Back Bay Land: North Side of Commonwealth between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue

The block on the north side of Commonwealth between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue (formerly West Chester Park) is 640 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 429.

The land was part of the Boston Water Power Company’s land 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 the Commonwealth’s lands by a line about 95 feet east of what is now Fairfield Street. 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.

Parker Street as shown on the 1874 Hopkins map

Originally, the block was divided by Parker Street, a 60 foot wide street located on top of the Cross Dam. The east side of Parker Street intersected with the north side of Commonwealth at a point about 549 feet west of Hereford. It ran from Beacon southwest at approximately a 45 degree angle, intersecting Marlborough, Commonwealth, Newbury, and Boylston, and then continuing to Centre Street. Various manufacturing and industrial businesses had been located on the street to utilize the tidal power provided by the dam before its operation was terminated.

On March 1, 1872, all of the land on the north side of Commonwealth and the south side of Marlborough between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue, with the exception of the land where Parker Street was located, was purchased from the Boston Water Power Company by a real estate investment trust formed by Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews, known as the Beacon Street Lands Trust. The land under Parker Street remained the property of the company.

Grenville Temple Winthrop Braman was a real estate investor and served as treasurer of the Boston Water Power Company until mid-1869. He and his wife, Susie A. (Davies) Braman, lived at 9 Brimmer and later at 447 Beacon.

Henry Dwight Hyde was an attorney. He and his wife, Luvan Augusta (Charles) Hyde, lived at 153 West Newton and later at 380 Commonwealth. Frank William Andrews was a real estate investor and former importer of iron and crockery. He and his wife, Maria Frances (Adams) Andrews, lived at 6 Marlborough.

The trust also purchased the land on the north side of Marlborough and the south side of Beacon to the west of Parker Street. The land on the north side of Marlborough and south side of Beacon to the east of Parker Street was purchased by Daniel Davies, a housewright and carpenter, who also was Grenville T. W. Braman’s father-in-law.

The portion of Parker Street between Beacon and Commonwealth was discontinued as a public thoroughfare in December of 1879. In anticipation of the street’s abandonment, on April 30, 1878, Daniel Davies and Grenville T. W. Braman joined with the Beacon Street Lands Trust to acquire the land under the roadway from the Boston Water Power Company.

Excerpt from 1872 Plan of land on Marlborough and Commonwealth, between Hereford and West Chester Park (Massachusetts Avenue), showing land on which Parker Street was located; Suffolk County Deed Registry, Book 1095, p. 1

Daniel Davies died in June of 1878, and on February 1, 1879, his heirs and the Beacon Street Lands Trust in the trust entered into a series of transactions (using Chester M. Dawes as conveyancer) to apportion the Parker Street land between them. The trust acquired all of the land between the north side of Commonwealth and the south side of Marlborough, so that it then owned the entirety of those blocks.

Eastern Parcels. On April 24, 1877, the trust sold Thomas Dana, II, and Anna Frances (Kettell) Hobbs, the wife of Warren Davis Hobbs, the two 28 foot lots at the corner of Hereford. They built their homes at 311 Commonwealth and 313 Commonwealth. On September 1, 1877, the trust sold the 26 foot lot next to the west to Daniel Chamberlin, and he built his home at 315 Commonwealth. And on April 9, 1878, the trust sold a 32 foot lot to the west of that to Josiah Abbott, who built 317 Commonwealth as his home.

Central Parcels. On July 1, 1878, Grenville Braman and his partners in the trust sold a 74 foot lot to wallpaper merchent Charles Henry Hayden. He entered into an agreement with building contractor Asa Harden Caton, who built 319-321-323 Commonwealth on the land, for speculative sale.

On February 1, 1879, the trust sold Ella S. (Young) Thayer, the wife of Frank N. Thayer, a 28 foot to the west, and they built their home at 325 Commonwealth.

On February 20, 1879, the trust sold a 50 foot lot to the west of the Thayers’ land to Fanny Pope (Hovey) Morse, the wife of attorney John Torrey Morse, Jr. They lived at 9 Fairfield. Fanny Morse sold the eastern 25 feet to James W. Tobey, a builder, who built 327 Commonwealth for speculative sale. She sold the western 25 feet to Eleanor (Pearson) Claflin Mack, the wife of wholesale dry goods merchant Thomas Mack, who resold it to building contractor George Wheatland, Jr., on November 26, 1895. He built his home at 329 Commonwealth.

On February 27, 1879, the trust sold a 50 foot lot west of the lot it sold Fanny Morse to Dr. Hasket Derby, an oculist and ophthalmologist, and a 30 foot lot west of that to Mary (Mason) Stockton, the wife of attorney Howard Stockton.  Hasket Derby and his wife, Sarah (Mason) Derby, lived at 1 Brimmer and then at 352 Beacon.  Howard and Mary Stockton lived at 390 Beacon. Sarah Derby and Mary Stockton were sisters.  The land remained vacant and on November 19, 1890, both lots were purchased by Ellen A. (Larrabee) Johnson, the wife of Henry M. Johnson. On February 13, 1895, it was purchased from her by architect Henry Squarebriggs Mackay (McKay), who built The Empire apartment hotel at 333 Commonwealth.

Also on February 27, 1879, the trust sold a 75 foot lot to the west of the land it sold Mary Stockton to Charles H. Hayden, who had purchased the land at 319-323 Commonwealth the previous year. As before, he contracted with Asa Harden Caton and he built 337-339-341 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

On October 20, 1879, the trust sold a 30 foot lot to the west to Fanny Morse, who had purchased the lot at 327-329 Commonwealth earlier that year. She sold the lot on May 6, 1882, to George Glover Crocker, who built his home at 343 Commonwealth.

Western Parcels. On January 9, 1880, Grenville T. W. Braman and his partners in the Beacon Street Lands Trust sold the remainder of its land on the block. The trust sold a 3 foot strip of land to Fanny Morse, west of her lot at 343 Commonwealth, a 25 foot lot next to that to Henry K. Horton, a 30 foot lot to the west of that to Annie (Carlisle) Sweet, the wife of banker and broker Walter H. Sweet, and a 131 foot parcel running to Massachusetts Avenue to dry goods merchant Benjamin Williams Crowninshield.

The next month, on February 18, 1880, Benjamin Crowninshield sold the western 70 feet of his land, at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue, to Oliver Ames. He built his home at 355 Commonwealth.

On March 23, 1881, Nehemiah W. Rice purchased Henry Horton’s lot, and on May 8, 1882, he purchased Fanny Morse’s three foot strip of land. He combined them into a single 28 foot lot. It subsequently changed hands, remaining vacant until it was purchased on February 18, 1925, by Henry Berch and Neil F. Cadigan. They subsequently had an apartment building built at 345 Commonwealth.

On June 18, 1888, Annie Sweet sold her lot to builder Peter Graffam. On July 31, 1888, he sold the lot to Benjamin Crowninshield, who combined it with the eastern one foot of his land and sold a 31 foot lot that same day to Mortimer Blake Mason, who built his home at 347 Commonwealth.

On November 29, 1890, Benjamin Crowninshield sold Mortimer B. Mason the 30 foot lot to the west of 347 Commonwealth and sold the 30 foot lot west of that to attorney and paper manufacturer Samuel Dennis Warren, Jr. The lots remained vacant and on January 27, 1894, Mortimer Mason purchased Samuel Warren’s lot. On March 14, 1894, he sold both lots to building contractor Luther Moore Merrill, who built 349-351-353 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

The houses built at 345-347-349-351-353-355 Commonwealth were partially built on land that previously had been Parker Street, with the Cross Dam below.

North side of Commonwealth showing lots for 339-355 Commonwealth, with area where Parker Street formerly was located

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The March 1, 1872, original land deed from the Boston Water Power Company to the Beacon Street Lands Trust, which included several tracts of land, included requirements that buildings be built of brick, stone, or iron; that buildings be not less than three stories in height including the basement; and that buildings not be used for a livery stable or for any mechanical or manufacturing purpose. The deed not include any requirement that houses be set back a specified distance from Commonwealth.

All of the subsequent deeds from the Beacon Street Lands Trust conveying portions of their land on the north side of Commonwealth repeated these restrictions and added a requirement that buildings be set back twenty feet from Commonwealth, provided that doors, porticos, windows, and roof cornices were allowed to project into the reserved space with depth and dimensional limitations similar to those required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deeds conveying its lands (as expanded upon by the regulations of the Commissioners on Public Lands).

These deeds also included language governing the erection of and payment for party walls on the land.

Original Land Deeds

The Boston Water Power Company sold its land on the north side of Commonwealth between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue by the following deeds:

Address Description Date Grantee Book Page
311-351 Commonwealth Hereford to Parker Street 01Mar1872 Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews, trustees 1095 1
351-355 Commonwealth Parker Street to Massachusetts Avenue 01Mar1872 Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews, trustees 1095 1
345-355 Commonwealth Parker Street roadway 30Apr1878 Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews, trustees; Grenville T. W. Braman; and Daniel Davies 1449 3