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.

The land originally was owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which sold its land through a series of public auctions between 1857 and 1886. The earlier auctions were held before or while the land was being filled, and the deeds frequently included language with respect to the filling of the land and the provision of streets, alleys, and sewers.

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 Commonwealth land was sold as individual lots, usually with a frontage of 24 or 25 feet. In some cases, single lots would be purchased by individuals planning to build their homes on the land. In other cases, multiple lots or entire blocks were purchased by investors and developers who then subdivided the land for resale or built houses for speculative sale.

The successful bidder at the public sale received a bond from the Commonwealth securing his or her right to purchase the land for the bid amount. In most cases, the transaction closed and the deed was recorded soon after the sale. In some cases, however, there were prolonged delays between the date of the auction and the date the land was actually transferred, either because the successful bidder was not prepared to close the sale for financial or other reasons, or because he or she resold the right to purchase the land to someone else, who then acquired it from the Commonwealth for the price of the original bid.

The land on the north side of Marlborough between Arlington and Berkeley was acquired from the Commonwealth by Norman Carmine Munson and George Goss in two parcels. They were the Commonwealth’s contractors for filling the land, and these were two of several parcels they acquired and then rapidly resold.

The first parcel was the eastern 175 feet on Marlborough, running west from Arlington, which was acquired from the Commonwealth by Norman Munson and George Goss at a price of $22,866 on September 2, 1858. The deed specified that the land was to be filled by the Commonwealth (presumably through it’s contract with Munson and Goss). That same day, they sold the parcel to Peleg W. Chandler (one-fourth interest), J. Amory Davis (one-fourth interest), and Henry Lee, Jr. (one-half interest). The price paid by Munson and Goss was $22,866 and the total they received from Peleg Chandler and his partners was $24,500, for a profit of $1,634 (approximately $51,000 in 2018 dollars).

The second parcel was the western 421 feet on Marlborough, running to Berkeley, which George Goss purchased alone on November 6, 1858, for $55,010. The deed again specified that the land was to be filled by the Commonwealth. The land comprised 17 lots with either 24 foot or 25 foot frontages, all of which he sold that same day to nine different buyers for a total of $67,928, for a profit of $12,918 (about $403,000 in 2018 dollars).

In their Boston’s Back Bay, which studies the filling of the Back Bay in detail, William A. Newman and Wilfred F. Holton indicate that Munson and Goss received land from both the Commonwealth and the Boston Water Power Company as partial compensation for their filling work. The details of their arrangements with the Commonwealth are not set forth in the deeds, but it appears likely that the ultimate purchasers of the property were the successful bidders at the September 2, 1858, and November 6, 1858, public sales, and the Commonwealth sold it to them through Munson and Goss, to whom the Commonwealth sold the land at a discount.

Eastern Parcel. Peleg Chandler, J. Amory Davis, and Henry Lee, Jr., purchased the eastern portion of the parcel, at the corner of Arlington and Marlborough (with a 175 foot frontage on Marlborough), as an investment.

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) Amory 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 were acquired from George Goss on November 6, 1858, by nine different purchasers:

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

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

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.

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