As the Back Bay was being developed, a central issue was the location of the stables that served the residents. Stables needed to be sufficiently close to where the residents lived to be convenient, but also sufficiently distant from homes to avoid creating a nuisance.
The deeds issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Boston Water Power Company, and the Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation for land in the residential portion of the neighborhood included language intended to prohibit livery and other commercial stables but to permit private stables for the use of residents as “appurtenances to their own dwelling homes” (as stated by the Commissioners on the Back Bay in a November 27, 1858, clarification). The land deeds issued by private landowners (notably the David Sears family) did not include such restrictions, but the purchasers of the land observed the same distinction between private stables and stables for commercial use.
Click here for more details on these deed restrictions.
Although permitted at the rear of houses on any street, private stables were built almost exclusively on the north side of Beacon, where the lots are 150 deep, and on Commonwealth, where the lots are 124.5 feet deep. These lots provided sufficient space to separate the stables from the houses.
The lots on the south side of Beacon and on Marlborough and Newbury were 112 feet deep, too shallow to permit a stable in most cases. Only seven stables were built on the 112 foot deep blocks, all on the alleys between the south side of Beacon and the north side of Marlborough: at 343 Beacon and 277–279 Marlborough between Exeter and Fairfield, and at 403–405 Beacon and 413-415 Beacon between Gloucester and Hereford.
In addition to the limitations imposed by the land deeds, property owners also were required to obtain a license for a stable, whether private or commercial, first from the Board of Aldermen and later from the Boston Board of Health. The license hearings were frequently the focus of controversy, with neighbors seeking to block new stables because of the adverse impact of odors, traffic, and noise.
For example, in 1872 James B. Case received approval from the Board of Aldermen to build a stable behind his home at 120 Commonwealth. He did not build it immediately, however, and in 1880 he filed another petition, the previous approval presumably having lapsed. In the interim period, the houses across the alley on Newbury had been built and the owners objected to the stable. He subsequently built a storage building and then, in 1889, sought a license to from the Board of Health to operate it as a stable. After another round of controversy, his application was denied. Click here for further details.
The private stables generally were brick, although a few of the earlier buildings were built of wood. Most were one story in height and accommodated several horses and a carriage; some, however, were larger, such as those at 3 Commonwealth and 5 Commonwealth, and had a second story that could serve as lodgings for the coachman and his family. Grooms, hostlers, and stablemen also frequently had lodgings in the stable buildings.
The number of private stables built in the residential portion of the Back Bay increased through the 1880s. Based on the insurance maps for the period, there were 56 private stables in the neighborhood by 1890, and that number remained relatively constant during the first decade of the twentieth century. The vast majority of the stables were located on the north side of Beacon, where the depth of the lots and the 30 foot width of Back Street were especially suitable to stable operations. By 1914, the automobile had supplanted the horse-and-carriage and many of the stables had been converted into automobile garages. By 1922, the Bromley map showed only two remaining stables, at 277 and 279 Marlborough, and even these probably were no longer really functioning as such (the 1914 Sanborn map, which is generally more accurate, indicates that 277 Marlborough had been converted into an automobile garage and 279 Marlborough had been converted into shed).
Stables on the Flat of Beacon Hill and on Stanhope Street
Back Bay residents who kept a horse and carriage in town but opted not to build a stable in their rear yard either built a private stable nearby or used a commercial boarding and livery stable or a “club” stable, where members maintained stalls for their horses and storage space for their carriages.
There were several locations with private, commercial, and club stables that served the Back Bay.
Near the eastern end of the neighborhood, a large number of private and commercial livery stables were built on the flat of Beacon Hill, west of Charles Street, between Mt. Vernon to the north and Byron on the south. This area was developed in the 1880s and, by 1890, had a large number of stables serving residents of both Beacon Hill and the Back Bay.
Additional stables were built to the south of the neighborhood on Stanhope, between Clarendon and Berkeley, near the railroad freight yards just east of where the Boston and Providence Railroad tracks crossed the Boston and Albany Railroad tracks. This area also was developed in the 1880s, before Clarendon Street had been cut through to connect the South End and the Back Bay. By 1890, there were thirteen private stables shown on the Bromley map.
Newbury Street “Stable Block”
In the late 1870s, the block of Newbury between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue (originally West Chester Park) was identified as a location for both private and commercial stables. This location was closer than the flat of Beacon Hill and Stanhope Street to many of the new homes being built in the neighborhood, which made it more convenient but also more problematic.
On February 17, 1889, the Boston Herald published a feature article on the “Men Who Drive for Boston’s First Families.” It described the “stable block” on Newbury as follows:
“On Newbury street, at that end nearest West Chester park, are located the finest of Boston’s private stables, and from them are hitched out every day in the year the noblest and costliest of family and private equipages. They are owned by some of the best known and wealthiest of Boston’s citizens, and they are driven by the most capable and best paid coachmen in America. The stables in which these fine turnouts are kept look on the outside more like residences of well-to-do citizens than like quarters for pet equines and elegant road conveyances, The upper story of these buildings is as a general thing occupied as a residence by the coachman, his attendants, and his family, and cosy, comfortable places they are, while the street floor and floor below are partitioned off for the horses and many kinds of carriages owned by the coachman’s masters.”
Unlike the rest of Newbury further to the east, the land deeds for the north side of the block between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue did not require that buildings be set back twenty-two feet from the property line. As a result, they were built without any front yards. The land deeds for the south side of the block, however, required a ten foot setback and, as a result, they were built with relatively shallow front yards.
The north side of Newbury developed slowly because of concerns by those living across the alley on Commonwealth about the adverse impact of stables. Townhouses, not stables, were built on the northwest corner of Newbury and Hereford (45–47-49-51-53 Hereford). Private stables were first built primarily where houses had not yet been constructed across the alley on Commonwealth. By 1883, seven stables had been built, with all but one across from a vacant lot on Commonwealth.
Private stables continued to be slowly built along much of the rest of the block. Between 1883 and 1890, only two more stables had been built.
The only commercial stable on the north side of Newbury was not built until 1892, the Charlesgate Stables at the northeast corner of Newbury and Massachusetts Avenue, and then only over strong opposition by the owners of neighboring property. Residents were more successful in the mid-1890s and stopped the proposed construction of a 50 horse stable at 325-327-329 Newbury proposed by the R. H. White Company, a department store, to be used for their delivery vehicles.
In 1906-1907 the White Sewing Machine Company built a six-story automobile garage on an empty lot at 341-343 Newbury. In 1905 it had purchased the Riedell Stables at the southwest corner of Newbury and Hereford and converted it into a salesroom, office, garage, and repair facility for the sale of its White steam automobiles. The new building at 341-343 Newbury was used exclusively as a garage.
Most of the private stables on the block remained as such until World War I, but by the early 1920s, they had been converted into private garages or other uses.
There remained one vacant lot on the north side of the block, at 345 Newbury, In 1925, Y-D Service Garages, Inc., which had purchased the White Company’s garage at 341-343 Newbury in 1919, purchased the lot and the former stable at 347 Newbury, demolished the building, and built a new, three story garage on the property (in 2007, the street numbers of the two garage buildings were changed, the six-story building at 341-343 Newbury becoming 341 Newbury, and the three-story building at 345-347 Newbury becoming 343 Newbury).
Click here for more information on the north side of Newbury between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue, including the evolution of each building from a stable into commercial uses.
The south side of Newbury developed more quickly than the north side because it abutted the Boston and Albany Railroad and land owned by the City of Boston rather than residential property.
At the southeast corner of Newbury and Hereford, the James A. Riedell & Co. built a boarding and livery stable in 1878, designed by architect William R. Emerson. At the southeast corner of Newbury and Massachusetts Avenue, George Wheatland, Jr., built a stable for 100 horses in 1882 which subsequently was operated by the Boston Cab Company. By 1883, eleven private stables had been built between the two large commercial stables.
In 1886, a 50 foot wide club stable was built at 338 Newbury. Additional private stables were built on the remaining lots, with only two lots remaining vacant in 1890.
In 1913, the Boston Cab Company stable and garage at the southeast corner of Newbury and Massachusetts was acquired by the City of Boston and demolished in conjunction with construction of the Boylston Street subway and Massachusetts Avenue station.
In 1917, the City conveyed the property at the southwest corner of Newbury and Massachusetts Avenue to the Newbury Realty Company, reserving portions for the subway, and the company built the seven-story Transit Building on the land. The City also acquired by eminent domain the buildings to the east, at 354-356 Newbury, demolished them, and built a new building for use by the subway.
As with the north side of the block, by the early 1920s, all of the remaining stables on the south side of the block had been converted into private garages or other uses.
Click here for more information on the south side of Newbury between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue, including the evolution of each building from a stable into commercial uses.