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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).  Dr. Marchione is the President of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society, Associate Professor of History at the Massachusetts Bay Community College, a member of the Boston Landmarks Commission, and the author of several books on Boston-area history, including the recently published, “The Charles: A River Transformed.” These articles are copyrighted in the name of the author. Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution.  If you have questions about any of this material, contact Bill Marchione at 617-782-8483 or at

Brighton Development Fever, 19th Century Style

With the establishment of the Brighton Abattoir, a major obstacle to large-scale residential development of Brighton was removed.  But a second and equally challenging obstacle remained.  Many parts of the community, particularly the more elevated central and western sections of the town, were still relatively inaccessible to commuters.    Brighton as a whole was lacking in good roads, sewerage, and street lighting--- prerequisites then as now of residential development.

The same body of "political entrepreneurs" that established the Butchers' Slaughtering and Melting Association---William Wirt Warren, Benjamin Franklin Ricker, and Horace W. Jordan--- assumed the leadership of the movement to equip the town with the conveniences necessary for large-scale residential development. They were joined by a fourth man,  Ricker's business partner, George Wilson, a contractor, hotel owner and real estate speculator.

In January, 1871, these four men men and sixty-nine other Brighton residents petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for the incorporation of the Newton and Brighton Branch Railway Company.  The proposed horse streetcar line would extend from the Allston Depot to an indeterminate point in Newton. It would provide convenient and inexpensive transportation for the residents of the western half of the town.  Most of the horse railway  supporters lived in the western half of Brighton and expected to benefit from increased land values once the line was established.  Of the seventeen west Brighton residents paying the highest real estate taxes, ten signed the street railway petition. 

To facilitate the construction of the  railway, the town appropriated large sums for street improvements, including $38,000 to widen and improve Cambridge Street.  The project involved cutting down a hill that lay between the Allston Depot and Union Square. Removal of the hill cost the town a sum three times the amount it had been spent on all street repairs in the previous year.

Street construction projects were the principal items of expenditure in the Brighton town budget in the 1871 to 1873 period---and the lion's share of this money went to improve the roads of the western half of the community.  The figures are startling.  In the 1870 to 73 period alone, the Town of Brighton expended an incredible $490,000 on roads, curbings, sidewalks, sewers and street lights, and about 90 percent of the money was spent in the western half of the town.  The projects entailed the expenditure of  $50,000 of improvements on Washington Street; $45,000 on Chestnut Hill Avenue; $70,000 on Market Street; $23,000 on Foster Street, and $19,000 on Winship and Union Streets.

The same group of men who founded the Brighton Abattoir and the Brighton Branch Railway Company---Ricker, Jordan, Warren and Wilson---also engineered the annexation of Brighton to the City of Boston in 1874.

Since Brighton had no newspaper in the 1870s, we are without a detailed account of the town's annexation to Boston.  However, the story can be pieced together from documents and other fragmentary sources.

The earliest of these documents dates from December 19, 1871--- a petition to the Massachusetts legislature urging annexation to Boston, signed by 37 prominent Brighton residents. It contended that both communities would benefit by placing police regulations, the laying out and maintenance of highways, health regulations, drainage and sewerage under a single authority. A month later, in January 1872, the Brighton Town Meeting endorsed this pro-annexation petition.

The December 1871 petition is a fascinating document.  While containing only 37 signatures, the signers were influential men, mostly residents of the central and western sections of the town. They included Nathaniel Jackson of N & S Jackson Company, Butchers, who owned a large parcel of land on Chestnut Hill Avenue, the third highest taxpayer in Brighton; William C. Strong, President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, owner of 200 acres on the Brighton-Newton boundary; and George Hobart Brooks, who owned  a large farm in the northwest corner of Brighton, near the Faneuil Depot.

There was opposition to the proposal. In February 1872, a petition signed by Abel Rice and 170 others reached the state legislature.  This document contended that  annexation "would lessen the responsibility of the citizens."  While there were more signatures on the anti-annexation petition than on that of the proponents, it does not follow that they were more influential. The Town Meeting endorsement of annexation the month before shows that the opponents were unable to command majority support in the town.  Also, nearly 70 percent of those who signed the anti-annexation petition paid no real estate taxes whatever to Brighton.  About two-thirds of the signers were Irish immigrants, mostly laborers, many of whom probably worked for such wealthy anti-annexationists as John Warren Hollis, a large-scale butcher and wool dealer, or the Scott Brothers, the leading Brighton market gardeners.  By contrast, Brighton's leading Irish taxpayers in 1872---William Scollans, Daniel McKenney, and Patrick Moley---supported annexation.

Heading the list of names on the  anti-annexationists petition was Abel Rice---a 37 year old North Allston strawberry farmer, whose Greek Revival-style house still stands at the southeast corner of Everett and Holton Streets in North Allston.  Other prominent signers included Edmund Rice, Jr., a merchant and major Allston landowner, and Patrick Colby, a farmer who owned a large tract of land lying west of the North Harvard and Cambridge Street intersection in Allston.

A close examination of these petitions reveals one startling fact.  Those favoring annexation were chiefly residents of the western half of the town (present-day Brighton), while the opponents were mostly residents of the eastern section of the community (present-day Allston).

Why did Allston residents tend to oppose annexation in January 1872?. There is a simple explanation.   Allston landowners were relatively well-served by the existing transportation system.  The Boston & Albany Railroad ran through the center of the Allston section. From the Allston Depot, the hub of the neighborhood, a passenger could reach the railroad's Boston depot  on Lincoln Street in the South End---some 5 miles away---in about  20 minutes.  The other major thoroughfare emanating from Boston, Beacon Street (which became the Brighton Road at present-day Kenmore Square), provided relatively easy access to Boston by private conveyance.  In short, Allston, in contrast to the central and western sections of the town, did not need new and improved roads to experience development.

By the fall of 1873, however, Allston's anti-annexationist sentiments melted away.  What happened in the intervening months to explain this shift of attitude?

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