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

The block on the north side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth is 548 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 424.

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 Clarendon and Dartmouth was sold by the Commonwealth at its auctions in 1863 in twenty lots: a 32 foot lot at the corner of Clarendon (Lot 1), eight 28 foot lots (Lots 2-9), ten 26 foot lots (Lots 10-19), and a 32 foot lot at the corner of Dartmouth (Lot 20).

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

The four lots at the eastern end of the block (Lots 1-4), including the corner lot and three 28 foot lots (Lots 2-4), were sold at the auction on February 10, 1863. The remaining sixteen lots were sold at the auction on April 9, 1863 (Lots 5-20).

The Boston Traveller reported that all four lots at the eastern end were purchased at the February 10, 1863, auction by cotton manufacturer Enoch Redington Mudge. He and his wife, Caroline Augusta (Patten) Mudge, lived in Swampscott and later at 118 Beacon.

The names of the successful bidders at the April 9, 1863, auction were included in the Boston Evening Transcript’s report on the sale. Henry Augustin Johnson, an attorney, purchased several lots, including Lot 5 next to the lots acquired by Enoch Mudge in February, Lot 7, and Lots 18-19, next to the corner lot at Dartmouth. James Eaton purchased Lot 6 and Lot 17.  Orlando Tompkins, an apothecary and manager and part owner of the Boston Theatre, purchased Lot 8, and architect and building contractor Charles K. Kirby purchased Lots 9-10. Lot 11 was purchased by William Hammond, Lot 12 by F. J. Brown, and Lot 13 by Addison Child, who was affiliated with a coal mining and shipping company. Lots 14-16 were purchased by Norman Carmine Munson, the Commonwealth’s contractor responsible for filling its lands. The corner lot at Dartmouth (Lot 20) was purchased by Charles Amory.

Enoch Mudge took title to the corner lot at Clarendon and the lot west of it, but sold or transferred the deed bonds for the other two lots he purchased at the February auction. Charles Kirby took title to one of the two lots he had purchased at the April auction, and sold or transferred the deed bond for the other. Addison Child and Charles Amory took title to the lots they had purchased at the auction. All of the other successful bidders sold or transferred their deed bonds and the property was purchased from the Commonwealth by someone else.

Eastern Parcels. On October 31, 1866, the Commonwealth conveyed the corner lot at Commonwealth and Clarendon and the lot next to it, with a combined frontage of 60 feet on Commonwealth, to Enoch Mudge. He had sold or transferred his right to purchased the other two 28 foot lots for which he had been the successful bidder (Lots 3-4), and the previous year, on June 13, 1865, they had been purchased from the Commonwealth by attorney Charles Thorndike. The four lots subsequently changed hands and were reconfigured into the lots where 260 Clarendon (with a frontage of 79 feet on Commonwealth) and 107 Commonwealth (with a frontage of 37 feet) subsequently were built.

On March 28, 1871, the Commonwealth sold real estate dealer Henry Whitwell an 84 foot lot comprising three lots sold at the April 9, 1863, auction to Henry A. Johnson (Lots 5 and 7) and to James Eaton (Lot 6). He built 109-111 Commonwealth on the eastern two thirds of the land. 109 Commonwealth became his home and the home of his unmarried brother and business partner, Samuel Horatio Whitwell, and their sister, Sophia Louisa Whitwell. 111 Commonwealth became the home of Caspar Crowninshield and his wife, Elizabeth Clarke (Greene) Crowninshield.

On August 24, 1871, the Commonwealth conveyed Lot 10 to Charles Kirby. He built 117 Commonwealth on the land and on October 2, 1871, it was purchased from him by dry goods merchant Walter Hastings, Jr.

On April 1, 1876, Walter Hastings purchased Lot 8 from Dr. Joseph Adrian Booth, a physician in New York City, who had acquired it from his mother, Mary Ann (Holmes) Booth, the widow of actor Junius Brutus Booth. She had taken title to the lot from the Commonwealth on October 13, 1864 (the successful bidder for the lot at the Aprl 9, 1863, auction was Orlando Tompkins, a friend of her son, John Wilkes Booth; correspondence from Booth indicates that he probably was the actual purchaser, paying for it through Orlando Tompkins and putting it in his mother’s name).

On September 25, 1876, Walter Hastings acquired Lot 7 from Henry Whitwell. Walter Hastings subsequently built 113-115 Commonwealth on the land. Walter Hastings and his wife, Elizabeth (Glidden) Hastings, moved from 117 Commonwealth to 115 Commonwealth, and he sold 113 Commonwealth to Jacob H. Hecht.

Central Parcels. On January 14, 1871, the Commonwealth sold Lot 11, to the west of the land purchased by Charles Kirby, to Henry C. Stephens. It subsequently changed hands and on October 11, 1879, was purchased by Ruthy (Haskell) Brown, the wife of Samuel Brown. They built their home at 119 Commonwealth.

On April 4, 1871, the Commonwealth sold the Lot 12 to Charles Greenleaf Wood, who built his home at 121 Commonwealth.

On June 13, 1865, the Commonwealth sold Lot 13 to Charles Thorndike. It remained vacant and was purchased from him on March 25, 1871, by Henry Whitwell, who sold it on March 21, 1872, to Elizabeth Bishop (Beals) Kendall, the widow of Isaac Kendall. On February 7, 1871, her brother-in-law, George Tuxbury, husband of Harriet Matilda (Beals) Tuxbury, had purchased the Lot 13 to the west. That lot had originally been purchased by Addison Child at the April 9, 1863, auction, who took title that same day, and subsequently had changed hands several times. Elizabeth Kendall and the Tuxburys 123 Commonwealth and 125 Commonwealth built as their homes.

On April 20, 1867, the Commonwealth sold Lot 14 to Harriet Gray and Lot 15 to her sister, Elizabeth Chipman Gray. On July 2, 1868, wholesale dry goods merchant George Howe purchased both lots. On October 7, 1870, he sold Lot 14 to shipping, railroad, and real estate magnate William Fletcher Weld, and Lot 15 to attorney Charles Mayo Ellis. William Weld had 127 Commonwealth built for his son-in-law and daughter, George Pratt and Sarah (Weld) Pratt. Charles Ellis and his wife, Helen (Thomas) Ellis, built their home at 129 Commonwealth.

On May 2, 1866, the Commonwealth sold Lot 16 to banker Franklin Haven. He was one of the three Commissioners on Public Lands responsible for the sale of the Commonwealth’s lands. The lot had been one of the three purchased at the April 9, 1863, auction by Norman Munson, the contractor responsible for filling the Commonwealth’s lands. He had been in partnership with George Goss until 1860 and, during that time, they had received several large parcels of land as partial compensation for their services. It appears that Norman Munson purchased the land at the January 3, 1863, auction from his own funds.

Lot 16 subsequently changed hands and on December 22, 1879, was purchased by Gideon Scull, who built his home at 131 Commonwealth.

Western Parcels. On December 22, 1874, the Commonwealth sold Lot 18 to Marie Antoinette (Hunt) Evans, the wife of rubber manufacturer Robert Dawson Evans. They lived at the Hotel Berkeley (southeast corner of Berkeley and Boylston) and would later live at 324 Beacon. On February 28, 1878, it was purchased from her by Francis Jaques. One week earlier, on February 22, 1878, Lot 17 to the east had had been purchased from the Commonwealth by Francis Jaques’s brother, Henry Lee Jaques, a banker in New York City. On April 1, 1878, the brothers entered into a party wall agreement governing the wall between their two lots, and Henry Jaques then sold his land on June 7, 1878, to Fanny (Pickman) Wharton, the wife of attorney William Fisher Wharton. The Whartons subsequently built their home at 133 Commonwealth, and Francis Jaques and his wife, Caroline Louisa (Merriam) Jaques, built their home at 135 Commonwealth.

The corner lot at Commonwealth and Dartmouth was purchased at the April 9, 1863, auction by Charles Amory, and the Commonwealth conveyed the land that same day to a trust established under the will of Gardiner Greene for the benefit of his daughter, Martha Babcock (Greene) Amory, Charles Amory’s wife. The lot to the east (Lot 19) remained vacant and on December 20, 1870, it was purchased from the Commonwealth by Martha (Greene) Amory in her own right.

On January 25, 1872, the two lots were purchased from Martha Amory by Hollis Hunnewell, who lived across the alley at 315 Dartmouth. He purchased the land for the benefit of his brother, Arthur Hunnewell, and his sister, Isabella (Hunnewell) Shaw, the wife of architect Robert Gould Shaw. They subsequently built 303 Dartmouth and 151 Commonwealth as their homes (designed by Robert Gould Shaw). On December 1, 1876, Hollis Hunnewell sold the property to his father, Horatio Hollis Hunnewell and, on the same day, H. Hollis Hunnewell gift deeded 303 Dartmouth to Arthur Hunnewell and 151 Commonwealth to Isabella (Hunnewell) Shaw (there are no houses numbered 137-139-141-143-145-147-149 Commonwealth).

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the north side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth had been built by 1880.

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 building permit applications, news reports, and dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).

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

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

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

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The deeds from the Commonwealth included identical language specifying 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 subject to dimensional limitations enumerated in the deed; 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.

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 Clarendon and Dartmouth by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
260 Clarendon 31Oct1866 32’ 124.5’ Enoch R. Mudge 954 1
260 Clarendon 31Oct1866 28’ 124.5’ Enoch R. Mudge 954 2
260 Clarendon 13Jun1865 28’ 124.5’ Charles Thorndike 953 66
107 Commonwealth 13Jun1865 (recorded 19May1871) 28’ 124.5’ Charles Thorndike 1050 62
109-113 Commonwealth 28Mar1871 84’ 124.5’ Henry Whitwell 1040 217
115 Commonwealth 13Oct1864 28’ 124.5’ Mary Ann Booth 849 271
117-119 Commonwealth 24Aug1871 28’ 124.5’ Charles K. Kirby 1066 26
119 Commonwealth 14Jan1871 26’ 124.5’ Henry C. Stephens 1031 301
121 Commonwealth 04Apr1871 26’ 124.5’ Charles G. Wood 1043 39
123 Commonwealth 13Jun1865 26’ 124.5’ Charles Thorndike 1042 153
125 Commonwealth 09Apr1863 26’ 124.5’ Addison Child 827 275
127 Commonwealth 20Apr1867 26’ 124.5’ Harriett Gray 931 48
129 Commonwealth 20Apr1867 26’ 124.5’ Elizabeth C. Gray 931 50
131 Commonwealth 02May1866 26’ 124.5’ Franklin Haven 894 14
133 Commonwealth 20Feb1878 26’ 124.5’ Henry L. Jaques 1410 44
135 Commonwealth 22Dec1874 26’ 124.5’ Marie Antoinette Evans, wife of Robert D. Evans 1410 5
151 Dartmouth

303 Dartmouth

20Dec1870 26’ 124.5’ Martha B. Amory, wife of Charles Amory 1088 65
151 Commonwealth

303 Dartmouth

09Apr1863 32’ 124.5’ William Amory and George M. Dexter, trustees under the will of Gardiner Greene for the benefit of Martha B. Amory 827 214