BNC trails are open; restrooms available; Nature Center closed—click for more info.
Here’s the future site of the BNC as shown in an 1832 map of Roxbury by John G. Hales, showing the brook as a natural, winding stream surrounded by wetlands – which at the time were actually wet meadows, not marsh. Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.
Then, around 1855, the brook was dramatically straightened, as shown in this 1884 atlas of West Roxbury published by G.W. Bromley. Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.
The straightening of the main channel is again evident in this photograph from around 1900. By this time the wetland had gotten wetter, with more standing water, making it less of a wet meadow, more of a marsh. Courtesy of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
Around 1910, after the site had become the home of the Boston State Hospital, the brook was moved north along much of its length, alongside a sewer line (the straight line) that had been constructed a few years previously, as shown in this 1924 Bromley atlas of West Roxbury. Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.
The brook also was made more curvy, giving it a more natural appearance. Here’s a picture from 1911 showing the new channel as it was being created, looking from the BNC toward Morton Street. From Street Department Annual Report, 1912.
During this same period, most of the wetland on the site was filled in to make farmland. Much of the work both of landscaping and of farming was done by the residents of the Boston State Hospital, some of them shown here in a photograph from around 1900. Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, State Library of Massachusetts.
This aerial photograph from 1938 shows the full extent of the state hospital; notice again the re-channeled brook and the absence of wetland, almost all of which had been filled in by then. Courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.
Over the rest of the twentieth century, the wetland (and other vegetation) slowly returned, as shown in this aerial photograph from 1995; notice both the main marsh in the east and the smaller wet meadow in the west of the BNC. Image courtesy of The Boston Atlas/Boston Redevelopment Authority.