History of the Neighborhood
Dorchester Avenue, the nearly straight line that runs from Lower Mills to the bridge over Fort Point Channel, was created as a turnpike by the Dorchester Turnpike Corporation, created by an act of the Massachusetts legislature in 1805. It became a free road in 1854 that was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for streetcar traffic, first horse cars and later electric trolley cars. Centre Street is the descendant of an early Indian trail; Ashmont Street was introduced in 1849, and Melville Avenue in 1869.
The real impetus for growth in the area at the south of the district was the introduction of the Shawmut Branch Railroad in 1872. The area near Ashmont grew from the activity at the train station and the construction of Jacques and Griffin’s Market (now O’Brien’s) in 1884. The nearby residential neighborhoods began to grow, and the Square grew with the construction of The Hotel Argyle (1882-92), the Ashmont Block (1892), All Saints Church (1892-94), Peabody Square Park (1893), the Fire House (1895), and the Peabody apartment building (1895-96).
The northern stretch of the district, from Welles Avenue to Melville Avenue, was influenced mostly by institutional development during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The Industrial School for Girls opened their building in 1859; the second high school soon followed in the late 1870s; Christ Church Unitarian opened about 1890; and St. Mark’s Parish, Roman Catholic, was set off from St. Gregory’s in 1905. St. Mark’s first occupied a wooden building, but by 1914 Charles Brigham was commissioned to design a brick church building.
From Mercier Street at the south to Melville Avenue at the north, as the residential population grew by leaps and bounds from the 1870s to the 1920s, the commercial district along the sides of Dorchester avenue added small commercial buildings as larger tracts of land were broken up. Livery stables and greenhouses gave way to stores, offices and service businesses in one-story buildings or in small mixed-use properties.
When Barbara Bean, Father Dan Finn and Andrea Sheppard Lomba lead the charge to establish a Main Street district to cover the area from the southern boundary of the Field’s Corner district to Mercier Street, the group recognized the nearly continuous commercial presence along Dorchester Avenue which laid the foundations for what would become Greater Ashmont Main Street.