Built in 1913, Hibernian Hall was an important center for Boston’s Irish community for almost fifty years. It hosted concerts of traditional Irish music, and contained a bowling alley, ballroom and many meeting rooms. Among other organizations, many local chapters of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization, which had its 19th century roots in combating discrimination against Irish immigrants, frequently took advantage of the space. So, too, did Boston’s largely Irish Catholic chapter of the Christian Front (see the entry on the Copley Square Hotel), an anti-Semitic organization, in the early 1940s.
In the initial decades of the 1900s, an influx of Jewish immigrants to Roxbury led to the Hall providing space for Bar Mitzvahs. In later years, the growing Black community in Roxbury led it to host James Brown and the Famous Flames before their rise to prominence. In a context in which many residents of Irish origin had moved out of Roxbury to other areas in Greater Boston and growing numbers of African Americans moved in, the Opportunities Industrialization Center bought the building in 1972. Started by Reverend Leon Sullivan of Philadelphia, the Center focused on providing technical and life skills training to the Black community.
In 2000, the Madison Park Development Corporation, a local community non-profit, purchased the Hall and relocated its offices there. The building’s 250-seat ballroom serves as the Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, a venue for theater, concerts, dances, film screenings, and private events.
Silver Line to Nubian Square station. Walk towards Dudley Street and turn left. Hibernian Hall is on the left side of the street. (0.2 miles, a 4-minute walk.)
To learn more:
Charles R. Gallagher, Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021.
Gedutis, Susan. See You at the Hall: Boston’s Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press/University Press of New England, 2004.
In late 1755, ships carrying French-speaking deportees, from what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces, began arriving in Boston Harbor. Known as the Acadians, some 2,000 of them would resettle in Massachusetts. Their expulsion, what many Acadian descendants still refer to as “Le Grand Dérangement” (Great Upheaval), paved the way for the occupation of their lands by “New England Planters”—about 8,000 New Englanders heeding a British call to replace the Acadians.
Although the treatment of the Acadian diaspora is much debated, responsibility for their expulsion and the expropriation of their lands is not in doubt. Massachusetts Colony Governor William Shirley, who spent at least part of each year living in his mansion on a 33-acre Roxbury estate, ordered their removal during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763). Although a civilian, Shirley also briefly served as commander of all British forces in North America.
Prior to his governorship, Shirley’s title was that of the “Surveyor of the King’s Wood.” In this role he inventoried New England’s natural resources and engaged with frontier settlers whose antipathy toward the indigenous people and their French allies he shared. Shirley also served on a commission to determine boundaries between New England and New France (part of present-day Canada). As such, Shirley was very familiar with the region.
Although Le Grand Dérangement was but one instance of ethnic cleansing related to the wars, it is especially interesting because Acadian interactions with the indigenous population was far less destructive than those of the English: living in relatively small settlements, the Acadians established stable relations with the Native people, intermarried, and often borrowed indigenous cultural practices. The mass deportation severed those relations. (In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II issued a formal apology to the Acadians for the “wrongs committed in the name of the English Crown.”)
The French and Indian Wars profoundly reconfigured relations between and among indigenous people, the British and French governments, and their respective colonial subjects, the settlers. Ultimate British victory in the wars proved expensive; the taxation associated with the war debt exacerbated tensions between the crown and its colonists. These created incentives for the latter to seek independence and to further plunder native lands notwithstanding the British Crown’s war-ending pledges to protect and “not molest” the indigenous people.
Built between 1746 and 1749 as Governor Shirley’s summer residence, the historic, three-story house is part of Shirley-Eustis Place. (The name reflects that it was also at one point the home of William Eustis, a Massachusetts governor, 1823-1825, and U.S. congressman.) The larger entity, now an official City of Boston Landmark, incorporates a carriage house and the grounds. It also includes an outbuilding (at 42-44 Shirley Street) that is now a private residence.
Archeological research demonstrates that servants and enslaved Africans worked in the mansion and on the lands during Shirley’s ownership of the estate. It also suggests that some of the enslaved people may have lived in portions of the then-outbuilding, probably a barn. If true, it would make the building one of the last free-standing slave quarters (along with the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford) in the U.S. Northeast. None of this would have come as an embarrassment to Governor Shirley who went on to serve the British Crown as Governor of the Bahamas at the peak of its slave trading years.
Today the Shirley-Eustis House Association, founded in 1913, owns and operates the renovated and restored mansion and grounds. The landmark is open for tours from June through September.
Commuter Rail to the Newmarket Station. 0.3 mile (5-minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass close by.
In 1864, William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist and publisher of the Boston-based, anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, moved to the “Boston Highlands” of Roxbury with his family.
Rockledge was the name given to the half-acre estate. Due to the declining health and limited mobility of Garrison’s wife, Helen—an active abolitionist as well—it was thought best to move to what was then a relatively bucolic suburb. (The City of Boston did not annex Roxbury until 1868.) The Garrison family held onto the property until the deaths of both Helen (1876) and William (1879).
In an area today known as both Highland Park and Fort Hill, the original building, altered somewhat over the decades, and a later addition still stand. Beginning in 1904, Rockledge served as a nursing home, one run by the Episcopal Sisters of the Society of St. Margaret for low-income African-American women and children. Today, Rockledge, a National Historic Landmark, is part of Emmanuel College’s Notre Dame campus, where the 30 or so student residents dedicate themselves to community service and social justice.
Orange Line to Jackson Square Station. (0.6 mile, about a 14-minute walk.) The Emmanuel campus is accessed from Highland Avenue, a small street above and behind Rockledge.
William Lloyd Garrison birthplace and family home, 3-5 School Street, Newburyport. (We explore this site in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.)
Highland Park, former home of a Revolutionary War fort and the site of Fort Hill Tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It affords a beautiful view of much of Boston.
To learn more:
Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.
An historic African Methodist Episcopal congregation, the Charles Street AME Church began in 1818, when a group of formerly enslaved people began meeting in a house on Beacon Hill and established the First African Methodist Episcopal Society. Leading up to the Civil War, the church served as a major meeting place for abolitionists and a key organizing site in the Boston abolitionist community’s fight against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.
Over its first several decades of existence, the church was located in various buildings in Beacon Hill. In 1876, its growing congregation, due in significant degree to a doubling of Boston’s Black population following the Civil War, led the church to move to the Charles Street Meeting House (at 70 Charles Street, on the corner of Mount Vernon Street) and take on its current name.
However, by the 1890s, the African American community in Beacon Hill was declining as families moved to the South End and Roxbury due to an influx of European immigrants to Boston and growing competition in both housing and employment. In order to accommodate its congregation, the church eventually decided to leave Beacon Hill, the last African American institution to do so, and move to Roxbury. Retaining its name, Charles Street AME bought the former St. Ansgarius Church property on 551 Warren Street and has resided there since 1939.
MBTA buses pass on Warren Street very close to the church.