High Street Hill in the 1880’s

by Carolyn H. Wetherbee

Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society.
Spring 1969, pp. 7-9.
(Brookline Public Library: [Brookline Room] 974.45 B77hn)

The story of High Street Hill in the ’80’s has been written by Mr. Henry Ware much more ably that I can ever hope to write it. For the benefit of those who have not read his paper, I shall attempt today to give a brief picture of what I think it was like in this neighborhood at that time, drawing my material from Mr. Ware’s article in the Brookline Historical Society Proceedings for 1954-55, from Miss Harriet Wood s Historical Sketches of Brookline, printed in 1874, and principally from notes by Dr. and Mrs. Francis Denny, containing information given to them by people who lived on High Street Hill in the ’80’s. In 1923 the Society published a series of maps of Brookline at various dates, including 1888, and recently a map of the holdings of the Brookline Land Company in 1885 was found between the walls during alterations at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Belton Burroughs on Edgehill Road.

I think it might be well to start with a small amount of historical background.

Until 1843 the line between Roxbury and Brookline ran more or less where High Street runs today. In that year the residents of the area between the town line and Muddy River obtained permission to be annexed to Brookline. There were one hundred and seven of them, living along Washington Street, Walnut Street (then called the Sherburn Road) and Village Lane, which ran up the hill where the large public housing building now stands at the corner of High and Walnut Streets. It was then only a footpath. There were no streets at that time running up the hill except Walnut Place. Most of the land east of the present High Street was part of the Ward-Kimball farm,
and that to the west belonged largely to the Philbrick family.

On the 1855 map the only houses above Walnut Street were the Philbrick house, now 182 Walnut Street, a large stone house built in 1821 and now owned by Bishop and Mrs. Anson P. Stokes, Jr., and two houses on Walnut Place, as well as a house in the triangle formed by the present High, Irving, and Walnut Streets, which belonged to a Mr. J. S. Wright. This house is no longer standing but its gate posts can be seen on either side of Upland Road, two where it crosses Irving Street, and two where it joins Walnut Street. Walnut Place was still the only road running up onto the hill.

During the ’40’s and ’50’s a number of members of the Church of the New Jerusalem, or Swedenborgians, moved from Boston to Brookline. I was interested to read in Miss Wood’s book that Dr. Samuel Shurtleff, an influential member of the group, left Boston because of “the destruction of his pleasant garden in the demolition of Pemberton Hill” about 1838. Urban renewal problems are not confined to our times! As there was no public transportation to Boston on Sundays, the group held services in private houses until, just before 1860, their number increased to the point where they decided to form a society in Brookline. Soon after that land was purchased and the so-called New Church, or High Street Temple, was dedicated in 1862. By that time High Street had been built up from Chestnut Street to Irving Street, which ran down to Walnut, as it does today.

Also about 1869 a group called the Brookline Land Company, many of whose members were Swedenborgians, bought most of the land between High Street and Muddy River and started to build houses which they rented or sold to their members and others. By 1867 there were seven houses on High Street, probably the oldest of which is the house now owned by Dr. Munroe Eaton at 138 High Street. This house must have been built before the Land Company was formed, as it is reliably reported to have been a station on the Underground Railway, as was the Philbrick house on Walnut Street. The other houses still standing include the Bourne house, number 52 High Street, then occupied by a Mr. Quinlan who had a carriage factory at the corner of High and Boylston Streets, and the stone house at number 99 High Street, now owned by the Austin family, but then by Mr. John Candler. It was described by Miss Martha Edgerly, who remembered it in the 1860’s, as being much smaller than it is now, and as having a French, or Mansard roof.

The neighborhood grew rapidly after 1870, when High Street was finally put through to the Village, and by 1885 it must have looked somewhat as it does today. The big fire station had not been built at the foot of the hill but there was a smaller one in the middle of the triangular plot with, of course, horse-drawn engines, and surrounded by small wooden houses known as Whyte’s Block. Mr. Quinlan’s carriage factory was on the ground where the gas station is now, and the two red brick apartment houses, then called “hotels” were standing on the corner of High and Walnut Streets, as they are today.

At the top of the hill all the houses on the east side of High Street between Allerton Street, which was then called Irving, and Highland Road were standing in 1885. On the west side were the Greek revival house now owned by the Nyharts, the Gundersen house, built in 1869 by the Brookline Land Company, and the John Candler house with much more land than it has today, and a driveway leading in from Irving Street opposite the church.

Edgehill Road, which had been known as Summit Street in the ’70’s, had all but two of its present houses. Mr. John Candler had built the four small houses near High Street so close together that they are still known locally as Candler’s Jam.

During the 1870’s the Philbrick family had sold some lots on the east side of their land and Walley Street, now Upland Road, was laid out, running up the hill from Irving Street. At least four of the red brick houses were standing in 1885 – the large house on the corner, number 9 Irving Street, was built by Mr. James Edgerly in 1875; Mr. Charles Storrow built Mrs. Redmond’s house, 70 Upland Road, in 1876; Mr. Nathaniel Chapin built number 84 Upland, now owned by Dr. Egdahl, in 1879. The big house on the corner, where Dr. and Mrs. Chute live now, was built in 1882. Dr. and Mrs. Porter’s house at 43 Upland Road was also built during this period. Later the name of the street was changed, as Walley Street was too easily confused with Walnut Street.

On the slope between High Street and Muddy River, except for three houses at the top of Allerton Street, there seem to have been no buildings below High Street in 1885. Hawthorn Road appears on the Brookline Land Company map as Hill Street, and a “Glen Street” is also shown, but both are fined with “lots”, apparently not filled. However, all during the ’80’s work was in progress on the Olmsted plans for the parkway along the river, though this was not completed until 1894.

So we find High Street in 1885 a pleasant community of substantial houses, many of red brick, some but not all, alas, with stables (garages are something of a rarity now) and occupied by substantial, often distinguished men. These men and their families were attracted by the quiet, uncrowded atmosphere of the neighborhood, and by its easy accessibility to Boston by the Boston and Albany Railroad from the “depot” in the Village, and by the horse cars running from the “Horse Railroad Station” at the corner of Morss Avenue and Walnut Street, where there was also a large stable for the horses.

Among these distinguished men were Professor John D. Runkle, second president of M.I.T. and Mr. Edward Stanwood, editor of The Youth’s Companion. Mr. Robert Peabody, who added the tower to the Custom House, lived on Edgehill Road, as did Professor William Sedgwick, the biologist.

Perhaps the most colorful was Mr. John W. Candler, owner of the stone house at 99 High Street and builder of Candler’s Jam on Edgehill Road, who was the Member of Congress for this heavily Republican district. In 1884 he ran for re-election, and feeling confident of his success lie announced that a band concert in a specially constructed bandstand, followed by fireworks, would celebrate his victory on election night. However, the ’80’s were a period of Mugwump activity and Mr. Candler seems to have incurred the displeasure of his constituents, for late in the afternoon of election day he had to cancel his band and his fireworks – he did not return to Washington.