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City Document. — No. 2. 




JANUARY 19, 1857. 



18 5 7. 


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. 


Cltg d HU^hrrg. 

Mayor's Office, January 19, 1857. 

To the Board of Aldermen and Common Council of the 

City of Roxbury : 
Gentlemen, — 

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- 
lows : 

" 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 
land speculation. 

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., 


Mayor of Roxbury.