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Parks Department legal records

Identifier: 4400.001

Scope and Contents note

This series consists of 5.5 cubic feet of records from the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. The records cover the dates from 1880-1992, with bulk dates of 1885-1960. These records deal with various park projects of the Boston Parks Department (and its predecessors) from the 1880s through the early 1970s. Documents include land takings, deeds, land transfers, sales of land, leases, as well as other legal agreements between the Boston Parks Department (or its predecessors) and government entities (including local, state, and federal) private citizens, corporations, and other businesses. In addition there are a large number of plans for various projects including blue prints, engineer drawings, and maps.


  • Creation: 1880-1992 (bulk, 1885-1960)


Historical note

Power to establish parks in the City of Boston was granted by the Commonwealth on May 6, 1875, subject to acceptance by the people. This act was accepted by a vote of the citizens on June 9, 1875. The first Board of Park Commissioners was appointed on July 8, 1875 and confirmed on July 15, 1875. The Board consisted of three members who served without compensation. As thus constituted, the department continued up to 1913, when by the provisions of Chapter 10, Ordinances of 1912, which went into effect in March of 1913, it was merged with the Public Grounds, Bath and Music Departments, under the name of Park and Recreation Department. The chairman of the Board of Commissioners became a salaried official and was required to devote his entire time to the work, likewise the Deputy Commissioner. In 1920, the Cemetery Department was merged with the Park Department, the latter title being substituted for Park and Recreation Department. On May 1, 1954, the department became the Parks and Recreation Department. The four Associate Commissioners serve without compensation.

The Office of the Superintendent of [the Common and] Public Grounds was established by ordinance on February 28, 1870. The Superintendent had charge of, and was the only person authorized to trim the trees in the streets of the city and of all the public grounds, except the parks established under Stat. 1875, Chap. 185. He also had charge of all the public grounds. The Bath Department was established by ordinance in 1898. The Trustees had care and custody of all the bath-houses and indoor gymnasia. The Music Department was established by ordinance on April 23, 1898. It was placed in charge of a board of five commissioners, known as the Music Trustees. The board was given charge and control of the selection of public music, to be given either indoors or in the open air, for parades, concerts, public celebrations and other purposes under the authority of the City Council, except entertainments for children on the Fourth of July. It engaged the performers, made the contracts and expended all moneys paid from the City treasury for such music.

The Boston Parks and Recreation Department provides residents and visitors with clean, green, safe, and accessible open space in more than 2,200 acres of park land throughout the city including parks, playgrounds, athletic facilities, city squares, urban wilds, street trees, three active cemeteries, 16 historic burying grounds, and two golf courses.

In addition to maintaining the historic integrity of such famous landmarks as Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the other parks that comprise Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace, the Department services and upgrades facilities ranging from tot lots to the 527-acre Franklin Park.

The Department also programs a wide range of community events and live entertainment in the parks under its jurisdiction. The Boston Park Rangers act as the Department's eyes and ears while enhancing public safety. Appointed by the Mayor, the Boston Parks and Recreation Commission serves as the policy-making citizen body that oversees the operation of the Department and considers matters of public concern.


5.5 Cubic feet (4 Record Cartons, 1 Oversize Flatbox, 2 Flat Files)

Language of Materials


Arrangement note

This series had no apparent order upon accession by the Archives. Subsequently it has been arranged alphabetically with groupings of letters serving as the top level series (e.g. Series I: A - F) and each letter of the alphabet serving as a sub-series within that specific grouping. Within each sub-series documents have been arranged according to the name of the specific park, river, or building, by the geographic location (e.g. street name or neighborhood) within the City of Boston, or the organization dealt with in each document. Each individual location or entity has been placed in its own folder(s). Documents dealing with the same location or entity have been ordered chronologically within each folder. Oversized materials have been removed and placed in appropriate archival housing, including flat boxes and flat files. Photographs have also been removed and filed together in the Photographs sub-series. The result of this organization is five individual series: four covering all of the letters and a final fifth series for photographs. There are no documents present that fall under the letters X, Y, or Z.

Guide to the Parks Department Legal Records 4400.001
Patrick T. Collins
2008 March 27
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With funding from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

Repository Details

Part of the City of Boston Archives Repository

201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1194 (Fax)