Back Bay Land: South Side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley

The block on the south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley is 596 feet in length and 112 feet from Beacon 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.

All of the land on the south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley was sold at the Commonwealth’s August 1, 1857, public sale to William Warren Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence. They took title to the property that same day.

William Goddard and his wife, Harriot Miller (Erving) Goddard, lived at 99 Beacon and later at 291 Marlborough. He was a ship builder and merchant.

Timothy Bigelow Lawrence and his wife, Elizabeth (Chapman) Lawrence, lived at 97 Beacon. They previously had lived in London, where he had been an attaché with the US legation. He had resigned and returned home following the death of his father, textile manufacturer Abbott Lawrence, in August of 1855.

The deed from the Commonwealth to William Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence specified that the Commonwealth would fill the passageway at the rear of the land (running between Beacon and Marlborough, the future Alley 421), but left the obligation of filling the land to the purchasers. They subsequently entered into a contract with Norman C. Munson and George Goss to fill the land (as referenced in a partnership agreement between William Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence dated June 12, 1858).

William Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence subsequently subdivided the land and began selling lots to individual purchasers.

They began their land sales it the two ends of the block.

At the east end, on September 1, 1859, they sold the corner lot at Arlington and Beacon (with a frontage of 40 feet on Beacon) to John C. Gray, and on October 27, 1859, they sold the lot next to it (also with a frontage of 40 feet) to John Simmons. John Simmons purchased John Gray’s land on November 1, 1859, and purchased an additional 5 foot wide strip of land to the west on April 30, 1860, from William Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence. John Simmons subsequently had 1-2-3 Arlington built on the combined lot.

At the west end of the block, on September 1, 1859, the partners sold the lot at 135 Beacon to S. Hammond Russell and the lot at 137 Beacon to his aunt, Catherine (Hammond) Gibson, the widow of John Gardiner Gibson. On September 15, 1859, the partners sold the remainder of their land at the western end of the block to shipping merchant and real estate investor John Lowell Gardner, who subsequently had 139-141-143-145-147 Beacon (303 Berkeley) built on the land.

In March of 1861, T. Bigelow Lawrence was named US Consul General to Italy. Thereafter, William Goddard probably managed their joint interests in the remaining land they owned on Beacon.

In 1860 and 1861, the partners entered into agreements with three separate builders to construct houses on their land at 127-129-131-133 Beacon. In each case, when the houses were completed, the partners sold the land to the builder, who then resold it, presumably recouping his costs and earning a profit. On November 29, 1860, they sold 131-133 Beacon to Samuel S. Perkins, on March 23, 1861, they sold 127 Beacon to James Standish, and on March 27, 1861, they sold 129 Beacon to John Dunbar.

On November 22, 1861, the partners sold the lot at 101 Beacon to Arthur Devens and the lot at 103 Beacon to Samuel Tilton, who had their homes built on the land, and on April 1, 1862, and May 26, 1862, they sold the lots at 105-107-109-111 Beacon to George Phineas Upham, who built four houses for speculative sale.

On July 29, 1862, T. Bigelow Lawrence sold his one-half interest in the partnership’s remaining land – a 135 foot lot where 113-115-117-119-121-125 Beacon would be built – to his brother, Abbott Lawrence.

William Goddard and Abbott Lawrence subsequently sold the land in several transactions between November of 1862 and April of 1864.

Houses had been constructed on all of the land between Arlington and Berkeley by 1866.

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The August 1, 1855, deed from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry, Book 742, p. 159) specified that the land was to be “occupied by first class dwelling houses without stables;” that the front walls were to be set back twenty-two feet from Beacon, with “steps, windows, porticos, and other usual projections appurtenant to dwelling houses” 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.

Unlike later deeds from the Commonwealth, the deed did not require that the buildings be at least three stories high.

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.