If you stand at the side of the Ryder Home and look northeast up the hill toward the waterfront, you can see the site of an old road, High Street, that disappeared during urban renewal in the 1960s.
Like buildings, streets come and go, but usually some trace remains. Some of Plymouth’s roads date back to Native Wampanoag paths, while others were laid out by the early colonists as the town grew.
High Street dates back to c1800, when two of Plymouth’s leading citizens, Dr. James Thacher and Judge Joshua Thomas, experimented with land speculation. The New England economy was growing in the early years of the 19th century from a combination of industry and coastal shipping. As the population increased, more houses were built.
The two men took a gamble that the good economy would pay off—they bought hilly land between Summer Street and Burial Hill, and laid out house lots along two connecting lanes. In the past, streets generally followed plot outlines. In this case, the two men laid out roads through the middle of their properties to create two rows of house lots.
Thomas Street ran from Russell Street to Spring Street, and Thacher Street continued east to Market Street. According to the late , in his introduction to Thacher’s History of Plymouth, the doctor may have had an ulterior motive for purchasing land adjacent to the cemetery—after all, Thacher did teach medical students about anatomy! No one knows if Dr. Thacher was ever involved in resurrectionism, but it makes a good story for the ghost tours that frequent downtown Plymouth every night.
In general, the lots along Thacher Street were small, and several remained undeveloped until after the Civil War. The Thomas Street lots were fewer and larger; two thirds of the houses built were substantial two-story dwellings. The two streets were officially combined and renamed High Street in 1823.
One of the substantial Federal-period houses built in the early years of the century was built by Job Ryder around 1809. A few decades later, his daughter Rebecca chose to turn her family home into a residence for elderly people. She left her house to the Plymouth Fragment Society, which opened the Ryder Home for Old People in 1891. Sadly, the Ryder Home recently closed.
A century and a half after it was laid out, High Street, particularly the east end, bordered an old neighborhood that had gradually been descending into poverty. By the Depression, many of the old homes on nearby Summer Street had been divided into low-income apartments. High Street was a mixed bag—buildings ranged from run-down tenements to well-maintained owner-occupied homes. When town planners took advantage of federal urban renewal money in the 1950s, High Street was included in the 30-acre redevelopment area. All of the buildings along High Street, except the Ryder Home, were demolished in the early 1960s to make way for the Spring Hill Apartments and what is now the John Carver Inn.
Today the Ryder Home is all that’s left of High Street. It’s hard to completely erase a street, though. A driveway and sidewalk run northeast from the Ryder Home along what used to be High Street.
So, if you stand at the Ryder Home and look northeast, you can see the layers of Plymouth’s evolving history.