When they hear that I’m from Dorchester, new acquaintances tell me they know they are in my neighborhood when they see the painted gas tank as they drive along the Southeast Expressway. This shallow impression of Dorchester feels nearly as much of an insult as the frequency of crime news in Dorchester even when the address identified is clearly in Roxbury or the South End. But when life gives me lemons, I know how to make lemonade. So let’s jump into the SUV and view Dorchester history from the landmarks along the Expressway.
Dorchester, with three exits going south on the Expressway and four going north, is the largest of Boston’s neighborhoods. Some state capitals have fewer exits. Of course, we have to decide what Dorchester includes. Statisticians refer to North Dorchester, South Dorchester, and Mattapan. All three of these were part of the town of Dorchester when it was annexed to Boston on January, 1, 1870. The same territory is divided into five zip codes -- 02121, 02122, 02124, 02125, and 02126, and its 127,000 residents who live in 23,000 buildings are represented by many city councilors and numerous state representatives. The area is very diverse in all categories of age, gender, and ethnic origin. If Dorchester were a separate city it would be New England’s sixth most populous exceeding even New Haven in Connecticut. Portland, Maine, comes in at about only 64,000 residents, Concord, New Hampshire at about only 40,700.
Traveling south through Boston, coming out of the tunnel we first begin to rise to the crest of the highway. Looking off to the left after the huge parking garage we can see a white tower on top of a hill called Dorchester Heights, reminding us that South Boston was part of Dorchester until the major piece of it broke off in 1804 and Washington Village followed in 1854. The monument commemorates the fortification of Dorchester Heights when the Neck (South Boston) was still part of Dorchester. The action scared the Brits so much they decided to scurry off to Nova Scotia, leaving us to celebrate Evacuation Day (St. Patrick’s Day).
When the highway begins to descend back to ground level, we notice the low flat area that was once Boston’s South Bay, a tidal inlet that has disappeared under the T bus garages and the South Bay Shopping Center on the west. Dorchester, on the southern border of the old South Bay, once had a coastline/waterfront stretching from Mill Brook Creek, separating Roxbury and Dorchester at the southern end of the South Bay, around Dorchester Neck (South Boston), the Calf Pasture (Columbia Point), Savin Hill, Commercial Point and Port Norfolk where the Neponset separated Dorchester from its southern neighbors Quincy and Milton, the latter of which was once part of Dorchester. In its early years Dorchester had a number of water-powered mills, both river mills and tide mills. To operate a tide mill, the miller created a dam with gates in an inlet. When the tide came in, the gates would swing inward to allow the flow to fill the pond. When the tide turned, the force of the water would close the gates, and the miller could use the water in the pond to power his mill.
The new building of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters sitting on the west side of the highway is a reminder that Dorchester is home to many labor union locals and other employee organizations.
Read the rest of the article by clicking here.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Earl Taylor, special correspondant to the Dorchester Reporter, recognizes the Carpenters Center as an important landmark and part of the neighborhood's history.