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ROZZIE ROAMS: PETERS HILL WITH KEVIN SCHOFIELD

The Rozzie Roams blog series is guest-written by RVMS Marketing Committee Volunteer Rebecca Perriello. Rebecca will be talking to residents who have a special connection to Roslindale’s green spaces.  

Take a stroll around Peters Hill any time of year and there is always something new to see. From the dawn redwoods and Osage orange on the south side of the hill, to the honey locust collection and smoke trees at the summit. We chatted with Kevin Schofield, Roslindale resident and Arboretum docent, to learn more about Peters Hill and why it means so much to him.

Rebecca: How long have you been coming here?

Kevin: I first came here about fifty or sixty years ago. For the last ten I’ve been a regular.

RP: What makes this space so special?

KS: Everything! Where do I start? It’s a park! Owned by us (City of Boston) and it’s run by Harvard University. And it’s free! Bussey Street divides Roslindale from the Jamaica Plain side of the Arnold Arboretum. From the top of the hill a stunning view of Downtown Boston and parts of Cambridge can be had. At the bottom of the hill near South Street the elevation is about 60 ft, top of the hill is 240. (Bring your camera.)

Peters Hill is part of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, America’s first public arboretum with 15,000 documented plants of almost 4000 taxa (different kinds of plants). It’s the most comprehensive and best documented collection of temperate woody plants in the world. So one of the things that makes Peters Hill special is the trees. Without trees, humans would not be what we are.

Long ago Buddha recognized the “unlimited kindness and benevolence” of trees. The trees of Peters Hill are from all over the world. They are beautiful, colorful, interesting, useful, rare, inspiring, majestic, and awesome. There are trees Native Americans used for bows and arrows, trees that were around since the dinosaurs, that bloom in snowstorms, that are sung about in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book and a tree that the “Arbs” brought back from extinction. They are constantly growing and changing, flowering and fruiting. Reacting to climate and weather, bugs and diseases and people, and they all have tags that tell their history.

RP: Can you tell me a little bit more about the history of Peters Hill?

KS: Peters Hill is a drumlin left over from the last ice age. It was inhabited by Native Americans until the Europeans arrived.

Joseph Weld (1599-1646), an aide to Governor Winthrop (the colony’s first governor) and a deputy of the court, was given 278 acres in Roxbury by a grant from the colonial legislature. In 1711, a descendant of Joseph Weld and 44 other men organized the second parish of Roxbury Meeting House (church) and accompanying graveyard. Daniel Weld’s tombstone is still there, as is that of Anna Bridge (1722). Nehemiah Walter was the minister of the first church of Roxbury and delivered the first sermon on Peters Hill. Weld and Walter are both remembered by Weld and Walter Streets. After the death of Lieutenant Eleazer Weld, fellow Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Bussey purchased 120 acres of the Weld holdings. Bussey donated it to Harvard and what would become the Arnold Arboretum.

On March 14 1887, the worst bridge collapse train accident in the history of America happened at the bottom of Peters Hill. Two dozen were killed and many injured. This caused regulation, and it never happened again. The Bussey Bridge train disaster is commemorated with a plaque on the Washington Street side of today’s bridge.

RP: What is your favorite thing to do/look at in this space?

KS: My favorite thing is looking at the change. It’s constant. Spring, summer, fall, and winter wait for nothing.

RP: Why is it called Peters Hill?

KS: It’s named after the Boston mayor Andrew James Peters. Peters was born in 1872 to a prominent Boston family and grew up on Asticou Road near present day Forest Hills Station. He died at the Faulkner Hospital and is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery. He held Tip O’Neill and JFK’s seat in Congress, and he became the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Woodrow Wilson. He defeated James Michael Curley to become Boston’s 42nd mayor. His term included the Great Influenza, the Molasses Flood, Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth, the Boston Police strike, and WWI. The police strike was instrumental in the accession of Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge to the presidency of the USA.

RP: What sort of wildlife can you see here?

KS: The only wildlife I know about is on Hemlock Hill on warm Saturday and Friday nights. They can leave quite a mess. But it could be worse. Back in the seventies, stolen cars would be set on fire and pushed down from the top of Peters Hill.

Oh, you mean wild animals. Well ... mice, chipmunks, squirrels, possums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, deer, and a bunch of different bird species from hummingbirds to great blue heron. Moths, butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, and some mosquitoes.

RP: What are the benefits of coming to a space like this?

KS: Fresh air, exercise, peace of mind, and meeting old friends.

RP: What is an unexpected fun fact about Peters Hill?

KS: Elizabeth Taylor won her first academy award for BUtterfield 8, a film based on a scandal involving Andrew James Peters.

RP: What do you like most about Roslindale and what is your favorite business in the square?

KS: I like Rossi because it’s walkable, diverse, and accessible to downtown and Route 128. I like the 100-year-old housing stock, and I like my neighborhood and my neighbors. My favorite businesses … well, breakfast at Blue Star, bread at Fornax, groceries at the Village Market, meats at Tony’s Market, hardware at Roslindale Hardware, pizza at The Pleasant, dinner at any of the half dozen fabulous restaurants, live music at Birch Street Bistro, and cold beer at Kelleher’s.

RP: How do you think we can encourage people to spend more time in Roslindale’s green spaces?

KS: Introduce people to the places. Educate people so they appreciate them. We are all ambassadors to our town. Be proud and knowledgeable of our natural gems.