Neponset River Corridor

Neponset River Corridor

Description from Boston Landmarks Commission

The Neponset River Corridor Area is a narrow, approximately 50-acre strip of land south of River Street and north of the Neponset River, located between Mattapan Square to the west, and the Central Street bridge to the east in Dorchester. The area contains four buildings, one structure, and four archaeological sites. The buildings and structure are concentrated at the west, Mattapan Square end of the area, and four of the five are associated with railroad transportation. The archaeological sites are locations of former water-powered industries located at the east and west ends of the area, on the north bank of the Neponset River.

The MBTA Mattapan Red Line High Speed Trolley Terminal complex is located at the west end of the area, in an oval-shaped piece of land between River Street, Blue Hill Avenue, and a southward bend in the Neponset River. This facility was originally the terminus of a freight railroad branch line that was reconfigured in 1929 for a passenger trolley terminal, which now contains three buildings. The trolley tracks enter the site at the east edge after passing over the Neponset River on a steel deck bridge. The tracks proceed west to the Passenger Shelter (MHC 6193, 1929), and curve south, west, and north to rejoin the main tracks, forming a loop that contains several parallel, interior trolley car storage tracks. The loop also contains two buildings, the Operator’s Lobby (MHC 12869, 1939), east of the Passenger Shelter, and a Yard Building (MHC 12870,  mid-20th-century), south of the Operator’s Lobby. The Passenger Shelter is a rectangular, 1-story, 6- by 2-bay, flat-roofed, reinforced-concrete-frame structure with an attached reverse-gable, decorative steel-framed canopy extending east from the north elevation. The structure is an open shelter for trolley cars and passengers, with concrete-clad, masonry brick walls on the north, south, and west elevations, and an open east elevation. Three tracks run east-west through the structure, passing between structuralsteel columns with angle brackets on the east side, and through tall portals with curved concrete brackets on the west side. On the north, south, and west elevations, the exposed concrete walls are decorated with vertical concrete piers at the corners and flanking all apertures, and horizontal concrete bands at, and just below, the roofline, forming a strip of shallow panels around the tops of the walls. Bands of original, fixed, 8-light, wood-sash windows are located high on the walls, just below the decorative band of panels. A rectangular sign with the word “Mattapan” in white letters on a red field is located above the west central portal. The area above the steel columns on the east elevation is covered by a band of vertical planking. A small ticket booth with modern replacement windows is located on the inside of the west wall, between the south and central portals. A passenger canopy extends east from the north elevation of the structure, and consists of a rugged yet decorative series of original, regularly-spaced, paired, H-, I-, L-, and T-shaped structural steel-member posts with curved brackets, supporting a replacement canopy roof with a shallow-pent, reverse gable roof.

The Operator’s Lobby at 530 River Street (MHC -12869, 1929) is a rectangular, 1-story, 2-by-9-bay, gable-roof, wood-frame building, with an asphalt-shingle roof, resting on a concrete foundation and clad in wood clapboard. A hip-roof bay window is adjacent to the entry on the west elevation. A shed-roof extension has been added on the east elevation. The main entrance is located in the west elevation and contains a simple, shed-roof hood protecting a wood-and-glass door. Windows are 6/6 wood, double-hung sash, with metal security grilles over the openings staggered along the north and south elevations. The Operators’ Waiting Room is a modest example of a building used in railroad operations.

The Yard Building (MHC 12870, mid-20th-century), is very similar to the Operators’ Lobby (MHC 12869, 1939). The rectangular, 2-by-5-bay, wood-frame building has a low-pitched, asphalt-shingle, gable roof, is clad in vertical board, and contains replacement 1/1, wood, double-hung sash with security grilles over the openings.

This public transportation landscape is also notable for its dense arrangement of original cast-iron catenary poles, which follow the loop tracks and support the overhead electrical wires. They are typically constructed of four sections of iron pipe, decreasing in diameter from bottom to top, with an iron, bell-shaped finial at the top.

Located northeast of the Passenger Shelter at the foot of River Street is the Mattapan Railroad Station at 1672 Blue  Hill Avenue (MHC 6192, ca.1895), a rectangular, 4-by-3-bay, gable-roof building of random-rubble masonry construction with a beltcourse of narrow brownstone blocks at window-sill level. The most notable feature of this building is its deep eaves, now covered with a concave stucco soffit. The gable ends have been filled with stucco and applied half-timbering detail, and the original station clock is mounted in the west gable. The main entrance is located in the west elevation in an aluminum-and-glass vestibule addition. Windows are a combination of modern, fixed-pane, plate-glass openings flanking the entrance and replacement, fixed-pane windows in segmental-arch openings. A former ticket window located on the south elevation includes two segmental-arch window openings constructed of yellow brick, with yellow brick trim. The Mattapan Railroad Station is a modest example of railroad-station architecture, and although much-altered, it still retains identifiable features of its original function.

Located east of the Mattapan Railroad Station is the Mattapan Square U.S. Post Office at 512 River Street (MHC  12868, mid- to-late 19th century), a long, narrow, 8-by-2 bay, rectangular, gable-roofed, brick building with a granite rubble foundation, rubber roll-roof sheathing, and 8/8, wood-sash, double-hung windows on its south and west elevations. The long axis of the building is parallel to the east-west railroad right-of-way immediately to the south. The main entrance is located in a clapboard-sheathed addition on the west end of the building, and a modern postal truck loading dock with a shed-roof awning is located at the east end. The west wall bulges and the roof ridge sways. The proportions, location, a freight house associated with the adjacent former freight railroad line and Mattapan Railroad Station.

Together these buildings are a significant cluster of historic rail-related transportation resources embodying a range of styles and structural types associated with both steam freight and passenger railroads, and electrically-powered public transportation.


The Neponset River Corridor Area includes the sites of former paper mills and a related concern erected on the Neponset River, and the remaining elements of the railroad line built to serve them. Dorchester is located in the valley of the Neponset River, which supplied water power for 17th and 18th century grist and saw mills. In 1728 the Massachusetts Provincial Government issued Thomas Hancock, uncle of John Hancock, and others, an exclusive charter to manufacture paper in a new mill on the Neponset River at Milton Lower Falls, and in 1760 a second paper mill was built two miles upstream at Milton Upper Falls, near Mattapan Square. Paper manufacture continued on the Neponset in Dorchester in the 18th century, notably the mills of George Clark of Milton and William Sumner (Stott 1983 [Dorchester]). Unfortunately, the majority, if not all of these early mill sites were altered, and later buried under the larger factories of the mid- and late 19th century (Mrozowski 1985:10).

Immediately south of the Yard Building (MHC 12870, mid-20th century), part of the MBTA Mattapan Red Line High Speed Trolley Terminal complex is the site of a building simply identified in 1882 as an “old mill” (1882 Hopkins Atlas), which was built over a raceway between the north bank of the Neponset and a lenticular island located inside the apex of the southward bend of the river. The land above the river bank was likely subsequently graded for the loop tracks of the Mattapan Red Line High Speed Trolley Terminal in 1929. Considering the age of the mill, subsequent land use, and natural erosion processes, it is doubtful that anyarchaeological evidence of this industry survives. Located immediately northwest of this mill site was the Tileston & Hollingsworth Company Paper Stock Storehouse. This building was standing until the time of the conversion of the Mattapan New Haven Railroad freight terminal to the Trolley Terminal (1929 Sanborn Map). Like the adjacent unidentified mill site, the likelihood of locating archaeological remains of this building are doubtful due to changes in land use.

East and downstream of these two sites is the former site of the H. N. Glover & Son Dextrine & Gum Manufacturers, originally located in a triangular area where River Street and the Neponset River split from each other, just west of the intersection of River Street and Gladeside Avenue. In 1882 this operation was simply indicated as a “factory” (1882 Hopkins Atlas). By 1929 this site was occupied by H. N. Glover & Sons, manufacturers of dextrine and other organic gums used in the printing of wallpaper, stiffening, and glazing card stock and paper, used in the fine arts (Wagner 1872:362). Glover & Sons were apparently a support industry to the numerous specialty paper mills, such as the Tileston & Hollingsworth Company, located on the Neponset River in the immediate area. In 1929 the Glover operation included the mill building on the Neponset, as well as separate outbuildings including a packing and drying house, three storage sheds, an office, and a dwelling, all located immediately north across River Street. Due to extensive residential development in this area, filling, and natural erosion processes, it is doubtful that any archaeological evidence of this industry remains in this area or on the river bank.

The next site is located downstream and east of the H. N. Glover site, in an area immediately west of the Central Street bridge. The mill once located on this site was a large, multi-story, mid-19th-century brick paper mill. In 1882 this mill was known as the “Eagle Mill” of the Tileston & Hollingsworth Company. The corporate roots of the Tileston & Hollingsworth Company can be traced to 1728, when the Massachusetts Provincial Government issued an exclusive charter to manufacture paper in a new mill on the Neponset River at Milton Lower Falls. A series of successive enterprises linked by complex corporate, familial, and geographic relations led to the formation of the Tileston & Hollingsworth company in 1801. In 1806 the company leased William Sumner’s cotton and paper mills at the present Bay State Paper Company (MHC 11059, ca.1890 et. seq., 1970) River Street location, which had been a papermaking location since 1773 when George Clark erected a paper mill there. By the end of the nineteenth century, Tileston & Hollingsworth operated additional paper facilities on the north bank of the Neponset River, including the Eagle Mill. At the turn of the century, Tileston & Hollingsworth decided to consolidate their operations at their flagship mill, the present River Street Hyde Park mill, and sold the Eagle Mill to the Walter Baker & Sons chocolate manufacturers. Due to mid-20th century industrial development on this site, and apparent reconfiguration of the river bank, it is unlikely that any archaeological evidence of this site remains in this area. (For more information on Tileston & Hollingsworth’s history and their Neponset River Dorchester/Hyde Park operations, see the MHC B Form for the Bay State Paper Company (MHC 11059, circa 1890 et. seq., 1970).)

The Old Colony Railroad was one of New England’s first railroads, running from South Station, Boston to Plymouth, and dominating rail traffic on the South Shore. Constructed in 1879, the Shawmut and Milton branch lines carried freight and passenger traffic to Mattapan Square, serving the many paper mills on the Neponset River. The railroad’s Mattapan Square facility served as a passenger terminal for the line, and the adjacent freight yard included stub-end storage tracks, an engine house, and a turntable. The line was taken over by the New Haven Railroad in 1893. The New Haven most likely built the existing Mattapan Railroad Station about this time as part of improvements made to the line. In 1929 the Boston Elevated Railway purchased the line and converted it to high-speed interurban trolley service. The route is now part of the MBTA Red Line running between South Station and Ashmont, which is the eastern terminus of the Mattapan High Speed line (Karr 1995:310-315). The major feature of the 1929 changeover is the reinforced concrete Passenger Shelter.

When trolley service was initiated in 1929, the Mattapan Railroad Station was used for a trolley car operator’s lobby, and for ticket sales, accounting for the yellow-brick modifications to the bay window on the south elevation. In 1939 the building was replaced by the Operator’s Lobby at 530 River Street (MHC 12869, 1939) and was sold for commercial use (Architectural Preservation Associates 1984:28). The Mattapan Square U.S. Post Office at 512 River Street (MHC 12868, mid-to-late 19th century) might have once been used by the railroad as a freight house, judging from its proportions, location, orientation, and apparent age. However, diminishing rail traffic necessitated its abandonment for that use, it is now occupied by a post office. The Yard Building (MHC 12870, mid-20th century) was later added to


The Neponset River Corridor—which includes the Mattapan Railroad Station at 1672 Blue Hill Avenue; the Mattapan Square Post Office at 512 River Street; and the Operators’ Lobby, Passenger Shelter, and Yard Building of the Mattapan Red Line High Speed Trolley Terminal at River Street—is eligible at the local level under Criterion A for its association with the industrial, railroad, and public-transportation development of Boston and under Criterion C as a preserved grouping of relatively austere industrial, railroad, and public-transportation structures in varied early-twentieth-century styles. The area may also be eligible under Criterion D, but further research is required to justify eligibility under this criterion.


Posted on

June 18, 2022

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