks), and only 5,000 horse-drawn vehicles. By August of 1924, the flow had increased so that daily traffic averages across Mattapan Bridge were 15,328 automobiles, 1,420 commercial vehicles, and a mere 92 horse-drawn vehicles.

Although designed with a wide median to allow for streetcars, the Blue Hills Parkway apparently never hosted a trolley line. Streetcar access to the Blue Hills Reservation was provided via Randolph Street and Blue Hill Avenue, with tracks for the latter crossing Mattapan Bridge. During the winter of 1920, this line ceased operating. In 1931, the MPC removed the old pavement and car tracks at Mattapan Bridge and laid new asphalt pavement.

Other important changes were made to the Blue Hills Parkway during the MDC construction boom of the 1930s. In 1931, portions of the Parkway southerly from the bridge and near Brook Road were resurfaced. In 1935, the pleasure lane was phased out completely, and each of the roadways of the Blue Hills Parkway was made one way for its entire length. In 1939, a Works Progress Administration project constructed 6,900 feet of six-foot-wide bituminous concrete sidewalk along Blue Hills Parkway from Kahler Avenue to Canton Street. The project included regrading, loaming, and seeding of 920 feet of nine-foot-wide planting space, and 4,600 feet of 5-foot-wide planting space.

Beyond occasional resurfacing, the Blue Hills Parkway has had almost no changes since 1939. For this reason, 1939 marks the end of the period of significance for Blue Hills Parkway.


Posted on

April 9, 2020