This is a map of what Savin Hill looked like when I first moved to the area before Morrissey Boulevard, formerly called Old Colony Parkway, was widened and before the Southeast Expressway was added which took one side of Hubbarston Road and a good chunk of McConnell Park.
But as I said, the Woods were by no means the highlight of things “over the bridge.” Where else in any city could one have such close access to three beaches? We had Savin Hill beach, Malibu beach, and rocky Malibu beach shown on the map in blue under McConnell Park. Mostly though we spent our time at Savin Hill beach adjacent to the park. It was even a great hangout on rainy or cooler days for on top of a small rise there was a shelter building with benches. We experimented with jelly fish by putting them on the walkway in the sun and watching the water evaporate from them. On the hot days we waited patiently in line at the concrete water fountain.
Sometimes we wandered over to Malibu beach where there was a bathhouse similar to the one in South Boston. I had a summer job for six weeks at one. I was assigned to be the locker boy which meant I opened and closed the lockers on the male side. It was an awful job being cooped up inside while others were enjoying the beach outside. I occupied my time with a rubber band shooting at the flies. I became quite proficient at it which eventually led to my qualification as an expert with the .45 caliber handgun.
The beaches were not the only place where we could go swimming. We spent many days at the cully. That was he local abbreviation for culvert on the opposite side of the Woods which let the water flow in and out of the tidal marsh. This is shown at the bottom of the red line between the numbers 9 and 40. The culvert was ideal for sitting on the rocks in the sun and swimming from the bay side under Morrissey Boulevard to the marsh side which was called Patten’s Cove.
You may have noticed that the dialect of the neighborhood was to end most names and places with the letter “y.” The culvert became the cully, Uphams Corner was Uppys, Fields Corner was Fieldsy, Savin Hill was Savey, the Edward Everett School was the Eddy Eddy, the John L. Motley School fortunately fit nicely into the local way of speaking becoming the Motley. Then our names likewise were shortened or became nicknames with the “y” ending: Muggsy, Wimpy, Rumby, Gindy, Polsky, Matty, Mousey, Billy, Jimmy, Sammy, Hutchy, Russy, etc. That would be bad enough but some of us still can’t pronounce many words including a simple word like horse calling it a hoss and we don’t often want to punch someone in the kisser preferring to do it to their kissa even if the person is a pisser, or as we would say a pissa.
You may notice on the map a large area to the right of the red line between the railroad tracks and the parkway. It was all marsh. When not swimming those wetlands were an ideal huge area for exploration being the former site of a World War Two Army camp and multiple little streams where we could grab the minnows or crabs.
The wonders of “over the bridge” don’t stop there. It is also the location of two yacht clubs: the Savin Hill yacht club and the Dorchester yacht club. Around the time of the establishment of one of these clubs Savin HIll was described as “a delightful semi-marine paradise of peaceful luxury, with yachts and horses.” The horses and yachts were gone when I arrived but the peaceful luxury was always in arms reach.
Despite all this there was another marvel which was McConnell park which had room for three baseball fields in the summer, a football field in the fall, and an ice rink in the winter when it was flooded. What could be better than to play a game of baseball and then walk a few feet to a beach to take a dip in the water. It was at McConnell that I learned to ice skate going out on freezing nights by myself to try to catch up with my friends who were already skillful hockey players. I never did. I used the hockey stick more as a crutch than anything else. It was at McConnell where I had my first chance to hit a curve ball. I never did. I could not train myself from shying away from them.
All that was fine but what made it special were a two or three other things. Our parents gave us the freedom of the streets. When I moved to Savin Hill at age 10. I spent most of my time outside my house, unsupervised, with one restriction in the early years that I come in when the street lights went on. Our neighborhood was safe. No one ever bothered me or anyone I knew. Best of all were the other kids both older and younger. There were no bullies. There were fights and arguments that lasted only as long as the day. Nothing lingered for long.
We were unburdened by money needs. The use of the streets, the parks, the fields, the marshes, and the beaches cost us nothing. It was a happy time in a happy place even when you didn’t live “over the bridge.”