Opium, the Underground Railroad, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Southie
Did you know that the Perkins School for the Blind was located here in Southie for most of the 1800s?
The school, originally called the New England Asylum for the Blind, was chartered in 1829. It was first located on Pearl Street, near Post Office Square. Then it moved to a nearby mansion, in what would become the Post Office Square area, that was donated to the school by notorious Boston merchant, Colonel Thomas Handasyd Perkins. Perkins and his brother bought opium in Turkey, sold it in China, and that’s how they made their fortunes. With his wealth, Perkins became a philanthropist here in Boston, and the Perkins School for the blind still bears his name.
After the Post Office Square location was deemed unsuitable for the school, the mansion and its grounds were sold and the proceeds of the sale were used to buy a hotel, the Mount Washington Hotel, located here in Southie on East Broadway between G and H Streets (where the court house is next to the Java House), all of this was done under the leadership of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe.
Dr. Howe was an interesting man:
— attended Boston Latin School
— his mom, Patty Gridley, was considered one of the most beautiful women in Boston
— he was a surgeon in the Greek army
— his wife, Julia Ward Howe, wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic
— according to his daughter, Florence, the Howe’s house in South Boston was a stop on the Underground Railroad
— he was appointed by the US Secretary of War, in 1863, to investigate the condition of former slaves in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation
The Perkins School of the Blind opened in South Boston in 1838 and it stayed open until the entire school moved to a bigger location in Watertown in 1912 (lack of space — still an issue a century later!)