Back Bay Land: South Side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter

The block on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter is 528 feet in length and 112 feet from Beacon to Alley 418.

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.

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The land on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter was sold by the Commonwealth at its auctions on October 26, 1865, September 11, 1866, and November 26, 1866, in twenty-one lots: a 30 foot lot at the corner of Dartmouth (Lot 1), twelve 25 foot lots to the west of the corner lot (Lots 2-13, seven 24 foot lots to the west of those (Lots 14-20), and a 30 foot lot at the corner of Exeter (Lot 21).

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

At the October 26, 1865, auction, the Commonwealth offered the seven lots on the eastern end of the block (Lots 1-7). The Boston Evening Transcript reported that real estate dealer John Jeffries, Jr., was the successful bidder for all seven lots. He and his wife, Anna Lloyd (Greene) Jeffries, lived at 126 Beacon.

The Commonwealth offered the remaining fourteen lots at its auction on September 11, 1866. The Boston Journal reported on September 12, 1866, that the four 25 foot lots furthest east (Lots 8-11) had been sold to cotton manufacturer, merchant, and real estate developer Charles William Freeland; and the next two 25 foot lots (Lots 12-13) to Norman Carmine Munson, the Commonwealth’s contractor for filling the lands. The Journal also reported that four 24 foot lots (lots 14-17) and the 30 foot corner lot at Exeter (Lot 21) had been sold to real estate dealer Henry Whitwell, and the other three 24 foot lots (Lots 18-20) had been sold to banker Franklin Evans.

The eight lots reported as being purchased by Henry Whitwell and Franklin Evans apparently did not sell, however, and were offered again at the November 26, 1866, auction. The Boston Evening Transcript for November 27, 1866, reported that the seven 24 foot lots (Lots 14-20) were purchased by dry goods merchant Eben Dyer Jordan, co-founder of the firm of Jordan, Marsh & Co., and that the corner lot was purchased by Charles Pope.

Eastern Parcels. John Jeffries, Jr., sold or transferred his right to buy all seven of the lots at the corner of Dartmouth for which he was the successful bidder at the October 26, 1865, auction. On January 19, 1871, Eben D. Jordan purchased the three furthest west (Lots 5-7) from the Commonwealth and had 263-265-267-269 Beacon built on them for speculative sale.

The lots further east – with a combined frontage of 105 feet – remained vacant and on October 19, 1888, Eben D. Jordan purchased them from the Commonwealth. One week later, on October 25, 1888, he sold the land to mason and builder Peter Graffam, who built three apartment houses at 330 Dartmouth, 259 Beacon, and 261 Beacon.

Central Parcels. On May 26, 1874, Charles W. Freeland purchased the four 25 foot lots (Lots 8-11) for which he had been the successful bidder on September 11, 1865, and built 271-273-275-277 Beacon for speculative sale. 271 Beacon was 26 feet wide and 273-275-277 Beacon were all 25 feet wide, and therefore one foot of 277 Beacon was built beyond the land owned by Charles Freeland. On October 30, 1877, he purchased the two 25 foot lots further west (Lots 12-13), for which Norman C. Munson had been the successful bidder, and built a 25 foot wide house at 279 Beacon and a 24 foot wide house at 281 Beacon for speculative sale.

The two 24 foot lots west of 281 Beacon (Lots 14 and 15) were two of the seven lots purchased by Eben D. Jordan at the November 26, 1866, auction. He subsequently sold or transferred his right to purchase them, and by 1881 the deed bonds for both were owned by dry goods merchant John Francis Anderson, who entered into party wall agreements that year with the owners of the lots at 281 Beacon and 287 Beacon. He subsequently sold or transferred the deed bonds, and on April 7, 1885, the lot at 283 Beacon was purchased from the Commonwealth by Emma (Emeline) Bicknell (Franklin) Bush, the widow of Samuel Leonard Bush, and the lot at 285 Beacon was purchased from the Commonwealth by Susan (Daland) Cox, the widow of Dr. Benjamin Cox. They subsequently built their homes on the two lots.

Western Parcels. On January 24, 1882, the Commonwealth sold the two 24 foot lots (Lots 16 and 17) to the west of 285 Beacon to building contractor George Wheatland, Jr. The lots were among those purchased by Eben D. Jordan at the November 26, 1866, auction. He subsequently sold or transferred his right to purchase them, and by 1881 George Wheatland, Jr., held the deed bonds for both lots. He entered into an agreement with masons Warren D. Vinal and Charles A. Dodge under which they built houses on the two lots at 287-289 Beacon. On September 15, 1882, after the houses were completed, he kept 287 Beacon and sold it on September 15, 1882, to Marian Glyde (Bigelow) Horton, the wife of coal merchant Henry Kenny Horton, Jr., and sold 289 Beacon to Vinal and Dodge who then resold it that same month to William Rotch.

On June 22, 1881, the Commonwealth sold the lot to the west of 289 Beacon to Susan M. (Winn) Lane, the wife of Daniel Haridon Lane, and they built their home at 291 Beacon. As with the land further east, it was one of the seven lots purchased by Eben D. Jordan at the November 26, 1866, auction, which he subsequently opted not to purchase.

Eben Jordan did, however, purchase the two 24 foot lots further west (Lots 19 and 20), which the Commonwealth conveyed to him on April 9, 1884, and August 5, 1885. In both cases, he took title to the land only after he already had a purchaser for it, to whom he transferred the property one week later.

On April 15, 1884, Edward Gray purchased the lot to the east from Eben Jordan and built his home at 293 Beacon.

On August 13, 1885, George H. Brooks purchased the lot to the west from Eben Jordan and combined it with the corner lot, which he had purchased on July 3, 1885, from real estate dealer Samuel Horatio Whitwell, who had acquired it from the Commonwealth one week earlier, on June 30, 1885 (the winning bidder at the November 26, 1866 auction had been Charles Pope, who sold or transferred his deed bond for the land). George Brooks built the Hotel Royal apartments at 295-297 Beacon.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter had been built by 1889.

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 building permit applications, news reports, and dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).

Original land sales on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter

Original deeds conveying land on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter

Original construction on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

The deeds from the Commonwealth included identical language specifying 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 Beacon, 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.

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.

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Original Land Deeds

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts conveyed the land on the south side of Beacon between Dartmouth and Exeter by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
330 Dartmouth

259-261 Beacon

19Oct1888 105’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1846 97
263-269 Beacon 19Jan1871 75’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1033 170
271 Beacon 26May1874 25’ 112’ Charles W. Freeland 1216 311
271-273 Beacon 26May1874 25’ 112’ Charles W. Freeland 1216 313
273-275 Beacon 26May1874 25’ 112’ Charles W. Freeland 1216 314
275-277 Beacon 26May1874 25’ 112’ Charles W. Freeland 1216 315
277-281 Beacon 30Oct1877 50’ 112’ Charles W. Freeland 1397 202
283 Beacon 07Apr1885 24’ 112’ Emma B, Bush 1693 433
285 Beacon 07Apr1885 24’ 112’ Susan D. Cox 1682 54
287 Beacon 24Jan1882 24’ 112’ George Wheatland Jr. 1550 193
289 Beacon 24Jan1882 24’ 112’ George Wheatland Jr. 1550 195
291 Beacon 22Jun1881 24’ 112’ Susan M. Lane, wife of Daniel H. Lane 1529 614
293 Beacon 09Apr1884 24’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1633 438
295 Beacon 06Aug1885 24’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1689 433
295 Beacon 30Jun1885 30’ 112’ Samuel H. Whitwell 1684 193