Roxbury, Boston

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Neighborhood of Boston
First Church of Roxbury
First Church of Roxbury
Official seal of Roxbury
Settled 1630
Incorporated 1846
Annexed by Boston 1868
Time zone Eastern
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC)
Area code(s) 617 / 857

Roxbury is a dissolved municipality and a currently officially recognized neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.[1] Roxbury is one of 21 official neighborhoods of Boston, used by the city for neighborhood services coordination. The city asserts that it "serves as the heart of Black culture in Boston."[2]

Roxbury was one of the first towns founded in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, and became a city in 1846 until annexed to Boston on January 5, 1868.[3] The original town of Roxbury once included the current Boston neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, West Roxbury, the South End and much of Back Bay. Roxbury now generally ends at Hammond Street, Davenport Street to the east, and East Lenox Street/Melnea Cass Boulevard to the south.

The original boundaries of the Town of Roxbury can be found in Drake's History of Roxbury and its noted Personages. Those boundaries include the Christian Science Center, the Prudential Center (built on the old Roxbury Railroad Yards) and everything south and east of the Muddy River including Symphony Hall, Northeastern University, Boston Latin School, John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics & Science, Y.M.C.A., Harvard Medical School and many hospitals and schools in the area. This side of the Muddy River is Roxbury, the other side is Brookline and Boston. Franklin Park, once entirely within Roxbury when Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Roslindale were villages within the town of Roxbury until 1854, has been divided with the line between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury located in the vicinity of Peter Parley Road on Walnut Avenue, through the park to Columbia Road. Here, Walnut Avenue changes its name to Sigourney Street, indicating the area is now Jamaica Plain. One side of Columbia Road is Roxbury, the other Dorchester. [elnea Cass Boulevard is located approximately over the Roxbury Canal that brought boats into Roxbury, bypassing the busy port of Boston in the 1830s.


Early history[edit]

Munroe House, built in 1683, as seen in 1905

Early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a series of six villages in 1630.[3] The village of Roxbury (originally called "Rocksberry"[4] for the rocks in its soil that made early farming a challenge,) has long been noted for its hilly geography and many large outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone, which was quarried for many years and used in the foundations of a large number of houses in the area.

The town is located where Boston was previously connected to mainland Massachusetts by a narrow isthmus called Boston Neck or alternately, Roxbury Neck. (Boston has since land-filled around the area so that Boston is no longer located on an isthmus.) Since all initial land traffic to Boston had to pass through Roxbury, it became an important town. Originally, it was home to a number of early leaders of the colony, including original Massachusetts Bay Colony treasurer William Pynchon, who left Roxbury in 1636 with nearly one third its men to found Springfield, Massachusetts on far less rocky and more arable soil.[5] Later, Roxbury was home to colonial governors Thomas Dudley, William Shirley, Increase Sumner. The Shirley-Eustis House, built at Roxbury during the period 1747–1751, is one of only four remaining Royal Colonial Governors' mansions in the United States.

Roxbury Town Hall built in 1810, as seen in 1899

The settlers of Roxbury originally comprised the congregation of the First Church of Roxbury, established in 1632.[6] During this time the church served not only as a place of worship but as a meeting place for government. The congregation had no time to raise a meeting house the first winter and so met with the neighboring congregation in Dorchester. One of the early leaders of this church was Amos Adams, and among the founders were Richard Dummer and his wife Mary.[7] The first meeting house was built in 1632, and the building pictured here is the fifth meeting house, the oldest such wood-frame church in Boston.[8] The Roxbury congregation, still in existence as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, lays claim to the historical founding—along with five other local congregations, i.e., Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown and Dorchester—of Harvard College. Also, the First Church of Roxbury was the starting point for William Dawes' "Midnight Ride", April 18, 1775 (in a different direction from that of Paul Revere) to warn Lexington and Concord of the British raids during the Revolutionary War.

Population growth in Massachusetts led to Roxbury initially being included within Suffolk County at its formation on May 10, 1643. Due to demographic and economic differences between Boston and its nascent suburbs, on March 26, 1793 Roxbury was included when Norfolk County was established. As the industrial revolution continued Roxbury became more integrated with Boston, leading to its annexation by Boston and return to Suffolk County.

Urban and industrial development[edit]

Fort Hill Tower (also known as the Cochituate Standpipe), designed by Nathaniel J. Bradlee and built in 1869 on the site of Revolutionary War fortifications

As Roxbury developed in the 19th century, the northern part became an industrial town with a large community of English, Irish, and German immigrants and their descendants, while the majority of the town remained agricultural and saw the development of some of the first streetcar suburbs in the United States. This led to the incorporation of the old Roxbury village as one of Massachusetts's first cities, and the rest of the town was established as the town of West Roxbury.

In the early 20th century, Roxbury became home to recent immigrants; a thriving Jewish community developed around Grove Hall, along Blue Hill Avenue, Seaver Street and into Dorchester along Columbia Road. A large Irish population also developed, with many activities centered around Dudley Square, which just before and following annexation into Boston, became a central location for Roxbury commerce. Following a massive migration from the South to northern cities in the 1940s and 1950s, Roxbury became the center of the African-American community in Boston. The center of African American residential and social activities in Boston had formerly been on the north slope of Beacon Hill and the South End. In particular, a riot in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. resulted in stores on Blue Hill Avenue being looted and eventually burned down, leaving a desolate and abandoned landscape which discouraged commerce and business development. Rampant arson in the 1970s along the Dudley Street corridor also added to the neighborhood's decline, leaving a landscape of vacant, trash filled lots and burned out buildings. In early April 1987, the original Orange Line MBTA route along Washington Street was closed and relocated to the Southwest Corridor (where the Southwest Expressway was supposed to be built a couple decades before). More recently, grassroots efforts by residents have been the force behind revitalizing historic areas and creating Roxbury Heritage State Park.

A movement known as the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project, led by Roxbury residents Andrew Jones[9] and Curtis Davis,[10][11] sought to form an independent municipality out of the Roxbury and the Mattapan area.[12][13] The project was part of a larger goal to increase the amount of services available to residents, but in 1986 Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn rejected the idea.[14][15] The area was to be named "Mandela" (after South African activist Nelson Mandela).[16]

The Boston Transportation Planning Review stimulated relocation of the Orange Line, and development of the Southwest Corridor Park spurred major investment, including Roxbury Community College at Roxbury Crossing and Ruggles Center at Columbus Avenue and Ruggles Street. Commercial development now promises reinvestment in the form of shopping and related consumer services. The Fort Hill section experienced significant gentrification when college students (many from Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology), artists, and young professionals moved into the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the present day, there is much commercial and residential redevelopment. In 2014, a new tech-incubator called Smarter in the City launched its initiative to encourage growth in Roxbury by cultivating startups in Dudley Square.[17]

Lower Roxbury[edit]

In 1868, Lower Roxbury, an ethnically diverse area that is part of the Roxbury neighborhood, was annexed to Boston. While it was politically and geographically isolated from Boston at the time of the annexation, Roxbury was the primary industrial area of the city. The upperclass society of Boston resided in the Highlands while the working class ethnic society consisting of Irish, German, Europeans, Jews and African Americans inhabiting Lower Roxbury.[18]

Lower Roxbury was once the name of the thriving area from Dudley Street to Tremont Street with bustling businesses up and down Ruggles Street. Around 1965, one side of Ruggles Street was small shops and the other side was decorated with tenement style and single family housing.[19] At the corner of Douglas Square and Tremont Street was one notable shop called People's Market; the first supermarket in Boston located in a black area.[20] In 1986, Lower Roxbury was included in the ten districts that attempted to secede from the city of Boston and become a separate city. The Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project sought to create a 12.5 square-mile city that included the entirety of Roxbury and Mattapan as well as portions of Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, Columbia Point and the South End that was to be called "Mandela" after Nelson Mandela. [21] In 1988, a referendum was defeated that would have examined the feasibility of reincorporation because the organizers of the movement believed that the area would flourish if they could create their own government that would not discriminate against minorities.[22]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1820 4,135
1830 5,247 26.9%
1840 9,089 73.2%
1850 18,364 102.0%
1860 25,137 36.9%
The first mosque in Roxbury was the Islamic Society of Boston.

According to the 2010 census, the combined population of Roxbury, Mission Hill, and Longwood Medical and Academic Area was 76,917 and the racial makeup was 58.07% Non-Hispanic Black or African American, 1.88% Non-Hispanic White, 28.01% Hispanic or Latino, who can be of any race, 5.06% Asian-American, 2.53% from other races and 4.00% from two or more races.[23]


Primary and secondary schools[edit]

Students in Roxbury are served by Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS assigns students based on preferences of the applicants and priorities of students in various zones.[24] Roxbury contains Boston Latin Academy, a 7-12 secondary school and one of the city's three exam schools.[25] Roxbury Preparatory Charter School is a public charter school that serves Grades 6-8 in the Roxbury neighborhood of Mission Hill. Roxbury Charter High Public School is located elsewhere in the area.

Roxbury High School was once located on Greenville Avenue.[26]

Roxbury is also home to Roxbury Latin School, founded in 1645, which is one of the nation's top-ranked private preparatory schools for boys in grades 7-12.

Colleges and universities[edit]

Roxbury is home to Roxbury Community College, to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) and to Emmanuel College's spiritual retreat center. Further, The Eastern Nazarene College offers Adult Studies/LEAD classes in Roxbury.[27]

Public libraries[edit]

Boston Public Library operates the Dudley Branch Library in Roxbury. The branch, which opened in April 1978, replaced the Mount Pleasant Branch, a library branch, and the Fellowes Athenaeum, a privately endowed facility. Next to the Dudley Branch Library is the Dudley Literacy Center which assists patrons who are learning English as a second language. It is the largest public library literacy center in the Boston Public Library system. The Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library, which was formerly located on Crawford Street since 1971, is now located at 41 Geneva Avenue in Dorchester/Roxbury. The Branch is in a new facility that opened in April, 2009.[28]

Notable residents[edit]

Sites of interest[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Boston's Neighborhoods: Roxbury". Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). 2010. Retrieved August 17, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Roxbury." City of Boston. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Roxbury History. Part of Roxbury had become the town of West Roxbury on May 24, 1851, and additional land in Roxbury was annexed by Boston in 1860.
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ King's handbook of Springfield, Massachusetts. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  6. ^ First Church in Roxbury, MA. Records, 1641-1956, Harvard University Library
  7. ^ Thwing, Walter Eliot (1908). "First Church in Roxbury (1630–1650)". Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  8. ^ Historical Markers: Roxbury The Boston Historical Society
  9. ^ Boston (cable or PBS?) TV 10/30/1986 'Ten O'Clock News' interview (by Christopher Lydon?) with Andrew Jones re:Mandela, Massachusetts (GRIP) proposal accessed 12/13/2014
  10. ^ Curtis Davis profile
  11. ^ Transcript, "Mandela, Massachusetts initiative in 1988 WGBH News", Original Airdate: 10/27/1988, Accessed 12/13/2014
  12. ^ Hub Hails Mandel, Boston Sunday Herald, June 24,1990
  13. ^ Nonprofit incorporation papers for Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project, Inc., 9/29/1986
  14. ^ Jordan, Robert (15 November 1985). "Flynn Rejects Referendum on Roxbury Secession". The Boston Globe (Boston, MA). 
  15. ^ Overbea, L.Boston black community ponders secession, The Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1985, accessed 12/13/2014
  16. ^ Race Relations: Drawing the Line: Drawing the Line, Time Magazine, Monday, Oct. 27, 1986, accessed 12/13/2014
  17. ^ "Building a 'Smarter' Inner City". Slice of MIT (Cambridge, MA). March 21, 2014. 
  18. ^ Bailey, Ronald (2014-03-04). Lower Rox. p. 5. 
  19. ^ "An Interview with Gloria Fox". Lower Roxbury Black History Project. Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.). 4 March 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  20. ^ Parker, Lolita. "An Interview with Cecil Guscott." Lower Roxbury Black History Project. Northeastern University, 6 May 2008.
  21. ^ "Fall Vote Sought on Making Roxbury a City". The Boston Globe (Boston, MA). 12 June 1986. 
  22. ^ Medoff, Peter; Sklar, Holly (1994). Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. pp. 115–145. ISBN 0-89608-482-5. 
  23. ^ "Roxbury, Mission Hill, Longwood Medical Center Census Breakdown". The Boston Globe. January 26, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Student Assignment Policy." Boston Public Schools. Retrieved on April 15, 2009.
  25. ^ "Boston Latin Academy". Boston Public Schools. Retrieved April 15, 2009. 
  26. ^ "Roxbury High School students." The Ten O'Clock News at Open Vault WGBH-TV. September 13, 1978. Retrieved on April 16, 2009.
  27. ^ "ENC's Adult and Graduate Studies Program expands into satellite locations around the state". Nazarene Communications Network. December 18, 2008. 
  28. ^ "Dudley Branch Library." Boston Public Library. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  29. ^ Fineman, Howard and Vern E. Smith. "Article: An angry 'charmer.' (Louis Farrakhan)(includes related article)(Cover Story)." Newsweek. October 30, 1995. Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  30. ^ [2] The William Lloyd Garrison House
  31. ^ "Founding father of the sweet science." The Irish Times. Wednesday October 29, 2008. Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  32. ^ Morse, Steve. "A WARM HOMECOMING FOR DONNA SUMMER." The Boston Globe. July 24, 1990. Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  33. ^ Walker Becomes CNN NY Bureau Chief - TVNewser. (2007-07-03). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  34. ^ Helfer, Andrew; Randy DuBurke (2006). Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 40. ISBN 0-8090-9504-1. 

Further reading

External links[edit]



Northeastern University Archives


Coordinates: 42°19′30″N 71°05′43″W / 42.32500°N 71.09528°W / 42.32500; -71.09528