Calling up echoes of the first Dot Days

Sunday’s Dorchester Day Parade will be our community’s 53rd scheduled parade since 1963, when a committee of veterans and civic leaders revived the traditional march, which had been allowed lapsed in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Dorchester Day was originally conceived in June 1904 by the leaders of the Dorchester Historical Society to mark the 274th anniversary of the settlement of the town of Dorchester by English immigrants in 1630.

Dorchester was an independent town until it was annexed to Boston in 1870 following a referendum held the year before and the first Dot Day’s founders wanted to remind contemporary residents of the town’s history and note its distinctive identity within the city of Boston. They succeeded in both respects.

The 1904 event was heavy with speeches and politicians, including one of Dorchester newest residents, an Irish-American named John Francis Fitzgerald, a former congressman who would soon be elected Boston’s mayor. About 200 strong, they gathered in a tent within sight of “Rock Hill,” where, in 1630, the sea-worn settlers set up camp and fortified themselves from the Native Americans, who had, in fact, settled Dorchester and its environs centuries before the Puritans’ lonely vessel, the Mary and John, slid into the safe harbor of what we now call Savin Hill Cove.

So well-received was that first Dorchester Day that the next year brought an innovation: A parade that was led by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, men who had survived the crucible of Civil War to return to what was then an agrarian community on the outskirts of the state capital.

According to an account by Dot Day founder James H. Stark, units in the first parade included “Dorchester Gentlemen’s Driving Club” and “guests in carriages,” who followed a procession from the old Blake House at Edward Everett Square to Meetinghouse Hill for a “historical address” in front of the memorial to the men lost in the Great War of Rebellion.

The parade then re-formed and headed to “the crest of Savin Hill” via Hancock and Pleasant streets for more speeches, including one by Rev. John Eells, whose ancestor was among the first settlers from the Mary and John.

By year three, Dorchester Day was getting to be a spectacle. Two Navy cruisers— the Cleveland and the Tacoma— were ordered to Dorchester Bay and opened up the parade at noon by booming their cannon. The 1906 parade roster was significantly larger and more martial in nature. Its route was different, too, stepping off from Talbot and Welles avenues and winding its way through Ashmont Hill and Four Corners to Savin Hill.

Dot Day, it was clear, had arrived, and was here to stay.

Former Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy delivered the main oration at Dot Day 1906, uttering words that ring as true today as they did that mild day in June more than a century ago:

“The changes symbolized by your growth in population and by the increase in property values are indeed great, yet they have not destroyed the essential character of the district. Dorchester, always the home of well-to-do middle class people, is still the most favorable situated residential section of Boston.

"The ocean to the east, with its dreamy prospect, its invigorating winds, the river and mountains on the south, the superb country park and boulevard on the west, the teeming city within an easy half hour’s ride to the north, offer a variety of advantages which no other section can dispute with you. Nature framed one part of Boston in ideal surroundings for a district of comfortable homes and for once man has wrought in harmony with her promptings.”

Happy Dorchester Day!