Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Urban Archeology

Hyde Park avenue - showing Brookway Terrace

The mysterious tunnel.

Sanford Fire Insurance Map (courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society).

I've been traipsing through the Forest Hills area recently, trying to find traces of our subterranean waterway. Mostly, I can only guess the exact location of the culvert, based on Sanford fire maps. The problem is that there are so many manhole covers in the streets that even when I measure the map and pace out distances, it can be difficult to be sure which manhole hides Stony Brook and which is a garden-variety storm drain or sewer. I frequently find myself in the "Here it is... no, wait... here it is..." situation. Since Forest Hills has been altered since the Sanford maps were drawn, I just can't be sure of myself without above-ground evidence to support my guesses.

Which brings me to the topic of the day - my sighting of evidence for the location of the Cantebury Brook culvert near where it joins Stony Brook between Hyde Park Ave and Washington St. The Sampson and Murdock map I've posted in earlier entries shows where Canterbury Brook crosses under Hyde Park Ave and the railroad tracks and enters Stony Brook. The problem is, many of the current streets along Hyde Park Ave today were not laid out yet in 1888, so the precise location of the crossing is difficult to figure based on that map.

I took a drive down Hyde Park Ave and have a look-see today, and I think I hit the jackpot. The hybrid street/satellite map I have posted above shows what I found. The map shows Hyde Park Ave, south of Forest Hills and Walk Hill St. To orient yourself, find Hyde Park Ave and the parallel railroad tracks to the left, running from top to bottom. The green arrow points to 320 Hyde Park Ave. Then notice in the upper left, on the west side of the tracks, is the curving Brookway Terrace that borders the Archdale housing projects. Hmmm... that's an interesting name!

Now look at the two ball fields that sit in between the railroad tracks and Hyde Park Ave (look for the green grass).The north border of the fields (just south of Dellmore Rd) cuts at a sharp angle to Hyde Park Ave, and the asphalt walkway along the fence just happens to line up with Brookway Terrace on the other side of the tracks. When I see an angled property line like that, I begin to think I may be on to something.

I parked along the street and walked in along the north edge of the park. As I approached the railroad tracks, I found a manhole cover in the grass. Getting warmer! When I walked to the edge of the railroad property, I noticed a stone wall in front of me. This appears to be the ony place along the low train embankment that has a wall. Right at the wall I see that the stone is arched just above ground level. The picture shows the arch. There is a rolled up section of chain link fence on the ground that gives some idea of the size of the wall and arch. I could have fit down under the arch if I went feet first. There is a pile of trash going down into the... what do I call it? I had a flashlight, and was able to look inside. The trash angled down several feet to what looked like a sand surface. No light showed through from the other side of the tracks. And with the trash - wood, carpet, household stuff - at the mouth of the arched entrance, I couldn't tell if my end connected to an underground culvert or if it was just a dead end.

Now I have Brookway Terrace (an extention of Brookway Rd), which follows just about the route I expected Stony Brook to run coming south from Forest Hills. I have the angled property line, which I suspected had been laid out at the time the brook was on the surface. I have a manhole in the corner of a park, and I have a stone tunnel under the tracks that looks to be as old as the stone wall that once lined the embankment of the train tracks through Jamaica Plain. But wait... there's more! Take a look at the satellite picture/map again. Follow that angled property line I talked about from the railroad tracks to Hyde Park Ave. Now extend it across the street - it lines up just south of Southbourne Rd. Extend the line to the lower right at Florian St. Notice how it just about forms the property line between the houses on Wyvern and the curving end of Wachusett Sts? Athough you can't see it in this picture, it is clear standing on the sidewalk of Hyde Park Ave that the two property lines on opposite sides of Hyde Park Ave do line up pretty well with each other.

Throughout Jamaica Plain, the Sanford maps show that property lines were often drawn to follow Stony Brook. Examples of this can be seen on the 1874 map that's shown above. Both Cantebury and Stony Brooks form property lines between both large and single-house plots.There are two puzzles in the 1874 map that I only recognized after my trip today. First, Canterbury Brook seems to go under a street between Florence (today's Florian) and Hyde Park Ave. Comparing this map and a modern street map like the one shown here, I'm pretty sure that what appears to be a street on the Sanford map is just the property line I pointed out above. I needed to print out both maps and compare them in hand to convince myself, but now I'm quite sure. The second puzzle in the 1874 map is the dog-leg route of Cantebury Brook as is crosses the path of the railroad tracks. Why would it have been changed? I dunno. I'm afraid I've run out of ideas here. I still don't have proof that Canterbury Brook actually flows through the tunnel I found. If it does, is the culvert under the sand surface I saw in the tunnel? Did they start with a tunnel and then deepen it later and put it underground - even under the tunnel? I may have to get down inside the tunnel to check it out. Hmmm... that's a little spooky.

Note: 9/28 - I went back and took a look at the tunnel. Having learned that there was a Brookway Footpath at right about this site, I needed to do some exploring. I brought a flashlight and crawled into the tunnel. There is a nice flat floor, although it's covered with dirt. At the other (west) side, I could see the arch, but it was filled in and is hidden from view on the outside. I can only assume that this was the Footpath. It could be that the current passage under the tracks follows the old dog-leg path mentioned above. There are houses with back yards along the tracks, so I may not be able to poke around to check this out.

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