By Seth Daniel
Watson Park on Taylor Street might be one of the smallest little parks in the city if one looks at a map, but neighbors say it has knitted together generations of folks in the area throughout the decades in a way that defies its square footage.
Neighbors and former neighbors, including Charlie Watson – whose father Julius Calvin Watson is the namesake of the park, reminisced recently about how much the park brought them together and continues to hold people together on what is one of the most picturesque streets in the city.
“In the beginning, the whole neighborhood would chip in; it was such a unified group of people who started the park,” said Watson. “Everyone had a common goal to get something done about the park. That was in the early 1970s. The group that is here now is so good because of the people who came before them. That’s what makes it so special. It’s a very diversified group of people. My father said it wasn’t his park when they named it after him. It belonged to the community…I still believe this street is one of the better streets in Boston. It’s wonderful to walk down here. A lot of good people did a lot of good things down here behind the scenes…Then you had people like John (Payne) and Louane (Hann) that moved in and they just carried it on,” he said.
Certainly Taylor Street – which cuts between Milford and Dwight streets – is one of the best little walking streets in Boston. The presence of Watson Park makes it all the more special, neighbors said. The park, which is made up of two parks, Big Watson and Little Watson (on abutting corners of Milford and Taylor streets), brings a character to the street of row houses that makes it otherworldly.
“You often see people walking down Milford Street, and then you can watch them discover Watson Park,” said Michael Almond, president of the Eight Streets Neighborhood Association (ESNA). “It really is an exciting open space to discover, to sit down and enjoy the trees and shade in the middle of the city.”
Added Watson, “It’s a beautiful place to sit in the park. Taylor Street is so different than anywhere else. It’s like you’re in a different city. I wish we had a meter to measure it because it’s amazing. Off the charts.”
Watson would know.
Though he and his family moved to South Boston in 2012, he grew up and spent most of his life on Taylor Street.
His father, Julius, moved to Taylor Street in 1946 with his wife, Essie Lucille, from Gainesville, Ga. Julius Watson was a Pullman Porter with the railroad, and they lived at 15 Taylor St. from the time Charlie was 2 years old. The street was actually a haven for Pullman Porters, as there was another porter that lived at 8-10 Taylor St. for many years also, said Charlie.
Julius Watson bought the property at 11A Taylor St., and that’s where Charlie and his family lived until 2012.
Charlie recalled that his father’s investment in the neighborhood was huge, which is what brought the park on.
The plots of land were five buildable parcels, and they contained several houses that were demolished by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now BPDA) due to fire damage.
Julius Watson led the charge of neighbors to press the city to do something about the vacant lots, and that something meant having a park.
“They took those buildings down and the land was open – just barren,” said Charlie. “My father wanted to do something about it. There was trash everywhere and dumped cars and people doing things there that weren’t so great.”
They fought for the park to be designated, and in the 1970s, that did happen, with the former BRA designating it Watson Park – much to the dismay of Julius Watson, whom Charlie said felt it should belong to everyone.
That said, Julius held the keys to the park, and he would lock it up every night.
“Every night, he’d come out jingling the keys, and he would yell, ‘Everyone out of the park! I’m locking up!’” recalled Charlie. “And people would get up and go, and he would lock up.”
Over the years, the park has been a glue for the community, hosting birthday parties for kids, bulb planting parties, neighborhood improvement projects and more family picnics than could be counted.
However, the park came under threat in 2015 when some well-known developments on the street materialized, and other developers started sniffing out opportunities on the park land. Unfortunately, Louane Hann said, whatever the BRA owns is for sale if they choose to sell it, and Watson Park had never been transferred from the BRA to the Parks Department.
After a very contentious and divisive development plan went through on the street, as a peace offering, Councilor Bill Linehan’s office was able to get the official transfer to the Parks Department.
“We focused on the positive things because Linehan’s office did help us get that transferred to the Parks Department,” said Hann. “Once the development happened, it was clear the fate of the park was under threat. That’s when I and other neighbors here spearheaded the effort to get it transferred over.”
Said Almond, “Fortunately, through neighborhood efforts, Watson Park was taken from the clutches of the BRA and is now a park and only the State of Massachusetts can overturn that. So, it should be good in perpetuity. We now just need a little help with the water.”
In 2015, after the park was transferred, neighbors started the Friends of Watson Park – which today oversees improvements and plantings. Currently they are in a struggle to get the water turned back on in the park.
“We have a tremendous need for water right now,” said Almond. “We just need them to turn the water back on. Last year when we had the drought it was catastrophic for the park. The only thing we really want from the Parks is to put the water back on, but that still hasn’t been done. We can take care of everything else.”
That they can.
On any given week one might find something new or fixed in the park – and you can bet it was a neighbor and not a city worker that did it.
Just last year, John Payne (Louane’s husband) and a friend refurbished the park benches. No one called City Hall or complained to 3-1-1; they simply took the initiative and had a fun time restoring the wooden benches, Payne said.
And that’s the spirit that lives on in Watson Park going back from the 1970s to the current day; a spirit of neighbors coming together to make the neighborhood continue as one of the most unique streets in the city.
“It’s funny, in this place, people seem to put their own preferences behind the cohesiveness of the group,” said Watson. “That doesn’t happen everywhere. That’s uncommon. But that’s always been the way here over all these years.”