A Few Remarks About High Street Hill

by Mr. Henry Ware

Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society.
May 18, 1955, pp 51-60.
(Brookline Public Library: [Brookline Room] 974.45 B77hn)

If this meeting1 were being held a little over 100 years ago, say 1844 instead of 1955, it wouldn’t be held here. This would have been no suitable place for a meeting of the Brookline Historical Society, for it wouldn’t have been in Brookline. In. 1844 this place was in the town of Roxbury. All this side of the Hill from substantially the entire length of High Street down to the Park was a part of the town of Roxbury. How much more of the hilltop beyond High Street was in Roxbury rather than in Brookline, I leave to those of you who know more about that doubtful question as to just where the Roxbury line ran, but there is no doubt that up to 1844 Roxbury extended up the Hill at least as far as High Street. But after that date the Brookline Historical Society was entitled to take a legitimate and a genuine interest in this locality.

If one had the time and ability, it would be rather good fun to take a locality like High Street Hill, and beginning back in the 1600’s when this entire region seems to have been included in an allotment made by the Town of Boston to Thomas Oliver, to trace the various ownerships, and later the various buildings, down to the time when we can begin to remember how things looked. But such a search would be far beyond the limits of my leisure or my powers, and I shall have to confine these few remarks to matters that I can remember, adding a little information which I have been able to gather from a slight study of some of the town records, indicating when and where some of the earlier houses were built.

The first of the tax lists of Brookline which gives any information whether a landowner was being assessed for a house as well as for a tract of land was the tax list for 1867. According to that list there seem at that time to have been only seven houses on High Street Hill. I have not included the big Wright place, which fronted on Walnut Street and occupied the greater part of the triangle bounded by Walnut Street, High Street and living Street. Nor have I included the three houses at the foot of High Street toward Chestnut Street, owned by Mr. Edward C. Cabot and Mr. William S. Wilson (now covered by the Housing Project) and by Mr. James O’Connell. Let us take a deep breath and climb the Hill from the Village end, looking for those seven houses.

As we near the top of the Hill (with our breath almost gone) we should see on the left hand side the house long known as the home of Mr. Michael W. Quinlan, (now No. 52). At that time it still belonged to the former owner, Mr. Sumner Flagg of Boston and was occupied by Mr. George H. Lane; but the very next year (1868) Mr. Quinlan appears as the owner, and his home address is changed from Washington St. to High St. Mr. Quinlan was a fine type of citizen, and the carriages which he built in his carriage factory in the Village at the foot of High St. were known far and wide for their excellence. They had carriages in Mr. Quinlan’s day.

Having recovered our breath, we keep on to the top of the Hill where Allerton St. now crosses High St. There on our right, facing what is now Allerton St. was a house which was built (or at least owned) by Dr. Shurtleff and then occupied by Mr. Charles Storrow. Mr. Storrow’s daughter, Mrs. Dr. Denny, was born in that house, and although moving from time to time into three other houses, she has always lived on the Hill, easily, deserving the title of The Oldest Inhabitant in Continual Residence. This house of Dr. Shurtleff’s (which was later numbered 10 Allerton St.) was occupied during most of its existence by the Briggs family. It was taken down only recently, when Dr. Keefer moved into the later Shurtleff house on the very corner of High and Allerton Streets.

Diagonally across on the opposite corner of High and Allerton Streets is the little stone house (No. 68) now occupied by M. Mayer. We boys who later played around on the Hill always thought of it as one of the older houses; but it does not appear in the tax lists until 1871 (when it was assessed to Mr. Henry Sayles of Boston). We should not have seen it on our trip in 1867, and it is not counted as one of the seven houses for which we are searching.

But there is a building which we should have seen, but which also is not counted as one of the seven houses. That is the little stone church, still standing on the triangle formed by High Street, Allerton Street and Irving Street. This building was begun back in the autumn of 1860, but there were delays in construction so that it was not dedicated until February 22, 1862. In the rooms of the Massachusetts New-Church Union on Bowdoin St. in Boston is a letter dated March 10, 1862 giving an account of the dedication and some account of the erection of the building.

Relieved that our climb is over, we proceed along the flat top of the Hill and find on our right, beyond the corner of Irving St. the imposing stone house of Mr. John W. Candler, set on a spacious lot of land. That house, though altered, is still there, numbered 99 and belonging to Dr. Astwood. I shall have some thing to say later about Mr. Candler, so we can now proceed, and as we are on the right hand side of the street, let us keep on that side until we reach the brow of the Hill where it drops down toward Chestnut St. There we shall find the house then belonging to Mr. Samuel Hall, Jr., described as of “Boston”. The house was known later to us boys, as, the place where Prescott Hall lived. It is now numbered 135.

That leaves only three of our seven houses. Those were all on the opposite side of High St. near the same brow of the Hill.

Crossing over and starting back toward Edge Hill Road, the first house would be that afterwards occupied by Mr. Henry W. Lamb (No. 138). Back in the time of our tour of inspection in 1867 it belonged to Miss Sarah Searle. This seems to have been one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood. Mrs. Dr. Denny tells me that she understands that, in slavery times, the house was one of the stations of the so-called Underground Railway, which sheltered fugitive slaves on their flight to the Canadian border.

Next door to the Searle house was a house then belonging to Mr. Edwin H. Abbot (now No. 132). This was later bought in 1870 or 1871, by Mr. Thacher Loring. As to this place, I cannot do better than to quote Mr. Loring’s son, Mr. Lindsley Loring, who grew up on the Hill (though in different houses) and is now living in Westwood. He writes:

“You say the lot of land next to Harry Lamb’s was shown in 1872 as belonging to Loring. This was my fathers land and I was born on June 23, 1871 in the house situated on this lot. The house was torn down or moved away many years ago.

“My great grandfather Dr. Walter Channing, Harvard 1808, lived in the so-called ‘Lamb house’ when I was born. As Dr. Channing was devoted to my mother [who was his granddaughter] I can easily understand why she wanted to be near him in his old age. He was the first Dean of the Harvard Medical School and founded the Boston Lying In Hospital. I remember very distinctly being taken to see him when I was a very small boy — he was well over 90 when he died. I do not know whether Dr. Channing ever owned this house or not, but I think he probably did as on retiring from active practice in Boston he sold his house and moved to Brookline.

“In my opinion the ‘Lamb House’ is probably one of the oldest on the Hill.”

An examination of the subsequent tax lists shows that Dr. Channing first appears as a resident of High St. in 1871. Apparently he did not buy the house.

The last of the seven ‘houses is the house on the corner of Edge Hill Road, now occupied by Mr. Thomas Groom (No. 126). This belonged in 1867 to Mr. William L. Candler (not John W. already mentioned) and was then occupied by Mr. Henry D. Todd. By 1869 Mr. Candler seems to have moved to Boston, and the house had been a acquired by Mr. Waldo Higginson. We boys remembered it being occupied by ladies of the Higginson family.

And there is the picture of the Hill in 1867 — three houses clumped beyond Edge Hill Road on one side of the street, with the Hall place across the street; then the big John W. Candler place down to Irving St.; then the little church, and beyond that Dr. Shurtleff’s house then occupied by Mr. Storrow, while just beyond as the Hill began to pitch down into the Village was the house which was to be bought the next year by Mr. Quinlan.

There are three other houses built about this time, which should be mentioned.

In 1869 Mr. Samuel Hall, Jr., appears as the owner of another High St. house, which he sold the next year to Mr. Joshua Crane. This is the house opposite the end of Edge Hill Road now occupied by Dr. Gundersen (No. 123). Mr. Crane lived there for many years.

The two other house are the two Cabot houses at the inner end of Edge Hill Road, which was then called Summit St. Mr. Follen Cabot does not appear in the tax list of 1869 at all, ‘but in the next year (1870) he is listed as of High St. (in later lists as of Summit St.), and as the owner of a $5000 house and 20442 feet of land. Would it surprise you to learn that you were sitting at this very minute on some of those 20,442 feet? This is where the Follen Cabot house used to be. The other Cabot house next door (where Mr. Hinckle now lives) was built very soon afterwards. In 1870 it is described as an “unfinished house Summit St.” and assessed the next year as a full fledged house. So there can’t be much doubt as to when that house was built . It was owned by Mrs. Marianne Cabot. We boys knew it later as the house where Mr. John and Miss Mary Cabot lived. They would hardly recognize it if they could see it today; but it has retained one distinguishing stamp of the period, — the Mansard roof. When you go home from this meeting, notice the Mansard roof also on Dr. Gundersen’s house opposite the end of Edge Hill Road, and on the little stone house at the corner of Allerton St., and on the old Quinlan house, the second on the right beyond Allerton St. as you go down the Hill toward the Village. That is an additional indication that those houses were built in the period we have been talking about, — the late 1860’s or the early 1870’s.

Now let us skip some years and come down to times that I can remember.

When I was asked to jot down some memories about High Street Hill, I got out the old Brookline atlas of 1884 (which was about the time when I was playing around here as a boy) to see if I was right in thinking that the only doctor in this neighborhood, which is now so besprinkled with medicine, was good old Dr. Sabine. And I found that that was so. To be sure, Dr. Shurtleff lived at the corner of High Street and Allerton Street, but whether he was then a practising physician I do not know. Somehow I never thought of him as a doctor, but only as an old gentleman. But there was no question about Dr. Sabine’s being a doctor, and, for this part of the town, the doctor. I suppose he held sway all by his royal self until such time as Dr. Denny completed his medical studies in Vienna and moved into this neighborhood. That broke the ice, and since then there has been such an influx of doctors that it is easy to look around, and to count at least a score of them or their families, — not to mention two hospitals and their nurses’ homes.

And there is a reason for such a congregation of doctors, apart from the natural tendency of birds of a feather to flock together. (Not that I would place the medical fraternity in this respect in the same category with the leather trade or the wool trade, which have their respective business localities). One can easily see why a doctor, looking for a place to live, should be drawn to a neighborhood of attractive single houses, some of them already occupied by some of his fellow doctors, and all within easy reach of the hospitals and laboratories clustered about the Harvard Medical School. Although within a stone’s throw of the Village and of bus and railroad transportation, the Hill gives one the impression of retirement and of quiet country. The sun has a chance to get in at all four sides of your house (if it could) and “the green grass is growing all around”. And the march of progress and street widening have not yet cut down our trees2. To anyone who likes to look at a good sight, I recommend that he walk up High Street on a bright autumn day and feast his eyes on the profuse show of yellow maple leaves bathed in sunshine. I wonder that someone has not already christened the place “Golden Top”.

It has taken some effort to keep the open tracts in the neighborhood from being developed in a way that would spoil the general charm. There was a threat at one time that the land below Hawthorn Road down to Pond Avenue (practically all vacant) might be badly developed. Thereupon the community contributed funds and bought the land, forming the so-called Glen Trust, which saw to it that the attractive character of the Hill was preserved. The same thing happened when the Hawthorn Associates acquired the tennis court and adjoining stable, at the corner of Hawthorn Road and Cumberland Avenue.

In looking at the atlas I was surprised to find that the house where the Reidy family now lives (No. 92) was built as early as 1884. As it was a vacant lot when we used to play baseball there, we must have been fairly little tads at the time, — so little, in fact, that as I remember it, we seldom knocked the ball across the street into the yard on the opposite side.

The rear of the Reidy lot, where the stable now stands, was a region of delight. The Hill, I suppose, is just a great hunk of pudding stone, with only a skim coat of soil on top; and where the land dropped off at the rear, the rock was exposed and made an entrancing place to build fires. Our youthful attempts to roast potatoes in the ashes were valiant, but I cannot remember one potato that did not come out burnt black and thoroughly inedible.

In the house where Dr. Graham now lives at the corner of High Street and Cumberland Avenue, there was a family of five boys, some older, some younger than I, named Curry. They were strong, well made boys, and kept themselves in hard shape by maintaining in their back yard an outdoor gymnasium. They kept a pair of jumping standards, and a part of the yard was used for the broad jumps. Many is the time that the word would go around, “Let’s jump”, and away we would go to the Currys’ back yard. One of the Curry boys made quite a name for himself afterwards as a pole vaulter.

We couldn’t jump when the snow was on the ground, but we could coast. Coasting down High Street into the Village was too risky; still there was the other side of the Hill where High Street fell off toward Chestnut Street. There the traffic wasn’t enough to interfere and there was a good deal of coasting in the street. But the coast that I remember with more excitement was the pitch from Edge Hill Road down to Cumberland Avenue, behind Miss Thacher’s house (which wasn’t there then). There were too many apple trees scattered over that hillside to start very far up from the bottom. However, you got all the excitement you wanted without going up very far. At the foot of the pitch, about where the hospital buildings on the upper side of Glen Road now are, there was a large fairly deep circular gravel pit. (At least, it looked large the to my young eyes.) In winter the snows would melt — we had snows then — and fill that pit partly full of water, which would freeze, leaving the surface of the ice well below the rim of the pit. The stunt was to coast down the pitch, shoot off the edge of the pit and land on the ice below. I don’t remember what happened after that, why we didn’t bang into the other side of the pit; perhaps we did.

I have one recollection connected with the Hill, which few other people probably now have, and which may have a bit of historical interest. You will remember that one of the seven houses which we found in our 1867 tour of inspection was the large stone house near Irving St. which belonged to Mr. John W. Candler. Mr. Candler was the Member of Congress from this safely Republican district. Along in the early 80’s there was a Congressional election and Mr. Candler stood for re-election. The district, as I indicated, was a Republican one, and Mr. Candler felt so little doubt of being re-elected that he had a band stand built at the Irving Street end of his lot. I remember it perfectly. There was no Homer Albers house there then, leaving plenty of room for the admiring populace to collect on election night to listen to the music and watch the fireworks.

You may remember that the early 80’s was a time of mugwump activity. There was a good deal of dissatisfaction over the doings of the then Republican party. Many people in Brookline (and I could name some then living up on the Hill) considered Mr. Candler to be a stalwart Republican and open to the same objections which they applied to the rest of the party in Washington. They got Col. Theodore Lyman to run as an Independent candidate3. That was in the days before the Australian ballot, when anybody could print ballots with any combination of candidates. Among my father’s papers I came across some of the ballots prepared by the Brookline mugwumps for this election. It was labelled the regular Republican ticket, except for President and for Member of Congress, and it carried Col. Lyman’s name for the latter office in place of Mr. Candler’s.

I don’t know at what time on election day Mr. Candler cancelled his order for the band and the fireworks. There was no show on High Street Hill that evening. Our representative in the next Congress was Col. Lyman.

When people in a locality own their houses and change as little as the residents on the Hill have changed, there is apt to be created a neighborly feeling that leads them to get together in groups for pleasure or improvement. There were two such groups on the Hill that lasted (with changes, of course) for 40 or 50 years. In their most active days they would meet about once a fortnight, taking care not to interfere with each other’s dates. One group indulged in playing the very jolly and not too profound card game of six-handed euchre — three tables of six each. The other group read at each meeting a Shakespeare play, judiciously cut to reduce the reading time to about two hours. The parts were given out in advance. There was no attempt at acting; the readers remained seated. One of the readers also read the stage directions. I should not have said that there was never any attempt at acting. When Mr. Storrow built his own house on High Street, he built a smaller room connecting with his large room by means of wide folding (or sliding) doors, with footlights (or rather side lights) set into the thickness of the wall, making a stage, used through the years for many a private theatrical show. Taking advantage of this little theatre, the Shakespeare Club, meeting one evening at Mr. Storrow’s house, interrupted a reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream long enough to allow the artisans to slip into their costumes and wigs, catch up their properties, and put on a memorable performance of Pyramus and Thisby.

The card games and the readings would end at 10 o’clock, and after a little ice cream and coffee, the company would be home early enough to get a good night’s sleep. Simple pleasures, but very enjoyable.

If anybody can do whatever he is doing better than almost anybody else in the whole world, he deserves the title of a distinguished person. In addition to its population of doctors the Hill at one time had among its inhabitants a decidedly distinguished group of musicians. Living side by side on High Street were the First Trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (M. Mager) and the First Oboist of the Orchestra (M. Gillet), probably just about tops in their respective fields. Next to M. Gillet lives M. Mayer and adjoining him was Mr. Erkelens, both members of the violin section of the Orchestra. One of those houses had formerly been occupied by the well-known pianist, Madame Hopekirk, and on the other side of Allerton Street were Mrs. Latham and Miss Mary Russell, who, though not playing professionally, were extremely proficient at the piano. Still on the hillside is another eminent musician, the sweet singer, Mr. Roland Hayes. It should also be noted that the Hill has harbored conductors of the Boston Symphony. I clearly recall the erect, military-looking figure of Gericke as he was walking to his home on Upland Road. Mrs. Denny tells me that Nikisch lived in the Curry house at the corner of Cumberland Avenue, as did Fiedler.

The list of notables should not stop here. Of Professor John D. Runkle, the second president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you have already heard in detail from Mr. Dana. Next door to him lived Mr. Edward Stanwood, the editor of Youth’s Companion and a well-known writer on matters economic and historical. Two doors away was the principal of our Brookline High School, Mr. J. Emery Hoar. At the end of Edge Hill Road, lived Mr. Robert S. Peabody, the architect (Peabody & Stearns), whose graceful Custom House Tower overlooks Boston and the surrounding country, and that keen lawyer, Mr. Moorfield Storey, at one time president of the American Bar Association and always a courageous reformer. Edge Hill Road also produced a famous biologist in the shape of Professor William T. Sedgwick. Another well-known architect on Edge Hill Road was Mr. Walter H. Kilham. Turning from the professions we find the general manager of the Boston Elevated Railway, Mr. Charles S. Sergeant. Mention has already been made of Mr. John W. Candler, Member of Congress from this district, to which name should be added that of Mr. Joseph Walker, who was Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. There was another man, who, though not perhaps so widely known was nevertheless so thoroughly fine, upright and public spirited that I must include him among those on the Hill to be held in highest remembrance, Mr. Henry W. Lamb.

I have been tempted to name some of our doctors, but any attempt to discriminate and to mention some and not all would doubtless get me into such very hot water that the scaldings would call for the combined healing arts of all the practitioners collected on this little hilltop.

There is one thing about the medical profession, however, that I can say safely. Many of them showed the extreme good sense of coming to the Hill for their brides. At one time it seemed as if all of the girls around here that I grew up with were going off and marrying doctors. Miss Elizabeth Storey became Mrs. Dr. Robert W. Lovett; Miss Martha Storrow became Mrs. Dr. Francis P. Denny; Miss Mary Denny became .Mrs. Dr. Edwin E. Jack; Miss Elizabeth Denny became Mrs. Dr. Elliott P. Joslin; Miss Alice Loring became Mrs. Dr. William L. Edwards; Miss Margaret Chapin became Mrs. Dr. Robert B. Osgood; Miss Sally Swan became Mrs. Dr. Walter L. Burrage; Miss Elizabeth Cabot became Mrs. Dr. Henry Lyman; Miss Elizabeth Townsend became Mrs. Dr. James R. Torbert; and later, Miss Katharine Townsend became Mrs. Dr. Warren R. Sisson; Miss Alice Sherburne became Mrs. Dr. John Reidy; and Miss Elizabeth Sherburne became Mrs. Dr. John D. Houghton.

No wonder the Hill attracts doctors.

1 The meeting was held at 33 Edgehill Road.

2 Due to widening the Worcester Turnpike, Boylston street has recently been stripped of many of its trees.

3 They sent out this notice:


Nov. 1, 1884.

On Election Day, this committee will occupy, as headquarters, the Engineer’s room at the Town Hall. All Republicans opposed to the election of Blaine and Logan are invited to use this room.

The official ballot of this organization will be the Republican ticket, but with Cleveland electors, and with Theodore Lyman for Congress. Stickers, with other names, will be found at the headquarters.

Citizens are reminded of the advantage of preparing on Monday for the duties of Tuesday.

The polls open at 7.30; close at 4.30.

Executive Committee,
CHARLES P. WARE, Secretary.
J. J. E. ROTHERY, Treasurer.