Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working Boys Home, Newton

Since I discovered the site armed with historical maps of Massachusetts and beyond, I have been browsing them constantly, imaging the landscape some fifty or even hundred years ago. For example, the number of TB sanatoriums is striking in the maps surveyed right after WWII.

In addition to now disused railroads, I am particularly interested in institutions, a kind of institution that we don't expect to see in present day America because some practices or concepts are long gone. Quarantining a mass of TB patients to sanatoriums would be a good example.

Today, I'll show you some of my little findings from old maps. The below is a 1946 map of the southwest Newton.

1946 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

Look at the lower right section of the map, do you see "Working Boys Home"? "Working Boys Home", what a Dickensian sound in it. We rarely associate the word "working" with "boys" in the context of contemporary American kids; we think of child labors in sweatshops in some countries. I mean kids working like 16 hours a day.

My image of working boys, from eRiding media library
My another image of working boys, from eRiding media library

A lodging for boys who were separated from parents and working some places like factories... This is enough to make me fascinated, and I decided to investigate further. 

 1903 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

The above is a 1903 map of Newton. I can recognize something like the precursor of the WBH. Wow, the area is really desolate, hilly, and swampy. I searched the place with my another favorite, the MACRIS database. Oh, I've got it! It's still there!

Imagine such an imposing redbrick tower on a remote woody hill. According to the MACRIS, the building was planned by John and William McGintly in 1896. I couldn't find any more historical information about it, and I wonder what kind of organization did build this institution. It is usually by a Christian one, but it could be by a municipal or nonreligious philanthropic group, too.

The building is currently housing Newton Highlands Jewish Community Center. I should check this place out.

And I went.

It's been beautifully preserved. I have to say it's a lot more cheerful than the black and white picture I saw at the MACRIS. I guess because a part of the building is utilized as a day care center.

Looking at the cheerfully colored playground equipments and toys, I couldn't help thinking how much the view on children has changed in last hundred years. Would the working boys who used to be there imagine a part of the building would become a thing called "pre-school"?

Let's examine the clock on the tower; it's in Hebrew! I'm impressed with the attention to such a detail.

I gotta think, who were the "working boys"? Where did the boys work? And who did build the institution? Information is so limited.

Well, solution is always simple. I should always check the homepage of the current occupant. According to the Leventhal-Sidman JCC, the WBH was operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. So my initial guess about a Christian organization was right.

But where did the boys work? There must have been farms around the facility. Like many Poor Farms, the WBH could have been a self supporting community. The Boston Manufacturing Company (Francis Cabot Lowell's mill in Waltham) is 7 miles (11km) away from the Home. But those mills usually provided boarding to their employees. How about newspaper companies?  There is a relatively big textile machine factory only a mile away, too.

My questions deepen.

Locate Working Boys Home @ Google Map

Also read the follow up article: Faces of the Working Boys Home

Historical map of Newton from Mytopo:
MACRIS detail of Working Boys Home:
MACRIS detail of Saco-Petee Textile Machine Shop:
Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center:


  1. I grew up in Newton during the 1950s and 1960s and was always a little bit scared by those words on my local map - Working Boys Home. I feared being sent there if I got into trouble. I finally went there to look when it was the JCC about 10 years ago. But have you found anything about the history of the place? Especially any photos?

  2. Hi Ed G,

    As a grown up, your childhood imagination is kinda sweet (sorry!) But If I were you, I would have the same reaction towards the place. I found the red brick tower on the pine wood hill was intimidating. It looked like a perfect setting for children's rumors alike. Though, the JCC did a great work converting to a friendly space.

    History wise, the research is still going on. I've recently helped a genealogical research for one reader, and he gave me some good materials. As you reminded me, I should put them up in near future.

  3. i used to live at the working boys home in the late 1950s. it was a place of darkness & sadness, dickensian--yes. In the early 1900s, before the child labor laws, half the boys would work while the other half would go to school. Then the halves would switch for the second semester. Working kids would travel to Boston by train. The Newton Poor Farm was next door to the WBH. When I was there, there were about a hundred of us, and we had one another. We learned many things there: groundswork, housekeeping and cooking skills. We also learned how to observe, to cooperate, and to survive by taking care of one another. The beatings were another story altogether.

    1. In the late 50's I find this hard to believe.
      Beatings???? Really????

  4. Hello Paul,

    I'm glad that we are able to share your valuable life story! So the boys went to Boston by train to work for groundswork, housekeeping, and some cooking help.

    Paul, do you know anything about your biological mother? If it isn't too burdensome for you, is it possible to share more about your life? If you could, please send an email to: creepychusetts[at]

    The blog is reaching an anniversary next month. I want to set my second year goal as focusing on more archival research and interviews...Anyway, thank you very much for your willingness to share an important piece of history.

  5. My Dad was there in 1930. He was 9 years old and he would never speak of his Mother much, and he NEVER spoke of this place. Later on in the mid 1970's there is a man that came to my Sister's place in North Dakota looking for Dad, he said his name was Father or Brother Joe, a priest. He was older and just looking for the kids that lived there. My Sister would not give him any iformation, as we did not know at that time. My Mom has told me things. I am interested in what you find out. William J Dunn's Daughter.

  6. Hello William J Dunn's Daughter,

    First, thank you very much for sharing your story from an aspect of a daughter. I'm very intrigued with "Father Joe" person looking for the kids. I guess he used to work at the Working Boys Home. Or he used to be one of the boys who later became a priest...who knows. Why was he searching for the boys even traveling beyond MA...

    In this stage, I'm pretty much gathering personal stories like yours. I'm thinking about visiting a historical society in Newton in the future. Wish me a luck for my investigation!

  7. Thank you Shuko, if you would like any thing else let me know..I did write to the church and had to go through Notre Dame to get some items..It is ledgers of sorts and tid bits...I have it put away. Please let me know what you find out..Much appreciated, Angie Dunn-King :)

  8. Thanks Angie & have a nice weekend! Shuko

  9. Well, I finally found where my life had begun anew.

    Working Boys' Home was for this abused boy a life saver. Thanks for a neighbor & our parish priest (Most Holy Redeemer) East Boston. He knew of a place where I would be wanted & receive love & care.
    I was there from 1949-1953. A Brother Aubert had welcomed me home and into a family of about 50 boys. I was 10 years old & assigned to the 5Th grade. I was in the upper dormitory, supervised by a Brother Seraphim. If we were good boys he would let us listen to a Boston Braves ball game. Or the Hibernian hour (Irish music). We were responsible for the cleanliness of our areas. When we were bad boys, well punishment would be swift & painful. The weapon of choice was the rattan ( a bamboo stick)across the finger tips or in extreme cases your bare butt. After two years we would move to the lower dorm. Supervised by a Brother Roland also my 6th grade teacher. We played all the sports in season. We had a pretty mean football team too. We had ice house hill in the winter for sledding or tobboganing. Ice house pond for ice skating or the Charles river with permission & supervision. Sometimes they would flood the tennis court area in the winter & ice skate there.
    The severest form of punishment was the dreaded paddle. Not your ordinary paddle, but one with a hunk of lead in it. It was administered by showing your "moon" bending over & holding on to your ankles. It sure did hurt & you wouldn't going to be sitting down for quite a while. Plus you just hoped that you didn't get it on a saturday as that was shower day & that water just made it hurt longer.

    But, there is where I was safe from all my abusers, atleast until we had to go "home" once a month. Plus during the summer too.I was fresh meat all over again, until September.
    The best years of this young boys life.

    Thanks to all those benefactors in the area & across the country. We mailed aou the magazine The Working Boy, I believe 4 times a year asking for donations.
    Thanks to countless thousands, this boy had a roof over his head, he had clothing, heat, food & their love & prayers for a group of boys that they never had seen. They received mine in return.
    God bless them all along with those Xaverian Brothers whom had shared their life & love with.
    Pete Corbett.

  10. Hello Pete.

    I'm very impressed by your detailed and vivid description of the life as the working boy.

    I'm sorry to hear your hard upbringing as an abused child and positively amazed by your courage to speak about it. I'm sure your life at the home was a life saver for you. But I have to say the series of punishments you mentioned is very, very severe!!

    Sorry it got late to publish your comment. I wanted to read your comment over and over and felt I should post my response accordingly.

    Again, thank you very much for sharing your life story. As a young and different cultured person, it is always a humbling experience to hear a life story from older generations. It is such an awakening learning experience!


  11. I am curious about the July 25 poster's mention of the "Newton Poor Farm" next door to the Working Boys Home. I have been unable to find out anything about this farm in local history sources except that it moved to Winchester Street from Waban in 1902. Does anyone remember anything about it?

  12. Shuko:

    I posted the last comment re the Newton Poor Farm. I just found an excellent source on the Working-Boys Home: a copy of Catholic World from 1898 at Has a lithograph of what it calls the Industrial School of the home (the building you have pictured) and a photograph of boys at the home.

  13. Hi Anon,

    Thank you for the excellent source! Yes, I have been wondering about the poor farm next door. I assume it's much smaller than the Boy's home next door. I can start my speculation here, but I gotta go now...I'll catch up with it later...

    I'm reading a memoir of one of the boys now (thanks Irish Moose), and he mentioned that the school is also called "St John's Industrial School".

  14. If the person who commented on Sept 15 (or anyone!)is reading this comment, I have a question: how did you locate "Catholic World" from (i.e.: What's the keyword, media type, etc.)

    Potentially, this could be the great source of information, but I gotta learn how to find the kind of info I want...

  15. Shuko:

    Re your last post: My research approach isn't particularly inspiring blog-wise, nor do I have any idea what you're researching. If you give me an off-blog email address, I'll be glad to share whatever information I can.

  16. Hi Anon,

    Thank you for the offer!

    My initial my question was rather simple; I was asking you how did you get the result of "Catholic World" from Did you simply type "Working Boys Home" onto the in-site search engine? I do have your link of Catholic World but I was curious about learning how to use the in-site search engine in an efficient manner. Sorry, the question does sound too elementary to ask…

    In any case my e-mail is: creepychusetts[at]


  17. Thanks for putting this together. I'd like to learn more. I think my father lived here. It was probably in the 1940s. He never talked about it but he did run away from it. I always suspected the place was abusive in many ways. My father has passed and there aren't any relatives that I can ask about the place.

    1. For this boy who lived there from 1949-53. There was nothing there that was abusive. These days the form of punishment metered out to those of us boys who tested the patience of an angel back in my time 1949-1953 consisted or the rattan, (A form of bamboo stick) either across the finger tips or on your bare butt. Or that dreaded paddle with a hunk of lead in it. Only administered on your bare butt with you bent over holding on to your ankles. I got exactly what form of punishment that I deserved. Oh, yes I got slapped around too, but I deserved it. Call it tough love if you will. Still the best years of this young boys life. Thank God for them.

  18. Thank you anon for sharing.

    Yes, the information seems to be really limited. Do you know that how long did he live there? How and why was he sent to the home? I have some sense that many boys must have been sent there during/ after the war. Tough time for many families.

  19. The Working Boy's Home in the late 40's was run by the Xaverian Brothers and the boy's there had great opportunities to excel in all kind of sports. The Brothers were very good to them and the boy's learned a lot. Thank God for the Xaverian Brothers and all that they did and still do.

    1. Yes, those Xaverian Brothers were good to us too. They loved us boys and we loved them too. We did play all the sports. I even have a picture of me there 1949-53 in my football uniform #54. Those were the best years of this young boys life. Memories locked into my heart & soul. Thank God for them.
      Pete..aka there as Eagle Beak.

  20. The Working Boys' Home was founded in 1883 by the Rev. David H. Roche in a smallhouse on Eliot St. in Boston to provide housing, education, and employment for homeless boys. Three years later, the home was moved to a four-story building on Bennett St., where 200 boys were accommodated. The home opened as the St. John's Industrial School in 1896 in Newton Highlands on 60-acre tract on Winchester St. Reorganized in 1907, Working Boys' Home was placed under the care of the Xaverian Brothers until 1961, when it closed. The Brothers then used the facility as a novitiate. After the Xaverian Brothers moved, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies bought the building and surrounding land for a community center. The City of Newton acquired the land in 1981 and combined it with another 25 acres to create Nahanton Park.

  21. I was surfing looking for what the Working Boys Home of Boston was when I found your site. I was curious while looking into the ancestry of my great great great maiden aunt Ann Manning who died in 1908. In her will she bequeaths:

    First: I give the sum of one hundred (100) dollars, to the Rev. John J Downey of the Working Boy's Home of Boston and I request that he expend the same in offerings of masses for the prepose of my soul.

    She immigrated from Ireland to join her 4 siblings. She lived in Jamaica Plains at 292 Washington St. I suspect she became involved as part of her Church but that is only speculation.

    1. Hi Anon,

      Here is the link of "Catholic World" published in 1898. ( mention a number of similar institutions in Boston area; she might have involved with other Catholic charitable organizations as well.

      Good luck with your research!

  22. Daughter of George Doran or George FrielMarch 21, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    My father, who was born in 1901, spent a few years at the WBH, probably starting around 1908. As children, my sister and I never knew much about my father's background except that he lived in Cambridge with an aunt and uncle. He used to subscribe to the Working Boys Home publication and he sent money to the WBH, but never told us that he spent there (he said it was a friend). He died when I was 10. Many years later I learned that he was at WBH and at some point he ran away and that's when his aunt took him in to live with them. His mother was only 18 when she had him and at that time it was a disgrace to have a child out of wedlock, as they used to say. My sister and I did a little research and talked to one of the Xaverian brothers at a school in Danvers where all the old student records are kept. He tried to look up my father's record, but couldn't find it. Of course, we weren't sure of his last name which is why I signed this as George Doran or Friel. It is so nice to read your blog and see the pictures of the old Working Boys Home.

  23. I searched Working Boy's Home while trying to help my 98 year-old mother flesh-out the "memoirs" she had been working on prior to the onset of dementia...she had written
    "Another of my adventures occurred when my mother would take me out to the Working Boys Home in Newton Highlands. The Xavarian Brothers were in charge of the home and my mother and many of her friends and the friends of the Brothers used to meet every month on a Sunday to help raise money for the upkeep of the home and the boys who lived there. My mother was a member of their Home Helpers and once a month she went to a meeting out there. Needless to say she took me along with her. While she was at the meeting, some of the brothers would take me out to the playground and swing me and also, play on the teeter-totter. They, also, taught me some prayers that I still remember and say . I remember the names of some of the Brothers. One had piercing blue eyes and was very nice. The others that I remember were Bro. Gilbert and Bro. Samuel. They were the ones who discovered Babe Ruth’s prowess for baseball."

    I'm not sure of the validity of the Babe Ruth comment, but thought you might be interested in this excerpt. My grandparents were both born in Ireland.

  24. October 3, 1956: We entered my brother Peter and myself “The Working Boys Home” in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts. The last stop and the worst stop for us. This was Mom’s last attempt to discipline us in a way that we would understand. This place was run by “The Brothers of St Francis Xavier” and they were had to get along with. I remember Brothers Jude (7th Grade teacher and Baseball Coach), Roland (6th Grade teacher), along with Constant, Borgia and Brother Peter Celestine. Discipline was the name of their game and our mother now had been told for a period of time that we were uncontrollable. We made so many mistakes here by running away and always showing up on her doorstep. She began to realize that this arrangement had to come to an end. My brother Peter was on two Working Boy covers in 1957. The first was the EASTER cover March where he was sitting at his desk with space like helmet on his head with a cover script that read

    “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to---all kinds of things! In the case of our young man, sixth-grader Peter Barry, it was far off in space”

    The other cover was after we left and was a Halloween type background in October 1957.

    My brother died of cancer in 2006. In February / March timeframe of 1957 he along with a 6th grade classmate named Steven Dupree (not sure about the spelling) ran away from the home on a Saturday morning with heavy snow coming down. Then attempted to jump on a milk truck that was headed toward Boston on Route 9. Peter made it and the young Dupree fell off and was critically injured. In his lifetime, I never asked my brother about this story. Because of the trauma, my mother insisted that in never be brought up and it never was.
    My question now, is there any to get the details of this incident here in 2013. It’s been 56 years.

    Thank you
    Mike Barry

  25. I was at the Home from 1955 to 1959. Your story does ring a bell with me. It seems to me though that it might have been a year or two earlier, but honestly, I don't know. I remember the young boy who was run over by a truck, however It seems that it happened on one of our weekends home, but I can't be sure. I can't remember his name either...ahh too many years I guess.
    Dennis D

  26. Having thought about this a little since reading your post Mike, I believe your time frame is correct. I too was in the sixth grade when this happened, and I also recall that I was friends with Dupree (I honestly can't remember his name) but strangely, I seem to remember his face. We were all at football practice at the field directly behind the gym when we were told.
    Dennis D

    1. Dennis, Haven't looked at the posting for a while and sure was suprised with your responce. You may have been in the 6th grade photograph that my brother was featured in. It was the Easter issue in the spring of 1957. If you could send me an e-mail, ( I'll send you a copy of the cover.There is at least 12 faces that you can see and maybe ID from memory. I live on the Jersey shore twenty miles from Atlantic City. Hope to hear from you and if not, thanks for the responce.

      Mike Barry

  27. Dennis, Haven't checked the site recently but was suprised with your note and memory of the incident that happened so many years ago. Before I go any further, is your last name Devecks by any chance? You may have been in Peter's 6th grade classs. Billy Poulack was my besr friend. We were in the 8th grade togather. He had a younger brother that was in the 6th grade with Peter. Can't think of his name. I'll check in once in a while but I don't expect to get any more information because this site is close.

    Hope to talk to you soon

    Mike Barry

  28. Lol.. check your email Mike

  29. My mother dropped me off at the "Workies" as I was entering the 6th grade in 1946 and remained through the 7th grade 1948.

    Reading the posts and responses hereon was a genuine treat and most were on target. The food was great, three hot meals a day; clothes laundered weekly. We said grace at every meal, attended Mass every morning and Rosary every evening.

    There was an indoor gym with two basketball courts; a huge athletic field adjacent to the gym, with a open roofed picnic-like area where we sheltered while it rained; here is where I remember Brother Roland smoking his pipe. He also ran the hobby shop that was in a small building separate from the main house, a treat to be in there during the winter months. There also was another athletic field downhill from the main building, and a pond for winter skating.

    We played almost sport, hosted schools that usually trounced us but it was a lot of fun. The Charles River was used for swimming; we were told not to play around and call for help unless we really needed it. Graham was having difficulty splashing around with his arms moving like a windmill we told him to stop fooling around. Well, he wasn't fooling and soon he went under and we screamed for help. One of the Brothers ordered us out of the river, he must have dived for an hour trying to find Graham; eventually he was found but we had been ordered back to the main house. We all had honor guard duty taking turns the whole evening through in the room where he was laid out.It was awful.

    The Brother that I remember most was Brother Acquin; he smoked like a chimney; we used to swipe his cigarette butts and smoke them behind the coal storage bin but unknown to us, the Brothers use to watch us from the second story windows. Brother Acquin died of some type of cancer. We were bussed to a cemetery for his burial, were loud and rambunctious on the way out, absolutely silent on the way back.

    One day a huge cake appeared in the dining room, a gift from the singer Vaughn Munroe, famed for singing "Dance Ballerina, Dance".

    There was a large empty room adjacent to the dining hall, and those of us with a stash of marbles would set up shop, a team of two, with many teams lined up in a row, and the other boys would stand some distance away and roll their marbles one at a time, attempting to hit the one staged between a pair of legs, set behind a chink in the cement floor to hopefully, make the rolled marble veer away; I think we paid out 25 marbles for every hit.

    Academics was serious. I remember getting the rattan rod across the knuckles for not knowing the 8 parts of speech.

    Sleeping time was also serious. Brother Seriphem would bend us over a comb stand and administer whacks with a leather razor strop; he didn't hit hard but we got the message, KEEP QUIET.

    Brother Roland was by far my favorite; he would talk to us in a friendly manner, his pipe tobacco was quite pleasant and somehow comforting, and he conveyed what I can only describe as a basic good humanity toward us.

    My two years at the Working Boys Home did much to prepare me for the life of struggle that was later encountered' I visited the Working Boys Home June 1967 with my 6 year old son. I was a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant on the way to Viet Nam. A Brother came out of the main building as my son and I were walking the grounds, we talked a bit and I think he said something about the school was closed or was closing; I explained why we were there, I guess because it was important to me that somehow my son would know something about his father in the event I didn't make it back. Of course he probably would not have remembered anything about the trip or me but it was all that I could think of to do. I guess that the "Workies" meant a great deal to me.

    Thank you for the opportunity to tune in and write something.

  30. My name is John Aubrey (Jackie) from Woonsocket RI
    I was in the home (due to my dads death) from aprox 49 to 52 and then went home to high school in Woonsocket.
    I remember the Nici twins (orphans) and the Murphy boys and someone that lived in Bellingham Mass.
    Bro Jude Bro Peter Selistine (cook)and one other Bro John. Yes punishment was the order of the day for minor offenses.Discipline was swift and hard. I cannot attest to the fact that I became a better person in the school , not because of the spankings etc but they taught me the meaning and advantages of self control.
    John Aubrey JAUBREY224@AOL.COM Living in Fort Smith, Arkansas

  31. Joseph and Fred Moylen, my 2 family members, were there about 1930. Anybody remember them?

    Thanks for all the stories. Some good insight of what their lives were like back then.