Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You Say Toe May Toe, I Say Roxbury

Just as the Sober Homes a couple of years ago stoked some neighborhood heat and activity, so too had the recent exciting prospect of a nice neighborhood restaurant. What began as a polite online listserv conversation about what amenities mean to us, degenerated after a week or so into name calling: Fort Hill! Highland Park! Fort Hill! Highland Park!

Triggered innocently enough by a neighbor taking initiative, the Fort Hill! Highland Park! debate simmers on the back of the stove. On the front burner: to vision or not to vision. What do we want here? What are we willing to tolerate, what will we embrace, and what will we disdain? And what will we call ourselves? This last is not a new question.

As Francis S. Drake wrote in 1878 in his preface to The Town of Roxbury, Its Memorable Persons and Places, Its History and Antiquities, with Numerous Illustrations of Its Old landmarks and Noted Personages:

“Roxbury was appropriately so named from its most prominent natural characteristic; and no one who venerates its founders or who cherishes a proper regard for the preservation of its historical or ancestral memories, should ever consent to substitute for it a name no more applicable to it than to many other localities now included within the city limits. To do so is no less a blunder in taste than in fact. The great city of London, while gradually absorbing adjoining localities, religiously preserves their ancient names. Are ours less dear to us? Let us, then, while a single “rock” remains above its surface, cling to the good old name of ROXBURY, ‘scotched, not killed,’ by the temporary substitution for it of the unacceptable misnomer of ‘Boston Highlands’.”

Unlike Drake, I kinda like Boston Highlands for this section of Roxbury. But I agree, too, with the neighbor who fairly growled on the listserv, call this nook what you like but its name is Roxbury.


  1. Greetings from Lower Roxbury, or as my parking permit says, South End, my mail says Roxbury X-ing, and my heart says home...

    my vote is for Fort Hill, but that's because I only have called it that.

  2. Highland Park is the little patch of grass at the top of the hill around the old Cotituate water tower. Fort Hill seems much more appropriate for the neighborhood around the hill.

    Boston Highlands replaced Roxbury Highlands in the Boston Newspapers after Roxbury was annexed to Boston. Who decided to change a name that had a history that went back generations? I suspect that the city encouraged the change to Boston Highlands to deliberately stamp out the separateness of Roxbury. Changing the name to Boston Highlands made no more sense than changing Jamaica Pond to Boston Pond. Sadly, the vast majority of current Roxbury residents don't give a damn one way or another, so neighborhood naming is an arbitrary matter now. It's just a matter of time before real estate weasels announce the name Roxhill or one of those obnoxious Manhattan names like NoHo.

  3. Ooh, where can I sign up for the listserv?

    ~eeka on Highland Ave

  4. A bunch of hippy yuppies fighting over the name of a neighborhood that they did not grow up in and will move out of in the near future. Love how they repeatedly stress that they live in Roxbury. If you want to be really urban chic, go try and gentrify Intervale St or Stanwood St.

  5. Hippy yuppy hides behind Fort Hill and Highland Park (and Mission Hill) because hippy yuppy doesn't want to be affiliated with Roxbury. Not everyone can be as cool and tough as anonymous.