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Mission Hill, Boston, Massachusetts


Mission Hill, Boston, Massachusetts

Mission Hill Triangle Historic District
Tremont Street in Mission Hill
Location Boston, MA
Architect Multiple
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Late Victorian
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 89001747[1]
Added to NRHP November 6, 1989

Mission Hill is a 3/4 square mile [2] neighborhood of Boston, with the population of approximately 18,000 people.

The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Columbus Avenue and the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury to the east, Longwood Avenue to the northeast and the Olmsted designed Riverway/Jamaicaway and the town of Brookline to the west. The Historic District is roughly bounded by Smith St., Worthington St., Tremont St., and Huntington Ave.[1] It is immediately north of the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. It is served by the MBTA Green Line E Branch and the Orange Line and is within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts. "The Hill" overlaps with about half of the Longwood Medical and Academic Area, home to 21 health care, research, education institutions and are responsible for the largest employment area in the City of Boston outside of downtown. Due to these adjacencies, the neighborhood is often struggling with institutional growth taking residential buildings and occupying storefront commercial space. But recent years have seen new retail stores, restaurants and residential development giving the neighborhood a stronger political voice and identity.

Mission Hill is an architectural landmark district with a combination of freestanding houses built by early wealthy landowners, blocks of traditional brick rowhouses, and many Triple decker. Many are condominiums, but there are also several two-family and some single-family homes.

The neighborhood was named in March 2008 as one of 25 "Best Zip Codes in Massachusetts" by the Boston Globe, citing increased value in single-family homes, plentiful restaurants and shopping, a marked racial diversity and that 65% of residents walk, bike or take transit to work.[3]


The neighborhood has two main commercial streets: Tremont Street and Huntington Ave. Both have several small restaurants and shops. Mission Hill is at the far western end of Tremont Street, with Government Center at the far eastern end. Mission Hill has two main ZIP Codes; the southern half is designated 02120 and the northern area is 02115. Additionally, a very small portion of the southeastern edge uses the code 02130 and two streets on the far western edge use 02215.

Parker Hill, Roxbury Crossing, the Triangle District, Back of The Hill and Calumet Square are areas within the Mission Hill, an official designated neighborhood in Boston (as attested by numerous signs prohibiting parking without a sticker which can be received only by residents).

Brigham Circle, located at the corner of Tremont and Huntington is the neighborhood's commercial center, with a grocery store (Stop & Shop), drug stores, bistros, banks and taverns. Additionally, two other smaller commercial areas are in the neighborhood: Roxbury Crossing and the corner of Huntington and South Huntington next to the Brookline line.

One block up the hill from Brigham Circle is Boston's newest park, Kevin W. Fitzgerald Park (formerly Puddingstone Park)[4][5] created when a new $60-million mixed use building was completed in 2002.

On Tremont Street is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica (1878, Schickel and Ditmars, 1910 towers addition by Franz Joseph Untersee),[6] an eponymous landmark building that dominates the skyline of the area. The church was chosen as the location for the funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday, August 29, 2009.

Also nearby is the newly restored Parker Hill Library,[7] the neighborhood branch of the Boston Public Library,[8] and designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram in 1929. The city used eminent domain to acquire the land for both the library and the adjacent Mission Hill playground.

Atop the hill is New England Baptist Hospital and Parker Hill Playground, which extends from the hospital grounds down Parker Hill Avenue. Parker Hill Playground, originally proposed by then Boston Mayor James Curley in 1915, is also one of the highest points in the city where you can observe a panoramic view of downtown Boston, Boston Harbor, and the Blue Hills.

Always considered a part of Roxbury until a generation ago, Mission Hill is now most often regarded as a separate section of the city. However, neighborhood boundaries in Boston are inherently ambiguous and whether or not Mission Hill is adjacent to Roxbury or remains a section thereof is sometimes a subject of debate.[9]


Like the adjacent neighborhood of Jamaica Plain to the south, Mission Hill was once a neighborhood of adjacent Roxbury before Roxbury's annexation by Boston. According to maps from the period, it was often referenced as Parker Hill (which is the name of the geographic feature in the area). After annexation (and more rapidly in recent years) the area slowly came to be considered a separate neighborhood of its own right. The majority of government, commercial and institutional entities list "Mission Hill" in the breakdown of Boston neighborhoods and its boundaries generally agreed upon.

Until the American Revolution, Mission Hill supported large country estates of wealthy Boston families. Much of the area was an orchard farm, originally owned by the Parker family in the 18th century. Peter Parker married Sarah Ruggles, whose family owned large areas of land including most of what became known as Parker Hill (later renamed Mission Hill). His life ended when a barrel of his own cider fell on him. (Much of this story is outlined in "The History of Peter Parker and Sarah Ruggles", a book by John William Linzee, published in 1913.)

The orchard continued for some time thereafter, but gradually pieces of the land were sold and developed. Boston’s reservoir was once located at the top of the hill. Many of the older apple trees along Fisher Avenue and in an undeveloped area of the playground are probably descendants of the Parker family’s original trees. The lower portion of the eastern hill was a puddingstone quarry with large swaths owned by merchants Franklin G. Dexter, Warren Fisher and Fredrick Ames.

Maps of the area indicate Mission Hill development began before the Fenway and Longwood Medical Area. Huntington Avenue, now one of the main connections to the rest of Boston, once stopped at the intersection of Parker Street, near the present-day site of the Museum of Fine Arts. Up until that time, Mission Hill was connected via Parker Street (a man-made raised passage between the Stony Brook and the Muddy River - both which formed a tidal flat into the Charles River) all the way to Boylston Street in the Back Bay. Part of what was once Parker Street is now called Hemenway Street. The once main intersection of Parker Street and Huntington Avenue has been traffic-engineered, cutting the straight-line road in two and forcing traffic to first turn onto Forsyth Way to make the connection. Many other streets leading into Mission Hill were also realigned and/or renamed at Huntington Avenue (including Longwood Avenue/McGreevey Way, Smith/Shattuck Street, Vancouver Street, and Palace Road/Worthington Street), limiting both pedestrian and vehicular access.

After the 1880s and the re-routing of the Muddy River by Frederick Law Olmsted, Huntington Avenue was joined from Parker Street to Brigham Circle, creating the Triangle District. (Maps from the time indicate that Huntington Avenue from Brigham Circle to the Brookline line was named Tremont Street.)

Development began in earnest in the mid-19th century. In 1870, the Redemptorist Fathers built a humble wooden mission church that was replaced by an impressive Roxbury puddingstone structure in 1876. In 1910, dual-spires were added that now dominate the skyline. The church was elevated to basilica in 1954 by Pope Pius XII and is one of only 43 in the United States. Officially named Our Lady of Perpetual Help after the icon of the same name, it is uniformly referred to as "Mission Church", even by its own parishioners. Due to a sloping foundation of this landmark, the west cross tops its tower at 215 feet (66 m); the other spire is two feet shorter. The length of the church is also 215 feet (66 m), presenting a perfect proportion.

At one time, the Basilica was a campus of buildings; the Queen Anne style Sister's Convent and Grammar School (1888–1889, Henry Burns) and the Romanesque Revival St. Alphonsus Hall (1898, Franz Joseph Untersee) administered by the parish. The church closed the high school in 1992, but a Parochial elementary school still remains. The sale of these buildings at 80-100 Smith Street allowed much of the church to be restored. The sold buildings are currently planned for Basilica Court, a 229-unit residential complex, developed by Weston Associates, Inc. The Hall was the club headquarters for the St. Alphonsus Association founded in 1900. It was the preeminent social and athletic Catholic men's organization for nearly 50 years and its 1000 seat theatre held many community, political and theatrical events.

Another example of high religious architecture is the Byzantine-style Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 514 Parker Street at the eastern edge of the neighborhood. Referred to as the "mother church" of the Greek Orthodox Church in New England, it is the cathedral of the Diocese of Boston and the seat of its Bishop Methodios. Built between 1892–1927, it is one of the oldest Greek churches in the United States, a Boston landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1927 a Greek artist was commissioned to decorate the cathedral with Byzantine iconography. The radiant stained glass windows and large crystal chandeliers also contribute to the visual majesty of the cathedral's interior.

Puddingstone plays a historic role in the area. The large puddingstone quarry that ran between Tremont Street and Allegany Street produced the stone foundations of most of the late 19th century houses in the neighborhood. This locally sourced material made quick construction of working-class housing possible. Some structures around the Tremont Street/Parker Street intersection are made entirely of the material, including 682-688 Parker Street, 2-5 Sewall Street and 1472-74 Tremont Street (1856, David Connery, mason).

Most of the houses in the neighborhood are stone foundations and wood construction. But the Triangle Historic District along Huntington Ave. is stone and brick, and one of only eight such districts in Boston given landmark status by the city. These seventy-one buildings bordered by Huntington Avenue, Tremont Street, and Worthington Street exemplify the development of the neighborhood from the 1870s through the 1910s. Construction of this area was begun in 1871. The Helvetia, a distinctive apartment hotel, was built at 706-708 Huntington Avenue in 1884-1885; a Georgian revival apartment building known as The Esther was built at 683 Huntington/142-148 Smith Street in 1912. Both buildings continue have retail on the ground floor and apartments above. Similar row houses line one side of Delle Avenue a few blocks away from the Triangle District. Taller and larger brick row houses also line Huntington Avenue, Wait Street and South Huntington.

By 1894, the electric streetcar was in operation on Huntington Avenue. Builder-developers began cutting streets through the hillside farmland and building homes for commuters on Parker Hill Avenue, Hillside Street, and Alleghany Street. An excellent example from this era is the Timothy Hoxie House at 135 Hillside Street. A freestanding Italianate villa, it was built in 1854 across from its present location. The Hoxie family left Beacon Hill for pastoral Mission Hill. Houses of this size are rare today. Demand for housing went up and builders turned to building multifamily dwellings, generally constructed on smaller lots.

The carpenter-contractor John Cantwell lived in the Gothic Revival cottage at 139 Hillside Street, and purchased the Hoxie House after Timothy’s death. He moved the house to its present site so that upper Sachem Street could be cut through. Cantwell also developed triple deckers on adjacent lots on Darling and Sachem Streets, and in 1890 subdivided the lot on which the Hoxie House stood and built triple-deckers at 17 and 19 Sachem Street.

By the 1890s, there was a more urban feel to the neighborhood and the hill was covered in triple-deckers. Calumet, Iroquois and other streets with Native American names were built up within ten years into a dense neighborhood of triple deckers in the Queen Anne style. The Queen Anne style is prevalent in Mission Hill because this building boom coincided with the popularity of this style. A restoration of this style of houses along Parker Street is becoming something of a Polychrome Row.

Before 1900, the Georgian Revival New England Baptist Hospital (at the time, the Robert Breck Brigham Hospital) at 125 Parker Hill Ave was one of the few institutions in the neighborhood. Other soon followed, moving from their downtown locations to the Mission Hill/Longwood area for more space and less expensive land (along with the completion of the Emerald Necklace). In 1906, the Harvard Medical School moved into five buildings on Longwood Avenue. Wentworth Institute at 360 Ruggles Street began building in 1911. In 1912, the then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham & Women's) opened on Brigham Circle. In 1914, Children's Hospital also moved to Longwood Avenue. Beth Israel Deaconess was constructed a short time later.[10]

In the late 19th century through the 1970s, the neighborhood was once home to large numbers of families of recent Immigrant descent, mostly Irish, but also Germans, Italians and others. After the 1950s, the combined effects of urban renewal, white flight and institutional growth caused many to flee the neighborhood. In the early 1960s the Boston Redevelopment Authority razed several homes in the Triangle District section of the neighborhood to make way for the Whitney Redevelopment Project, which are three high-rise towers along St. Alphonsus Street. The include Charlesbank Apartments (272 unit co-op), Back Bay Manor (270 units) and Franklin Square Apartments (formerly Back Bay Towers - 146 units). This project was one of Boston's earliest redevelopment projects not funded by federal renewal monies.[10] Across the street is Mission Main, one of the nation's oldest public housing developments. The original thirty-eight 3-story brick structures built between 1938 and 1940 were demolished in the mid-1990s and replaced with 535 new apartments with a mix of subsidized and market-rate units.

Industry began in the area as early as the 17th century. The first brewery was established at the foot of Parker Hill in the 1820s. By the 1870s beer production was the main industry in Mission Hill, and many breweries lined the Stony Brook (now a culvert running along the Southwest Corridor). Most of Boston's breweries were once located in Mission Hill, but three periods of Prohibition (1852–1868, 1869–1875 and 1918–1933) and the nation's transition from local breweries to national mass-produced brands took their toll on business. Many of the remaining buildings are now being converted into loft condominia.

Breweries included A.J. Houghton (1870–1918) at 37 Station Street, American Brewing Co. at 251 Heath Street(1891–1934)—now American Brewery Lofts, Union Brewing Co. on Terrace Street (1893–1911), Roxbury Brewing Co. at 31 Heath Street (1896–1899)—the building is now home to the Family Service of Greater Boston, Croft Brewing Co. (1933–1953), Burkhardt Brewing Co. (1850–1918), Alley Brewing Co. at 117 Heath Street (1886–1918) and the Highland Springs Brewery/Reuter & Co. (1867–1918) on Terrace Street—the building is often referred to as The Pickle Factory and is in planning for conversion to housing.

In the late 1960s, Harvard University, through straws, thus concealing the purchases from the neighborhood, bought the wood frame and brick houses along Francis, Fenwood, St. Alban's, Kempton Streets, and part of Huntington Avenue, and announced plans to demolish the buildings. Most were replaced with the Mission Park residential complex of towers and townhomes in 1978 after neighborhood residents organized the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard Association convince Harvard to rebuild. The tower sits on the site of the House of the Good Shepard, once a large and prominent orphanage. The gates to the complex and the brick wall along Huntington survive from this era.

Also in the 1960s the federal government proposed to extend Interstate 95 into the center of Boston and began buying property and demolishing houses in the Roxbury Crossing section of the neighborhood along the Boston and Providence Rail Road. Roxbury Crossing, once known as Pierpoint Village after the Pierpoint family and their mills (the earliest of which in the 1650s), and has been a stop along the Boston & Providence Railroad since the 1840s, was once a vibrant commercial area with the 749-seat Criterion Theatre, a Woolworths and restaurants.

Though the Interstate project was shelved by the governor in 1971 after freeway revolts, Roxbury Crossing had been leveled. Ten years later saw the creation of the Southwest Corridor, a park system with bike and pedestrian trails that lead into the center of Boston. In November 2007, the MBTA awarded Mission Hill Housing Services rights to develop a new 10-story mixed-use building on what is known to the Boston Redevelopment Authority as "Parcel 25", across from the Roxbury Crossing station.

By the early 1970s, the area was deemed dangerous and most White people and affluent Black people had moved away. The 1989 incident involving Charles Stuart further intensified this view. With property values low, many of the homes were bought by slum lords and converted into rental housing. The inexpensive rents brought many students from nearby colleges and universities, especially MassArt, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a large studio building in the neighborhood.[11] The Mission Hill Artists Collective now hosts Open Studios[12] in the fall of each year.

As past fears faded by the mid-1990s, the area began to change as homeowners moved into newly converted condominia to take advantage of the fantastic views of the city and proximity to the Longwood Area, the MBTA and downtown Boston.

Today, the neighborhood is briskly gentrifying and diversifying in favor of a mix of new luxury condominia and lofts, triple-deckers converted to condominia, surviving student rental units, newly rebuilt public housing, and strong remnants of long-time residents. Racially, Mission Hill is one of the most diverse in the city, with a balance of white, Asian, Hispanic and African-Americans having little conflict along race lines.

Much of the early history of Mission Hill is covered in a 65 minute documentary film, Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston, which was directed by Richard Broadman and released in 1978. The film recounts the events that led to the Urban Renewal Program in Boston and its aftermath by showing how these events unfolded in Mission Hill.

Current events include the transformation of Terrace Street into an artist boulevard, with new artists' residences in the planning and approval stages. They will take their place along Diablo[13] glass studio and the Building Materials Co-Op.

Notable residents

Neighborhood groups

  • Mission Hill Artists Collective
  • Community Alliance of Mission Hill
  • Mission Hill Health Movement
  • Mission Hill Main Streets
  • Sociedad Latina
  • Roxbury Tenants of Harvard
  • Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services
  • Boston Redevelopment Authority neighborhood site
  • Mission Main Tenant Task Force


  • Mission Hill Gazette

MBTA subway stops

The neighborhood is also served by MBTA Bus Route 39 running from Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain to Copley Square and Route 66 running from Dudley Square in Roxbury, through Brookline to Harvard Square in Cambridge. The Urban Ring crosstown route passes through the far eastern corner of the neighborhood along Longwood Avenue and Huntington Avenue.

See also


External links

  • The Sociedad Latina, Inc. records, 1968-2007 (bulk 1985-1999) are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • The Carmen A. Pola papers, 1970–2006 (bulk 1975–2000) are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • An early planning study,Fenway-Parker Hill area : its problems and potential, Boston, Massachusetts : preliminary report ot the Sponsors’ Committee is available at the MIT or Harvard libraries, Cambridge, MA.

Coordinates: 42°20′00.32″N 71°06′27.64″W / 42.3334222°N 71.1076778°W / 42.3334222; -71.1076778

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