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.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

What's in a Name? Coolidge Corner

A few years ago there was a driver on the C branch of the MBTA Green Line who liked to embellish the names of the different stops as the train pulled into them. Kent Street became Clark Kent Street. Coolidge Corner became Calvin Coolidge Corner. And others that I can't remember. 


Now I doubt anyone thinks Kent Street was named for Superman's secret identity. But I'm sure many people -- maybe even that driver -- think Coolidge Corner was named for ex-president and one-time Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge. 


In fact, that mistaken assumption is most likely behind the not-so-secret identity of one of Brookline's newest buildings. It's an apartment building with retail on the ground floor at 420 Harvard Street, and it's called "The Calvin at Coolidge Corner." The name is prominently displayed on the Fuller Street entrance to the apartments. (Tatte Bakery & Cafe and other businesses are on the Harvard Street side.)

The Calvin at Coolidge Corner
The Calvin at Coolidge Corner, Fuller Street entrance

In fact, as many local people know, Coolidge Corner takes its name from the Coolidge & Brother store that opened at the intersection of Harvard and Beacon Streets in 1857 and was the only business in North Brookline for more than 30 years. (The Brookline Coolidges were distant cousins of Calvin, but the store -- and the name "Coolidge's corner" -- existed even before the future president was born.)

The Coolidge & Brother store stood at the corner of Beacon and Harvard Streets from 1857 to 1892. It was then moved slightly to the west and was torn town with the construction of the S.S. Pierce Building in 1898.

Coolidge & Brother, run by the brothers William and George Coolidge, was a general store selling farm supplies and groceries. It was a popular gathering place, with a watering trough and the town's hay scale outside.

Coolidge & Brother ads from 1868 (top left), 1875 (bottom left) and 1878 (right)

William Coolidge lived above the store with his wife and two children until his death in 1884. The store was then sold to Merrill Brown, who ran it under his own name until selling the business to the S.S. Pierce Company in 1892.


The name "Coolidge's corner" was most likely an informal one at first, a natural way to describe the intersection where there was little else beside the store. That began to change with the late 1880s transformation of Beacon Street from a 50-foot wide country lane to a grand boulevard more than three times the width of that old dirt road. 


Residential and commercial development followed, turning Coolidge's corner into a true neighborhood. The word "Corner" was first printed with a capital C in local newspapers in 1887. The name "Coolidge Corner" first appeared in an advertisement in 1891 and by 1893 was more commonly used than the older "Coolidge's Corner". (The old name did stick around for a while, making its last appearance in an ad in 1916.)


The advertisement at top from the Brookline Chronicle on September 12, 1891, was the first one in the the local newspaper to use the name "Coolidge Corner." The ad at bottom, from the same paper on September 16, 1916, was the last to use the old name "Coolidge's Corner."

The chances of "The Calvin at Coolidge Corner" changing its name to "The William & George" are about as likely as the name "Coolidge's Corner" -- or Calvin himself -- staging a comeback. But this story should at least set the record straight about the name for those who might otherwise be fooled.

For more on the history of the Coolidge Corner retail district, see my video and website, and watch for news of my Coolidge Corner walking tours, resuming soon.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Crowdsourcing a 19th Century Brookline Diary

Would you like to help bring the story of a 19th century Brookline woman and her family to life?

About five years ago I photographed the 1851-1865 diary of Mary Johanna Wild at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. Wild lived with her family in a Brookline house that she and her husband, Dr. Charles Wild, built in 1822. It still stands, on Weybridge Road near  the intersection of Washington and Greenough Streets.

Pages from Mary Wild diary
Pages from Mary Joanna Wild diary (click image for larger view)

The Wild house in 1868 and 2016
The Wild House, built in 1822, shown in 1868 (left) and after a 2016 renovation (right)
I started, but never quite completed, transcribing the diary, page-by-page. It was painstaking work, partly because the page images, shot with my iPad camera, were not very good. Some of them were pretty unreadable. Fortunately, the entire diary was digitized by Boston College in 2018 and is available in high resolution, zoomable images online.

Now, I'm asking for your help in bringing this project to fruition. Here is what you can do.
  • I will send each volunteer 1-3 pages of the diary at a time. I'll send you a copy of my transcription and instructions for viewing the handwritten pages online. 
  • Your task will be to read through the original diary pages, confirm or correct errors in my transcription, and fill in parts I was unable to transcribe or was uncertain about.
When it is completed, we will have a crowdsourced transcription of the diary that I will make publicly available online.

But this will be more than just a transcription. I've compiled annotations of the diary noting, among other things, details about the people Mary mentions, the places, events, and objects she describes, books she reads, and more. That will all be included in the final project.

For example, at the bottom of the very first page of the diary, on Saturday,  January 11, 1851, Mary writes: "I went to the musical Fund in the eve with C. Rhodes & Dr. Sen." Here is that entry from her diary and, below it, the program from that concert digitized from the collections of the New York Public Library. (The concert, featuring the Beethoven Pastorale, took place at the Tremont Temple on Tremont Street in Boston.)
Diary entry and program from the Boston Musical Fund Society concert, January 11, 1851

But it all starts with completing a good transcription.

Are you interested in contributing to this project? Let me know— email me at — and I will send you pages and detailed instructions.

- Ken