Saturday, July 23, 2022

Brookline's Oldest Restaurant

The Busy Bee Restaurant on the north side of Beacon Street near its intersection with Carlton Street is Brookline's oldest existing restaurant.* It opened in 1955 and was taken over by the current owners a dozen years later.

Advertisement announcing the grand opening of Busy Bee. Brookline Citizen, April 14, 1955, p7.

Busy Bee Restaurant, 1046 Beacon Street, today (from Busy Bee website)

The commercial building (1040-1054 Beacon) housing Busy Bee marked its 100th anniversary last year.  Busy Bee's location in the middle of the block of storefronts was the site of a variety of businesses -- including one featuring miniature bowling!  -- before the first of a series of short-lived restaurants opened there in 1949.

This article and advertisement for miniature bowling at 1046 Beacon Street ran in the Brookline Citizen on February 11 and February 18, 1938. (Click for larger view)

Advertisements for restaurants that preceded Busy Bee at 1046 Beacon Street: Danny's (1949); Margo's (1950); and Fitzpatrick's (1952) (Click for larger view)

But while Busy Bee is the oldest existing restaurant, there is one Brookline storefront that has been a restaurant location -- though not the same restaurant -- for even longer than has 1046 Beacon Street. In fact, this location will mark 100 years of continuous operation as one restaurant or another in 2023.

Can you guess where it is? (Hint: You may not think of this address as being in Brookline. See the comments below for some guesses, including the correct one.) 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

19th Century Tobogganing on Corey Hill

A winter storm in Brookline today brings sledders to local hills, carrying all manner of conveyance for children and adults alike: classic Flexible Flyers; modern plastic models in a variety of shapes and colors; even cardboard boxes and purloined cafeteria trays.

130 years ago, it also brought tobogganers to go whizzing down the most celebrated toboggan run in the Boston area: the steep chutes of the Corey Hill Toboggan Club.

Operating each winter, from December 1886 to February 1895, chutes ran from a clubhouse on Winchester Street across the then undeveloped lower slope of Corey Hill to a spot on Harvard Street approximately where the Chabad Center of Brookline (496 Harvard Street) is today.

Corey Hill toboggan chute, 1886
The toboggan chutes of the Corey Hill Toboggan Club. Looking from Winchester Street toward Harvard Street, 1886. Photo courtesy of the Public Library of Brookline. (Click on image for larger, zoomable view.)

A Canadian Import Comes to Brookline 

Toboggans – and the word toboggan – originated with indigenous peoples of North America, who used them to transport items across snowy landscapes. Recreational tobogganing began in Canada, most notably on Mount Royal in Montreal where the Montreal Toboggan Club opened three slides in 1879.

Tobogganing soon spread across the U.S. border. The Corey Hill Toboggan Club was formed in November 1886, and quickly became known as the best facility in the northeast. 

Construction of a clubhouse and chutes began immediately after the formation of the club. The clubhouse stood approximately where 197-199 Winchester Street is today. By December 1886 there were three chutes in place, one of the three starting from a platform at the top of the clubhouse 12 feet above the level of Winchester Street. That made for a rapid 42-foot drop to the level of the meadow that ran to Harvard Street. 

In early December, the club successfully petitioned the Brookline Electric Light Company to have poles places along Harvard Street to provide power to light the chutes at night. By Christmas, the electric lights were in place.

When a 300-strong contingent of the Montreal snowshoe and toboggan club Le Trappeur  visited Massachusetts in February 1887, members of the three-month old Corey Hill Toboggan Club were their main escort in a large parade through the streets of Boston. 

The Le Trappeur club of Montreal marching down Beacon Street in Boston from the State House as shown in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 12, 1887

A lack of snow prevented the Canadians from trying the Brookline slides, but they did take back to Montreal an oil painting showing two club members, Massachusetts governor Oliver Ames and 20-year old Florence Peck of Boston, flying down the Corey Hill chute on a toboggan. Peck, whose father was on the executive committee of the club, presented the painting to Montreal mayor HonorĂ© Beaugrand at a State House reception.  

A month later, several members of the Brookline club visited their one-time guests for the winter carnival in Montreal. 

The “Best and Most Expensive” Slide  

By the winter of 1887-88, there were at least five toboggan slides in the Boston area. They included a slightly older Brookline club at Wright’s Hill, near Boylston Street and Reservoir Lane, and facilities in Dorchester, Cambridge, and Malden. But, reported the Boston Globe in a lengthy article on tobogganing, “the Corey Hill slide is by far the best and most expensive one.”  

The chutes, reported the Globe, were not as long as some of the others in the area, “but the management finds that it is more pleasing to the members to have them short and steep instead of long and gradual.” In fact, wrote the Globe reporter, the Corey Hill chute was the steepest in the country. 

Tobogganing on Corey Hill, as seen in a later article in the Boston Globe (January 15, 1893)


The club grew to more than 300 members that second winter of its existence, including residents of Brookline, Back Bay, and other parts of Boston and neighboring communities. The clubhouse was enlarged to include a waiting room with a fireplace on the lower floor, a smoking room, bathrooms, a kitchen for preparing meals and refreshments, and a storage area for toboggans so that club members did not have to carry them to the site each time.  

The chutes themselves had water poured on top of the packed snow where it would freeze and provide a smooth sliding surface. A well was sunk and pipe was laid along the length of the chutes to keep them watered. Innovations in later years includes a tilting platform at the top and a motor-driven return chute to bring toboggans back up the hill for additional runs or storage.  

Articles in the Brookline and Boston newspapers described the thrill of taking a toboggan down the Corey Hill chutes. Here’s how the Boston Globe described it in December 1887:

“A push, a rush of cold air, and you fall through space more like a meteor than anything else. It is not a slide; it is a flying hop-step-and-jump to the foot of that 100-foot slope. Even then the speed seems to increase, but the novice feels that the toboggan is sliding over something solid, and that is a crumb of comfort. In quicker time than it takes to read, much less write it, the toboggan flies straight out over the dip or second fall and comes down with a flop, but without wavering in its wild career continues scurrying down the incline.”

Novices, said the Globe, find “their sensations of fright and delight so inextricably mixed that they can’t tell which is uppermost. And the beauty of the whole thing is the sensation does not wear away as your trips become more frequent.”  

An 1893 article in the Boston Post, written under the pseudonym “Amy Robsart,” described one woman’s experience going down the Corey Hill chute this way:  

“I took a long breath and shut my eyes. – ! – !
There were two consecutive bumps half way down that made me open them, and I saw flying bits of Biela’s comet and thousands of starry dazzlements in a flight through the air. That is probably the nearest I shall ever approximate to flying….
My bangs stood up straight, my hat flapped wildly on the firm pivot of my hat pin, there was a trail of hairpins in my wake.
‘Where am I at?’ I inquired a little ruefully when I had been picked out of the snow and had smoothed my ruffled plumage.
But it was fun!
Fun with the keen edge of fear that gives it the fascination that it is.” 

Clothing, Class, and Gender  

Toboggans, toboggan slides or chutes, and the thrill of participating were not the only elements of this popular recreational activity to cross the border from Canada.  Tobogganing fashion also followed the Canadian model. Members of the Corey Hill club, and other clubs, wore outfits modeled on those of Canadian clubs, with each club having its own colors.  

The c1880 photo at left shows men and women of a Montreal toboggan club in their club outfits. (Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum). Similar outfits can be seen in an 1886  advertisement in the Brookline Chronicle, top right, and an illustration of Corey Hill tobogganers in an 1888 story, bottom right. (Click image for a larger view)


More significant were class and gender elements of tobogganing that were common in Canada and were replicated in Brookline and other American communities. As Canadian scholar Gillian Poulter wrote in a 1999 dissertation (later turned into a book) on sport, spectacle, and identity in Montreal:  

“Forming clubs and building slides and club houses was a means by which club members differentiated and separated themselves from the poorer classes. By demarcating specific areas as club property, and by adopting blanket suit costumes, the professional and commercial middle-class tobogganers were in no danger of having to share their slides with ‘the great unwashed,’ who in any case probably had little time and energy to spare for such diversions.”

At Corey Hill, a club membership cost $3, later increased to $5. Club members had to wear their club badge – an example is shown below – to use the toboggan chutes. The club outfits – not required, but common – and the toboggans themselves added additional costs. The club drew members – including at least two Massachusetts governors -- from Brookline as well as the Back Bay and other areas.  

Photo courtesy of the Public Library of Brookline

It’s not known if there were specific ethnic restrictions in the club’s bylaws, but it is worth noting that although Brookline had a substantial, largely working class, Irish-American population by this time there are no Irish surnames shown in the many articles in the Brookline and Boston newspapers that listed officers and participants in the club’s activities  

(The Country Club in Brookline, which was started just four years before the Corey Hill Toboggan Club and had its own history of restrictive membership policies, also had its own toboggan slide during this period.) 

Men and Women Together on the Slopes  

The thrilling ride down a toboggan chute presented opportunities for a kind of closeness not usually considered proper for young couples. As the Toronto literary magazine The Week put it in an 1885 article:  

“When Florence or Charlotte has to be tightly encircled in the grasp of an admiring pilot, down the glittering descent, the pair feel the mutual dependence and responsibility, which often leads them to courtship in earnest.”  

In her dissertation, Gillian Poulter notes that Canadian newspapers sometimes described the sensation of tobogganing for women in what she described as “surprisingly eroticised terms”. The Brookline News, in an article on tobogganing published on Christmas Day, 1886, was more circumspect:. “There are some things about it [tobogganing],” wrote the News, “that never will and never can get into any newspaper.”   

The same article in the News did include a description of another part of tobogganing with particular appeal for young couples: the climb together back up the hill. The article quoted a pamphlet on tobogganing, together with an illustration of “The Uphill Road,”:

"Uphill we clambered, and as I felt the gloved hand of Dick’s younger sister upon my sustaining arm, I wished the climb might have been twice the distance; and right here I want to say that if ever a woman looks fresh and young and irresistibly lovely it is when at the top of a climb up a toboggan slide she stops with her cheeks flushed, her lips parted, and her eyes shining with the exertion [of the climb].”

In January 1888, the Brookline News shared what a couple of magazines had to say about what was on the minds of young couples on the Corey Hill slopes:

"Puck [a humor magazine) says if you have the right kind of girl, the walk up the toboggan slide is just as exciting as the ride down. And sometimes more so. It's a glorious sport both ways."
- Brookline News, January 14, 1888

“Ethel: Which toboggan slide to you like best, Corey’s Hill or Wright’s Hill?
Mabel: Oh ! Corey’s Hill, don’t you? It’s so much steeper that the men have to hold on to – er – the toboggans ever so much tighter.” 
- Brookline News
, January 21, 1888 (Reprinted from the Harvard Lampoon)

Tobogganing Seasons Come and Gone  

Club members and their guests continued to climb Corey Hill to use the club’s chutes through the winter of 1894-95. Many more came out to watch.  As many as 500 people were reported on the slopes at times, with as many as 150 actually going down the chutes.  

A good tobogganing season depended, of course, on having enough snow. Activity rarely began before January, and there were years where very little tobogganing took place. (A January 28, 1888, Brookline Chronicle article noted there had been 30 nights of tobogganing so far that season and that they hoped to break the previous records of 55 nights.)  

Social events at the clubhouse were a big part of the Corey Hill Toboggan Club’s activities, whether there was actually tobogganing or not. There were musical performances by club members, “smokers” (probably male-only social gatherings) and “ladies’ nights.”   

There were carnivals on the slopes, modeled on those that were held in Montreal and elsewhere. (The 1893-94 season, for example, included an “Illumination Night,” with fireworks, fire balloons and bonfires, and a “Fancy Dress Carnival.”) In the last years of the club, these social events received more attention in the local press than the actual tobogganing.  

The winter of 1894-95 was the last to see tobogganing on the chutes of the Corey Hill Toboggan Club. In December 1895, the Brookline Chronicle reported that the club was planning several elaborate entertainments for the next three or four months. But on January 18, 1896, the Chronicle asked “What is the matter with the Corey Hill Toboggan Club this winter? Will the gentle art of harmless chuteing [sic] be allowed to become extinct?”  

That same week, the Boston Post, in a brief article titled “Tobogganing on Corey Hill,” reported:  

“The lovers of tobogganing in the city will probably not have a chance this winter to enjoy the sport at the Corey Hill Toboggan Club. The chute is all falling to pieces and ditches are dug through the field where the chute makes its course.  

A meeting of the directors of the Corey Hill Club was held last Christmas, but nothing definite was done in regard to fixing up the slide. "

The demise of the Corey Hill Toboggan Club was no doubt due to growing residential development in this part of Brookline in the wake of the laying out of the Beacon Street boulevard and the coming of the streetcar a decade earlier.   

By 1897, the club, it’s clubhouse, and its celebrated toboggan chutes were no more. (See the maps below for a detailed view of the change.)  

These segments from the 1893 (top) and 1900 (botom) Brookline atlases show the northwest side of Corey Hill. The approximate location of the toboggan chutes has been added as an orange line. The clubhouse of the Toboggan Club is at the high point on Winchester Street in the 1893 map. 

By 1900, Verndale, Kenwood, Henry (now Russell), and Columbia Streets have been added and there are houses on the lower part of the hill with plots laid out higher up, including on both sides of Winchester Street. The clubhouse is gone. (Click image for a larger view)


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Brookline History Through Digitized Newspapers

Brookline Newspaper Database Workshop

Did you know that ...

...Florida Ruffin Ridley and Isabel Anderson spoke together at a political meeting at the Ridley home on Kent Street in 1912?
...the Colonnade buildings in Brookline Village, built in the 1870s, were raised eight feet in 1886 to accommodate a new bridge over the railroad tracks (now the MBTA D Line)?
...the 1918 flu pandemic closed Brookline schools, caused a shortage of medical personnel, and led to numerous deaths in town.

These are just a few of the many pieces -- large and small -- of Brookline's past that are now more easily accessible thanks to the Brookline Library's digitization of more than 70 years (1870-1941) of local newspapers.

Learn how to make the most of the Library's online newspaper database at a virtual workshop on Thursday, January 27th, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.

The 90-minute workshop will provide tips and tricks for making the most of this valuable resources for uncovering and understanding facts about people, places, and events from the town's past. 

Register for the workshop.

Articles from 1912, 1886, and 1918
Examples of articles in the digitized newspaper database of the Public Library of Brookline (Click image for larger view)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Fire Devastates 129-Year-Old Former Stable on Brookline/Brighton Border

A horrific eight-alarm fire that began early Friday morning tore through a commercial building at the corner of Corey Road and Westbourne Terrace in Brighton, on the border with Brookline. Fortunately, the only injuries (to two Boston firefighters) were minor ones, but the businesses in the building, including music and dance studios, were devastated.

185 Corey road before the fire
185 Corey Road, Westbourne Terrace side, before the fire, as seen on Google Maps. (Click image for larger view)


The building had gone through many changes and many tenants over the years, obscuring its origins. The original building was constructed as a stable in the late 19th century for Eben Jordan Jr., of Jordan Marsh, whose estate covered much of Corey Hill. 

The overall shape of the building, sitting atop a still-existing stone foundation and including the rounded northwest corner, can be seen in the 1893 atlas and a recent aerial view.

185 Corey Road in 1893 atlas and Google Maps aerial view
185 Corey Road in 1893 atlas and Google Maps aerial view

The 1892 news item below notes that Jordan has received approval from Brookline to built a stable on Westbourne Terrace.

Notice of permit for stable granted to Eben Jordan
Brookline Chronicle, September 10, 1892, p2

(The building was mostly in Brookline when it was built, with only the western end in Brighton. The shaded line on the 1893 map, marking the boundary between Brookline and Brighton, passes through the building. Adjustments to the boundary soon after put the structure wholly in Brighton.)

The map below, from another 1893 atlas, shows the western side of Corey Hill. The red outline has been added to show the extent of Eben Jordan's property. Jordan's mansion is indicated by the blue arrow. It was torn down in 1955. The yellow arrow points to the stable at the corner or Corey Road and Westbourne Terrace. 

Map showing Eben Jordan's Corey Hill property in 1893
Outline of Eben Jordan's property on Corey Hill in 1893
(Click image for larger view)

The stable, known as Corey Hill Stables, was operated by several different proprietors over the years. In the Brookline Directory in 1894, H.O. Shaw advertised his services, including boarding of horses and the provision of carriages for shopping, weddings, receptions, and pleasure drives.

Brookline Directory ad, 1894
Brookline Directory, 1894

Later proprietors advertised in the Boston papers, offering horses, carriages, and, in winter, sleighs for sale. (The continued use of a Brookline address may have been because it was the mailing address or was considered more prestigious, or both.)

Horses and carriages for sale
Boston Herald, August 30, 1897

Ad for "ladies saddles and driving horses"
Boston Globe, November 3, 1899

Ad for "a beautiful pair of black mares"
Boston Transcript, July 5, 1901

Sleigh ad
Boston Transcript, January 28, 1905

Paheton buggy ad
Boston Transcript, April 13, 1912

By 1912, automobiles could be hired out as well.

1912 Brookline Directory ad
1912 Brookline Directory

In 1913, the stable was purchased from the Jordan estate by H.P Hood & Sons, which used it through the end of the following decade as a distribution facility for Hood's milk. A 1924 Hood's ad gave the address as 136 Westbourne Terrace.

Brookline Chronicle, October 16, 1924, p8
Brookline Chronicle, October 16, 1924, p8

In 1929, the building was sold to the Malone family, whose home and business extended down Corey Road to Washington Street. Bernard Malone ran a successful excavating and grading business. (Among the company's many projects were some of the early buildings of Boston College's new campus in Chestnut Hill, beginning with the excavation and foundation for the first building in 1909.)

The old stable was not shown in directories during the time it was owned by the Malones, but it was most likely used for both horses and storage. Bernard Malone, who at one time owned a stable on the grounds of the Metropolitan Racing Association's Speedway in Allston, continued to use horses in his business even after the coming of motorized vehicles. As late as 1946, he was selling horses for Newton that the city's street department was no longer using.


Boston Globe ad, March 31, 1946, p
Boston Globe ad, March 31, 1946, p

The next occupant of the old stable building, from the late 1940s to the 1970s was the Canter Construction Company, led by Eliot D. Canter. The company constructed numerous buildings in Boston and Cambridge, including 22 buildings for Harvard University, according to Canter's 2005 obituary in the Boston Globe.

Advertisement. Boston Globe, October 6 1957
Advertisement. Boston Globe, October 6 1957


Canter made several changes to the old stable building, including the removal of a third floor in 1955. In 1971, his real estate company, West Bourne Realty Trust, sought a variance to turn the building into 25 apartments. The request was denied by the Boston building commissioner in 1972 and, on appeal, by the city's Board of Appeals four years later. Canter sold the construction company, which was started by his father, a few years later.

By 1980, the old stable building had passed into the hands of the current owner, John Gately. (Ownership is now listed as Gately's La Salle Realty business.) Gately is a noted dealer in old Cadillacs and Cadillac parts through his Gately Restoration business and at one time had cars and parts in the Corey Road building. 

The building has had numerous tenants in the 40+ years it has been owned by Gately, including, at various times, a career counseling firm, an antiques company, a liquidation company, an auto leasing business, and others. But it has been mostly known since the 1980s for its dance and music studios, including current tenants Music Maker Studios, Brookline Academy of Dance, and Zippah Studios/Zippah Records.

Boston Globe arts listings from 1981 (top), 1982 (middle), 1987 (bottom left), and 1999 (bottom right)
Boston Globe arts listings from 1981 (top), 1982 (middle), 1987 (bottom left), and 1999 (bottom right)

Boston Herald news item
In 1990, music producer Maurice Starr held auditions at 185 Corey Road for aspiring performers. Boston Herald,  February 15, 1990

There was an earlier fire at the building, in 1985, that left the building with broken and missing doors and windows and left it exposed to the elements and to vandals. That brought warnings from Boston's Inspectional Services Department that the building would have to be repaired or razed. Repairs were made (after some delay) and the building has continued in use ever since.

Here's hoping the affected businesses can recover from this crushing blow. But will the old stable building itself, now nearing its 130th year, be rebuilt and continue its long history? We'll have to wait and see.

185 Corey Road after fire
185 Corey Road, after December 2021 fire

Thursday, September 2, 2021

113-Year-Old Brookline Electric Car Wins Award

Brookline's history with electric cars goes back to --- well, pretty much back to the beginnings of electric vehicles in the United States. The first non-experimental electric car made in the U.S. was built in Brookline in 1891, with a body by local carriage maker Michael Quinlan and an engine by the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company on Station Street.


Twenty years later, in December 1911, when the Boston Globe listed all of the electric automobile charging stations in Massachusetts, Brookline had eight of them, more than any community except Boston. By that time, Larz and Isabel Anderson had two electrics among their growing collection of automobiles: a 1905 British-made Electromobile; and a 1908 Bailey Electric Phaeton Victoria made by the S.R. Bailey Company in Amesbury, Massachusetts. 


1905 Electromobile and 1908 Bailey. Photos courtesy of Larz Anderson Automobile Museum

Both cars are still in Brookline, part of the collection kept in the former Anderson Carriage House and maintained by the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Last month, the Bailey was honored at a California auto show -- the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance --  as the "Most Well-Preserved Pre-War Vehicle" at the show.

The 1908 Bailey at Palm Springs, left, and Larz Anderson Auto Museum Executive Director Sheldon Steele with the auto and its award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, August 15, 2021.

The Bailey was Isabel Anderson's favorite car, according to the Museum. It was advertised as being self-driven, fitting for Anderson who was the first woman to get a driver's license in Massachusetts. It did have a place in the back for a footman to accompany her on drives.

The Larz Anderson Auto Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and SUnday form 9 am to 3 pm.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Juneteenth, Brookline, & Black Civil War Soldiers

Brookline Juneteenth Celebration

Brookline's First Annual Juneteenth Celebration will take place on Saturday, June 19th. The celebration will kick off at 10 am with a Freedom March from the Florida Ruffin Ridley School to the Brookline Avenue Playground, where there will be music, dancing, children's games, and food throughout the day. 

But did you know that there is a Brookline connection, if only a tenuous one, to the original Juneteenth?

The Background
Juneteenth -- also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day -- marks the date in 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, far from the battlefields of the Civil War, and issued a proclamation freeing all enslaved African Americans in the state.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had been issued almost two-and-a-half years before June 19, 1865, but slavery remained in place in areas still held by the South (and in some states that had remained in the Union but had not abolished slavery). In some places, slaveholders continued to hold African Americans in bondage even after the end of the war in April  (and in a few places even after June 19th).

On June 19th, Gen. Granger issued General Order No. 3, which stated

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The first anniversary of Granger's proclamation, on June 19, 1866, was celebrated in Texas with community-centered events. It became an annual tradition, called Juneteenth, though it did not become an official Texas holiday until 1980.  All but three states later recognized Juneteenth in one form or another, and it became a national holiday this month. (Massachusetts had recognized the day via a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick in 2007; it became an official state holiday with a law passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor Charlie Baker last July.)

A Brookline Connection

On their way to Texas at the time of Granger's proclamation were at least five black soldiers listed as being from Brookline. They were members of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, an all-black regiment (led by white officers).

The Federal government, concerned about renegade Confederate forces escaping to Mexico, sent troops (including the 5th) to Texas to help prevent such border crossings. (They were also concerned about the role of French forces, sent to Mexico by Napoleon III, that had occupied the country and installed Austrian archduke Maximillian as emperor.)

The 5th Massachusetts didn't arrive in Texas until after June 19th and was gone well before the first spontaneous Juneteenth celebration erupted on the anniversary of Granger's proclamation one year later. It's also likely that the five men were not actually Brookline residents, but were listed that way because that is where they enlisted.

But even this small connection between Juneteenth, black soldiers, and Brookline is worthy of note and an opportunity to share a story of black history that is not widely known.

The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry
The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was the third African American unit raised in Massachusetts. (The first two were the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry and its sister regiment the 55th.) The cavalry regiment is sometimes confused with the 5th United States Colored Calvary, a different regiment raised several months later in Kentucky.

News item in the Springfield Republican, January 13, 1864, p4

There are two important distinctions between the two units. The first is that the 5th Massachusetts retained its state designation, one of only a few African American units to do so.

The second is that, unlike the 5th United States Colored Cavalry, the 5th Massachusetts -- like the 54th and 55 Massachusetts Infantry -- did not have the word "Colored" in its name (although it was sometimes appended in newspaper reports like the one above). That's because, as Governor John Andrew wrote to Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, "They are known on our books and rolls and orders only by their numbers and their arm of service, and not by their color."

All five men -- plus a sixth who had deserted before the regiment was sent to Texas -- enlisted in Brookline between March 14th and April 10th, 1864. The recruiting officer in all but one of their cases was George C. Burrill, a 21-year-old newly-commissioned lieutenant who had apparently not yet left to join his own regiment. (Burrill would be killed in battle in Virginia in May 1864.)

The six men who enlisted in the regiment in Brookline, with their ages and occupations (as listed in military records at the time they joined in the spring of 1864), were

  • Jose de Barros, 21, sailor
  • William Green, 25, seaman
  • James Guy, 29, mariner
  • John Lee, 27, laborer
  • Joseph Lee, 24, laborer
  • William Smith, 29, sailor (deserted)


John Lee died of disease on board the steamer Ashland on the way to Texas. He is the only African American among the 72 men listed on the 1884 Civil War memorial that is now displayed in the lobby of Town Hall. (His inclusion there is what clued me in to possible black Brookline soldiers in the war.)

John Lee of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry on the Brookline Civil War Memorial of 1884, now in the lobby of Town Hall

Death of John Lee, as reported in the Boston Herald, June 29, 1865, p4

Only one the six men had their place of residence listed on their record, and that one lived in Boston, not Brookline. All listed their birthplace; only one was born in Massachusetts (in Boston). John and Joseph Lee, who were most likely brothers or cousins, were both born in Port Tobacco, Maryland, a town in a Union state known for its Confederate sympathies. They may have been enslaved before the war, but there is no evidence one way or the other.

While enlistments in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry took place in many cities and towns in the Commonwealth, there may have been a particular reason that Brookline was one of these sites. Two of the white officers of the regiment were brothers William P. and Charles P. Bowditch. Their uncle William Ingersoll Bowditch was a prominent Brookline abolitionist whose house, still standing at 9 Toxteth Street, was a station on the Underground Railroad.

So, while celebrating Juneteenth on Saturday, remember John Lee, whose name is on the memorial in the lobby of Town Hall, and the other black men who got their start as soldiers in Brookline and were sent to Texas to help assure that freedom gained for enslaved people in Texas by the war was protected and preserved.

NOTE: A new book on the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry by John Warner, Massachusetts State Archivist, is scheduled to be published later this year or early next year. His doctoral dissertation at Boston College about the regiment has been very helpful in this research. I met with him earlier this month.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Sealey's: New Images of an Old Business

Back in 2013, there was considerable attention in local media about the closing of a small Brookline restaurant named Sealey's Lunch on Cypress Street just south of Boylston Street. (It is now the location of Rifrullo Cafe.)

Stories in newspapers and on TV reported that the restaurant -- supposedly founded in 1914 as Sealey's Ice Cream by a man named Sealey -- was shutting down after 99 years in the same location.

I dug into the story and found that the business opened in 1936, not 1914, and that there was no Mr. Sealey. I found an ad and an article about the opening in the Brookline Citizen. I found the daughter of the original owner, who provided fascinating details and photos of her parents. I got additional information from the families of two later owners.

You can read all about it in my original 2014 blog post: The Real Scoop on Sealey's Ice Cream / Sealey's Lunch.

The Citizen article described the store this way: "The black and white motif of the booths and tables is followed throughout the shop and gives an air of cleanliness to the whole store".

But I had no images to share of what the original Sealey's Ice Cream looked like. Until now.

Photos by Don Booth, Courtesy of Steve Booth

In December, I was contacted by Steve Booth who found negatives of some photos taken by his late father, Don, and had digital images made from them. Among the photos were several labeled "Sealey's" and dated August 10, 1936 when Don Booth was 19. (That's just a few weeks after the opening of the ice cream shop.) Steve found my article, contacted me, and shared the photos shown here.

The image above shows two young employees behind the counter, with ice cream flavors listed on the wall behind them. A second photo shows these same two with an older couple, the owners of the shop, Lloyd and Rhoda Seaman.

The Seamans are easy to identify thanks to a photo of them, provided by their daughter, from Lloyd's days as a pilot.

A third photo shows an unidentified young man sitting in a booth in the new ice cream parlor.


The Seamans sold the store in 1937 and moved to the Panama Canal Zone where they continued to make and sell ice cream. But the name they gave to their shop remained, through multiple owners and 78 years. Read more about them and the long history of Sealey's -- including how it got its name -- in the original blog post.