The phantom Tollgate

Tollgate Way

This is Tollgate Way.

Take the 34 bus up Washington Street to Forest Hills and it always announces Tollgate Way. Nobody ever gets off there, though. Except maybe the ghosts.

Across the train tracks, on Hyde Park Avenue, a street sign also announces Tollgate Way:

Tollgate Way sign

But there's nothing there, except a small, dilapidated cemetery. Look up, across the cemetery, and you'll see an abandoned pedestrian bridge across the Amtrak and commuter-rail tracks: A bridge to nowhere - there are no longer any stairs leading up to the span.

Bridge to nowhere

What's the deal? As Mark Bulger discovered a few years ago, there used to be a public school on Washington Street, roughly where DB&S Lumber and the Tostado sandwich shop are today. The city put in the bridge so kids on the Hyde Park side of the train tracks could get to the school - the bridge led right into its rear yard. City records show that in 1918, the public works department spent $3.55 for unspecified repairs to the bridge.

But with the school long gone, the bridge fell into disrepair. Sometime in the 1990s, the city simply shut the thing down, forcing the few pedestrians who wanted to get between Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue to walk up to Ukraine Way.

Why Tollgate? Washington Street was originally built in 1803 as the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike, a toll road that ran from what is now Forest Hills to Rhode Island, with a toll gate (where stagecoach drivers would pay, then turn a pike to enter) near where the train station is today. The arrival of the railroad in 1834 eroded the road's profitability and the city took it over in 1857 and, shocking to our modern sensibilities, removed the tolls.

The cemetery, in turn, was built in the mid-1800s and holds the remains of some of JP's German residents but also a number of Irish-American Civil War veterans. Although it puts out the welcome mat to visitors, and despite some recent efforts by an Irish-American veterans' association, it remains largely a forgotten place, where the number of illegible and broken grave markers is matched by the number of liquor and water bottles strewn around by the fence along the train tracks.

Welcome mat

Knocked over tombstone



Free tagging: 


Founded for Catholics, mebbe

Nice post, Adam. When we launched JP Patch back in October 2010, we had a feature about that cemetery. In it, our writer said it was founded to a large degree in response to a "Protestants only" attitude at Forest Hills Cemetery. At least one local historian says we got that wrong.


The cemetery was owned and

The cemetery was owned and operated by the Boston Archdiocese. Those buried there were mostly either German or Irish Catholics.

Any idea why this bridge wasn't demolished?

This railroad line was shut down twice in recent history -- once for Southwest Corridor construction in the early 1980s and again for Amtrak electrification in the late 1990s. Why didn't the city or the railroad demolish the bridge entirely if they decided it was no longer safe or useful?


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Having it fall onto the tacks and derailing a train would be WAY more dramatic?

Hey, think of it this way. They are saving money by letting it oxidize naturally!


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When the rail line was shut down in the 1980s, the bridge was still functional, so why demolish it? They were probably afraid that someone would complain if they talked about tearing it down. And besides, demolition would cost money. Also, they didn't do much work on the rail line south of Forest Hills during that project, even though the line was closed for about 7 years.

The rail line was never completely shut down when it was electrified. One track or another might be shut down, or perhaps a weekend closure, but trains used the line on a near-regular schedule.

Oh, and I believe the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike began just outside of Dudley Square. The name "Washington Street" was once continuous all the way from City Square in Charlestown to the Rhode Island state line in South Attleboro. It still is basically continuous from Forest Hills south, except for a missing bridge over the Neponset River between South Walpole and Foxborough.

Nice work -- interesting history

I didn't know about the school and thus the reason for the bridge, but I did know about the turnpike. Every now and then, I'm on a bus that does stop there, but usually to pick somebody up who doesn't feel like making the walk to Forest Hills.

For Ron, and anybody else with more questions about the bridge and thoughts on why it might still be there, I recommend contacting Paul Sullivan (aka 3rdRail) at He is intimately familiar with the area and has a great deal of original source material in his archives.

Tollgate cemetery

I walked around this little piece of forgotten history a year or so ago. Was rather surprised about how run down it is...

Ask Frank

The cemetery apparently is a surprise "present" to Msgr. Francis Kelley of Sacred Heart in Roslindale. I snooped around a bit on it a couple of years ago (I'd link, but that blog is down for several days as the hosting service finishes upgrading and moving the database and servers I used). Boston gave me a bit of background.

I believe the WASP-only story as well. This was long before there was a St. Michael and such too.

The city folk also told me that there are many unmarked graves there as well. An RC church that closed and its land sold struck a deal to disinter its bones and rebury them there. More than meet the eye, as the expression goes.

Then more recently unrequested by Msgr. Kelley, the Archbishop's offices gave the oversight of Tollgate to him. It's more overgrown than ever.

By the bye, I could find nothing on the alleged vets' group that put up a stone there. They don't keep up the cemetery and are not registered with the state or appear in any print or online source I can find. The local vets' groups I called had never heard of the Irish American Veterans Association, Post 1, Boston, or anything similar.

The Michaels

I think you and I are sort of keeping up on this. I promised to contact Msgr. Kelley on this but have not followed through. From time to time, I do take people there, but that's not the same.

I asked Father Kelley about this ages ago...

(Don't call him Monsignor -- he doesn't use that title for everyday purposes). ;~}

I don't think he had any idea about what do with this. I haven't bothered him about it again, however.

Sacred Heart Church certainly doesn't have lots of free cash for doing a major restoration project.

The ownership status was weird -- it got sort of attached to St. Andrew's Church long ago (but predated that parish -- and was never in any way "the parish cemetery") -- and it came to Sacred Heart when St. Andrew's merged with Sacred Heart.

Either way

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The city assessing records call the place "Toll Gate Cemetery" and attribute ownership to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston...even if they don't know they own it or know what to do with it.


My sense is that the Archdiocese....

... dumped this into the lap of Fr. Kelley at Sacred Heart. Not certain what, if any, help (or funds) the Archdiocese would be willing to provide to do any serious restoration.

One of the earliest (and saddest) tombstones

A rather impressive monument -- in German -- for a young (20 year old or so) teacher, put up by her students at a German Catholic school (I wonder where in Boston this was located).

I seem to recall the oldest grave markers now visible had French names...

Tables turned

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The arrival of the railroad in 1834 eroded the road's profitability and the city took it over in 1857 and, shocking to our modern sensibilities, removed the tolls.

Funny how that works ... a hundred years later the freeways would erode the profitability of the railroad, which would eventually be taken over by the gov't.

I really enjoyed reading

I really enjoyed reading this. You should write more of these little posts in between news about Boston and so on. While you linked to a primary article like usual, it seems you added a big touch to it rather than the usual link up with summary.

It feels like one of those newspapers/tv-news featurette (is that the right word? Others likes like in-depth or investigation does not fit right either) reports for information's sake.

I really enjoyed reading

I really enjoyed reading this. You should write more of these little posts in between news about Boston and so on. While you linked to a primary article like usual, it seems you added a big touch to it rather than the usual link up with summary.

It feels like one of those newspapers/tv-news featurette (is that the right word? Others likes like in-depth or investigation does not fit right either) reports for information's sake.


Irish Amercian Vets Cemetery

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I used to live right near here, and never felt like I wanted to go into this cemetery. I just didn't feel safe. I know the veterans association is likely a small group of people, but the way they left the sidewalk along the cemetery definitely contributed to the abandoned feel. And shoveling the snow every winter? Forget about it! I don't know why the city didn't get after them about that.

The veteran's group has

The veteran's group has nothing to do with the sidewalk. It's not their sidewalk, and it's not their cemetery. They do a nice thing once a year, leaving a wreath. And the 'abandoned feel' has nothing to do with them. That side of the street is not residential, and no one takes particular ownership of it. It looked the same way before you were born as it does now.

As to safety, I don't know what the problem is. I'd feel far safer in that cemetery than I would in the station during rush hour. No one gets beat up in the cemetery. It's just a lonely little place.

Childhood Memories Of The Bridge

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I grew up in the 60s a few blocks away on the Hyde Park Ave side. We always used the bridge. It was exciting to watch the trains from that close on top. We also played under the bridge. It was a great place for putting pennies on the tracks and getting them flattened by the trains. The cemetery was abandoned even back then.


If you have been to the

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If you have been to the Barron Center in the the 80's or early 90's , you walked on this bridge.


dedham turnpike

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Washington Street through this area was called Dedham Turnpike, per an 1832 map I have a copy of. On an1874 map the burial ground is labelled Catholic Cemetary, and there is a public school across the tracks where the lumber yard is now.

Thank you for this nice

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Thank you for this nice article. Those of us who live in Forest Hills miss the pedestrian bridge very much. The City justified its closing by saying that the bridge was dangerous because of crime (mugging/robbery) there. We used to use it all the time in the 1990s and can't remember exactly when it closed, but after 1995, because I remember pushing my son in his stroller over the bridge.
We still visit the cemetery but it's in a very sad state of disrepair and neglect. Hope your article brings attention to it.



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Sure, count me in, I have a rake.

I don't have a rake, but I'd

I don't have a rake, but I'd be interested in helping clean the place up.

If anyone knows any aspiring Eagle Scouts, this would make a great Eagle Scout project.

Yes seriously! Why not,

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Yes seriously! Why not, seems like no one else is doing it and there seems to be a few people on here interested in doing it.


Check with the owner

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Read up in the thread. I would try to identify who in the Archdiocese is willing to claim the place as their own just to get an official "okay" before doing any clean-up. Without having been there myself, it sounds like there is quite a few broken grave stones and I'd hate for a well-intentioned clean-up effort to get blamed for any damages that took place well before Samaritans got there.

There'd also have to be a decision on how much to "clean-up". Is the intention just to remove any trash and leaves? Or will the grass be mowed? Try to masonry any headstones? Just how much is intended?

I'm not trying to damper your enthusiasm and may even come out to help, but I'm just trying to outline any potential problems that occur to me that would exist in cleaning up a cemetery of questionable ownership. All while trying to avoid the "no good deed goes unpunished" corollary to Murphy's Law hopefully with a little bit of pre-planning.


Do it at night under a full

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Do it at night under a full moon, while playing Michael Jackson's Thriller, just kidding, absolutely great idea preserve history, get the city to maintain it, Parks dept Cemetery dept, knows the basics about what is right to do. Similar structure in Brookline, Carson street, closed over the D green line to keep the riffraff out! too expensive to remove, and definitely not happening now with our swollen, giant MBTA.

I have had extensive

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I have had extensive experience with exactly this sort of thing. I have been the chief (and often sole) caretaker of an abandoned Burial Ground for a decade now. The only difference is that mine is municipal land rather than owned by the Archdiocese. In both cases there is a VERY clear owner (city, church) and an even clearer notion that said owner has lapsed in ALL responsibilities of maintenance, upkeep and preservation. I would argue that any restoration effort could proceed carefully without the Archdiocese's OK - and knowing their bureaucracy waiting for such an ok could take longer than those stones are old. If they put up a stink all we in the community would have to do is simply point out the obvious neglect shown to our German and Irish immigrant ancestors - very embarrassing, no?

Cemetery Cleanup

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If everyone/anyone on this thread is still interested in a cemetery clean up I am definitely willing to help. I know the thread is a few months old but now we have no threat of snow ;-) and it's not yet so hot out that it would be an intimidating prospect due to weather. If there is anyone with serious interest let me know. I am a lifelong local that with some help, would be dedicated to the project.

Lots of cleaning up got done today

Various local groups -- including Hibernians, boy scouts and a crew (and truck and supplies) provided by Garden of Gethsemane -- did some basic cleaning up (mowing, weed whacking, raking). Things are looking up for this overlooked but fascinating little cemetery.