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Local author recalls Hyde Park history at 100th anniversary celebration

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  May 1, 2012 03:58 PM

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Sammarco in Hyde Park.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Anthony Sammarco discussed the history of Hyde Park at Saturday’s event.

Hyde Park residents filled Weld Hall in the area's branch library on Saturday to recall their neighborhood as it had been in earlier times with a slideshow and talk by local historian Anthony Sammarco.

“Hyde Park, which actually is the youngest of the neighborhoods of Boston, in some ways represents a microcosm of what the city represents today: people of all walks of life,” said Sammarco, author of the 2011 book “Hyde Park: Then and Now,” and more than 50 other short books on local history.

“But a century ago, Hyde Park was primarily known for the fact that most people that lived here were Irish, Italian, and Polish. Today, 100 years later, the middle class represents an inclusion of Bahamians, Jamaicans, as well as people from the islands.”

As Hyde Park marks the 100th anniversary of its 1912 annexation to the City of Boston, local residents are looking back across that century, but also forward to 2018, when the increasingly diverse neighborhood will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its original founding as an independent town.

Saturday’s event, attended by local officials including City Councilor Robert Consalvo and State Representative Angelo M. Scaccia, was the first of many planned by the Hyde Park Sesquicentennial Committee, a collaboration between the Hyde Park Historical Society, the Friends of the Hyde Park Branch Library, and the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library.

At 900 acres, Hyde Park was one of the smaller towns in Massachusetts, Sammarco said, and it would prove to be one of the briefest, existing as a separate town for only 44 years before being annexed to Boston.

Hyde Park was the last of Boston’s neighborhoods to be annexed, following Roxbury in 1868; Dorchester, completed in 1870; and the towns of Brighton and West Roxbury in 1874.

The town of Hyde Hyde Park was incorporated in 1868 by a group of men known as the Twenty Associates, headed by Alpheus Perley Blake. The men had earlier bought 100 acres of land in the Fairmount section of Milton, now Hyde Park’s Fairmount Hill, and built 20 houses of the same design.

The site was selected in part because of its proximity to the railroad from Boston to Providence, R.I., and eventually the Fairmount depot was built at the end of Fairmount Avenue, allowing people to live an expansive suburban environment but commute to work in downtown Boston.

“The railroad was the impetus for the development of what would eventually become Hyde Park in 1868,” Sammarco said.

There were around 50 families in the area by the time of the Civil War, and some residents began calling for it to incorporate as a town. It was named Hyde Park by a local minister, Henry Lyman, who took the name from an aristocratic section of London.

A town hall was erected at the corner of River Street and Gordon Avenue, just west of the intersection that would become Cleary Square, using an existing building that was broken down and hauled from Boston by horse carts.

Everett Square, today known as Logan Square, was named for a local doctor, Sammarco said, and featured the Fairmount Building, a bank building with meeting spaces above built in 1871. In 1903, the banker C. Granville Way would build the curving Way Building, which still stands at the corner of River Street and Fairmount Avenue.

The square also included the Everett Square Theatre, which later became the Fairmount Theater and later the Nu-Pixie Cinema. When the theater opened in 1915, vaudeville was in its heyday, and the theater initially hosted many live performances as well as early silent films.

Just a few doors away on Fairmount Street were the Knights of Columbus Hall and French’s Opera House, creating a small theater district in the center of Hyde Park.

A few blocks down River Street was Cleary Square, named for John Augustus Cleary, a local soldier killed in battle during the Spanish-American War. In Cleary Square and on River Street between the two squares was a popular shopping district that contained Kennedy’s Department Store, Burnes Brothers Furniture Store, George Dowley and Company, and other shops.

And on the current site of the Bank of America parking lot, from 1917 until the 1960s, stood the Continental Trust Company, which held one of the most impressive portfolios in Boston.

Hyde Park’s Readville section was named for James Read, an important investor in a local woolen mill. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area was home to the Readville Trotting Park, one of several trotting parks that dotted Greater Boston in their heyday.

The racetrack was a popular destination that drew many visitors to Readville, some of whom liked the bucolic neighborhood so much that they decided to make their homes there.

As Hyde Park grew, it became more ethnically diverse, and more African Americans began to settle there. Among the most notable of these residents was James Monroe Trotter, postmaster for the City of Boston, and his son William Monroe Trotter.

The younger Trotter attended Harvard University as both an undergraduate and graduate student and went on found the Boston Guardian, an independent newspaper for middle-class African Americans, and to co-found the NAACP.

Another noteworthy resident was John Joseph Enneking, an American Impressionist painter associated with “The Ten,” a group of artists that also included Boston painters Childe Hassam and Frank W. Benson. The Enneking Parkway is named for the artist.

Hyde Park was also home to abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, from whom Weld Hall gets its name; his wife, the suffragist Angelina Grimké, and her sister Sarah Grimké.

Looking back on Hyde Park’s earliest residents and at successive generations and waves of immigrants who had come to settle in the area in the 150 years since, Sammarco said, he sees more similarities than he does differences.

“People from all walks of life — it’s all part of what the community is about,” he said.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Hyde Park on Twitter: @YourHydePark.

Hyde Park birthday cake.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Residents lined up for slices of cake celebrating the 100th anniversary of the annexation of Hyde Park to Boston.

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