JP Observer: Popular history walks reveal marvels in many areas

April 26, 2013
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Jamaica Plain has a rich and varied past, and people here seemed more fascinated with local history than residents of other places. For the past 17 years, local interest has been evidenced every spring by the appearance, not just of flowers and leaves on the trees, but of small crowds of people walking and listening to tour leaders describe the history of the neighborhood.

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society (JPHS), also known for its phenomenal website (jphs.org) managed by member Charlie Rosenberg, will host a total of 21 free walking tours of seven different areas of JP again this year. Knowledgeable volunteers will lead the history walks, which start at various JP spots at 11 a.m. Saturdays from May 11 through Sept. 28. Tours last between 60 and 90 minutes, and no reservations are required.

No other neighborhood in the City of Boston has such varied and frequent free history tours. To learn that any other residential neighborhood or town JP’s size in the country offers tours like ours would be a surprise.

According to JPHS tour leaders, who met on April 7 to divvy up the 2013 tours, about 10-30 people show up at the starting points for each tour, which can be cancelled only in case of  “heavy rain.”

The walkers, often including dogs, consist mostly of JP residents, sometimes accompanied by children and visiting family members, the guides said. Some are from nearby towns, and some are former residents, according to JPHS President Gretchen Grozier, also a tour leader.

JP residents Michael Reiskind and Dave Nathan, two veteran tour leaders and founding members of JPHS itself in the 1980s, said people who live along the routes often come out, help and even sometimes invite walkers into their homes. People living on a Green Street tour route once came out and gave each person an antique nail as a souvenir.

Other volunteer tour leaders this year will be: Karen Adler Abramson, Krystyna Colburn, Nancy Doherty and Margo Feeney. This will be the first year for Feeney, who grew up in JP and still lives here.

Each tour includes a lot of sites and information. Here is just a taste of what the seven tours cover, according to JPHS materials:

Green Street, which “played a key role in Jamaica Plain’s development, functioning as a residential, commercial and transportation conduit” in the early/mid 1800s.

Hyde Square, home to waves of immigrants from Germany and Ireland, followed by people from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and site of a former “workers’ utopia.”

Monument Square, which include a National Historic District and architecture spanning three centuries.

Jamaica Pond, once a source of commercial ice in winter.

The Stony Brook, now underground, but once part of what attracted the breweries.

Sumner Hill, a National Historic District that includes many fine Victorian houses.

Woodbourne, which went from having 19th century summer estates to being a model suburban enclave.

For more information about these unique tours, the 2013 schedule and where each tour begins, see jphs.org.

Best of JP 2014