The debate over the Casey Overpass’s fate has drawn passionate activism from some Jamaica Plain residents. Not so for Richard Heath. Instead, it propelled him to write a book about the history of Forest Hills, a neighborhood in JP that the overpass spans.
The overpass, which was built in the 1950s, is the State Route 203/Arborway bridge over Washington Street and New Washington Street and is slated to be demolished and replaced by surface roads.
“With the Casey Overpass [replacement], change will once again come to Forest Hills,” said Heath, a resident of the neighborhood for about 40 years, in a recent interview with the Gazette.
The 98-page, 39,000-word book is aptly named “The History of Forest Hills.” It took Heath five months to research and write. It covers the topographical and architectural changes that have happened to the neighborhood.
But for Heath, the term “neighborhood” is a misnomer for Forest Hills. Heath said Forest Hills is instead a hub of transportation.
“For its entire history, Forest Hills has been influenced by transportation,” said Heath.
He added that Forest Hills is the only place in the city, except perhaps East Boston, that has not been able to control its own destiny because of the need of regional transportation.
Heath traces that transit history in the book, covering several major turning points, such as the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike (present-day Washington Street) being built in the early 1800s and an upgrade to the railroad through Forest Hills during the late 1890s that jumpstarted homes being built in the area.
But Heath said the most important event for Forest Hills was the failed I-95 expansion. The plan was canceled in the early 1970s after significant community opposition. The Southwest Corridor Park and the MBTA Orange Line and Amtrak railroad track currently reside where the highway was to be built
Heath said the plan was designed by “madmen” and would have transformed Forest Hills into a highway interchange.
“I-95 not being built is the single biggest turning point in the history of Forest Hills,” he said.
Change is a constant theme in the book and that is a something Heath would like to get across to his readers.
“Change is inevitable,” said Heath.
The book is currently available at the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library and is being edited to be placed on the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website (jphs.org).
“I hope some people will read it and learn about the neighborhood,” said Heath.