The Third Decade writes: "For years people have debated where the boundary between Roxbury and Jamaica Plain is over in the Mission Hill area, although most people settle on Heath Street as the line. Recently, however, I've noticed that more websites have either been listing Mission Hill as its own neighborhood or as part of Jamaica Plain."
Boundary issues have been something of a recurring theme here at the City Record and Boston News-Letter. I've written about the Roxbury/South End border, about why boundaries matter, and the description of the Town of Roxbury in 1821. I'm going to tackle the Mission Hill/Roxbury/Jamaica Plain issue today.
First, Mission Hill is not part of Jamaica Plain. Look at the two names. One has "hill" in it, the other "plain". These two geographic features are mutually exclusive. Jamaica Plain was that part of Roxbury which flattened out from Fort Hill and Mission Hill, from the Stony Brook over to Jamaica Pond. Heath Street is pretty good boundaryline between Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain because it is the old road circling the hill, much like Cambridge Street and Charles Street help define Beacon Hill, or Hancock Street, Pleasant Street, and Stoughton Street define Jones Hill in Dorchester. In other words, you know when you're stepping off of a hill.
I think the confusion stems from the fact that at one time Roxbury encompassed Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and what is now West Roxbury, among other areas. West Roxbury broke off from Roxbury in 1851 and became a separate town, only to be annexed to Boston in 1874. Jamaica Plain never was a seperate town. It was a neighborhood within Roxbury, just like Mission Hill.
Parker Street is another boundary street for Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. The portion of Parker Street which used to run between Heath and Centre Streets in Roxbury was laid out in 1662 and named "from Heath Street by John Parker's to Worcester turnpike (now Tremont Street) and across same to Mill-Dam (now Beacon Street) May 9, 1825. In other words, Parker Street provided the connection from the Mill Dam in the Back Bay to Centre Street in Roxbury, which was the main road to Dedham which made Parker Street a crucial part of the early Boston area road system. Later, Parker Street was bisected by Huntington Avenue, with the portion going from Huntington Avenue to Kenmore Square becoming Hemenway Street in 1898.
So yes, Mission Hill qualifies as its own neighborhood but only the wishful thinking of real estate agents makes it part of Jamaica Plain. It is part of Roxbury, just like Jamaica Plain.
Update: Jon from Bostonist asks, "So historically JP is part of Roxbury - but not now, right? Mission Hill and JP qualify both as separate neighborhoods? The thing that confuses me the most is why the USPS can't get with our system of neighborhoods and actually use zip codes that are reflective of the neighborhood they're in."
JP will always be a part of Roxbury but people don't think of it that way. Like Dorchester, JP has its own separate system of sub-neighborhoods. Mission Hill does not, which I think tends to make people believe that JP is or was its own town at some point in history. It is important to note that our current zip code system came into place in 1963 and the zip code boundaries had more to do with the location of the post offices within the areas defined by zip codes, not the historic boundaries of neighborhoods--this seems to be pretty good overview of zip code assignation.
Link: The Third Decade: The Incredible Shrinking Roxbury.