Back Bay Land: North Side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester

The block on the north side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester is 500 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 427.

The land was part of the Boston Water Power Company’s holdings in the residential portion of the Back Bay, which included all of the land from the south side of Beacon to the north side of Commonwealth west of a line about 95 feet east of Fairfield. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts owned the land to the east. The company also owned the land on the south side of Commonwealth west of a point about 135 feet west of Hereford. The land to the east was owned by the Sears family.

The company sold all its land in large parcels, almost exclusively to real estate investment trusts which then subdivided the land and resold it. It sold land in 1863, 1866, 1868, and 1872, by which point it had sold all of its land between the Commonwealth’s lands and a line 125 feet west of Massachusetts Avenue (West Chester Park). It sold the remainder of its land in the residential portion of the neighborhood in 1880.

Click here for more information on the Boston Water Power Company land in the Back Bay.

Plan by J. F. Fuller, 11Apr1863 (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 826, p. 203)

On April 15, 1863, the Boston Water Power Company entered into an agreement to sell all of its land between Fairfield and Gloucester on the south side of Beacon, north and south sides of Marlborough, and north side of Commonwealth to a real estate investment trust formed by John Templeman Coolidge, Franklin Evans, and Charles Henry Parker. The company subdivided the parcels into eighty lots (twenty per block), as shown on an April 11, 1863, plan prepared by J. F. Fuller, and issued individual deed bonds to the trustees, securing their right to purchase each lot. On January 29, 1866, the trustees paid for and took title to all of the land.

J. Templeman Coolidge was president of the Columbian National Bank; he and his wife Louisa Riché (Tilden) Coolidge, lived at 108 Beacon. Franklin Evans was a merchant and real estate investor; he and his wife, Carrie E. (Ellis) Evans, lived at the Tremont House hotel. Charles Henry Parker was treasurer of the Suffolk Savings Bank; he and his wife, Laura Wolcott (Jackson) Trotter Parker, lived at 33 Chestnut.

J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners offered all of their land for sale at two public auctions conducted by N. A. Thompson & Co.

On Friday, February 2, 1886, they offered all of the lots on the south side of Beacon. The January 27, 1866, announcement of the sale in the Boston Advertiser indicated that both these lots and all of the lots on the north side of Marlborough would be sold. However, the Marlborough lots either were withdrawn or did not sell, inasmuch as reports of the sale results included only the lots on Beacon.

On March 15, 1866, J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners offered all of their remaining land, including all of the land on the north and south sides of Marlborough and the north side of Commonwealth.

The block on the north side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester was composed of nineteen lots: a 32 foot corner lot at Fairfield (Lot 1), four 28 foot lots (Lots 2-5), two 26 foot lots (Lots 6-7), eight 25 foot lots (Lots 8-15), three 24 foot lots (Lots 16-18), and one 32 foot corner lot at Gloucester (Lot 19).

On March 16, 1866, the Boston Evening Transcript reported that, at the auction the day before, Lot 1 at the corner of Fairfield was purchased by William Powell Mason; Lots 2-3 were purchased by Nathaniel Henry Emmons, Jr., and Lot 4 by Sidney Homer. The article was silent on the bids for the other lots and it appears that they were not sold. The lots subsequently were sold by J, Templeman Coolidge and his partners through privately negotiated sales (rather than at public auction), most of the land being conveyed by deeds dated April 20, 1866, or December 1, 1870.

Eastern Parcels. On March 15, 1866, the day of the auction, J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners conveyed the corner lot at Fairfield to attorney William Powell Mason. He died in December of 1867, and the lot remained vacant until 1880, when it was purchased from his estate by George Parsons King, who built his home at 21 Fairfield.

On December 1, 1870, Nathaniel H. Emmons, Jr., purchased and took title to Lots 2 and 3, for which he had been the successful bidder at the March 15, 1866. auction. The land remained vacant until 1877, when he built his home at 245 Commonwealth on the eastern lot. He sold the western lot on March 14, 1878, to Uriel Crocker, who built his home at 247 Commonwealth.

The successful bidder for Lot 4 at the March 15, 1866, auction was reported as being Sidney Homer. That same day, he either sold or transferred his right to purchase the land, and it was sold by J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners to leather and shoe merchant Henry Lefrelet Daggett. He and his wife, Sara Eliza (Williams) Daggett, lived at 45 West Newton and later at 116 Commonwealth. The land remained vacant until 1878, when he contracted with builder William Seavey Rand to built 249 Commonwealth on the land. On June 20, 1879, after the house was completed, Henry Daggett sold the land to William Rand, who then resold it to real estate dealer Henry Whitwell.

Central Parcels. The next five lots to the west – one 28 foot lot (Lot 5), two 26 foot lots (Lots 6-7) and two 25 foot lots (Lots 8-9) – were purchased on April 20, 1866, by Nathaniel H. Emmons, Sr. He and his wife, Elizabeth Ware (Wales) Emmons, lived at 8 Mt. Vernon Place. The deeds were not recorded until December 1, 1870, and the land remained vacant until his death in March of 1878.

On July 17, 1879, Nathaniel Emmons’s estate sold Lot 5 to Charles Henry Masury, a bookkeeper for book and shoe merchant John Erskine, to whom Charles Masury conveyed the property on December 30, 1879. It was acquired from him on February 17, 1880, by dry goods commission merchant John Williams Wheelwright, who sold it on October 5, 1880, to Joseph Smith Bigelow, who built his home at 251 Commonwealth.

Nathaniel Emmons’s estate sold Lots 6 and 7 on June 4, 1879, to wholesale wool merchant John Brooks Fenno, who sold them to real estate dealer Samuel Horatio Whitwell on January 24, 1880. On May 8, 1880, the two lots were purchased by Henry Osborne Roberts and Nathaniel Brookhouse Mansfield, partners in the shipping merchant firm of Roberts & Mansfield. Nathaniel Mansfield built his home at 253 Commonwealth and Hernry Roberts built his home at 255 Commonwealth.

Nathaniel Emmons’s estate sold Lots 7 and 8 on May 5, 1879, to Walter Channing Cabot, who owned and managed cattle ranches. He and his wife, Elizabeth Rogers (Mason) Cabot, lived in Brookline. On December 16, 1880, he sold the land to Ellen A. (Larrabee) Johnson, the wife of Henry M. Johnson. Later in the 1880s, she purchased land at 186 Commonwealth, 270 Commonwealth, and 333 Commonwealth, all locations where apartment buildings were designed and built by Henry Squarebriggs McKay (Mackay), and she may have acquired the land from Walter Cabot in anticipation of similar development. However, she sold the land on January 14, 1886, to chemical manufacturer Alexander Cochrane, who built his home at 257 Commonwealth.

On April 20, 1866, J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners sold Thomas Jefferson Coolidge the three 25 foot lots (Lots 10-12), to the west of the land purchased by Nathaniel Emmons. T. Jefferson Coolidge was an investor in textile mills, banks, and railroads, and later would serve as Ambassador to France, He and his wife, Mehitable (Hetty) Sullivan (Appleton) Coolidge, lived at 93 Beacon; after his wife’s death in March of 1901, he lived at 315 Dartmouth.

On the same day, J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners also sold the next three 25 foot lots (Lots 13-15) to William Benjamin Bacon, a shipping merchant in the East India trade, and the two 24 foot lots west of those (Lots 16-17) to Solomon Henry Howe, a dry goods merchant and farm owner in Bolton, Massachusetts.

On March 11, 1872, Solomon Howe sold his two lots to architect and building contractor Frederick Pope, and on May 9, 1877, he sold them to T. Jefferson Coolidge.

The land remained vacant and on March 11, 1879, William Bacon sold his three lots to T. Jefferson Coolidge, increasing his holdings to a 198 foot parcel (Lots 10-17)

T. Jefferson Coolidge reconfigured the land on January 1, 1880, sold the eastern 36 feet to Walter Hunnewell, who built his home at 261 Commonwealth (there is no house numbered 259 Commonwealth), and sold the 28 feet to the west to James Lawrence. James Lawrence sold the lot to a trust established for the benefit of Marian Shaw (Sears) Lovering, the wife of attorney Charles Taylor Lovering, and the Loverings built their home at 263 Commonwealth. On February 21, 1880, T. Jefferson Coolidge sold a 30 foot lot to the west to Francis Henry Appleton, who built his home at 265 Commonwealth,

On March 22, 1880, T. Jefferson Coolidge sold the remaining 104 feet of his land to merchant and ship owner George Bruce Upton, Jr. He and his wife, Geraldine Ipolite (Russell) Rivers Upton, lived at 171 Marlborough. On November 15, 1880, he sold a 26 foot lot to Cora (Crowninshield) Boyden, wife of Charles Boyden, and they built 267 Commonwealth as their home. On November 27, 1880, George B. Upton, Jr., sold a 26 foot lot to Charles Archibald Kidder, and he built 269 Commonwealth as his home.

On January 21, 1881, George Upton, Jr., sold the remainder of his land, a 52 foot lot, to John Quincy Adams. The land subsequently changed hands and on August 11, 1890, was purchased by leather dealer Thomas Emerson Proctor. He built his home at 273 Commonwealth (there is no house numbered 271 Commonwealth).

Western Parcels. On April 20, 1866, J. Templeman Coolidge and his partners sold the corner lot at Gloucester (Lot 19), with a 32 foot frontage on Commonwealth, and the 24 foot lot to the east of it (Lot 18) to William Powell Mason, Jr. He and his wife, Fanny (Peabody) Mason, lived at 75 Beacon and later at 211 Commonwealth. On the same day, his father purchased the two lots across Alley 427, at the corner of Marlborough and Gloucester.

William P. Mason, Sr., and William P. Mason, Jr., may have purchased the lots in anticipation of building homes on them. However, William P. Mason, Sr., died in December of 1867. His estate sold the land on Marlborough in April of 1872, and William P. Mason, Jr., left the land on Commonwealth vacant for the next ten years.

On January 7, 1882, William P. Mason, Jr., sold the lot to Augustus Hemenway. He had married in December of 1881 to Harriet (Harriett) Dexter Lawrence, and probably purchased the land for their home. However, in May of 1882, he purchased 91 Marlborough and that became their home.

On January 16, 1886, Augustus Hemenway sold the lot to Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer, who built his home at 17 Gloucester.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the northjside of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester had been built by 1891.

The plan below illustrates when houses were first constructed on the block (based on building permit applications, news reports, and dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).

Original construction on the north side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

Both the Boston Water Power Company’s 1863 deed bond securing the right to purchase the land and its 1866 deed conveying the land included language specifying that any building on the land “at least three stories high for the main part thereof and shall not in any event be used for a stable (except a private stable), or for any mechanical 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.

These restrictions were virtually identical to those contained in the deeds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts conveying its Back Bay land.

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

Original Land Deeds

The Boston Water Power Company sold its land on the north side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester by the following deeds, which also included the parcels of land between Fairfield and Gloucester on the south side of Beacon and the north and south sides of Marlborough.

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
21 Fairfield
245-273 Commonwealth
17 Gloucester
29Jan1866 500 124.5’ J. Templeman Coolidge, Franklin Evans, and Charles Henry Parker, trustees under a deed of trust dated 8Apr1863 (Book 827, p. 32) 871 183
7-9 Fairfield
282-322 Marlborough
9-11-13-15 Gloucester
(deed bond securing the right to purchase)
15Apr1863 500 124.5’ J. Templeman Coolidge, Franklin Evans, and Charles Henry Parker, trustees under a deed of trust dated 8Apr1863 (Book 827, p. 32) 526 202

J. Templeman Coolidge, Franklin Evans, and Charles Henry Parker, trustees, conveyed the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
21 Fairfield 15Mar1866 32’ 124.5’ William P. Mason 874 202
245 Commonwealth 01Dec1870 28’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1026 302
247 Commonwealth 01Dec1870 28’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1026 301
249 Commonwealth 15Mar1866 28’ 124.5’ Henry L. Daggett 875 222
251 Commonwealth
(recorded 1Dec1870)
20Apr1866 28’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1025 185
253 Commonwealth (recorded 1Dec1870) 20Apr1866 26’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1025 186
255 Commonwealth (recorded 1Dec1870) 20Apr1866 26’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1025 187
257 Commonwealth (recorded 1Dec1870) 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1025 189
257 Commonwealth (recorded 1Dec1870) 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ Nathaniel H. Emmons 1025 190
261 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ T. Jefferson Coolidge 877 297
261-263 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ T. Jefferson Coolidge 877 298
263-265 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ T. Jefferson Coolidge 877 299
265-267 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ William B. Bacon 877 210
267-269 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ William B. Bacon 877 211
269-273 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 25’ 124.5’ William B. Bacon 877 212
273 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 24’ 124.5’ Solomon H. Howe 878 16
273 Commonwealth 20Apr1866 24’ 124.5’ Solomon H. Howe 878 18
17 Gloucester 20Apr1866 24’ 124.5’ William P. Mason 877 203
17 Gloucester 20Apr1866 32’ 124.5’ William P. Mason 877 204