JP Observer: Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk: JP Historical Society Does Both—and More

Riddle: What’s a special sign it’s spring in Jamaica Plain?

Answer: You start seeing groups of people touring parts of the neighborhood on Saturday mornings. You might even be one of tourists.

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society (JPHS) is in its 26th year of conducting free historical walking tours, usually from mid-May through mid-September on Saturday mornings. This year, almost 30 tours are planned, including walks in othese areas: Green Street, Hyde Square, Jamaica Pond, Monument Square, Stony Brook (area near the T station), Sumner Hill and Woodbourne. Two years ago, Spanish-speaking guides started leading additional tours of Hyde Square and Stony Brook in Spanish.

JPHS even managed to do tours starting in July last summer when covid guidelines were strict, President Gretchen Grozier said in an interview earlier this month. Typical of group’s creativity and resourcefulness, they used more guides than usual, divided into smaller groups, and the guides had small, portable sound systems so everyone could social distance in their masks.

For a map of JP showing its sub-neighborhoods, see the Jamaica Plain Gazette home page. That will bring up a double riddle: Why are two areas of JP called “Stony Brook” and “Stony-brook,” and where are they located? Which one has the tour?

JPHS, voted Best Neighborhood Group by Gazette readers in 2017, is “one of the most active” historical societies around, Grozier confirmed. Founded in 1987, its incredibly helpful website was created by Charlie Rosenburg in 1997 and is still managed by him, with Grozier and others contributing. The noted website, JPHS.org, offers detailed information about JPHS walks and events and how to attend them as well as how to submit historic photos and articles about JP.

One of the most recent articles is about 3474 Washington Street next to Doyle’s “built sometime between 1874 and 1886 by Isaac Harris Cary, a prominent merchant and real estate developer from Jamaica Plain. The double-frame house, located at the corner of Washington and Gartland Streets, is built in the Gothic Revival style…,” according to author Jenny Nathans. The property is part of a proposed mixed-use development under Small Project Review at the Boston Planning & Development Agency.

The website is entertaining and educational at the same time. A lot of people know this. JPHS.org had 124,000 impressions [looks at specific items on its pages] last year, Grozier said.

History articles are grouped according to three eras, people, locales, transportation and latest items. 

In addition to its other activities, JPHS sends out a monthly newsletter and sponsors historic talks and films.

A film screening of “Borderland—The Life & Times of Blanche Ames Ames” will be next on the plentiful docket of programs of JPHS on June 5. The “artist, activist, builder, inventor, birth control maverick and a leader within the woman suffrage movement in Massachusetts” has an “intriguing connection to JP,” according to the website, which gives information about how to sign up to see it.             

JPHS has also collected archives which are now housed at the UMass/Boston. The Jamaica Plain Gazette, one of many parties to contribute, has donated old photos and history articles, many collected and written by the late Walter Marx, to the archives in the early 2000s.

 JP is definitely lucky to have such a terrific organization to meticulously keep and share neighborhood memories for us. The group has 350 members at the moment and dozens of volunteers, but it has no desk, no phone, no office.

 Grozier, president since 2008, said she is inspired by the “richness of the history, the huge array of people and the historic buildings” in JP. She added she likes that it is “continually changing” and has a “history of activism.” Asked if there is anything she would like to know more about in JP, she said “the indigenous people who lived here.”

   Everyone who is interested in the JP community today and concerned about its future should know about its history. Joining JPHS is an inexpensive good idea. Once again, see the website for more information.

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