By Carter Wilkie
According to the Roslindale Historical Society, when residents of this section of southwest Boston petitioned the U.S. Post Office for a local post office in 1870, the new postal district needed a name. This rural area between Roxbury to the north and West Roxbury to the west had been home to a Congregational meeting house as early as 1712 and was known as “South Street Crossing.” But the Post Office rejected that name, so residents had to come up with something acceptable.
As the story goes, a native of Britain who lived in this part of Boston at the time suggested the name “Roslindale,” because the terrain reminded him of the village of Roslin, Scotland.
On a trip to Edinburgh in the summer of 2013, our family from Roslindale, Massachusetts stopped in Roslin, Scotland and discovered the reason for ourselves.
Both villages lie about six or seven miles southwest of the centers of sophisticated, historic cities, Edinburgh and Boston. In 1870, Roslindale, like Roslin, was a rural village. Prior to the arrival of trolleys from Forest Hills station in the early 20th century, Roslindale's commercial district was a long, linear spine of shops stretching along Washington Street. The village center had formed in a shallow valley, or “dale,” surrounded by gentle hills on all sides, and the dominant natural feature on the horizon looking south was the Blue Hills.
Roslin, Scotland still appears very much as it would have to a traveler in 1870. It has evaded modernization and is surrounded by a rural countryside of pastures and hayfields. Like Roslindale in 1870, it has one long commercial street of businesses. The one-story and two-story buildings pre-date the 20th century. Most are made of stone, topped with slate roofs. Like Roslindale, the village of Roslin lies in a dale surrounded by gently rolling hills. Its southern horizon is dominated by the scenic Pentland Hills of Scotland.
The name “Roslin” is an Anglicized spelling of the Gaelic “Rosslyn,” which comes from the Gaelic words “ross” (rocky promontory) and “lyn” (pooling water). The brook that flows through Roslindale Village was covered over by 20th century structures and asphalt, but it is still here, underground, as are what remain of nearby Puddingstone outcroppings that were blasted and chiseled away to make room for streets and roads.
Today, Roslin, Scotland is famous as a tourist destination due to its 15th century church, Roslynn Chapel, said to be the most ornately hand carved stone church in Britain. The landmark chapel stars in the denouement of Dan Brown's best selling mystery novel, The Davinci Code, and the 2006 film of the same name starring Tom Hanks. So, you don't have to travel all the way to Scotland to see Roslindale's namesake village for yourself. Just watch the film from the comfort of your home - in Roslindale, of course.
Carter Wilkie has lived in Roslindale since 1987 and is a past president of the RVMS board of directors.