Back Bay Land: North Side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley

The block on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley is 596 feet in length and 112 feet from Marlborough to Alley 421.

Plan of Commonwealth lands accompanying the Fifth Annual Report of the Commissioners on the Back Bay; Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 743-end (recorded 31Aug1858)

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

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.

The Commonwealth sold the land on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley to Norman Carmine Munson and George Goss.

Munson and Goss were the Commonwealth’s contractors for filling the land, and these were two of several parcels they acquired as partial compensation under their contract. The details of their arrangements with the Commonwealth are not set forth in the deeds, but it appears that they were conveyed the land by the Commonwealth at an agreed-upon value and then resold it at a profit to buyers who already had been identified.  Additional land was acquired by Munson and Goss on May 2, 1860, and a May 3, 1860, article in the Boston Daily Advertiser reported that the conveyances made at that time, together with those made previously, compensated the contractors for “the full sum of $305,000 embraced in the contract of 1858” for filling the land.

On September 2, 1858, the Commonwealth conveyed Norman Munson and George Goss the eastern parcel, running west from Arlington with a frontage of 175 feet on Marlborough, and on November 6, 1858, it conveyed George Goss, alone, the western 421 feet, running to Berkeley.

In both cases, they resold the land to individual buyers on the same day they acquired it from the Commonwealth.

Eastern Parcel. Norman Munson and George Goss sold the eastern parcel, with a frontage of 175 feet, on September 2, 1858 to Peleg W. Chandler (one-fourth interest), J. Amory Davis (one-fourth interest), and Henry Lee, Jr. (one-half interest).

Peleg Whitman Chandler was an attorney and publisher of the Law Reporter, which he established in 1838. He and his wife, Martha Ann Bush (Cleaveland) Chandler, lived at 99 Mt. Vernon and later at 154 Beacon. Jonathan Amory Davis was president of the Suffolk National Bank. He and his wife, Frances Elizabeth (Amory) Davis lived in Dorchester. Henry Lee, Jr., was a founder and partner in the investment banking firm of Lee, Higginson & Co. and president of the Provident Institution for Savings. He and his wife, Elizabeth Perkins (Cabot) Lee, lived in Brookline.

The partners subdivided the eastern portion of their parcel to create four lots at 4-5-6-7 Arlington. In April of 1860, they sold the lot at 7 Arlington to William Richards Lawrence and in May of 1860 the sold the lot at 4 Arlington to Henry Atkins.

On May 17, 1860, the partners entered into an agreement with William Carpenter, a carpenter, and Horace Jenkins, a mason, to build houses at 5 and 6 Arlington. Under the agreement, Carpenter and Jenkins agreed to build houses on the two lots and, upon their completion, the partners agreed to sell the land to them at a specified price. On May 18, 1860, William Lawrence and Henry Atkins entered into a separate agreement with Carpenter and Jenkins governing the design and construction of all four houses to be built, thereby assuring that they would be built in a complementary design. On September 26, 1860, Seth Simmons, a carpenter and builder, bought the lot at 5 Arlington from the partners (with the consent of Carpenter and Jenkins) and may have taken charge of building the house there.

When the houses were completed, Henry Atkins and his wife, Elizabeth Cummings (Gay) Atkins, made 4 Arlington their home, and William R. Lawrence and his wife, Susan Coombs (Dana) Lawrence, made 7 Arlington their home. Pursuant to their agreement, the partners sold 6 Arlington to William Carpenter and Horace Jenkins on July 19. 1861, and they sold it to Josiah G. Abbott on August 31, 1861. Seth Simmons sold 5 Arlington to John Chandler on March 1, 1862.

Peleg Chandler and his partners subdivided the remainder of their parcel, with a frontage of 75 feet on Marlborough, into four lots. On April 10, 1862, they sold the lot furthest east, with a frontage of 25 feet, to Samuel Perkins, a carpenter and builder, who built 1 Marlborough for speculative sale. In 1862, they entered into an agreement with architect and building contractor Charles K. Kirby to build three houses on the remaining 50 feet of their land. They sold the land to him on March 9, 1863, as the houses were nearing completion, and he then resold them to individual purchasers.

Plan of land on Marlborough Street by Alexander Wadsworth, 28Oct1858 (Suffolk Co., Deed Registry, Book 747, p. 1)

Western Parcel. The western parcel, at the corner of Berkeley and Marlborough, with a frontage of 421 feet on Marlborough, was composed of 17 parcels, all of which George Goss sold on November 6, 1858, to nine different purchasers:

Lot 1 to Peleg W. Chandler; Lot 2 to George H. Peters (who also bought Lot 6); Lot 3 to Samuel K. Williams (who also bought Lot 7); Lot 4 to Solomon Piper; Lot 5 to Charles Stratton; Lot 6 to George H. Peters; Lot 7 to Samuel K. Williams; Lot 8 to Sampson Reed; Lots 9,10, and 11 to Theophilus Parsons; Lots 12, 13, and 14 to Ebenezer R. Hoar; and Lots 15, 16, and 17 to George Bigelow.

The lots subsequently were resold and reconfigured, and the houses at 9-41 Marlborough and 301 Berkeley constructed between 1862 and 1872.

Original Construction. All of the houses on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley had been built by 1872.

The plan below illustrates when houses were first constructed based on dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay.

Original construction on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The September 2, 1858, and November 6, 1858, deeds from the Commonwealth (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 743, p. 229, and Book 747, p. 1) 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 or manufacturing purposes;” that the front walls were to be set back twenty-two feet from Marlborough, 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 deeds also provided that the owners of the land would have the right to “plant and 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 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.”

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, including the land on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley.

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Original Land Deeds

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

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
4-7 Arlington

1-7 Marlborough

02Sep1858 175’ 112’ George Goss and Norman C. Munson 743 229
9-41 Marlborough

301 Berkeley

06Nov1858 421’ 112’ George Goss 747 1