279 Marlborough was designed and built in 1873-1874 by Frederick B. Pope, for speculative sale, one of two contiguous houses (277-279 Marlborough). They were originally designed as a symmetrical pair, but the upper stories of 277 Marlborough were later remodeled and expanded.
The land on which 277-279 Marlborough were built was purchased by Frederick Pope on March 5, 1872, from real estate dealer Henry Whitwell. At the same time, he also purchased an equivalent lot from Henry Whitwell across the alley, fronting on Beacon, where he built 343–345 Beacon. The land was part of a larger parcel originally purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on February 16, 1863, by Daniel Davies, Jarvis Dwight Braman, and Grenville Temple Winthrop Braman. Grenville Braman was treasurer of the Boston Water Power Company, Jarvis Braman was his brother (and later president of the company), and Daniel Davies, a housewright and master carpenter, was Grenville Braman’s father-in-law.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 279 Marlborough; click here for more information on the land at 277-279 Marlborough and 8-10-12 Fairfield; and click here for further information about all of the land between the north side of Marlborough and Alley 417, from Exeter to Fairfield.
277-279 Marlborough were each built with a stable at the rear, on the alley. These appear to be the only stables constructed on Marlborough, where the lots are less deep than on the north side of Beacon and on Commonwealth. Because of the size of the lots, the houses at 277-279 Marlborough were less deep than the neighboring buildings to allow a rear yard between the house and the stable. In late-1875, George Norman, who owned 343 Beacon across the alley, had a stable built behind his house. The lots on the south side of Beacon are the same depth as those on Marlborough and 343-345 Beacon had been built at a normal depth; as a result, the new stable occupied virtually all of the rear yard.
The decision to build stables on these properties may have been facilitated by the fact that the lots were on land originally sold by the Boston Water Power Company whereas the land further east was originally owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the north-south dividing line was at the eastern boundary of the lots at 277 Marlborough and 343 Beacon). The deeds from the Commonwealth included a prohibition that the land “…shall not, in any event, be used for a stable..,” and, although the Commissioners on the Back Bay had clarified in 1858 that this did not preclude the building of “private stables by gentlemen as appurtenances to their own dwelling homes,” there remained uncertainty and controversy as to their permissibility on land originally owned by the Commonwealth. By contrast, the Boston Water Power Company deed for the land on which 277-279 Marlborough and 343 Beacon were built specified that the land “shall not be used for a livery stable,” making it clear that private stables were permissible. Click here for more information on the Back Bay deed restrictions.
On October 25, 1873, the Boston Globe reported that Fred Pope had received building permits for 277-279 Marlborough and for the stables behind them. Construction probably began soon thereafter.
On September 17, 1875, George A. Gibson foreclosed on a mortgage to Fred Pope and sold in 277-279 Marlborough to Thomas A. Johnston, who assumed a first mortgage on the property from the Essex Savings Bank.
On October 29, 1875, the two houses were offered for sale at public auction. They did not sell, and on October 26, 1876, the Essex Savings Bank foreclosed on its mortgage on the two houses.
On February 15, 1876, Fred Pope acquired back Thomas Johnston’s interest in 279 Marlborough. On the same day, it was purchased from him and from the Essex Savings Bank by Benjamin Franklin Smith. He and his wife, Henrietta Maria (Straw) Smith, made it their Boston home.
Benjamin Smith and his brothers — Francis Smith, George Warren Smith, and David Clifford Smith — founded an engraving and printing company in Maine that specialized in selling images of famous Americans. They then entered the banking and real estate businesses in Omaha, and purchased a gold mine, the Smith and Parmalee Mine, in Colorado. They returned to Maine where they bought a 500 acre tract of land between Rockport and Rockland, on the shores of Penobscot Bay, where Benjamin Smith built a home there called Clifford Lodge. At the time of his death, he was described in his March 16, 1927, Boston Globe obituary as “reputed to have been one of New England’s richest men.”
During the 1887-1888 winter season, the Smiths were living elsewhere and 279 Marlborough was the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Hall. The Halls moved soon thereafter, and it was once again the Smiths’ home by mid-1888. They continued to live there until 1889.
On July 1, 1889, 279 Marlborough was acquired from Benjamin Smith by his brother, George Warren Smith, of New York City.
During the 1889-1890 winter season, 279 Marlborough was the home of Rev. Frank Louis Norton and his wife, Jane Huntington (Watkinson) Norton. They previously had lived at the Hotel Brunswick (southeast corner of Clarendon and Boylston).
Rev. Norton was an Episcopalian minister and had served as rector of St. Stephen’s parish in Lynn in the mid-1880s.
On May 6, 1890, 279 Marlborough was purchased from George Warren Smith by Mrs. Mary Arnold (Allen) Robeson, widow of textile mill owner Andrew Robeson. She previously had lived at 267 Clarendon. She continued to live there in 1899. By 1900, she had moved to 30 Fenway.
By the 1901-1902 winter season, 279 Marlborough had been leased from Mary Robeson by John Phillips Reynolds, Jr., and his wife, Lucretia Revere (Munroe) Reynolds. They previously had lived in Milton.
John Reynolds had been associated with the Walter M. Lowney Company, manufacturers of chocolate products, and subsequently was treasurer and director of various companies. In 1902, he purchased the former home of his great-grandfather, Paul Revere, at 19-21 North Square, and led the effort to have it preserved as an historical site. In 1907, he transferred it to the Paul Revere Memorial Association.
Mary Robeson died in July of 1903. Her estate continued to own 279 Marlborough and lease it to the Reynoldses.
On April 1, 1907, the Reynolds purchased and subsequently moved to 79 Marlborough.
On April 30, 1907, John Reynolds purchased 279 Marlborough from the estate of Mary Robeson, and on May 13, 1907, he transferred the property into both his and his wife’s names.
On January 11, 1908, 279 Marlborough was acquired from John and Lucretia Reynolds by Dr. Walter Greenough Chase, a physician. Walter Chase had married in October of 1906 to Fannie Scott Hubbard, after which they had traveled around the world before setting up housekeeping in Boston. Prior to their marriage, he had lived at The Cambridge at 483 Beacon.
The Chases also maintained a home on High Street in Wiscasset in half of a double house that once had belonged to Fannie Chase’s grandfather, Captain Jonathan Edwards Scott.
During the 1916-1917 winter season, the Chases were living elsewhere and 279 Marlborough was the home of Lewis Kennedy Morse and his wife, Ednah Anne (Rich) Morse. They had married in July of 1916 and 279 Marlborough was their first home together. Prior to their marriage, he had lived at 323 Marlborough. He was an attorney. She had been an educator in California, president of the Santa Barbara State Normal School of Manual Arts and Home Economics and the first woman member of the California State Board of Education. The Morses also maintained a home in Boxford. They moved from 279 Marlborough by the 1917-1918 season, and by the next season were living at 20 Short Side Road.
The Chases resumed living at 279 Marlborough during the 1917-1918 winter season.
Walter Chase died in January of 1919. Fannie Chase continued to live at 279 Marlborough until about 1933, after which she lived year-round at her Wiscasset home.
279 Marlborough was not listed in the 1934-1936 Blue Books.
On February 26, 1936, 279 Marlborough was purchased from the estate of Walter Chase by Dr. William T. Knowles, an osteopathic physician. Living with him were his mother, Jennie (Plumley) Knowles, the widow of Winfield Scott Knowles, and his brother, Clarence Winfield Knowles. The family previously had lived at 87 Albans Street in Dorchester.
In May of 1936, William Knowles applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the house to have two medical offices on the first floor and a single-family dwelling on the upper floors. He also applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the existing garage (the former stable) into a two-car garage.
William Knowles and his mother continued to live at 279 Marlborough until her death in August of 1944. He also provided office space to other doctors.
After Jennie Knowles’s death, Dr. Knowles moved to an apartment at 176 Beacon but continued to maintain his medical office at 279 Marlborough until the mid-1940s.
On November 30, 1944, 279 Marlborough acquired from Walter Knowles by Harrison Steele Dimmitt, Secretary of Harvard Law School, and his wife, Martha Fredericka Nordmark (Read) Dimmitt. They previously had lived in Virginia while he served in the US Army. 279 Marlborough remained a single-family dwelling with an office on the first floor. They continued to live there in 1949. They separated or divorced in about 1950, and by 1951 Martha Dimmitt was living in an apartment at 280 Beacon.
On April 1, 1949, 279 Marlborough was purchased from Harrison and Martha Dimmitt by Warren W. Runnalls, employed with the National Shawmut Bank, and his sisters, Rosina Jane Runnalls and Edith M. (Runnalls) Coyle, the widow of Francis Raymond Coyle. They previously had lived in Watertown. They operated 279 Marlborough as a lodging house.
They continued to live at 279 Marlborough until about 1963.
On July 18, 1963, 279 Marlborough was purchased from the Runnalls family by Oliver Filley Ames and his wife, Esther (Doolittle) Ames. They previously had lived in an apartment at 20 Gloucester. In November of 1963, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to install a new kitchen at 279 Marlborough. The current and proposed use was shown as two apartments.
Oliver Ames was a Massachusetts State Senator from 1963 to 1970. Prior to his election, he had been with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. After he left the Senate, he was a trustee.
The Ameses continued to live at 279 Marlborough until about 1972, when they moved to Brookline.
On September 15, 1972, 279 Marlborough was purchased from Oliver and Esther Ames by Bertram B. Parker and his wife, Dianne D. Parker.
On July 19, 1995, 279 Marlborough was purchased from the Parkers by Ronald C. Agel, trustee of the Agel Realty Trust. In February of 1997, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from two apartments into a single-family dwelling.
On December 1, 2015, 279 Marlborough was purchased from Ronald Agel by Joseph R. Jenkins, trustee of the 279 Marlborough Street Realty Trust.
279 Marlborough remained assessed as a single-family dwelling in 2015.