South End Development: Neighborhood Changes Around the Everetts

In the early 1800s, the addition of new streets heading south towards Roxbury led to a dramatic widening of the Boston Neck. Seeing an opportunity, lawyers, merchants, and businessmen formed the South Cove Corporation with the intent to continue filling the land for use of railroad terminals from Worcester and Providence. The South End became prime real estate as new land was added and the downtown business district continued to expand, and the area rapidly expanded in the 1850s. Although there were some residents already living in the South End, like the Everetts, the area started to attract residents who desired larger plots of land around their homes.  According to historian and Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum, the rapid growth of the 1850s turned the South End into a “region of symmetrical blocks of high-shouldered, comfortable red brick or brownstone houses, spacious avenues, intersected by cross streets that occasionally widened the tree-shaped squares and parks, who central gardens were enclosed by neat cast iron fences.”

Row houses, now so popular in the South End, had a building boom between 1850 and 1872. Consequently, the South End is still one of the largest Victorian residential neighborhoods in the United States. The homes built were all similar in layout but it was the architectural details and ornaments that gave them their individuality. The row houses reflect six distinct architectural styles: Greek Revival, Italianate (the predominant style in the South End), Renaissance Revival, Victorian Gothic, Flemish Revival, and Neo-Grec. The Everetts’ original home on Blake’s Court was built in the late 1790s and reflected the Federal style that dominated city architecture at the time. However, when they moved to Shawmut Avenue, they moved to a Italianate home that was built during the building boom of the 1850s.

These new homes came at a premium price, a price that was too rich for newlyweds Thomas Everett and Sarah Green Everett. The average home in the South End in the 1850s ranged from $5000 – $10,000 ($155,000 – $300,000 when adjusted for 2017 inflation) and the price increased based on the proximity to its closest park. For a young man struggling to establish himself as a merchant with a young wife, Thomas Everett made the decision to set up housekeeping in Roxbury, where the streetcar made it easy for him to commute to work on the waterfront.

8 August 1864, “I suppose you will hardly realize the fact, if I write it ever so plain, that Tom intends to be married this fall. He found it impossible to obtain a house in this neighborhood, that came within his means, that he would live in, and he preferred going to Roxbury to living in any but the South End part of Boston. Father heard of a nice little house in St. James Street, nearly opposite Uncle John’s, which was for sale, but not to let, and, as he was thinking of changing some of his investments, he purchased it for five thousand dollars and lets it to Tom, thus giving father a safe and sure percentage and Tom a moderate rent.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

Thomas and Sarah Everett located themselves in the Roxbury Highlands during Roxbury’s industrial and building boom. While the lowlands were reserved for mill workers and other working class residents, the Highlands was built for suburban fashion and contained mainly city dwellers’ summer homes and gentlemen’s estates. Thomas and Sarah Everett remained in Roxbury for several years until they moved back in with Otis and Elizabeth Blake on Shawmut Avenue. Although we do not know the exact reason for this move, we can speculate that it was a financial move, or to help out Thomas’ aging parents.

The street pattern of the South End actually reflects two different style periods. The Federal style, from the early 19th century, reflects a gridiron street pattern that orients all streets towards Washington Street and Franklin and Blackstone Squares. But style changed as the development of the neighborhood progressed and a more Victorian look emerged. Street planning used oval parks laced among the tree lined streets and isolated row houses from the traffic. Parks became elongated and rounded unlike the rectangles that were seen in the Federal style.

The squares and parks became a critical aspect of the design of the South End when Charles Bulfinch predicted that the South End would become the next fashionable neighborhood in 1801. Squares were created to encourage the middle and upper middle class residents to stay in the city. As the downtown area began to be more populated, these planned parks were successful at attracting new homebuyers and the city began to build Chester Square, Union Park, and Worcester Square, and well as improving Blackstone and Franklin Squares. The parks were developed even before the homes were built and sold and the Everetts bore witness to the rapid developments around them.

23 September 1851: “The South End market progresses rapidly. The street has been paved from Dover to Brookline streets, and Union Park is having an iron fence erected round it, and preparations for a fountain, so we shall look in nice order when you return.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society

29 May 1855: “Many new houses are going up at the South End, and our location will be quite central when you return.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

“Calcutta, 6th August 1855
My dear Father,
Your letter of 29th May, also mother’s, was duly received. I notice what you say about the new improvements and nuisances on the Neck. The place must be quite an aristocratic looking place.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.

Next: Elizabeth Blake Everett, 1803 – 1883