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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).   These articles are copyrighted in the name of the author. Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution.  

History of Allston-Brighton

Allston-Brighton has a long and distinguished history. For its first 160 years it formed part of Cambridge.
 
In 1646, the Reverend John Eliot, the "Apostle to the Indians," converted the local natives to Christianity and established a "Praying Indian" village, Nonantum, on the present Newton-Brighton boundary.
 
The first Englishmen to locate here permanently - the families of Richard Champney, Richard Dana and Nathaniel Sparhawk - crossed the Charles River from Cambridge a short time later, establishing the community of little Cambridge, as Allston-Brighton was known before 1807.
 
Before the Revolution, Little Cambridge was a prosperous farming community of fewer than 300 residents. Its habitants included such distinguished figures as Nathaniel Cunningham, Benjamin Faneuil and Charles Apthorp. Cunningham and Faneuil were wealthy Boston merchants. Apthorp was paymaster of British land forces in North America. All three maintained elaborated country estates here in the 1740 to '75 period.
 
Little Cambridge contributed Colonel Thomas Gardner to the Revolutionary cause. An important political figure in the years just before the Revolution, Gardner was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill. The town of Gardner, Massachusetts was named in his memory.
 
The establishment in 1775 in Little Cambridge of a cattle market to supply the Continental Army, then headquartered across the Charles River in Harvard Square, was a key event in the history of this community. John Winship I and II, father and son, initiated the enterprise. The cattle trade experienced rapid growth in the post-war period. By 1790, the Winships were the biggest meat packers in Massachusetts.
 
When Cambridge's town government failed to repair the Great Bridge that linked Little Cambridge to Harvard Square and points north, and made other decisions that threatened the well-being of the local cattle industry, the residents of Little Cambridge resolved to secede from the parent town. They won legislative approval of separation in 1807, choosing the name Brighton for the new corporate entity.
 
In the decades that followed, Brighton became a commercial center of the first magnitude. In 1819,, the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture established its exhibition hall and fair grounds on Agriculture Hill in Brighton Center. For the next decade and a half, Brighton was the site of the largest agricultural fair and cattle show in Massachusetts, held every October.
In 1820, another key industry was introduced into the town - horticulture. This industry also flourished. By the 1840's, Brighton was one of the most important horticultural and market gardening centers in the Boston area. A partial list of local nurseries includes the Winship Nursery in North Brighton, Nonantum Vale Gardens at the corner of Lake and Washington Streets, Breck Garden's in Oak Square and Horace Gray's grapery on Nonantum Hill.
 
A huge hotel- the Cattle Fair -and elaborate stockyard facilities were constructed on the north side of Brighton Center in 1832. The Cattle Fair was the largest hotel outside of Boston, containing 100 rooms. The construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad through the town in 1834 reinforced the community's hold on the cattle trade. By 1847, the Brighton cattle traders were doing almost $2 million of business a year. By the 1860's, the town also contained an estimated 50 to 60 slaughterhouses.
 
With the growth of Boston in the 1850 to 75 period, Brighton's land owners saw great opportunities for profit making in residential development. The groundwork for the transformation of Brighton into the streetcar suburb was laid in the 1870's and 80's.
Harvard Ave Near Allston Depot 1910
 
Harvard Ave near Cambridge St 1910

 

In 1872, all slaughtering activities in the town were consolidated in a single facility, the Brighton Abattoir, situated on the banks of the Charles River in North Brighton, Thus freeing up the valuable land in the central part of the town for house construction. A short time later the Brighton Stockyards also moved to North Brighton.
 
Most decisively, the town's leaders convinced the people that annexation to Boston would foster desirable growth and in 1874 Brighton was absorbed into the City of Boston, thereby losing political self-determination.
 
The introduction of electric powered streetcars in 1889 spurred suburban development. Allston-Brighton's population grew tremendously in the next half century, rising from 6,000 in 1875 to 47,000 in 1925. Much of the development of these years was of an extremely high quality. Turn-of-the-century Allston-Brighton contained many prestige neighborhoods.
 
Early 1900's Trolley Car in Allston-Brighton
 

The post-World War II period was a time of great crisis for Allston-Brighton. A variety of factors generated mounting frustration - an increase in the number of motor vehicles, the intrusion of institutions into the neighborhood and the pressures they exerted on the local housing stock, the flight of many long-term residents to the outer suburbs, high density/low quality development, and especially (in the absence of political self determination) the inability to control undesirable development. In 1990, the population of Allston-Brighton was 70,000.

 

 

While Allston-Brighton has not solved all of its problems, or even very many of them, it has organized to speak out for itself. It was the goal of giving effective expression to Allston-Brighton's concerns that the Allston-Brighton Journal was founded in 1987 and disbanded in 1995. The Community Newspaper Company, Inc. published it first edition of the Allston-Brighton TAB in 1996

Chestnut Hill Fire Station 1902



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