MyTown tours contemplates Fields Corner as next stop

A popular teen program that shepherds tourists down the side streets and lost histories of the South End is being courted for a possible expansion into Fields Corner.

Historic Boston Inc. helped bring a stable of Fields Corner figures together for a MyTown tour of the South End's Columbus Avenue last Wednesday and afterward feted tourists and tour guides alike at a Vietnamese noodle shop nearby, all to help put a new spotlight onto the corner's history.

"They give tours to 2,000 people a year. It would be wonderful to work with a group like that," said Earl Taylor, a tourist de jour and president of the Dorchester Historical Society. "It's something like history camp."

MyTown (Multicultural Youth Tour of What's Now) was started by two college classmates in 1995 who sought to connect local youth with the history of their neighborhood. In the South End, that meant bits of the past such as the Puerto Rican-led battle for "parcel 19" which became Villa Victoria and the 1968 fight against a parking garage that became Tent City, both affordable housing developments. Another site is the Pullman Porter House on Springfield Street, which housed numerous porters for the famous Pullman cars, one of the first jobs that gave blacks entrée into the American middle class.

Just what the topics would be in Fields Corner would ultimately be researched and developed by the youth themselves, including gathering oral histories from those who recall earlier days in the neighborhood. Jeff Gonyeau of Historic Boston Inc. speculates that history might be one of a "cultural crossroads," much as it is today.

"It always seems to have been a mix of races, classes and backgrounds in the district. Old Yankees, Irish, Italian, African-American and now Vietnamese, there's just a long history of different kinds of people coming into Fields Corner and making it as lively as it still is."

Such a social history, adds Gonyeau, would nicely complement the research HBI is doing on the architecture and history of the area's development, not to mention benefit the youth.

"Just spending time with those kids is amazing," Gonyeau said. "They're so informative and entertaining and then you realize this one's 14. We tend to be old, white and whatever in the history field, and to have a diverse group of youth involved is a good direction to go in."

"Our young people are very excited to hear all about Fields Corner and how the various peoples immigrated in and out," said Lisa Owens, director of MyTown. "It's really an interesting and lesser known area of the city.

"We're going to get together within the next few weeks and see what this might look like," said Owens, stressing that no final decision has been made yet. "This is an exciting step for MyTown, it's a natural outgrowth of our program."