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Brighton Allston Cattle Industry: Stockyards and Abattoir

Brighton Cattle Industry

The Brighton Cattle Market, was founded in mid-1776 when Jonathan Winship I and II, father and son, put out a call to the farmers of Middlesex county urging them to slaughter their cattle and send the resulting meat supply to the village of Little Cambridge (later renamed Brighton) to help provision General Washington's soldiers. The British had just evacuated Boston, and the Army of New England, then headquartered in and around the liberated city, was in desperate need of provisions of all kinds. The Winship family, who held a contract from the U.S. government to supply meat for the army, soon realized, that there more money to be made from doing the slaughtering themselves, which, of course, necessitated the establishment of a local slaughterhouse.
The cattle and slaughtering trades, launched in 1776, quickly transformed the sleepy agricultural village of Little Cambridge into a thriving commercial center. The selling and butchering of cattle became the economic mainstay of the town for more than a century, profoundly influencing virtually every aspect of Brighton's economic, political, and social development.
The first stockyard in Brighton was at the site of 201 Washington Street, about a quarter of a mile east of Brighton Center. The slaughterhouse stood at the southeast corner of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Academy Hill Road. By 1790, Jonathan Winship II was the largest meat packer in Massachusetts, putting up some 5,000 barrels of beef a year for foreign markets alone.
By the 1820s the Brighton Cattle Market was receiving between two and eight thousand head of cattle every Monday.  The average sale of cattle at the Brighton Cattle Market in the 1835 to 1845 period exceeded $2 million a year. Brighton was the chief market for livestock in New England and it was a common sight to see herds of cattle, and occasionally of sheep, driven through Brookline Village and up Washington Street to Brighton.
About 1820 the stockyard was moved to just east of present-day Leicester Street behind the Cattle Fair Hotel at Market and Washington St in Brighton Center.  The hotel was used primarily by the patrons of the cattle and slaughtering industry.  In 1837, nearly 33,000 head of beef cattle, 110,000 sheep, and 17,000 swine were sold at the Brighton Market, in addition to large numbers of oxen, horses, and poultry.

Map of Brighton Cattle Slaughter Houses 1866

Cattle Fair Hotel in 1875 map of Brighton Center

Cattle Yards in Brighton Center (c1850) behind the Cattle Fair Hotel.  The raised structure in the center was the auctioneer's platform. The two buildings in the background can be seen on Bennett St behind the Cattle Fair Hotel in the 1875 map above

Thursday of every week was market day and at early morning the cattle, sheep etc. were hurried in and by 10 o’clock, there could be as many as two or three hundred vehicles in the area fronting the Cattle Fair Hotel.

Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion Article on the Brighton Cattle Market c1850

Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion Drawing of Driving Cattle to the Brighton Stockyards c1850

After the construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad in 1834, the railroad brought livestock to the Brighton from all over New England. The stockyards moved to North Beacon St in 1884, next to the railroad, where it remained until they closed in 1967 and moved to Littleton, MA to the Farmer's Live Animal Market Exchange (FLAME) which is still operating today.

1909 Map.  Market St in the center.  Stockyards on the right.  Abattoir on the left.

Cattle were taken from the train to the stockyards.  Later they were brought across Market St for slaughter and processing at the Abattoir

Stolen Horse Reward 1823


1909 Stockyards Map

Stockyards in the 1950s taken near North Beacon/Highborn St.  The long building in the back is the Brighton & Albany Railroad's paint shop

Aerial photo c1920s with the stockyards at the center.  North Beacon St on the right.  Everett St on the top left to right.

1884 Map of the Stockyards: 11 cattle pens, 3 sheep houses

Sheep entering the Stockyards

Stockyards Fire 1910 (courtesy Boston Public Library)

Stockyards Fire 1912

Train Stop on the left for the stockyards.  Looking west with the Market St bridge in the distance

The B&A tracks looking east from the Market Street Bridge, c1960, where the stockyards were previously located on the right.  This is where the cattle would be unloaded and brought to the stockyards

1895 Boston Globe article on a Stockyards fire

Stockyards Fire 1910


1925 Map of the Brighton Abattoir with Market St to the right and Arsenal St on the top right.  Boston Acura and Staples occupy this area today. 

In 1872, all slaughtering activities in Brighton were consolidated into a single facility, the Brighton Abattoir, situated on a 42 acre site on the banks of the Charles River, thus freeing up valuable land in the central part of the town for house construction.  The Abattoir closed in 1957 to make way for commercial property, the Leo M. Birmingham Parkway and Soldier's Field Road.

Brighton Abattoir Drawing

Abattoir Drawing

Abattoir Plan

Beef Slaughterhouse Plan

Beef Slaughterhouse Cross Section

The slaughtering was done over a raised floor for the convenience of handling the blood and offal (waste parts). Trap doors on this middle level were used to drop the hide and offals to the basement.  Note the drain from the basement to the river.  On the middle level there was a 20 square foot room where the meat was kept at 40 degrees F for several days until sent to market.  Over this room, an ice-box with 15 to 20 tons of ice maintained the temperature during warm weather.  

The Abattoir Rendering House was 200 ft by 80 and four stories high. The rendering tanks on the third floor were filled with offal from the fourth floor and then steam cooked. The fat is removed and the blood and remaining scrap was put into the driers on the second floor where the water evaporated through steam heat.  The residual dry animal matter was ground to powder and packed for market.  Offensive gases from the rendering tanks were passed through a condensing apparatus and mixed with air and forced into the fires of the steam boilers to minimize odors.  The adjacent Boiler House had ten boilers powered by two fifty horse power engines

Abattoir Ad in a Watertown Publication on Animal Removal (Year unknown)

Dead Horse in NY in 1902 showing the need for the horse removal advertised by the Brighton Abattoir above

Removal of hog's intestines at the Brighton Abattoir

Brighton Abattoir demolition in the late 1950s

Abattoir workforce

Taken from the Watertown side of the Charles River with the Abattoir to the left

Abattoir building

Abattoir property

Collins Packing Rendering House

Photo of Market St with the Abattoir demolition on the left.  The Rendering House can be seen behind the crane.  The two buildings on the right were on Market St near Arsenal St (the top right of the 1925 map above).  T. H. McVey Headstones are now located at 662 Arsenal St.

One of the gin mills favored by Abattoir workers was an establishment known, inelegantly, as the “Bucket of Blood.” It stood at the intersection of Everett and Lincoln streets.  R. F. Callahan explains the origin of the name as follows: “My grandmother, Maud Fraser, told me that back in the ’30s she had to go down and get Uncle Dooley out of there from time to time, and that she said something one day while dragging him out of there, “I’m getting you out of this Bucket of Blood,” and the name stuck from then on.

Abattoir c1940 from a backyard near the B&A railroad tracks

Cattle Industry News and Developments

Nathaniel Hawthorne on the Brighton Cattle Market C1860

On arriving at Brighton, we found the village thronged with people, horses, and vehicles...Almost all the farmers within a reasonable distance make it a point, I suppose, to attend Brighton Fair pretty frequently, if not on business, yet as amateurs. Then there are all the cattle-people and butchers who supply the Boston market, and dealers from far and near; and every man who has a cow or a yoke of oxen, whether to sell or buy, goes to Brighton on Monday. There were a thousand or two of cattle in the extensive pens belonging to the tavern-keeper, besides many that were standing about. One could hardly stir a step without running upon the horns of one dilemma or another, in the shape of ox, cow, bull, or ram... All these, and other varieties of mankind, either thronged the spacious bar-room of the hotel, drinking, smoking, talking, bargaining, or walked about among the cattle-pens, looking with knowing eyes at the horned people. The owners of the cattle stood near at hand, waiting for offers...The cattle, brought from a hundred separate farms, or rather a thousand, seemed to agree very well together, not quarreling in the least...And here they all were, old and young, gathered from their thousand homes to Brighton Fair; whence the great chance was that they would go to the slaughter-house, and thence be transmitted, in sirloins, joints, and such pieces, to the tables of the Boston folk.

Annual report of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts (1877)

From and after the first day of June, eighteen hundred seventy-six, the business of slaughtering shall not be conducted within the limits of the city of Boston, except upon the premises of Butchers' Slaughtering and Melting Association, in said city. Sect. 3.

Report on Slaughtering for the Boston Market, Massachusetts State Board of Health, First Annual Report (1870)

During the past year 53,000 beeves, 342,000 sheep and 144,00 hogs were slaughtered within six miles of Faneuil Hall.  While The population within this circle of towns and cities has been every year growing more dense, requiring not only increased supplies of meat, but...increased precautions for the maintenance of health.... The vacant and waste places where offensive trades established themselves long ago, are now being rapidly filled by a busy population whose need of wholesome air is urgent.... Practices in themselves objectionable may be permitted where there is plenty of fresh air.

The situation in Brighton, where most of the slaughterhouses serving Boston were located was a clear affront to popular and scientific opinion about the dangers from water and air polluted by decomposing animal offal.... local butchers had taken no steps to dispose of waste matter properly or to dispel offensive odors. The situation was surely leading to disastrous consequences that would inevitably result in lowered resistance to disease and premature death. 

The attempt of the State Board to translate advice into action met with resistance at first..... directives of the legislature had been thwarted by opposition from the butchers.  In 1871, however, the Board was given the power to enforce its recommendations and to close slaughterhouses which were found to operate in such a way as to endanger the public health.  Moving with caution, the State Board called a meeting of the Brighton butchers to inform them of the need to improve slaughtering conditions and stressed the hope that they would establish a new abattoir without further legal restraints.  All through the year individual establishments, particularly the largest and most influential, continued to oppose regulation. 

Cattle escape - excerpts from Boston Globe 1924 article

Seven steers, just arrived from the West, averaging 1500 pounds each, made a sensational break for freedom as they were being unloaded from cattle cars on the Brighton Abattoir grounds... Six of the steers took a shortcut to freedom across the Charles River and their combined weight caused them to crash through the ice.  They were nearly drowned, but were finally rescued after 20 minutes hard work by officers of the Brighton Station of the Metropolitan District Police, assisted by Abattoir men and others.  The seventh steer dashed along the bank to the further end of the Abattoir grounds, crossed North Beacon St bridge and escaped into Watertown where he was cornered in some bushes and killed by two rifle shots fired by Sgt Dominick O'Connor of the Metropolitan Police

Soldiers Field Road development - excerpts from Boston Globe 1956 article

The Metropolitan District Commission voted yesterday to take and develop 756,000 square feet of land in the Brighton abattoir area.  Plans call for construction of a roadway extending from Soldiers Field Rd for about 4300 feet across the Abattoir.  An underpass at the junction of Soldiers Field Rd, Market St and Western Ave is included in the overall project cost of which is estimated at $3,700,000

1962 Suit against the Stockyards

Evidence in an action against the proprietor of a stockyard in a city warranted findings that there was a risk .... of escape of cows from a loading platform because of insecurely fenced lanes of passage across the platform from farmers' trucks to the defendant's pens, that a cow which butted and injured the plaintiff some distance away from the defendant's premises had escaped from the platform by reason of the insufficient arrangements there and had escaped from the premises onto an adjacent street along which the premises were not fenced

Brighton maintained the stockyard for the sale and purchase of cows which had ceased to be milkers and were bought to be taken away for slaughter. Brighton stationed an employee at its scales and was paid by the seller for the service of weighing each cow sold. In the usual course of business a farmer delivering a cow or cows for sale would drive his truck from Guest Street northerly onto the defendant's premises, unfenced on Guest Street, and to the rear thereof where he would back his truck against a "loading in" platform one hundred feet long and eight feet wide which stood in front of receiving pens. Having placed his truck opposite a gate barring one of six openings into pens, the farmer would swing the gate so as to extend it across the platform nearly to the truck. The gates were seven to seven and one half feet long and extended nearly to the back of the truck. The farmer would then drop the tailgate of his truck and prompt the cow or cows to walk across the platform in the lane made by the two gates and down a ramp into the pen. No employee of Brighton was stationed at the platform.  Brighton weighed from 150 to 300 cows each day.

The cow which injured Saldi was first seen, out of control, by someone who shouted that a cow was loose; McGovern, who was unloading another cow, looked up and saw the escaped cow going away from the platform at a point two or three feet distant therefrom and a like distance from his truck. Other trucks were in place at the platform. McGovern, as soon as he had unloaded his cow, took up the chase in his truck. The escaped cow went westerly out of Brighton's yard and, about 440 yards therefrom, near the corner of Guest and Market streets, on private property, she butted Saldi who was at work for his employer in the construction of a substation for the Boston Edison Company. The cow was thereafter pursued by the police and shot.

Cows had escaped from the premises on prior occasions. McGovern knew of some escapes; he had helped to bring cows back. Brighton's president, connected with the corporation since 1936, knew of possibly five occasions of escapes since that date; "sometimes . . . [the cows] had to be corralled by the police"; the escapes on most of these occasions had been "from the unfenced area i.e. the platform." Joseph L. Conroy, a police officer, prior to 1954 had been stationed at the Brighton Station, Division 14, for seven years, for four years of which he had been on the day shift. He had had personal experience with escaped cattle in the Market and Guest street area on four occasions including the escape on June 7, 1954. In the fall of 1946 five escaped at one time. To "the best of his knowledge" the escaped cattle came from the stockyard. About three quarters of a mile away was a slaughter house and abattoir which was fenced on all sides except along the river. The police in the Brighton division use shot of heavier gauge "specially designed for these animals." The records of use of shot on animals was referred to unofficially by the officers of the division as the "cowboy record."

Cattle Drovers - excerpts from Boston Herald 1977 article

Old timers recall cattle being moved along Massachusetts Avenue in Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge heading for Brighton.

"Be careful coming through Watertown Square.  I don't want the horse up on the sidewalk.  Can't sell a horse that's banged up."  There were truck drivers (in Watertown Sq) who liked to blow their horns to see if they could scare the horse.  They were wise guys.

Brighton Allston Citizens remember the Cattle Industry

Raymond Gentile 2004 Interview:

At the center of the stockyard stood a weighing station. Each butchering firm was assigned its own pens for its cattle.

As a teenager, Ray participated in driving cattle (in herds of as many as 120 head) from the Stockyard to the Abattoir. It took eight men to accomplish the transfer. As a younger member of this drover crew, he and another teenager were placed at the rear of the herd, using canes to keep the cattle together. In earlier times, much livestock was driven to Brighton overland. Ray noted that Brighton Street, off Concord Street, in Belmont, was so named because it was a route for incoming cattle. Later, cattle were brought in by train to the grounds of the Brighton Depot. Incoming cattle would be transferred to the stockyards and, later, as they were being prepared for slaughter, to the Abattoir. The last such drive occurred in September 1941, when a train spooked a herd as it was passing over the Market Street Bridge, causing it to scatter in all directions, with considerable property damage. From that point on, cattle were transferred to the Abattoir by truck. The route that the cattle followed, when being transferred from the Stockyards to the Abattoir, was along a roadway corresponding to present-day Guest Street, over the Market Street Bridge, and onto the grounds of the Abattoir by way of one of two entryways. His recollections of the Abattoir were quite graphic. Cattle would enter the slaughterhouses, be hoisted up, and their throats cut by the butchers. The floor of the slaughterhouse — or “killing house” — contained a vat into which the blood and guts (offal) of the animals would be deposited. The floor of the killing house was slimy with blood. Sometimes if an animal got loose, the butchers would have to climb into a vat to protect themselves from a rampaging steer. We touched upon the topic of the stench from the Abattoir. I asked Ray if the smell were continuous, or an only occasional problem. He said that the intensity and extent of the smell was largely a function of the direction in which the wind was blowing. There was probably some degree of smell in North Brighton all the time, but local residents were so used to that they may not have noticed. Another problem were the trains that passed through North Brighton. It was not uncommon for these coal-burning trains to release their smoke as they passed through North Brighton, rather than in the elite community of Newton to the west. If you were walking over the Market Street Bridge when one of these engines released its smoke, you would be covered with black soot.

John McLane

William Marchione: I’ve heard stories of the women going down to the Abattoir to buy meat during the depression.
John McLane: Oh yes, that could be.
WM: The Italians are partial to tripe.
JM: Oh yes. There was a place. I think New England Tripe was the name of one of the places down there.
WM: There were a lot of kosher markets there, too. Refrigeration took away a lot of the slaughtering businesses in the Boston area. But, this community has gone through so many fascinating changes. There have been so many transformations. It really is an amazing place.
JM: The other thing, not just cattle but horses — the horse auctions. You probably heard about them. Down there at — what was the name of the hotel that was right about where Life Street is now — In my time, it was still there. It had a mansard roof.
WM: The Albany House.
JM: Oh yes, the Albany House.
WM: 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.

R.F. Callahan

I cannot say for sure the exact locations of the various buildings that were at the Abattoir. There were many, of course. I remember at the Market Street end almost across the street from the Plantation, a drinking establishment, a Squib or Squires Sausage Works building existed. It was just a ways down from the Nonantum Road entrance, which was then directly across from Lincoln Street. I stayed away from those places not wishing to follow in the footsteps of my father and other hard-drinking Abattoir workers. I hated the barrooms and all of what their way of life represented. The smoking, as well as the drinking of most of the workers, was not to my liking.

The entire abattoir was demolished, buildings being removed and the land flattened out. This establishment was on the corner of Market and Arsenal Streets. It had been set up along the Charles River. If you lived in that northern section and sections of adjoining Allston, the windows were for the most part closed on the northern side as far as a half mile, the smell being that bad from the abattoir. We had the glue factory, the Fertilizer and fisheries canning, as well as the sausage plant. There was also the Tannery.

The pollutants from these companies caused the Charles River to close all of the beaches along the river. Allston had its Pebble Beach which was close to the old Charles River Speedway. Further down into Cambridge we had the Magazine beach facilities.

Up the street from me in Allston, on Raymond Street was a man by the name of Ned White, who had the pleasant job of bashing with a sledge the top of the Steers heads to knocking them senseless so workers could hook them up by the hind quarters and sling them upside down to slash their throats. They would lead the animal to a huge block and setting the animals head it on it Ned White would give one huge overhead smack on top.  Then they traveled on conveyers and were skinned and stripped down. The hides went to the tanneries to be salted up and preserved for shipping to the leather works. No part of the Animal was spared or wasted.

My father worked at the New England Rendering Company plant. Driving trucks for them, he worked out of Dorchester, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, picking up bones, scraps of meat and fats from the butcher shops of those neighborhoods.  took me out with him one day on his route. He wanted me to see just what he did for a living. Fifty-gallon barrels were lined up inside the inner body of the flatbed, most all being full at the end of the day’s trip with separated fats in one barrel and the meats and bones in the others. I was not at all impressed and could not wait to get back home from that trip. Every once in a while, he would toss out some piece of meat to the neighborhood dogs and they would fight over it. I noticed the dogs waiting at the curbs, as though it was perhaps a routine of his that they anticipated. What normal dog would not wait for that free meal?

1974 interview with Dr. Roy B. Stewart

The Stockyards were in full swing, and the passage of cattle through the streets on cattle day was a common sight. Another unforgettable remembrance was the aroma from the Brighton Abattoir, especially when the wind was from the northeast. The Abattoir of slaughterhouse was not the only building on what was known as the Abattoir grounds of some 60 acres. Next to the slaughterhouse was the rendering plant.

Entering the grounds from the west, near Parsons and North Beacon Street, the first business place was the Ogden-Thompson Hay, Grain, Flour and Feed establishment. They did a thriving business in the horse-and-buggy days.

The next facility was the Boston Fresh Tripe Company. They not only processed tripe, but were known all over New England for their pickled pig’s feet, lamb’s tongue, hog’s head cheese and many other products. This business was started by Mr. George Parker, who lived on Dunboy Street, and a Mr. Ricker, who lived on Murdock Street and who later moved to Boyd Street, Newton. The business was inherited by his son, Mr. Walter Parker, and I had the privilege of living next door to him on Dunboy Street for over 25 years. He was active in the old Brighton Savings Bank, and was one of the founders and later vice president of the Brighton Cooperative Bank.

The next business facility on the grounds was the Brackett Coal Company. Coal was not only brought in by rail, but coal barges were towed up the river to the wharf on the property. Everybody used coal for heating in those days, and this was a thriving business.

At the east end of the grounds was the Fuller Lumber Company, established by Mr. Granville Fuller Sr. in the latter 1860s. His company was known all over metropolitan Boston for the quality of their lumber and as one of the most orderly lumberyards in this part of the country. Mr. Fuller was succeeded in the business by his son, Mr. Will Fuller, and finally by grandsons Granville and George Fuller. The lumber was received by both rail and water. I have seen a picture of a lumber schooner in the Charles River unloading lumber in the yard. The Fuller family was identified with all aspects of the history of Brighton for over 150 years.

I also considered the venerable Tom McVey’s monument and granite works to be on the grounds. They faced on Market Street, but backed up to the Abattoir grounds. This was before he moved to his Watertown location.

Next to him was the Jameson Brothers establishment. They were carriage repairers and wheelwrights, a business that has long faded into the past.

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