Friday, May 17, 2013

Brookline Bikes: Sites to See on Beacon Street

The annual Brookline Bikes bicycle parade takes place this Sunday, May 19th.  It's a great event and an opportunity to ride the entire length of the historic Beacon Street boulevard in Brookline unimpeded by automobiles.

The Brookline Historical Society will have a table set up in Amory Park, the starting and ending point for the parade, with information about the development of Beacon Street.  Stop by before or after the ride and check it out.

Shown below are some of the architectural and historical sights you'll see as you ride down Beacon Street. (Photos of Beacon Street landmarks in the past can be viewed on the Brookline Historical Society Web site.)

Pelham Hall (Outbound, at Pleasant Street) Pelham Hall was built as a residential hotel in 1926 as part of a burst of new construction in and around Coolidge Corner.

S.S. Pierce Building (Outbound, at Harvard Street). The S.S. Pierce building, the symbol of Coolidge Corner if not of Brookline itself, was built from 1898-99 on the site of the original Coolidge Brothers store.

The second story of the Pierce Building, now offices, was originally Whitney Hall. Named for Beacon Street developer Henry Whitney, it was used for concerts, lectures, dances, meetings, and other events.  The original tower was taller.  Damaged in a 1944 hurricane, it was remodeled afterward to its current design.  The S.S. Pierce Company continued to occupy the lower floor until the 1960s and the building is still generally called the S.S. Pierce Building, even by residents who didn’t arrive in Brookline until much later.

MBTA Shelters (Both sides at Harvard Street) The tile-roofed shelters for the T, at Coolidge Corner, are the original structures built by Henry Whitney’s West End Railway in 1901. Remodeled a few years ago, they are the only original shelters that remain.

The Stoneholm (Outbound, between Short Street and Lancaster Terrace). The Stoneholm is a magnificent French Renaissance chateau style apartment building that opened in 1909 with such amenities as marble fireplaces, parquet floors, and crystal chandeliers. It was designed by Arthur Bowditch, who lived on Pill Hill.

Chinese Christian Church (Inbound, between Strathmore and Dean Roads). This neo-Gothic church was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge in 1910. Built for the Leyden Congregational Church, it was bought by the Chinese Christian Church of New England in 1975.

All Saints Church.  (Inbound, at Dean Road). All Saints Church, designed by the architectural firm of Cram, Wentworth, and Goodhue, replaced a temporary wooden church on the site with the completion of the nave in 1899.

The Beaconsfield Terraces (including Richter Terrace,  Inbound at Dean Road and Frances Terrace, Inbound at Tappan Street). 
The Beaconsfield Terraces were one of the more unusual developments to follow the widening of Beacon Street. Built by Eugene Knapp, a wool merchant, in the early 1890s, the terraces were an early condominium arrangement in which people owned their units but shared ownership of 6-acre park, stables, a playhouse (known as the casino), tennis courts, and a playground. A bell system connected the houses to the stables so that people could call for their horse and carriage. A central heating plant heated all of the buildings. Today, only the residence buildings remain.

Athans Building
 (Inbound at Washington Street). This commercial block was built in 1898 with stores, offices, and a hall for dances and concerts.

Richmond Court. (Inbound, east of St. Paul Street). 
Richmond Court was one of the firstpossibly the firstcourtyard apartment buildings in the country. Built in 1898, it is set back and separated from the noise and bustle of Beacon Street by an iron fence, brick and stone posts, a fountain, and private gardens. Richmond Court was designed by Ralph Adams Cram who went on to design All Saints Church, further out on Beacon Street, as well as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and many buildings at West Point and Princeton University.

Temple Ohabei Shalom (Inbound at Kent Street). Temple Ohabei Shalom was the first Jewish congregation in Boston, formed in 1842 by immigrant German Jews. The congregation moved to Brookline and this domed temple in 1927.
Amory Park & Hall's Pond (Starting and ending point of parade). Until well into the 19th century, this was the Cedar Swamp. The Swamp and its marshy outflow were largely under-developed until after the Civil War. By stages, Cedar Swamp was filled in until all that remained was a one-acre pond called Swallow Pond that was used largely as a storm drainage pit for the surrounding area.

Today, after being acquired by the Town in 1975 and reborn as the Hall’s Pond Sanctuary, the pond area is what the Boston Globe has called “one of the Boston area's finest examples of green-space restoration,” home to migratory birds, turtles, and a variety of other wetlands wildlife, and “like a little patch of the Everglades in the middle of the city”.

Hall's Pond is named after the Hall Family that settled in the area around 1850 and lived on Ivy Street. Minna Hall, one of the last of the Hall family, was a cofounder of the Boston (later Massachusetts) Audubon Society and a great lover of birds and nature. A great concern of hers was that the pond and its environs be protected.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Remembering Brookline's Civil War Dead

Annual Meeting of the Brookline Historical Society
Remembering Brookline's Civil War Dead
Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7 pm
American Legion / VFW Post, 386 Washington Street

Two years ago, as the town prepared to rededicate its restored 1884 memorial to 72 local men who died in the Civil War, I helped then Building Commissioner Mike Shephard, who was spearheading the effort, by providing some insight into some of the men whose names were chiseled into the marble of the memorial.

Mike chose to tell the story of Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight whose poignant letter to his mother, written while he lay dying on the battlefield at Antietam, is in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

A month later, I wrote about Dwight and five other Brookline men who lost their lives serving the Union between 1861 and 1865. But it didn't stop there.

A segment of the design for the 1884 Brookline Civil War memorial
A few of the 72 men whose names appear on Brookline's 1884 Civil War Memorial

In the last two years, I've uncovered as much information as I could about all 72 of the soldiers and sailors listed on the memorial. For some, officers and members of prominent families like Wilder Dwight, it was easy. Photographs and correspondence have been preserved; accounts of their lives and deaths were written at the time and later.

But for other men—barely a handful of the 72 were officers and most were tradesman—it was a matter of piecing together details from regimental histories, remembrances of comrades, military and census records, and whatever I could find.

There was the young teamster who came to the U.S. as a toddler in 1832 from County Armagh, a member of the first Irish family to settle in Brookline.

There was the son of a slave-owning family, born in Texas, whose brother died while serving on the other side in the Confederate Army.

There was the 36-year old machinist whose mother received a letter of sympathy from Abraham Lincoln, one of the most famous—and controversial—writings of the 16th president.

There were the three young friends from Kingston, New Hampshire who came to Brookline together to enlist, went into the same artillery unit, were taken prisoner together, and died in the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia.

Please join me and the members of the Brookline Historical Society on May 16th as I share the stories of these men and some twenty more in this special Civil War Sesquicentennial event.  The program is free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be served.