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.
Agricultural Hall: Brighton Center's Most Historic Structure
At the southeast corner of Washington Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton Center stands one of the community’s oldest and most historic buildings. Originally known as Agricultural Hall, this 1818 edifice now accommodates Brighton Travel.
When Agricultural Hall was built in the second decade of the 19th century the town of Brighton was an important farming and cattle trading center, a major producer of vegetables, fruit and meat for Boston’s burgeoning population.
Two years before the construction of Agricultural Hall, the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture---the state’s oldest agricultural organization---chose Brighton as the site for its annual fair and cattle show.
One of the earliest and largest agricultural fairs in the nation, the MSPA Fair and Cattle Show was here every October from 1818 into the late 1830s.
Recognizing that the selection of Brighton for this important agricultural gathering would benefit the local economy, the town’s Board of Selectmen acceded readily to the MSPA’s request for "permanent regulations to secure order" and an "accommodation of land" on which to lay out their fair grounds and construct an exhibition hall.
The town fathers took extraordinary care in selecting the site for these facilities.
Samuel Wyllys Pomeroy, owner of the Bull's Head Tavern, a hostelry that stood a quarter of a mile east of Brighton Center, was so anxious to have the fair located near his establishment that he offered the agricultural society the use of some ten acres of land on the opposite side of Washington Street (the area now crossed by Snow and Shannon Streets) as an inducement to locate there.
However, Brighton’s Selectmen rejected Pomeroy’s offer, noting that "as every eye has been directed to a field owned by Mr. Winship fronting the public house as being the the most eligible situation," they would do their best to secure that property.
The Winship parcel lay on the crest of the hill on which the Winship Elementary School now sits. The town’s leaders had little difficulty persuading the public-spirited Winship, the eldest son of the founder of the local cattle industry, to deed this acreage to the agricultural society.
Part of the attraction of this promontory---thereafter called Agricultural Hill---was its nearness to the largest public house in Brighton, Hastings Tavern, which lay across Washington Street, just east of the present-day Parsons Street intersection. In addition, the town’s largest meeting hall---the First Church of Brighton---stood but a short distance away at the northeast corner of Washington and Market Streets.
Scientific farming was making great headway in Massachusetts in the early 1800s through the efforts of the MSPA. Though the Society's offices were situated in Boston, the focal point of its activities in these years was its annual Brighton Fair and Cattle Shows, which the society’s official history notes, "embraced everything that could interest a farmer or be of benefit to agriculture; and in connection with them the importation of superior breeds of farm animals laid a firm and scientific base for the excellence which developed later."
Weeks before the October fair was due to open, display items would begin arriving at Agricultural Hall. The two-story structure, measuring seventy by thirty-six feet, stood on "beautiful and elevated grounds." Its first floor was used to display the latest farm implements as well as prize-winning fruits and vegetables, while the upper story accommodated textile and handicraft exhibits. In addition, cattle pens were laid out on either side of the building where prize livestock were displayed and ploughing matches and other competitive activities were held on the nearby slopes of the hill.
The fair always began with a procession from Agricultural Hall to the First Church, where the minister (Reverend John Foster until 1827 and Reverend Daniel Austin thereafter) invoked God's blessings on the occasion.
Awards were then announced by the various committees.
In 1829 prizes and premiums were awarded in the following categories: fat cattle, bulls and bull calves, cows and heifers, sheep and swine, inventions, butter and cheese, cider, grain and vegetables, ploughing, and manufacturing. A 17-pound turnip, a 19-pound radish, and a bough on which pears hung like a cluster of grapes were among the outstanding exhibits of that year.
After the distribution of these awards and of the various premiums a sumptuous meal was served at Hastings Tavern (or at the much larger Cattle Fair Hotel after 1830) and speeches were heard on various agricultural topics.
One of the most eagerly anticipated features of these annual banquets was the presentation of toasts by prominent attendees. Those presenting toasts in 1835, for example, included U.S. Senator Daniel Webster, the noted orator Edward Everett, pioneer industrialist Abbott Lawrence, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.
By the mid-1830s, however, the Brighton Fair was in decline owing, in part at least, the society’s history notes, to "the effects of counter attractions by the county societies."
However, the most important factor leading to the relocation of the fairs, was probably the building of the Boston & Worcester Railroad, completed in 1835, which shifted the geographical center of the state’s agriculture westward, making Brighton relatively inconvenient for the fair’s patrons.
Having stood unused for some years, in 1844 the MSPA subdivided the fair grounds into building lots which it sold at public auction. It was at this time that Agricultural Hall was moved off the hill to its present site in Brighton Center and converted to a hotel called the Eastern Market Hotel, so named because it lay just east of the Brighton Stockyards.
Agricultural Hall continued to serve as a hotel until the late 1880s, one of six hotels in Brighton Center accommodating the drovers and cattle dealers who traded at the Brighton Stockyards. After 1875 the Eastern Market Hotel came into the possession of Dodenah Scates, and its name was changed to the Scates Hotel. The Scates Hotel closed in the 1880s, following the 1884 relocation of the Brighton Stockyards to North Brighton.
Agricultural Hall thereafter housed a variety of enterprises and the building experienced substantial alteration, losing much of its original architectural detailing. Thanks to Steve Wasserman’s restoration, however, this historic edifice now has an appearance far more pleasing to the eye and far more suggestive of its original architectural character.