A little history

In order to explore what Randolph is now and might become, it’s useful to look back at how it got here (look to some of the older entries to see just what this ‘here’ consists of).  The following is a brief (well, brief for a thesis not so much for a blog) history of Randolph up through the 20th century.  Let me know what you think.  What am I failing to point out?  What did I get wrong?

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For most of its history, Randolph has been a fairly typical small New England town.  The land just south of the Blue Hills that would become Randolph was a part of Braintree during colonial times.  Randolph was incorporated in 1793 at the same time that Holbrook and Quincy broke away from Braintree to form independent towns.  Residents in the farming village supplemented their incomes with shoe cobbling because the soil was too poor for successful farming.  In the early 1800s, bootmaking factories opened in Randolph.  The population quadrupled in the first half of the century with industrialization, but Randolph’s small bootmaking industry was quickly overshadowed by the larger bootmakers in the city of Brockton to the south.  Population was stagnant, hovering around 4,000 people until highway construction transformed Randolph forever.

Route 128, Boston’s circumferential highway, opened on Randolph’s northern border in 1927.  This first highway transformed Randolph into a true suburb. After 70 years of stagnation, the population grew 38% to 6,553 persons between the 1920 and 1930 censes.  Randolph, like most American suburbs, then experienced a population explosion in the post-war era.  Additional highways made the town even more attractive for suburbanization. Route 24 opened on Randolph’s western border in 1951.  The Southeast Expressway created a much faster connection to downtown Boston in 1957.  The town’s close proximity to Dorchester and Mattapan made it especially attractive to the suburbanizing Irish and Jewish communities from those neighborhoods.  Randolph was a place where people leaving those Boston neighborhoods could buy a single-family home, commute easily to employment downtown or along Route 128, and remain close enough to the old neighborhood to maintain their social ties.  By 1970, the town had grown to 27,000 persons and population growth stabilized.

The arrival of the Jewish population marked the first time Randolph’s demographics differed from the typical suburban Boston community.  For several decades, Randolph replaced Mattapan as the Jewish hub south of Boston.  Jews in Randolph organized Conservative, Orthodox, and Liberal temples and built a Jewish cemetery.  The Conservative Temple Beth-Am dominates a prominent intersection on North Main Street with its 50 foot stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

Housing construction predictably lagged behind population growth. The largest boom in building, especially in the building of more affordable multi-family apartment complexes came during the 1980s.  By the end of the 1980s, Randolph could boast a diverse housing stock including large lot single-family homes, duplexes, small lot single- and multi-family houses, and larger three- and four-story apartment complexes.

Randolph’s population grew modestly after 1970, but significant changes began to take place in the population through the 1980s and 1990s.  Randolph continued to be a gateway to suburban living for former residents of Dorchester, Mattapan, and other Boston neighborhoods.  But, new groups started to join the suburbanizing ethnic whites.  Randolph’s Black, Asian, and Latino populations began to grow during this period including African-Americans, Caribbean peoples, Cape Verdeans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans and many others.  Randolph became the most open destination for this diverse group of people to seek out suburban living.  According to my interviews, these people moved to Randolph for the same reasons that ethnic whites had in the previous couple decades – better schools, better housing, some green space, and easy access to the communities they left in Boston’s neighborhoods as well as the job centers downtown and along Route 128.

A new phenomenon began in the last two decades of the twentieth century.  Randolph had long been a second step move for immigrants who first settled in the city.  But, by the 1990s enough potential immigration sponsors had made the move to Randolph that their families joined them in the suburb, bypassing the city altogether.  One Chinese-American I interviewed typified this group, “My aunt sponsored my family to the US and rented out her house [in Randolph] to us in 1990.”

By the mid to late 1990s, Randolph had become Boston’s most diverse suburb.  The many different groups who call Randolph home live throughout the town rather than clustering in small neighborhoods. For this reason, the Boston Globe recognized Randolph as “the most integrated municipality in the Commonwealth.”

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