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Roxbury
Neighborhood of Boston
First Church of Roxbury
First Church of Roxbury
Official seal of Roxbury
Seal
Motto: Saxetum Dextris Deoque Confidens (Latin)
"[In this] rocky borough, by God's right, we are confident"
Settled 1630
Incorporated 1846
Annexed by Boston 1868
Time zone Eastern
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC)
Zip Code 02119
Area code(s) 617 / 857

Roxbury is a dissolved municipality and a currently officially recognized neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Roxbury is one of 23 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." Roxbury 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.

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.

The neighborhood has recently added a new police station improving response time assisting its residents. This facility opened in 2011, and is energy efficient. Also assisting the community are programs such as the Child Services of Roxbury, the youth build Boston programs, and many more. New initiatives by the city of Boston have propelled the neighborhood of Boston to become eco-friendly. There has been development of new E+ buildings. Along with the move into an eco-friendly community, each building is now mandated to provide accessibility to people with handicaps. The high density population leads to large amounts of crime. 1/4 of the population are immigrants and half of the population is under 25 years old. Many of the adults are young professionals. Many jobs in Roxbury are office and retail oriented.

The neighborhood has also formed community gardens and developed the first urban farm of the city in accordance to the adoption of article 89, Urban Agricultural Ordinance, which provides framework for creating community resources for fresh produce, to be sold at low cost, and also to be donated to programs who help feed those who are in shelters or other care facilities alike. There are also many emergency response facilities who help underprivileged people in the area, such as youth centers, and social service centers.

Historical Context

Munroe Home, Roxbury, MA
Munroe House, built in 1683, as seen in 1905

The Massachusetts Bay Colony found the coastline largely empty, and quickly founded a group of six towns, among them Boston, Cambridge, and Roxbury. For more than 200 years, Roxbury also encompassed West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. Three miles south the only land route to the capital led through Roxbury, which made the town important for both transportation and trade. Roxbury in the 1600s also held many of the resources English colonists prized: potentially arable land, timber, and a brook—a source of both water and water power—and stone for building. That particular stone, visible on stony outcroppings and in buildings, such as the Warren House, exists only in the Boston basin thus proving to be a valuable asset to the community that led to early prosperity. The village of Roxbury (originally called "Rocksberry" 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.

Roxbury Massachusetts Town Hall
Roxbury Town Hall built in 1810, as seen in 1899

The settlers of Roxbury originally comprised the congregation of the First Church in Roxbury, established in 1632. 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. 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.

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.) 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.

Within a few decades, they also developed prized apple orchards led to another unique claim to fame, the Roxbury Russet apple, particularly suited for cider, a favorite beverage for early Pilgrims. 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. During the late 1700's the Revolutionary War had caused most Roxbury residents to move elsewhere because of the violence. After the war, those able to afford it sought to live in free-standing, single-family houses away from their jobs in the city which led to Roxbury becoming one of the first American suburbs. Many homes were built in a style called Greek Revival, symbolizing the republic of ancient Greece, a democracy that the young United States admired.

Trade in rum, salt, fish, and tobacco was booming in the early 1800's which led to the wealthier citizens deciding that Roxbury was worth reinvesting in after the war. The 1820s horse-drawn carriage line across Boston Neck and down Washington Street as well as the 1835 opening of the Boston to Providence, RI railroad made this task significantly easier. Beginning in the 1840s many Irish immigrants flooding to the Massachusetts to escape the potato famine. As immigration continued some Irish families settled directly in Roxbury, or second generations families moved from Boston to Mission Hill and later in the Dudley Street area. St. Joseph's Catholic Church, the first Catholic Church (with a predominantly Irish congregation) was built in 1846. In the 20th century Irish dance halls proliferated on Dudley Street. Some of the homes of these wealthy residents still stand today—the Edward Everett Hale House on Morley Street, the Alvah Kittredge Mansion on Linwood St. the Spooner Lambert House on Dudley Street, Rockledge on Highland St. and Ionic Hall on Roxbury Street. Oakbend, the last mansion built in Roxbury, (in 1872) now houses the National Center of Afro American Artists. The neighborhood also contains an example of workers’ housing at Frederick Douglas Square (Greenwich, Warwick, and Sussex streets), brick houses built in the 1880s. As the need for more workers rose, old farms and the estates were subdivided, and with the advent of trolley service in 1887, single family homes, row houses, and multi-family homes sprang up to accommodate the growing population. One of these, Hibernian Hall, built in 1913, is now the Roxbury Center of the Arts. Many famous Irish were born in Roxbury including James Michael Curley, John Lawrence Sullivan (first heavyweight boxing champion) and Maurice Tobin.

Many German immigrants also immigrated to the US in the early 1900's, quite possibly to escape the affects of the first World War. German immigrants also settled in the Mission Hill area of Roxbury, and were instrumental in developing the many breweries that prospered along the Stony Brook until prohibition. In the early 20th century, a Jewish community was also established. Responding to the need for increased municipal services, the citizens of Roxbury voted to incorporate as a city in 1846, and later to become annexed to Boston in 1868. During the 1940s and 1950s, a major migration from the southern to the northern cities led Roxbury towards becoming the center of the African-American community in Boston. They were joined by immigrants from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados and after World War II by southern blacks migrating north. During this population boom, city planners set aside land for Franklin Park—with 527 acres it is the largest park Boston. Designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Franklin Park is the final jewel of the Emerald Necklace, the seven mile stretch of public parkland that begins at Boston Common. Social issues and the resulting urban renewal activities of the 1960s and 1970s led to a decline in the neighborhood population, as racism caused a significant white flight. The reason for such a large immigration was mostly due to visionary African-American leader W. E. B. Du Bois who inspired people to various parts of the world in search of their dreams of freedom and equality.

Lower Roxbury

Lower Roxbury was once the name of the thriving area from Dudley Street to Tremont Street with bustling businesses up and down Ruggles Street. Around 1965, one side of Ruggles Street was small shops and the other side was decorated with tenement style and single family housing. At the corner of Douglas Square and Tremont Street was one notable shop called People's Market; the first supermarket in Boston located in a black area. In 1986, the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project sought to create a 12.5 square-mile city that included the entirety of Roxbury and Mattapan as well as portions of Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, Columbia Point and the South End that was to be called "Mandela" after Nelson Mandela. In 1988, a referendum was defeated that would have examined the feasibility of reincorporation because the organizers of the movement believed that the area would flourish if they could create their own government that would not discriminate against minorities.

Urban Policy

FortHillTowerRoxburyMass20040313
Fort Hill Tower (also known as the Cochituate Standpipe), designed by Nathaniel J. Bradlee and built in 1869 on the site of Revolutionary War fortifications

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.

A movement known as the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project, led by Roxbury residents Andrew Jones and Curtis Davis, sought to form an independent municipality out of the Roxbury and the Mattapan area. The project was part of a larger goal to increase the amount of services available to residents, but in 1986 Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn rejected the idea. The area was to be named "Mandela" (after South African activist Nelson Mandela).

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. In 2014, a new tech-incubator called Smarter in the City launched its initiative to encourage growth in Roxbury by cultivating startups in Dudley Square.

Dudley Street Initiative Building
The building where the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative organization is located.

Currently the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has cited twelve projects approved for construction in the neighborhood of Roxbury. The BRA project in Dudley square calls for the demolition of a ten unit building on Hampden St. and the rehabilitation of two buildings. The final project will have 42 units available for affordable housing, with units ranging from one to four bedrooms. This construction of Dudley will revamp the look of the community. To improve the communities energy efficiency E+ buildings are beginning to develop in the neighborhoods of Boston. In April 2014, on Highland street the construction of the first E+ building in Roxbury was awarded the LEED platinum award. The building is part of the "Boston E+ Green Building Program" In 2013, the city of Boston accepted the urban agriculture ordinance, which is stated in article 89. The neighborhood of Roxbury is grounds for the first urban farm and is larger than 12,000 ft. The farm opened in July 2014. The DSNI is composed of thirty five board of directors.The board of directors are made up of 16 residents which are African-American, Latino, Cape Verdean, and white, also there are 2 additional appointed residents, 4 youth representatives, 7 non profit agencies, 2 churches, 2 businesses and 2 CDCs'. The DSNI has 225 housing units on their land trusts currently. The DSNI land trust allows for the sales of low income housing. The sale of the homes remain for those with low-income as a result of the DSNI land trust housing units. In the next decade the DSNI plans to build 250 new homes in what is known as the Dudley Triangle. Roxbury is subject to article 80, a checklist for projects large and small to comply with people with disabilities. The article also includes, "improvements for pedestrian and vehicular circulation... new buildings and public spaces to be designed to enhance and preserve Boston's system of parks, squares, walkways, and active shopping streets, ensure that person with disabilities have full access...afford such persons the educational, employment, and recreational opportunities available to all citizens... and preserve and increase the supply of living space accessible to person with disabilities."

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1820 4,135
1830 5,247 26.9%
1840 9,089 73.2%
1850 18,364 102.0%
1860 25,137 36.9%
RoxburyMosque2
The first mosque in Roxbury was the Mosque for the Praising of Allah. Pictured here is the ISCCB Mosque.

"Today Roxbury is home to a diverse community which includes African American, Hispanic, and Asian families, along with young professionals". The neighborhood has a total population of 59,626 people as of 2016. There are 21,116 males (46.1%) and 24,713 females (53.9%). Of the total population 33,182 (72.4%) are not Hispanic or Latino. White alone makes up 3,695 (8.1%) of the total population. There are 26,081 (56.9%) Black or African American people in the neighborhood of Roxbury. Asian alone is a total of 1,345 people (2.9%). Two or more races were reported by 1054 people (2.3%). Hispanic or Latino was reported by 12,647 people (27.6%). 6,523-14.2% reported being 60 years and older. Of the 45,829 surveyed 42,571 were over the age of five, the language spoken at home was recorded. Between the ages of 5-17 (8,898,20.9% of total population), 5,086 speak only English (57.2%), 2,508 (28.2%) speak Spanish. Between the ages of 18-64 (29,296-68.8% of total population) 17,040 (58.2%) speak only English. In this age group 7,440 (25.4%) speak Spanish, and 2,696 (9.2%) speak other European languages. Those surveyed who were 65 years and over (4,377-10.3% of total population) have 3,184 (72.7%) people that speak English at home, and 784 (17.9%) reported speaking Spanish at home. Only 74.9% of the population has made it past 8th grade. Educational attainment for the population 25 years and over was also surveyed. Of the 26,202, 5379 (20.5%) reported having earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

The population density is very high at 13,346 people per square mile, compared to Boston as a whole at 12,812 people per square mile. Roxbury is 4% more densely populated than Boston as a whole. The crime rate is 39% higher than the national average, meaning 1 out of 25 people will become a victim. The annual crime rate has gone down by 4% in 2016. The median income is $34,374 and the unemployment rate is 10.7%, which is more than double the national average. Male median earnings are 41% higher than female median earnings. Roxbury test scores in public schools are 38% lower than the national average. 1/4 of the Roxbury population was born in another country. 42% of the population is 25 years old or younger. Meanwhile, only 11% of the population are over the age of 65. 40% of the population drive to work, 36% take public transportation, 10% of the population walk to work, 10% bike to work, and 4% work from home. Roxbury's crime rate is 7% higher than the national average for 2016. The average home in Roxbury is worth $455,000 but the average home is sold for $380,000 because of Roxbury's reputation. The cost of living in Roxbury is about 15% cheaper than the national average.

Recreational Centers

The Roxbury YMCA was founded in 1851 in the Greater Boston which is a cause driven nonprofit organization committed to developing youth by informing them about healthy living and promoting social responsibility in the community. It is one of the largest urban YMCA's in the country and Boston s largest provider of social services for children and families. The Greater Boston YMCA offers programs in categories, including adult education, aquatics, child care, sports and health/wellness.

The John A. Shelburne community center is a non-profit recreational, educational, and cultural enrichment facility located in the heart of historic Roxbury. The Hattie B Copper Community center served Leadership development for women of color for over 89 years. The Center was named after John A. Shelburne that was a native of Roxbury.

In 1916, the Hattie B Cooper Center opened their doors to 69 children at the Fourth Methodist Church on Shawmut Avenue. They have served in the Roxbury community for nearly 100 years that provided programs facilitate growth and development, while creating opportunities for future successes. The women noticed a need in the community to educate the youth and keep them safe, the same issues that Cooper addresses today. They currently provide high quality care for early education and care to 125 students on the daily and children that are children that are in the infants and toddler program, Preschool, and After school program.

The Reggie Lewis Center was opened in 1995 which was built by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This center serves as the home for the Roxbury Community College's powerful intercollegiate and intramural athletics. Known as the "Reggie" and one of the fastest tracks in the World. The "Reggie" hosts over ninety high schools, collegiate and national track meets annually and some have included meets such as the USA Track and Field Championships, Boston Indoor Games, Northeast 10 Championships, NCAA Division II Championships and the High School National Championships. This center is a place for children and adults can attend to different sports such as basketball, track and soccer. They have community outreach programs that helps students stay out of trouble. There are after school programs to tutor students with their homework, physical activities and Arts and Crafts. Its a positive centers that changes people's lives for the better.

Historic Buildings

Abbotsford was built in 1872 for industrialist Aaron Davis Williams Jr. It was designed by architect Alden Frink. The structure, originally named Oak Bend, is an example of a Victorian Gothic-style villa in Boston and a reminder of the 19th century prosperity. The home was once part of an estate known for its apple orchards; it later served as a school for delinquent boys. It was purchased in 1976 by the National Center of Afro-American artists and renovated for use as a museum dedicated to the collection and exhibition of the black visual arts heritage worldwide.
Designed and built by architect Frederick Norcross in 1905. Financed by the Adath Jeshurun congregation, it was erected at a center of Jewish activity in early 20th century Boston. In 1967, the temple was sold to Ecclesia Apostolic because the Jewish population was rapidly declining because of the white flight as the area became the heart of black culture in Boston. The First Haitian Baptist Church purchased the Late Romanesque Revival building in 1978 and restored it to its present state.
This marble-clad block is an example of Second Empire Style design, a French style popular at the time of Roxbury's annexation to Boston in 1868. Built by George D. Cox in 1871, the houses were an attempt to attract other developers by creating the base for a middle class urban square.
Built in 1870 by developer G.D. Cox, this building typifies the post-Civil War reconstruction of Roxbury from an independent rural town to a suburban neighborhood. The Cox Building originally consisted of a central section containing street-level stores with hotel rooms on the upper floors, flanked by five attached one-family residences.
A Unitarian clergyman and well-known humanitarian reformer, lived in the Greek Revival residence for over forty years. He was also an author of many novels, including The Man Without a Country. The house was built on Highland Street in 1841 during the early period of suburban growth, and was moved to this location between 1899 and 1906.
This has been the oldest cemetery in Roxbury. It was established in 1630 and named after Reverend John Eliot. He is buried in the Parish Tomb, along with other early ministers of the First Parish of Roxbury.
The oldest wood frame church in Boston, this 1804 building is the fifth meetinghouse on this site since the first church was built in 1632. The architect, William Blaney, was a church member. The land around it is a fragment of the original town commons. Its most famous pastor was Reverend John Eliot, the missionary to the Algonquin Native American tribe. Due to Eliot's work, First Church in Roxbury was one of only three churches in the Puritan Massachusetts era to admit Native Americans as full-fledged members.
The Freedom House was established in 1949 by social workers Otto and Muriel Snowden. The Freedom House is an important social, educational and political organization and gathering place for the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain. It has been at the center of key political movements in Boston, including urban renewal in the 1960s, the bus crisis of the 1970s, and education reform for the city's children beginning in the 1990s.
Hibernian Hall was one of the last of Dudley Square's lively Irish social clubs and dance halls during the first half of the twentieth century. It began in 1836 in New York City as a response to anti-Irish sentiment, and later shifted to charitable work and the promotion and preservation of Irish cultural heritage.
This was one of two public boat landing sites that served the town in colonial times. In 1658, John Pierpont built a tidal mill here at the point where the Stony Brook emptied into the tidal basin. In 1821, the Mill Dam was built for power. The Sewall and Day Cordage Mill was built here in 1834, which became the largest manufacturer of rope used in maritime trades.
This was the home of Ella Little-Collins, an educator and sister of activist and Muslim leader Malcolm X, who lived here in the early 1940s. Ella acted as a parental figure to Malcolm, encouraging him to study theology and law during his incarceration. Malcolm returned to Boston in 1953 and founded Temple Number Eleven. After visiting the holy city of Mecca in 1964, Malcolm rejected black separatism and adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was later assassinated in 1965.
Built in the late 1870s, Palladio Hall is a rare Boston example of an Italian Renaissance-style commercial block. It was designed and owned by Nathaniel J. Bradlee.
Construction for the Shirley Eustis House began in 1747, but was not completed until 1750 by the governor of the Massachusetts, William Shirley. This mansion is one of only four remaining colonial governors' mansions in the United States. The house served as a barracks during the Siege of Boston in 1775-1776, housing the Continental Army's Sixth Regiment of Foot. From 1823-1825 it was the home of Massachusetts Governor William Eustis, the first democrat to hold that post.
Built in 1782 for Major John Jones Spooner, first commander of the Roxbury Artillery. Boston merchant Captain William Lambert bought the house in 1788.
This Greek Revival residence was the home of William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the anti-slavery cause in Boston and editor of the abolition journal The Liberator. The house, called Rockledge, was built in the 1840s, during Roxbury's early period of suburban population growth. After emancipation was achieved, Garrison and his wife retired to his mansion in 1864.

Transportation

Orange Line trains at Roxbury Crossing, May 2014
Orange Line trains at Roxbury Crossing, May 2014

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) provides subway and bus services to the Roxbury community. In Roxbury, the subway's Orange Line stops at Roxbury Crossing, arguably the only train station servicing the Roxbury neighborhood.

Roxbury Crossing is located at 1400 Tremont Street in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston, on the location of a former commuter rail station of the same name. The current station opened in 1987 as part of the renovation and relocation of the southern Orange Line. Like all stations on the Orange Line, this station is wheelchair accessible. The Silver Line stops at Dudley Square Bus Station. Roxbury is served by bus lines: 15, 19, 22, 23, 25, 28, 42, 44, 45, 66, 1, 8, 10, 14, 15, 19, 23, 28, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 66, 170, and 171.

Sites of interest

  • Franklin Park Zoo
  • Shirley-Eustis House
  • John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics & Science

Images for kids


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