Tuesday, October 31, 2023

What's in a Name? Zanthus Street

Some of my favorite Brookline research projects originate when someone asks me a question that I don't know the answer to. One recent example was a question about the origin of the name Zanthus Road for a small South Brookline street.

Zanthus Road is one of the shortest streets in town. It runs from Wallis Road to Beverly Road and the back of the ball field at the Baker School Playground.

Aerial view of Zanthus Road (outlined in red) via Google Maps (Click for larger view)

 The person who asked had studied ancient Greek language in college and knew that Zanthus -- usually written in English as Xanthus -- was the gods' name for a river at Troy and also the name of one of Achilles' horses in Homer's Iliad

(Wikipedia says it was also the name of other horses and places, various species of snails and moths, and several actual and mythologic people.)

So how did this classical name end up applied to a street in Brookline? The surprising answer can be traced to a much more modern Xanthus, one who lived in Brookline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The map below is part of a 1927 street atlas of Brookline. The location of Zanthus Road -- which would not be laid out until eight years later -- is marked with a blue circle. Beverly Road comes in from the upper left and stops at the large Whipple property. Wallis Road comes up from the lower right and stops  southeast of the Whipple land. (The dashed lines are planned or proposed new roads.)
Click map for larger view

On the right side are largely undeveloped properties owned by three brothers: Benjamin Franklin Goodnough (known as Frank); Randall Goodnough; and X.H. Goodnough.

X.H., it turns out, is Xanthus Henry Goodnough Jr, named after the father of the three brothers. 

The earlier map shown below, from 1874, shows the land of Xanthus Sr. and his brother George. (A third brother was named Xenephon, so the parents clearly liked ancient Greek names.) Xanthus died in 1905 and his land passed to his three sons. George died in 1907; he had no children, and his land was sold to Sherman Whipple.

Click map for larger view

Zanthus Road was laid out in 1935. That is also the year the second Xanthus Goodnough died. (He had moved to Boston well before that.) The first mention of the road was in February 1935, and Xanthus died in August, so it is not clear if the road, with the spelling variant, was named after him or after his father, or both. (It was on the Whipple land, but so close to Frank Goodnough's property.) 

And that, apparently, is how an ancient Greek name came to be applied to a 20th century Brookline street.

Contemporary street view (Click for larger view)

Contemporary aerial view (Click for larger view)

Street signs for Zanthus Road and Beverly Road with the Baker School Playground on the right
Street signs for Zanthus Road and Wallis Road

Monday, September 4, 2023

Labor Day in Brookline, 1887-1888

Labor Day became a Federal holiday in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making it official, but Brookline had been celebrating since 1887 when Massachusetts was one of four states to make it a state holiday. (That was one year after Oregon became the first.)

Boston Transcript, September 6, 1887

Members of the Brookline local of the Carpenters and Joiners Union took part in the 1887 parade in Boston. The local paper, the Brookline Chronicle, expressed concern, however, about the viability of the new holiday, given that working people would have to give up a day's pay to participate in the activities.

"Too many workmen cannot afford it," wrote the paper. "They already feel the loss of a day's pay, and many of them are inwardly resolving that it will be several years before they turn out again. There is danger, therefore, that the day will be thrown away by actual workingmen, to be picked up by demagogues who earn their bread by the sweat of the jaw...And in that way Labor Day is in great danger of being transformed into Politician's Day."

Despite those fears, Labor Day grew in popularity both locally and nationally. One year later, the Carpenters and Joiners Union held Brookline's first Labor Day parade.

"This organization [reported the Chronicle] turned out with forty-five men, under command of James W. Boyd, and with a police escort marched through the principal streets of the town. Music was furnished by Highland pipers. Afterward the union went to Boston and took part in the great labor parade."


This Boston Globe illustration shows the 1888 Labor Day parade in downtown Boston in which Brookline union members took part.

Brookline did not continue to have its own parade for long, but local union members continued to participate and take leadership roles in the Boston parades in subsequent years. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

1919: A "Safe and Sane" Fourth of July

Independence Day 1919 came eight months after the end of fighting in the World War and just six days after the official signing of the Treaty of Versailles. That sequence of events, said the Brookline Chronicle, "has made this day doubly significant and will probably be observed most enthusiastically."

1919 fireworks advertisement
This advertisement appeared in the Brookline Chronicle on June 28, 1919

At the same time, the paper offered advice on keeping the celebration "safe and sane."

"While it is laudable that this day should be observed fully," continued the paper, "it is particularly important that it should be observed sanely. Noise is not an evidence of patriotism nor fireworks of allegiance; and the communities where the day is observed by parades, games, public speaking, etc. rather than by fireworks and noise, will probably at the end of the day be the happier communities."

The Chronicle carried a long list of regulations governing fireworks. These included prohibitions against sales to children under 13 and against setting off certain fireworks on public streets or within 300 feet of a hospital. There were also regulations governing the size of various fireworks and proximity to spectators, as well as the hours they could be set off.

"Those persons who feel that fireworks are necessary on that day should use the utmost care in the handling of them," continued the Chronicle, "to the end that neither life nor property shall be destroyed and that this day which should be one of rejoicing is not marred and homes made desolate because of accidents and fires resulting from the use thereof."

In the end, a day full of official events -- as well as fireworks --  went off without incident. 

Schedule of events
Brookline Townsman, June 28, 1919

Headline: Brookline Had Safe and Sane But Noisy Fourth
Brookline Townsman, July 12, 1919

Here's to a safe and sane Fourth of July 2023.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Micro-history: Small Tales Tell a Big Story

There was a television show in the late 1950s/early 1960s, a police drama called Naked City. It was unusual, in that each episode focused not so much on the show's regular characters, detectives at the 65th Precinct in Manhattan, but on each week's criminals and victims, played by guest stars.

These guest stars included many well-known actors of the time and many relatively unknown players who would go on to become recognized stars of movies and TV.  (See the impressive long list in the show's Wikipedia entry.)

If I watched this show, it was probably in reruns, and I may only have been aware of my father watching it in the Bronx apartment where I grew up. In any case, I don't really remember anything about the show, except for the tagline that ended each episode and that has stuck with me for 60+ years:

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

You may be thinking, "What does this have to do with Brookline history?" Brookline, where I've lived since 1996, is not New York City. Its population reached an all-time high in the 2020 Census, but that number is 65,000, not eight million.

But the history of Brookline -- the history, in fact, of any community, old or new, large or small, urban or suburban or rural -- is made up of many people, many places, many events, many stories, big and little, that together tell the broader history of a place.

I started this blog in 2009, the year I became head of the Brookline Historical Society. The idea was to post little tidbits, interesting Brookline items I came across while researching something else and didn't want to lose. 

My first post was sparked by a small 1903 newspaper article about a Brookline man named William Shaw demonstrating his electrical inventions -- an alarm clock, a baby monitor,  even a telephone -- that could be used by the deaf or hearing-impaired. (Shaw himself had lost his hearing at age 5 after a bout of meningitis.)

Newspaper article about William Shaw
Boston Transcript, October 20, 1903

The idea was to post just a few paragraphs so that the story could be shared, not lost. But as I dug into the story of William Shaw, I found there was much more to tell. I found newspaper articles about him and his inventions in papers not just in Boston, but across the U.S. and Canada and even as far away as New Zealand.

Newspaper articles about William Shaw
Click image for larger view

I obtained a photograph of him from the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut, which he attended as a boy, and pictures and articles from a newspaper called The Silent Worker. My little "tidbit" turned into a long, illustrated 1,000-word article that included his contacts with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and his role at the center of a court case about the rights and abilities of deaf parents to raise hearing children.  (You can read the whole thing here: Deaf Inventor Aids the Deaf)

And that has been the pattern ever since: in the 120 or so posts I've written for this blog; in the Brookline history walking tours and presentations and videos I've developed and delivered over the years; in the stories I uncover and share. I've even brought back the original idea of short posts in a new blog called This Week in Brookline History (TWIBH), featuring four short, illustrated stories each week.

I've been asked if I might write a book, a history of Brookline. There have been several published, the earliest in 1873 and the most recent in 2018. I've considered it, but I'm having too much fun doing what I do, digging into different aspects, large and small, of the town's history and sharing them with others.

I think of it like a montage or maybe, in one of my favorite ways to describe my research, like a jigsaw puzzle with no border. It tells a story whose ever-changing tale depends on which way you're looking at it. That's something I plan to continue doing, uncovering and telling tales for others to discover, learn from, interpret, and reshape, today and in years to come. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Town Meeting: The Long & the Short of It

Town Meeting members who convened in the high school auditorium for four hours last night (with more nights to come) might be surprised -- and perhaps jealous -- to learn about some of the shortest Brookline Town Meetings on record.

In January 1899, 60 men -- only men could vote in those "open town meeting" days -- convened on a very cold Tuesday night to dispose of 22 warrant articles in just 28 minutes.  "The business was rushed through without any ceremony," reported the Boston Globe, "the voters evidently being affected by the frigid atmosphere." 

Headline: Shortest Town Meeting
Boston Globe, January 11, 1899

Items taken up included money for the library, the schools, and the water system. The warrant article expected to be the most controversial -- placing the fire department under a fire commissioner appointed by the Board of Selectmen -- passed without any dissension.

Four years later, on June 10, 1903, 150 citizens met in balmier weather for 27 minutes, allocating just under $300,000 for a variety of purposes, about half of it put toward the town's acquisition of the recently decommissioned Boylston Street reservoir.

Headline: Shortest Town Meeting in Brookline's History
Boston Herald, June 11, 1903

That record lasted just 24 days. On August 4, 1903, 26 attendees at a special Town Meeting took just seven minutes to approve the ceding of a portion of Hyslop Road on Fisher Hill in conjunction with the erection of the Longyear mansion, which was being moved piece by piece from Marquette, Michigan, to Brookline.

All of these meetings took place before Brookline's adoption of the representative town meeting format in 1915. (See Brookline Votes for Representative Town Meeting for more on the change.) But if you think it's not possible to have a meeting even shorter than seven minutes with the kind of  expanded body we have today ...

... think again.

In August 1963, 100 opponents of a plan to take land for a new firehouse on Babcock Street convinced a local judge to order a special Town Meeting to reconsider the action approved at the regular Town Meeting in March. 

Town Meeting Members assembled on August 19th and, after an hour and a half of legal wrangling, moderator Benjamin Trustman banged the gavel and announced "With reluctance, I call the Town Meeting to order."

But his request, reported the Brookline Chronicle Citizen, "was met only with a bewildering silence; no one moved the question or took the opportunity for which the 100 petitioners had broken tradition and fought in the courts."

"Hence," continued the paper, "it was but a matter of seconds for one of the town meeting members to move the meeting be dissolved and have his motion seconded and adopted."

Thus, after just two minutes, ended the shortest Brookline Town Meeting on record. 

Headlines in the Globe, the Herald, and the Chronicle Citizen
Headlines in the Boston Herald (top left) and Boston Globe (top right), both on August 20, 1962, and the Brookline Chronicle Citizen (bottom) on August 22, 1963.

Let's see 21st century Brookline Town Meeting beat that!


Monday, April 17, 2023

Patriots' Day & the Dawes Family

William Dawes rode through Brookline on the night of April 18, 1775, on his way to Lexington to warn that British soldiers were on their way. The ride is recreated each Patriots' Day. But he was not the last member of the extended Dawes family to leave his mark on the town in the month of April.

Seventy-six years after Dawes' ride, on April 23, 1861, his grandson, William Dwight Goddard, became the first Brookline man to enlist in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. Goddard was the son of William Dawes' youngest child, Mehitabel May Dawes.  Born in 1796, she married Samuel Goddard of Brookline in 1818.

William D. Goddard served only a short time in the army. He died in 1866 at the age of 32. Mehitabel Goddard died in 1882. Both are buried, along with Samuel and other family members, in the Old Burying Ground on Walnut Street.

Headstones in the Old Burying Ground
Headstones in the Old Burying Ground marking the graves of Mehitabel May Dawes Goddard and her son William Dwight Goddard

On April 20, 1925, William Dawes' great-great grandson, U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes, came to Massachusetts to mark the 150th anniversary of his ancestor's ride and the start of the American Revolution. Among his stops as he followed the route of Dawes' 1775 ride was the Edward Devotion School (now the Florida Ruffin Ridley School) in Coolidge Corner.

Schoolchildren presented a pageant in honor Dawes' visit. Thirteen-year-old Margaret Stein, a student at the school portraying William Dawes' daughter Hannah, presented the vice president with a pair of gloves that had belonged to Hannah. She also read a poem in the voice of Hannah Dawes. (The poem inaccurately described Hannah as Charles Dawes' great-great grandmother.; a half-sister of Mehitabel, she was actually Dawes' great-great aunt.)

Vice President Charles Dawes and a poem read in his honor at the then Edward Devotion School (Click image for a larger view)


Monday, February 20, 2023

Dr. Cornelius Garland in Brookline

Dr. Cornelius N. Garland, a pioneering Black physician and the founder of the first and only Black hospital in Boston, spent the last 24 years of his life in Brookline, where he lived on Corey Hill from 1928 to 1952. 

Garland's story was featured earlier this month in a piece on Cognoscenti, WBUR's ideas and commentary site, and an interview aired on Radio Boston. The author of the Cognoscenti article, Lisa Gordon, was joined on Radio Boston by Garland's great grandson Dan Reppert.

Dr. Cornelius N. Garland, as shown in the 1912 book The Negro in Medicine, published by the Tuskegee University Press (left); 12 East Springfield Street in the South End, former site of Garland's Plymouth Hospital (center); and Garland's one-time residence on Mason Terrace in Brookline (right)

Gordon began digging into the story while living in an apartment in the South End building that had been Garland's hospital. She and Reppert told how the Alabama native founded Plymouth Hospital in 1908. The hospital employed Black doctors and included a training program for nurses at a time when city hospitals would neither employ Black physicians nor admit Black women to their nursing programs.

The Plymouth Hospital and Nurses Training School continued to operate until 1928. Garland hoped to expand his efforts with a second hospital and had support from the community. His plan was opposed, however, by influential Boston Guardian publisher William Monroe Trotter. Trotter, reported Gordon, "believed a second Black-only hospital would perpetuate existing racial problems" and, instead, "vehemently advocated to integrate city hospitals, starting with Boston City Hospital."

The debate over separate Black hospitals and their effect on the effort to integrate Boston city hospitals drew coverage in Black newspapers around the country, including these in the Pittsburgh Courier, left, and the New York Age, right.

Garland, added Gordon, "recognized that he and Trotter had a similar goal: equity for the Black community." He joined Trotter in lobbying for the integration of Boston City Hospital, "perhaps believing both plans could work in tandem." In 1928, he closed Plymouth Hospital. One year later, City Hospital admitted its first Black students, although it would be 20 years before the first Black physician was added to the staff.

Dr. Garland in Brookline

Cornelius and Margaret Garland lived on West Canton Street in the South End, on the edge of the Back Bay and a 15 minute walk from Plymouth Hospital. In December 1928, after the closing of the hospital, they purchased a newly-built home at 173 Mason Terrace in Brookline. (The deed was in Margaret's name.)

Their daughter, Thelma, then 26, was a French teacher in Baltimore at the time and did not live with her parents in Brookline. (Thelma married James Kelly Smith in August 1929.)

Garland continued to practice medicine in Boston out of an office at the West Canton Street brownstone, while renting the rest of their former home to tenants. He was also involved in many health, social, business, and political organizations and activities, both before and after moving to Brookline.

He was heavily involved in the work of the Boston Tuberculosis Association, promoting good home hygiene practices as a way of combating the disease. (The Boston Globe, in 1937, reported that one section of Roxbury "at one time had the highest mortality rate in the country for Negroes suffering from tuberculosis," but had seen a big improvement in recent years.)

An annual contest sponsored by the Boston Tuberculosis Association gave prizes as a way of encouraging clean yards, attractive gardens, and general sanitary conditions. The first place winner in the 1936 contest, on which Dr. Garland was a judge, just happened to live across the street from his office on West Canton Street. (Boston Globe, October 3, 1936) 

Garland served on boards of many Boston civic associations during his time in Brookline, including the Urban League of Greater Boston and the Boston Chapter of the NAACP.  Locally, he was involved in the medical division of Brookline's civil defense organization during World War II. He continued in medical practice after the war. (A 1948 photograph of him with his granddaughter in Ebony magazine referred to him as "Boston's richest physician.")

His wife, Margaret, was vice president of the League of Women for Community Service in Boston, an organization that grew out of an earlier group that advocated on behalf of Black soldiers returning from service in World War I. (Florida Ruffin Ridley, who moved from Brookline not long before the Garlands arrived, had been on the board of the League with Margaret several years earlier.)

Margaret Garland died in 1945, at the age of 69. Cornelius Garland died in 1952. He was 75.

You can learn much more about Cornelius Garland, his family, and Plymouth Hospital from the following sources: