The Friends of Blackstone and Franklin Squares ("The Friends") is a subcommittee of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association. It was created in 1995 as a non-profit, volunteer organization that manages funds donated for the upkeep and improvement of Blackstone and Franklin Squares.
In 1991, University Associate (including Boston University Medical Center & R.F. Walsh) donated $200,000 for the restoration, maintenance and enrichment of the squares. These funds have been utilized for various improvement projects, such as painting the two center fountains, erecting the flag pole, completing foundry work, and organizing several concerts.
about Blackstone and franklin squares
Blackstone and Franklin Squares are located in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts. Charles Bullfinch, who created the plan for the South End, originally intended the two squares to be one, calling it Columbia Square. Franklin Square opened in 1849 and Blackstone Square subsequently opened in 1855.
Blackstone Square is located between West Brookline Street, Shawmut Avenue, West Newton Street and Washington Street and is roughly 105,000 square feet (2.4 acres) in size. Franklin Square, which is located across Washington Street to the south, is between East Brookline Street, James Street, East Newton Street and Washington Street. It is roughly 105,200 square feet (2.4 acres). The squares are surrounded by a variety of uses which include residential, educational, religious, commercial, and community support services.
An iron fence surrounds the perimeter of each square with entrances at the corners. There is also an entrance to Blackstone Square at the intersection of Pembroke Street and Shawmut Avenue and a fifth entrance to Franklin Square along East Newton Street.
It is unclear when the "circular" Columbia Square, which Charles Bulfinch first laid out in 1801, was changed to its present square form. It may have occurred in 1849, when the City of Boston installed fencing at the perimeter of the squares. This original perimeter fencing can still be seen at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Harrison Avenue.
In 1850-51 the City installed sidewalks around the two squares, fencing around the fountains, replaced dead trees and repaired the iron fences. On an 1852 City of Boston map, the layout of the two squares with diagonal paths, central fountains and semi-circular lawn panels edged with trees was visible.
In 1913 the Olmstead brothers developed improvement plans for both squares. The plans maintained the original diagonal paths, but added two smaller walks to the squares. On Blackstone Square a walk was added mid-block on Shawmut Avenue and on Franklin Square a walk was added on the East Newton Street side of the square. The 12' wide walks, which were initially crushed stone, were paved with asphalt as part of the proposed park improvements. A 14' wide brick walk was also added around the squares. It is assumed that the initial perimeter fencing was removed prior to 1900, since later photos show low stakes at the perimeter of the squares. The 1913 plans also indicated the original locations of the elms within the squares. The plan for Franklin Square indicated that there were originally 16 trees planted 20 feet apart around the curve of each of the four semi-circles, with approximately 10 trees long each straight edge. Each of the 10 trees were planted about 20 feet from the edge of the square and spaced roughly 20 to 25 feet apart. Included in the 1913 improvements were an additional 13 elms spaced 30' apart on each side of the square. Elms are no longer in the squares; lindens are now the dominant tree species and may have been planted after the 1938 hurricane. The original plan also had a five-foot wide flowerbed surrounding each fountain. Electric lights were located in the center area at the end of the two diagonal walks.
Additional improvements were done by the City in 1970. The improvements included new light fixtures throughout the park. The lights consisted of white globes mounted on concrete poles. Base drawings noted that three or four benches were on each of the straight walk sections with a total of 27 benches in Blackstone Square and 33 benches in Franklin Square. A play area consisting of a swing set and climber was also noted in the north east comer of Blackstone Square. The play area was surrounded by a five foot chain-link fence.
In 1980 and 1983 new perimeter fences were installed at each square. The fence exists today, and consists of a simple picket with "tulip" shaped finals. The fountains were refurbished and existing benches that were in poor shape were replaced with benches that were Victorian in appearance.
The most recent improvements occurred in 1995 when the light fixtures were replaced with the traditional City of Boston acorn fixture. Acorn fixtures were also added along the streets and floodlights were added to the fountain.
Throughout numerous renovations, both Blackstone Square and Franklin Square have retained their 1850's appearance of diagonal walks, central fountains, trees and lawn.
The Friends have been working diligently on one focused project over the past few years - the complete restoration of the two centerpieces of our squares. In each of the two squares stands at the center a dolphin fountain with shell-like bowl. As you can see, this major project has been completed! The Friends Group worked closely with the Boston Parks Department to move forward with a long awaited project that has returned the fountains to their historical elegance with a welcomed eco-improvement. The new fountains recycle water - water which was previously draining into city drains - and will maintain a great balance of beauty and hygeine in the squares.
Both fountain pedestals and bowls were removed and taken offsite to undergo this restoration process. Construction has been completed on the sites of the fountains, including excavation projects to construct underground pumping stations. The recirculation of this water will allow for the saving of thousands of gallons of water each year.
In 2003, the Friends of Blackstone/Franklin Squares worked with a landscape architect to develop a Master Plan for the rehabilitation of both Blackstone and Franklin Squares. Although the plan was a bit ambitious for that time, through a close relationship with the Boston Parks Department, the Friends are committed to implementing this plan over time as funds become available. The highlights of the 2003 Master Plan are below.
The walks within the parks were previously in great need of repair. Utility trenching and patching repairs were evident throughout the squares. In the spring of 2013, the Boston Parks Department and the Friends Group repaved the walkways in both squares, leaving a clean and smooth finish in the parks. The brick sidewalks on both sides of Washington Street were replaced in 2009. All of the other perimeter sidewalks are brick except on East Brookline.
The perimeter fence and entry elements show wear and minor damage and are in need of repair. The other highly visible element in need of attention is the landscape. While the lawn itself requires attention, the Friends Group initiated a tree health and maintenance plan in early spring 2013; through funding from the Friends and a city grant, the trees were trimmed in both parks, and were thinned in Franklin Square to address health concerns of the aging flora. This included a thorough review and pruning to improve overall health and to safeguard damage from high winds and snow and ice loads.
The site furniture is also in need of enhancement; the benches and trash receptacles visually disappear in the squares, but at the same time should be visually compatible with the light fixture and perimeter fencing and accomodate a historically accurate appeal. The Friends and the Parks Department are working diligently to implement updated waste containers by fall 2013; concrete slabs have already been poured and these receptacles are to be fabricated by end of summer.
Through numerous committee meetings the following master plan recommendations have been developed for the renovation and enhancement of Blackstone and Franklin Squares. The eight primary entries to the squares should be improved with the reintroduction of a visually heavier columns and intermediate support posts. These elements should be reminiscent of the original fencing, yet blend with the current fencing pattern and finials, as the replacement of the entire fence to the original would be cost prohibitive. The mid-block fence panels which will remain in place should be painted and repaired if necessary. These fence panels could be removed and reset with intermediate posts as part of a later phase. The addition of the intermediate will enable the fencing to take on the character of the original fencing. A twelve-inch concrete maintenance strip should also be installed at the base of the new fencing to ease day to day maintenance. A six inch beveled granite curb has been added to provide a cleaner, more defined walk edge. Care should be taken as grades are modified to not negatively impact the existing trees or drainage patterns. The grading should be reviewed during design development with a current site survey. The walks should also be repaved in asphalt with new metal benches and litter receptacles.
The existing granite fountain wall shall remain while the concrete fountain floor is replaced. The existing fountain has been removed and will be reset on a new foundation within the basin. Fountain lighting may be addressed as a future project one restoration has been complete. The fountains will ultimately become pieces of sculpture within each square.
The Friends of Blackstone/Franklin Squares understand the importance of these public spaces within their neighborhood and are committed to their renovation and upkeep in a manner consistent with the historical use and nature of the squares - while keeping in mind the evolving needs of the residents and visitors to our beautiful parks.
Questions? Contact Friends of Blackstone & Franklin Squares President Toni Crothall at email@example.com.