Roxbury High Fort -1775
Cochituate Stand Pipe-1870
Architect: Nathaniel Bradlee
by Marcia Butman, Discover Roxburhy
Highland Park/Cochituate Standpipe
Highland Park is now owned and maintained by the City of Boston Parks Department. On this site Roxbury High Fort guarded the land route out of Boston in 1775-1776. In
1870 the Cochituate Standpipe was opened to deliver water to Roxbury.
Several sites in Roxbury were selected as forts during the siege of Boston including the Low Fort (off Highland between Cedar and Linwood-site of the Alvah Kittredge mansion) and the High Fort which is now Highland Park. The High Fort was built in the summer of 1775 from designs of Henry Knox and Josiah Waters. It was a quadrangular earthwork about 12 rods square with embankments 8 to 15 feet high.
The High Fort was described by Major General William Heath as one of the strongest works that was erected in the Boston area, built on a summit of rock. Being perhaps the first attempt at a regular fortification, it was considered by the militia to be of unparalleled strength and excited great confidence in that wing of the army stationed in Roxbury. When Washington took command in July 1775 he regarded this fort as the best and most eligibly located of all the works.
The High Fort was a vital section of the encirclement of Boston, preventing the British from receiving supplies or reinforcements by land. Its location at the top of a hill effectively commanded both the land route from Boston along the neck and the road to Dedham. It was a key point from which to harass the British and frequently exchange fire with them During the 19th century the residents of Roxbury attempted to preserve the fort and surrounding area. In 1825 five Roxbury citizens –S.C.Thwing, B.F. Copeland, David A. and Thomas Simmons and Charles Hickling--bought 28 acres of land belonging to the heirs of Colonel Joseph Williams which included the High Fort. The fort was not part of the division; it was held it in common and kept it in good condition at joint expense. In 1830 the fort lot was offered to the town of Roxbury for $3500 but it was rejected.
The annexation of Roxbury to Boston in 1868 led to plans for including Roxbury in the Cochituate water system that provided water for the City of Boston. The Roxbury Highlands presented a difficult problem as they were above the elevation of existing reservoirs. After much research by the Water Board the standpipe system was chosen and the Old Fort Lot seemed a natural site. There was opposition to the destruction of the old fort but the city went ahead, deciding that the fort had deteriorated and its value as a memorial was lost. The Standpipe was also designed as an architectural feature to ornament the site and allow public enjoyment of the view. The pipe inside the structure is 80 feet long and a winding stairway led to an observation point at the top. The cost of the standpipe and the pumping station was $100,000. The hill is 158 feet above sea level.
The system was opened in February 1870, but was abandoned ten years later after the annexation of Dorchester, Brighton and West Roxbury required the construction of a new reservoir on Parker Hill.
In 1888 the park was transferred to the Department of Common and Public Grounds. By the 1890’s the standpipe and its grounds were in deplorable condition from neglect and vandalism. Under pressure from the Roxbury Military Historical Society (now the Roxbury Historical Society) the Superintendent of the Common and Public Grounds commissioned the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot to supply plans for the improvement and landscaping of the park. These plans were carried out between 1895-1916. The improvements included: reconstruction of the quadrangular shape of the fort, creation of walkways, planting and construction of a retaining wall and the addition of a battery of revolutionary cannons and gun carriages. Additions to the standpipe included an iron balcony, an attendants office and bronze memorial plaques. After these improvements the park was compared favorably with the Bunker Hill Monument.
In the 1930’s the park fell into disrepair again. In the 1960’s Fort Hill was a center for the hippie community in Boston. Jim Kweskin, of the Jim Kewskin Jug Band, and Mel Lyman (1938-1978), both lived there with family and friends in communal style. Mel Lyman founded The Avatar an underground newspaper published in 1967-1968. The Fort Hill group instituted park clean up and improvement and played touch football on the grounds.
The Cochituate Standpipe is a Gothic revival tower. The exterior of the cylindrical structure is constructed of brick and trimmed with a granite cornice. At the base of the tower is an octagonal structure with steeply pitched gabled roofs at each end. The roof is made of panels of copper. Lancet windows wrap around the tower. The tower is capped with a pointed steeple, with a cast iron finial
CURRENT USE Today the park is well maintained, and enjoyed by both residents and visitors Drake, Francis. The Town of Roxbury: Its Memorable Persons and Places; Roxbury, Published by the author at 131 warren Street, 1978.
Levey, Robert. “Friendly Fifty on Fort Hill-Better way for People?. Boston Globe, December 12, 1967.