Back Bay Land: South Side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth

The block on the south side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth is 548 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 435.

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.

Click here for more information on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts land in the Back Bay.

The land on the south side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth was first offered for sale at the Commonwealth’s auction on September 29, 1863, in twenty lots: a 32 foot lot at the corner of Clarendon (Lot 1), eight 28 foot lots to the west of the corner lot (Lots 2-9), ten 26 foot lots to the west of those (Lots10-19), and a 32 foot lot at the corner of Dartmouth (Lot 20). The eastern thirteen lots were sold, but the remaining seven to the west were not.

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

The names of the buyers of the lots were reported by the Boston Daily Advertiser and the Boston Herald on September 30, 1863. Dry goods merchant and railroad investor Samuel Henry Gookin purchased the lot at the corner of Clarendon and the two to the east (Lots 2-3). He and his wife Frances Elizabeth (Sistare) Gookin, lived lived at 240 Shawmut and later at 46 Commonwealth. The next three lots (Lots 4-6) were purchased by dry goods merchant James Lovell Little. He and his wife, Julia Augusta (Cook) Little, lived at 44 Chestnut and then at 2 Commonwealth. Lot 7 was purchased by attorney and railroad president George Morgan Browne; he and his wife, Caroline W. (Cabot) Browne, lived at 206 Beacon. Lot 8 was purchased by George B. Wilbur, a merchant, and Lot 9 by banker Franklin Haven, one of the three Commissioners on Public Lands responsible for the sale of the Commonwealth’s lands. The last four lots sold at the auction (Lots 10-14), each 26 feet wide, were purchased by dry goods merchant William Chadbourne. He and his wife, Isabel (Patterson) Chadbourne, lived at 8 Park Square and later at 48 Commonwealth.

Of these successful bidders, George M. Browne took title to his lot, and William Chadbourne took title to two of his four lots and sold or transferred the deed bonds for the other two. All of the other successful bidders sold or transferred their deed bonds and the property was purchased from the Commonwealth by someone else.

The seven lots not sold at the Commonwealth’s September 30, 1863, auction were offered again at the auction on May 19, 1864. Only one, Lot 14, sold. The Boston Evening Transcript reported that the buyer was R. Bors, probably Christian Börs, who took title to the property on May 25, 1867.

On October 26, 1865, the six remaining lots were offered and sold. The names of the buyers were reported in the Boston Evening Transcript on October 26, 1865, and the Boston Traveller on October 27, 1865. The six 26 foot lots (Lots 15-19) were purchased by Edward Waldo Cutler, a druggist, and the 32 foot corner lot at Dartmouth was purchased by banker, commission merchant, and locomotive manufacturer Jarvis Williams. Edward Cutler took title to Lot 15 and sold or transferred the deed bonds for the rest. Jarvis Williams took title to the corner lot,

Eastern Parcels. In March of 1866, the Proprietors of the Brattle Street Church formed a committee to explore selling their church and building a new one in another location. In anticipation of the likely result of the study, three of the proprietors – Franklin Evans, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner – acquired the deed bonds for the four lots at the corner of Clarendon from Samuel H. Gookine and James Little, and agreed to resell the land at their cost to the church. In October of 1866, the Proprietors decided to move to the Back Bay and agreed to purchase the land. Franklin Evans, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner subsequently purchased the land from the Commonwealth on October 1, 1866, and resold it to the Proprietors on June 29, 1872, after construction of the new church had begun.

The Brattle Square Church subsequently ceased operation and in March of 1882, the land and building were acquired by the First Baptist Church. On July 10, 1882, it purchased Lot 5, the vacant lot west of the church, from William Gordon Weld, who had purchased it on the same day from the Commonwealth. The church constructed a chapel on the land.

George M. Browne was the successful bidder at the September 29, 1863. auction for Lot 7 and took title to the land that same day. The land was purchased from him on April 25, 1872, by Henry Lefrelet Daggett, who built his home at 116 Commonwealth.

On July 23, 1879, Henry Daggett purchased the vacant 28 foot lot to the east (Lot 6) from the estate of Francis Willard Sayles. The land previously had changed hands several times, having been purchased originally from the Commonwealth on May 28, 1868, by William Munroe. Henry Daggett subsequently entered into an agreement with building contractor William Seavey Rand under which William Rand built 114 Commonwealth and, when it was completed, Henry Daggett sold him the land at a previously agreed-upon price and he resold the house to David Hill Coolidge.

Central Parcels. The four lots to the west of where 116 Commonwealth would be built – two 28 foot lots (Lots 8-9) and two 26 foot lots (Lots 10-11) – were reconfigured through a series of transactions into a 20 foot lot at 118 Commonwealth, a 36 foot lot at 120 Commonwealth, a 34 foot 8 inch lot at 122 Commonwealth, and a 17 foot 6 inch lot at 124 Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth sold Lot 8 on March 20, 1867, to real estate dealer Samuel Gleason Reed. It subsequently changed hands and was acquired on September 15, 1868, by George M. Browne (who also owned the lot at 116 Commonwealth).

The Commonwealth sold Lot 9 on May 2, 1871, to Henry L. Daggett.

The Commonwealth sold Lots 10-11, both 26 feet wide, on August 22, 1865, to William Chadbourne, two of the four lots for which he had been the successful bidder at the September 29, 1863, auction (he sold or transferred his right to buy the other two). The lots subsequently changed hands and on October 13, 1869, were purchased by Charles Austin Wood, an insurance agent and real estate investor, and the original owner of the Hotel Vendôme,

On December 30, 1870, Charles Wood sold Lot 10 and 8 feet 8 inches of Lot 11 to Laura Lucretia (Williams) Case, the wife of James Brown Case, and they had 122 Commonwealth built on the combined lot. On March 18, 1871, Charles Wood sold the remaining 17 feet 4 inches of Lot 11 to Martha W. (Seaver) Cowing, the wife of Walter Herbert Cowing, and they built 124 Commonwealth as their home.

On April 25, 1872, Laura Case sold 122 Commonwealth to Frances (Van Dusen) Lee, the wife of James Lee, Jr. That same day, the Cases purchased the two 28 foot lots further east (Lots 8-9) owned by George M, Browne and Henry L. Daggett. They built 118 Commonwealth on the eastern 20 feet and 120 Commonwealth on the western 36 feet. They sold 118 Commonwealth on April 9, 1875, to William and Elizabeth (Hicks) Harding, and retained 120 Commonwealth as their home.

As noted above, also on April 25, 1872, Henry L. Daggett purchased George M. Browne’s lot at 116 Commonwealth and built his home there.

On September 29, 1871, the Commonwealth sold Lot 12 to attorney Elias Merwin and he built his home at 126 Commonwealth.

On September 13, 1872, the Commonwealth sold Lot 13 to Frances Ann (Richardson) Moseley, the wife of leather manufacturer Alexander Moseley. They lived at the Hotel Kempton at 237 Berkeley and in 1883-1884 would built their home at 282 Commonwealth. Lot 13 changed hands and was purchased on May 11, 1882, by building contractor Samuel M. Shapleigh, who built 128 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

Lot 14, the 26 foot lot to the west, had been sold five years earlier, on May 25, 1867, to Christian Börs, a commission merchant in New York City. He subsequently transferred the land to his wife, Anna Cathrine (Collett) Schiotz Börs, who sold it on June 22, 1882, to building contractor William S. Rand. He built 130 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

Lot 15 remained vacant until the 1880s. On July 28, 1881, it was purchased from the Commonwealth by Edward Waldo Cutler, who had been the successful bidder for it and the four lots to the west at the October 26, 1865, auction (he sold or transferred his right to buy the other lots). On July 25, 1885, it was purchased from him by Joseph and Albert Glover, who built their home at 132 Commonwealth, the last house built on the block.

Western Parcels. Lots 16-17 were purchased from the Commonwealth on February 29, 1872, by William Atherton and by Stephen Everett Westcott, and Lot 18 was purchased from the Commonwealth on January 11, 1876, by Franklin Lewis Fay. William Atherton and Stephen Westcott were leather merchants, and Franklin Fay was a wholesale shoe and boot dealer. They built their homes at 144 Commonwealth, 146 Commonwealth, and 148 Commonwealth, all designed and built by architect and builder George W. Pope (there are no houses numbered 134-136-138-140-142 Commonwealth).

The first house built on the block was at the corner of Dartmouth for Jarvis Williams, who purchased the western-most lots from the Commonwealth in August of 1870. He had been the successful bidder at the October 26, 1865, auction for the 32 foot corner lot (Lot 20), and Edward Waldo Cutler had been the successful bidder for the 26 foot lot next to it (Lot 19). Jarvis Williams acquired Edward Cutler’s right to purchase Lot 19 and, when the Commonwealth conveyed the two lots, they were reconfigured into a 38 foot lot at the corner and a 20 foot lot east of it. He built his home on the corner lot at 152 Commonwealth and left the 20 foot lot at vacant. After his death in November of 1870, both properties were purchased by Richard Baker, Jr., who continued to leave the lot vacant. He died in January of 1875 and in 1880 his estate built 150 Commonwealth as a rental property.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the south side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth had been built by 1885.

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 Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth

Original deeds conveying land on the south side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth

Original construction on the south side of Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth

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, 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 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.

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 Commonwealth between Clarendon and Dartmouth by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
110 Commonwealth 01Oct1866 (recorded 8Nov1872) 32’ 124.5’ Franklin Haven, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner 1133 238
110 Commonwealth 01Oct1866 (recorded 8Nov1872) 28’ 124.5’ Franklin Haven, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner 1133 242
110 Commonwealth 01Oct1866 (recorded 8Nov1872) 28’ 124.5’ Franklin Haven, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner 1133 241
110 Commonwealth 01Oct1866 (recorded 8Nov1872) 28’ 124.5’ Franklin Haven, Ebenezer Dale, and John Gardner 1133 237
110 Commonwealth 10Jul1882 28’ 124.5’ William G. Weld 1566 547
110-114 Commonwealth 28May1868 28’ 124.5’ William Munroe 930 178
116 Commonwealth 29Sep1863 28’ 124.5’ George M. Browne 855 318
118-120 Commonwealth 20Mar1867 28’ 124.5’ Samuel G. Reed 896 147
120 Commonwealth 02May1871 28’ 124.5’ Henry L. Daggett 1052 66
122 Commonwealth 22Aug1865 26’ 124.5’ William Chadbourne 863 148
122-124 Commonwealth 22Aug1865 26’ 124.5’ William Chadbourne 863 151
126 Commonwealth 29Sep1871 26’ 124.5’ Elias Merwin 1997 97
128 Commonwealth 13Sep1872 26’ 124.5’ Frances Ann Moseley 1127 21
130 Commonwealth 25May1867 26’ 124.5’ Christian Börs 901 28
132 Commonwealth 28Jul1881 26’ 124.5’ Edward Waldo Cutler 1532 519
144 Commonwealth 29Feb1872 26’ 124.5’ William Atherton 1094 202
146 Commonwealth 29Feb1872 26’ 124.5’ Stephen E. Westcott 1094 201
148 Commonwealth 11Jan1876 26’ 124.5’ Franklin L. Fay 1311 29
150 Commonwealth 13Aug1870 20’ 124.5’ Jarvis Williams 1020 268
152 Commonwealth 30Aug1870 38’ 124.5’ Jarvis Williams 1013 181