The Savin Hill Historic District is located in the Dorchester section of Boston and completely occupies a peninsula of land extending out into Dorchester Bay. Although part of much larger community, the district has always stood out distinctly due to geographical conditions and its unique development.

The historic district is a compact residential enclave that lies within a larger neighborhood known as Savin Hill. The boundaries of this larger neighborhood run roughly from Dorchester Avenue eastward to Dorchester Bay and from Bay Street northward to Sudan Street. Since the 1840s the neighborhood has been divided roughly in half by railroad tracks laid by the Old Colony Railroad, the eastern half being the historic district. In the 1920s the construction of the Ashmont subway line parallel to the railroad tracks widened the divide, and this separation was further solidified with construction of the Southeast Expressway (I-93) in the mid-20th century. The eastern boundary of the district was firmly set with construction of the Old Colony Parkway (currently Morrissey Boulevard) in the 1920s, which prohibited expansion of Savin Hill toward Dorchester Bay. In more recent times, the area west of the railroad tracks has become known as Savin Hill Flats while the area east of the tracks, which encompasses the historic district, is simply called Savin Hill. At the center of the historic district is a prominent rise of land from which all of Savin Hill gets its name. Much of this hill remains undeveloped and currently serves as a public park. While the Flats developed simultaneously with the historic district, the two areas differ in character and in their pattern of development. For the purpose of this nomination, the historic district will bereferred to as Savin Hill while the area west of the highway-railroad will be noted as The Flats.

The Savin Hill Historic District is a well-preserved collection of historic resources that includes dwellings, one school, one commercial building, three recreation sites (parks and beach), and a monument. There are also about 70 early 20th century garages. Resources in the district document Savin Hill’s growth from a mid-19th century speculative housing development for Boston’s upper-middle class to a close-knit residential community catering to a much broader class of residents. Construction since 1940 has been limited, leaving the historic character of the streetscapes intact.

The district is roughly round in shape, dictated by the rocky hill near its center. The hill is encircled by the district’s two main streets, Savin Hill Ave. and Grampian Way. Short secondary streets, many of them dead-ends, radiate from the main thoroughfares. The topography gradually rises from the southern and eastern boundaries to the base of the hill, then climbs sharply to the crest of the hill so that Caspian Way, Rockmere and Castlerock Streets have fairly steep inclines as the rise toward the center of the district. The land then drops off abruptly on the back of the hill (north side) so that the upper portion of Grampian Way is essentially terraced above the upper portion of Savin Hill Ave.

Contributing resources date from about 1855 to 1953. Of the 357 contributing resources in the district, over 75% were built between 1885 and 1930. There are only 26 noncontributing buildings in the district, all constructed after 1953. These are primarily single-family homes but also include two small apartment buildings and about a dozen outbuildings. Buildings in the district represent a wide range of architectural styles including Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, Stick Style, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Craftsman, and Modern styles. Of these the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles were the most widely used for the primary structures in the district; roughly 35% of the buildings exhibiting Queen Anne detailing while about 22% have Colonial Revival designs.

Historic buildings in the district are almost exclusively of wood. There are two brick dwellings, a brick school, and one residence with a stucco finish. Buildings do not exceed three stories and stand close together on small lots. They are set back from the street, typically between 10-20 feet, so that small lawns or gardens generally line the sidewalks. Some of the oldest homes, typically along the lower portion of Savin Hill Ave., have more generous setbacks resulting in more spacious front lawns. Alterations to buildings have been minimal, primarily limited to residing, window and door replacement, and enclosing of porches. There have been only a limited number of additions and those are typically at the rear of buildings due to the narrow width of most lots.

The distributing of building types within the district is such that the high-style, single-family homes (typically the oldest residences) are generally grouped along the lower portion of Savin Hill Ave. (between Southview St. and Evandale Terrace) and along Grampian Way on those lots bordering the park’s south and east boundaries. The remaining buildings serve to fill out the rest of the district, with no other notable concentrations of building types.

Mid-19th Century Examples

It appears that the earliest surviving house in the district is the Carpenter Gothic style dwelling at 17-19 Playstead St. (ca. 1850). Stylistically, it is an anomaly here. Its façade is dominated by three steeply-peaked gables containing lancet and diamond-shaped windows. The building is further characterized by a two-story bay window at its south elevation. Another of the earliest surviving houses is 12 Denny St. (ca. 1855), the only example of the Greek Revival style. This modest dwelling has been altered over the years but retains its historic form and a few details. It is a center-entry cape set perpendicular to the street. The street-facing gable has prominent eaves with deep returns. Windows and doors are framed by simple molded trim. It is not surprising that so few houses remain from the mid-19th century, as development in the district did notbegin in earnest until the 1860s. In addition, many of the houses built prior to that time were later demolished when their lots were subdivided.

Second Empire

Seven houses were designed in the Second Empire style, most of which are substantial two-story houses. These high-style designs are indicative of the wealth and prominence of the residents of Savin Hill in the second half of the 19th century. This is best demonstrated by the Linus Darling House (210 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1865 – photo #11), the David B. Closson House (216 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1870) and the Hepworth/Ordway House (231 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1860). These two story houses are crowned by mansard roofs with pedimented dormers. The Darling House retains its polychromatic roof slates and has a bracketed cornice. Characteristic of the style, these houses include arched windows, bay windows, prominent window hoods, and bold trim in the form of corner boards, cornices, and door and window surrounds. In the northern part of the district these are two more modest examples of Second Empire design at 350 and 362 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1860). These houses are nearly identical and were moved from a nearby location in the district when the railroad tracks were widened about 1925. These are single-story cottages with mansard roofs and very simple detailing. Wood porches with turned posts run along the two-bay facades. Gabled dormers project from the mansards.


In the 1860s and 1870s he Italianate style was widely used in Savin Hill for a range of house types. The most notable of the twenty buildings in the district representing this style are the large single-family homes on Savin Hill Ave. and Grampian Way. The most well-detailed of these is the McKay House at 312 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1870). Like most of the Italianate buildings in the district, this is a substantial two-story structure. It has a pair of two-story bay windows flanking its main entry which is sheltered by a small porch with decorative posts. Typical of the style, the house also features arched windows, prominent window hoods, and a broad cornice. It is enclosed by a hip roof, as is the nearby Patten/McGregor House at 219 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1870). ThePatten/McGregor House exhibits a more restrained use of Italianate style ornament. Its two-bay façade has a side-hall entry sheltered by a small porch with decorative dentil moldings. The house is enclosed by a hip roof with polychromatic slate shingles, cast-iron creating, and gabled dormers. Vergeboards on the dormers are a Stick Style detail. The house has a wide cornice with brackets and dentils. The district also includes the James Hall House at 147 Grampian Way (ca. 1861), an example of a gable front house with Italianate detailing in the form of window hoods and a deep bracketed cornice. Perhaps more interesting than the house itself is the fact that its adjacent historic barn (one of only a few in the district) remains remarkably intact and that the house is one of the few that retains its 19th century setting (large wooded lot). Another popular Italianate house form represented in the district is a two-story structure with hip roof and central cross gable at the façade. This can be found at the Capt. William Chadbourne House (71 Grampian Way – ca. 1870) and 49 & 57 Savin Hill Ave. (1872). The most intact of these is the Chadbourne House, which is perched on the back side of the hill and was among the first houses built in the northern part of the district. Centered on the façade are the original double entry doors. Characteristic of the Italianate style, a full-length porch with chamfered posts and brackets extends along the façade. On the opposite side of the street is a more unusual dwelling for the district 66-66A Grampian Way (1905 – photo #12). It is a two-family brick row house, two stories high with two bowed bays at its façade. While this is much later than other Italianate houses in the district, it does have stylized features that borrow from the Italianate tradition, such as its dentil cornice, prominent window heads, and arched entries. One of the more architecturally significant buildings is the Nathan B. Robinson House (242 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1870) which combines Italianate and Stick Style details. The house’s central tower, bay windows, porch with chamfered posts, and deep eaves, features taken from the Italianate villa form, are supplemented by Stick Style surface treatments, including vergeboards, accent boards applied over the clapboards, and highly decorative window surrounds.

Victorian Gothic

The John H. and James H. Stark House (252-254 Savin Hill Ave. – photo #5) is noteworthy as the only example of the Victorian Gothic style in the district. It is also significant as the only 19th century brick house and the earliest two-family house that hasbeen identified in the district. Local historian Edward Gordon considers this the “most architecturally significant house in the Savin Hill Area.” (MHC Inventory Form A, 1995) The house sits on a prominent corner lot so that its many gables, towers, lancet windows, and dormers are highly visible. The house features a three-story tower with a steep pyramidal roof that projects well above the rest of the building. The house is extremely well-preserved and retains nearly all its historic detail, the most impressive of which are the swag vergeboards with king posts.

Queen Anne

Over 100 buildings in the district were designed using elements of the Queen Anne style (roughly 35% of the district’s buildings). Of these, approximately two-thirds can be considered purely Queen Anne (roughly equal numbers of one- and two-family dwellings) while the remainder are Queen Anne/Colonial Revival hybrids (primarily triple-deckers). Exceptions to this are two Queen Anne-Stick Style houses. The Queen Anne houses take on a variety of forms, from large high-style estates to more modest single-family dwellings, to multi-family homes with merely a suggestion of Queen Anne detailing.

Among the more impressive of the Queen Anne houses is the George C. Scott House (244 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1885 – photo #4) and its nearly identical neighbor, the Ware House (240 Savin Hill Ave., – ca. 1885 – photo #4). Typical of the style, these houses have a multi-textured surface created by the use of clapboards, shingles in various patterns, and half timbering. Additional features such as bay windows, complex hip roof with multiple dormers and gables, and overhanging second story are also characteristic Queen Anne features. It is also noteworthy that the Scott House retains its historic multi­colored paint scheme and the original 19th century stable at the back of the lot. The Ware House retains the original open entry porch with brackets and chamfered posts. Another of the large single-family Queen Anne residences is the McCurdy House at 61 Grampian Way (1892 – photo #3). The house occupies a lofty site on the north side of the hill, abutting the park. It remains very much intact and is notable for its octagonal corner tower, two-story gabled projecting bay and curved porch wrapping the façade and sides. The porch retains the original columns and gabled pavilion at the center of thefaçade. One of the more unusual Queen Anne houses is located at 189 Grampian Way (ca. 1880), which was designed by architect George H. Young for himself. It combines elements of Queen Anne and Stick Style design in a somewhat whimsical manner. The house sits on a raised stone basement and has a highly complex plan and an abundance of half-timbering, projecting bays, porches, windows of varying type, brackets, and other decoration.

The district includes a small number of modest single-family dwellings that represent a far more restrained use of the Queen Anne style. Typical of these is the Wenners House at 291 Savin Hill Ave., which is a simple 21/2-story gable-front dwelling. It has a pedimented front gable and a porch with decorative turned posts that extend across the lower story.

The most prevalent two-family Queen Anne house type is a 21/2-story house with a pedimented gable facing the street and a two-story bay window on one half of the façade. Typically these dwellings also have a two-story porch at the façade. Examples of this house type can be found scattered throughout the district. More often than not they were built as pairs or rows. Particularly good examples remain along the east side of Playstead Rd. (10-30; 1897 and 1898), on the west side of Denny St. (9-25, 1897); and 184 & 186 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1900 and 1898). A much smaller number of the two-family Queen Anne houses show a higher level of articulation. Typical of these is 165 Savin Hill Ave. (1900 – photo #10) where the front gable has a recessed portion containing a Palladian window and brackets supporting the overhanging eaves.

The Queen Anne style was used in conjunction with the Colonial Revival style on numerous buildings throughout the district. While most of these are triple-deckers, there are a handful of one- and two-family examples, such as 174 Grampian Way (ca. 1898). Here the only diversion from its somewhat severe rectangular plan is a three-story corner tower. This single-family house is enclosed by a hip roof with symmetrical gabled dormers and trimmed with simple bold cornices. A prominent porch with stout posts runs across the façade. The two-family Queen Anne/Colonial Revival hybrids, of which there are only a few, follow the same basic form of the pure Queen Anne two-families (gable front, bay windows, two-story porches) but have additional Colonial Revivaldetailing. This detailing is in the form of deep box cornices, the addition of a belt course, and heavier balustrades with square newels and balusters. Two very well-preserved examples remain at 22 & 26 Caspian Way (ca. 1905).

The largest number of Queen Anne/Colonial Revival hybrids are in the form of triple-deckers; approximately 20. These vary in detail but all follow the same general pattern. They are long, narrow three-story structures, each having a three-story bay window on one half of the façade and a three-story porch on the other. There is typically also a three-story bay window on one of the side elevations. Most have broad heavy cornices decorated with dentils. Among the best examples of this house type are those lining both sides of Bayside St. (3-23; 1914-1925) and the well-preserved 312 Savin Hill Ave. (1912). An interesting variation on this house type features a pair of three-story bay windows at the façade, found on the row of three houses at 20, 22 and 24 Hubbardston Rd. (1912, 1923, and 1923 – photo #1).

Colonial Revival

The second most prevalent style found in the district is the Colonial Revival. Of the 43 buildings representing the style, about 15 are single-family dwellings and about 14 are two-family homes. There are also eight three-family, five six-family, and one eight-family residence in this style. Many of the single-family Colonial Revival homes follow the Four Square house plan, like the Raymond Johnson House at 159 Savin Hill Ave. (1897 – photo #10). This two-story house is essentially square in plan with a steep hip roof from which project four gabled dormers holding small Palladian windows. The house has paired windows and bold trim, in the form of a box cornice and wide cornerboards. A one-story porch with paired columns wraps around the sides and front. The most architecturally notable Colonial Revival houses in the district are the matching Boyd House (11 Grampian Way – ca. 1900) and Berry House (13 Grampian Way – ca. 1900, photo #2). These single-family homes are mirror images of one another. They are two stories high and topped by steep hip roofs with gabled dormers. Each façade is dominated by a large round bay that stands alongside a two-story porch. The porch has slender columns, turned balusters at the first level, and elegant bowed balusters at the second level. Other notable features include bowed windows, deep eaves with brackets,and bay windows at the sides. Both houses retain their original entry doors with partial sidelights. The Berry House also retains leaded glass in the sidelights and tracery windows in the front dormer.

Like the earlier Queen Anne two-family examples, the two-family Colonial Revival houses are generally 21/2-story gable front structures. Unlike their Queen Anne counterparts, they are lacking the bay windows of the façade and typically have heavier trim and porch elements. This building type is represented by the four houses on the west side of Grampian Way (14-20; 1925) and the houses at 188-190 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1900). Similarly the Colonial Revival triple-deckers are variations of earlier Queen Anne triple-deckers. The Colonial Revival examples are simplified by dropping the façade bay window and intricate detailing. Instead, they have board unadorned cornices, square porch posts (or simple stout columns), and balustrades with square balusters, like the three buildings at 136-140 Savin Hill Ave. (1925, 1927, and 1927). The pair of three-family dwellings at 334-336 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1900, 1908) are also noteworthy examples of this type.

While most of the district is of a uniform scale, there are two matching six-family apartment buildings at 366 & 370 Savin Hill Ave. (1928 – photo #6) that are much larger than surrounding structures. Although the three-story end-wall porches have been enclosed, the buildings retain much of their original Colonial Revival/Craftsman style features, including their rectilinear plan, gabled entry porch, and deep overhanging eaves with paired brackets.

Shingle Style

There are seven Shingle Style residences in the district, most of which can be classified as cottages. The largest of the Shingle Style houses is the Merrick House (6 Rockmere Ave. – ca. 1890), which is enclosed by a complex roof with gambrel and gabled sections from which project a variety of dormers. Its wood shingle styling, simple trim, recessed porch, and overall rustic appearance are typical of the style. More typical of the Shingle Style houses in the district are the three adjacent structures at 90-96 Grampian Way (1907, ca. 1905 and ca. 1905 – photo #13). 92 and 96 Grampian Way are similar housesthat have broad gambrel facades overlooking the park. Their picturesque features (sweeping rooflines, shallow dormers, Palladian window, bay windows, and entry porch) are characteristic of the Shingle Style. 90 Grampian Way is a 11/2-story cottage with a steep gabled roof that extends beyond the plane of the façade to create a recessed front porch. The roof is dominated by a large hip dormer. Another well-preserved Shingle Style residence is the John W. Robbins House at 20 Rockmere Ave. (ca. 1890)


The Craftsman style was used in the design of approximately 25 houses in the district, nearly 70% of which are two-family dwellings. The most common two-family house design is a two-story structure with a two-story front porch and hip roof with hip dormers, like those at 3 & 9 Castlerock St. (ca. 1915, ca. 1920). 3 Castlerock St. has a two-story porch extending across the façade, paired windows, and a bay window at the first floor of the façade. This building is notable as the only building in the district with a stucco finish. 9 Castlerock St. has a smaller entry porch, tripartite windows, and a hip dormer centered on the roof. Typical of Craftsman buildings, 9 Castlerock also has exposed rafter tails at the eaves. Three larger versions of this two-family house type remain at 189-193 Savin Hill Ave. (1928). 189 and 193 are particularly well-preserved, with their front porches and trim detail intact. More atypical examples of the two-family Craftsman house type are the matching houses at 247-253 Savin Hill Ave. (1927). While 249 has been significantly altered, the two others remain very much intact. These are 21/2 story dwellings with a projecting two-story gabled bay at the façade and a front-facing gabled roof; all gables have deep eaves. These houses include grouped sash (paired and tripartite), exposed rafter tails at the eaves, and two-story porches with stout columns.

The single-family Craftsman style houses are generally 11/2-story cottages with picturesque features that are the hallmark of the style. A good example of this type is 234 Savin Hill Ave. (1925), which has two large gabled wall dormers centered on the façade. As is typical of the style, the roof extends past the plane of the façade to shelter a full front porch. The porch has short chamfered posts set on a kneewall. The Luther S. Phelps House (5 Caspian Way – ca. 1890) also represents the Craftsman style but is more unusual than others in the district. This single-story house with wide clapboardsiding has a complex hip roof with various dormers (both hip and gable) and a large cross gable at its south elevation. Centered on the façade is a small projecting entry pavilion with a pedimented gable. The main entry has full sidelights and is flanked by two paired windows.

Other Early 20th Century Dwellings

There are a handful of small houses built in the first three decades of the 20th century that warrant mention because they contribute to the historic character of the district streetscapes. These small Bungalow type houses have a variety of forms and stylistic elements but no single style prevails. Among the more well-preserved houses of this type is at 178 Grampian Way (1919), which has a prominent jerkinhead roof and center entrance porch with slender columns. Another, 215 Savin Hill Ave. (1923), is a small single-story house with a pair of cross gables at the façade and a center entry flanked by two paired windows. The Raymond Presbrey House (230 Savin Hill Ave. – 1923) is a 11/2 story cottage with Dutch Colonial influences. It has a gambrel roof, center entry with full sidelights, and an entry porch with a clipped gabled.


John Lothrop Motley School (141 Savin Hill Ave. – 1911 – photo #8)

There is one school in the district, located on the south side of Savin Hill Ave. on a relatively large lot (68,000 s.f.). The two-story brick building designed in the Georgian Revival style has an L-shaped ca. 1925 addition at the rear. The building has tall window openings (both single and paired), a stepped parapet, and cornice with dentils. It was converted to condominium use in the mid-1980s.

Ice Cream Parlor & Store (28 Denny St. – 1916)

This small rectangular building has a mixed commercial/residential use that originally included an ice cream parlor and store on the first floor. It is the only commercial structure in the district and stands adjacent to the playground and beach. The buildinghas Craftsman style features, including a hip roof with gable dormer, grouped windows (paired and tripartite), and deep overhanging eaves. The first floor has two sets of three windows used for customer walk-up service.

Dorchester Yacht Club (ca. 1910)

The Dorchester Yacht Club is located at the southernmost tip of Savin Hill Beach. It was moved to this location about 1950, when the Southeast Expressway was constructed, and consists of a main clubhouse, two storage buildings, and a series of boat slips that extend into Dorchester Bay to the east and south of the clubhouse. The clubhouse is a simple wood-frame Craftsman style structure with a square plan. This two-story building is enclosed by a hip roof that is defined by exposed rafters at the eaves. There are a variety of added porches at all elevations. The two secondary structures are single-story wood-frame buildings with gable roofs and utilitarian finishes.

Savin Hill Park (1906 – photo #8)

Savin Hill Park is located at the center of the district and includes the eastern slope and crest of Savin Hill itself (roughly eight acres). The upper portion of the hill is relatively wooded and characterized by rock outcroppings. There are several sets of stone steps climbing the hill at various locations. The land levels out as it slopes southward and eastward toward Grampian Way. There are two modern lit tennis courts within the park, bordering Grampian Way. There are no other structures in the park.

Savin Hill Playground/McConnell Park (1899)

McConnell Park, as it is known today, is located at the southwest corner of the district and currently runs from the Expressway to the foot of Denny Street. The original (1899) east boundary stopped at Denny Street. Much of the park is taken up by two lit baseball diamonds that border the expressway. There is a small paved parking area at the center of the lot, accessed from Playstead and Denny Sts.), a modern flagpole is located in the southwest corner of the parking area. This is an isolated park, used primarily by Savin Hill residents and ballplayers.

The contiguous beaches are in the form of a crescent, which encloses a portion of Dorchester Bay. Malibu Beach is the easternmost and runs along Morrissey Boulevard, terminating just before the Dorchester Bay Bridge. Savin Hill Beach extends west and south from Malibu Beach until it abuts the Yacht Club. The beaches are defined and unified by a long string of bollards set on a paved walkway; these were installed in 2000 when the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), which has jurisdiction over the beaches, undertook a rehabilitation of these properties. The beach area includes a modern playground, also installed in 2000 by the MDC. There is a small single-story bathhouse toward the south end of Malibu Beach.


The Savin Hill Historic District, in the Dorchester section of Boston, possesses integrity of design, location, setting, materials, and workmanship, and is significant for its association with the development of the area from a mid-19th century speculative housing development for Boston’s upper-middle class to a close-knot neighborhood of residents from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The surviving historic resources catalogue Savin Hill’s rich history and remain a cohesive collection of well-preserved historic homes. The district further attains significance as an intact collection of buildings representing a full range of architectural styles. The Savin Hill District is of local significance and meets Criteria A and C for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.


The district is the result of a mid-19th century speculative development intended to create a suburban neighborhood for upper-middle class Bostonians desirous of large homesconvenient to downtown. While the earliest resources in the district date to the mid 19th century, the history of Savin Hill goes back much farther. Savin Hill was the location of the first permanent settlement in Dorchester, a spot chosen because it was easily defended from the rocky hill at the center (known as Rock Hill from 1630 to 1730, and Old Hill from 1730 to the early 19th century). The first settlers arrived on the ship “Mary and John” in 1630 and established themselves at the foot of the hill. This group traveled from Plymouth, England, and were followers of Revs. John Wareham and John Maverick. They were destined for the Charles River but their ship captain was not familiar with the coast and would not transport them up the harbor any further than Nantasket Roads. The passengers had no choice but to disembark in Hull and travel onward in borrowed boats. Although scouting parties were sent out to explore that Charles River, traveling as far inland as Watertown, the group decided on Dorchester as the most advantageous location for settlement. The area had extensive salt marshes for pasturage and a rocky hill nearby for defense.

The settlement’s first meetinghouse was constructed a bit inland (west of the district), at the intersection of Cottage and Pleasant Streets so that subsequent development in Dorchester tended to focus there. The earliest road in Dorchester ran from the meetinghouse eastward to Rock Hill, along what is today Savin Hill Avenue. The area was relatively isolated until 1804 when Dorchester Avenue was laid out as a turnpike, providing for a more direct route for Norfolk County farmers to the Boston markets and greater access for Bostonians desirous of escaping the city to a rural retreat. This increased traffic spurred growth in the Savin Hill area.

Between 1630 and 1700 only a handful of families lived in the Savin Hill area, including those of Thomas Haskins, John Gurnell, John Mason, Richard Baker, and Nathaniel Patten. Also among the earliest settlers was Roger Ludlow, whose house stood on the south side of Rock Hill until 1730. Ludlow served as deputy governor of Massachusetts in 1634.

Because of its topography, Savin Hill played an important military role. During the Revolutionary War, Patriot troops were housed in modest wooden 11/2 story barracks around Rock Hill, and during the War of 1812 fortifications were erected on the hill. No remnants of this are visible today.

Rock Hill and the land around it remained largely undeveloped, with only a few scattered structures, through the 18th century. Rock Hill was located on a flat peninsula that extended out into Dorchester Bay even more than it does today. Into the 19th century, land of the Savin Hill peninsula was still owned by only a few families. It was not until the second decade of the 19th century that any significant development took place. Early 19th century development in the area was in large part to the opening of the Tuttle House, the first seaside hotel in the Boston area in 1822 by merchant Joseph Tuttle. The hotel was located just outside the western boundary of the district on the north side of Savin Hill Avenue, and it was Tuttle who renamed Rock Hill, calling it Savin Hill for the red cedar trees (a.k.a. savin) that covered the area at the time.

In 1844 the Old Colony Railroad opened a line through the center of the Savin Hill neighborhood, intersecting Savin Hill Avenue just east of Tuttle’s hotel. A station was constructed on the south side of what is now Savin Hill Avenue, just outside the west boundary of the district. The coming of the railroad had two significant impacts on the area. First, it physically separated the peninsula from the rest of the neighborhood, paving the way for a different type of development. It also provided convenient rail transportation to downtown Boston, making it feasible for Boston businessmen to commute into the city from home. Almost immediately, the Savin Hill peninsula was slated for residential development. Nearly all of the land that made up the peninsula was purchased by William Worthington ad Edward B. Robinson. The former was a prominent Dorchester resident and successful provisions merchant who was active in town government, serving as a Selectman and Tax Collector among other positions. Worthington owned a significant amount of property in Dorchester, particularly in Savin Hill. He began amassing his holdings as early as the 1820s. Worthington purchased land in Dorchester from John F. Pierce, William Bird, John Howe, Henry Gardner, and William Carlile among others. Less is known about his partner, Edward Robinson, except that the Robinson family acquired large tracts of land on the north side of Savin Hill, formerly the estate of John Eeles and Nathaniel Patten. The 1845 “Plan of Savin Hill belonging to Messrs. Worthington & Robinson” depicts the Savin Hill peninsula subdivided into 148 house lots and streets laid out largely as they are today. Even the hill itself was laid out with house lots, although the land was never developed and remains open space.

The relationship between the two men is not clear, nor is the allocation of property between them but it appears that Robinson passed on much of his land to John H. Robinson (relationship not known) in 1847 and Worthington immediately purchased much of Robinson’s interest in the development project.


On the 1845 plan, the street layout was dictated by the steep rocky hill at the center of the peninsula. Savin Hill Avenue and Grampian Way formed “rings” around the hill. Savin Hill Avenue was then called Indian Way between the railroad tracks and Denny Street (named Bath Avenue then); the remainder of Savin Hill Avenue was called Atlantic Avenue. The lower portion of Grampian Way, between Savin Hill Avenue and Evandale Terrace) was known as Glenway. Rockmere Street was drawn as a cul-de-sac called Rockland Avenue. Caspian Way was Woodland Avenue. The only side street laid out on the plan was Bath Avenue (now Denny Street).

Although the lots varied in size from approximately 8,700-62,000 s.f. the vast majority were between 16,000-20,000 s.f. in area. The larger of the lots were located along the shorelines at the east and south borders of the district. The plan does not depict any existing structures. Little is known about the fate of the few structures that stood in the district prior to the Worthington/Robinson development, but there are no known resources predating the mid 19th century.

The initial sale of lots by Worthington and Robinson was slow but steady. The earliest lots sold were those on either side of Savin Hill Avenue closest to the train station. Deed records indicate that not all the earliest grantees developed their lots. A number of them resold the vacant lots a few years later. The earliest to build houses in Savin Hill were people of means, including successful merchants, wealthy widows, prominent professionals and the like. It appears from the very start houses constructed at SavinHill were intended as year-round residences rather than for summer retreats. Many of the earliest to purchase lots were Dorchester residents, an equal number of Boston residents, but very few from outside the city.

By 1850 about ten houses stood in the district but it does not appear that any of these earliest structures remain. Only four of the houses were on land not part of Worthington and Robinson’s subdivision. In the northwest corner of the district was a small parcel of land owned by Joseph Tuttle, who ran the Tuttle House just outside the western boundary of the district. There was a small dead-end street called Wesley Avenue running along the center of Tuttle’s parcel that he had improved and widened in 1856. It appears that in the 1840s and 1850s Tuttle had built several houses along Wesley Avenue. He may have built these to house his staff of possibly for speculative purposes. Tuttle eventually sold off the houses individually so that by the 1890s they stood on their own lots. All houses along the west side of Wesley Avenue were demolished in 1925 when the railroad tracks were widened. Toward the middle of the 20th century the remainder of the houses were demolished and the street obliterated to make way for the construction of the Southeast Expressway. It is known that at least two of the houses from Wesley Avenue (renamed Dillingham Street between 1910-1918) were moved to other locations in the district. 358 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1880) was moved from the west side of Dillingham in 1925, while 383 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1895) was moved from the east side in 1956. A few others, such as the mansard roof cottage at 362 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1865) appear to have been constructed earlier than map research would indicate and may have also been moved from Dillingham. 383 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1895) formerly faced onto Dillingham Street but was turned to face Savin Hill Avenue when Dillingham was removed.

Although a few scattered structures were erected in the 1840s and 1850s, construction on the Worthington/Robinson lots did not get underway in earnest until the 1860s. The earliest houses were located in the southern part of the district along Savin Hill Avenue and Grampian Way, in close proximity to the railroad station with views out over the harbor. These tended to be substantial architect-designed residences on modest lots, typically about one acre. Many of the early land owners, particularly those along Savin Hill Avenue between the railroad and Bath Avenue (now Denny Street), purchased multiple adjoining lots from Worthington in order to have larger house lots. Between 1850-1870 about a dozen of these “suburban estates” were built at Savin Hill. Many of the houses from this era remain today, although they typically now stand on smaller lots than they did originally. Houses from this period in the district represent the popular architectural styles of the day, including the Italianate and Second Empire styles. These include the house at 17-19 Playstead Street (ca. 1855) which is said to have been built for Daniel Denny on a lot facing Savin Hill Avenue, just east of today’s Denny Street. It is believed that this house was moved about 1895 when the Denny estate was subdivided. According to historic maps, there were several structures on the Denny parcel. The house at 17-19 Denny Street does not appear to be large enough to have been the main house but may have been a secondary dwelling on the lot. Denny was President of Hamilton National Bank and partner in the firm Denny, Rice & Company (American goods and wool). He was typical of the early residents of the Worthington/Robinson development, most of whom were successful Boston businessmen. Another early house, 12 Denny Street (ca. 1855) is the only Greek Revival-style building in the district. It appears that this house was also moved to its current location although little information is known about it.

Another early survivor is the Lot Clark House (186 Grampian Way – ca. 1860s). Clark was a commission merchant in the Boston firm of Means & Clark. The James Hall House (147 Grampian Way – ca. 1861) is an intact Italianate villa style of house. Hall was a successful Dorchester merchant. This house is particularly notable because it retains a relatively large lot and an original stable toward the rear.

Between 1870 and 1875 construction of the fine single-family homes continued steadily. About 12 additional houses were constructed, most of which remain today. Among these is the David B. Clossen House (216 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1870); Clossen was a boot and shoe manufacturer (Reed Clossen& Co.). The Capt. William Chadbourne House is an impressive Italianate home perched on the side of the hill at 71 Grampian Way (ca. 1870).

It is interesting to note that at the same time the larger high-style houses were being built overlooking the water, the small cluster of houses in the northwest corner of the district continued to grow as well, particularly along Savin Hill Court (originally Robinson Court), where there were four additional houses by 1872. These houses, which include those at 11, 13 and 19 Savin Hill Court (ca. 1870), were of a much different character than those in the southern part of the district. They were very modest cottages with limited Victorian style detailing. 19 Savin Hill Court was owned and occupied by John C. Driscoll, a coachman, while 13 Savin Hill Court was owned by carpenter Robert J. Atkinson.

By 1882 there were about 55 structures in the district, most of which survive today. The street pattern remained unchanged from its original layout. Construction had progressed further east along Savin Hill Ave. and on the high side of Grampian Way. There appears to have been a lull in construction between 1875-1885, when only a handful of additional houses were erected. This was likely due to a slump in the economy following the Depression of 1873. Houses built in the late 1870s and early 1880s followed the precedent set by the earlier high-style houses. They were high-style picturesque dwellings representing a range of architectural styles. The Italianate and Second Empire styles continued to be used almost exclusively, the only notable divergence being the Victorian Gothic style John and James H. Stark House (252-254 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1875 – photo #5). James Stark was manager of the Photo-Electrotype Company, while his brother John is listed in city directories as a conveyancer. Unlike the earlier dwelling, the Stark House is constructed of brick. This house is also significant as the only example of Victorian Gothic design in the district and the earliest documented two-family house here.

From its inception, Savin Hill was a fashionable place to live. By the 1880s the Boston Blue Book, a directory of socially prominent citizens, listed Savin Hill residents who included prominent men such as Rev. J.H. Gunning (rear 207 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1880), William E. Coffin (William E. Coffin & Company, iron factors – house no longer extant), engraver George H. Morse (211 Savin Hill Ave., William P. Hunt (Treasurer of the South Boston Iron Company – his residence is no longer extant, but he also owned 24 Grampian Way – ca. 1865), Capt William Chadbourne (71 Grampian Way – ca. 1870), shoe and boot manufacturer David B. Clossen (Reed, Clossen and Company) of 216 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1870), flour merchant George R. Nazro (Nazro& Company) of 186 Grampian Way (1860s), rice dealer William Horatio Richardson (address not known) and dentist Dr. Daniel S. Bartlett (235 Savin Hill Ave. – ca. 1870).

One author described the neighborhood as “a delightful semi-marine paradise of peaceful luxury, with yachts and horses.” (A Century in Retrospect) The proximity of Savin Hill to the water had the result of making boating an important pastime for the community.

At one time the district boasted two yacht clubs (Savin Hill YC and Old Colony YC), both of which are still in existence although now located outside the district boundaries. The yacht clubs were important recreational and social institutions in the neighborhood. The Savin Hill YC was established in 1875 and incorporated in 1888. At the time of incorporation, leading club members were almost exclusively residents of the historic district.

Less is know of the Old Colony YC, which was established in 1891 and was initially located on Fox Point (the southeastern tip of the Savin Hill peninsula). By 1906 when the Savin Hill YC moved to the Fox Point location, the Old Colony relocated in the northern part of the district behind the houses at 289-293 Savin Hill Avenue on land owned by Frederick J. Stark. The club was moved south of the district to Victory Road in the mid 20th century when Morrissey Boulevard was constructed, cutting off their access to Dorchester Bay from the Savin Hill Avenue site.

The Dorchester YC (established 1870), which is currently located on the southern tip of Savin Hill Beach, was constructed around 1910 outside the district (south of the district on Freeport Street). It was the earliest club in the area and was originally associated with the Clam Point neighborhood, having many members from the Harrison Square area of Dorchester. It was a fierce rival of the Savin Hill YC in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The clubhouse was located in the path of the proposed Southeast Expressway and was moved about 1950 to make way for the highway.


The character of the district was significantly transformed during the 1890s when more construction occurred than in any other decade (triple the number of houses that had been constructed in the previous decade). Construction continued steadily for the twenty years to follow as well. Approximately 75% of the buildings in the district were erected between 1890 and 1930. While property owners continued to build a significant number of single family homes, there were far greater numbers of two- and three-family dwellings during that period. These were often built in rows of identical or similar dwellings. In general, dwellings constructed after 1890 continued to exhibit high levels of architectural ornamentation and were designed in the most popular styles of the period,predominately the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. There are also scattered examples of Shingle Style cottages and bungalows. By 1894 nearly all of the lots on the lower portion of Savin Hill Ave. (between the railroad tracks and Evandale Terrace) were developed, as were many of the lots on the north side of Savin Hill Ave. between Savin Hill Court and Evandale Terrace. Houses had also been constructed on most of the lots along the upper stretch of Grampian Way (north of Rockmere St.), where they had lofty views to the northeast over Dorchester Bay. Additional houses had been built along Rockmere and Davitt Streets, with the oldest Davitt Street houses erected in 1893.

In a number of cases, Worthington’s lots were purchased and further subdivided to create the small side streets with closely packed buildings that characterize much of the district. This was done at Evandale Terrace by 1894 and Davitt Street (then known as Endleigh Street) by 1893. By the end of the 1890s Playstead Rd. (laid out as Everett Rd.), Hubbardston Rd. (laid out as Donkin Terrace), Fox Point Rd. (originally Russ Terrace), Wave Ave., and Seaview Terrace had all bee created in a similar manner.

The earlier estates lining the westernmost end of the lower portion of Savin Hill Ave. remained standing on their large lots in 1894. These parcels remained unchanged until the end of the 1890s when land values were sufficiently high as to make subdivision inevitable. In 1897 the former Coffin estate was subdivided and houses constructed along Playstead Rd. and the west side of Denny St. Further west on Savin Hill Ave., Hubbardston St. (then Donkin Terrace) was laid out and six houses had been built by 1904. On the opposite side of Savin Hill Ave., the William Bird estate was subdivided around 1900 when Castlerock St. was laid out and several houses were built on its north side. In the northern part of the district, Wave Ave. and Seaview Terrace were created on the McMorrow and Wright lots respectively. Houses were built on either side Wave Ave. ca. 1895, while lots facing Seaview Terrace remained vacant until about 1915. The final major subdivision prior to 1904 was on the north side of Savin Hill Ave. (opposite Bayside St.) where the Nazro family property was subdivided by developer Joseph Whalen who built seven two-family houses, all designed by architect E.N. Boyden (186­198 Savin Hill Ave.; 1898-1902).

Between 1904 and 1910 Wedmore St. was laid out but no houses were constructed there until the 1950s. Bayside St. was laid out about 1914 on what had previously been theDaniel Denny estate. Three-family houses were constructed on both sides of the street between 1914 and 1925. The last of the streets, Southview St., was laid out in the late 1920s. All houses there were erected in 1928. Old Colony Terrace, a minor through street connecting Morrissey Boulevard with Savin Hill Ave., was not created until the mid-1920s when Old Colony Parkway (later renamed Morrissey Boulevard) was constructed. Houses were not erected on the street, however, until the mid-1940s.

In addition to Joseph Whalen, who was mentioned above, several individuals were actively undertaking speculative development projects in the district in the late 19th and 20th centuries. During the 1890s Isaac Shurman was responsible for constructing at least 10 houses, two of which were single-family homes (54-56 Grampian Way). Shurman also erected two-family dwellings on Savin Hill Ave. (329-331, 337, 341, 369,347, 349) and Davitt St. (6-8 and 10) (photo#14). Between 1897-1925 builder/developer Philip LeBlanc constructed at least eight two-family houses at 9-11, 13-15, 17-19, 21-23 Denny Street (1897), 25 Denny St. (1902), 193 Grampian Way (1899), 12 Hubbardston Rd. (1903), and 28-30 Playstead Rd. (1902). LeBlanc worked with several different architectural firms, including Ford & Mercer, W.E.C. Nazro, and William Riley. Frederick J. Stark built four single-family homes just to the north of his own home on Savin Hill Ave. These include the contiguous houses at 78 Grampian Way (1901), 86 Grampian Way (1904 – photo #13), and 90 Grampian Way (1907 – photo #13), as well as another at 265 Savin Hill Ave. (1912). Peter Dempsey, working with architect Harold Duffie, erected a row of four two-family Colonial Revival style residences along Savin Hill Ave. (247-253) in 1927. The three-family houses on the west side of Bayside Street (3, 7, 9, and 15) were built by Peter F. and John J. Lamont from 1914 to 1917. Roland Hopey hired architect Giles B. Powell to design a two-family home at 16 Hubbardston St. in 1927 (photo #1), four on Savin Hill Ave. (189-195) in 1928, and all six houses that make up Southview St. (5-20) in 1928.

In the late 19th century demographics of the district gradually moved toward a somewhat more diverse socio-economic mix. The wealthy upper-middle class continued to build home here, together with a growing number of lower-middle class and working class residents. Typical of the newcomers to the district were men such as George F. McCurdy (city freight agent) and Harry R. McCurdy (civil engineer), who lived at 61 Grampian Way (1892 – photo #2) by 1897. Carpenter Fred Schofield owned and occupied the two-family house at 41 Grampian Way (1890). The house at 60 Grampian Way was built for Ernest J. Pahtz, an upholsterer in 1891. Surveyor George H. Sherman’s house at 33 Grampian Way was constructed around 1900. By 1905 Frederick Phelps, a butcher, occupied the house at 62 Grampian Way (1893). Gustave A. Svedeman, a foreman, was a tenant of the three-family house at 336 Savin Hill Ave. (ca. 1900) by 1917, while the house at 124 Grampian Way was built in 1917 for draftsman Henry A. Gustafson.


There are only two buildings surviving in the district that were not associated with residential use. The most imposing of the two is the John L. Motley School (141 Savin Hill Ave. – photo #9). The school was built on land formerly comprising the Wiggins family estate. The Georgian Revival style brick school was erected by the City of Boston in 1911 and operated as a school until 1982. It was converted to condominiums shortly afterwards. The second non-residential building is an ice cream parlor/store at 28 Denny Street that was erected in 1916 by Peter F. and John J. Lamont bordering the Savin Hill Playground. The building remains in use as a seasonable business.

There are two large public parks in the district, the oldest of which was established as the Savin Hill Playground in 1899. Located just south of Springdale Street along the shores of Dorchester Bay, the park originally included a stretch of beach (Savin Hill Beach – photo #7) and a bathhouse. The City of Boston acquired the land from the heirs of William Worthington in November of 1899. Around 1912 the city hired the Olmsted Brothers, renowned landscape architects, to redesign the playground. As part of this project, the earlier bathhouse was replaced by a larger one (removed in 1937) and a strip of land was created to the south, nearby doubling the size of the park. This landfill was shored up by stone retaining walls, which are still visible today. The park was renamed “McConnell Park” by 1933, and today continues to be much used by district residents.

When filling of land was undertaken about 1920 for construction of the Old Colony Parkway (Morrissey Boulevard), the beach at Savin Hill was extended southeastward, giving it the crescent shape seen today. The new beach became known as Malibu Beach (photo #7). The Old Colony Parkway provided greater access to the beaches and brought beachgoers from further afield than previously. The specific origin of the name “Malibu”is not known, but it is likely that the name was taken from the more well-known beach in Southern California which was popular at the time. By the 1930s, when its beach design was formalized by landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff, the name Malibu was in common use for the Dorchester beach. In 1949 the Savin Hill Beach, the adjoining Malibu Beach, and the south portion of McConnell Park were transferred to the Metropolitan District Commission, who have recently restored the area and are planning construction of a new bathhouse in the near future.

Savin Hill Park (photo #8), the large park at the center of the district, was established thanks to the determination of James H. Stark. Stark, a longtime resident of Savin Hill and the first Commodore of the Savin Hill YC, was an important local figure who took great interest in all aspects of life at Savin Hill. In 1904 he organized the first Dorchester Day, held at the crest of the hill as a “field day’ to mark the location of the 1630 settlement of the town. He urged city officials to formally dedicate the spot as a public park, a request that was granted two years later. In is interesting to note that Dorchester Day continues to be a major annual celebration for the entire Dorchester community. Savin Hill Park includes an historic marker, placed there in 1909 by the City of Boston. A bronze plaque set on a granite boulder reads “At the foot of this hill, the early settlers came ashore in small boats to make the first permanent settlement in Dorchester having sailed from England in the ship Mary and John, March 1630 – June 1630. The hill was fortified in 1634.”


After about 1930 there was a sharp decline in development in Savin Hill; only two buildings in the district date from the 1930s. Development diminished despite advantages in public transportation to and from Boston, specifically the advent of rapid transit in the mid-1920s due the Ashmont subway line, whose station at Savin Hill Avenue provided frequent service to downtown. The decline is construction was due in part to the financial impacts of the Great Depression but more that there were very few buildable lots remaining in the district. By 1933 there were less than 20 vacant lots available. Only 14 buildings in the district were constructed after the period of significance, and these date from 1955 to 2002, including single-family houses and twosmall brick apartment buildings. Construction of the Old Colony Parkway (later Morrissey Boulevard) in 1921 and the Southeast Expressway in the mid-1950s served to more solidly isolate the district than had previously been done by the railroad tracks. Limited access to the area has kept commercial development from emerging so thattoday the district remains a cohesive residential enclave. Savin Hill is also unusual in that its population has remained quite stable over time. While many Dorchester neighborhoods have seen a shift from Irish and Jewish residents to African-American and Asian by the end of the 20th century, Savin Hill remains relatively unchanged, with a number of its current residents being descendants of the original owners.



Posted on

August 16, 2023

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