Today, the gateway to Primus Avenue off Phillips Street on Beacon Hill is locked with only residents and their guests allowed entry. In 1843, this path was called Wilberforce Place. Back then, the word "place" was used to identify a location as a square or short street.
Wilberforce Place is described in Boston Ways: High, By, and Folk by George Weston as “a dark, dirty, and dismal place it was then—truly a slum, with three cold-water tenements housing a horde of the city’s dregs.”
They also explain the name change, "We believe that sometime in the 1860's, Primus Avenue came into being, replacing the name of Wilberforce Place, in honor of Primus Hall who once lived on this alley." And, they give a nice history of the namesake the avenue honors.
Urban Renewal in the 1920s
This photo from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection shows how the alley looked in the mid 1930s. Phtogapher Jones noted that the photo was, "...taken for Jack Frost sketch."
Jones also took the view from the Revere Street side or Sentry Hill Place with the title, "False front at Sentry Hill Place leads to Primus Ave. on Beacon Hill." Here's a map of the addresses.
In his book Built in Boston: City & Suburb, 1800-2000, Author Douglass Shand-Tucci writes that Architect, Clarence H. Blackall, "... carved out of several Beacon Hill tenements in the 1920s the imaginative Primus Avenue apartments off Phillips Street ..."
Penny used it as the subject of one of her Attention to Detail columns for the Beacon Hill Times, a few years ago. In the process, she discovered some interesting tidbits about this place. But, she always loves learning more about the historic streets, buildings, and people of Boston. If you have a Primus Avenue story or tidbit to share, please add it in the comments below.
Three books with information about Primus Avenue are:
Do you have an Amazon Gift Certificate to use? Or do you need to buy one for a gift? Remember to click over to Amazon from here to support this site!
Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photography: The two historic photos are Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. The new one and The Attention to Detail piece are © 2011-2012 Penny Cherubino