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Roxbury, Massachusetts

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Title: Roxbury, Massachusetts  
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Roxbury, Massachusetts

Neighborhood of Boston

First Church of Roxbury
Official seal of Roxbury
Settled 1630
Incorporated 1846
Annexed by Boston 1868
Time zone Eastern
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC)
Area code(s) 617 / 857

Roxbury is a dissolved municipality and current neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, United States.[1] It was one of the first towns founded in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, and became a city in 1846 until annexed to Boston on January 5, 1868.[2] The original town of Roxbury once included the current Boston neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, West Roxbury, the South End and much of Back Bay. Roxbury now generally ends at Hammond St, Davenport St to the east and East Lenox St/Melnea Cass Boulevard to the south.

Roxbury is now one of 21 official neighborhoods of Boston, used by the city for neighborhood services coordination. The city asserts that it "serves as the heart of Black culture in Boston."[3]

The original boundaries of the Town of Roxbury can be found in Drake's History of Roxbury and its noted Personages. Those boundaries include the Christian Science Center, the Prudential Center (built on the old Roxbury Railroad Yards) and everything south and east of the Muddy River including Symphony Hall, Northeastern University, Boston Latin School, John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics & Science, Y.M.C.A., Harvard Medical School and many hospitals and schools in the area. This side of the Muddy River is Roxbury, the other side is Brookline and Boston. Franklin Park, once entirely within Roxbury when Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Roslindale were villages within the town of Roxbury until 1854, has been divided with the line between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury located in the vicinity of Peter Parley Road on Walnut Avenue, through the park to Columbia Road. Here, Walnut Avenue changes its name to Sigourney Street, indicating the area is now Jamaica Plain. One side of Columbia Road is Roxbury, the other Dorchester. Melnea Cass Boulevard is located approximately over the Roxbury Canal that brought boats into Roxbury, bypassing the busy port of Boston in the 1830s.

A store known as The Blue Store was located at the intersection of Washington and Warren streets in Dudley since 1699. Many remember the furniture store there known as Ferdinand's Blue Store, as the elevated train bisected the building. This area was also the home to several famous Boston business firms, W. Bowman Cutter's Hardware Store with the upside down sign, Timothy Smith's Department Store, and J. S. Waterman and Sons, funeral directors to many prominent Boston families.


Early history

Early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a series of six villages in 1630.[2] The village of Roxbury (originally called “Rocksberry”[4] for the rocks in its soil that made early farming a challenge,) has long been noted for its hilly geography and many large outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone, which was quarried for many years and used in the foundations of a large number of houses in the area.

The town is located where Boston was previously connected to mainland Massachusetts by a narrow isthmus called Boston Neck or alternately, Roxbury Neck. (Boston has since land-filled around the area so that Boston is no longer located on an isthmus.) Since all initial land traffic to Boston had to pass through Roxbury, it became an important town. Originally, it was home to a number of early leaders of the colony, including original Massachusetts Bay Colony treasurer William Pynchon, who left Roxbury in 1636 with nearly one third its men to found Springfield, Massachusetts on far less rocky and more arable soil.[5] Later, Roxbury was home to colonial governors Thomas Dudley, William Shirley, Increase Sumner. The Shirley-Eustis House, built at Roxbury during the period 1747–1751, is one of only four remaining Royal Colonial Governors' mansions in the United States.

The settlers of Roxbury originally comprised the congregation of the First Church of Roxbury, established in 1632.[6] During this time the church served not only as a place of worship but as a meeting place for government. The congregation had no time to raise a meeting house the first winter and so met with the neighboring congregation in Dorchester. One of the early leaders of this church was Amos Adams, and among the founders were Richard Dummer and his wife Mary.[7] The first meeting house was built in 1632, and the building pictured here is the fifth meeting house, the oldest such wood-frame church in Boston.[8] The Roxbury congregation, still in existence as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, lays claim to the historical founding - along with five other local congregations, i.e. Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown and Dorchester - of Harvard College. Also, the First Church of Roxbury was the starting point for William Dawes' "Midnight Ride", April 18, 1775 (in a different direction from that of Paul Revere) to warn Lexington and Concord of the British raids during the Revolutionary War.

Urban and industrial development

As Roxbury developed in the 19th century, the northern part became an industrial town with a large community of English, Irish, and German immigrants and their descendants, while the majority of the town remained agricultural and saw the development of some of the first streetcar suburbs in the United States. This led to the incorporation of the old Roxbury village as one of Massachusetts's first cities, and the rest of the town was established as the town of West Roxbury.

In the early 20th century, Roxbury became home to recent immigrants - A thriving Jewish community developed around Grove Hall, along Blue Hill Avenue, Seaver Street and into Dorchester along Columbia Road. A large Irish population also developed, with many activities centered around Dudley Square, which just before and following annexation into Boston, became a central location for Roxbury commerce. Following a massive migration from the South to northern cities in the 1940s and 1950s, Roxbury became the center of the African-American community in Boston. The center of African American residential and social activities in Boston had formerly been on the north slope of Beacon Hill and the South End. In particular, a riot in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. resulted in stores on Blue Hill Avenue being looted and eventually burned down, leaving a desolate and abandoned landscape which discouraged commerce and business development. Rampant arson in the 1970s along the Dudley Street corridor also added to the neighborhood's decline, leaving a landscape of vacant, trash filled lots and burned out buildings. In early April 1987, the original Orange Line MBTA route along Washington Street was closed and relocated to the Southwest Corridor (where the Southwest Expressway was supposed to be built a couple decades before). More recently, grassroots efforts by residents have been the force behind revitalizing historic areas and creating Roxbury Heritage State Park, although an effort by some to secede from Boston and form an independent municipality named "Mandela" (after South African activist Nelson Mandela) failed in 1986.

The Boston Transportation Planning Review stimulated relocation of the Orange Line, and development of the Southwest Corridor Park spurred major investment, including Roxbury Community College at Roxbury Crossing and Ruggles Center at Columbus Avenue and Ruggles Street. Commercial development now promises reinvestment in the form of shopping and related consumer services. The Fort Hill section experienced significant gentrification when college students (many from Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology), artists, and young professionals moved into the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the present day, there is much commercial and residential redevelopment.


Roxbury is still a plurality African-American neighborhood, but not a majority. There is a growing Puerto Rican population. In 1987, Nelson Merced, a Puerto Rican, was elected from the fifth Suffolk district in Boston. As of the 2010 census Roxbury was 13.5% Non-Hispanic White, 44.6% Non-Hispanic Black or African American, 31.9% Hispanic or Latino, who can be of any race, 4.6% Asian-American, 2.4% from other races and 2.8% from two or more races.[9]


Primary and secondary schools

Students in Roxbury are served by Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS assigns students based on preferences of the applicants and priorities of students in various zones.[10]

Roxbury Preparatory Charter School is a public charter school that serves Grades 6-8 in the Roxbury neighborhood of Mission Hill. Roxbury Charter High Public School is located elsewhere in the area.

Roxbury High School was once located on Greenville Avenue.[11]

Colleges and universities

Roxbury is home to Roxbury Community College, to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) and to Emmanuel College's spiritual retreat center. Further, The Eastern Nazarene College offers Adult Studies/LEAD classes in Roxbury.[12]

Public libraries

Boston Public Library operates the Dudley Branch Library in Roxbury. The branch, which opened in April 1978, replaced the Mount Pleasant Branch, a library branch, and the Fellowes Athenaeum, a privately endowed facility. Next to the Dudley Branch Library is the Dudley Literacy Center which assists patrons who are learning English as a second language. It is the largest public library literacy center in the Boston Public Library system. The Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library, which was formerly located on Crawford Street since 1971, is now located at 41 Geneva Avenue in Dorchester/Roxbury. The Branch is in a new facility that opened in April, 2009.[13]

Notable residents

Sites of interest

See also


Further reading

  • Roxbury Directory. Roxbury: John Backup. 1866.
  • "Historical Sketch of Boston Highlands", Mercantile Publishing Company, Boston, 1888. There is much information on Roxbury.
  • City of Boston & "Roxbury Strategic Master Plan", 2004
  • Sammarco, Anthony Mitchell; Rosenberg, Charlie, , Arcadia Publishing, Then & Now series, 2007
  • Roxbury History—Boston Landmarks Commission (2007 archived version)

External links

  • 1832 Map of the Town of Roxbury - Jamaica Plain Historical Society
  • 1832 Map of Roxbury by John G. Hales at the BPL.
  • 1849 Map of Roxbury by Charles Whitney at the BPL.
  • 1868 Map of Roxbury and Boston by E.P.Dutton at the BPL.
  • 1895 Outline and Ward Index Map of Boston and Roxbury by George and Walter Bromley.
  • 1895 Map of Ward 17 Roxbury area of Hampton, Gerand, Allerton, and Mass. Ave showing New England Piano, Mechanics Foundry, and Boston Lead Works at .
  • 1895 Atlas of Boston and Roxbury links to the Roxbury Plates - 19, 20, 21, and 31-45.
  • Bailey Co. Map—1888 bird's-eye view map of Roxbury area
  • Vital Records Of Roxbury 1765-1870 population
  • Discover Roxbury—tours and information
  • Shirley-Eustis House—Massachusetts' Royal Governor's Mansion
  • Roxbury Crossing Historical Trust—historical society
  • Roxbury Neighborhood - Boston Revelopment Authority
  • The La Alianza Hispana records, 1960-1999 (bulk 1975-1995) are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • The Lower Roxbury Community Corporation records, 1968-1978 are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • The Roxbury Multi-Service Center records, 1965-2002 are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • The Lower Roxbury Black History Project records, 2007-2009 are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.
  • Boston Pictorial Archive. Boston Public Library. Images of Roxbury

Coordinates: 42°19′30″N 71°05′43″W / 42.32500°N 71.09528°W / 42.32500; -71.09528

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