Back Bay Land: South Side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester

The block on the south side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester is 500 feet in length and 124 feet 6 inches from Commonwealth to Alley 432.

The land was part of the area owned by the David Sears family. Their lands extended south from a line down the middle of Commonwealth, bounded on the east by the Commonwealth’s lands (the boundary was 262 feet west of Exeter, at about where the western wall of 214 Commonwealth is today) and bounded on the west by the Boston Water Power Company’s lands, by a line that ran southwest at approximately a 45 degree angle from a point on the south side of Commonwealth 134.66 feet west of Hereford (324 Commonwealth straddles the line). The Sears family land extended south by an irregular line past Boylston to about St. James Street.

Original owners of land in the residential portion of the Back Bay. drawn on the block plan for the residential portion of the neighborhood.

The Sears family sold all of its land on January 2, 1871, to Nathan Matthews. He was a real estate investor and developer, and served as president of the Boston Water Power Company from 1860 to 1870. He and his wife, Albertine (Bunker) Matthews, lived at 12 Arlington.

On October 16, 1873, Nathan Matthews conveyed the land to a trust he had formed with Henry D. Hyde and Grenville T. W. Braman.

Henry Dwight Hyde was an attorney. He and his wife, Luvan Augusta (Charles) Hyde, lived at 153 West Newton and later at 380 Commonwealth. Grenville Temple Winthrop Braman was a real estate investor and served as treasurer of the Boston Water Power Company until mid-1869 (at the same time as Nathan Matthews was president). He and his wife, Susie A. (Davies) Braman, lived at 9 Brimmer and later at 447 Beacon.

On November 19, 1875, the trustees terminated the trust and the land was distributed to individual owners.

The block between Fairfield and Gloucester was divided among four owners. The western half, with a frontage of 250 feet, was conveyed to Grenvllle T. W. Braman’s wife, Susie A. (Davies) Braman. The eastern half of the block was allocated among three owners. The 56.5 foot parcel at the corner of Fairfield was conveyed to Grenville T. W. Braman’s brother, George H. Braman; the 112.5 foot parcel to the west of it was conveyed to Henry D. Hyde’s uncle, George Baxter Hyde; the 56 foot parcel next to the west was conveyed to George H. Braman; and the 25 foot lot next to that was conveyed to Charles H. Mann.

Click here for more information on the Sears family land in the Back Bay.

George H. Braman was a wholesale dry goods merchant. He and his wife, Ellen S. (Hunnewell) Braman, lived in Charlestown. George Baxter Hyde was headmaster of Everett School. He and his wife, Mary Wilbur (Clapp) Hyde, lived at 141 Worcester. Charles H. Mann was agent for the Waltham Bleachery and Dye Company. He and his wife, Emily Sprague (Cushman) Mann, lived at the Parker House hotel in Boston. Unlike the other grantees of land on the block, neither Charles Mann nor his wife appear to have been related to Nathan Matthews, Henry D. Hyde, or Grenville T. W. Braman.

Eastern and Central Parcels. On May 31, 1876, George Braman sold the 56.5 foot lot at the corner of Fairfield and Commonwealth to banker and real estate investor Asa Perkins Potter and his wife, Delle (Sheldon) Potter. They built their home at 29 Fairfield with a frontage of 26 feet on Commonwealth.

On December 18, 1877, Asa Potter sold a 26 foot lot to the west of his home to Charles A. Smith, a merchant tailor. He died in January of 1880 and on March 2, 1880, the lot was purchased from his estate by architect George Alden Avery. He built 246 Commonwealth on the lot and sold the house to boot and shoe manufacturer Charles Buffum while it still was under construction.

Asa Potter continued to own a strip 4.5 feet wide to the west of 246 Commonwealth, and George B. Hyde owned the adjoining 112.5 foot parcel to the west of it. On June 3, 1878, they entered into agreements with John W. Shapleigh, a builder, under which Asa Potter agreed to sell him his 4.5 foot lot and George Hyde agreed to sell him a 43.5 foot lot, and John Shapleigh agreed to built two houses on the land. He subsequently built 248-250 Commonwealth, each on a 24 foot lot, for speculative sale. On October 11, 1878, they sold the land to him.

On March 19, 1879, George Hyde sold an additional 24 foot lot to John Shapleigh, who build 252 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

On May 3, 1879, George Hyde entered into an agreement with architect George Alden Avery under which George A. Avery agreed to build a house on the 24 foot lot at 254 Commonwealth and George Hyde agreed to sell him the land. On December 19, 1879, after the house was substantially completed, George A. Avery’s father, Alden Avery, purchased the land from George Hyde. He transferred the land and completed house to his son on the same day, and, on the same day, George Avery sold the property to real estate dealer Henry Whitwell.

On May 17, 1879, George Hyde purchased a 3 foot strip to the west of his land from George H. Braman. It was eastern portion of the 56 foot lot George Braman had acquired on November 19, 1875, from Nathan Matthews and his partners. George Hyde combined the strip with his remaining 21 feet of land and, also on May 17, 1879, sold the 24 foot lot to John Fisher Farrington, a building contractor. On August 26, 1879, John Farrington he sold the lot to Uriah H. Coffin, also a building contractor. He built 256 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

On September 29, 1879, George Braman sold a 24 foot lot to John W. Shapleigh, and on October 4, 1879, he sold the remaining 29 feet of his land, to the west, to John Shapleigh’s brother, Samuel M. Shapleigh. On the same day, Samuel Shapleigh purchased the eastern 19 feet of Charles H. Mann’s 25 foot lot. John and Samuel Shapleigh were carpenters and building contractors, and they built 258-260-262 Commonwealth on the land, each on a 24 foot lot, for speculative sale.

Central and Western Parcels. The land west of 262 Commonwealth comprised the remaining 6 feet of Charles H. Mann’s lot and the 250 foot parcel that Susie (Davies) Braman, wife of Grenville T. W. Braman, had acquired on November 19, 1875.

On October 4, 1879, Susie Braman sold the eastern 19 feet of her 250 foot lot to Charles H. Mann, thereby restoring the portion that he had sold that same day to Samuel Shapleigh. On September 30, 1882, Charles H. Mann sold his 25 foot lot to John W. Shapleigh, and he built 264 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

On December 16, 1880, Susie Braman sold the 25 foot lot next to the west to Henry Stackpole, and on September 1, 1883, he sold it to John Shapleigh, who built 266 Commonwealth for speculative sale.

On October 20, 1879, Susie Braman had sold the 25 foot lot west of where 266 Commonwealth would be built to Mary T. (Cumston) Richardson, the wife of Spencer Richardson, and the 25 foot lot to the west of it to Elmira A. (Reed) Stone, the wife of Joseph Lyman Stone. On December 21, 1880, Susie Braman sold the 25 foot lot next to the west to Adelaide Joanna (Bacon) Sargent, the wife of George Darius Sargent. On May 12, 1881, Adelaide Sargent sold the 25 foot lot to Mary (Fisk) Colburn, the wife of William H. Colburn.

The three lots remained vacant. On January 23, 1886, the two to the east were purchased from Mary Richardson and Elmira Stone by Ellen A. (Larrabee) Johnson, the wife of Henry M. Johnson. On April 12, 1886, she purchased the third lot from Mary Colburn. She held the lots for the next nine years, and on November 13, 1895, she sold them to architect Henry Squarebriggs McKay (Mackay), who designed and built the Hotel Tuileries at 270 Commonwealth (there is no house numbered 268 Commonwealth).  Also in the 1880s, Ellen Johnson had purchased land at 186 Commonwealth and 333 Commonwealth, where apartment buildings were designed and built by Henry S. McKay (Mackay).

On October 20, 1879, Susie Braman sold two 24 foot lots to the west of where 270 Commonwealth would be built to Adelaide (Bacon) Sargent, the wife of George D. Sargent (as noted above, in December of 1880, Adelaide Sargent also purchased the 24 foot lot to the east of these lots). On December 1, 1884, she sold both lots to building contractor Silas Whiton Merrill. On June 18, 1885, Silas Merrill sold the eastern lot on June 18, 1885, to Walter Sherburne, who built his home at 274 Commonwealth (there is no house numbered 272 Commonwealth) and the western lot to Henry M. White, who built his home at 276 Commonwealth.

On February 10, 1880, Susie Braman sold William Gurdon Saltonstall a 25 foot lot to the west of where 276 Commonwealth would be built. He was treasurer of several cotton mills and formerly had been a shipping merchant in the East India trade. He and his wife, Josephine Rose (Lee) Saltonstall, lived in Salem and later at 30 Fairfield.

On July 20, 1882, William G. Saltonstall sold the lot to Martha Howard (Thurston) Carter, the wife of Charles Myrick Carter, president of the Maverick Oil Company, and on June 2, 1883, Martha Carer sold it to wallpaper merchant Charles Henry Hayden. Charles Hayden had 278 Commonwealth built for speculative sale.

Also in February of 1880, Susie Braman sold Nathan Samuel the corner lot at Gloucester, with a 30 foot frontage on Commonwealth, and the 28 foot lot east of it, abutting the lot where 278 Commonwealth would be built. Nathan Samuel was a tobacco and cigar dealer. He and his wife, Fanny (Salomon) Samuel, lived at 211 Beacon.

On November 10, 1884, Nathan Samuel transferred the 28 foot lot into his wife’s name, and on February 12, 1886, she sold the lot to Wlliam Gurdon Saltonstall. On December 8, 1886, he sold the lot to iron merchant and banker Eustace Cary Fitz. He and his wife, Sarah J. (Blanchard) Fitz, lived in Chelsea and later at 253 Commonwealth.

On April 28, 1879, Nathan Samuel sold the corner lot to Charles G. Patterson, a broker. He and his wife, Frances Elizabeth (Kirby) Starr Patterson, lived at 45 Commonwealth. On November 18, 1880, he sold the lot to Joseph A. Iasigi, a merchant in the Mediterranean trade. He was unmarried and lived at 43 Mt. Vernon with his mother, Eulalie (Loir) Iasigi, the widow of Joseph A. Iasigi. He married in April of 1881 to Marie P. Homer and they made 245 Beacon their home. On March 21, 1881, Joseph Iasigi sold the lot to Melancthon Woolsey Borland. He and his wife, Julia (Gibson) Borland, lived in Waterford, Connecticut; they previously had lived at 227 Beacon.

On October 2, 1883, M. Woolsey Borland sold the corner lot to leather manufacturer Alexander Moseley, who built his home at 282 Commonwealth. The lot to the east had remained vacant and on May 14, 1890, he purchased it from Eustace Fitz. On December 18, 1893, he sold the lot to John Hogg, conveying the land through Augustus F. Arnold, a real estate conveyancer, and including restrictions in the deed specifying that only a single-family dwelling could be built on the land and limiting the height and depth of any such house. John Hogg built his home at 280 Commonwealth.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the south side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester had been built by 1896.

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 Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester

Building Restrictions in Original Land Deeds

Neither the deed from the David Sears family to Nathan Matthews, nor the subsequent deeds conveying the undeveloped land on the south side of Commonwealth between Fairfield and Gloucester included any language restricting the type or physical characteristics of buildings built on the land.

However, on June 12, 1876, the owners of all of the land between Commonwealth and Newbury from the boundary with the Commonwealth’s land on the east and Gloucester on the west entered into an agreement (Book 1330, p. 300) establishing
twenty foot setback on Commonwealth and a twenty-two foot setback on Newbury, with “steps, windows, porticos, and other usual projections appurtenant thereto” allowed in the reserved space subject to dimensional limitations enumerated in the deed, which were the same as those included in the Commonwealth’s deeds. The agreement also provided for the creation of a sixteen foot passageway between the Commonwealth and Newbury blocks, consistent with the alleys laid out by the Commonwealth.

The 1876 agreement did not include the language contained in the Commonwealth’s deeds requiring that buildings be of a certain height, nor did it prohibit the use of buildings for stables, or for any mechanical, mercantile, or manufacturing purposes. Several subsequent deeds by individual landowners did, however, specify limitations on stables.

Click here for more information on the restrictions contained in deeds of Back Bay land.

Original Land Deeds

On January 2, 1871, the Sears family sold all of its land the Nathan Matthews (Book 1029, p. 233), including land on the south side of Commonwealth bounded on the east by the Commonwealth’s lands at a point 262 feet west of Exeter and bounded on the west by the Boston Water Power Company’s lands by a line that ran southwest at approximately a 45 degree angle, starting at a point on the south side of Commonwealth 134.66 feet west of Hereford. The land extended south by an irregular line past Boylston to about St. James Street.

On the same day Nathan Matthews conveyed to Franklin Evans the land on the south side of Commonwealth and north side of Newbury from the boundary with the Commonwealth’s lands to Fairfield (Book 1029, p. 239); and conveyed to David N. Skillings, trustee, the land on the south side of Commonwealth and the north side of Newbury from Fairfield to the boundary with the Boston Water Power Company’s lands (Book 1029, p. 238).  On February 8, 1871, Franklin Haven conveyed the land east of Fairfield back to Nathan Matthews (Book 1034, p. 56), and Nathan Matthews transferred it to David N. Skillings, trustee (Book 1034, p. 84).

On May 30, 1873, David N. Skillings sold all of the land he previously purchased from Nathan Matthews back to him (Book 1163, p. 259).  On October 16, 1873, Nathan Matthews transferred the land to attorney Harvey N. Shepard (Book 1182, p. 270) who conveyed it on the same day to Nathan Matthews, Henry D. Hyde, and Grenville T. W. Braman, as trustees of a real estate investment trust (Book 1182, p. 271).

On November 19, 1875, the trustees terminated the trust and transferred the land back to Harvey N. Shepard (Book 1303, p. 157).  On the same, Harvey Shepard conveyed the land between Fairfield and Gloucester by the following deeds. In all cases, the lots also included land on the north side of Newbury.

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
29 Fairfield
246-248 Commonwealth
19Nov1875 56.5’ 124.5’ George H. Braman 1303 158
248-256 Commonwealth 19Nov1875 112.5’ 124.5’ George B. Hyde 1303 159
256-262 Commonwealth 19Nov1875 56’ 124.5’ George H. Braman 1303 158
262-264 Commonwealth 19Nov1875 25’ 124.5’ Charles H. Mann 1303 158
264-282 Commonwealth 19Nov1875 250’ 124.5’ Susie W. Braman, wife of Grenville T. W. Braman 1303 157