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This article by Allston-Brighton historian Dr. William P. Marchione appeared in the Allston-Brighton Tab or Boston Tab newspapers in the period from July 1998 to late 2001, and supplement information in his books The Bull in the Garden (1986) and Images of America: Allston-Brighton (1996).   These articles are copyrighted in the name of the author. Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution. 

Hotels of Brighton

Late 19th century Brighton was unique in containing an unusually large number of hotels-- some twenty-two in all. The hundreds of livestock dealers who came to Brighton each week to trade at the Brighton Cattle Market needed overnight accommodations. The local hotel industry was thus an adjunct to the cattle trade and essential to its well being. Since the focal point of that trade, prior to 1884, was Brighton Center, the center was the location of seven hotels.

The most famous and the largest of these establishments was the Cattle Fair Hotel, which stood on the north side of Washington Street, between Market and Leicester Streets. It was built in 1830 by the Cattle Fair Hotel Corporation.

In petitioning the State Legislature for incorporation, the organizers explained that there were then only two inns in the central part of Brighton (the Bull's Head Tavern, on Washington Street a quarter mile east of the village, and an old tavern standing on the site where the Cattle Fair Hotel would afterwards be built); that these hostelries could not accommodate "the great influx of travelers who with drovers, farmers and many others" visited the Brighton Cattle Fair each week; that it was essential that a "much more spacious and convenient accommodation" be provided; and that in addition to building a large hotel, the sponsors were prepared to furnish "extensive pens and enclosing yards...whereby part of the vast droves of cattle and sheep which are constantly coming in may be left with more security to wait the best chance for a market."

The act of incorporation required that the Cattle Fair Hotel provide "a shed or sheds, not less than two hundred feet by eighteen on the ground, and suitable for the shelter of horses and carriages, and conveniently located for the use of the public, to whom it shall be free of all charge for use thereof, and good and convenient barns, with suitable and sufficient stalls to secure and feed not less than one hundred head of neat cattle." These structures accommodated the Brighton Stockyards, which were located to the rear of Cattle Fair Hotel from 1830 to 1884.

The Cattle Fair was the largest hotel in any town around Boston. A February, 1834 advertisement described it as follows:

"The accommodations of this house are upon the most extensive scale. It has been arranged with particular attention to the traveler and drover, both as to comfort and convenience. Cotillion parties, engine companies, clubs and all associations (are) provided for at instant notice. The larder will always be provided with the best the seasons afford, and the bar, as well as every other part of the house, will be attended to with strict reference to comfort, convenience, and satisfaction of the patrons of this establishment."

The first proprietor was Judson Murdock. The manager in 1834 was Zachariah B. Porter, for whom the Porterhouse steak was named, and who afterwards owned and managed a famous hotel in Porter Square, Cambridge. The Cattle Fair accommodated many prominent visitors, including Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. Webster frequently visited Brighton to attend the annual Brighton Fair and Cattle Show, held in October. Clay visited Brighton in 1833 and is said to have recognized some cattle of his own raising that had been driven on foot from his plantation, Ashland, in Lexington, Kentucky.

In 1852 the Cattle Fair was renovated in the then popular Italianate style by prominent architect William Washburn. Broad running verandas and a fourth story were added, giving the hotel a capacity of 100 rooms. The manager at the time was William Wilson who was described as "a very popular man" under whose management "the hotel became a noted summer resort, accommodating thousands yearly and enjoying the reputation of being the best hotel outside of Boston. It possessed at that time the largest bar room in America."

Later in the century the name changed to the Faneuil House. With the removal of the stockyards to North Brighton in 1884, the amount of business at the Faneuil House declined sharply. It was demolished in the 1890s to make way for residential development.

The Brighton Hotel, situated on the site of the Brighton Police Station, had once been the Winship Mansion (built in 1780), home of the founder of the Brighton Cattle Market. In 1820, Jonathan and Francis Winship sold the old mansion to Samuel Dudley who, adding a floor and an extension to the rear, converted it to a hotel. It was here that General LaFayette stayed while visiting Brighton in 1825 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution. Sleighing parties set out in season from the front of this hotel for a "brush," down Cambridge and Brighton Avenue to the Milldam (then known as "the Brighton road"). Known as Wilson's Hotel in its last years, it closed its doors in 1875 and was demolished in the early 1890s

Across Washington Street, at the southwest corner of Winship Street (on the site of the present Winship Spa), stood the Nagle Hotel. Eugene Nagle operated a hotel here in the late 1860s. However, the original building was partially demolished in the early 70s when the town widened Washington Street. A second Nagle hotel opened here in the early 1870s, however. By 1900 it was owned by the Fitzgerald family. Prohibition and the death of John F. Fitzgerald, the last proprietor, led to the closing of Fitzgerald Hotel in 1892.

At the corner of Wirt and Washington Streets stood the Reservoir House, which was established in the late 1860s while the Chestnut Hill Reservoir was under construction. The building was not original to the site, having been moved from Beacon Street in Boston. The original proprietor, Thomas Mullen, was an Irish immigrant. In 1912 the hotel, then called the Court Hotel, closed and was moved to 60 Henshaw Street (where it still stands) to clear the way for the construction of the Brighton Five Cent Savings Bank. A Mr. Ward owned the hotel in its final days. The first floor had a bar and stools for customers and a background of stained glass windows.

On March 23, 1872 an unsigned article entitled "A Trip to Brighton," appearing in the Brighton Messenger, described the hotels at the eastern end of Brighton Center as follows:

"I arrived at last, somewhat fatigued, at the Brighton Hotel and partook of lunch, for which the establishment of Mr. (Josiah) Wilson has been celebrated. If ever a man knew how to "keep a hotel," he is the man. I sauntered out, and the first building to meet my gaze was Nagle's Hotel, lately much improved, and which in the skillful hands of Mr. and Mrs. Nagle, carries on a flourishing business, as does also the Reservoir House, nearly opposite."

At the southeast corner of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Washington Street stood Scates Hotel, operated by Mr. Dodenah Scates. The structure, which still stands (housing Brighton Travel) is the oldest building in Brighton Center. Constructed in 1818, and located originally on the site of the Winship School at the top of Dighton Street, it originally served as the exhibition hall of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture and was the focal point of the annual Brighton Fair and Cattle Show, held on Agricultural Hill from 1819 to the mid-1830s. In the early 1850s, the building was moved off the hill to the Chestnut Hill Avenue location and converted into Scates Hotel.

The last of Brighton Center's hotels, the Rockland House, which opened in the late 1870s, stood at the southeast corner of Academy Hill Road (then called Rockland Street) and Washington Street. The building now houses the Shamrock Tavern. The original proprietor, John H. Lee, became a prominent political figure in the 1890s, representing Brighton on the Boston Board of Aldermen.

In a day when the temperance and prohibition movements enjoyed wide support, Brighton had a reputation as a wide open town. Even when state law forbade the sale of alcohol, it could be obtained at Brighton's many hotels and saloons. The Brighton Messenger, published from 1872 to 1876, documents this illegal commerce with many references to State Constable Hoyt raiding local establishments, seizing liquor supplies, and imposing stiff fines on the guilty hotel and saloon keepers. Gamblers also found it easy to indulge their habit in Brighton.

A Brighton Messenger correspondent, writing on November 2, 1872, a year before Brighton's annexation to Boston, commented as follows about the damage to the town's reputation:

"Brighton, I believe, is considered the refuge of all that is bad, and the den of vice. Go where you may, and a slur is cast upon her fair name. Now it is not Brighton or her towns-people that are so much worse, but it is the people who come into the village, and think when they get here it is no matter, only Brighton, we can do just as we please."

This complaint has a distinctly modern ring to it.

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