Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Arborway One Hundred Years Ago

The Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts - part of the linear parks and parkway system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century and now known as the Emerald Necklace of Boston - is going through a period of dramatic change and is in the planning stages for even more.

The Casey Arborway Project of MassDOT has demolished a huge overpass that spanned Forest Hills and is replacing it with an improved network of surface roads, bike paths, plazas and sidewalks that will reconnect portions of the Arborway that have been broken for a very long time. Concurrently, planning is underway to improve vehicle safety and access for pedestrians and bicycles on the northern portion of the Arborway between Centre and Eliot streets. These plans involve enormous multi-modal complexities as the community, engineers and designers grapple with the 21st century need to balance the desires of drivers, public transit users, bikers, pedestrians, abutting neighbors and emergency services. And all this within a mature neighborhood graced with a world-famous park that provides recreational opportunity, the rejuvenating power of nature and a respite from hectic city life just as the visionary Olmsted had intended.
Jamaica Pond

One hundred years ago, as the parkways entered their third decade, the challenges were simpler than they are today. The Arborway itself consisted of two unpaved carriage ways, two bridle paths for horse riders and a pedestrian way that separated each mode of travel from each other.
View west from Washington Street. Elevated train above, granite heavy rail viaduct in distance
A horse drawn carriage and car in distance, heavy rail viaduct where Southwest Corridor is today
Trolley in distance beyond heavy rail granite viaduct

Elevated orange line looking west

South Street and Arborway. Bussey Institute on left where State Lab is today.

Contrary to Olmsted's specifications for Cucumber Magnolias and Tulip Trees along the Arborway - flowering varieties that were intended to signal and celebrate the adjacent Arboretum - Parks Superintendent Pettigrew had instead planted Red Oaks with an understory of flowering roses and snowberrys.
By 1915 the initial plantings along the parkway had matured in ways that were becoming problematic. Poor sightlines around curves and at crossroads were making for unsafe conditions. The Olmsted firm documented these concerns in a series of photo albums now available online at the Olmsted Archive's Flickr site.

Overgrown Hampstead Road entrance, 1915
Arborway along the Arboretum

Between Centre Street and Jamaica Pond, steps were taken to remove this understory and create the parkway views that are familiar today. Eagle-eyed locals will recognize "The Castle", a massive 1890s home that still dominates the western side of this block of fine residential homes.

In 1915, not all lots along the Arborway had been built upon. Note For Sale sign.

Almost all of these images come from the wonderful photo collections made available online at Flickr by the Olmsted Archives, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Brookline), National Park Service.

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