Longtime Allston-Brighton Resident John McLane Recalls the Lake Street Area of his Childhood
This column is one of a series of interviews conducted by local historian Bill Marchione with long-term residents about the changing face of Allton-Brighton.
Retired fire fighter John McLane, who will be ninety years old early next year, has lived in Allston-Brighton all of his life--- his first ten years in the Lake Street area, and the past almost 80 years on Gordon Street in Allston. This excerpt from the McLane interview will focus on Mr. McLane's memories of the Lake Street area.
Bill Marchione: I recollect your telling me that you lived as a child down in the Lake Street area?
John McLane: Yes.
BM: When were you born?
JM: I was born February 3, 1912 in the house at 10 Taylor Street [now 10 Trapelo Road] and I was the first of seven born in that particular house.
BM: Would you describe the Lake Street area as it was in your childhood?
JM: Yes. To describe Lake Street coming in from Washington Street, first on the left was Rogers Park. Then the first house, set way back, was the Flewelling House [217 Lake Street].
BM: Is that the house on the corner of Rogers Park Avenue?
JM: Yes, but there was no Rogers Park Avenue at that time. The first street on the left would have been Taylor Street, which is now Trapelo Road. And on the right hand side lived Alice Chadburn [222 Lake Street]. Now she had the whole field where those three decker houses are now all the way from Lake Street beyond Turner Street. It was a big field with cows.
BM: Is that the house that stands directly opposite Rogers Park Avenue?
JM: Yes. It would be just about there.
BM: That's the old James L. F. Warren house, the home of the great horticulturalist. Warren had a nursery there [the Nonantum Vale Nursery] that extended from his house to the corner of Washington Street, but tthe nursery went out of existence about 1850 when he left for California.
JM: Is that so? Well, my experience there was long after that of course, and we knew it only as the Alice Chadburn house. If we had to go to the store at the corner of Fairbanks Street we would cut through that field.
And then, next, coming up the hill was the Cenacle Convent and the stucco house that's there now [the present EF Language Institute property]. That was where Mr. Sweetnam lived, who was the custodian or the manager of the Cenacle. The nuns had cows, horses, pigs. About everything that was on a farm could be found in and around the Cenacle residence.
BM: Do you remember the old wooden building that stood up there where the Cenacle building is now [the Benjamin Paine House], or had it come down by then?
JM: No. I've seen a picture of the old house, but no, it was before my time. As a little kid I used to go up there---I was probably five, six, and seven years old---and occasionally we'd have a long ride on Mr. Sweetnam's tip cart. A tip cart is a small cart with one horse, with a control on a swivel. The front end would lock down, and if you had a load of gravel, the weight of the thing would tip backwards and the whole load would go flying off.
Now, as we continue up Lake Street, after the Cenacle Convent came a field, at the corner of Kenrick Street, in which the cows that were not milking from St. John's Seminary would graze. There were other cows in there too. A man named Brady kept cows there also.
BM: You know, on that parcel of land, at Lake and Kenrick Street, there was an ice house for the ice cut from Chandler's Pond.
JM: Yes, I saw it. As a matter of fact, skaters on Chandler's Pond used the wood from the delapidated ice house to make bondfires to keep themselves warm.
BM: So it was a ruined building?
JM: There was a lot of debris that we used to burn to make fires to keep our feet warm.
And then going further up Lake Street, on the right hand side, there was nothing much until you got up as far as J. J. Sullivan's [numbers 58 and 54 Lake] almost to Undine Road. For a young kid that was kind of a far place to go.
BM: The old Chandler House [70 Lake Street] was up there as well, the home of the man for whom Chandler's Pond was named. It's now painted white---it's a wooden house.
JM: I didn't know that. But I remember that on the left hand side was a house occupied by the Maloneys.
BM: On the Seminary grounds?
JM: Yes. That was the only house on the left. It was set pretty far back on the Seminary grounds.
Going back down to the bottom of the hill, on the left side of Lake Street beyond Trapelo Road, the first house (185 Lake Street) was occupied another Maloney family, and the second house (181) was the Battle house. Jimmy Battle was my playmate until I was nine or ten years old.
Then, of course, came the Seminary grounds. In the Seminary gounds were chestnut trees, not horse chestnuts, but real chestnut trees. That was before the chestnut blight, which came through in the early twenties and killed all the chestnut trees. We used to go up there and get these beautiful chestnuts and bring them home and roast them.
In those days they didn't block off the Seminary grounds. There were so few kids that we spent much of our time there. As a matter of fact, we used to go around in back to the kitchen and they'd hand out cookies. One of the nicest things was a Monsignor, who later became Bishop up in Manchester, New Hampshire (I don't recall his name). He would see the kids and invite us in. That was the first time that I ever walked on plush carpets. He was a real nice man.
The Seminary had its own cows, horses, pigs, chickens in the back.
BM: Do you remember the stream that flowed out of Chandler's Pond [Dana Brook] as an open stream, or had it been placed underground at that point?
JM: No, it was underground. But I recall distinctly the cast iron cover in the field below the Seminary building, and that we could put our ear to it and hear the water running. Yes, the Seminary was a major part of our lives.
I remember, once a year, [William} Cardinal O'Connell, would walk the Seminary grounds with, I suppose, his assistant, and in full uniform, the big hat, and everything. As kids, we'd say, "What are we supposed to do if we see him?---a Cardinal?" I suppose what he was doing was inspecting his property. He was quite an impressive figure, especially to us children.
BM: This was prior to the construction of the Cardinal's Residence at the top of the hill? I think that was built in 1927.
JM: Oh, yes, indeed.
BM: Do you remember the Gifford Home for Animals [the Cat Farm] up on Undine Road?
JM: Yes. As a matter of fact, Patty Brett was in charge of that, and he had twins. Occasionally, we'd go up there to visit. He would come [down Lake Street] with his horse and wagon about one o'clock every day, and if we were on time (we were on our lunch hour from school), we could ride his team up to Brighton Center. Where he was headed from there we don't know. It was always a secret. He had what we thought were dead animals, and we supposed he was bringing to the abattoir or someplace. They were in big sacks. They would be piled in the front of the wagon, and we would sit on the back and get a ride down Lake Street and up Washington. And then, of course, we'd get off at Brighton Center and go back to either the Winship or the Bennett Schools.
BM: What about the other ice house, the one between Chandler's and Strong's Ponds on Kenrick Street that belonged to J. R. Downing? Do you have any recollections of that site?
JM: Oh, yes. You want to hear an amusing story about J. R. Downing? This is a story that my father used to tell me. J. R. Downing was, of course, the big ice man for the area, and in the 1890s he was one of the first one's that got a telephone in his office. He had trouble getting the operator one day. He kept getting the wrong number. He was so exasperated with her that he said, "Oh, go to hell!," and slammed down the receiver.
So a few days later, someone from the telephone company called and said, "You swore at one of our operators. Now, you will either apologize to this lady, or we're going to take the telephone out of your office." Downing refused.
"Well, in that case we're going to be there tomorrow to disconnect your telephone."
"Well, hold on," said Downing. What's her name?"
"Her name is Alice."
"Alright," he said. "I'll call her.
So Downing picked up the phone. "Let me talk to Alice."
"This is Alice."
"Alice, this is J. R. Downing. You're the one I told to go to hell?"
"Well, you needn't bother!"
BM: What do you recollect about transportation in your early years?
JM: Of course, we had the old semi-cars. Some of them turned around at Oak Square. They were a noisy streetcar.
I've seen a lot of pictures of old streetcars but never the one that went down Market Street. It would stay at the corner of Market and Washington Street. When we were kids my brother sold newspapers at the corner of North Beacon and Market Streets and we would get the newspapers in back of Picone's Drugstore [behind the present Porter Belly's] on Academy Hill Road. The Raffertys were in charge. We'd get the newspapers there, and then board this streetcar and go down the hill past St. Columbkille's to North Beacon Street. This car had only one set of [wheels] on it and it didn't have air breaks. It had the old brake that the motorman had to keep turning and turning and turning until it would catch on the links, and that's the way he'd stop it. And then he'd kick it and that would loosen up the chain, and release the brakes. We'd get our free rides down there. The paper was then two pennies.
There was a streetcar that ran along North Beacon Street at the time that ran out to the Watertown Arsenal. That was during World War I, and it evidently carried workers to the Arsenal.
BM: In the Brighton-Allston Historical Society collection we have photographs showing streetcars crossing the old wooden North Beacon Street Bridge, and also streetcars on Western Avenue near the Arsenal Street Bridge, but we don't have pictures of the streetcar you mention as operating along Market Street.
JM: This particular line would go down Market Street, turn right on Western Avenue, and as I understand it, would go on to Central Square.
But what impressed me about this streetcar was the big brass handle that the motorman had to keep turning to stop, whereas later on, cars were equipped with Westinghouse air brakes.
Another feature of Allston-Brighton in that period is that there were bar rooms everywhere! I'll never forget them. You know where the BFI place was until recenly [at the northeast corner of Market and North Beacon Streets]? Well, there was a bar room there. On the right hand side of Market Street there must have been a dozen more. Until just a few years ago some of those big brass rails that were in front of bar rooms were still in front of these buildings.
Speaking of bar rooms, when we first moved here [16 Gordon Street in 1922], in the barn was a great big case measuring about eight feet high by twenty feet long which came from the Centennial House, which was the hotel that had stood next door [on the site of the Brighton Avenue Baptist Church]. No one was allowed to see what was in that case! Father let them keep the case in our barn until it could be moved. It was evidently one of those [nude] murals that hung over a bar.
BM: I see. Not fit for innocant eyes to see. When did the Centennial House come down?
JM: There was a fire. I would say it was about 1915 or so, but I'm not absolutely sure of the date. When we moved here the outline of the foundation was quite defined.
BM: A man named Walsh owned the Centennial House, didn't he?
JM: Yes, Centennial Walsh. [The hotel dated from 1876, the national Centennial---thus its name of the hotel and its proprietor]. My father bought our house from the Walsh family.
BM: The barn serviced the hotel originally?
JM: Yes, Centennial Walsh owned this house.
BM: Did he live in the house?
JM: I don't know, but his son did.
BM: Now that's the barn that John L. Sullivan is said to have trained in?
JM: Now that's an interesting story. There was a man named Hobart Turner, a police officer, who lived in this neighborhood somewhere. He was the one who told me when I was quite young that John L. Sullivan and Centennial Walsh were very close. John L. Sullivan did a lot of his drinking in Brighton. In fact, Hobart Turner told us about how many times John L. would be locked up in the Brighton police station.
BM: I ran across an article in old Brighton Item some time ago, describing how the great fighter was arrested on one occasion near the corner of Lake and Washington Streets for driving a team recklessly while under the influence.
JM: Apparently, Centennial Walsh's son was quite a sports enthusiast. The exercise equipment we found in the barn included a circa 1900 football helmet, dumbells, a big, solid punching bag, all sorts of paraphenalia--- Indian clubs, weights, anything associated with sports and exercise. So apparently, John L. Sullivan would come over and train in the barn. Hobart Turner is the one who told me about it.
BM: Apropos of athletics, you loaned the Brighton-Allston Historical Society a photograph recently of three young men in YMCA baseball outfits, members of a local team, dating from about 1900, one of them being your uncle, which the Historical Society copied to go into a display in the foyer of the new YMCA building in Oak Square. What can you tell us about the men that appear in that photo?
JM: They were all local boys, and all three went on to play professional ball. Charlie Hasset and Jim Cross played in the Pacific Coast League while my uncle, Eddie McLane, played in the Eastern League, and was the manager of the Brockton Team.
BM: How about the Charles River? Do you have any recollections of going down to the river to swim?
JM: Indeed, I do. How the people in lower Allston ever put up with the degradation of the railroad and the gas company I'll never understand. Are you cognizant of the fact that there were gas tanks on lower Cambridge Street? They would go up and down as the gas was being used. They were in a marsh and they sort of floated.
And then across the street were the roundhouses. And they'd keep the engines going and soft coal smoke would come across from there. When you'd get the streetcar to go to Magazine Beach it crossed the river on a wooden bridge [the River Street Bridge], a draw bridge. It was a rickety bridge. We used to think we were going to fall in.
BM: So you used to swim at Magazine Beach?
JM: Yes, but I suspect that it wasn't the best, even then.
BM: How about the Brighton Abattoir? Did you ever get down there?
JM: Oh, sure. The smell of the Abattoir! They used to say that they were "rendering" over at the Abattoir. With the northwest wind blowing, it was something brutal! I remember going down, and there was blood, and the big men with the aprons on, slaughterings cows, and pigs, and horses. And I saw them shoot a horse. They lined up the horse along a wall. And this guy shot him, and they lifted the horse up. I'll never forget it.
I was driving down just the other day, along Life and Guest Streets. That used to be Buffalo Avenue in my day. But when the bakery came in there they named the streets after their bread---there was Life bread and Guest bread. As I say, I was just driving down there, and thought how nice it is to have swapped the Abattoir and Stockyards for what's in there now, the new Brighton Landing development.
BM: How about fires at the Abattoir? I understand there were quite a few.
JM: Oh, yes. I'll never forget, we were selling newspapers down there one afternoon, at the corner of North Beacon and Mrket Street, and there was a fire. And the fire went right through these wooden, slatted pens---probably 20 by 20 feet---and that was one of many brutal fires down there.
And, of course, everyone tells you about the Abattoir whistle, the "Brighton Bull." When World War I ended [November 1918] they blew the whistle, and blew it, and blew it, and blew it. Communications in the early times were pretty primitive. At election time, for example, there being no radio and very little telephone, they would sweep the sky with a search light to tell you which candidate had won. Candidate A would be represented by one circle of the search light, candidate B by two circles, and so forth. That was the way they told you who was ahead. It was extremely difficult to interpret!
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