Jamaica Plain, Architectural & Community History Workshop

In 1800, Jamaica Plain was a quiet agricultural and residential district a few miles west of downtown Boston. The hilly landscape’s numerous farms and orchards provided fresh produce and milk to the nearby city. Along the shores of Jamaica Pond and on the banks of the Stony Brook, wealthy residents of Boston built extensive landscaped estates to which they retreated during hot summer months.

By 1900, the neighborhood boasted numerous industries and housed a dense and diverse population of immigrants, workers, and middle-class commuters. Breweries, tanneries, and other factories crowded new rail lines and banks of the increasingly polluted, and later covered-up, Stony Brook. Houses, schools, stores, and churches filled in the former farmlands. In winter, teams of men and horses harvested ice from Jamaica Pond’s frozen expanse, while busy street car lines were installed on the once quaint country roads. The idyllic, rural hinterland had become a thriving urban-industrial neighborhood of Boston.

The tension between Jamaica Plain’s rural past and urban future played out not only in the neighborhood’s landscape, but also in its political relationship with Boston. Originally, the district was part of the town of Roxbury. In 1851, however, wealthy residents led a successful campaign to form the Town of West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain. Meanwhile, Roxbury sought annexation with Boston. Jamaica Plain’s residents, proud of their regional heritage and fond of the landscape’s bucolic character, were reluctant to join forces with the expanding metropolis. However, as Jamaica Plain’s population surged with the influx of Irish and German immigrants and industry proliferated unchecked, its residents looked to the City of Boston to provide much-needed civic amenities and services. In 1874, West Roxbury’s residents voted for annexation with Boston.

Jamaica Plain’s profound transformation from a rural hamlet into an urban-industrial neighborhood can still be read in the neighborhood’s built environment. Over the course of a semester, a group of students in the Boston Architectural and Community Workshop examined Jamaica Plain’s buildings and landscapes to better understand these processes of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. By focusing on residential patterns, institutional buildings, and industrial operations, we came to see how Jamaica Plain’s history is embedded in its built environment. Below you will find a representative sample of students’ work.


Open this story map on Bromley Park as a residential square as a full page viewer here.


Open this story of the institutions in Jamaica Plan as a full page viewer here.