During the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s 101st annual meeting on Monday, May 15, at the Somerset Club, Barbara W. Moore, affectionally known as “Bobby,” received the 26th annual Beacon Award for her “sustained and significant contribution to the Beacon Hill community.”
Born and raised near Valley Forge, Pa., Barbara earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, School of Architecture & Design in 1953 before moving to Manhattan to work in advertising. During a visit to see her sister, Phoebe, who was married and living in Walpole, Barbra was set up on a blind date to the Harvard-Yale game with a third-year law student at Harvard. Roger Allan Moore lost no time, and the following summer, they married.
Only a year later in 1956, Barbara and Roger moved into their home on West Cedar Street, where she still lives today.
“I’ve been here a heck of a long time,” said Bobby, now 93, when I met her at her longtime home. “I didn’t expect to be here. I’m not from New England, I’m from Pennsylvania.”
Barbara and Roger raised all four children in the city: Marshall, their eldest, and Elizabeth, their only daughter, both live in New Hampshire; Taft resides outside Los Angeles; and Allan is an attorney in Washington, D.C.
When Bobby and Roger bought their home, they also purchased a share in the Boston Athenaeum at 10½ Beacon St.
“We hardly had enough money to buy the house, so I was surprised when he wanted to invest in the library,” said Barbara, recalling her incredulous response at the time. Ironically, once the Moores joined on as proprietors of the Atheneum, Roger was too busy with his law practice to spend time there while Barbara became a frequent visitor.
In fact, after Roger died in 1990 Barbara spent many long hours in the library researching for the series of books she co-authored with the late Gail Weesner.
Barbara served as chairmen of many committees of the Beacon Hill Garden Club and, in 1980, was elected president. Together with Weesner, she wrote and edited the third and fourth editions of the Garden Club’s “Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill” (1987, 1999).
Barbara joined the Friends of the Public Garden in 1975 and served as a board member for many years. Currently she chairs its Committee for the Public Garden and has published two editions of the “Boston Public Garden.” (Beatrice Nessen and Margaret Pokorny chair the Friends group’s Committee for the Boston Common and Committee for the Commonwealth Mall, respectively.)
“To me, the Public Garden was my front yard for raising my children in the city,” said Barbara. “I loved the Public Garden because it was a peaceful oasis in the busy city where my children could play, and now, I find myself taking my great grandchildren there to have the same experience!”.
In 1991, Barbara and Gail established Centry Hill Press, which published their “Beacon Hill: A Living Portrait” (1992, 2008) and “Back Bay: A Living Portrait” (1995, 2003).
In 1998, Barbara married Jim McNeely, a neighbor from Beacon Hill, who, like her, was an enthusiast for history and architecture.
Over the years, Barbara has also devoted her time to the Museum of Fine Arts, where she served on the museum’s Ladies Committee from 1960 to 1964 and was also a Gallery Instructor from 1964 to 1994. She credits her 30-year stint as Gallery Instructor at the MFA for planting the seeds for the business she launched in 1981 called Boston Unlimited.
“I was already engaged in guiding visitors through the galleries, and someone suggested, ‘you should start your own company,’ so I did,” said Barbara.
In its nearly decade-long lifespan, Boston Unlimited offered custom walking tours of historic sites in Boston and Cambridge, mostly to corporations that were rewarding high-performing employees.
While the Nominating Committee had 18 well-qualified candidates to choose from this yea, all of whom met the criteria for receiving the award, Gaudreau, a former law associate of her husband’s said, “Barbara’s contributions to the community were far and away the ‘most sustained and significant.’”
At the risk of sounding “trite,” Gaudreau likened Barbara to the title of one of her books, ‘Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill,’ calling her “a hidden gem of Beacon Hill.”
In the more than 65 years she has lived in the neighborhood, Barbara has seen Beacon Hill change and evolve drastically in ways she could never have imagined.
The period when the Moores moved to the neighborhood coincided with the end of the post-war trend to flee the city in favor of the burgeoning suburbs, which had been rendered more accessible with the rise of the automobile. This exodus led to a decrease in the urban population, so there were fewer single-family homes and more rooming houses, largely inhabited by elderly individuals, students, and a transient population.
“Boston was very run down,” she said. “Beacon Hill was very dirty, and the trash was burned under the cover of night.”
Barbara even recalls how at that time, if she ran her finger along the inside window ledge, it would be black with soot from the smoke that was incessantly being pumped out of nearby steam stacks.
Few children lived on Beacon Hill then, she said, while residents let their dogs roam freely throughout the neighborhood and didn’t think to pick up the waste that their dogs left behind.
Roger had always been forward-thinking, though, said Barbara, and saw the “big picture” regarding the long-term potential for the neighborhood.
“He loved being on Beacon Hill and being involved in the neighborhood,” said Barbra, who added that Roger devoted countless hours to Hill House; Beacon Hill Nursery School; the Advent School; and the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which he helmed for many years.
As she looks around the neighborhood today, Barbara said she’s encouraged to see the preservation efforts around historic buildings, as well as the care that residents put into maintaining their historic homes. She credits the Beacon Hill Civic Association for doing its part to help elevate the neighborhood, singling out Patricia Tully, the group’s executive director, for particular praise.
But along with this encouraging work to help maintain the charm of the neighborhood, Barbara said she has observed a noticeable shift in who can now afford to live on Beacon Hill.
When she first moved to the neighborhood in the mid ‘50s, she said, “It was a really a neighborhood. Everyone knew everyone.”
Although the neighborhood might have lost some of its tight-knit charm over the years, Barbara said Beacon Hill today is “a healthier place” than when they first moved here.
Meanwhile, the ever-modest Barbara was admittedly caught off guard when Gaudreau called two weeks ago to tell her she had been selected as the recipient of this year’s award.
“If you live long enough, you’ll win something,” Barbara humbly intoned.