We walk Boston streets, check our destination on a GPS, and call a ride-sharing service without considering how the street we’re on or the street we’re going to got its name. We may think we think the street name obvious but that doesn’t mean we’re right.
Sometimes, as with Spring Lane, those streets mark the locations of key features. Others, like Wigglesworth and Louis Prang streets, honor men of note who were once famous but have receded into history.
These two Boston streets bear the names of eminent men who have since faded into obscurity. Oddly, although they lived in different centuries, each man had a connection to George Washington.
Joy Street, which runs across the top of Beacon Hill from Beacon Street to Cambridge Street, does not celebrate a feeling of great happiness or elation. Instead, Joy Street got its name from Benjamin Joy (1757 – 1829), a member of the Mount Vernon Proprietors.
This was a syndicate founded by Harrison Gray Otis to speculate on land around the newly built State House. The Proprietors turned the south (and sunny) slope of Beacon Hill into one of Boston’s most desirable (and expensive) neighborhoods. Other members of the syndicate included Charles Bulfinch, Hepzibah Swan and William Scollay.
The Mount Vernon Proprietors purchased an 18.5-acre cow pasture from the painter John Singleton Copley, who lived in London and thought the land worth little because it was located far from the center of Boston. The syndicate members did not alert him to the new State House’s construction or how it would make the land around it more valuable.
Considered the “country,” the tract purchased by the Mount Vernon Proprietors offered residential sites close to the State House and with beautiful views of the Common and the Back Bay, which was still tidal marshland.
$1,000 an Acre
Benjamin Joy paid $2,000 for a two-acre pasture bounded by Joy and Walnut streets and extending north to Pinckney Street. He wished to build a country house on this land, which now holds 47 residences, and laid out the upper part of Joy Street though the parcel.Joy Street is the only street other than Charles Street that runs all the way across Beacon Hill.
The third son of John Joy, Benjamin was a merchant and the first Consul General of the United States at Calcutta, having received that position from President George Washington.
In 1808, Mr. Joy acquired the property of the First Congregational Church on Cornhill Square, demolished the church and raised “Joy’s Building.” This structure was located at #77 Washington Street when the street changed its name due to
President Washington’s visit in 1789. Set amid “insignificant” structures at the time, Joy’s Building drew people from miles around to see its magnificence for themselves.
Joy’s Building held office and studios. Occupants included a bookseller, an apothecary, dry-goods merchants, silk importers and even a school. Called the “elephant of Boston” it was a city landmark for 75 years.
A spring in one of Benjamin Joy’s homes on the east side of Charles Street is recognized as the original spring used by Rev. Blackstone, and which he offered to the Puritans as a source of clear water when they first settled in Charlestown. This is not, however, the Great Spring.
Benjamin Joy died of a liver complaint in 1829 and is buried in Old Granary Burying Ground.
The second of our Boston streets is short and did not exist when the Mount Vernon Proprietors were developing Beacon Hill. Blagden Street in the Back Bay runs behind the Boston Public Library from Dartmouth to Exeter. Only a block away from the Old South Church, it got its name from George Washington Blagden (1802 – 1884), who served as minister there from 1836 – 1872.
A graduate of Yale College, George W. Blagden studied for the ministry at the Andover Theological Seminary. He later received a Doctorate in Theology from both Union College and Harvard University. Mr. Blagden served at the first pastor of the Congregational Church in Brighton and the Salem Street Congregational Church in Boston.
I assume that Rev. Blagden was honored with a street name for his prominence more than his social views, as both his theological and political beliefs were orthodox. Unlike his brother-in-law, the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, Rev. Blagden denied that slavery was unchristian because it was recognized in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. According to “A House Dividing Against Itself” by William Lloyd Garrison, he held a lifetime belief that the abolitionists lacked Christian charity.
Rev. Blagden participated in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1853 and served on the Board of Overseers of Harvard College for five years.
Along with his wife, Miriam Phillips Blagden, he is buried in Mr. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
If you are curious about a street name, let me know. I’ll add it to my list of interesting Boston streets with curious names for future posts.