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

The block on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon is 548 feet in length and 112 feet from Beacon to Alley 420.

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.

The Commonwealth sold its land on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon through private sales on May 2, 1860, and at public auctions on October 24, 1860, and November 18, 1862.

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

Eastern Parcel. The land at the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley, with a frontage of 95 feet on Marlborough, was purchased on May 2, 1860, by shipping merchant and real estate investor John Lowell Gardner. He and his wife, Catharine Elizabeth (Peabody) Gardner, lived at 7 Beacon, and would build a new home at 182 Beacon in the mid-1860s.

John Gardner sold the lot on August 3, 1863, to Horace Gray, Jr., an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and later Chief Justice of the Massachusetts court and then an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. Horace Gray, Jr., subdivided the lot and on February 28, 1865, he sold the corner lot, with a frontage of 95 feet on Marlborough and 52 feet on Berkeley, to Edward Wainwright Codman, who built his home at 53 Marlborough.

On September 20, 1867, Horace Gray, Jr., sold the two abutting lots further north on Berkeley to building contractor George Wheatland, Jr., and on December 14, 1867, he sold him the remaining lot at the corner of Berkeley and Alley 420. George Wheatland, Jr., built 300-302 Berkeley for speculative sale, and on March 18, 1868, he sold the lot at 304 Berkeley to Marianne (Mason) Crafts, the widow of Royal Altamont Crafts, who built her home there.

Plan of lots offered for sale at the October 24, 1860, Commonwealth of Massachusetts auction (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 778, p. 160)

Central Parcels. The Commonwealth offered all of the lots west of 53 Marlborough at its first auction, on October 24, 1860. The six lots at 57-67 Marlborough (Lots Y-Z and AA-DD, as shown on the plan for the auction), with a combined frontage of 150 feet), and the four lots at the corner of Clarendon (Lots M-P), with a combined frontage of 103 feet, were purchased. The eight lots in-between (Lots Q-X), with a combined frontage of 200 feet, did not sell and were re-offered again at the auction on October 21, 1862, when they again did not sell, and then at the auction on November 18, 1862, when they sold.

The October 24, 1860, Boston Evening Transcript reported the results of the auction, listing the names of the purchasers by block but only rarely identifying the specific lots they purchased. The deeds conveying the land were not executed until several years later, and only one of the purchasers at the auction retained his right to acquire the land; in every other case, when the land was conveyed by the Commonwealth, it was to a different purchaser than the successful bidder at the auction.

The one purchaser at the auction who did not sell his right to acquire the land was Rev. Richard Manning Hodges, who was the successful bidder for Lot Y and received a deed for it from the Commonwealth on December 3, 1867. He and his wife, Elizabeth Quincy (Donnison) Hodges, lived in Cambridge. The lot remained vacant and after his death in August of 1878, their son, Dr. Richard Manning Hodges, Jr., built his home and office at 67 Marlborough.

On December 31, 1862, before the land was conveyed to Rev. Hodges by the Commonwealth, he entered into a party wall agreement (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 868, p. 184) with John Lowell Gardner, who had purchased Lot X to the west at the Commonwealth’s auction on November 18, 1862, and also held the right to purchase the Lot Z (he was not among the successful bidders at the October 24, 1860, auction and therefore had acquired the deed bond from someone else). John L. Gardner subsequently sold or transferred his right to purchase Lot Z, and subsequently was held by Prescott Bigelow, who died in July of 1868. The Commonwealth sold the land on July 30, 1868, to Frank Andrews as trustee for Prescott Bigelow’s minor children. The lot remained vacant and was purchased on May 24, 1876, from Frank Andrews by Dr. Francis Minot, who built his home at 65 Marlborough.

On August 1, 1863, the Commonwealth sold the lot at 57 Marlborough to a trust established under the will of Charles Russell Codman for the benefit of his daughter, Frances Anne (Codman) Sturgis, the wife of architect John Hubbard Sturgis, and on the same day it sold the lot at 59 Marlborough to John Sturgis. On September 10, 1866, John Sturgis and the trust exchanged lots. John Sturgis subsequently had 57 Marlborough built as his home, but sold it before it was completed to his brother-in-law, attorney Charles Russell Codman. The trust sold the lot at 59 Marlborough on February 27, 1873, to Clémence (Haggerty) Crafts, the wife of James Mason Crafts, and they built their home there (James Mason Crafts was the son of Royal Altamont Crafts, whose widow, Marianne (Mason) Crafts, lived at 304 Berkeley).

On May 1, 1873, the Commonwealth sold the lot at 61 Marlborough to James Henry Standish, a carpenter and builder, who built a home for speculative sale.

On June 8, 1875, the Commonwealth sold the lot at 63 Marlborough to Dr. Charles Pickering Putnam and his brother, Dr. James Jackson Putnam. They built their home and office there,

As noted above, Lots Q-X to the west of 67 Marlborough, with a combined frontage of 200 feet, were sold by the Commonwealth at its auction on November 18, 1862. All of the lots were purchased by John Lowell Gardner, who took title to the property on March 6, 1863. He had nine houses built at 71-73-75-77-79-81-83-85-87 Marlborough, all of which he retained as rental property (there is no house numbered 69 Marlborough).

Western Parcels. The land at the western end of the block (Lots M-P), with a combined frontage of 103 feet on Marlborough, was sold by the Commonwealth at its auction on October 24, 1860. The deeds transferring the land were not executed for several years, and none of the ultimate buyers were the original purchasers at the auction.

On June 27, 1863, the Commonwealth sold the lot furthest east (Lot P), with a 25 foot frontage, to Nathaniel L. Williams; on November 3, 1863, it sold the abutting lot (Lot O), with a 24 foot frontage, to Francis E. Parker; and on January 9, 1864, it sold the lot at the corner (Lot M), with a 30 foot frontage on, to John Lowell Gardner (the successful bidder for this corner lot at the Commonwealth’s October 24, 1860, auction had been Abbott Lawrence, who also had purchased the northeast corner lot at Commonwealth and Clarendon at the same auction; he subsequently sold the deed bonds for both properties).

On October 7, 1864, Nathaniel Williams sold Lot P to real estate dealer James T. Eldredge.

Between February and April of 1866, all three lots were acquired by attorney William Everett, and on April 12, 1866, the Commonwealth sold him the remaining 24 foot lot (Lot N). He combined the lots and had 89 Marlborough built on the eastern 18 feet, which he sold to Jacob Crowninshield Rogers when it was completed. On February 27, 1869, he sold the remaining 85 foot lot at the corner to building contractor George Wheatland, Jr., who built 91 Marlborough and 273-275-277-279 Clarendon on the land, for speculative sale.

Original Construction. All of the houses on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon had been constructed by 1878.

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 dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).

Original land sales on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon

Original deeds conveying land on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon

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

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The May 2, 1860, deed from the Commonwealth (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry Book 777, p. 159) for the land at the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley 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 deed 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 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.

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 May 2, 1860, deed for the corner lot at Marlborough and Berkeley, and were included in all of the subsequent deeds for land on the north side of Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon.

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 Marlborough between Berkeley and Clarendon by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
53 Marlborough 02May1860 95’ 112’ John L. Gardner 777 159
57 Marlborough 01Aug1863 25’ 112’ Robert Codman and Charles R. Codman, trustees under the will of Charles R. Codman for the benefit of Frances A. Sturgis 896 209
59 Marlborough 01Aug1863 25’ 112’ John H. Sturgis 832 273
61 Marlborough 01May1873 25’ 112’ James H. Standish 1159 198
63 Marlborough 08Jun1875 25’ 112’ Charles P. Putnam and James J. Putnam 1274 258
65 Marlborough 30Jul1868 25’ 112’ Frank W. Andrews 936 173
67 Marlborough 06Dec1867 25’ 112’ Richard M. Hodges 913 287
71-87 Marlborough 06Mar1863 200’ 112’ John L. Gardner 827 71
89-91 Marlborough

273-279 Clarendon

27Jun1863 25’ 112’ Nathaniel L. Williams 849 287
91 Marlborough

273-279 Clarendon

03Nov1863 24’ 112’ Francis E. Parker 841 283
91 Marlborough

273-279 Clarendon

12Apr1866 24’ 112’ William Everett 876 134
91 Marlborough

273-279 Clarendon

09Jan1864 30’ 112’ John L. Gardner 838 113