Allston Christmas

I’ve now lived in Boston for eighteen years. During the first five years I lived in three different Boston neighborhoods – Allston, Brighton, and Fenway, before buying our home in Jamaica Plain. All our apartment leases began on September 1st and ended the next year on August 31. As those who live in Boston know, September 1 is the big move in day for many college students and other residents. With many people moving out of one place by midnight and moving into another apartment the next morning, this can frequently create some chaotic situations! Lots of household furniture is left discarded on the curb (with city officials often giving bed bug warnings on beds and couches to any would-be takers).

Other residents may go out looking for used items for their own places and movers need to be on guard! When packing your belongings into a moving truck, you’ll often need to make sure nothing is left outside for long as it may be scooped up rather quickly if it appears abandoned. In my first neighborhood of Allston, the September date was so commonly called “Allston Christmas” that, two years ago, Harpoon Brewery named a beer after the unofficial holiday, which they released again this year.

Another occurrence around move-in day (and sometimes other times of year) is seeing moving trucks getting “Storrowed.” This is the result of unfamiliar college students driving with moving trucks down Storrow Drive (which has a height limit of ten feet) and having the top of their truck get hit as it makes contact with a low bridge. Trillium, another brewery in Boston, named a beer after that local tradition. Both beers are excellent, for any readers who might be wondering!

What made me think of Boston’s move-in day was when I recently looked at some manuscript papers at NEHGS for members of the Willey family, who lived in Boston in the early twentieth century. Within these papers was a lease from 1918 for a five-room fourth floor apartment in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. There on the lease was the same dreaded move-in day: September 1st!

But what was more surprising was the rent. Four hundred twenty-five dollars a year, to be paid in monthly installments of just over thirty-five dollars! In 1918, thirty-five dollars was roughly equivalent to six hundred thirty-three dollars today. The same apartment today rents for almost five thousand dollars a month! While apartment leases are not preserved in the same way land records are, they certainly can give an insight into costs in previous eras. This lease provided zero help for the genealogical question I had pertaining to the Willey family, but it gave me some entertainment on Boston history!

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

5 thoughts on “Allston Christmas

  1. Good heavens – it seems Boston has the same set-up as Montreal. Everyone moves on July 1 there, and I gather it’s a NIGHTMARE. I grew up in Montreal, but fortunately, never rented there (I moved away).

    1. Susan, I am a former Bostonian now living in Montreal (not renting, thankfully), and it is best to avoid neighborhoods with a high percentage of rental properties, because the streets are jammed with moving trucks, vans, and any other vehicle that can be conscripted to move possessions, because if you don’t reserve your moving van or UHaul before mid-May, you are out of luck. Montrealer call it Christmas in July, for the mounds of furniture abandoned on the sidewalks.

  2. When I first began this genealogical odyssey 25 years ago my research often produced many more questions than answers.
    Why were so many names and words misspelled in the records?
    Why did parents continue to re-use a given name after one of their children had died?
    Why were there so many people in the same populated place with identical names?
    But, most of all, why did my maternal grandparents seem to move around almost yearly from 1909 to 1945 in the City of Syracuse, New York, and its surrounding towns? The U.S. Federal and New York Censuses, as well as the City Directories showed that their address was changing constantly.
    Oh, dear, I wondered. Why were these records for my beloved Nana and Bompa destroying the fond memories of all those wonderful times we had? What about the sense of security and stability that enveloped me whenever I stayed with them?
    Dare I suppose that they repeatedly and furtively packed their belongings and crept away in the middle of the night to avoid the paying back rents to the landlords?
    My most pressing fears were banished when “Chaos in the Streets” by Zachary Garceau appeared in Vita Brevis on Dec. 29, 2015. This article chronicled an annual phenomenon known in New York City as “Moving Day.” Renters’ leases had a renewal date of May first — and many a family was forced to move when the lease expired. I recognized immediately that New York’s biggest city was not the only place where the entire populace was seemingly uprooted all on the same day. Nana and Bompa were probably not skipping out on the back rent after all.
    Now Christopher Child has pointed out his personal experience with a different date for a universal renters’ moving day in Boston which shows that other cities in other states had (or perhaps still have) certain moving day dates that are celebrated by some as bountiful unofficial holidays and endured by others as a costly disruption in their otherwise (hopefully) peaceful lives. Thanks, Chris. Thanks, Zach.

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