Back Bay Land: South Side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford

The block on the south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford is 375 feet in length and 112 feet from Beacon 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 south side of Beacon and the north side of Marlborough 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).

The south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford was developed in the late 1860s through the construction of several groups of houses: five houses at 401-409 Beacon, a single house at 411 Beacon, three houses at 413-417 Beacon, and eight houses at 419-433 Beacon. The north side of Marlborough, across the alley, was developed soon thereafter, in the early 1870s, also through the construction of several groups of houses by the same investors and builders.

Soon after the houses on Beacon were completed, Robert M. Pratt and the investors and builders to whom he 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 Parcels. On May 30, 1866, Robert M. Pratt sold a 22 foot lot at 403 Beacon to architect James R. Gregerson of Snell and Gregerson, and on September 18, 1866, he sold the 20 foot lot to the west of it to artist William Morris Hunt. He retained the corner lot, with a frontage on Beacon of 35 feet 4 inches, and the two lots to the west (a 22 foot lot and a 26 foot lot). He then had 401-403-405-407-409 Beacon built as a symmetrical unit, designed by James R. Gregerson, who made 403 Beacon his home. William M. Hunt made his Boston home at 405 Beacon. Robert Pratt sold 407 Beacon on July 17, 1868 to Francis Skinner Fiske and sold 401 Beacon and 409 Beacon to his aunt, Miss Mary Pratt. She lived at 85 Mt. Vernon and at Oakley in Watertown, and owned the two houses on Beacon as rental property.

Central Parcels. On May 21, 1866, Robert M. Pratt sold the 22 foot lot to the west of 409 Beacon to Roxana (Stackpole) Dabney, the widow of Frederic Dabney, who built her home at 411 Beacon.

On May 23, 1866, Robert M. Pratt sold the three 30 foot lots to the west of Roxana Dabney’s land to the Wainwright family. The lot at 413 Beacon was purchased by Sarah (Dexter) Wainwright, the wife of investment banker Henry Chapman Wainwright, the lot at 415 Beacon was purchased by Henry C. Wainwright’s first cousin on his mother’s side, Miss Anne Wainwright Davis (the daughter of Jonathan Amory Davis and Emily H. (Parker) Davis), and the lot at 417 Beacon was purchased by Henry C. Wainwright’s sister, Rebecca P. Wainwright. 413 Beacon became the home of Henry C. Wainright and his wife, Sarah Blake (Dexter) Wainwright; 415 Beacon became Anne Davis’s home, and 417 Beacon became the home of Henry C. Wainwright’s parents, Henry Wainwright and Ann Brooks (Parker) Wainwright.

Central and Western Parcels. On October 1, 1868, Robert M. Pratt sold builder and building contractor George Martin Gibson a 68 foot lot to the west of 417 Beacon, and sold Caroline Beal (Burgess) Sawyer, the wife of attorney Frederic William Sawyer, a 34 foot lot west of that. He retained the remaining two lots to the west.

George Gibson built 419-421-423-425 Beacon on his parcel, for speculative sale. 427-429-431-433 Beacon were built at about the same time, probably also by George Gibson under contracts with Frederic Sawyer and Robert M. Pratt. The Sawyers made 427 Beacon their home, and sold 429 Beacon to a trust for the benefit of Harriet Stillman (Hayward) Winslow, the wife of Rev. William Copley Winslow. It became the Winslows’ home.

Robert M. Pratt sold 431 Beacon to a trust for the benefit of Caroline Davenport (Hayward) Savage, the wife of Samuel Hay Savage, and it became the Savages’ home. He sold 433 Beacon (12 Hereford) to Frederic Sawyer, who leased it to others until about 1874, when he and his wife made it their home (having moved from 427 Beacon).

In 1871-1872, George M. Gibson also built 337-357 Marlborough and 14-20 Hereford across the alley on land originally owned by Robert M. Pratt.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford had been built between 1867 and 1869.

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 south side of Beacon 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 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.

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 south side of Beacon and the north side of Marlborough 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 south side of Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
401 Beacon 24Apr1868 35.33’ 112’ Mary Pratt 943 131
403 Beacon 30May1866 20’ 112’ James R. Gregerson 880 97
405 Beacon 18Sep1866 22’ 112’ William M. Hunt 885 162
407 Beacon 17Jul1868 22’ 112’ Francis S. Fiske 935 303
409 Beacon 24Apr1868 26’ 112’ Mary Pratt 943 130
411 Beacon 21May1866 22’ 112’ Roxana Dabney 879 157
413 Beacon 23May1866 30’ 112’ Sarah B. Wainwright, wife of Henry C. Wainwright 879 81
415 Beacon 23May1866 30’ 112’ Ann W. Davis 879 82
417 Beacon 23May1866 30’ 112’ Rebecca P. Wainwright 879 81
419-425 Beacon 01Oct1868 68’ 112’ George M. Gibson 940 244
427-429 Beacon 01Oct1868 34’ 112’ Caroline B. Sawyer, wife of Frederic W. Sawyer 940 242
431 Beacon 01Dec1869 17’ 112’ Lemuel Shaw, trustee for Mrs. Catherine D. Savage, wife of Samuel H. Savage 982 245
12 Hereford 13Nov1869 18.67’ 112’ Frederic W. Sawyer 981 99