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Allston Heights History

During the second half of the 19th century, Allston Heights was the home of several influential men who figured prominently in the business and politics affairs of Allston-Brighton. The story of this area's development begins with the setting out of Cambridge Street in 1808. Running northeasterly from Brighton Center to the River Street Bridge, over the Charles River, Cambridge Street provided persons from Boston, Cambridge, and points north and west a more direct route to the town's cattle market, nurseries and other concerns. As early as 1832, a school (no longer extent), stood on Cambridge Street near Gordon Street, serving the children of the eastern sections of Allston-Brighton.

North Beacon Street, forming part of the northern edge of this area was set out during the mid 1820s as part of the Mill Dam Extension Road that ran from the Mill Dam's western terminus at Kenmore Square over what is now part of Commonwealth Avenue and Brighton Avenue. The Mill Dam was built between 1814 and the early 1820s walling off part of the Charles River Basin from Charles Street to Kenmore Square for the purposes of milling operations. During the 1860s, when the Back Bay landfill operation was well underway, Bostonians began to take an interest in the eastern section of Allston-Brighton because of its proximity to "the New Land".

Intensive residential development in this area seems to postdate the Civil War. Gordon Street, south of Cambridge Street was set out in 1868 as a cul de sac, called Allston Heights, extending just beyond its intersection with Ridgemont Street. North of Cambridge Street the subdivision of the John Gordon estate in 1873 was of major importance within the annals of this area's development. The Gordon estate was subdivided into 45 lots bordering three streets as well as Cambridge and North Beacon streets. Saunders, Orchard (later Pomeroy Street), an unnamed cul-de-sac (later Barstow Street) and the northern extension of Gordon Street were set out through this estate.

Guilford Street was set out from Pomeroy Street to Saunders Street between c. 1885 and 1897. The c. 1850 John Gordon farmhouse is still extant at 581 Cambridge Street. This Italianate house appears on the Sidney Map of Boston and Vicinity in 1852. Evidently, house construction within the Gordon subdivision was slow perhaps in response to the financial Panic of 1873 which devastated Boston's economy. It wasn't until as late as 1890, that house construction activity was well underway on the Gordon lots. One of the earliest houses within the Gordon tract is 14-16 Gordon Street, built c. 1880. This Mansard -Stick double house originally stood on the site of the Brighton Avenue Baptist Church, at the northeast corner of Cambridge and Gordon streets. It was moved during the late 1920s to accommodate the church, completed in 1930. The house was built for John H. Walsh, president of John H. Walsh and Company, importers and wholesale liquor dealer. l5-17 Gordon Street may have been moved from another site. Its Italianate form and details suggest a construction date of the 1850s or 1860s, rather than c. late 1880. In 1885, it was one of nine undeveloped lots owned by a H. G. Parker. Built by 1899, it was owned by Alvin C. Norcross. (no occupation listed). Its later owners included Henry E. Hardwick (1909), Joseph B. Krauser(l916) and Emma M. Carrol (1925). By 1930, William H. Halligan, conductor and Mrs. Emma M. Carrol owned the halves of the house numbered 15 and 17, respectively. This chronology of ownership reveals names that reflect the changing ethnicity of the area. Although the area to the east at Union Square had been an early focus of Irish immigrant settlement in Allston-Brighton reaching back to the 1850s, Allston Heights began as a Yankee Protestant stronghold during the late 19th century, later embracing Irish and German residents by the 19l0s. Similarly, the Queen Anne house at 78 North Beacon Street was built for Yale educated lawyer Henry Baldwin c.1890. Baldwin was among the first graduates of Brighton High School, graduating in 1850. For many years he served as a judge with the Brighton District's Municipal Court. During the 1910s and 1920s, the William J. Johnson (occupation unknown) lived at 78 North Beacon Street. By 1930 Bartholomew Ford, a watchman at 140 Tremont Street, Boston, owned this property.

The unusually ornate Queen Anne house at 40 Gordon Street was built c. 1870 by and for the Universalist minister Rev. Thomas Silloway. As an Italianate/Stick Style house, it acquired a more Queen Anne sensibility during the 1880s. Silloway was also a prolific architect of New England churches, active from the 1860s until his death in 1886. He is credited with the design of Goddard Seminary in Barre, VT. and the Vermont State House and probably designed his own church still extant at 541 Cambridge Street, now extensively altered. Silloway served as the pastor of the Brighton Universalist Church from the time of its construction in 1861 until he relinquished his post in 1867 to devote his full energies to architecture. This Universalist Church was short lived, closing its doors in 1887. During the 1890s, this church building became the headquarters of the Brighthelmstone Club. Founded in 1896, this women's social and charitable club was one of Brighton's most influential organizations during the early 20th century, particularly within the realms of public health and public education.

South of Cambridge Street, in the Allston Heights area, the housing tends to be more stylish and substantial than that of the north side of the street. Eugene Clark, architect of the Allston Congregational Church and numerous houses in the Aberdeen and Upper Parsons area of Brighton, was employed by affluent homeowners during the mid 1890s to design commodious Queen Anne houses on streets like Cambridge Terrace. 2 Cambridge Terrace was built in 1899 for James H. Ball, secretary and probably represents the work of Clark. 542 Cambridge Street, at the entrance to Cambridge Terrace, is also attributed to Clark. The house was built for Kate Baldwin, believed to be a member of Brighton's prominent political family .

High Rock Way was set out during the early 1900s over land that had been owned by India Wharf merchant Albert L. Shapleigh. 32 High Rock Way dates from the first decade of the 20th century and was originally occupied by, Herbert S. Weaver, master, Girls High School of the Practical Arts.

Ringer Playground, a fairly extensive park, was named in honor of Stanley Ringer, Allston-Brighton real estate magnate who donated this park to the city of Boston c. 1915. This extensive track was owned by Harriet Baldwin at the turn of the century and for most of the 19th century was part of Allston cattle dealer John W. Hollis' vast real estate holdings.

A late, but architecturally distinguished addition to the Allston Heights area was the Gothic Revival Brighton Avenue Baptist Church which was built in 1930. This congregation was organized in 1851 and was originally housed in a splendid wooden Greek Revival church built in 1857 and located on the site of the present fire station at Union Square. With its monumental pedimented portico and tall spire, the Brighton Avenue Baptist Church was a major Union Square landmark until it was destroyed by fire in 1929. The first minister, the Reverend Joseph M. Graves, played a central role in organizing the congregation. The current Brighton Avenue Baptist Church at 30 Cambridge Street was built by Somers and Drisco from designs provided by Blackall, Clapp and Whittemore. Clarence Blackall , a native of Chicago, was a talented Boston theater architect who is credited with the design of the Colonial, Wilbur, Modern and Metropolitan (Wang Center) in Boston. Active as an architect from the 1890s until the 1930s, Blackall designed the 1894 Winthrop Building on Washington Street, Boston, first steel frame "skyscraper" in Boston. The unusual pastel glass in the church was designed by the Whittemore Company while the tower's bronze bell was originally hung in the Union Square Church and was cast by Henry Hooper & Sons.



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