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

The Woods were a place unlike many others in a city. If you click on the map to the left to get a larger view you will see they are designated as “Savin Hill Park” under the number 9.

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.”




  1. John King McDonald


    Eaton Mountain is a long way from the old West End . Now, that’s a tale .

  2. 125′ Watts . . Approaching brilliance ?

    What a wry development !!!

    If you blogged here you would be home …. NIOW !!!!!

  3. John King McDonald

    * Andrea Doria …. Very funny SEINFELD

  4. John King McDonald

    Freeh :
    Are you competing for a Riverside Drive apt. with an old gentleman who survived the sinking of the Lusitania ?

    That was very George Costanza of you.

    Sorry your mom suffered .

  5. My first 4 years into my contract with the universe
    was filled with horror and terror as my father,
    a newly minted 1st generation spaniard from
    Galacia Spain attempted to beat my mother
    into submission, a newly minted 1st generation
    Bello Russian from Minsk Russia.

    At the age of 4 my mother fled the bowels of the
    lower east side in New York City taking a new name
    and identity to hide from my longshoreman father
    intent on taking back me and my sister at any cost.

    Mom arrived in the West End of Boston in 1949, a
    fugitive, single parent with two young children
    suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

    M mother opened a beauty shop on the corner of
    charles and revere st where I was allowed to become a free range
    chicken in the most heterogenous burrough in
    Boston Mass.

    In 1959 the Boston Redevelopment Authority tore down our home along
    with thousands of others in the West End and resettled us
    into a new refugee camp.

    now you know a little more of what I know


    also see

    in other news

    Saudi-backed lobbyist paid for 500 rooms at Trump’s D.C. hotel just after election
    The bookings were for an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington if they went to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed.

    • I remember the senseless destruction of the West End, a vibrant neighborhood classified as a slum by the nitwits at the BRA. A sad tale indeed. And a sad life for you, no?

      • Afterthought: 500 rooms paid for by a Saudi-funded lobbyist. Veterans manipulated. The swamp is alive and well and living in D.C., as usual.

  6. Ages four and five I recollect my beloved East Boston born Great Gran , who formed me young and really taught me before dying when I was 10 , standing on second floor porch on both occasions of Mayday as me and sibs enacted the pagan ritual . She was oldest of 8 girls and the youngest , Harold a boy . Prince Edward Island was home interrupted for her East Boston birth . She grew up with her rooted family on the Island . Matriarchy : Her daughter , Grandmother , had two daughters . It was an estrogen affair with these Scots-English … Nana and daughter …and Scots-English cut very dark Black Irish …Mother and our Aunt Irene . These women , under my Great Grandmother Harriet Smith MacGillivray’s supervision , would set up a Maypole with streamers that we would each take hold of one and …. Yes .. dance around the Maypole . Even then that was serious old time earth religion to be promoting in a back yard in Boston .

    GOOD TIMES !!!

    Tx Nana

  7. Hello Matty, Could over the Bridge also have referred to South Boston. As kids a great trip from the Projects was to travel to Savin Hill and climb all those mountain structures. I remember the Locals did not appreciate their Southie visitors. I remember my Cousins had moved to Savin Hill And formed a football team and then challenged us to a match. Led by Shorty Gaughan and Pete Niosi we went over to the Savin Hill Field by the Beach only to find we had to play a much older group called , I think , the Trojans, needless to say it wasn’t a pleasant experience but we prevailed. After the game we took our equipment and trudged home,over the bridge, back to our “Old Harbor Project”. So we referred to Savie as “Over the Bridge”. Slainte!

    • JRC,

      I don’t remember over the bridge being a Southie expression. There are so many bridges leading into Southie that it’d be hard to figure out what was meant. But you may be right about it coming out later because the football game was when I was living in Savin Hill.

      The bridge I remember when living in Old Harbor was the one at Colombia (Columbia?) Station. In our upper single figures – ages 7, 8, or 9 – we used to climb down from the top and sit on the concrete holding up the iron structure replacing the pigeons. I was always scared doing it but as you know one had to hide that and keep up with whatever screwy idea a friend had lest one be called chicken. Although I accepted being a chicken when I refused to climb up as high as Billy Pitts who had climbed to the highest point in a tree. Thinking back, the kids who dared me to do it wouldn’t do it themselves so how was it I was the chicken just because someone said “I dare you”?

      Trudging out to the Savin Hill hills also must have come about when you were older like 11 or 12. We moved out of Old Harbot when I was 10. I do remember going out to the Mile Road dump and cooking potatoes we stole from our houses. It’s hard to imagine how free we were as tikes – if some of the social agencies that exist now knew of what little supervision we were under and of our many jaunts in our single digits to all parts of Southie and neighboring areas our parents would have lost custody of us.


  8. Let’s see. Getting soda pop was getting a “bottle of tonic.” The May procession was always a big deal at my Catholic grammar school, St. Matthew’s. Thoughts on the old Dorchester by others?

  9. least three followers .

    One from Holy Name with a Monsegneur we called Zippy with a Y.
    Perfect for confession.
    Deaf as I am now .

    Just keep communicating!

  10. John King McDonald

    Yeah , Matt .. get off your elbows and write some science fiction … Or learn sour grapes sometime . The World is a Ghetto .

    Except, of course , for your SAVIN HILL

  11. John King McDonald

    Nice piece !!!

  12. Back in the late 50s I used to talk in a bar (probably Chapliks) with an old man from the South End. Over ten cent beers, he would reminisce about how wonderful things were when he was growing up on Dover Street, pre-1900. No electricity, horse shit on the streets, no hospitals, hungry and dirty, but, boy, it was the best time to grow up if you lived beyond age three.

    ‘When there’s so much left to do, why spend your time focusing on things you’ve already done, counting trophies or telling stories about the good old days?’
    Dave Grohl