Sam Bass Warner’s Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston (1870-1900) documents in great detail the process of growth in Boston, from the 2-mile radius city that it was once to the metropolis that it is today. Last
summer I explored the gardens of Highland Park, a small segment of the once streetcar suburb of Roxbury and felt this summer should be dedicated to Dorchester, one of the first streetcar suburbs of Boston.
The three (Roxbury, West Roxbury and Dorchester) streetcar suburbs discussed in Warner’s classic study were enormous in size compared to the old pedestrian city of 1850.
By 1900, the population of these suburbs (now neighborhoods of Boston) boomed to about 227,000 compared to about 60,000 in 1870. That’s an alarming growth rate! According to the building records Warner studied, between 1870 and 1900 22,500 houses went up: 12,000 single family houses, 6,000 two
family houses, 4,000 three-family houses, and about 500 larger structures (35).
Walking around these streetcar suburbs can be disorienting because “the shape of the land is buried under endless streets so filled with houses and so patched together that the observer cannot orient himself in a
landscape larger than a block or two (35).” The 22,500 houses built in these streetcar suburbs “were the product of separate decisions made by 9,000 individual builders” (37).
The houses we see today serve as examples of social class building patterns. Their style and size are testament of Boston’s rich immigration history. Some great examples of the Stick Style, Shingle Style,
Arts and Crafts Movement, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival among other types and styles can be found around Ashmont Hill in Dorchester.
For in depth information on Boston’s streetcar suburbs consult Sam Bass Warner’s book mentioned above. Douglass Shand-Tucci’s Ashmont: An Historical Guide to Peabody Square, Carruth’s Hill and Ashmont Hill and the Architecture of Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. and John A Fox complements Warner’s book very well.