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Jones hill stu


Jones Hill Study

UA 625
Boston University
Fall 1977

Mini maps Ltd. ;

Alan Champagne
•Pajnela Fox
•Wendy Frontiero
•Peter North

• Sharon Of enstein

• Susan Shearer
•Thompson Lingel
















Today the qtilet streets of Jones Hill retain the qualities that have
attracted residents for over a century: convenience to Boston, good trans-
portation, fine views of the harbor. Large Victorian homes, with their
exuberant styles and qxiality craftsmanship, give the neighborhood a distinc-
tive character.

Young fa mi lies are returning to areas like Jones Hill, restoring
older homes and enjoying the advantages of city life. New ethnic groups
also have been attracted to the area, causing concern among longtime resi-
dents. Kany residents are elderly, and their homes will be coming onto the
market. In short, Jones Hill is entering a transitional period. The criti-
cal question is whether new and old residents in a diverse nei^borhood will
be able to cooperate closely to maintain confidence and stability.

This study has attempted to describe present housing conditions,
social trends and public policy issues. It offers some recommendations on
how nei^borhood residents and public and private agencies can work together
to strengthen and preserve one of Boston's most appealing early suburbs.




The Jones Hill Study Area is located in the northern part of
Dorchester, a part of Boston, Massachusetts. Dorchester is located ap-
proximately six miles south of the center of Boston. It is tounded on the
north and west by other parts of the Boston community, on the south by the
Town of Milton, and on the east by the City of Quincy and Dorchester Bay.


The Jones Hill Area is encompassed by Columbia, Hancock, Pleasant
and Stou^ton Streets. In the interest of obtaining a cohesive unit, how-
ever, it was decided to exclude those properties not oriented towards the
center of Jones Hill. These properties fall into three categories. The
first group includes all those buildings which face away from the Kill and
border on Hancock, Pleasant and Stou^ton Streets. The second group in-
cludes several houses at the base of Downer and Sawyer Avenues which seem
to relate more to Pleasant Street than to Jones Hill. The third group in-
cludes the houses on three dead-end streets — Hesston Terrace, Whitby
Terrace and Stou^ton Street Place — which run from Pleasant Street or
Stou^ton Street a short distance up Jones Hill.


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Jones Hill derives its name from Thomas Jones, who catme to Dorchester
in 1635 3Sid settled on the site of 65 Pleasant Street. The house at that
address today was built in 1804 after a fire destroyed the 17th-century
structure. Other than perhaps part of the foundations of that early house,
nothing remains on the Hill from the 17th or even from the l8th century
fcirming community. What exists today stems largely from what the historian
Douglas Shand Tucci has called the "Second Settlenent" on Jones Hill.

This "Second Settlement" "began about 18 50, with the building by
wealthy Boston families of a small number of mansion houses set on large
tracts of land. The railroad lines had made the area accessible from
Boston in the 1830's and 40 's, and by 1857 Dorchester Avenue had an elec-
tric horsecar. Of these eaxly houses, the only one in the study area that
remains today is the Thatcher House on Windermere Road. Most recently
used as the Harley Hospital, it was in the mid- 19th century a fine summer

When Dorchester was ajinexed to Boston in 1870, the area still re-
tained its rural character. However, annexation — and the rail lines that
made daily commuting to Boston possible — brought increasing numbers of
the middle class and upper middle class to settle on Jones Hill. Although
most of the building did not occur until after I89O, plans for more concen-
trated development of the Hill began as early as the I860*s, when Everett
Avenue was laid out. One can see on the street atlas of I885 that part of
the eairly plan was to divide a large part of the land into narrow lots.

As Tuccl explains in his discussion of the western slope of the Hill, the
original subdivision plan for that area had been to build connected town-
houses similar to those of the Back Bay and the South End. Indeed, one
such row of frame townhouses was built on Everett Avenue. This plan was
revised in 1886, however. Lot sizes were doubled and sometimes tripled,
indicating a growing prreference for the detached house in this section of
Boston. The search for the rural ideal, the emphasis on the family unit
and the awakening interest in America's own history all combined to make
the freestanding suburban house the popular building idiom at the end of
the 19th century. Too, the people who moved to suburban axeas like Jones
Hill were seeking a homogeneous society, and, as both Tucci and Sam Warner
have pointed out, this seems to have encouraged homogeneous building types;
new residents tended to embrace the earlier pattern of detached houses.

The street atlases of the period trace construction on the Hill. In
the atlas of 1874, only eleven houses have been built since mid-century:
one on Downer Avenue and the others on Everett and Sawyer. By I885, only
seven more had been constructed, five of these on Gushing. At that time,
there were only about 30 houses on the Hill. Plans for subdivision had
begun, however. New streets had been cut. In addition to Everett,
Gushing, Sawyer, Downer and De Wolfe, there were by I885 Ufham, Jerome and
Wilbur; in the next I5 years Windermere, Salcombe and Peverell would be
added. During the next I5 years, more than 100 houses were built on the
Hill. Large single aJid double houses of the upper middle class were built
on Gushing, Sawyer, Salcombe, Wilbur and Peverell; on the other streets,
particularly Windermere (Thatcher Street in the 1899 street atlas), two-
family houses were constructed for the central middle class. Windermere,

still lined with trees, gives today's visitor to the hill pertiaps the best
idea of what the hill was like at the turn of the century.

The year 1900 marks a change in the development of the Hill, from the
large one- and two-family houses to the triple deckers amd a few smaller
two-faMly houses on Mt. Gushing Terrace. The next 20 years saw the con-
struction of smother 100 houses that today comprise k'}% of the houses on
the Hill. Of these, 80^ are triple deckers. Triple deckers are the pre-
dominant housing type on two streets: Rowell Street, which was not created
until 1900, and Downer Avenue, which was established before 18?5 but not
developed extensively before I9OO. On the other streets on the Hill, this
less expensive form of housing rapidly filled vacant single and multiple
lots between older structiires.

Economic and social changes during the first three decades of the 20th
century caused the subdivision into apartments of many of the larger
houses. The income tax, the more informal lifestyle that had developed,
■the continued move of the lower classes to Dorchester, the resulting migra-
tion of the upper classes to more remote suburbs, and finally the
Depression — these factors continued to increase the population density of
Jones Hill, although building activity had virtually ceased by the 1920 's.

After World War II, a half dozen small, single-fajnily houses were
built on Sawyer and Downer Avenues, and recently there have been two raulti-
vinit residential structures built on Everett Avenue. But the greatest
amount of construction in the last 30 years has been associated with
St. Margaret's Hospital. St. Margaret's has been on the Hill since 1882 —
first as an Infant Asylum and later as one of Boston's major maternity

hospitals — and has "been a continuing stabilizing influence. The other
major institution on the hill is St. Mary's Episcopal Church, which was
built in 1888.

Among the people who have contributed to the development of Jones Hill
and to its historical importamce axe its early landowners. Samuel Downer
was a pioneer in the development of kerosene; Micah Dyer was an early
leader in medical education for women; and Lewis Nortion (who may have de-
signed his house at 118 Gushing, according to Tucci) invented the Norton
door-check that made his fortune. William Monroe Trotter, a prominent
black educator, once lived at 97 Sawyer Avenue, for which this house recent-
ly has been designated a Boston Landmark. Sylvester Parshley, a builder
of half a dozen houses on Gushing Avenue between the 1880 's and 1900, was
a prominent Boston builder known for his beautiful woodwork. Tucci specu-
lates that he may have been the builder of the Paine House in Walthajn.

This "Second Settlement" of Jones Hill produced a suburban residential
SLrea that has experienced minimal architectural intrusion since the early
part of this century. Retaining this architectural integrity and enhancing
the ambience it creates — throu^ care of the buildings and their surround-
ing landscape — are an important part of restoring the vitality of the area.

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"Hie late 19th- ajid early 20th-century buildings on Jones Hill display
a VcLiiety of styles and combinations of stylistic elements typical of the
architecture of the period. Also evident are the differences between the
relatively hi^-style suburban houses of the upper middle class that
settled on Jones Hill — who sometimes employed prominent Boston architects
to design their residences — and the houses of the central middle class
that were more inclined to be combinations of elements from various styles.

The earliest house in the study area is the Thatcher House, a two-and-
a-half story, gable-roofed structure. The exterior walls were covered
originally with clapboards, and classical quoins defined the comers of the
structure. On the main facade, the house has a one-story porch with fluted
Ionic columns; on the roof at the ridge line is a bracketed cupola. This
house combines Greek Revival and Italianate motifs to produce the rural,
romantic, Italianate villa that the Boston wealthy were building as their
country retreats from the congestion of city life.

Italianate details were also used on a number of the houses that were
built in the 1870' s and 1880 's. By the l890's, however, the use of the
Italiajiate bracket — the hallmark of the style on the vernacular houses —
had virtually died out.

The French Second Empire style is identified by the use of the mansard
roof, and the term "mansard" has come to be applied to the vernacular mani-
festations of this form. Jones Hill's only mansard styles are on Everett

Avenue, which was built up in the I870's and 1880 's. These include the
attached townhoi;ises Nos. 1-11, the four large manseirds Nos. 13-19i and the
smaller, two-story mansard across the street. The advantage of the style
Has that the attic-story space was usable because the mansard roof form
raised the attic to a full-story hei^t throughout. However, the style
lost its popularity after the 1880 's and was not used during the major
building activity on the Hill.

Jones Hill has a number of fine examples of Queen Anne houses. These
are characterized by their asymetrical facades and picturesque interplay
of turrets and overhanging gables, set against voids achieved by the place-
ment of porches and window openings. Different textiiral effects are
created by the use of shingles and clapboards and carved ornament. The use
of detail is the major distinguishing feature of the style, and this can be
seen at its best on the Sylvester Parshley house at 17-19 Gushing Avenue
and on the carved griffins on the pedlmented doorway at 40 Sawyer Street.

The verticality of the Stick Style — with its steeply pitched roofs,
the extensive use of porches and the linear decoration of stickwork — are
particularly evident on the house at 15 Peverell. The facade gables of a
number of more vernacular houses, such as a few on Jerome, also display
Stick Style details.

The logical evolution of both the Stick Style and the Queen Anne was
the Shingle Style. Extensive ornament has disappeared, althou^ the ex-
terior texture of the shingles remains important. Both the gable and the
gambrel roof forms are used. The houses at 23 and 19 Salcombe Street, as
well as the houses on Windermere Street, display the basic components of

the style In both massing and exterior surface treatment.

The Georgian Revival houses on the Hill axe marked by their symmetri-
cal facades and heavy classical detail. The two examples at 20 and 36
Gushing Avenue both have hipped roofs and heavy modlllioned cornices,
thou^ the main facade of 20 Gushing has been obsciired by a first- story
addition. No. 20 Gushing is the most hi^-style house on the Hill, how-
ever. It was designed for James Houghton Ghadwick by the prominent Boston
architect William G. Preston, whose other works Include the Museum of
Natural History (now the Bonwit Teller store), the Vendome, and other Back
Bay houses. Known as the "Lead King Mansion," it was constructed in I895-
96, and its architectural drawings are today in the collection of the Boston
Public Library.

Other Colonial Revival motif s — including finely delineated Adajnesque
swags, classical cornices and palladian windows — can be found on many of
the one- and two-fajnily houses built during the I890's. These details were
combined with patterned shingles and clapboards to produce many of the
middle class houses on the Hill. After 1900, Golonial Revival cornices be-
cajne the principal ornamental motifs on the triple deckers.

In addition to 20 Gushing, a number of other houses on the Hill were
designed by major Boston architects. In 1886 Henry J. Preston designed
the Hoadley House at I5 Gushing Avenue. In 189^ William Besarick, then
City Architect of Boston, designed the GalUer house at the corner of
Ui*iam and Gushing; Herbert Moseley designed the Brown house on Gushing
next to St. Mary's Church. St. Mary's is also an architecturally Important
structure. It is an exajnple of the half-timbered Gothic Revival style.

designed in 1888 by Henry Vau^an, who later won the competition for the
National Cathedral in Washin^on.

Althou^ a few of the buildings on Jones Hill fall clearly into the
late 19th century styles as defined by architectviral historians, the major-
ity are a combination of elements of various styles or elements of styles
that have been used by the builders to create unique and interesting struc-
tures. The variety of stylistic elements and building types on the Hill
form a fabric which includes, in most cases, similarities in size and set-
back of the structures that create harmonious street scapes. Maintaining
the character of the hill — and retaining this microcosm of the development
of the Boston suburb — are dependent not upon saving isolated buildings,
but upon restoring the sense of Jones Hill as a defined residential axea
which has as one of its major components a fine architectural heritage.

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Italianate single family house. Gushing Avenue.

Mansard house. Everett Avenue.

Above: Queen Anne double house.
17-19 Gushing Avenue.

Left: Stick Style house.
Peverell Street.

Shingle Style house. Salcombe Street.

Colonial Revival triple deckers. Peverell Street.

St. Mary's Episcooal Church. 1888. Henry Vaughan, architect.

I'^indermere Road.



Land in the Jones Hill Study Area is predominantly residential in use,
with. the remaining land area divided between institutional facilities,
vacant lots and public uses. A total of 2^0 buildings were surveyed, and a
copy of the survey form is in the Appendix.

Residential land use comprises approximately 82% of the area. The
dominant type of structures are detached, wood-frame buildings originally
built to house one, two or three families.

Percentages of residential building types as originally constructed:

1 family 33^

2 family 30%

3 family (triple deckers). . 35%
multi-family 2%

Many of the large single and double houses have been divided into
multiple units, althou^ they retain an exterior appearance consistent with
their original use. Brick construction is limited to the buildings of St.
Margaret's Hospital, a single-family house on Uphajn Avenue, and a recently
constructed apartment house on Everett Avenue. The density of residential
construction on the Hill is compatible with the b\iilding type. The one-
and two-family structures are set on relatively large lots; the triple
deckers are set close together on long, narrow lots, emphasizing aJid en-
hancing the verticallty of the individual buildings and the rhythm of the
streetscape they create. The landscaping of these lots, however, needs

greater attention on the part of their residents.

Institutional land use accounts for approxiniately 11^ of the eurea.
These institutions include St. Mary's Episcopal Church, the Cushing Manor
Rest Home, Harley Hospital (currently vacant), a social service office
housed in a triple decker at 114 Sawyer Avenue and St. Margaret's Hospital.
The largest of these is St. Margaret's, vrtiich had a major expansion of its
physical plant in the 1950 's and again in 1974. However, the decreasing
birth rate eventually may aJfect the future of this maternity hospital.

Public land use occupies approximately Jfo of the area. It includes a
portion of the land behind the Edward Everett School; it also includes the
land along Hancock Street owned by the Department of Public Works, which
contains the Downer Avenue playground. Vacant land comprises approximately
k% of the area. These lots are scattered amidst residential areas, and a
niunber of them are the result of recent fires and demolition.

The entire area of the study is zoned as an R-.8 residence district,
for three-family houses and apartments.



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Buildings were rated in four categories: ndnt condition, needs minor
repairs, needs major repairs, and substandard or abandoned, A map of find-
ings is included. Only exteriors of buildings were surveyed.

"Mint condition" was used to describe houses that were structurally
sound and recently painted. Thirty-one percent of the Hill fell into this
category, which also serves as an indicator of recent investment.

Just over half the houses {53%) need minor repairs, defined as a
paint job and minor porch or gutter work. Immediate trim painting is ad-
visable on many triple deckers along Rowell, Downer and Peverell to avoid
more serious deterioration of porches and cornices.

In addition to paint, 12% of the houses also need major repairs such
as structural work on the porch, a new roof, or extensive shingle or clap-
board replacement. These houses are scattered throu^out the hill with
small concentrations on Peverell and Salcombe.

Only seven buildings were classified as substandard or abandoned {3%)t
but these are a hi^-priority concern. Abandoned houses are targets for
fire and vandalism; trash and debris collect in the yards; and boarded-up
windows are a visual symbol of nei^borhood problems.

Looking at the building condition map, it may be noted that rehabili-
tation and deterioration seem to be taking place in random patterns, with
the exception of a few pockets of particularly good or bad houses. Each

street has unkept houses and yards which can foster apathy and pessimism.
Each street also has bristly painted houses with immaculate yards that can
serve as an inspiration for the future.

'] Mint condition
Needs minor repairs
Needs major repairs

ubstandard or




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Preservation value was determined by a 13-point scale with four vari-
ables: historical significance, architectural merit, urbam design value
and building condition. Rating systems developed in Marshall, Michigan,
and Alexandria, Virginia, were used as guides. The Jones Hill scale is
explained and illustrated on the following pages. The resulting value map is included.

It is important to note that development of the Hill took place over
a short time period and has remained largely unchanged since the last
triple deckers were built at the beginning of this century. Building
types and styles are compatible, and streetscapes are very cohesive. Three
out of four houses were rated as "great" in their contribution to the visu-
al quality of the street.

Rarely does a pre-World War I house not contribute to this overall
vmity. A low preservation score does not mean a building is unimportant
or inconsequential. Often it is simply an indication that relatively
larger amounts of money and attention will be needed to retain the house
or restore It to its original appearance.

On the Preservation Value Scale, a rating of 10-13 points was consid-
ered "very significaJitj" 9% of the houses on Jones Hill received it.
These outstanding or excellent buildings often are of historical signifi-
cance and are in fair to good condition.

Sixty-five percent of the houses were rated "important for preserva-

tion," scoring 7 to 9 points. These were generally homes of averaige
architecture, having great lurban design value tut in need of minor repairs.

Twenty-two iJercent of the housing stock was classified as "needs
special attention," scoring between 4 and 6 points. In some cases these
axe newer structvires of no architectural interest. Other buildings in
this category, however, are veiy important to the streetscape. Nearly all
would benefit from cosmetic changes like replacement of asi^ialt or asbestos
siding with shingles or clapboards. In some cases, these buildings are
substcLndard or abandoned, and the street will suffer if they have to be
torn down.

Three homes on the hill were rated 0-3 points and migjit be considered
for the "redevelop" category.

The building survey also recorded exterior building fabric. Wooden
shingles or clapboards of the original type were found on 60^ of the
houses. Asbestos siding, used on two out of 10 houses, was generally in
good condition, althou^ the large shingle size has altered the original
appearance and hidden decorative details. Nine percent of the houses have
asphalt siding, which not only detracts from appearance but also is deterio-
rating badly. Aluminum or vinyl siding was used on ^% of the houses; ^%
are brick or stucco.

Our survey noted one example of am Italianate house where asbestos
siding was being replaced with large cedar shingles rather than more appro-
priate clapboards. Some type of local housing rehabilitation agency with
sensitivity to preservation mi^t have worked with this homeowner so that his

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