When I got to my local branch of the Boston Public Library last Thursday I found out the IT folks were updating all of the laptops available for loan. I go to the library every day and the first thing I do each day is to get one of their laptops to work on. When the techs were done updating the laptops I found I could no longer mount my external hard drive, which is something I had been surprised to be able to do in the first place. My external drive was formatted for my old Linux laptop and needs special drivers to be mounted on Windows computers like the library has available for patrons to use. Not being able to install the drivers essentially destroyed my daily workflow because I can no longer access any of the files I used every day to get things done online. I’m still trying to figure out how much I can and can’t do, but if it weren’t for the WiFi-only Android phone a friend is letting me use I wouldn’t even be able to take new pictures, let alone post them.
When I walked out the door Sunday morning, 19 April, I wasn’t planning on taking any new pictures, partly because I don’t have a memory card for the phone so I’m usually short on space for new pictures. As I was heading to the clubhouse for Franklin Park’s William J. Devine Golf Course to use the free WiFi to check my email, I took the turn off Circuit Drive/Jewish War Veterans Drive to go to Schoolmaster Hill, only planning to see how things looked now that all the snow has melted.
When I finally left the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace to go to the clubhouse there were 26 new pictures on my phone. As I started writing this post I realized I had missed taking some pictures so I went back yesterday and took five more pictures.
Just a note before the jump: Most people refer to the area as simply “Schoolmaster Hill,” but I found out the original name is “Schoolmaster Hill Terrace” so that’s the name I’m going to use most of the time. I’ve also found there are other names for the Forest Hills Corner and the hill where the Wilderness Scenic Overlook so I’ll be going back in the next week to update the posts to show the proper names of the sites.
I’ve looked all over for a map or chart with a layout of the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace, but I don’t think one exists. However Google can still be your friend because I fired up Google Earth and looked through their historical images for Schoolmaster Hill. I found this great overhead shot from 17 April 2008 that shows the area without trees obscuring the view. Most people talk about the features of Schoolmaster Hill going from east to west, or from the front of the park toward the rear, but when I walk through the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace I tend to go from west to east, or left to right in the above image, so that’s how I’m going to talk about the area and that’s the order my pictures will be in.
For the first time in months, I had a beautiful, sunny morning without so much as a half square inch of snow or ice on the ground. (As of the other day, when I last checked, there were still mounds snow in the Valley Gates parking lot, but the lot was used as a snow farm during our brutal winter. Hopefully that will be gone by Saturday’s park clean up day with the Franklin Park Coalition.)
When Frederick Law Olmsted was designing Franklin Park in 1882, the city of Boston purchased 5½ acres of property from Jeremiah Williams for part of the area for the grand urban park Olmsted’s firm was hired to design. Being in the approximate center of the 527-acres of land the park would be situated on, it also had a gorgeous view of broad meadows and the peaks of the Blue Hills so Olmsted decided Williams’ former property would become the centerpiece for his proposed parks in Boston and what would become Franklin Park. As Olmsted researched the history of the area where the park would be, as he always did, he learned that earlier in the century Ralph Waldo Emerson lived on the hill as he taught in his brother’s “School for Young Ladies.” Olmsted named this hill Schoolmaster Hill to honor Emerson.
One of the nice things about Schoolmaster Hill is its length, about 358 feet from the entrance of the old covered terrace in the west to Emerson Rock on the east end. The straight section alone with the best views is over 175 feet long, with five sections set up along its length for people to enjoy the view, two of them having benches for people to sit on. It was designed to be a great place to come and enjoy nature along the Country Park with its view of the Blue Hill Reservation.
During the winter, the hill used to be used as a toboggan run, but that ended with the construction of the golf course in 1901. Luckily for us there is a great hill behind the golf course clubhouse that the Franklin Park Coalition made great use of for their weekly Snow Fests earlier this year.
Now the benches overlook the 6th tee of the golf course but you still have the beautiful view.
As I visited Schoolmaster Hill on the day before the Boston Marathon it was great to see the golfers enjoying the links. Other than for the Snow Fests and the few cross-country skiers (and folks walking their dogs), about the only people who could use the park during the winter were the people running and walking through the park, and especially along the two and a half miles that make up the Walking Loop when they were cleared of snow and ice.
The golf course is one of the areas in Franklin Park that would get repurposed for the 2024 Olympics. The Boston 2024 planners are saying that if they can bring the Olympics to Boston they’ll leave the park better than they got it. It will close the park for quite some time to convert the course to an equestrian venue, and it could take even more time to return the field to being a golf course after the games of the Olympics and the Paralympics are over. I’d love to be able to know what Mr. Olmsted would think of the possibility of turning part of the park into Olympic venues.
(For those who haven’t heard, in addition to using the golf course as an equestrian venue they would also use White Stadium for some equestrian events as well as parts of the Modern Pentathlon. Also, a permanent pool would be installed in Franklin Park but it wouldn’t be used for Olympic events and I can’t see where in the park they would like to put it.)
There’s a couple of breaks in the wall facing the Country Park and golf course that were used to get access to the hill and toboggan run in the days before the golf course was created. It’s not used that much anymore, although it can be a good place to give the golfers a chance to get off their feet for a bit if they don’t use a golf cart. There’s also a bench on the edge of the tee area itself.
On the west side of the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace you have the covered terrace, but closer to Emerson Rock is this pergola. It was part of John C. Olmsted’s original design for the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace but according to the 36th Annual Report of the Park Commissioners in 1911 it had been taken down. Christine Poff, Executive Director for the Franklin Park Coalition, told me she believes it was rebuilt when the city restored Schoolmaster Hill as a ruin in the 1990’s. There’s a great picture of it with green vines over the top of it on the Coalition’s Schoolmaster Hill page.
On the eastern most end of Schoolmaster Hill Terrace there’s the Emerson Rock with the plaque I show at the top of this post. Time has worn the lettering so much that it’s almost impossible to read, but it contains the last stanza of Emerson’s poem Good Bye, written in February, 1824, and would become the first poem Emerson published.
O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?
I’ve seen school children take field trips to Schoolmaster Hill Terrace, artists come to get inspiration, people have come to have a nice picnic, and I’ve seen people come and simply enjoy the setting to sit and read or even just to sit and think for a while.
There are three picnic tables at the Schoolmaster Hill Picnic Area and lots of grassy areas for those who want to picnic but prefer to do it the old-fashioned way with a blanket on the ground. Either way it’s a great place to sit and eat, whether with friends or even just with you and a good book. It’s also great without the book, too.
Have you visited the Schoolmaster Hill Terrace lately? Did you go there when you were younger? Please share your memories of the area in the comments. I’d love to read them and I bet others would too.
The first pictures were taken Sunday, 19 April 2015, the last five images were taken Wednesday, 22 April.
- Julie Arrison. Franklin Park (Images of America). San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2009
- Franklin Park Coalition: Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Schoolmaster of Franklin Park
- Franklin Park Coalition: Historic walking tour pamphlet
- Franklin Park Coalition: Schoolmaster Hill
- Remember Jamaica Plain?: Schoolmaster Hill – Franklin Park
- The Internet Archive: Two reports on Franklin park by john c. Olmsted
- Boston 2024: Documents
- Jamaica Plain News: Park Backers Irked By Lack of Specifics From Boston 2024