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. I
Allston's Unique St Anthony's Church Neighborhood
North Allston’s attractive St. Anthony's Church neighborhood is one of the best kept secrets in Allston-Brighton. The transportation corridors that border the district---the Mass Turnpike to the south, Everett Street to the west, and Western Avenue to the north---effectually camouflage this handsome residential enclave from public view.
During the colonial era, the area formed a part of the extensive Sparhawk estate. At the center of the Sparhawk property stood an old mansion house, the home in the pre-Revolutionary era of Samuel Sparhawk, situated about 150 feet south of the present day intersection of Antwerp Street and Western Avenue (then called River Street).
Samuel Sparhawk's wife was the sister of Colonel Thomas Gardner, another major Allston landowner. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gardner was carried to the Sparhawk Mansion, where he died sixteen days later. Winship tells us that George Washington attended the funeral services for Colonel Gardner, which "were held at the Sparhawk Mansion on Western Avenue."
As the second highest ranking American officer to lose his life in that historic battle, this Revolutionary martyr is commemorated locally by Gardner Street and the Thomas Gardner Elementary School. In addition, the City of Gardner, Massachusetts was named in his memory.
When the Sparhawk property was subdivided and sold, about 1810, the mansion and the western part of the estate were purchased by Edmund Rice, who had recently moved to Brighton from Wayland, Massachusetts. Rice converted the old mansion into a hotel and tavern, which became a regular stop for the stagecoaches that ran between Cambridge and interior locations.
The impact of Harvard College upon the northern part of Allston-Brighton, usually thought of as a modern phenomenon, was already evident in Edmund Rice’s time, for as local Historian J.P.C. Winship wrote, Rice’s Tavern was "a favorite resort for the officers and students of Harvard College," especially after Cambridge prohibited the sale of liquor within its boundaries. The tavern was taken down in the 1890s at the time of the construction of Antwerp Street.
The northeasterly portion of the Sparhawk estate (including the land upon which the St. Anthony's Church neighborhood now stands) was acquired about 1810 by Aaron and Abner Everett, who engaged in farming on the site for many decades thereafter. The Everett farms encompassed most of the land bounded by present-day Everett Street, Western Avenue, Franklin and Holton Streets. Everett Street, which was put through in 1846, was named for this early family. The Everett house stood on the southern side of Western Avenue near present day Westford Street (which originally bore the name Everett Square).
In the late 1850s, the Everetts began selling off portions of their land for residential development, though they retained ownership of some local acreage into the 1860s.
Most of the land in the neighborhood was still devoted to farming as late as 1875. Since the quality of North Allston's soil was of a particularly high order, this acreage was utilized chiefly for the cultivation of fruit and vegetables for the Boston market. The farms of North Allston were quite close to Boston and were also linked to the metropolis by a superior network of roads, bridges, and the nearby B&W railroad (dating from 1834). Thus it made good economic sense for local farmers to specialize in the cultivation of perishable commodities for the city’s burgeoning population.
The federal agricultural schedule for 1860 identifies the North Allston farms of that day as belonging to Patrick Colby, Nathan Tucker, Abner Everett, Aaron Everett, John C. Scott, Abel Rice, Frank H. Coolidge, and Emery Willard---farms which comprised, in aggregate, more than 300 acres. Two of the most interesting of these establishments were the strawberry farms of Abel Rice and John C. Scott, which lay within or adjacent to the St. Anthony’s Church neighborhood.
In 1836, Abel Rice, a cousin of Edmund Rice, and a former Brighton Center schoolmaster, purchased eight acres of land near the intersection of Everett and Holton Streets. Here the farmer/ schoolmaster constructed a Greek revival-style residence, with an ell for schoolrooms, a structure which still stands at 205 Everett Street. Rice devoted his North Allston acreage to the cultivation of strawberries. He is said to have introduced the very first strawberries to the Boston market. Abel was succeeded in this business by his sons, Abel Jr and William H. Rice, who carried on strawberry farming there to about 1900.
John C. Scott, who had once been gardener to the great merchant prince Peter Chardon Brooks, came to North Allston in 1840, purchasing an eleven acre property on the western side of Everett Street, near the present Star Market. Here he produced strawberry seedlings of great merit, including the Scott Seedling, Brighton Pine, and Lady of the Lake. This highly successful business was later carried on by his sons, John, James, and George Scott, who continued to operate the business well into the second decade of the last century.
Residential development in the neighborhood was stimulated by a number of factors. The proximity of the Boston & Albany Railroad, and its Allston Depot, fostered house construction by Boston commuters. One could reach Boston’s commercial district from this neighborhood by train in about twenty minutes. The Boston commuters who resided in the neighborhood in 1875 included S.A. Harrington, an inspector at the Boston Customshouse; Isaac N. Tucker, who ran a leading plumbing supply house; John Davenport, Jr, a tobacconist; Noah Colman, a dealer in hats; Jonathan D. Wright, a theater manager; D. C. Robbins, a manufacturer; and A.L. Smart, proprietor of a carpet cleaning establishment.
One of the earliest commuting families to locate in the area were the Davenports. In 1852, John Davenport, Sr.(1802-1897) moved his large family from Purchase Street in the Fort Hill section on Boston’s waterfront to land he had acquired from the Everetts, and built the present 21 Holton Street, a large Greek Revival style residence. John was fifty years of age when he moved out to Allston, a successful contractor, whose Boston buildings included the city’s largest warehouse. He was attracted to the neighborhood by the richness of its soil, for he enjoyed dabbling in horticulture.
John had two sons, the previously mentioned John, Jr., a prosperous tobacco merchant, and Samuel, who was just twelve at the time of the move. Samuel especially liked the new neighborhood near the tidal Charles River, where he could indulge his passion for hunting, fishing, skating, and boating. Samuel later followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a successful architect and builder. Much of the Sparhawk Street neighborhood, behind Brighton’s District 14 Police Station, was designed and built by Samuel N. Davenport.
The Davenports constructed several residences in the St. Anthony’s neighborhood over the years. By 1890, members of the family owned eight houses on Holton, Brentwood, Aldie, and Athol Streets.
Another family that played a key role in the development of the neighborhood were the Tuckers. Moses D. Tucker was a retail provisions merchant, with offices in Boston. His son, the previously mentioned Isaac N., ran a Boston plumbing supply business. The family hailed from Raymond, N. H. Since Raymond Street was laid out across the Tucker property, it seems likely it was named for that New Hampshire town. Moses Tucker’s house, a Second Empire mansard at 134 Franklin Street, dating probably from the 1860s, was one of the neighborhood’s most elaborate residences. Members of the Tucker family built several houses along Franklin and Raymond Streets and on nearby Appian Way.
Much of the development that occurred in the neighborhood between 1850 and 1900, however, was for the benefit of the owners and employees of the local businesses.
As the facilities of the B&A railroad expanded (by the 1870s it was the largest taxpayer and largest employer in the town), railroad employees took up residence nearby, especially along Lincoln and Adams (now Adamson) Streets, adjacent to the railroads car repair shops.
The neighborhood's proximity to the Brighton Abattoir and Stockyards in North Brighton also made it a convenient place of residence for meat dealers and butchers. In the late 19th century, theirs was the single largest occupational group in the neighborhood.
Cordage manufacturers James and Leonard Arkerson, whose establishments stood on the river side of Western Avenue (James’ ropewalk at 299 Western Avenue was over a thousand feet long), also built houses in the St. Anthony’s neighborhood. James lived at 306 Western Avenue, corner of Everett Street.
By the late 1880s, the area was poised for a second spurt of development, including the construction, in 1895, of St. Anthony’s Church.