South Brookline may lack a catchy name, but it is, in some ways, more like the Brookline of yesteryear than the named places we think of as quintessential Brookline today. Rolling hills, narrow, winding roadways, mossy stonewalls, and large grand estates set deeply into wooded lots combine to create the ambiance of South Brookline. In its landscape, we glimpse the rural character and sylvan beauty that at one time defined much of Brookline and drew the first wealthy Boston businessmen here. It's a world far removed from the hustle and bustle of Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue.Large Landholdings Remain Intact
In colonial times, farms dotted South Brookline's hilly terrain. One of these early farmers, John Goddard, made significant contributions to the colonists' fight for independence from Britain. In the spring of 1775, he stored military supplies in his barn that he later ferried to battle lines around New England. Goddard may have started a tradition that survives today when he proposed a town meeting resolution of national scope that stated "if the Hon. Congress should, for the safety of the American Colonies, declare them independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, that we Inhabitants will solemnly engage with our lives and fortunes to support them in the measure."
The children of early South Brookline families were educated in the one room Putterham School, built in 1768 at the intersection of Grove and Newton Streets. Used until the early 1920's, it was moved to its current location in Larz Anderson Park in 1970, where the Brookline Historical Society oversees its care.
By 1790, wealthy Boston businessmen were building seasonal estates among the hills of South Brookline. Being country homes, they were constructed mainly of wood, and designed in simple, charming styles conducive to their owners' relaxed and informal lifestyles. Styles began to change in the 1840's, when newly published books and periodicals were popularizing a more European aesthetic for American homes and gardens. When Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the principle authors of this new aesthetic, visited South Brookline in 1840, he said, "The whole of this neighborhood of Brookline is a kind of landscape garden, and there is nothing in America, of the sort, so inexpressibly charming as the lanes which lead from one cottage, or villa, to another." For homeowners of sufficient means, the design and decoration of one's home and garden became a passionate pursuit meant to display the homeowner's taste and artistic sophistication. Homes were now being built of substantial materials like granite and brick, in grandly proportioned forms, and in styles reminiscent of old European or classical idioms. Gardens were designed to complement and enhance the homes in various international styles.
The Sargent Estate
By the mid-nineteenth century, the grand estates of Brookline were legendary. There was Holm Lea, purchased in 1845 by Ignatius Sargent, with its world-class collection of rhododendrons, a pond, and majestic trees. It was here that Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, grew up. Larz and Isabel Anderson's Estate, Weld, was one of the first American gardens designed by Charles A. Platt, whose book, Italian Gardens, published in 1894, sparked an appreciation for Italian garden design. Nationally famous, the Anderson estate indulged the wide-ranging artistic and cultural interests of its owners in a formal, yet eclectic and comfortable style. Isabel Anderson donated the estate to the Town of Brookline upon her death in 1948, and it has become one of our premier parks. Charles Platt also worked for Charles and Mary Pratt Sprague, designing the grounds for their equally grand estate on Allandale Road, called Faulkner Farm, which is now the Bandergee estate. Other large estates from this era have been successfully repurposed for institutional use, while retaining the historic buildings and grounds, such as Anna Sears' estate, which now houses Dexter School.
While Charles Platt was not a Brookline resident, the town can claim as its own several of the nation's most influential landscape designers and architects. Living quite near to one another in South Brookline were F.L. Olmsted and H.H. Richardson. When Olmsted moved to Brookline in 1883 to work on the design and construction of the Boston Park System, he would have welcomed the opportunity to live near his friend and professional collaborator, the architect H.H. Richardson. Both men established professional offices that were unique live/work/learn environments offering significant opportunities for those seeking an education in these professions without going abroad.