The block on the south side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon is 548 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 436.
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.
All of the land on the south side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon was sold by the Commonwealth at its auctions on October 21, 1862 and February 10, 1863. The block was divided into twenty lots: Lot 1 at the corner of Berkeley, with a 32 foot frontage on Commonwealth; Lots 2-9, each 28 feet wide; Lots 10-19, each 26 feet wide; and Lot 20 at the corner of Clarendon, with a 32 foot frontage on Commonwealth.
At the October 21, 1862, auction, the ten eastern lots were offered for sale, including the 32 foot lot at the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley (Lot 1), eight 28 foot lots to the west of the corner (Lots 2-9), and one 26 foot lot west of that (Lot 10). Only the five lots furthest to the east sold (Lots 1-5). The names of the buyers of the lots were reported by the Boston Evening Transcript on October 24, 1862.
At the February 10, 1863, auction, the five unsold lots and the remaining ten lots further west (nine 26 foot lots, Lots 11-19, and a 32 foot lot at the corner of Dartmouth, Lot 20) were offered and all were sold. The names of the buyers of the lots were reported by the Boston Traveller on February 10, 1863.
Eastern Parcel. Dry goods merchant James Lovell Little was the successful bidder at the October 21, 1862, auction for the lot at the southwest corner Commonwealth and Berkeley, and the Commonwealth conveyed him the land on October 30, 1862. He and his wife, Julia Augusta (Cook) Little, lived at 44 Chestnut and probably originally acquired the land to build their own home. Instead, in January of 1863 they purchased land at the southwest corner of Commonwealth and Arlington and built their new home at 2 Commonwealth. On July 16, 1863, James Little sold the lot to John Hogg, who built his home at 50 Commonwealth.
The successful bidders for the other four lots sold on October 21, 1862, sold or transferred their deed bonds, and may have been bidding on behalf of others.
Lot 2 was acquired from the Commonwealth on January 17, 1866, by dry goods commission merchant Samuel Frothingham, Jr. He and his wife, Maria Louisa (Whitredge) Frothingham, lived at 110 Beacon and later at 317 Dartmouth. On April 22, 1871, he sold the lot to attorney Edward Ingersoll Browne, who built his home at 52 Commonwealth. Edward Ingersoll Browne had been the successful bidder at the February 10, 1863, auction for Lots 15-17 further west.
The land for 54-56-58-60 Commonwealth was acquired in a series of transactions by members of the Sayles family and by Judge John Phelps Putnam.
The three 28 foot lots to the east (Lots 3-5) were sold at the October 21, 1862, auction to Stephen P. Fuller (Lot 3 and Lot 5) and Norman Carmine Munson (Lot 4). They subsequently sold or transferred their deed bonds. The nine lots west of them (four 28 foot lots, Lots 6-9, and five 26 foot lots, Lots 10-14) were sold at the February 10, 1863, auction to Charles Francis. He and his wife, Harriet (Sayles) Francis, lived in New York, where he was a merchant. He subsequently sold or transferred all of his deed bonds, probably in cooperation with his brother-in-law, banker and broker Henry Sayles.
On December 12, 1865, Henry Sayles purchased Lot 6 from the Commonwealth. On January 4, 1866, he acquired a 24 foot lot to the east of it, his mother, Maria (Francoeur) Sayles, the widow of Willard Sayles, acquired a 30 foot wide lot to the east of that, and his brother-in-law, Dr. John Cauldwell Sharp, the husband of Helen (Sayles) Sharp; acquired a 30 foot lot to the east of that. The three lots were originally the three 28 foot lots (Lots 3-5) for which Stephen Fuller and Norman Munson had been the successful bidders at the October 21, 1862, auction.
On January 17, 1866, Judge John Phelps Putnam purchased from the Commonwealth a 26 foot lot to the west of Lot 6. The lot originally had been 28 feet in width – Lot 7, which was sold at the February 10, 1863, auction to Charles Francis – but the frontage was reduced to 26 feet when Judge Putnam purchased it from the Commonwealth and the western two feet were added to Lot 8 and sold the same day to Samuel Frothingham, Jr.
Through several transactions, Henry Sayles sold the western 22 feet of his land to John Putnam and John Putnam sold the western 22 feet of his land to banker and broker Robert Marion Pratt. The Sayles family and Judge Putnam then had a block of four houses built, the eastern three at 54-56-58 Commonwealth, owned by members of the Sayles family, each on 30 foot lots, and Judge Putnam’s house, at 60 Commonwealth, on a 26 foot lot.
As noted above, on January 17, 1866, the Commonwealth sold Samuel Frothingham, Jr., a 30 foot lot to the west of Robert M. Pratt’s lot, and on November 9, 1871, it sold Samuel Frothingham, Jr.’s, son-in-law, real estate dealer Henry Bigelow Williams, the 28 foot lot to the west (Lot 9). Henry B. Williams and Sarah Louisa (Frothingham) Williams, lived at 317 Dartmouth with Samuel and Maria (Whitredge) Frothingham.
Robert M. Pratt’s 22 foot lot had remained vacant. On September 28, 1869, he sold it to Washington Parker Gregg, clerk of the Boston Common Council, and on June 16, 1871, it was acquired from him by Robert Pratt’s brother, William Pratt, a real estate dealer. On December 1, 1871, Henry B. Williams purchased William Pratt’s 22 foot lot and Samuel Frothingham, Jr’s, 30 foot lot. He combined them with the 28 foot lot he had purchased in January of 1866 and built 62-64-66 Commonwealth for speculative sale.
Central Parcels. The land west of 66 Commonwealth included the five 26 foot lots purchased by Charles Francis at the February 10, 1863, auction (Lots 10-14). As with the other lots he purchased at the auction, he sold or transferred the deed bonds and the property was acquired by others, primarily members of his wife’s family.
On June 18, 1868, the Commonwealth sold Lot 10 to David Rice Whitney and he built his home at 68 Commonwealth.
On July 28, 1868, the Commonwealth sold the Lots 11-12, with a combined frontage of 52 feet, to Charles Francis’s brother-in-law, John Reed Brewer, the husband of Caroline Francoeur (Sayles) Brewer. They had 70 Commonwealth built on a 22 foot lot for his sisters, Catherine Dorcas Brewer and Elizabeth Haskins Brewer, and had 72 Commonwealth built on a 30 foot lot as their home.
On December 13, 1870, the Commonwealth sold Lot 13 to the estate of Charles Francis’s brother-in-law, Francis Willard Sayles, who had been killed in a railroad accident in May of 1853. The estate built 74 Commonwealth as the home of his widow, Jane Hereford (Hallett) Sayles.
On July 5, 1871, sold Lot 14 to Charles Fox, a mason and builder. It was the lot furthest west purchased by Charles Francis at the February 10, 1863, auction.
Attorney Edward Ingersoll Browne had been the successful bidder for Lots 15-17 at the auction, and also on July 5, 1871, he sold the eastern four feet of Lot 16 to Charles Fox. At the same time, he probably sold his right to purchase Lot 15 to Charles Fox, who purchased it from the Commonwealth on January 31, 1872. Charles Fox subsequently built 76-78-80 Commonwealth on the combined 56 foot lot, for speculative sale.
On May 2, 1871, Edward I. Brown had sold the western 20 feet of Lot 17 to Sarah Hook (Appleton) Burnham, the widow of John Burnham, who built her home at 84 Commonwealth, and on June 1, 1871, Edward I. Brown had sold the remaining 6 feet of Lot 17 and the western 22 feet of Lot 16 to Elizabeth D. (Adams) Page, the wife of Edward Page, and they built their home at 82 Commonwealth.
Western Parcels. The three western-most lots on the block (Lots 18-20) were purchased at the February 10, 1863, auction by banker and broker Robert Marion Pratt. 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. He subsequently sold or transferred the deed bonds for all three lots and they were purchased from the Commonwealth by others.
On October 31, 1865, the Commonwealth sold Lot 18, with a frontage of 26 feet, to Joseph Brown Tilton, a commission merchant. He and his wife, Josephine (Barclay) Tilton, lived at 32 Union Square. On March 26, 1874, he sold the lot to Cornelia Jane (Bangs) Thomas, the widow of William Thomas, who built her home at 86 Commonwealth.
On July 5-6, 1865, the Commonwealth sold Lots 19-20, with a combined frontage of 58 feet, to William Sumner Appleton. He graduated from Harvard Law School that year and lived at 39 Beacon with his mother, Harriet Coffin (Sumner) Appleton, the widow of Nathan Appleton. Although educated as an attorney, William S. Appleton never practiced law, but devoted himself to the study of history, numismatics, heraldry, and genealogy. In August of 1871 he married his first cousin, once removed, Edith Stuart Appleton, the daughter of William Stuart Appleton. After their marriage, they continued to live at 39 Beacon and later at 456 Beacon.
On December 1, 1871, William Appleton sold the lots to Sebastian Benson (born Samson Sebastian) Schlesinger, an iron merchant and manufacturer of nails, and also a noted composer. He had married in September of 1871 to Berthe de Pourtales and may have acquired the land in anticipation of building their home there. They lived at 218 Tremont and then 79 Marlborough, and on February 9, 1877, he sold Lot 19-20 to future US Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.
On April 28, 1879, Henry Cabot Lodge sold the corner lot (Lot 20), with a 32 foot frontage on Commonwealth, to Nathaniel Walker, who built his home at 90 Commonwealth.
On November 4, 1879, Henry Cabot Lodge sold the Lot 19, with a frontage of 26 feet, to Edwin Tufts, and he sold it on March 21, 1881, to Emma Frances (Pierce) Keyes, the widow of Henry Keyes, who built her home at 88 Commonwealth.
Original Construction. All of the houses on the south side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon had been built by 1881.
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 dates provided in Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay).
Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds
The deeds from the Commonwealth all included 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, mercantile or manufacturing purposes;” that the front walls were to be set back twenty feet from Commonwealth, with “steps, windows, porticos, and other usual projections appurtenant thereto” 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 “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.
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 limitations applied to the earlier deeds executed by the Commonwealth, including the deed on October 30, 1862, for the corner lot at Commonwealth and Berkeley (Suffolk Co. Deed Registry Book 823, p. 234), and were incorporated into the all of the subsequent deeds for land on the south side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon.
Original Land Deeds
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts conveyed the land on the south side of Commonwealth between Berkeley and Clarendon by the following deeds:
|50 Commonwealth||30Oct1862||32’||124.5’||James L. Little||823||234|
|52 Commonwealth||17Jan1866||28’||124.5’||Samuel Frothingham, Jr.||872||124|
|54 Commonwealth||04Jan1866||30’||124.5’||John C. Sharp||871||171|
|56 Commonwealth||04Jan1866||30’||124.5’||Mrs. Maria F. Sayles||871||173|
|58 Commonwealth||04Jan1866||24’||124.5’||Henry Sayles||871||217|
|58-60 Commonwealth||12Dec1865||28’||124.5’||Henry Sayles||869||285|
|60-62 Commonwealth||17Jan1866||26’||124.5’||John Phelps Putnam||872||83|
|62-66 Commonwealth||17Jan1866||30’||124.5’||Samuel Frothingham, Jr.||872||122|
|66 Commonwealth||09Nov1871||28’||124.5’||Henry Bigelow Williams||1080||231|
|68 Commonwealth||18Jun1868||26’||124.5’||David R. Whitney||930||219|
|70-72 Commonwealth||28Jul1868||52’||124.5’||John R. Brewer||935||233|
|74 Commonwealth||13Dec1870||26’||124.5’||James A. Dupee and Henry Sayles, trustees under the will of Francis W. Sayles||1038||1|
|76 Commonwealth||05Jul1871||26’||124.5’||Charles J. Fox||1090||305|
|78-80 Commonwealth||31Jan1872||26’||124.5’||Charles J. Fox||1090||306|
|80-82 Commonwealth||28Apr1871||26’||124.5’||Edward Ingersoll Browne||1052||169|
|82-84 Commonwealth||02May1871||26’||124.5’||Edward Ingersoll Browne||1047||204|
|86 Commonwealth||31Oct1865||26’||124.5’||Joseph B. Tilton||867||61|
|88 Commonwealth||06Jul1865||26’||124.5’||William S. Appleton||1091||44|
|90 Commonwealth||06Jul1865||32’||124.5’||William S. Appleton||1091||46|