The Definitive Fort Hill Map Collection / by Jason Turgeon

I keep finding great new maps of the hill and Roxbury in general, so rather than writing a post for each of them I’m putting together this summary post for easy reference.  I’ll add new links as I find them.

If you have a link to a map of Fort Hill that I’m missing (especially any between 1931 and today), please let me know in the comments!

Maps of the Siege of Boston:  The earliest maps I’ve found are all of the Siege of Boston.  Because of our hill’s prominence in the Siege, various parts of Roxbury are represented on all of these beautiful old maps.  Had we not been involved in this military effort we’d be lucky to have even one map of this quality from the 18th century.  The First Church is represented on most of these, and some of them show a cluster of buildings around Dudley Square.  Many of them show one massive fort, not the two distinct upper and lower forts that we know were here at Highland Park and on the hill next to Kittredge Square.  In most of these, the scale is nonexistent, but they are all beautiful.  At this time, Roxbury was a tiny farming village of perhaps 2,000 people. 

19th Century Roxbury until its annexation:  In these maps, we see Roxbury go from a tiny town of 2000 people to a full-fledged industrial city of perhaps 40,000 or more by 1868.  The quality of the maps also improves dramatically over a short period of time.  I’ve excluded a number of maps that show only a portion of Fort Hill or that lack any meaningful detail.

  • 1814: A Plan of those Parts of Boston and the Towns in its Vicinity: with the Waters and Flats Adjacent (Mass Historical Society). This map by Benjamin Dearborn (1754-1838) is a proposal to construct what he called “Perpetual Tide Mills” across the Back Bay and South Bay in Boston. The plan details water and marshland as well as streets and roads of Boston, Roxbury, Brookline, Charlestown, Cambridge, Brighton, and Dorchester.
  • 1832: Map of the town of Roxbury (Leventhal Map Center).  The first map in my collection dedicated to Roxbury and covering the entire town, which then included West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale.  Another version of this map is available at the JP Historical Society.  A small fold-out version of this map was included in Drake’s History of Roxbury.  This is the first map to show  Highland Street, which was laid out shortly after the “five investors” purchased their large tract of land on top of the hill.
  • 1843: Map of the town of Roxbury, surveyed by order of the town authorities (Leventhal Map Center). What looks like an update of the 1832 edition, but by a different author.  A great map to show the rapid growth between during that decade.
  • 1849: Map of the city of Roxbury (Leventhal Map Center). An updated version of the 1843 map.  This is the first map after Roxbury became a city in 1846, and shows the wards of the new city.  This is also the first map where we see Fort Ave.
  • 1852: Map of the City of Boston and immediate neighborhood (Leventhal Map Center).  An absolutely gorgeous map that shows our neighborhood in its entirety.  This is one of the first maps to show individual property names and building outlines.  It also features etchings of 55 buildings from around Greater Boston around the perimeter of the map.
  • 1860: Roxbury ( A basic street map without much other detail.

Roxbury from 1868 to the 1930’s:  After Roxbury became a part of the City of Boston, it continued its massive growth even as it shrank to its present diminished size.  By 1940, Roxbury had grown to a population of about 140,000.  

A number of these maps are insurance atlases.  These were produced to help insurance companies decide where to write policies and how much to charge for them.  The atlases typically have a very small scale and use many pages to cover a neighborhood.  Building outlines, street names, ownership, and many other details are rendered in exacting detail.  In these atlases, the pink buildings are generally brick and the yellow ones are wood frame-an important distinction for someone considering whether or not to write a fire insurance policy on a particular building!

UPDATED 3/18/2012: Thanks to Mark for the tip on several more atlases available at, where the atlases have been stitched together and overlaid on current imagery so you can much more easily find what you’re looking for and see changes over time from 1883 through 1931

It takes a little work to figure out, but once you do you can toggle among multiple fire insurance maps for the same site. Follow these links:

New Flash Viewer > wait to load, then:

Add Layer Group >

Boston Public Library >

Bromley Atlases >


That’s pretty much all I’ve got until we get to the modern maps - there’s a huge hole in my knowledge of the neighborhood from 1931 until the present day.  Sadly, much of this is due to insane copyright terms, but that’s a story for another day.  But there are a few other maps worth noting:

If you have any access to maps from the years in between 1931 and 1988, I’d love to see them.  And if you find anything at all that covers a significant part of Fort Hill, please send me a link or leave one in the comments so I can keep this up to date.