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West Roxbury Parkway wasn't intended to just be a way to get from Centre Street to Washington

Proposed routes of West Roxbury Parkway in 1894

Three possible routes for a West Roxbury parkway. See it larger.

In the mid-1890s, city officials began looking at connecting the new city-owned Emerald Necklace parks with the giant Blue Hills Reservation the state Metropolitan District Commission was putting together just south of the city and the town of Hyde Park.

As the Boston parks commissioners put it in an 1894 report:

This West Roxbury parkway is to be considered as an important chain in a general and intimately connected system of parks and parkways, and it is desirable to make it of a similarly picturesque character as that of the great parkway that runs from the heart of the city to Jamaica pond, by way of the Back Bay Fens and the Riverway. And just as Jamaica park and Leverett park are enlargements in that parkway, so in the parkway to the Blue Hills the Stony Brook reservation would constituted a great enlargement, expanding to the proportions of a considerable stretch of woodland, whose final shape will be perhaps largely determined by the route chosen from the Boston park system.

The Stony Brook Reservation was also a new park the MDC was creating, out of the former Grew Woods, at the Boston/Hyde Park line.

The parks commissioners reported they were looking at three plans for a new parkway through West Roxbury from the Arboretum or Franklin Park to points south.

The most westerly proposal - the route we drive on today - won out, in part because "it is the best as regards scenery," but also because it would open up the surrounding area of "wild woodland and farming land" to development of "fine suburban residences" - and allowed for surface drainage of the surrounding countryside without the need for expensive storm sewers.

The parks commissioners did note one drawback - there was no bridle path from the Arboretum to an existing path along the Arborway that would connect to the new parkway. But the commissioners expressed the hope that Harvard, which, then as now, controlled the Arboretum, would acquiesce to a new horse path through their grounds.

Since Hyde Park was still an independent town (it would not become part of Boston until 1912), the commissioners could go no further with their road than the town line in the middle of the old Grew Woods. But they expressed the hope that the road would be "extended to the picturesque Mother brook, then through the broad, charming landscape of the Neponset-river valley above Hyde Park, then through pleasant fields and hedgerows to the most popular entrance to the Blue Hill reservation."

Today, West Roxbury Parkway (which changes names to Enneking Parkway at Washington Street), intersects at Stony Brook's infamous four-way stop with Turtle Pond Parkway, which heads south to connect with Neponset Valley Parkway (after a brief stretch of River Street), which runs into Milton and along Fowl Meadow - the only part of the Blue Hills Reservation that extends into Boston.


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Shorter version: Cars have ruined American cities.

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Boycott anything that is moved by a car, truck, plane.

Only allow things into your life that are brought by steamship, the railroad, and the horse drawn wagon. Hell, for the sake of argument you can get things that come by Penny Farthing.

Get back to me then and see how you feel.

Your absolutism in saying cars have ruined cities is hogwash.

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Cars and trucks are great. They just shouldn't have been allowed to displace absolutely everything else.

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I’ve never seen a map, but I’ve read about a proposal to link American Legion Highway to all of this between the world wars. That is the reason for the odd stretch of American Legion from Cummins Highway to Hyde Park Ave.

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Looking at the map, it looks like that stretch of American Legion Highway actually takes the path of the old Stony Brook. (Which the option 3 on the map pointedly doesn't do, instead crossing the train tracks at Canterbury St.)

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Really, Waquiot? That's interesting if true. That stretch of road never made any sense to me, since it only delays a merger wiith Hyde Park Avenue. Just a pointlessly meandering fragment of pavement.

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That odd stretch was built in the mid- 1960s. I don't think that was a part of a plan to link any of those roads, rather the full length that never happened earlier when funds ran out.

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The connection to Franklin Park from Hyde Park would be a major part of the reason for the extension, but it could have also been built for easier access to Roslindale General Hospital, which existed until the early 1970s.

EDIT: removed reference to shopping center in Roslindale, as Whatsamatta U explained it better than I could.

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The extension happened at or near the same time the Stop & Shop / Bradlees was built out of the old filled-in quarry. That happened in the mid-1960s, not 10 years earlier as suggested. In fact the road (American Legion) stopped and ended at the Bradlees for several years and did not get completed out to Hyde Park Ave due to a host of property disputes and easements that had to be settled, including but not limited to whether various streets in the area would connect or not, or become one-way. In fact when Bradlees / Stop & Shop opened for business, they were the only stores that opened, and only one side of American Legion was actually paved and open and was treated like a private driveway with traffic traveling 2 ways on one side of the road until pavement on the other side was graded completed, so the side nearest the stone retaining wall that holds up the parking lot is the oldest section of the extension.

The Stop & Shop in Roslindale Sq had long-since closed by then and a new one was opened in Dedham at Dedham Mall where Bob's Furniture is now. The Dedham S&S has rebuilt and moved 4 times since then. 1) Where Bob's is, 2) in the Dedham Mall where Lowes is, 3) new building now occupied by Dick's Sporting Good, 4) current location.

Actual entrances into and out of the mall itself would appear different in those days since the mall itself has been fully rebuilt 3 times itself since it opened in the mid 1960s.

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Please note the year. This parkway system was meant to be for the benefit of Beacon Hill and Back Bay carriage owners, who put on their Sunday best and take their horses out for a workout in the 'country.' That is why no commercial vehicles were allowed - wagons filled with gravel for new road beds would spoil the ride for the Brahmins.

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Love this map.

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The history of the American Legion Highway is a bit more convoluted than one might think. Let's do a chronological study of roads in this area.

First, Enneking Parkway and Turtle Pond Parkway were built in 1897, as part of the Metropolitan Park System, according to Wikipedia.

Next, West Roxbury was built, by the newly-created MDC, extending north from Enneking Parkway at Washington Street, with construction starting in 1919. It reached Centre Street in 1920, Weld Street in 1924, and Newton Street in Brookline in 1929.

In the late 1920s, planning started for the American Legion Highway. This was a step up from a parkway in that major intersections, such as Morton Street, would be grade-separated instead of rotaries. During the planning process, one document said it would be the first link in a new highway extending all the way to New York City, to be called the American Legion Highway for its entire route. This first link was a City of Boston project, not an MDC or state project, so the city's hopes may have been a little far-reaching.

American Legion Highway opened from Blue Hill Avenue to the "new" Cummins Highway (formerly Ashland Street) in August 1932. According to a June 1932 Boston Globe article, it was to have "a traffic circle at the Cummins road end. Thence it is to go by Hyde Park, Milton, across the Neponset river, and to Westwood, where it joins the Providence road [U.S. 1]."

Also in 1932, the state highway department finished widening the old Norfolk & Bristol Turnpike route to Providence, from the Walpole-Foxborough town line to the Rhode Island State Line. In Walpole, Norwood, Westwood, and Dedham, construction was underway on a new Providence Highway, bypassing the town centers, which opened as far north as Washington Street in Dedham in 1933. As noted above, the city hoped to eventually extend American Legion Highway to connect with this highway.

But another 1932 road project, also done by the City of Boston, saw the widening of Centre Street to highway standards, from the existing Arborway, to the junction of Centre and South Streets in Roslindale, i.e. almost all the way to West Roxbury Parkway. [Adam recently posted a video showing construction on that road.] A January 1931 Globe article quotes a city official as saying that Mayor Curley specifically wanted a highway and not a parkway on this segment.

Then the state, having completed the new Providence Highway to Dedham in 1933, decided that it was best to connect that road with the new Centre Street highway and with the Arborway, instead of linking it to the stub-ended American Legion Highway in Roslindale. Hence the V.F.W. Parkway was built by the MDC, opening from Spring Street to Centre Street in 1934, and the state highway department built a connecting link from Spring Street to Washington Street in Dedham in 1935.

That left the American Legion Highway ending at Cummins Highway. It was an awkward termination because in order to continue southwest on Hyde Park Avenue, you had to jog west for a couple of blocks on either Cummins Highway or the old Canterbury Street.

Various planning documents that I've seen from the 1930s still talked about extending the American Legion Highway... to somewhere. At first they were still thinking of connecting it to the Providence road in the Dedham-Westwood area. Later in the 1930s they were talking about curving it to the northwest to link with West Roxbury Parkway. But nothing ever came of any of these plans, and then World War II intervened. And the Legion Highway still ended at Cummins Highway.

Last year when I was researching this subject, I tried to figure out when the short extension of American Legion Highway to Hyde Park Avenue was built. I found nothing definitive, but based on maps and aerial photos that I viewed, the best guess was that it was around 1967. It seems to have been such a minor project at the time that there was no publicity about it. And of course, in the 1960s, the big highway project they were discussing in that area was the planned construction of the Southwest Expressway, I-95 -- which would have passed right through the Hyde Park Avenue corridor.

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I was going to try to track down the 1930s proposal later this week.

I will say that the extension had nothing to do with the Southwest Expressway, as the on/offramps were not proposed for the area where the road now ends.

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Check out the Division of Metropolitan Planning reports to the legislature in the 1930s, available at the State Archives website: http://archives.lib.state.ma.us

Search under General Court for:
1928 House Bill 158
1929 House Bill 51
1930 House Bill 40
1931 House Bill 76
1932 House Bill 130
1933 House Bill 112
1934 House Bill 121
1935 House Bill 52
1936 House Bill 41
1937 House Bill 39
1938 House Bill 58
1939 House Bill 63
1941 House Bill 118

I didn't mean to imply that the Legion Highway extension was related to the Southwest Expressway, just that the controversy about the proposed expressway was dominating the news media -- and little things like the Legion Highway were being ignored.

But Whatsamatta-U's excellent description of the opening of the highway extension makes it pretty clear why there wasn't a lot of publicity about that extension at the time. I wasn't aware of the local history of the road and the mall; my first personal experience in that area dates from around 1975.

My own research in this area was part of a project to track down correct opening dates for a number of highways around greater Boston. We found that a lot of the information circulated by MassDOT, Wikipedia, and other sources was incorrect. The online archives of the Boston Globe provided a lot of good info. Much of this research will be published in the forthcoming Atlas of Boston History, edited by Nancy Seasholes, to be published by U. of Chicago Press in 2019: http://www.atlasofbostonhistory.org .

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And trust me, I did not mean to imply you were linking the Southwest Expressway and the extension of American Legion Highway. That said, I did find a 1962 map of the area showing that somehow the two projects were very distinct.

In general, those series of maps are very interesting to see what might have happened. It might be a slog getting from my house to the highways of the area, but seeing what would have been lost, I can deal with the extra driving.

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Because that's about when the state was busy planning to build a interchange for I-95 at Cummins Highway (which connects to American Legion Highway a couple blocks south of where the interchange would have been), In fact, a couple blocks' worth of houses were condemned and torn down (and later, after the highway was canceled, turned into the community garden at Rowe Street). Related? In the sense that the Powers that Be didn't want a "highway" that just ended at a mall?

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