Back Bay Land: North Side of Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford

The block on the north side of Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford is 375 feet in length and 112 feet from Marlborough to Alley 415.

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 of Boston Water Power Company lands by J. F. Fuller, 25Feb1863 (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 826, p. 87)

On February 20, 1863, the Boston Water Power Company sold Robert M. Pratt its land on the north side of Marlborough and the south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford. The land is shown as parcels I and J on the plan to the right.

Robert Marion Pratt was a banker and broker. He was unmarried and lived at 13 Louisburg Square with his parents, George Williams Pratt (one of the founders of the Boston Stock Exchange) and Mary Barrow (White) Pratt. The Pratts also maintained a home, Oakley, on Belmont Avenue in Watertown (it became the Oakley Country Club in 1898).

On April 24, 1868, Robert M. Pratt sold all of the land on the north side of Marlborough to his father, George W. Pratt.

The north side of Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford was developed in the early 1870s through the construction of three groups of houses: three houses at 4-8 Gloucester at the eastern end of the block, eleven houses at 337-357 Marlborough, and four houses at 14-20 Hereford at the western end of the block.  The south side of Beacon, across the alley was developed in the late 1860s, also through the construction of several groups of houses largely by the same investors and builders.

Soon after the houses on Beacon were completed, Robert M. Pratt, George W. Pratt, and the investors and builders to whom they sold portions of his land on Beacon and Marlborough sought approval for an extension of the horse car (“horse railroad”) system to serve the area. The neighborhood was called “Prattville” in articles about the horse car extension in the November 24, 1869, Boston Daily Advertiser and the December 18, 1869, Commercial Bulletin.

Eastern Parcel: On May 23, 1871, George W. Pratt sold the land eastern end of the block, with a frontage on Marlborough of 70 feet, to investment banker Henry C. Wainwright. He had 4-6-8 Gloucester built for speculative sale. Henry C. Wainwright and members of his family had purchased three lots from Robert W. Pratt at 413-415-417 Beacon in May of 1866 and had built their homes there.

Central and Western Parcels: On April 14, 1871, George W. Pratt sold the western end of the block, with a frontage of 50 feet on Marlborough, to Frances Rebecca (Esten) Gibson, the wife of builder and building contractor George Martin Gibson. On September 10, 1871, he sold her a five foot lot to the east of her land, and sold her husband the remainder of the block, with a 250 foot frontage on Marlborough. George Gibson subsequently built 337-339-341-343-345-347-349-351-353-355-357 Marlborough and 14-16-18-20 Hereford for speculative sale. In 1869, George M. Gibson had built 419-425 Beacon, and probably also 427-433 Beacon, across the alley on land originally owned by Robert M. Pratt.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the north side of Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford were built between 1871 and 1872.

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 Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The Boston Water Power Company’s 1863 deed to Robert M. Pratt included language specifying that “no buildings shall be erected upon this lot (except outhouses to dwellings) the exterior walls of which shall be of any other material than brick, stone, or iron; any building on the land “shall be at least two stories high for the main part thereof, excluding basement and attic, and shall not, in any event, be used for a livery stable, or 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 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 similar to those contained in the deeds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts conveying its Back Bay land, with the exception that the Commonwealth’s deeds did not specify that the buildings be made of brick, stone, or iron, and usually specified a height of three stories (rather than two).

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 Marlborough and the south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford by the following deed.

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
401-431 Beacon
12 Hereford
20Feb1863 375’ 112’ Robert M. Pratt 826 89

Robert M. Pratt sold his land on the north side of Marlborough between Gloucester and Hereford on April 24, 1868, to George W. Pratt (Book 943, p. 88).  George Pratt sold the land by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
4-6-8 Gloucester 23May1871 70’ 112’ Henry C. Wainwright 1050 305
337-357 Marlborough 10Sep1871 250’ 112’ George M. Gibson 1070 124
14-20 Hereford 10Sep1871 5’ 112’ Frances R. Gibson, wife of George M. Gibson 1070 123
14-20 Hereford 14Apr1871 50’ 112’ Frances R. Gibson, wife of George M. Gibson 1047 129