Dem Were Da Days! Growing Up In Savin Hill. “Over The Bridge” (1 of 2)

GOK wrote to ask where was “over the bridge” in Savin Hill. I explained it was somewhat like “the other side of the tracks,” indicative of another part of the town. That expression though  has come to mean a part of a town that is considered poor and dangerous which was obviously not what “over the bridge” was like. I was wrong in suggesting that there was any relationship between those expressions.

That expression was used to designate one part of Savin Hill to distinguish it from the other. Thinking back, I’m not sure that those who lived over the bridge used the term; I think it was only those like me who lived on the opposite side from them who used it. This had me thinking more of the differences between those from over the bridge and us others from Savin Hill. As far as the people were concerned there was none for we mixed freely. There was no stigma or scandal for someone over the bridge to be involved with someone who wasn’t as you would have in towns when someone from the other side of the tracks was involved with someone from the right side.

Nor was there an economic difference. There were professionals and blue-collar workers on both sides. Each side had nice single family homes as well as three-deckers. One side had double triple-deckers that housed six families while the other had “the brick block” which was on Saxton Street that housed many more. That was always a mysterious place to me. I don’t believe I ever wandered down the alley that separated the buildings. As best I recall I only knew one person who lived there: Paul Brennan. He was a tough as steel – didn’t like to wear a helmet when running out of the half-back position playing football. He and Billy Connell were buddies. Billy threw the hardest football of anyone on the planet. It was more like a bullet and stung when it hit my hands or was like a blow from Mike Tyson if it hit my body.

Where the stark differences between the two areas existed was in the amenities on each side. My side had St. William’s Church, its school and its convent. The greatest inconvenience we suffered as kids was when a row of nuns from the St. Joseph’s order came marching in a formation of twos from the convent rounding the corner from Saxton Street onto Belfort Street heading to the church. We’d have to stop our games and stand still while intoning “good afternoon sister” to each one as they passed.

My side also had the T stop, the buses, the usual busy city business,  gas stations, pizza  shops, drug stores, (although before the Southeast expressway arrived right over the bridge there was one drug store), barber shops, coffee shops, funeral homes, bakeries and all the rest.

But “over the bridge” had none of it. It was like a wonderland. It cost nothing to go there. My earliest memory of being there was sitting up top of the Woods seeing and hearing the Navy pilots buzzing low over us and watching them land across Dorchester Bay at Squantum Naval Air Station.  It was at the Woods that we could hang out without being bothered. There we could play basketball at the tennis courts where if you drove to the basket a stone wall was there to greet you; there we could play touch football at the field  shown above behind the monument; there we could drink beer on the summer nights until the cops came, routed us out and stole our beer; there we played polka and the older tougher kids who muscled their ways into the game after losing their money would go “light” which meant they’d play on based on their worthless IOUs; there we could stake out a car that was involved in a game of tag, but best not to tell that full story.

The Woods with all its  awe was only part of the what existed “over the bridge.”

(cont. tomorrow)





  1. Give the Billy Gats their just do , Billy Gat .

    They don’t want a sentimental travelogue : even in your hands .

    They want the good stuff .

    No one more well read than you in that part of Town .

  2. You know Billy Gat …

    Mac The Dog is biting you in the ass !!!


    There’s your title !!!

    Who better ?

    HONOR IT .

  3. John King McDonald

    I can dig it . Had to fend off the punks in Brighton .. happily humored the undercover Garda ( I believe ) feigning inebriation ( hold the jokes !!! ) at three a.m. in front of the Post Office on O’Connell Street with a Euro … Was treated like an intelligence officer on the Champs Elysees in McDonalds as the anti-terrorism ops , two of them , intensely questioned a bearded Middle East man at close quarters, the Men’s . I quietly whistled as I washed my hands . All for Susie D. .. 2003 .

    See Abe . They all wanted to see … Jack .. at close quarters.

    I was treating you like Kenny Banya on that Abe . What is happening in Paris , Class revolt , similar to ‘ 68 , is what I wanted to denote .

    Good on your Better Half, as they say in Dublin !!!

  4. John King McDonald

    Abe :

    Try Paris . I hear it is lovely at this time of year .

    • The first time I was in Paris I decided to put away my unfounded prejudices and not expect a bunch of hostile Frogs glaring at my lousy French and Tilley hat. Within three minutes I was within a millimeter of coming to blows with some arrogant bastid trying to knock my wife over to get to his suitcase on the belt. She grabbed my arm, after I gave him some of our French words, and said, “We are not in America.” Point taken.

  5. John King McDonald

    Great statue of the Man at the Top of Hanover St. Abe …. That went up at least ten years ago . There is that small street angling off Causeway and coming up staring at the Lancaster St. Garage site on a diagonal sight line . For at least 44 years I can remember it has been TONY DEMARCO WAY .

    He was fit and quick and quick and quick … Slighter than Marciano , but built on those Italian power lines . Strong hands . Look at his Statue some time . It is one of the best statues in Boston .

  6. Blog Intermission: I just got the great news (not much going on down here in DC) that Tony DeMarco is going to take his 58 wins and 33 KO’s into the Boxing Hall Of Fame next June. Wonderful news about an amazing slugger. My uncles all agreed that few people could get the crowd up in its feet cheering as often as Tony, often standing on their chairs! His second fight with Carmen Basilio was Ring’s Fight Of The Year in 55′.

    Congratulations, Tony!

  7. John King McDonald

    Of course it must have been Savin Hill Park . Savin Hill metes and bounds ? Those laterals off of Dot Ave. ? Before that day I had not had much reason to explore them . There is a thing with the Peninsula .. Southie ..and Savin Hill that owes much to geography and how that dictates culture . Insularity is a happy consequence, as far as I am concerned, of having good and defensible boundaries . South Boston was my kind of Town . Lived and raised Johnny there . Where he was born . It has natural bridge choke points and a water boundary . It is indeed a Peninsula . It could get very .. Peninsular !!!!!!

    That is why I think the Savin Hill Billy … which we will treat as a plural noun here …is highly similar to … Me-eh-eh-eh !!!! ( like that Billy ? ) … even indistinguishable … from the Southie Guy me . There is that splash pond of Edward Everett Square coming from up out of the Boston St. pack route from Andrew Square . It is a mete . The Dublin House … Uphams Corner ..just before Cardinal Cushing Terrace ..where I once lived as well .. is a sort of mete . That entire sprawl of B.C. High and my UMass Alma Alma …and Dorchester Bay … defensible boundaries . Morrissey Boulevard : A MOAT !!!

    You get the idea . Draw the inferences .. … And pull up the Drawbridge !!!!!!


  8. ★ That swathe of ….. DORCHESTER !!! … Savin Hill is ….. PART OF —- Dot .

  9. ★ I was in a part of Savin Hill that was not like any other . Savin Hill was the Plat that day . People don’t realize that that swathe running way up from the shoulders of Ashmont Station included that cookie cutter patch of single families bejeweling Gallivan Blvd. one side . And that …there is a serpentine avenue with very large Doctor type houses along it as it winds up into a tangle of tree lined streets at a higher elevation. I am letting my … MEMORIES SERVE .

  10. John King McDonald

    ★ Ronan or Savin Hill Park ? … The picture above seems familiar. All I remember is that I had a… TIMELESS sensation. … It was very quiet there. And that the place was its own sort of lyric bandbox . Updike famously described Fenway Park thus .

    It holds up !!!

  11. John King McDonald

    Walked out every single utility pole in Dorchester in 2001. Retired Edison Inspector Jack Cantwell was with me . I was born in Fields Corner but we were outta there by four and off to Nana’s above Roslindale Square . Conway St. was first street the good side of the tracks . It was hot June afternoon when I was fielding that area around Ronan Park.

    It was rather …. Bosky .

    Spacious three deckers bowing attendants on this Sylvan grandeur somnolent in their serene hold on …..

    The American Dream !!!

  12. Matt — Didn’t Danny Sullivan live in the “brick block” on Saxton Street?

    • Jocko:

      No, Danny lived in a three decker – I think in the house where Bill Orr’s family lived – the first one on the right heading away from Belfort tiward Savin Hill Ave but not the one at the corner. If not that it was the one next to it.

  13. John King McDonald

    ” Forceful obligations ” … Crowley.

  14. John King McDonald

    You are the Dickens, Abe . Guttersnipe is a great word . Don’t get me going on Mt. Auburn Cemetery . The humorous and kindly Roger Kindred , Director, humorously and kindly forbade me from walking front to Arsenal St. through the hallowed precinct on Halloween Eve. ’95.

    Having correctly deduced that I was hell-bent on getting the bewitching Suzanne K. a pumpkin that night .

    Anything Milady Wants !!!

  15. Savin Hill Park was a great place to go bird watching during the Spring or Fall migration. Friends from Southie and Dorchester told me about it. We could go to Mount Auburn Cemetery or Plum Island and be surrounded by hundreds of other birders or hit Savin Hill and have the tree tops to ourselves. Wonderful spot. Our mutual friend Tommy C. probably came on a few of those trips with me. He knew all the guttersnipes from both sides of the tracks.

  16. John King McDonald

    Nice piece !!!

  17. Matt..
    Trust me..without credit cards and a friendly banker,those on the other side of the bridge we’re just as poor.
    A tithe alone at Holy Name was forceful obligations.
    Also a “ collector of the poor box” kept stealing $$ change to go to Charlie’s after last Mass.
    An education soothed the pain of poverty.