Back Bay Land: North Side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon

The block on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon is 548 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 423.

The land was part of the approximately 108 acres of land in the Back Bay owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Plan of Commonwealth lands, 5Dec1856 (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 743, end of book)

The Commonwealth sold its land starting in 1857. The earliest transactions were by private sales negotiated by the Commissioners on the Back Bay. In 1860, the legislature required that all future sales be made through public auctions. The first auction was held on October 24, 1860, and they continued until March of 1872, when they were suspended due to depressed real estate values. In 1879, the legislature authorized the Harbor and Land Commissioners (successors to the Commissioners on the Back Bay) to sell lots with frontages of up to 100 feet by privately negotiated sale. The land sales resumed in May of 1879 and the last of the remaining land was sold in 1886.

Click here for more information on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts land in the Back Bay.

All of the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon was sold by the Commonwealth at its auction on October 24, 1860.

Excerpt from plan of land sales through 1879, showing price paid per s.f.; 1879 Harbor and Land Commissioners Report

The October 24, 1860, Boston Evening Transcript reported the results of the auction, listing the names of the purchasers by block but only rarely identifying the specific lots they purchased. The deeds conveying the land were not executed until several years later, and only one of the purchasers at the auction (John Ellerton Lodge) retained his right to acquire the land; in every other case, when the land was conveyed by the Commonwealth, it was to a different purchaser than the successful bidder at the auction.

The Boston Evening Transcript report indicated that all of the lots had been sold at the auction. However, Lot R on the plan for the auction, at 63 Commonwealth, was offered again at the Commonwealth’s auction on October 21, 1862, when it did not sell, and again at the auction on February 10, 1863, when it sold.

Plan of lots offered for sale at the October 24, 1860, Commonwealth of Massachusetts auction (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 778, p. 160)

Eastern Parcels. Ten houses of similar design were built at 29-47 Commonwealth on the eastern half of the block (Lots A-J), with a total frontage of 282 feet. The original lots were conveyed by the Commonwealth to seven purchasers; some built their homes on the lots and others re-sold the land.

The first three houses were built at 29-31-33 Commonwealth (Lots A-C) in 1863-1864 on land acquired from the Commonwealth on June 3, 1863, by Joshua Stetson at 29 Commonwealth and by Joseph Sawyer at 31 Commonwealth, and on November 24. 1863, by Charles Henry Dalton at 33 Commonwealth. The lot at 29 Commonwealth was 32 feet wide and the other two lots were each 28 feet wide. All three purchasers built their homes on the land.

The houses at 35-37-39 Commonwealth (Lots D-F) were built in 1872-1873 on land acquired from the Commonwealth on January 29, 1863, by Edward Sturtevant at 35 Commonwealth, on February 13, 1863, by Mary Pratt and Sarah P. Pratt at 37 Commonwealth, and on October 31, 1860, by Freeman Allen at 39 Commonwealth. Each lot was 28 feet wide. The original owners all sold their land. The lots at 35 and 37 Commonwealth and 2 feet of the lot at 39 Commonwealth were purchased by Elisha Atkins, who had 35 Commonwealth built on a 28 foot lot and 37 Commonwealth (his home) on a 30 foot lot. The remaining 26 foot lot at 39 Commonwealth was purchased by Isaac Danforth Farnsworth, who built his home there.

The parcel at 41-43-45-47 Commonwealth (Lots G-J) was the only land on the block which remained in the possession of the successful bidder at the October 24, 1860 auction, shipping merchant John Ellerton Lodge, who purchased four lots, three with a 28 foot frontage and one with a 26 foot frontage. He and his wife, Anna (Cabot) Lodge, lived at 31 Beacon. He died in September of 1862, and the deed bond was inherited by their two children, Elizabeth Cabot (Lodge) James, the wife of George Abbot James, and future US Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. The Commonwealth conveyed the property to them, as a single 110 foot parcel, on May 3, 1864. The lot was purchased on January 22, 1869, by Elijah Chesley Drew, who had all four houses built. He made 41 Commonwealth his home and sold 43-45-47 Commonwealth to others.

Western Parcels. Nine houses were built at 49-65 Commonwealth and 261 Clarendon on the western half of the block (Lots K-T) with a total frontage of 266 feet. The original lots were conveyed by the Commonwealth to seven purchasers; as with the houses on the eastern half of the block, some of the original land purchasers built their homes on their lots and others re-sold the land.

The houses at 49-51 Commonwealth were built in a complementary style, 49 Commonwealth in 1877-1878 on a 26 foot lot (Lot K) and 51 Commonwealth in 1876-1877 on a 52 foot lot (Lots L-M). The land for 49 Commonwealth was acquired from the Commonwealth on February 11, 1870, by Charles Greenleaf Wood. He sold it on February 1, 1876, to Alexander Sylvanus Porter, who resold it to Charles Torrey on May 9, 1877. Charles Torrey and his wife, Adelaide (Bowen) Torrey, built their home there. The land for 51 Commonwealth was acquired from the Commonwealth on February 11, 1870, by Francis C. Lowell. He sold it on May 18, 1872, to his brother-in-law, John Lowell Gardner, whose son, George Augustus Gardner, built his home there.

The lot west of 51 Commonwealth, with a 26 foot frontage (Lot N), was acquired from the Commonwealth on May 18, 1865, by Randolph Marshall Clark, treasurer of the Boston Elastic Fabric Company. He and his wife, Mary (Vinton) Clark, lived at 12 Pemberton Square. On November 1, 1866, they purchased a newly built home at 76 Marlborough designed and built by architect and building contractor Charles K. Kirby, and transferred the lot on Commonwealth to him on the same day, presumably as part of the consideration for their new home. Charles Kirby sold the lot on February 23, 1869, to attorney Edward Ingersoll Brown, and he sold the lot on July 3, 1875, to Phebe Bartlett (Strickland) Bailey, the wife of Joseph T. Bailey, The Baileys built their home at 55 Commonwealth.

The houses at 57-59 Commonwealth were built in 1874 in a complementary style on two 26 foot lots (Lots O-P). The lot at 57 Commonwealth was acquired from the Commonwealth on January 23, 1868, by Richard Codman. He sold it on May 28, 1878. to John Appleton Burnham, Jr., who built his home there. The lot at 59 Commonwealth (Lot P) was acquired from the Commonwealth on July 8, 1864, by architect John H. Sturgis. He sold it on May 30, 1873, to Emily Fairfax (Silsbee) Lawrence, the wife of Amory Appleton Lawrence. The Lawrences built their home there.

The 26 foot lot at 61 Commonwealth (Lot Q) was acquired from the Commonwealth on May 29, 1865, by Robert Codman and Henry Augustin Johnson, law partners. They sold the land on June 25, 1872, to Francis Thompson, an iron, steel, and hemp merchant, and on February 5, 1877, he sold it to Sarah Elizabeth (Appleton) Lawrence, the wife of Amos Adams Lawrence and the mother of Amory Appleton Lawrence, who lived at 59 Commonwealth. She had 61 Commonwealth built and then leased it to others (Amos and Sarah Lawrence lived in Brookline).
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The houses at 63-65 Commonwealth were built in the same design in 1877 on two 26 foot lots. The lot at 63 Commonwealth (Lot R) was acquired from the Commonwealth on March 6, 1863, by attorney Edward Ingersoll Brown as trustee for the benefit of Caroline S. (Amory) Eckley, the widow of David Eckley. She died in June of 1866, and on April 10, 1877, the lot was purchased from her estate by Anna Caspar (Crowninshield) Warren, the widow of Dr. Jonathan Mason Warren, who built her home there. The lot at 65 Commonwealth (Lot S) was acquired from the Commonwealth on June 13, 1867, by Charles Edwin Stratton. He died in June of 1867, and on September 8, 1877, the land was purchased from his estate by Charles Rollins, who built his home there.

The lot at the corner of Commonwealth and Clarendon (Lot T), with a frontage of 32 feet on Commonwealth, was purchased from the Commonwealth on January 24, 1863, by commission merchant Charles Amory, Jr. (the successful bidder for this lot at the Commonwealth’s October 24, 1860, auction had been Abbott Lawrence, who also had purchased the corner northeast corner lot at Marlborough and Clarendon at the same auction; he subsequently sold the deed bonds for both properties). Charles Amory, Jr., and his wife, Mary Louisa (Dexter) Amory, lived at 46 Pinckney. On May 26, 1864, he transferred the property to his mother, Martha Babcock (Greene) Amory, the wife of Charles Amory. The property changed hands and on July 1, 1876, was acquired by Frances Lathrop (Beebe) Fiske, the widow of George Jenckes Fiske, who built her home at 261 Clarendon.

Original Construction. All of the houses on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon had been built by 1879.

The plans below illustrate when the land on the block was first sold at auction by the Commonwealth, when the Commonwealth conveyed the land (based on the dates of the deeds), and when houses were first constructed (based on dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).

Original land sales on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon

Original deeds conveying land on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon

Original construction on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The deeds conveying land on October 31, 1860, January 29, 1863, January 24, 1863, and February 13, 1863 (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 789, p. 222; Book 823, p. 207; Book 824, p. 64 and 117) specified that any building on the land was to be “at least three stories high for the main part thereof and shall not in any event be used for a stable, or for any mechanical, mercantile or manufacturing purposes;” that the front walls were to be set back twenty feet from Commonwealth, with “steps, windows, porticos, and other usual projections appurtenant thereto” allowed in the reserved space; and that “no cellar or lower floor of any building shall be placed more than four feet below the level of the mill-dam, as fixed by the top surface of the hammered stone at the south-easterly corner of the emptying sluices.” The deed also provided that the owners of the land would have the right to “cultivate trees on the side walks” in front of their land provided that they left a distance of ten feet between the front boundary of their lots and the trees.

In November of 1858, the Commissioners on the Back Bay had voted to clarify that the prohibition on stables would not be enforced “in such a manner as to prevent the erection and use of private stables by gentlemen as appurtenances to their own dwelling homes; provided, such stables are so constructed and used as not to be justly offensive to the occupants of the surrounding buildings.” This clarification was subsequently published in the auction catalogues issued by the Commissioners, but usually was not included in the deeds.

In January of 1863, the Commissioners on Public Lands (successors to the Commissioners on the Back Bay) adopted dimensional limitations on the projections allowed in the setback area. These applied to the deeds previously executed by the Commonwealth for the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon, and were included in all of the subsequent deeds for land on the block.

Click here for more information on the restrictions contained in deeds of Back Bay land.

Original Land Deeds

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts conveyed the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
29 Commonwealth 03Jun1863 32’ 124.5’ Joshua Stetson 873 34
31 Commonwealth 03Jun1863 28’ 124.5’ Joseph Sawyer 873 68
33 Commonwealth 24Nov1863 28’ 124.5’ Charles H. Dalton 945 295
35 Commonwealth 29Jan1863 28’ 124.5’ Eugene Sturtevant 823 207
37 Commonwealth 13Feb1863 28’ 124.5’ Mary Pratt, Jr., and Sarah P. Pratt 824 64
37-39 Commonwealth 31Oct1860 28’ 124.5’ Freeman Allen 789 222
41-47 Commonwealth 03May1864 110’ 124.5’ Elizabeth Cabot James and Henry Cabot Lodge, heirs at law of John E. Lodge 842 314
49 Commonwealth 11Feb1870 26’ 124.5’ Charles G. Wood 990 314
51 Commonwealth 17Feb1864 52’ 124.5’ Francis C. Lowell 845 3
55 Commonwealth 18May1865 26’ 124.5’ Randolph M. Clark 888 76
57 Commonwealth 23Jan1868 26’ 124.5’ Richard Codman 1115 7
59 Commonwealth 08Jul1864 26’ 124.5’ John H. Sturgis 853 58
61 Commonwealth 29May1865 26’ 124.5’ Robert Codman and Henry A. Johnson 1114 284
63 Commonwealth 06Mar1863 26’ 124.5’ Edward I. Browne, trustee 1134 10
65 Commonwealth 13Jun1867 26’ 124.5’ Charles E. Stratton 901 249
261 Clarendon 24Jan1863 32’ 124.5’ Charles Amory, Jr. 824 117