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Raising the railroad in Forest Hills

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 26, 2012 12:17 PM

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(Richard Heath)

The Forest Hills viaduct in 1976.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.

Forest Hills is the most complex area of Jamaica Plain. Transformed by transportation over two centuries of time, Forest Hills challenges the definition of neighborhood. It has been shaped by geography more than any other part of Jamaica Plain. It sits in a valley at the confluence of two streams flanked by two hills on which have been landscaped two Boston landmarks and American institutions: the Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery. The hills that channeled the streams also channeled transportation routes, beginning in 1806 with the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike (today Washington Street).

From the earliest days of the railroad, crossings over city streets had been a problem. The April 17, 1846 issue of the Boston Daily Atlas reported “the sad news of the death of Mr. Abraham Hodgdon, house carpenter and builder, who was killed by an approaching train…As he crossed the planks between the tracks at Tollgate station his foot caught on the cowscraper and he was dragged almost sixty yards.”

So on July 30, 1890, the Councilman John F. Kinney introduced an order calling for a joint committee to “procure plans and estimates for raising the grade of Tremont Street and vicinity in the location of the Providence Division of the Old Colony Railroad.” This put in motion the biggest public works program in the history of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, until surpassed by the Southwest Corridor Project in 1979. The entire project extended 4.5 miles from Massachusetts Avenue to Forest Hills. The final cost was $4 million split between the Commonwealth, the City of Boston, and the B&P Railroad.

Land-taking and clearance began in the fall of 1891. Thirty buildings– homes and businesses – were removed from Centre Street to Forest Hills to create a new railroad right-of-way for two tracks, one for a commuter rail and the other for construction trains. In all, according to the Boston Globe from December 23, 1895, over 100 homes and business buildings were taken – some moved, others demolished. The project required “that houses come down, city blocks removed, stables razed, streets widened and thousands of dollars spent changing the course of Stony Brook.”

Work began in the spring of 1895; the project involved building a stone embankment for much of the route. New stations were built at Roxbury Crossing, Heath Street, Boylston Street, Jamaica Plain (today Green Street) and Forest Hills. As the Globe reported in 1895, the work involved “scores of derricks, hoisting engines, dump cars, shifting engines, machine excavators and hundreds of men daily pushing the vast undertaking along.” The project used mostly Italian laborers, who were replaced in the winter months by French Canadians, who apparently were able to work better in freezing temperatures.

All five new stations were opened for passengers on June 1, 1897, and the project was completed at the end of 1897. There were four tracks. Tracks for passenger trains to Readville and Dedham were powered by electricity through a third rail. The other two tracks were built for express intercity and interstate steam locomotive trains.

Raising the trains over city streets did not prevent tragedies. The Boston Globe reported on July 23, 1910 that nine-year-old Thomas Keville of Jamaica Plain, a pupil at the Margaret Fuller School, was killed crossing the tracks just beyond Forest Hills station. He and his chums were off to swim in Bussey Brook pond. His friends could run faster.

The Forest Hills station together with all the others in Jamaica Plain were closed on September 29, 1940 due to lack of passengers. For a few years the old station was used as a bicycle shop where park users and others could rent bikes. The station was demolished probably in 1941 and the space was used by Forest Hills Taxi Company. Their distinctive turquoise-and-red cabs were a well-known feature throughout Jamaica Plain for forty years, until the cab company closed its Forest Hills stand about 1980.

To read more about the history of Forest Hills, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

This column is a submission from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at:

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(Richard Heath)

The Orange Line boat deck with a train entering Forest Hills station in April, 2012. In 1960, this was freight yards, coal sheds and rail sidings.

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