Information from the Dorchester Atheneum. Ronan Park was historically an area of large, well landscaped estates. Prior to the late 18th century, the area was called Bird Hill.
Mt. Ida Estate: Situated just west of Meetinghouse Hill, a substantial portion of Bird Hill was purchased by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, minister of Dorchester’s First Parish Church from 1793-1836. His family was among those displaced by the devastation wrought by the British in June of 1775. In 1793 he accepted Dorchester’s First Parish pastorate and proceeded to develop a fine estate which he called Mt. Ida., an area still known for its panoramic views of Dorchester Bay. His estate comprised both gardens and pastureland and today is bounded by Bowdoin, Draper, Robinson and Adams Streets.
View from Mt. Ida, circa 19th century
Harris House: The Federal style Harris House was located near Bowdoin Street on the site of the Ronan Park Playground. The carriage drive to the mansion was situated on what is now part of Mt. Ida Road.
Capen Estate: After the death of Dr. Harris, the estate was purchased by Nahum Capen, a prominent bookseller and publisher. Capen is credited with the idea of iron mail boxes strategically placed in neighborhoods. He also began the practice of free house to house mail delivery. The Capen estate was slightly less extensive than that of the Harris family being roughly circumscribed by what is now Bowdoin, Percival, Robinson and Norton Streets.
The Capen Estate
Robinson Estate: In 1872, the Capens’ sold a portion of the estate to the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for the building of St. Peter’s Church and its rectory and convent. The puddingstone used to build the church was quarried on the rock ledge at the comer of the estate. As it was cut, Capen allowed the builders to store the pieces on his property. Around 1870, Arcadia Street was carved from the John Robinson estate. The Robinson House stood on the site of the Telephone Co. building at Adams and Robinson Streets.
Mayor Patrick Collins: Collins served as Mayor of Boston from 1902-1905. He moved into his Ronan Park estate around 1894. This house was a cupola-topped Italianate mansion that stood south of the Harris-Capen House. He died in office on September 15, 1905 and his funeral was held at St. Peters in Dorchester; he was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery. Nothing remains of the Collins estate but his associations with Mt Ida represent an important piece of Ronan Park’s history. In a way his legacy as a hard working man lives on in the three-decker housing that was built on his former estate at 45 to 69 Mt. Ida Road that was built from 1910-18 for working class, mostly Irish commuters.
Both the Capen and Collins estates were accessible from the right angled intersection of Percival and Fox Streets. Mt. Ida Road extended as far as Marie Street by 1910 and started out as the driveway to the Harris/Capen estate. The remaining portion of Mt Ida Road was set out in 1915 and in 1916 the Capen House was torn down and Ronan Park was in place by 1920. Ronan Park was named in honor of Father Peter Ronan, pastor of nearby St. Peter’s Church during the late 19th century.
Meetinghouse Hill circa 1899; current location of Ronan Park outlined in red