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City Document. — No. 2.
MAYOR OF EOXBURT
IN RELATION TO THE
BACK BAY LANDS,
JANUARY 19, 1857.
NORFOLK COUNTY JOURNAL PRESS.
18 5 7.
CITY OF EOXBURY.
In Common Council, Jan. 19, 1857.
A Message was received from the Mayor, in relation to the " Back
Bay Lands," which was read.
Upon motion of Mr. May, of Ward 3, laid on the table, and 2000
copies ordered to be printed, for the use of the Council and for distri-
bution to the citizens.
JOSHUA SEAVER, Clerk.
Cltg d HU^hrrg.
Mayor's Office, January 19, 1857.
To the Board of Aldermen and Common Council of the
City of Roxbury :
By reference to the late annual Address of his Excel-
lency the Governor of this Commonwealth to the two
branches of the Legislature of Massachusetts, it will be
seen that he alludes to an extensive tract of lands, which
is now unimproved, known as the " Back Bay," in a manner
which cannot but deeply interest every citizen not only of
Roxbury, but of every town in the County of Norfolk. After
referring to two formal instruments, which have been com-
pleted, by which, in the one case, the Commonwealth has
become a party in connection with the Boston Water Power
Company for the improvement of those lands ; and, in the
other, the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Boston
"Water Power Company and the City of Boston, has be-
come a party for the same object ; — and after stating that
a magnificent plan for laying out the territory is proposed,
which, as it progresses, will render the lots very attractive
and immediately saleable — his Excellency proceeds as fol-
"The property of the State in the Back Bay, estimated at millions
by the rates at which similar lands in the same vicinity have recently
been sold, seems to be an interest of sufficient magnitude to justify a
limited expenditure in preparing it for the market.
" A portion of the lands included in this tract lies within the limits
of Boston, and another portion within the boundaries of Roxbury. The
line between the two cities is arbitrary, irregular and inconvenient.
The Boston sewers must pass through Roxbury for suitable drainage,
and all that portion comprised within the latter city will be deprived of
much of its value to the Commonwealth, unless supplied with the Co-
chituate water, the exclusive property of the former. I therefore advise
that the boundary line be changed, so as to bring the whole, or nearly
all the tract to be filled, within the jurisdiction of the City of Boston."
That portion of the boundary line between Boston and
Roxbury, which his Excellency now proposes to change,
was established by the Legislature in 1836. Previous to
that period, it had become somewhat indefinite, in conse-
quence of changes in the original channel, which, before
the construction of the Mill-Dam, was the recognized
boundary between the cities. The line, as established by
the Legislature in 1836, was satisfactory to Boston and
Roxbury, and approved by the Commonwealth as a just,
regular, and convenient boundary. The Act reads as fol-
" Chap. 37. Be it enacted, &c.
" The following lines, which have been mutually agreed upon between
the City of Boston and the Town of Roxbury, shall hereafter constitute
and be considered the boundary lines in the section to which they refer,
between the said city and town, viz., beginning at a stone monument on
the southwesterly side of the dyke that forms the southwesterly boun-
dary of the Empty Basin, so called, from which point the centre
of the steeple of Park Street Meeting-house, in said city, bears North,
fifty-three degrees East, this line to run in this direction, from the point
above mentioned, about two hundred and ninety rods, until it strikes
the centre of the main channel westerly of the ropewalk lands, in said
city ; thence turning and running northerly, in the centre of said chan-
nel, about one hundred and twenty-five rods, to a point two hundred
feet distant, southerly, from the main branch of the Mill Dam or Wes-
tern Avenue ; thence turning nearly at right angles, and running wes-
terly nearly on a parallel line with said Mill Dam, until it strikes the
branch thereof leading to Roxbury, at which point a stone monument
has been erected. And the territory and jurisdiction on either side
of said lines as hereby established, are accordingly confirmed to said
city and said town respectively." — March 16, .1836.
It is now suggested by his Excellency the Governor,
that it would be proper for the Legislature to establish a
new boundary line ; and one of a character so arbitrary as
to deprive the City of Roxbury of jurisdiction over an ex-
tensive tract of territory embracing all the lands in the
Empty Basin, or Back Bay, in whomsoever the fee may be
vested, which now lie within the boundary line of Roxbury,
and comprising an extent of at least four hundred and
fifty (450) acres.
The tract of land which it is thus proposed by his Ex-
cellency to transfer to Boston, is not only of great extent,
but also of great value — being, according to the extract
from the Address of his Excellency, which I have already
quoted, even now estimated at millions of dollars. Its
prospective value can hardly be calculated ; but when laid
out agreeably to the " magnificent plan," which appears to
have been already adopted, with spacious avenues and com-
modious streets, intersecting each other at right angles, and
ornamented with Parks and Squares, and covered with ware-
houses, dwelling-houses, and public buildings, as will in all
probability be the case before the lapse of many years, it
must — provided the present boundary line remains un-
changed — be of immense value as taxable property, not
only to the City of Roxbury, but to the whole County of
Norfolk, to whomsoever the different tracts of territory
may actually belong.
In that portion of the Address of his Excellency, which
relates to the subject of the Back Bay Lands, I can find no
intimation that the convenience or interests of the City or
County are to be consulted in relation to this important
change in the boundary lines, which contemplates so serious
an abridgment of our already limited municipal territory.
It is therefore but reasonable to infer that a course on the
part of the Legislature would meet the approval of his
Excellency, similar to the one adopted by the Legislature
in 1850, when a tract of land, consisting of only nineteen
acres, however, situated on the South Bay, within the
boundaries of Roxbury, but the fee of which was in Bos-
ton, was wanted by the City of Boston, and transferred to
that city by the Legislature, regardless of the remonstrance
of Roxbury, and without any equivalent whatever.
But it can hardly be expected that a Legislature,
composed of intelligent and high-minded men, representing
all portions of the Commonwealth, and whose duty it is to
protect the interests of the weak, as well as the strong — r
of the poor and humble, as well as the rich and powerful,
will, without full and deliberate consideration, and against
the wishes and without the consent of the authorities of
Roxbury, determine thus to deprive our City of so large a
portion of territory, as is recommended by his Excellency,
and add the lands in question to the municipal jurisdiction
of Boston, with a view to improve and increase the value
of the landed property of a wealthy Corporation, and also
of the Commonwealth, which is thus made to appear in the
new and singular character of a joint partner in a great
I repeat, that such a proceeding, which, if not palpably
unjust and despotic, may be regarded as at least an extra-
ordinary one, can never receive the sanction of the Legis-
lature ; — and, more especially, when it is recollected that
the present boundary line on the Back Bay, between the
Cities of Boston and Roxbury, was the result of a special
agreement or contract between those two cities, which con-
tract was subsequently confirmed by the act of the Legis-
lature, which I have already cited. Whether the Legisla-
ture of Massachusetts has the constitutional authority to
annul this contract without the consent of both the original
parties, is also a question for the consideration of that
It is known to the City Government of Roxbury, that
suits at law are now pending in relation to the actual own-
ersliip of a portion of this land in the Back Bay — about
seventy acres — which it is hoped and expected will soon
be decided. These suits are brought against the City of
Roxbury by the Commonwealth, and by the Boston Water
Power Company. His Excellency the Governor, in his
annual Address, has so far prejudged the merits of these
cases, as to state that " the claim of the City of Roxbury
to the ownership of a portion of this territory, is denied
by the most eminent legal advisers, whose services the
Commonwealth and the Boston Water Power Company
have been able to obtain."
I am able, however, to inform the members of the City
Council, that I have assurances from eminent counsel who
have investigated the subject, that the claims of Roxbury
to the portion of territory in dispute, can be so clearly
shown and established in a court of law, as to warrant the
most vigorous 'proceedings in defending those cases.
Although I do not believe that either the Judicial or
Legislative departments of our government can be influ-
enced by counsels emanating from even the highest author-
ity, without being convinced by their own investigation,
of their wisdom and justice ; yet, under existing circum-
stances, it may be well to consider whether it would not
be proper for the City Council of Roxbury to take imme-
diately some preliminary step towards protecting the rights
and defending the interests of the City, which seem to be
thus strangely assailed. And I would respectfully suggest
for the consideration of the City Council, the propriety of
appointing a permanent Committee, with authority to act
in such manner as they may deem expedient, on that por-
tion of his Excellency's Address, which relates to the sub-
ject of the Back Bay Lands ; and also to take such action
in relation to the suits now pending, to which I have re-
ferred, or any other matters connected with those lands or
the drainage in the Back Bay, which in their opinion will
be proper, and contribute to the advantage of Roxbury —
with the understanding that such Committee shall have no
exclusive authority to compromise or relinquish any claim,
right, or privilege in connection with those lands, which
Roxbury has hitherto maintained or defended.
I have the Honor to be, Gentlemen,
Respectfully, Your obedt. servt.,
JOHN S. SLEEPER,
Mayor of Roxbury.