BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 22, 1914
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Members of the Brookline Historical Society and Friends
THIRTEENTH ANNUAL MEETING.
We are met at the beginning of the fourteenth year of our existence to report and consider the doings of the past year, and to make plans for the future, for though, as our name implies, we are chiefly concerned with what has happened, it is only by comparison with the past that the present and the future may be improved. It has, I trust, been an interesting and instructive one, both to ourselves and to our Society. Our pleasant home here is undisturbed, although the surroundings have been greatly improved. What a year ago was only a plan has now developed into the fine building in our rear, which though still unfinished shows its immense size and fine architecture. It goes to show how rapidly our town is growing, that it should require such a great addition to the already large schools to house the children of the neighborhood. Within our building the library has been re-arranged, shelves have been built for the books, pictures have been hung, and additions to our collection have been made; it is therefore in much better condition for inspection.
Our numbers have materially increased. Last summer a special effort was made to enlarge our Society by preparing and sending out appeals; and quite a number of responses have been received, and fourteen new members have joined. Three members have died during the year, and we now have 203 annual members, 26 life members and 4 benefactors; 233 in all. The attendance at our meetings has been fairly satisfactory, and our lecture room has at times been inconveniently crowded, and a suggestion has been made of taking away the partition, separating it from the present ante-room, thus enlarging the room at least one-third. The three members who have died are Jotham B. Sewall, June 16; William H. Hill, October 14; and Louis Robeson, October 19. Mr. Sewall had been a clergyman in his younger days and came to Brookline in 1904, making his home at Brandon Hall. He was much interested in historical matters, and was a delightful gentleman to meet, but his advanced age prevented his taking an active interest in our Society. He was eighty-seven years old at his death.
William H. Hill had been a long-time resident, coming to Brookline in 1870, and lived on Marion Street. He was of the banking house of Richardson, Hill&Co., and was also much interested in shipping, having charge for many years of the Boston and Bangor line of steamers. He had a number of children, though they have scattered, only one or two of whom are now living in Brookline.
Louis Robeson had been a resident since 1884, living at first on High Street and moving in 1897 to a house which he had built on Clyde Street. He was a member of the Country Club, whose grounds Were opposite his home, and he was much interested in and a great lover of horses.
There have been eight meetings of the Society at which papers have been read or talks given as follows:
January 23, 1913. Annual Meeting; at which officers were elected, reports were read and some account of the many changes in Brookline was presented.
February 20. Mr. George Wolkins of West Roxbury, expresident of the Old South Historical Society, read a paper on George Washington. One might suppose that this subject would be almost threadbare, so much has been written about the Father of his Country, but Mr. Wolkins made his paper very interesting, giving some new facts about Washington's younger years, particularly of his school days and his surveying career. Twenty-two were present at this meeting.
March 20. "Rome, the Eternal City," by Henry C. Wilson of Brookline. This lecture was given in the Lecture Hall of the Public Library, and was illustrated with lantern slides. A special effort had been made to make this a full meeting, and a large number were present. Mr. Wilson had devoted a great deal of time in the preparation of this lecture, and it was very interesting.
April 17. A paper on the Battle of Lexington, by our fellowmember, Charles F. Read. Here again one might suppose the subject had been about exhausted, but Mr. Read gave many new and interesting facts about the beginning of the War of the Revolution. Coming as it did only two days before the anniversary of the fight, it was a fitting observance of the event, and one could but contrast the interested men and women listening to this thoughtful and carefully prepared paper with the immense throng of people at Coolidge Corner two days later, watching a struggling line of men and boys competing for the Marathon prizes.
May 22. This meeting, according to custom, coming as it does near Memorial Day, was held in the Grand Army Room in the Town Hall, and an invitation had been extended to the Civil War veterans to be present. Mr. Frank E. Woodward of Wellesley read a paper on Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Woodward dwelt particularly on the character of Lincoln, and the influences which helped to make this splendid specimen of an American citizen. It was exceedingly well written and listened to with close attention.
The summer vacation followed.
October 16. "The Romance of Records," by John H. Edmonds of Brighton. This paper was brimful of facts of historical interest, obtained from records very difficult of access, particularly important when so brought together.
November 13. Mrs. Morrill Hamlin, daughter of Lot M. Morrill, U. S. Senator from Maine 1861-1876, gave an exceedingly interesting and instructive talk on the "American Occupation of the Philippines." Mrs. Hamlin spoke without notes for upwards of an hour. She was decidedly against the United States giving up the Islands to the Filipinos, being sure that at present they were not fit to govern themselves, and that no set date should be set for their independence. It is to be hoped that we may again hear from this gifted lady.
December 17. "The New Haven Colony," by Rev. Theodore P. Prudden of Brookline. This colony, recruited largely from the Plymouth and the Massachusetts colonies, had gone to the shores of Long Island Sound, in what is now Connecticut, to found a colony more in accordance with the peculiar views of their leaders, which were based on the Jewish code of morals as given in the Old Testament. There was considerable wealth and learning and influence in the colony which had a fluctuating existence for a few years, but which finally died out, largely on account of its extreme views and ideas of justice. The paper was exceedingly well written. Our Society has certainly been most fortunate in having so many papers of a high degree of merit, and doubtless we shall have the pleasure of reading some of them in the bound papers of our Society.
During the past year your Society has been represented at the four meetings of the Bay State League, of which the Society is a member; viz., January 25 at the rooms of the N. E. Genealogical Society on Ashburton Place, Boston. In April at Fitchburg; in July at Marblehead; and in October at Holliston. The meeting at Marblehead was particularly pleasant, being held in the grand old Lee mansion, now owned and occupied by the Marblehead Historical Society. I will also speak of the midwinter meeting held last Saturday in the delightful rooms of the Lynn Society, at which Mr. Edwin D. Mead gave a most instructive talk on Benjamin Franklin, it being the anniversary of Franklin's birth. Your Society was represented by three delegates.
In looking over our town, one cannot but be impressed with the great amount of building during the year, especially of so-called apartment houses. Indeed it seems as if history were repeating itself, and that the pre-historic cave dwellers had come to life in this twentieth century, in the shape of the hundreds of families living in flats, one above another. From the books of the building commissioner I find that one hundred and ninety-one (191) buildings were erected during the year 1913, one hundred and three of brick and eighty-eight of wood. The erection of apartment houses is mostly confined to the northerly and westerly parts of the town, notably in the neighborhood of Coolidge Corner, and though the buildings add materially to the taxable valuation of the town, the dwellers themselves are not as a rule to be reckoned a stable valuation, as they are largely a floating population, ever ready to move if some new convenience to an apartment is added in another location. To the older and more conservative citizen these buildings are interlopers, in some instances destroying old and perhaps venerated houses to permit of their erection. Two instances of this have occurred in the past six months within a short distance of Coolidge Corner; one of these is the Way estate at the corner of Longwood Avenue and St. Paul Street, a large brick house and stable, with a fine garden and fruit trees, having been destroyed, and four large apartment houses being now in process of erection. The Way house was built in 1879 on what was a part of the Stearns farm, by Charles G. Way, who was the son of Samuel A. Way of Roxbury, a lawyer who figured largely in the affairs of that town and of Boston in the period between 1850 and 1870. Mr. Charles G. Way died April 16, 1912, and the family having moved away, the place was sold. Another passing of a fine estate has occurred within a few weeks in the sale and demolition of the Armstrong estate fronting on both Beacon and Marion Streets. This expensive house and stable were built by George W. Armstrong in 1900, although he had lived in a house fronting on Marion Street for many years. As so frequently happens when a new house is built, the head of the house soon passes away. So Mr. Armstrong died in 1902, leaving a widow and two children. He was the originator and promoter of the present Armstrong Express Co., and the Armstrong News Co., and his was an interesting career. Born in humble circumstances, he early in life started to earn his living as a newsboy. He afterward had a position on the cars of the old Boston&Worcester R. R. to sell papers and sweetmeats, and I well remember him as a bright and active stripling going through the cars of the New York train with his papers and magazines. He afterward bought the news stand and restaurant in the old Boston and Worcester station, which used to stand on Beach Street, and, gradually increasing similar interests in other roads, until at his death he had control of many of the news stands and restaurants of the railroads of northern New England. His real estate in Brookline was sold by his widow during the latter part of last autumn, and the house and stable are now levelled, the beautiful shrubs and trees destroyed, and foundations for eleven apartment houses being put in. In addition to these, many separate houses have been erected, notably on the Corey estate and on Fisher Hill, localities which for the present, at least, are dedicated to single houses. A fine block of fireproof stores has been built to replace the partially burned wooden structures on the S. S. Pierce land on Beacon Street, the Boulevard postoffice occupying a large space in the same. Coolidge Corner is recognized as an important business center, bidding fair to equal if not exceed the business of the so-called Village section. A valuable improvement to the Village and a part of Harvard Street was made through the influence and zeal of the Business Men's Association, now the Brookline Board of Trade, by the substitution of frequent and powerful electric lamps in place of the infrequent gas lamps extending from the town line on Washington Street to the corner of Harvard and School Streets. The turning on of these, lights, in November last, was made the occasion of a gala celebration, and a parade with music and stereopticon pictures in Harvard Square, drew an immense crowd, probably by far the largest gathering of people ever seen in Brookline. It is to be hoped that a further continuation of this blaze of light may be extended on the main streets of the town.
The widening of Boylston Street, begun nearly two years ago, has apparently been finished, though unfortunately some law suits occasioned by the taking of property have not been settled, and Guild's block with its tarred paper walls presents a dismal appearance in the heart of the village.
An immense automobile establishment has been built on Pleasant Street near the corner of Commonwealth Avenue, thus adding to the already large group of similar buildings in this vicinity. A new highway from Boylston Street, nearly parallel to Chestnut Hill Avenue, has been laid out, and several houses have already been built thereon. This street has been named Eliot Street, in recognition of the fact that John Eliot, the preacher to the Indians, travelled over this region in his walks to and from Natick. Several streets have also been built on the Phillips estate, running from Chestnut Hill Avenue, thus opening up this large tract of land which has heretofore been without means of communication. Indeed, Brookline is fast losing its suburban character and becoming urban, a fact which, though one may lament to see, must be inevitable considering the rapid growth of our big neighbor.
The present lease from the Selectmen to our Society of the Devotion House expired January 1, and your president has applied for an extension of the lease. No reply has as yet been received, though it is not expected that any opposition will be made. We hope for another pleasant and profitable year.