Travel Back in Time: The West Roxbury Court House
Travel Back in Time with the Wednesday Patch Passport, to Discover the History of the West Roxbury Court House.
The independent Town of West Roxbury was in existance from 1851 until 1874, a mere 23 years. Yet a single generation can have ripple effects more than a century later. In West Roxbury the remnants of the past township still stand. The location of the West Roxbury Court is a prime example.
As many young students know, present day Boston geography is a result of land removals, landfills, mergers and annexations. It might be difficult to believe, but Roxbury was once a bustling farming community established as Boston's closest municipal neighbor. From colonial times until the mid-19th century, its agricultural products, helped by the only roads leading into Boston from the south, filled city markets.
The burgeoning populations of Boston and Dorchester naturally expanded south and westward into the hills of Roxbury, whose nearby neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale began to feel the domino pressure of development.
In an effort to maintain its rural nature and limit industrial growth, the area of Roxbury known as West Roxbury, which bordered the western town of Dedham, broke away from the city of Roxbury on May 24, 1851 taking its neighborhoods of present day Jamaica Plain and Roslindale with it.
In 1868, Roxbury was annexed by Boston, followed by Dorchester in 1870. Then in 1874, as the pressure of urbanization threatened their survival, Brighton, Charleston and West Roxbury followed suit. Fearful that Boston would so successfully compete for the limited available water supplies that they would be cut off, the West Roxbury townspeople voted for annexation. Understandably, water trumped all other concerns and West Roxbury became a district of Boston.
Interestingly, in the same 1874 vote that authorized several Boston annexations, Brookline voted against and became the first small neighbor of a big municipality, nationwide, to refuse annexation. It started a movement by affluent suburbs to maintain control of their own fortunes. It also explains why some areas of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury bear a greater resemblance to their suburban neighbors than they do to the rest of the city.
Ultimately, West Roxbury became one of the city's eight large districts and its municipal court division is served by the West Roxbury Court in Jamaica Plain. Built in 1922, the current West Roxbury Court building at 445 Arborway, was and still is, from a municipal court perspective as well as an historical perspective, in West Roxbury.
Information for this article was acquired from two sources: Michael Reiskind, President of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society; Planning the "City Upon a Hill: Boston Since 1630" by Lawrence W. Kennedy, Boston Redevelopment Authority and University of Massachusetts at Boston, 1992