Devotion House to JFK Birthplace
Courtesy, Brookline Preservation Commission
This is one of a series of pamphlets published by and available from the Brookline Preservation Commission, Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Brookline, MA 02445.
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This tour encompasses Brookline's two major house museums, the Devotion House and the John F. Kennedy Birth Place. These two houses, and the surrounding neighborhood, illustrate the dramatic changes in the history and architecture of Brookline that occurred between 1760 and 1920. North Brookline was devoted to farming and large estates well into the 19th century. David H. McKay, starting in 1889, laid out the largest subdivision in North Brookline, developing Coolidge and Thorndike Streets, part of Fuller Street, and Naples Road, while Benjamin B. Newhall's development of Beals and Stedman Streets was begun nine years later. By 1917, the year John F. Kennedy was born, the area of quiet farmland had become a thriving middle -class streetcar suburb.

Harvard Street was one of the earliest roads in Brookline, laid out in 1662 "To Goodman Devotions...," according to the Town Report. The road was first known as the Road to the Colleges, and later as the Great Road to Cambridge, for until the Charles River Bridge was built in 1786, it provided the most direct route from Boston.

The Devotion House [1], at 347 Harvard Street, is considered the best example of mid-eighteenth century architecture in Brookline. Bought by the Town in 1891 as a site for a new school and used for a short while to quarter highway department workers, the house was almost torn down. A hastily formed preservation group saved it, and in 1911 the Brookline Historical Society assumed management as a museum furnishing the house with belongings of Brookline families, including the Devotions. Currently it is open to the public and is well worth a visit for those interested in Brookline history and Georgian period architecture.

Edward Devotion House
Edward Devotion House

Edward Devotion was a French Huguenot who had settled in Brookline by 1645. He was active in town affairs for many years, like his sons John and Edward Jr., serving as fence viewer, constable and tithing man. At his death in 1685 he left a dwelling, a barn, and one hundred and two acres situated on both sides of Harvard Street. John sold his inheritance and moved away, but Edward continued farming the family land until 1739 when, aged seventy-one, he sold his seventy-six acres to Solomon Hill. Recorded with the deed in 1740 is a bond signed by Devotion ensuring Hill of "...having and holding and...enjoying forever one certain house and barn and buildings and tracts of land and meadow in Brookline..."

While it is likely that part of the old Devotion House is incorporated in the present building, stylistically a construction date of c.1740 seems more appropriate. The gambrel roof, large central chimney, projecting window cornices and pedimented doorway are typical of the Georgian period, as is the elaborately ornamented parlor.

Almost eighty years after Hill's purchase, the property was sold to Boston merchant, Israel Thorndike, for whom Thorndike Street was named. In 1827 the farm was acquired by George Babcock. He was something of an eccentric, wearing a stovepipe hat winter and summer and priding himself on being first at the Boston market with his spring peas (which other farmers swore he planted by punching holes with a crowbar in the still frozen ground). His property later passed to Mrs. Babcock's nephew, and then to the Town.

The Edward Devotion School [2], situated behind the Devotion House, now consists of the third building constructed on the grounds, with two recent additions. The original 1892 school building was located directly to the right of the Devotion House, replacing one which had stood for years in the triangle formed by Beacon, Harvard, and Pleasant Streets. It was named for Edward Devotion Jr., the first benefactor of the public schools of Brookline. He left at his death in 1744, a sum equivalent to $3700 to be used "...towards building or maintaining a school..."

Old School
The Old School Replaced

In 1898, in response to the area's growing population, a second school house was built to the left of the Devotion House. By 1913, even more room was needed and the central portion of the existing school was designed by Kilham and Hopkins. This architectural firm, well-known in the Boston area for their suburban residential designs, was also responsible for the Baldwin School and the High School. The 1913 the Devotion School is a yellow brick variation on the Georgian style, perhaps in deference to the Devotion House in front; its gable roof is topped by a louvered cupola and its central facade accented by rusticated quoins, limestone lintels, and decorative scrolls over the entrance way. The two earlier structures were demolished in 1953 and 1974 when the present wings were added. President Kennedy and his brother Joseph both attended the Devotion School.

Leaving the school, proceed up Harvard Street to Stedman Street. The land on which it and Beals Street were laid out was part of the old Babcock farm. The widow Babcock sold a thirteen acre tract, including what was called the pasture lot and the pond, to James M. Beals of the Boston Post. Undeveloped at his death, it was sold to Benjamin B. Newhall, a Boston real estate dealer who moved to Brookline in 1898. He named the streets for the land's previous owner and for the Stedmans, a family which had settled in Brookline as early as 1657. Newhall died when about half of the houses on the two streets had been built; his wife Ellen continued to develop the lots, making arrangements with contractors to build houses at their expense in exchange for a share of the sale price. Both Beals and Stedman Streets are developed with fairly small lots, all of them built upon by 1930.

367-375 Harvard St.
367-375 Harvard St., Circa 1910

Across Stedman Street, at 373 Harvard Street [3], is an unusual brick apartment house with stepped gables in the Dutch manner. This three and one half story building, originally housing three apartments, has a polygonal bay, side dormers with stepped gables, and decorative limestone banding. The original owner, Daniel Dewar, was a developer and builder from Roslindale who also built 375 next door in the same year, 1899. The architect for both these buildings was Walter H. Kilham, later a Brookline resident and author of an important book on Victorian architecture, Boston After Bulfinch. He was then a year short of forming his long-lasting partnership with James C. Hopkins. Squeezed between the two apartment blocks is a neighborhood institution, a one story shop called "Irving's Toy & Card Shop" added in 1924. Originally a candy shop, it has been a variety store since 1940. Notice how this small shop is able to stand out from its two large neighbors with the help of a decorative metal cornice.

The rapidly growing Jewish population of the early 1900s is symbolized by Temple Kehillath Israel [4], at the corner of Harvard and Williams Streets. It was designed in 1922 by the firm of MacNaughton and Robinson, and the cornerstone was laid in June of that year. The tablets over the central door and the Star of David on each tower proclaim the faith of the congregation, and the domed square towers call to mind the architecture of the Mid-East. The Chronicle of January 1, 1925, a week before the temple's dedication, stated "the exterior of the temple is of artificial stone with roof of buff terra cotta, the design a monumental treatment of eastern architecture adapted to modern requirements and details. The temple will not only be a home for the orthodox religious worship but also a community center." In 1928 a school and community building were added at the rear of the temple, and the large wing at the corner, designed by Krokyn and Browne in 1947, was built to provide needed space for both social and cultural activities of the congregation.

This was the first temple to be built in Brookline. Its founders, meeting in quarters at Harvard and Thorndike Streets, wanted a more traditional form of worship than existed here at the time, and they established one conforming to the Ancient Rites of Israel, handed down from the oldest Jewish tradition. Now the temple is Conservative rather than Orthodox and is known for its impact on the Conservative movement through the large number of rabbis who have been trained here.

Next, turn right onto Beals Street, which, after Harvard Street's traffic, seems very quiet and in summer, wonderfully shady, with trees planted at such frequent intervals that the street is covered over. Passing down Beals Street are a variety of middle class homes which were less than twenty years old at the time the Kennedy's moved here. There are a variety of turn-of-the century styles by a number of different architects. The residents typically consisted of men who worked in small businesses, often in Boston. A large number of the houses have been severely altered over the years with the application of synthetic siding and the removal of decorative trim. A view of the street taken in April, 1935, shows the neighborhood much as it looked when the Kennedy's lived here.

At numbers 34-40 [5], stand "four unusual two story brick 8 houses-unusual, in that this type is almost always built as part of a row of attached houses. Here the developers, John Mack and James Moore, bought two lots in 1905, divided each in half and built four narrow houses which were more desirable in the suburbs than row houses, since each had windows on all four sides. The architect, Edward P. Whitman, used many decorative details in brickwork on the facades and emphasized some elements with limestone trim. Notice the clay chimney pots on the roofs and the fact that 34 and its reverse plan, 40, share the same type entranceway while numbers 36 and 38 share another.

At 51-53 Beals Street [6], a large double house on the opposite side of the street built in 1904 (S.J.Rantin, architect), fine classical detailing in the form of modillions, dentils and swags can be seen on the porch entablature; the swags are repeated all across the front of the house just under the roof. Originally there was a balustrade on the porch roof.

Farther up the street, at numbers 67 and 73 [7], are two large houses designed by Walter Kilham. In contrast to most of the houses on the street, these two show evidence of a designer who was striving for inventiveness in exterior treatment rather than relying on heavy classical ornament. Built in 1899 for the same owner, they are among the earliest on the street and are more typical of Kilham's work in Brookline than his previously mentioned designs on this tour. While both are similar in shape, massing and siting, their details vary. Number 67, with its two story turret and diamond paned windows, has a Queen Anne flavor, while 73 with a pedimented front gable and dentils at the cornice reflects some Colonial Revival influence.

The old streetlight and green paint and gold trim mark the house at 83 Beals Street [8] where President John F. Kennedy was born in 1917. The birthplace of the thirty-fifth President of the United States is maintained by the National Park Service to which President Kennedy's mother gave the house after refurbishing and restoring it to the period of the family's occupancy. Mrs. Kennedy has made tape recordings describing each room and the family activities therein, and the house is open to the public.

Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald, moved into this house after their wedding trip. He was then President of the Columbia Trust Company of East Boston. Four of the Kennedy children were born here: Joseph Jr., John, Rosemary, and Kathleen. The small size of the house sometimes surprises visitors, but as Douglas Shand Tucci points out in his book, Built in Boston, the Kennedy's were starting their married life here, and the size, location and style of the streetcar suburb house were very appropriate for them at the time. In 1921 the family moved to a larger house at the corner of Abbottsford and Naples Roads nearby. Before leaving, note the house to the right, 77-79 Beals Street, which was built at the same time as the Kennedy house (1909) by Robert Goode who owned both of them. The same scroll-cut boards decorate the window sills of the two houses.

The greater part of the rest of Beals Street was built somewhat later, and the stained shingled houses there reflect the 1920's.

Turn left on Gibbs Street, proceeding to Naples Road. While almost all of the street was included in David McKay's purchase, it was not developed by him. It was named for John H. Gibbs, a president of the National Shoe and Leather Company who, in the 1880's, was an agent for the owners of this parcel of land, the largest bought by McKay. On this street are good examples of the three story brick buildings seen so often in North Brookline. Typically, each floor was rented to a single family. Both were designed for developers and builders Snider and Rudnick by F. A. Norcross, who specialized in this type of housing. The building at 9-25 Gibbs [9] is the earlier, built in 1915, and it has classical details, including modillions, limestone quoins, and brackets under the lintels and at the cornice. Across the street, numbers 12-20 [10], built in 1924, have less pronounced bays, and the design of their limestone trim is influenced by Tudor architecture.

Babcock Pond.
Looking south from Babcock Pond towards Devotion St.

At Naples Road turn to your left. Here can be seen what remains of Babcock Hill, once much larger. Along the line of Beals Street lay Babcock Swamp with a pond which was drained by a brook starting at the foot of Corey Hill and running to the Charles River. The hill was a large sand and gravel bank, heavily wooded and surrounded by meadows. Children gathered nuts, blueberries and wildflowers there in season, played baseball in the meadows and splashed in the pond in summer and skated on it in winter. William Griggs leased part of this land for many years to pasture his dairy cows. When development of the area began, much of Babcock Hill was used in filling and grading the swamp to the present street level.

Naples Road is a good example of David McKay's development on this side of Harvard Street. It has a wide roadbed, large lots, and substantial houses. McKay was born in New Brunswick, Canada, entered the real estate business on moving to Boston, and saw his opportunity with the advent of the streetcar in Brookline in 1889. He purchased this parcel in 1895 and laid out Naples Road and Fuller, Coolidge, Thorndike, Clarence and Gibbs Streets, financing the endeavor by mortgaging lots and houses on his earlier purchase across Harvard Street. McKay built thirty-two houses on Naples Road, hiring a number of well-known Boston architects who designed in the Colonial Revival, Shingle and Queen Anne styles, or combinations thereof.

At 89 Naples Road [11] is a large shingled house with a steep gable roof, a two story turreted bay for the staircase. It is one of McKay's houses, built in 1897, and the difference in size and scale between houses on Beals Street and those on Naples Road becomes immediately apparent here. Another McKay house built the same year at 73 [12] has the same steeply pitched roof and flared bargeboards as 89, but the sloping roof over the entrance porch and the use of fieldstone for the porch wall are reminiscent of the house at 21 Naples Road which has field-stone pillars on its front porch. This echoing of architectural styles and elements (here a combination of Shingle and Queen Anne) throughout the development is one reason for its homogeneous character.

Number 65 Naples Road [13] is a 1903 interpretation of the Colonial Revival style designed by J. A. Moreshead. It features a hip roof, symmetrical facade, full-length porch, and classical details. Another Moreshead design, built next door at 59 [14] in the same year, has irregular massing and an unusual one story bay; the gable is shingled while the main body of the house is clapboarded.

On the opposite side of the road at the corner of Clarence Street is 50 Naples Road [15], designed and built by J. H. Davidson, a Dorchester contractor, in 1902. Next door is another house in the same Colonial Revival style but designed by Edward T. Barker in 1897. These houses illustrate how buildings of similar style and plan were varied using the same Colonial Revival style architectural vocabulary. Both are fairly traditional interpretations of the style. In contrast is a house in the same style, with one of the few surviving barns in the area, across the street at 41 Naples Road [16]. No architect has been identified yet, but, the proportions of the windows, dormers, and decorative treatments are somewhat 21 Naples Road exaggerated. George D. Pike, in business in Boston like many of his neighbors, built this house in 1898.

21 Naples St.

At 23 Naples Road [17] is a house with a very unusual shed-type dormer across the front, with four windows and large curving brackets. This 1896 house is one of fifteen designed in the area by the architect Edward T. Barker. In 1906 its owner was the Reverend George L. Perin, minister of the newly-built Beacon Universalist Church (now the Coolidge Corner Theater). Next door at 21 Naples [18] is a McKay house designed by Samuel J. Brown, one of the more original architects hired by that developer. Brown tended to avoid rigid classical symmetry and often employed wood shingles and rounded bays in conjunction with the use of large round fieldstones for porches and foundations. This use of diverse natural materials provides a sharp contrast in textures. Historical ornamentation in his work was usually restricted to gable ends, such as the Tudor verge-board found here. The same ornamentation was used on the house at 12 Naples across the street, also by Brown. A photograph of the completed house at 21 Naples, with the first and second floor plans, was published in the Scientific American Building Monthly in October, 1896, a year after its completion. Originally the roof shingles were wood and painted red.

Developer David H. McKay died in 1898, before he could finish constructing houses all of his property. He was mentioned in The Chronicle's obituary on October 15 as "...McKay, the well developer who has done more than any one, perhaps, to throw into the market the district between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue."

The last house on the north side, 8 Naples Street, has been extensively altered. It is worth noting, however, that it was built in 1896 fronting Harvard Street. By the 1920s most of the houses on Harvard were being replaced with blocks of small stores. In 1924 this house was moved back on its lot and turned south to front Naples so that another row of stores could be built on what was becoming one of the principal commercial streets in Brookline.

Originally prepared and printed in 1982 by Carla Benka and Leslie Larkin, edited and reformatted in 1996 by Roger Reed, Greer Hardwicke and Virginia Trainor, funded through the Community Development Block Grant Program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
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