Brookline Preservation Commission The Pill Hill Local Historic District: The Story of a Neighborhood Preface

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The Swedenborgians

Another active force in the emerging intellectual and social character of Pill Hill was the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem. The Swedenborgian denomination, founded in 1787 in London, was based on the religious philosophy of Emmanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth century Swedish scientist and inventor whose writings influenced the likes of William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Baudelaire, Balzac, and Strindberg, among others. He promoted a rational approach to love, wisdom, and order, and a belief that salvation was not possible through faith alone but must also be based on good works. Swedenborg also believed that Africans were particularly attuned to the Deity — thus part of the appeal of Swedenborgianism for Abolitionists. The Swedenborgian milieu also tended to be spiritualist and utopian, in keeping with much progressive thought of the time.

The Swedenborgian movement came to the United States in 1818 and peaked along with the great revival movement in the decades before the Civil War. In 1857, a group of Swedenborgian followers residing in Boston and Brookline formed a Brookline congregation, initially holding services in Town Hall and in private homes. (Eventually there would be eight Swedenborgian churches in Massachusetts. Today only a few thousand Swedenborgians remain in the US.)
Swedenborgians were deeply involved in the abolition movement. Carl Wadstrom, shown here, advocated an African colony to demonstrate that the freeing of black labor was not just morally right but also more productive than slavery — perhaps helping inspire the “Philbrick Experiment.”

The Gothic Revival, puddingstone, Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem (1862; Since 1966 the Latvian-Lutheran Church) clearly reflects the influence of the British Gothic Revival propagandist and architect A.N.W. Pugin — as seen in the structural honesty of the “relieving arch,” designed to carry wall loads around the west window, just visible in the wall fabric above the windows (an example of subtle structural “honesty” rather than the typical mid-Victorian enhanced expression of structure). The church was designed by the brief partnership of Edward Philbrick with William Ware, who was clearly its designer and soon entered partnership with Henry Van Brunt. (Unfortunately, the interior, which reflected the same simple honesty of materials, is radically altered.) For a time Ware & Van Brunt was second only to H.H. Richardson as one of Boston’s most important architectural firms. Their well known works include Memorial Hall at Harvard.


The Swedenborgian church in 1876, without its later unfortunate accretions, as viewed from the fenced yard of 39 Irving. Just visible on its right is 68 High. On its left is 10 Allerton (then 10 Irving), built by Dr. Shurtleff, probably soon after the church was built. 10 Allerton later shared its lot with 14 Allerton. “Mrs. Dr. Denny,” as the formality of the day had it, was born in 10 Allerton. The daughter of Charles Storrow, she lived in four Pill Hill houses. 10 Allerton survived until after WWII, when Pill Hill houses were so cheap that a new owner of 14 Allerton demolished it to gain additional yard space.
Edward Philbrick’s mother and his brother William made generous donation towards the construction of the church. Other original proprietors were also Pill Hill residents. Dr. Augustine Shurtleff, who owned 14 Allerton St., facing the apse end, was a founding member and generous supporter. Tellingly perhaps, the church was dedicated on Washington’s Birthday, 1862. The present abutting “apartment building” on the site (58 Irving St.) is an unfortunate, 1970s pre-Historic District reconstruction of the original rectory, after a fire. (Farley Wheelwright, who living there as a boy in the 1920s, recalls that only the principal rooms were electrified while the remainder were still illuminated by gas. He also recalls being operated on, lying on the kitchen table. His adenoids were removed, after the doctor had wafted a can of ether under his nose.) The High St. meeting hall façade between 58 Irving and the church also pre-dates the Historic District.

The Brookline Land Company

The Brookline Land Company was the neighborhood’s largest landowner in the second half of the nineteenth century, controlling 80 acres. This included almost all the land annexed from Roxbury in 1844, between High St. and the Muddy River, and extending from the edge of the “Farm” section of Brookline Village (site of the Brook House and Co-op housing) almost to Jamaica Pond. The Company’s tract had been the Samuel Ward Farm — an orchard famous for its Roxbury Russet apples. The Brookline Land Company was established in 1860 to develop the area while maintaining the neighborhood’s character. It wished to preserve the quality of the neighborhood through deed restrictions (the only long term planning means available before zoning), which prevented “occupation or erection of any building which could work injury or annoyance to residents.” There was a significant overlap among the Company’s proprietors, neighborhood residents, and Swedenborgians.

An inset location map from the Brookline Land Company’s 1860 sales map showing the “B. L. Co. Estate” (just above Jamaica Pond towards the lower left. It also shows the “Brookline Branch RR” (now the Green Line) running from Brookline village to a waters-edge junction at the future Kenmore Sq. (then still part of Brookline) and then across the waters of the unfilled and still tidal Back Bay on a trestle. It also shows the “horse railroad” following what is now Huntington Ave., then crossing Mission Hill, and traversing the then new South End to the Common at Park and Tremont.
High St. became a public way in the early 1860s. By 1870, 30 acres had been sold (including significant proportions to several directors), and two miles of streets built. Sales accelerated in the 1880s and 1890s, although it was not built out until the 1920s.

The original 1860 development plan, drawn up by the civil engineering firm of Shedd & Edson, is interesting for both what survives of it and what doesn’t. Had it been executed completely, it would have been an important early example of suburban development based on the picturesque garden cemetery tradition, introduced by Mt. Auburn in Cambridge — which a few years later Shedd & Edson substantially enlarged in the same manner. (In 1853 they had designed Brookline’s picturesquely planned, Holyhood Cemetery off Heath St., where JFK’s parents are buried.) Conspicuously, their plan had a five acre park occupying much of the space now bounded by High, Allerton, Glen, and Cumberland, with its principal entrance from what Olmsted later called the Allerton Overlook on Pond Ave. The carriageway around the park’s north side (called Irving St. on the plan) lead up to the Swedenborgian church, whose lot was contiguous with the park. The carriageway on the south side (called Glen St.) led, via High St., to Summit Ave. (now Edgehill) and the most dramatically sited lots.

The Brookline Land Company’s picturesque, 1860 first plan centered on an unrealized five-acre park east of High St. Its survey was based on a grid whose “zero point” was the old State House in Boston and the plan is “oriented” the old fashioned way, with east up.
What it calls “High St.” includes Irving and that portion of High south of the church — connecting with a pre-existing road beyond the Land Company tract where two houses are shown. (One still stands at 175 high).
What it calls “Irving” is now Allerton and was only built as shown here, adjacent to the church lot and for the width of two house lots towards Pond Ave. The short section next to the church runs due east, paralleling the church as shown here. That would have made the church also oriented due east-west — the liturgical ideal. (As built, its orientation splits the difference between Allerton & Irving.)
The angled lot line between the church lot and park suggests that, even then, an extension of High towards Brookline Village was contemplated. “Glen St.” would have met High where Cumberland does — dictated by the dip in High to provide the easiest gradient. “Summit” (now Edgehill) and Pond show their present form — including the Allerton Overlook bow, which would have signaled the entrance to the park. (Neither High nor Pond appears in an 1858 county map, suggesting neither pre-existed.)

Presumably as a practical matter, development began with the more prosaic part of the design. An access road, then named as a part of High St. (now Irving), lead east from Walnut along the common boundary of the Philbrick and Wright estates and then, turning to become the southern part of today’s High St., paralleled the Land Company’s boundary, with lots on both sides, and giving access to Edgehill. That is how things stood — albeit on paper only, as far as “Glen Street” and “Irving” were concerned — until no later than 1870.


Edgehill Road & the southern part of High Streets
The very first new houses in the development include the Italianate 138 High (ca. 1861), built for Sarah Searle, a Swedenborgian. It was the home of Dr. Walter Channing, first dean of the Harvard Medical School and a founder of the Boston Lying-In Hospital, at the time that died there in 1876. The neighborhood’s collective memory long identified 138 High as a station on the underground railroad, although its apparent construction date, suggests otherwise. An occupant of this house in the 1920s was Henry Whitney Lamb an industrialist and president of the Brookline Savings Bank who, like several of his neighbors was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League. 1 Edgehill (ca. 1866-67) was originally an Italianate house. It acquired its present Arts & Crafts appearance in the early twentieth century.

99 High St. (1865), originally a Mansard, was built for Congressman John W. Candler, a director of the Land Company. There was a great annexation struggle between Brookline and Boston in the 1870s, when Brookline became the first suburb of a major U.S. city to successfully resist annexation by its adjacent core city. Brookline started a national trend, which by the end of the century effectively ended the growth of many U.S. core cities through annexation. Candler was a leader of the losing, pro-annexation side and, as a result, lost his “safe” Republican seat in Congress. This house was given its present castle-like appearance by the architect F. Manton Wakefield, its then owner, in 1907. Wakefield had also lived on Wellington Terrace. Candler’s Jam (1881), the four, closely spaced, Queen Anne cottages at 17, 19, 25, & 29 Edgehill, was built by Candler as an endowment for an unmarried daughter. Although similar, each has individual features. Another house totally modernized (in a medieval manner, in 1905) by F. Manton Wakefield is 132 High (ca. 1870).
A vignette from the Brookline Land Company’s 1860 sales map showing “A view Northeasterly from Summit Ave.” (now Edgehill Rd.).

Robert S. Peabody, of Peabody & Stearns, designer of the Customs-house Tower — for years Boston’s only “skyscraper ”— built 50 and 76 Edgehill, the 1876 Queen Anne brick houses, and the shingled stable (1891) at the end of Edgehill. 50 Edgehill was Peabody’s own house.

Peabody’s college roommate and friend, Moorfield Storey, lived at 44 Edgehill. In about 1904, he and Peabody both moved to new Peabody-designed houses on the Fenway. Storey was a president of the American Bar Association and the president for most of its existence of the Anti-Imperialist League, an organization founded to oppose the annexation of the Philippines as a colony and to support free trade and the gold standard. Its members included Jane Addams, Andrew Carnegie, Grover Cleveland, Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers, and John Dewey, among many notables. Later Storey became the first president of the NAACP. Storey sold his house to Walter Edward Andrews. He was the business partner of Charles Storrow (who lived at 112 High), son-in-law of James Wheeler Edgerly (who lived at 39 Irving), and father of the author Louise Andrews Kent. She lived in a total of five Pill hill Houses — but in this one only for a couple of years. During the first great “red scare” of the 1920s, the house was owned by Horace Andrew Davis, a banker, legal scholar, and grandson of Massachusetts governor and senator “Honest John Davis.” However, he seems to have mostly resided in New York, while his wife, Anna Norwood (Hallowell) Davis, who was Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Civil Liberties Committee (an affiliate of the ACLU) occupied 44 Edgehill — which was the mailing address for its Sacco and Vanzetti defense committee.

Cabot & Chandler designed the Shingle Style 26 Edgehill (1881), for Samuel Cabot, Jr. 41 Edgehill (1870-71), the original Mansard home of Samuel Cabot, was “Colonial Revivalized” in 1934, with pedimented dormers and doorway, a fanlight, and a round arched window, by Royal Barry Wills, one of the great popularizers of the Colonial Revival. 33 Edgehill (1913) replaced the home of Walter H. Kilham, prominent Boston Colonial Revival architect and author of Boston After Bullfinch. 36 Edgehill belonged to Charles Torrey, an artist who painted ships and nautical scenes.

Moorfield Storey, who lived at 44 Edgehill, president of the ABA, first president of the NAACP, and president of the Anti-Imperialist League.
The 1869 Mansard at 123 High was the home of Col. Charles Russell Codman, another Anti-Imperialist League member. He had returned from Europe to raise a Civil War regiment. His son, John Sturgis Codman was an anti-vivisectionist and promoter of Henry George’s populist single-tax plan — the basis for the game Monopoly.
The Classical columned 135 High is an 1870 Mansard updated in 1926 by Edwin J. Lewis Jr., who added the monumental columns, long windows and new entrance. The wrought iron fence once enclosed the entire Hall property. Its ca. 1870 barn, at 131 High, became a house about 1940. The four Hall Road houses were built in 1941. Next door is the Arts & Crafts style 127 High (1909), also designed by Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. for Prescott F. Hall, grandson of Walter Farnsworth, who built 135 High for his daughter. Prescott Hall was a lawyer and prolific writer on such topics as law, economics, and eugenics. Best known for founding the League for Restriction of Immigration, in 1906 he wrote Immigration and its Effect upon the United States. But he also was involved in progressive housing reform and helped draft Brookline’s first zoning bylaw.

The simple house at 146 High (ca. 1875) was called “Willow Cottage.” William G. Rantoul designed 111 High (1905) for Dr. & Mrs. Francis Denny. He was Brookline’s Public Health Office, when the town ran its own hospital. She was born and lived in four Pill Hill houses and was a founder of the Brookline Friendly Society’s Visiting Nurse Service. The Friendly Society (now Brookline Community Foundation) had a Peabody & Stearns designed settlement house where the high-rise housing is now at 22 High. 107 High, tucked behind 111, was built in 1940 for Mr. & Mrs. Morton Vose of the Vose Art Gallery.


High Street (where the park would have been)
By about 1870 the Brookline Land Company’s original development plans had been modified because the first house appeared on the east side of High where the park had been proposed. Even before that, the extension of High from the church down to the village must have been in place. In 1864 the mansard-roofed 52 High was built and soon occupied by Michael Quinlan, whose carriage works was down in the village (where the Dunkin Donuts is now). By 1874 the present orthogonal street plan, eliminating the park, had been laid out by the civil engineer and landscape designer Ernest Bowditch. That same year he proposed a design for a Boston parks system — a year before Olmsted became involved with Boston’s nascent parks. Bowditch had a long career designing Olmsted-like landscapes for some of the most gilded names of the Gilded Age, as well as having designed Brookline’s wonderfully tranquil and wooded Walnut Hills Cemetery. It would be tempting to assume that the Land Company’s changed plans reflected a recognition that there would be a salubrious park at the foot of the hill. However, the more modest lot sizes there suggest otherwise. Today’s park was then a hopeful idea at best. Arguably, Cumberland’s extraordinary width may reflect an attempt to save something of the curving “Glen Street’s” role in the original design, as a gracious way of driving up the hill from Pond to High to Edgehill.

A vignette from the Brookline Land Company’s 1860 sales map showing “Brookline from near Irving St.” — presumably from where the church is now, at Allerton and High.

68 High St. (1871) is an unusual hybrid Stick Style and Mansard house built for Henry Sayles, a director of the Brookline Land Company by the fashionable Boston firm of Snell & Gregerson. The tough-minded but picturesquely-massed, almost Gothic-feeling, brick house at 84 High (1875), was designed by Weston & Rand for John D. Runkle, second president of M.I.T. and an influential Brookline School Committee member, after whom the Runkle School is named. Cadwallader Curry, a Savings Bank Commissioner, built the Stick Style house at 100 High St. (1880). Arthur Nikisch, who conducted the BSO in the 1889 season, reportedly stayed here, as did Max Fiedler, who conducted from 1912 to 1918. Subsequently, 100 High was the home of D. Blakeley Hoar, for whom Brookline’s Hoar Wildlife Sanctuary is named, and of Homer Albers, a dean of the Boston University School of law.



Brookline’s first 1874 atlas shows the Land Company’s second, more conventional plan, which eliminated the park. One house appears where the park would have been. Some of the roads, paths, and alleys shown existed only on paper — “Ward St.” later evolved, with a different shape, into Highland Rd.; never-built alleys parallel Glen; and an unrealized branched path or alley drops down the steep hillside at the end of Summit (now Edgehill). Not yet in place are Upland Rd., Maple St., Wellington Terrace, and Acron Rd. Village Lane, part of the former Brookline-Roxbury town line, just approaches High Street (at the word “Street”). The former town-line continues as the west lot line of 14 Allerton to the Irving/Allerton intersection and then follows the rear lines on the west side of High St. (Subsequent lot line adjustments make it less evident on later maps.) Note the Muddy River hopefully rebranded as “Longwood Stream.”
The elegant Shingle Style house at 92 High (1882-84) was built for Thatcher Loring. It is an important example of the work of William Ralph Emerson, Ralph Waldo’s second cousin. Its playful façade innovations — the non-traditional columns supporting perforated screen-like façade extensions and a projecting diminutive balcony in the rear — almost seem to pre-figure, in shingles and brick, the spatial/structural inventiveness of the 1920s and 1930s modernists. For many years neighborhood barn dances were held in its large carriage barn, which as late as World War II still sheltered a milk cow — and now houses a private museum of magic lanterns.

Gen. John Henry Sherburne, who lived at 92 High St. He commanded the U.S. Army’s first “negro” artillery battalion, the 167th Field Artillery,


in France during World War I.
For over 60 years, beginning in the 1890s, 92 High was occupied by the families of Gen. John Henry Sherburne and his daughter. He was an attorney, sometime state representative, and would-be candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Having risen through the Massachusetts Militia (later National Guard) to the rank of Colonel, he saw action along the Mexican border during the early years of World War I and then commanded the U.S. Army’s first negro artillery battalion in France. After the war he testified before Congress about orders that pointlessly sent hundreds of U.S. soldiers from other units “over the top” to their deaths on the morning of November 11, 1918, when the armistice hour was already known.
The grand shingled Queen Anne house at 112 High St., as well as the only-comparatively-smaller, shingled house at 20 Edgehill, were both built in 1884 for Charles Storrow and Martha Cabot Storrow by Edward C. Cabot, Martha’s father. 112 High was designed so that a small discrete stage could be created at one end of the parlor. It was used by a neighborhood Shakespeare Club. The family of storyteller Jay O’Callahan bought the house in 1942. His recordings include a collection of Pill Hill Stories, describing his childhood in this house and the neighborhood. Says O'Callahan:

"The Pill Hill stories came out of the neighborhood. Pill Hill was filled with interesting people, a lot of eccentrics and wonderful rhythms . . . and the dramas and the tragedies. And you were aware of them all because it was a real neighborhood. Everybody knew everybody. There were a lot of currents going on — political and social — that I could feel but wasn't aware of. Mother and father were very dramatic. And the Hill was very dramatic; people loved to gather and sing. There were huge parties and there was singing and then there'd be plays. Gilbert & Sullivan was very important to all of those adults. And they had all gone through the War [WWII], so there was a lot of emotion in their singing.”

Unfortunately, the original John La Farge stained glass windows in the house were sold in the 1970s. It also suffered a kitchen and roof fire at about that time, changing the roof profile on the Cumberland side. Between 112 High and 20 Edgehill is an intensely developed F.L. Olmsted, Sr. landscape that includes a ravine spanned by a stone bridge and hills banked up against a street-edge retaining wall of rough puddingstone boulders, forming a sort of “ha ha” (a one sided wall not visible from inside the property). It almost seems the very picturesque 20 Edgehill, with its exceedingly odd assortment of window shapes and sizes, and equally eccentric muntin bar patterns, was meant to terminate the garden, in the English landscape tradition of the garden “Folly.” 50 Cumberland, formerly its carriage house, later served as a school for “retarded” children before becoming a residence.




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