Business in Jamaica Plain through the Years
A look at the growth of business in Jamaica Plain as the area developed offers an opportunity to appreciate the roots of the business community. A large number of businesses have been operating in Jamaica Plain since 1995 or earlier and have made major contributions to the neighborhood’s character over the years. (See our “Why Local” page.)
The history of local businesses in Jamaica Plain has had at its core immigration and transportation. The area underwent a transformation in the nineteenth century from a bucolic escape from urban Boston to a center of industrial growth. Industry began to take shape in the nineteenth century when immigration and railroads facilitated development of factories for manufacturing, primarily along the Stony Brook aquifer. According to Wikipedia:
“In 1900, Jamaica Plain had a significant immigrant population, which helped shape the future of the community. Many Irish had settled in large numbers in the Heath Street, South Street, Forest Hills and Stony Brook areas (Brookside), taking laboring and domestic jobs, and becoming one-quarter of the population. Germans had reached 14 percent, living in Hyde Square, Egleston Square and Brookside, employed as skilled workers and managers, with their own social clubs and churches. Canadians, many from the Maritime Provinces, made up 12 percent of the population, often working in white collar or skilled jobs. Italians would come as well, in the years after 1910.”
Immigration is still an important part of Jamaica Plain’s makeup today. In 2015, about 23 percent of Jamaica Plain’s population was foreign born. More than 50 percent of Jamaica Plain’s population is White, 12 percent Black/African American, 25 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 3 percent other races, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
Business development from the 1800s through today reflects similarities as well as distinct differences in each of the four major districts of Jamaica Plain: Forest Hills, Centre/South, Egleston, and Hyde/Jackson.
In the nineteenth century, Forest Hills became an important transportation hub for the Boston area. The Boston and Providence Railroad opened for travel between the two cities in 1835. An additional track was added for freight trains between Boston and Forest Hills in 1873 and to Readville in 1874. The railroad supported and facilitated manufacturing and distribution of products from the factories that were built in Jamaica Plain. Among the earliest industries in the area were the Weld and Wellington marble works, which carved and assembled monuments for Forest Hills and Mount Hope cemeteries.
During the same period, horse-drawn streetcars run by the Metropolitan Railway transported passengers along embedded rails in streets, extending service from Boston to Roxbury Crossing and eventually to Forest Hills and beyond to Dedham. Servicing of the horses and the railway (including a machine shop to repair and build railway ties, stalls and barns for the horses and their food, and blacksmiths and leather workers for horseshoes and harnesses) was handled in the South Street car barn. By the end of the century, it was the largest integrated industry in Jamaica Plain in an otherwise residential neighborhood.
In 1890, electric streetcars began to replace horse-drawn cars between Forest Hills and downtown Boston. The South Street yards were expanded and used for storage of cars and as repair shops. In December 1985, the last remaining streetcar service on the Arborway line ended and was replaced with bus service. The MBTA’s Orange Line subway, the Needham Line of the commuter rail, and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service now transport commuters and long-distance travelers into Boston through the Southwest Corridor.
For over a century Forest Hills was a regional center of the energy industry with large facilities for the storage and transfer of coal, kerosene, gasoline, and natural gas. By the 1920s there were eight major factories and fuel storage farms located on the freight yards and between Green Street and the Arborway.
Today the car barns and energy facilities are gone. Construction of new residential housing is booming in the area, and services for apartment dwellers are likely to expand. Forest Hills features an assortment of independently owned businesses, including a number of auto repair shops, personal service establishments, and popular restaurants. It also is the location for the campus of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s State Laboratory.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Centre/South area featured a number of large estates and farmsteads. The Loring Greenough House is the only surviving colonial residence in its original form.
Jamaica Pond was a significant center of business activity in Jamaica Plain throughout the nineteenth century. The pond is the largest body of water within the City of Boston and forms the centerpiece of the Emerald Necklace, the public park planned by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890s.
From 1798 until 1848, the spring-fed pond supplied water to parts of Boston and Roxbury by means of an underground aqueduct system constructed and maintained by the Jamaica Plain Aqueduct Company. Pipes of wooden logs were installed from the pond along the Muddy River and across today’s Mission Hill neighborhood to Boston. Within a few decades, Jamaica Pond could not supply the entire growing city with adequate water for consumption and firefighting, and Boston had to search for another, larger source of water. Learn more about Boston’s reservoirs and Jamaica Pond.
The Jamaica Plain Ice Company profited from the pond in winter with its 22 ice houses along Prince and Pond Streets, near the present-day site of the Jamaicaway rotary. Commercial ice cutting by E.M. Stoddard and Company Ice Company, which later became Jamaica Plain Ice Company, began in 1855. At the peak of the harvesting season, the company employed more than 600 men, with just 75 workers during the summer. The company supplied ice to customers in Brookline, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, the South End, Roxbury, and Dorchester. It had a special brewery department with 100 teams of horses used to supply ice to the 25 breweries in the area. Ice harvesting at the pond declined in the later years of the nineteenth century, when conflicts arose between commercial and recreational interests. A plan to incorporate the pond within the Emerald Necklace park system contributed to the decline of commercial activity. Ice manufacturing plants were being built, making ice harvesting from natural sources unnecessary.
Seaver’s Store at 741 Centre Street, the oldest in Boston and probably in the state, was founded in 1796 by Joshua Seaver. For many years, it was the only general store between Boston and Providence. It housed the area’s first post office, police headquarters, and fire station, besides being the first stop for stagecoaches between Boston and Providence. For three generations, the store was owned and managed by a Seaver until 1931. It was last owned and managed by Joseph Daly and demolished in the 1950s.
Today Centre and South Streets feature almost 200 businesses, most of which are independently owned, including restaurants and bars, a wide variety of retail stores, banks, real estate offices, and personal service establishments.
The Egleston community spans the border between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. In many ways it embodies the major cultural, social, and economic changes that have characterized Jamaica Plain throughout the past 200 years.
In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the Egleston Square area saw the growth of breweries, tanneries, print shops, and factories, mostly clustered along the Stony Brook aquifer to take advantage of both the existing water sources and the nearby Boston and Providence Railroad. The Haffenreffer brewing complex (1870) on Germania and Amory Streets and the Franklin Brewery (1890) were the main employers in the area, attracting Irish and German laborers. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were reportedly 25 breweries within a mile of Roxbury Crossing. During this period, the area was also home to three garden nurseries, and Egleston Square was known as the nursery center of Jamaica Plain.
Public transportation projects had a major impact—both bad and good—in Jamaica Plain in the twentieth century. The construction of the elevated railway in 1906 along Washington Street from Forest Hills to Dudley Square created a dark and dirty streetscape below and caused a previously thriving business area to suffer from a decrease in customers who considered the location dangerous. In 1987, the elevated was dismantled after the Orange Line was relocated and the Southwest Corridor Park created following intense citizen activism during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Plans for an eight-lane Southwest Expressway to connect I-95 to I-93 were overturned as a result of residents’ protests.
The successful activism spawned two community development corporations—the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and Urban Edge—that have succeeded in creating quality affordable housing solutions and important commercial developments throughout the area. The Brewery complex developed by JPNDC includes roughly 50 independent small businesses, over 50% of which are owned by women and people of color. Breweries are again having success in the Egleston district and surrounding area, starting with the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) in 1988 and most recently Turtle Swamp Brewing in 2017.
Today, the Egleston area’s main artery is a commercial district running along Columbus Avenue and Washington Street, featuring mostly small businesses including barbershops and beauty salons, bodegas, dry cleaners and tailors, dollar stores, and takeout restaurants. The neighborhood has a strong Dominican cultural identity and predominantly Latino, African American, and working-class residents, according to the Urbano Project. Gentrification is having a significant impact in the area, as it has throughout Jamaica Plain, and neighborhood streets and businesses are changing. JPNDC together with community nonprofit organizations such as Urbano and Egleston Square Main Streets are working to promote equity and encourage meaningful ways to foster communication within a diverse community. Learn more from Historic Boston Inc.
During the nineteenth century, immigration played as large a role in the history and development of Hyde and Jackson Squares as in the neighboring Egleston district. German and Irish immigrants transformed the area with their businesses, schools, and cultural institutions and many residents worked in the factories that bordered Stony Brook. In 1878 the B. F. Sturtevant fan company expanded and built its first factory in Jamaica Plain along Amory Street, and by 1901, before it moved to Hyde Park, it was employing 650 workers and manufacturing many products.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Thomas Gustave Plant built a factory for shoe manufacturing at the site where Stop & Shop is now located, employing four thousand workers. Shoes continued to be made in the building until the 1950s. In 1928, Moxie soft-drink company opened a plant on Heath Street (now the site of the Mildred C. Hailey apartments) and moved in 1953.
In the early 1960s, Hyde Square changed again when Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican immigrants transformed it into Boston’s first predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Today the Hyde/Jackson area has more than 125 businesses, 65 percent of which are immigrant-owned, ranging from restaurants to specialty retail shops and service establishments.
Hyde and Jackson Squares were officially designated as Boston’s Latin Quarter in 2016. In 2018, a federal grant for $100,000 was awarded to the city to produce a plan for the Latin Quarter Cultural District that will include artists in residence who will work with area youth and the community to create cultural vibrancy projects.