HBI revives historic Dudley firehouse

Yawu Miller | 6/21/2011, 11:16 p.m.
Historic Boston Incorporated Executive Director Kathy Kottaridis and Construction Supervisor Brian Gossens in front of the Eustice Street Firehouse. The building will serve as offices for HBI and is expected to inject new life into a long-neglected historic corner of Roxbury. Yawu Miller

“This is one of the few pieces of Roxbury that’s undisturbed from the 1630s,” Kottaridis says. “Here, everything is as it was.”

Unlike the other colonial-era cemeteries, the Roxbury Burial Ground still has foot stones — smaller markers that were placed at the foot of colonists’ graves. The earliest grave dates to 1633 — three years after the Puritans first arrived in Boston and Roxbury.

The Firehouse, like Washington Street, was built on land formerly claimed by the moldering bodies of the colonists. When contractors rebuilt the building’s foundation, they had to sift carefully through the dirt, taking care to preserve what archeologists call “disarticulated remains.”

 “We had to sift all of it, store it with an archeologist, or re-inter it on site,” Kottaridis says. “All the excavated dirt on this site has something in it.”

The attitudes toward historical preservation have evolved since the Firehouse was built in 1859. And the Eustice Street Historical district’s preservation has taken a step forward with the redevelopment of the Firehouse, according to Kottaridis, who says HBI will explore ways to open the cemetery open to the public for the first time in decades.

“We’ll literally be the eyes and ears here,” she said. “We can find ways to keep this historic district alive.”

Next in HBI’s sights is the historic Nawn Factory, built and used by real estate developer Owen Nawn, who built the elevated Orange Line.