August 21, 2020 10 Places that Tell the Story of Boston’s History of Resilience (Part 2)
In a 300 year old city like Boston, there are places that tell a story from each century. The places that have stuck around give us some perspective on civic resiliency in the face of crises and opportunities. When we took a look around the city to identify places that help to tell the story of how Bostonians of the past responded to public health crises, fires, and the changing needs of Boston’s people, we see that those places come in all shapes and sizes.
The Covid-19 pandemic and redoubled efforts to address institutional racism have brought into high relief the question of how prepared our community is to respond to immediate disasters, evolving crises and the demands of social change? We’ve created a list of 10 places that highlight Boston’s resilience, but we acknowledge there are many others that express our civic strength and expose our weaknesses. We hope you’ll share with us other historic places that express Boston’s adaptation to change.
If you did catch part 1 of our resilient places in Boston, check it out here.
6. The Children’s Art Centre, United South End Settlements, 36 Rutland Street, South End
Today’s United South End Settlements (USES) opened in 1892 as Andover House, Boston’s first settlement house, an early 20th century movement to bring affluent young adults to live in poor urban neighborhoods to run programs and services that would lift the city’s huge population of migrants and immigrants from poverty.
Similarly, the Children’s Art Centre was formed with the support of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1914 as a public art museum for children with a goal of bringing cultural enrichment to young people and their families, regardless of race, ethnic background or financial position. Among those whose talents were fostered there were painter/printmaker Allan Rohan Crite, printmaker Leslie Richmond Simmons, and mosaic artist David Holleman.
The Children’s Art Centre, along with five settlement houses – Andover House, South End House, Hale House, Lincoln House and the Harriet Tubman house — merged in 1960 to become United South End Settlements. Programming for area children continues to be offered from the Children’s Art Centre.
7. Emerald Necklace (Boston Common to Franklin Park)
While Frederick Law Olmsted’s vast Emerald Necklace park system is considered one of the great examples of American landscape architecture, it is also an achievement in expanding public open spaces for the enjoyment of all Bostonians, a tradition begun with the country’s first public park, the Boston Common in 1837. Olmsted said of his park plan in 1870: “We want a ground to which people may easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them…” His designs also cleaned up sewage infested marshes in the Fenway, and reclaimed open spaces and woodlands along the Muddy River through re-engineered landscapes and drainage plans. While Olmsted’s plans are an engineering and artistic achievement, perhaps the greater story is Boston’s continued civic commitment to high quality public open spaces for its people today.
8. Calf Pasture Pumping Station, Columbia Point, Dorchester
After outbreaks of cholera in Boston in 1849, and 1866, the city of Boston began an overhaul of its primitive sewerage system to protect its residents from water-borne diseases like dysentery and typhoid that were the direct result of Boston’s exponential population growth and dense urban living.
With construction of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station in Dorchester in 1883, Boston was one of the first American cities to invest in a comprehensive sewage collection system. It included the closing all open sewerage pipes in the city, and disposal of all waste through a series of closed pipes to Moon Island and then into the ocean at high tide. Over time, the system became regional, serving many surrounding cities and towns.
While the 19th century solutions solved 19th century problems, Boston’s sewage system led directly to the contamination of Boston Harbor and its clean up in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, the region’s wastewater is managed through the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant where an average of 360 million gallons of wastewater from homes and businesses in 43 cities and towns pass through daily.
9. Chestnut Hill Water Works, 2450 Beacon Street, Brighton
Like sewage management, the provision of clean potable water was key to a Boston’s population growth in the 19th century. Built in 1886 to the designs of City Architects Arthur Vinal and Edmund Wheelwright, the Chestnut Hill Waterworks is a museum today and houses the original pumps that were considered advanced technology in their day. It’s the successor to the first public system of water to Boston, via the Brookline Reservoir (along today’s Route 9) from Lake Cochituate in Natick in 1848.
Places like New Orleans, London and Providence settled on water delivery in the 19th century from private companies. After long public debates and a public referendum, Bostonians decided that their system should be owned by the public. Despite the expensive price and new public debt, the system was a hit from the instant the water began to flow. Dr. Walter Channing of the Harvard Medical School said at the time, “The value of such a blessing, freely dispensed throughout our city, is not to be calculated in dollars and cents; for it has relations inestimable with the moral and physical welfare of generations present and to come.”
10. Young Womens’ Christian Association (YWCA), 140 Clarendon Street, BostonOn March 3, 1866, civic reformer Pauline Durant (who, with her husband, founded Wellesley College) brought together 30 women to form the Boston Young Women’s Christian Association, the first YWCA in the US, with the goal of “temporal, moral, and religious welfare of young women who are dependent upon their own exertions for support.” The organization immediately set about creating residences for young women in the city, first on Beach Street in Chinatown and then at 140 Clarendon Street in Back Bay in 1929, which is YWCA’s headquarters today, and still provides income restricted housing. Today’s YWCA Boston continues the work of “eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”