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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hyde Park by Anthony M. Sammarco

Hyde Park was the last town to be annexed to the city of Boston, becoming in 1912 the southernmost neighborhood of the city located between Milton and Dedham, Massachusetts. Named by the Reverend Henry Lyman after the aristocratic borough of Hyde Park in London, England it was incorporated as an independent town on April 26, 1868 from sections of the towns of Dorchester, Milton and Dedham, Massachusetts.

Hyde Park has evolved as a bucolic suburb located just seven miles from downtown Boston. Located on the Neponset River with panoramic vistas of the Blue Hills, the town began prior to the Civil War when a group of land investors and developers known as the “Twenty Associates” purchased one hundred acres of land at $200.00 per acre in Milton’s Fairmount section; they laid out Fairmount Avenue, flanked by Warren and Williams Avenues, that connected Brush Hill Road and Water Street (now Truman Highway,) which paralleled the river. Here the associates, headed by Alpheus Perley Blake (1832-1916,) who is considered the founder of Hyde Park, had George Currier build twenty identical wood framed houses that were typical of the middle class dwellings being built throughout the Boston area at the time. The associates included William E. Abbot, Amos Angell, Ira L. Benton, Enoch Blake, John Newton Brown, George W. Currier, Hypolitus Fisk, John C. French, David Higgins, John S. Hobbs, Samuel Salmon Mooney, William Nightingale, J. Wentworth Payson, Dwight B. Rich, Alphonso Robinson, William H. Seavey, Daniel Warren, and John Williams.

For two decades, the Twenty Associates and their families were joined by others who were attracted to the area and the convenience of transportation with the Boston and Providence Railroad and the Midlands branch of the New York & New England Railroad having depots within walking distance of the new homes, and a short commute to Boston for business or pleasure. The Boston Land Company, of which Blake was president, and the Hyde Park Real Estate and Building Company, headed by Henry A. Rich, attracted many new residents that purchased building lots that would eventually see the increase of population to fifteen hundred by 1887.

During the Civil War, Camp Meigs, named for Brigadier General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs (1816-1892,) was opened in the Readville section of what was then Dedham. Here Union Civil War troops were assembled and trained, including Company 54, the first African American troop that was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and which was immortalized in the stirring movie “Glory.” Another well known regiment that trained at Camp Meigs was the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, half of which was recruited in California and transported by clipper ships to Readville for training before being sent to Virginia to fight in the Civil War.

The immediate years following the Civil War were momentous, as there was a movement to incorporate Hyde Park as an independent town. In 1868, following months of acrimonious and often bitter debate, the commonwealth of Massachusetts accepted Hyde Park as an independent town with the creation of a town government with a board of
selectmen, the first to serve being Henry Sturgis Grew, chairman, Zenas Allen, Benjamin Radford, William Stuart and Martin Whitcher. In 1870 a town hall was erected, having been moved from Boston and adapted for use by the new town. The town hall was erected at the corner of
River Street
Gordon Avenue
, and would serve as the seat of government until January 1, 1912 when the town was annexed to Boston. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the population dramatically increased as residents of Boston’s densely populated neighborhoods sought more open space and “looked to the outskirts and discovered Hyde Park.” With houses set on large lots of land with attractive tree lined streets, convenient shopping areas, numerous churches, and schools within walking distance, and ease of transportation, Hyde Park’s population amazingly grew from fifteen hundred in 1887 to fifteen thousand at the time of its annexation to Boston.

Since the mid nineteenth century, Hyde Park's residents had traditionally been people of English descent, but by the early twentieth century had a far larger percentage of Polish, Italian, and Irish ethnicities similar to other parts of the city. Today, Hyde Park is a diverse neighborhood with the descendants of the earlier residents being joined by African-American, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, making it a thriving and diverse nexus of cultures. Residents, no matter what their origin, share the common desire to live in a comfortable, safe and well kept suburban city neighborhood with a rich history and sense of tradition.

In the early part of the twentieth century, a prominent harness racing track, called the Readville Trotting Park, was located in Readville on a part of the former Camp Meigs. The racing track was later used for auto racing before it became a Stop & Shop warehouse and distribution center, and which is now used as a multi-use warehouse property. Today, Hyde Park can proudly boast of the George Wright Golf Course, named for baseball Hall of Famer and Cincinnati Reds shortstop George Wright (1847-1937.) After retiring, he moved to Boston and he cofounded the sporting goods business of Wright & Ditson. The championship golf course was designed by the famous golf course designer Donald Ross, and is considered to be one of his finest designs. The Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library is a wonderful library that was once the town of Hyde Park’s library that was built in 1899 on
Harvard Avenue
. Greatly enlarged in 2000 with a modern design by Schwartz Silver Architects, the library’s classic Grecian Ionic design with gray Roman brick and terra cotta trimming is now offset by the walls of glass in the new addition, opening the space to the world around it.

This Then & Now book on Hyde Park, Massachusetts prominently highlights the squares, homes, streets, churches and schools of this lovely neighborhood of Boston. Comparing old photographs with contemporary ones, it shows why this place has been called “Home” by generations of Americans, all of whom pride themselves as being proud residents of Hyde Park.

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