A 50-year tradition continues on Hewins Street
Fifty-eight years ago, Gwendolyn Lisenby didn’t want to move to Hewins Street from her apartment on Lawrence Avenue in Dorchester.
But that street, which runs one block between Erie Street and Columbia Road near Franklin Park, is where her husband found a house they could buy.
“It was all Jewish people,” she said. “There were just two black families.”
But as the neighborhood and city changed, so too did the block. Eight years later, with new families populating the street of neat two-family Victorian homes, Lisenby was enlisted to organize the first Hewins Street block party. She recalls shopping at Lord Jeff’s and other stores for supplies.
“It was a great way for the kids and for the neighbors to get to know each other,” she said.
Last Saturday, Lisenby sat on her front porch during the 50th Hewins Street block party. Some things have changed on the block. There are fewer children, and many of the two-family houses have been converted to three-families. But many things have remained constant.
“My son owns the house across the street,” Lisenby said. “I have another son who owns a house down the street.”
The feeling of community on Hewins Street stems from the neighbors’ loyalty to the block, said Rachel Kemp, an investment banker who has lived there since age 4 and now owns the home in which she was raised.
“This is a multi-generational block,” she said. “People have bought homes and sold them to their children. Even renters have been here 20 years.”
While Kemp sat on her front porch, another family gathered around a grill in the middle of the block. Young children played in a bouncy house set up on a neighbor’s yard. At different porches, Caribbean music and classic soul played through sound systems. One neighbor had built a stage where a band was setting up for a gig.
Despite the block party’s din, Hewins is normally a quiet street, the residents say.
Up toward Columbia Road, Dusty Davis lives in a home with her in-laws, her daughter and four grandchildren.
“It’s one of the few streets in Dorchester where you can walk down the street and people come downstairs to give you hugs,” she said. “On the Fourth of July, on Labor Day — any big holiday, most of us are outside.”
Next door to the Davis household, Glenda Powe lives in the home she and her former husband purchased 42 years ago. Her three children have moved out, but Powe has no intention of doing so.
“It’s still a great street,” she said.
She cites Kemp, Lisenby and the late Eula Best as the residents who launched the block party and helped create a culture of cohesiveness that persists to this day.
“They’re like the matriarchs of this block,” she said.
Kemp points to the strong sense of community on the block as the factor that compels so many renters and owners to stay.
Echoing a prevailing sentiment, she said, “It’s a great street.”
Then she slipped into memories of growing up on the block.
“You could ride your bike up and down the street. You knew everyone on this block. Adults looked out for you as your own parents would.”
Is it still that way?
“Yes,” Kemp said. “Very much so.