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.

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 all of the land on the south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley in a privately negotiated sale on August 1, 1857, to William Warren Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence.

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.

Unlike later deeds from the Commonwealth, the deed left the obligation of filling the land to the purchasers, and William Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence 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; Suffolk County Deed Registry Book 738, p. 191).

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

They began their land sales at 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, the partners 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.

Original Construction. All of the houses on the south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley had been built by 1866.

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 south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley

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. These applied to the deed previously executed by the Commonwealth for land on the south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley.

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 south side of Beacon between Arlington and Berkeley by the following deed:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
1-3 Arlington

101-145 Beacon

303 Berkeley

01Aug1857 596’ 112’ William W. Goddard and T. Bigelow Lawrence 724 159