Interviewed by: Cathy Horn
With the Hyde Park: Then & Now Facebook page he created in 2016, Steve Morris is helping keep Hyde Park beautiful by building a sense of community pride around its rich history. By giving everyone an opportunity to share photos, memories, and information on the forum, Steve is expanding the scope of what is known about Hyde Park’s past, and making it easily accessible to anyone who is interested. Steve is also actively working to obtain historical markers for a couple of key locations that have been forgotten to time.
What is your connection to Hyde Park?
I was born on Huntington Avenue and grew up with grandparents who were very much a part of Hyde Park in its early years. As a child they would tell me stories about early Hyde Park. My Grandmother used to talk about the first house in Hyde Park in the vicinity of Wood Avenue and River Street (Robert Stanton 1668) and how during the revolutionary war, George Washington came to that area (considered Dorchester at that time) to cut down trees and tar them to look like cannons, all to assist in fooling the British that we had more cannons than we actually did, which resulted in Evacuation Day from Boston Harbor.
My family surname was Gerry and I was told that I was related to Elbridge Gerry, who was the 9th governor of Massachusetts, a part of the XYZ Affair with John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson, and the last signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Gerrys were prevalent in Hyde Park. Charles Gerry was the first president of the Hyde Park YMCA and was also one of three who founded and established the Hyde Park Savings Bank along with Henry Grew. The Gerry Estate also sold many acres of land to Father Barry, the first pastor of Most Precious Blood, to establish land for the church and several parochial schools in Hyde Park. My family was well seeded in Hyde Park and I feel, no matter where I go in life, I will always consider Hyde Park my hometown.
How and why did you start the Hyde Park:Then & Now Facebook page?
As I got older, I became very interested in researching the Gerry family and trying to prove the relationship of my family to that of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, Elbridge Gerry. While I was doing this research, I kept finding information on the fledgling town of Hyde Park, uncovering lots of old pictures and great stories about the town from its early beginnings in Fairmount to its development in Readville, Sunnyside, Corriganville, Stonybrook, Cleary Square and from Mattapan, Dedham, Roslindale and Dorchester. It was almost like finding gold. I began creating my own library of photos, hyperlinks, articles and resources. I also created a network of professional resources, people that I can call to confirm stories. My Dad gave me the idea of creating something on Facebook (2016) to allow people to marvel at the older pictures and articles of Hyde Park. I created the Hyde Park: Then & Now (HPTN) Facebook page as an outlet for Hyde Parkers and interested parties anywhere to view pictures, stories, and articles, and to join in discussions with other members. The site grew very fast and had thousands of members within a very short period of time, people who had similar family memories with photos and articles.
How do you think it contributes to the beauty of Hyde Park?
Hyde Park: Then & Now brings Hyde Parkers together in many ways. It provides access to all five senses and brings a level of education to the town. I spoke before the Hyde Park Historical Society on April 21st, 2018 and Weldon Hall was packed with people seeking the beauty and knowledge of Hyde Park back in the days of old as well as an opportunity to share memories of their childhood. This presentation was done in conjunction with Hyde Park 150. Everywhere I go in Hyde Park, people make it a point to tell me that they enjoy the Facebook page and will even talk about specific research that they loved. The page does not allow advertising, sales of any kind, foul language or any forms of hate or violence. I think people appreciate a place where they can just share their memories and be Hyde Parkers. I really enjoy when people meet on HPTN, especially when they haven't seen each other in many years, are from the 'old neighborhood' or a group or sports team that they may have been a part of. I feel that Hyde Park: Then & Now has filled a need in the community for education of the past and how life can be bettered in the future. It provides a safe haven where people can comment, share family photos, provide new research opportunities or just 'Like' what they see or read. I prefer to call the members of Hyde Park: Then & Now 'Curators', as they share their own memories and photos of Hyde Park.
What's the most interesting or surprising thing you've found in your research or as a result of something that was posted?
Hyde Park was a part of the lives of many famous people. For instance, Ethel Barrymore, a Hollywood actress, was married in secret to a member of the Colt family of Baltimore in the rectory of Most Precious Blood church by Monsignor James J. Chittick back at the turn of the previous century.
What are your future plans for the site and all the information/photos you've collected?
Hyde Park: Then & Now will developed over time into a repository of research that will include topics like the Grimke Sisters, the 54th Regiment, Camp Meigs, Hyde Park's industrial revolution, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, early Hyde Park government, the temperance movement, religious and parochial development, among others.
I have been spending a lot of time researching Hyde Park (Dorchester) from c1668 to the present. One of my goals is to present that research and knowledge to the Hyde Park Historical Society, Hyde Park Library and others who are interested in getting to know the process of Hyde Park’s birth in April of 1868 and how it developed through the years (even after it became a part of Boston on January 1, 1912).
Tell us about the other projects you're working on in the community and why you think they are important?
I am working on two projects currently that I feel have gone by the wayside in Hyde Park:
1. The Robert Stanton project: Robert Stanton had the first house in the area now known as Hyde Park in the area of Wood Avenue (Back Street as it used to be called) and River Street. There was a marker on the corner of these roads that stated: "Near this place in 1668, Robert Stanton Built the First House in Hyde Park". This marker was donated by the Hyde Park Historical Society in 1903 and it was subsequently taken down by an auto accident in the 70's. It now sits on the ground, amidst trash, in the grassy field between the old Tileston & Holliston Plant on River Street and The Dollar Tree store. I have brought this to the attention of politicians and other prominent individuals who tell me that this project is 'not a priority' due to a lack of funds.
2 The John Moynihan Memorial Redevelopment Play Center Project: John Moynihan was a United States soldier who was killed in the Korean War in the early to mid 1950's. The John Moynihan Memorial was dedicated in 1958 and a bronze plaque with his likeness was put on the wall in the Play Center at Moynihan Park. The bronze plaque was eventually stolen and to this day has not been replaced. There is a blank spot where the plaque used to be and I am working with a representative of the Moynihan family to come up with funding possibilities to have the plaque replaced. This man was a soldier and a fallen veteran and no one seems to care as it has been over 35 years since this Memorial was vandalized. Moynihan Field and Play Center was a staple of activity in our lives and part of the recreational sustenance of Hyde Park. John Moynihan, the Moynihan Family and Hyde Park deserve to see that this is restored.
Do you have other ideas for preserving the rich history in our community? If so, how can others get involved?
I would like to see Hyde Park: Then & Now expand into presenting historical topics to the Historical Society, Hyde Park schools and other interested groups. It would be great to share with kids that George Washington came to Hyde Park and helped save Boston from the British invasion by cutting down trees and tarring them to look like cannons. I would like to form a committee on how we can educate youngsters on the history of Hyde Park.
I am also organizing a photography project, taking pictures of what Hyde Park looks like today, so that in 10, 30 or 100 years from now people will be able to see what we were all about in 2019. This would include pictures of business owners, pastors, government officials, neighborhood groups - as they are today and as they change- so we can establish a virtual scrapbook that can be viewed by the public now and in the future.
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973
Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.