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

The block on the south side of Marlborough between Dartmouth and Exeter is 528 feet in length and 112 feet from Marlborough to Alley 425.

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 Marlborough between Dartmouth and Exeter was sold by the Commonwealth at its auctions on April 10, 1869, and April 30, 1869, 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

The Commonwealth offered the ten lots on the eastern end of the block at its auction on April 10, 1869. The Boston Herald on April 12, 1869, reported that all ten lots were purchased by building contractor George Wheatland, Jr.

The remaining eleven lots were sold at the Commonwealth’s auction on April 30, 1869. The results of the sale were reported by the Boston Traveller that same day. The four lots to the west, three 25 foot lots (Lots 11-13) and one 24 foot lot (Lot 14), were purchased by investment banker Henry C. Wainwright. George Wheatland, Jr., purchased the two lots to the west (Lots 15 and 16), architect and building contractor Charles K. Kirby bought the next two (Lots 17 and 18), and banker William Thomas purchased the one next to them (Lot 19). The successful bidder for Lot 20 was not identified by the Traveller. George Wheatland’s wife, Florence Saumarez (Dumaresq) Wheatland, purchased the 30 foot corner lot at Exeter.

Eastern Parcels. As noted above, George Wheatland, Jr., was the successful bidder at the April 10, 1869, auction for the ten eastern lots on the block: the 30 foot corner lot and nine 25 foot lots west of it, with a total frontage of 255 feet.

On August 23, 1869, and January 29, 1870, he entered into agreements with Katharine Crowninshield, the wife of Benjamin Williams Crowninshield, under which he agreed to sell her the land for her home at 164 Commonwealth once the house had been constructed. It was completed in late 1870 and on November 15, 1870, the Commonwealth conveyed the eastern three lots (Lots 1-3) to George Wheatland, Jr., and on the same day, he sold Katharine Crowninshield the lot for 164 Marlborough, with frontages of 80 feet on Marlborough and 47 feet on Dartmouth. He retained the remaining land, with frontages of 65 feet on Dartmouth and 80 feet on the alley, where he built 312-314 Dartmouth for speculative sale.

George Wheatland, Jr., sold or transferred his right to purchase the next seven lots (Lots 4-10) to the west, probably under an agreement with dry goods merchant Eben Dyer Jordan, co-founder of Jordan, Marsh & Co., who subsequently purchased the lots from the Commonwealth. George Wheatland, Jr., also sold or transferred Lots 15-16, further west on the block, which he had purchased at August 30, 1869, auction, and they, too, subsequently were purchased by Eben D. Jordan.

The Commonwealth sold Eben D. Jordan Lot 4, the 25 foot lot to the west of 164 Marlborough, on December 6, 1870, and one week later he sold the eastern 7 feet to George Wheatland, Jr., who then conveyed the portion of it abutting 164 Marlborough to Katherine Crowninshield and retained the portion abutting 312-314 Dartmouth, thereby increasing the east-west width of all three lots to 87 feet. On April 30, 1874, Eben Jordan sold the remainder of the lot to George Tyson, by then the owner of 314 Dartmouth, who resold the portions west of 312 Dartmouth and 164 Marlborough to the owners of those houses, thereby increasing the width of all three to 105 feet.

In 1874-1875, Eben D. Jordan had four houses built at 166-168-170-172 Marlborough for speculative sale, probably with George Wheatland, Jr., acting as building contractor. Their combined frontage was 97 feet, and on October 19, 1875, after the houses were completed, the Commonwealth sold him the 100 foot parcel on which they were built (Lots 5-8). In 1876-1877, Eben Jordan had 174-176 Marlborough built, each with a frontage of 26.5 feet, and on February 21, 1877, the Commonwealth sold him the remaining two 25 foot parcels (Lots 9-10) that George Wheatland, Jr. had originally purchased at the April 10, 1869, auction.

Central Parcels. On May 15, 1872, T. Jefferson Coolidge and James Lawrence purchased the four lots to the west of Eben D. Jordan’s land (Lots 11-14, three 25 foot lots and one 24 foot lot) for which Henry C. Wainwright had been the successful bidder at the April 30, 1869, auction. Later that month, they purchased six lots on the north side of Marlborough for which Henry Wainwright also had been the successful bidder at the same auction.

Thomas Jefferson Coolidge was an investor in textile mills, banks, and railroads. In 1890, he joined his son, T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., in founding the Old Colony Trust Company. He served as Ambassador to France in 1892 and 1893. He and his wife, Mehitable (Hetty) Sullivan (Appleton) Coolidge, lived at 93 Beacon. She died in March of 1901 and subsequently lived at 315 Dartmouth.

James Lawrence was a dry goods merchant in his family’s firm, A. & A. Lawrence & Co. He and his wife, Anna Lothrop (Motley) Lawrence, lived at 38 Beacon and in Groton.

In December of 1872, T. Jefferson Coolidge transferred his interest in the western most and easternmost lots (Lots 11 and 14) to James Lawrence, with a combined frontage of 49 feet, and James Lawrence transferred to T. Jefferson Coolidge his interest in the center two lots (Lots 12 and 13), with a combined frontage of 50 feet. That same month, they also exchanged their interests in the six lots on the north side of Marlborough so that each held three of the six lots.

James Lawrence died in February of 1875. On January 13, 1880, retired shipping merchant Richard Sullivan purchased the eastern lot (Lot 11) from the heirs of James Lawrence and subsequently built his home at 178 Marlborough.

On September 27, 1880, T. Jefferson Coolidge sold the eastern 24.5 feet of his land to N. Henry Chadwick and Oscar L. Stillings, and the western 25.5 feet to Oscar Stillings’s father, Samuel Stillings. They built 180-182 Marlborough for speculative sale.

On May 20, 1880, Naomi (Hawley) De Witt, the wife of John Evart DeWitt, purchased the 24 foot lot to the west (Lot 14) from the heirs of James Lawrence, and on November 1, 1880, she purchased a one foot strip of land (with half of the party wall at 182 Marlborough) from Samuel Stillings. On March 19, 1881, she sold the combined 25 foot lot to Dr. Thomas Buckminster Curtis, who built his home at 184 Marlborough.

On September 13, 1884, the Commonwealth sold the next two lots to the west, Lots 15-16) to Eben D. Jordan. The lots had been purchased at the April 30, 1869, auction by George Wheatland, Jr., who subsequently sold or transferred his right to buy the land.

On February 5, 1885, Eben D. Jordan sold Lot 15 to iron merchant Nelson Slater Bartlett, and he sold it on October 26, 1885, to building contractor John W. Shapleigh, who built 186 Marlborough for speculative sale.

On September 22, 1884, Eben D. Jordan sold Lot 16 to Henry Austin Whitney. He had 188 Marlborough built as the home of his son-in-law and daughter, Dr. James Jackson Minot and Elizabeth (Whitney) Minot.

Western Parcels. On May 15, 1872, the Commonwealth sold to attorney Peleg Whitman Chandler the three 24 foot lots for which Charles K. Kirby (Lots 17-18) and William Thomas (Lot 19) had been the successful bidders at the April 30, 1869, auction.

On May 5, 1881, Peleg Chandler sold a 22 foot lot on the eastern side of his land to Dr. Russell Sturgis, III, who built his home at 190 Marlborough.

On September 5, 1881, Peleg Chandler sold a 25 foot lot to Samuel Stillings and a 25 foot lot west of it to his son, Oscar Stillings and N. Henry Chadwick. They built 192-194 Marlborough for speculative sale.

On February 25, 1873, the Commonwealth sold the 30 foot corner lot and the 24 foot lot east of it to Henry Lee Higginson and Alexander Agassiz. Florence (Dumaresq) Wheatland, the wife of George Wheatland, Jr., had been the successful bidder for the corner lot at the April 30, 1869 auction; the successful bidder for the lot west of it has not been identified.

On March 17, 1873, Henry L. Higginson and Alexander Agassiz purchased the lot to the south, across the alley, and subsequently built the Hotel Agassiz at 191 Commonwealth. They retained the 54 foot parcel on Marlborough until October 20, 1885, when they sold it to attorney William Sohier Dexter. On February 10, 1886, he purchased a six inch strip of land, with half of the party wall with 194 Marlborough on it, from Oscar Stillings and H. Henry Chadwick, and built his home at 18 Exeter with frontages of 46 feet on Exeter and 54.5 feet on the alley. On April 13, 1886, William S. Dexter sold the corner lot, with frontages of 66 feet on Exeter and 54.5 feet on Marlborough, to Dr. Edwin Perley Bradbury, who built his home at 16 Exeter/196 Marlborough.

Original Construction. All of the buildings on the south side of Marlborough between Dartmouth and Exeter had been built by 1886.

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 Marlborough between Dartmouth and Exeter

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

Original construction on the south side of Marlborough 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 Marlborough, 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 Marlborough between Dartmouth and Exeter by the following deeds:

Address Date E-W N-S Grantee Book Page
312-314 Dartmouth

164 Marlborough

15Nov1870 80’ 112’ George Wheatland, Jr. 1027 305
164 Marlborough 06Dec1870 25’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1027 306
166-174 Marlborough 19Oct1875 100’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1301 289
174-176 Marlborough 21Feb1877 50’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1366 241
178 Marlborough 15May1872 25’ 112’ T. Jefferson Coolidge and James Lawrence 1133 28
180-182 Marlborough 15May1872 25’ 112’ T. Jefferson Coolidge and James Lawrence 1133 29
182-184 Marlborough 15May1872 25’ 112’ T. Jefferson Coolidge and James Lawrence 1133 31
184 Marlborough 15May1872 24’ 112’ T. Jefferson Coolidge and James Lawrence 1133 33
186-188 Marlborough 13Sep1884 48’ 112’ Eben D. Jordan 1652 475
190-196 Marlborough 15May1872 72’ 112’ Peleg W. Chandler 1108 134
18 Exeter

196 Marlborough

25Feb1873 54 112’ Henry L. Higginson and Alexander Agassiz 1211 233