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.
What's In A Name?
Two explanations have been advanced for the choice in 1807 of the name Brighton for the newly established independent south parish of Cambridge. According to local historian J. P. C. Winship, the town fathers "decided that the name of the town be Brighton, from Brighton, England, originally called Brighthelmstone, from Brighthelm, an Anglo-Saxon bishop of the Tenth Century."
Since the minutes of the town meeting at which this decision was made have long since disappeared, the inquiring historian is left wondering what motivated the founders to choose the name of England's principal seaside resort for New England’s leading cattle and slaughtering center. The Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, had just constructed an elaborate seaside palace at Brighton, England, the Brighton Pavilion. Perhaps Brighton, Massachusetts’ town fathers hoped to enhance the image of their community, filled as it was with bawling cattle and odiferous slaughterhouses, by naming it for a fashionable royal retreat across the sea.
Another theory comes from a 20th century literary historian, who offers the plausible, though highly speculative suggestion that the town was named for a "bright," which was the 19th century term for a prize ox, an allusion to the Brighton Cattle Market. Hopefully further research will provide hard evidence of the actual intent of the namers.
As to the source of the name Allston, there can be little question. This name honors the painter Washington Allston, a resident of nearby Cambridgeport, and one of the great figures in the history of American art. Allston, incidentally, is the only community in the United States that bears the name of a painter.
Before there was a Brighton, an Allston, a Cambridge, or a Boston, there was the Charles River. In 1614, Captain John Smith visited New England and produced a map which he presented to the King’s brother, Prince Charles, the future King Charles I. The prince was impatient with the snarl of Indian names Smith had used on his map, and so, the Massachusetts River became the River Charles.
The oldest road in Allston-Brighton is probably Nonantum Street in the Oak Square section, which was originally part of the Indian path that linked the Charles River to the interior. It was known as the Old Indian Lane until 1840, when the town renamed it for the Nonantum Indians who had once lived in the valley just south of the hill of the same name. Nonantum Street ascends Nonantum Hill. Again, according to Winship, "the [Nonantum Indian] trail was down through what is now Nonantum street under the Great Oak, by a path along the river through the woods to a beach where the Abattoir stands [site of the Soldiers Field Road Extension].
Oak Square was named for this Great White Oak, the largest of its kind in Massachusetts in the early 1800s.
The first road constructed by white settlers in Allston-Brighton was the so-called Roxbury Highway, a major artery of trade and transportation that linked Boston, the colonial capital, with Harvard College in Cambridge. The local portion of this roadway ran along the line of present-day Harvard Avenue, Cambridge Street, and North Harvard Street to link with a ferry on the Charles River near the present Harvard Square. This was the principal overland route to Boston before the construction of the Mill Dam (Beacon Street) across the Back Bay in 1820.
In 1651, the ferry was replaced by the Great Bridge, called that because it was the largest bridge in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This was the only bridge across the tidal portion of the Charles River before 1786.
The second major road to be built through Allston-Brighton was laid out in 1657 by the towns of Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline (then called Muddy River), to link the so-called Muddy River Bridge with the Watertown Mill. This highway was first called the Great Country Road and afterwards the Watertown Highway. Today it is known as Washington Street.
The present Market Street was laid out in the 1650s between the estates of Richard Dana and Nathaniel Sparhawk. It linked the Pines, a high and dry point on the otherwise marshy banks of the Charles River, with the Watertown Highway. The first name of record for the road was Meetinghouse Lane, acquired in 1744 when the first church in Brighton was constructed at the northeast corner of Market and Washington Streets, where the Rourke's or Washington Building now stands. It became Market Street in the 1840s, a reference to the weekly cattle market held on the grounds of the Cattle Fair Hotel at the northwest corner of Market and Washington Streets. After the Construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad, cattle was regularly herded up Market Street from the depot to the stockyards behind this hotel.
Faneuil Street was laid out across the estate of Richard Dana in the 1650s. It replaced a major part of the Old Indian Lane referred to earlier, but did not acquire its present name until the 1840s. Faneuil Street was named for Benjamin Faneuil, who owned a 70-acre country estate on Bigelow Hill near Oak Square, where the Crittendon-Hastings House grounds are now situated. Benjamin was the brother of Peter Faneuil, the wealthy Boston merchant who gave Faneuil Hall to the town of Boston. When Peter, a bachelor, died in 1743, Benjamin inherited his vast wealth. Benjamin’s loyalist sons fled the country during the Revolution, and with their father’s death in 1784, the Faneuil name died out here in Brighton.
Other major streets in Allston-Brighton date from a much later period. Cambridge Street and the Cambridge Street Bridge were put through in 1808 to give Brighton easier access to the West Boston Bridge (which crossed the Charles on the site of the present Longfellow Bridge), a route that shortened the trip to Boston by some three miles.
The present Brighton Avenue and North Beacon Street were built by the Roxbury Mill Corporation in 1822 to connect the Mill Dam Road (Beacon Street), a causeway that crossed the still unfilled Back Bay, with Watertown. This road was given the name Avenue Street in 1840; Beacon Street in 1846; and North Beacon Street in 1860. The North Beacon Street Bridge across the Charles dates from 1822. In 1884, the portion of North Beacon Street lying east of Union Square was renamed Brighton Avenue.
Western Avenue was put through in 1824. It was built by Cambridge developers in the hope of channeling western traffic to the West Boston Bridge. At first called River Street, its name was changed to Western Avenue in 1840. The bridges as either end of Western Avenue, the Arsenal Street and River Street Bridges, also date from 1824.
Chestnut Hill Avenue likewise dates from the early 1800s. Given the name Rockland Street in 1840, an allusion to the many rock outcroppings lining the roadway, it was renamed Chestnut Hill Avenue in 1872. The section between Academy Hill Road and Brighton Center was put through only in the 1860s. Prior to that time traffic approached Brighton Center by way of Academy Hill Road.
Academy Hill Road was named for an academy or private high school that once stood near the top of the street. In 1841 the town of Brighton purchased the academy building to serve as the first headquarters of the newly established Brighton High School.
The portion of Commonwealth Avenue between South Street to the Newton line (including South Street itself), existed as early as 1840. In 1895, most of this roadway was widened and incorporated into Commonwealth Avenue. The more easterly and older portion of Commonwealth Avenue dates from the mid-1880s, and was at first called Massachusetts Avenue. The name was changed to Commonwealth Avenue in 1887.
Some seventy-five Allston-Brighton place names can be traced to figures of prominence in the early history of the town.
The three earliest families to settle in Brighton were the Danas, Sparhawks, and Champneys. Ironically, no Allston-Brighton place name commemorates the Danas, the most prominent of the three families.
The Sparhawk family owned an estate that extended from the rear of the present Brighton Police Station all the way to Western Avenue. Sparhawk Street was laid out across this land in the 1870s. A Sparhawk family mansion, built in 1803, still stands near the corner of Sparhawk and Murdock Streets.
The name Murdock derives from Hannah Murdock, wife of Nathaniel Sparhawk III. Brighton historian J.P.C. Winship described Hannah Murdock as a "woman of remarkable ability and energy." When her husband died in 1777 while serving in the Revolutionary Army, leaving her with the support of a large family, she earned enough to pay the mortgage and save the Sparhawk property for her children by working with her needle.
The Champney family occupied a house on the northern side of Washington Street above Oak Square. The last member of the family to occupy the Champney homestead was William Richards Champney, a long-time Brighton Selectman and Town Treasurer, who died in 1884. Champney Street was laid out across his property in the 1880s.
Other early settlers who gave their names to Allston-Brighton streets include the Gardners, Griggses, Holtons, and Jacksons.
The Gardner family came to Brighton from Brookline in the mid-1700s. In 1747, they owned 110 acres of land in Allston, running along both sides of Harvard Avenue (the Roxbury Highway). Gardner Street, which dates from 1841, was laid out across a portion of this extensive property.
The most famous member of this family was Colonel Thomas Gardner, an important political figure in Revolutionary Massachusetts who died leading his regiment in the Battle of Bunker Hill. His circa 1750 residence, the Gardner homestead, located originally at the northwest corner of Brighton and Harvard Avenues, was in the 1850s moved to Higgins Street near Union Square, where it still stands, the oldest surviving building in Allston.
Griggs Street and Griggs Place in Allston were named for the Griggs family, which likewise came to Brighton from Brookline in the mid-1700s. The Griggses built two residences on Harvard Avenue near the present Commonwealth Avenue intersection.
The Jackson family of Brighton was an offshoot of the principal founding family of Newton. Edward Jackson, grandson of Edward Jackson of Newton, married Susanna Dana and moved to Brighton about 1750. He kept a tavern in Brighton Center where the Cattle Fair Hotel would later be built, on Washington Street just west of the Market Street intersection. Three generations of Jacksons were Brighton tavern keepers. Later generations of the family made their living from the slaughtering and horticultural industries. William Jackson served as the City Engineer of Boston in the 1890s. He was the engineer of both the Longfellow and Harvard Bridges across the Charles River. His residence still stands at the southwest corner of Chestnut Hill and William Jackson Avenues.
Holton Street in North Allston was named for James Holton, who was born in 1800 in the family homestead on Faneuil Street on the site of the present Faneuil Project. Holton accumulated a substantial fortune in the mercantile trade. When he died in 1863, he left large sums of money to several Brighton institutions. Among the bequests was $3,000 to help finance the establishment of a public library. This library was at first housed in the Town Hall. When it acquired its own building in 1874, the structure assumed the name the Holton Library. North Allston’s Holton Street was put through in the 1880s.
Foster Street was named for the Rev. John Foster, who became the minister of the First Church of Brighton in 1784, serving in that capacity for over forty years. In 1785, Foster married Hannah Webster, the daughter of Grant Webster, a wealthy Boston merchant. With the publication in 1797 of a novel, The Coquette, Hannah Foster became America’s first native-born woman to produce such a work. The Coquette caused a sensation, "taking precedence in interest," one source tells us, "at least throughout New England, and was found in every cottage within its borders, beside the family Bible and, though pitifully, yet almost as carefully treasured." The Fosters lived in a rambling mansion on the site of the Franciscan Sisters of Africa Convent on Foster Street.
Parsons Street was named for Gorham Parsons, who owned a 70-acre estate called Oakland Farms on the western side of Brighton Center. Oakland Street crosses the former Parsons Estate.
The Parsons Mansion, a 17th century structure, stood at the northern end of this estate facing Faneuil Street. According to Winship, Parsons spared no expense in the cultivation of his Brighton estate. A brook was diverted to create ponds and waterfalls. Bridges spanned the ponds which were full of swans and geese. A flower garden and summer house stood nearby.
Parsons served as Brighton's state Representative in 1820, and is credited with having prevented the building of the Boston & Worcester Railroad through Brighton Center. He was also a noted horticulturalist who helped found the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1829.
Duncklee Street was named for the family of John Duncklee, who purchased 17 acres of the Parsons Estate and the mansion when Gorham sold his Brighton property and moved back to his native Byfield, Massachusetts in 1837.
Brooks Street was laid out in 1848 across Brighton's largest farm, belonging to Samuel Brooks, who came to Brighton from Townsend, Massachusetts about 1800. Brooks first lived in a house at the southwest corner of Foster and Washington Streets, but eventually purchased an estate in the Faneuil section that had formerly belonged to Samuel Sparhawk. The Brooks homestead still stands on Hobart Street. George Hobart Brooks inherited the estate from his father, which he farmed until his death in 1892. Hobart Street was officially laid out in 1888 across another portion of the Brooks property.
Warren Street was named for one of Brighton‘s most distinguished families. Josiah Warren came to Brighton from Waltham just before the Revolution. He served at Bunker Hill as a lieutenant in Col. Thomas Gardner’s regiment. Josiah’s son, William, an officer in the War of 1812, ran the Bull’s Head Tavern on the site of 201 Washington Street, which was the original site of the first Brighton Cattle Market before it moved to the grounds of the Cattle Fair Hotel in Brighton Center about 1830.
Another family member, William Warren II operated the first store in Brighton, a combination apothecary shop, grocery store, and depot for the sale of school books, which stood on the site of the present Warren Building in Brighton Center. William Warren also served as town clerk from 1835 to 1857, as well as state representative, selectman, and school committee member. His brother, Joseph, had earlier served as Brighton's first town clerk. Joseph's son, J.L.L.F. Warren, owned the Nonantum Vale Gardens at the corner of Lake and Washington Street.
William II]s son, William Wirt Warren, was instrumental in securing Brighton’s annexation to Boston in 1874. He subsequently served in the U.S. Congress.
In 1885 a nephew, George Washington Warren, founded the Brighton Item (later the Citizen-Item), the community’s first regular newspaper . Warren Street, which originally included Kelton Street, was put through in 1889 and named in honor of William Warren II, the long-time town clerk.
Winship may well be the most important name in the history of Brighton. Winship Street commemorates the many contributions this remarkable family of imaginative entrepreneurs Winships made to the history of this community over the years. Just before the Revolution, Jonathan Winship of Lexington settled in Brighton. In 1775 he and a son, Jonathan II, founded the local cattle industry to help feed General Washington’s Continental Army, headquartered in nearby Cambridge. By 1790, the Winships were the largest meat packers in Massachusetts.
The family mansion, dating from 1780, stood on the site of the Brighton Police Station. Two of Jonathan II's sons, Captain Jonathan, a China trade merchant, and Francis Winship, founded Brighton’s horticultural industry in 1817. In 1820, they laid out 47 acres of decorative grounds, Winship's Gardens, at the intersection of Market and North Beacon Streets. Brighton's first railroad depot was built at the center of Winship’s Gardens in 1834. The present Vineland Street, which runs through the heart of the site, commemorates these gardens in its name.
Everett Street in North Allston was put through in 1846 following the sale and subdivision of the Joseph Everett Estate. The Everett Mansion stood on Western Avenue (River Street) midway between the Everett and Franklin Street intersection.
Bigelow Street and Bigelow Hill in Oak Square were named for Samuel Bigelow, who purchased the old Faneuil Estate in 1839. Bigelow built a conservatory west of the mansion and employed J. Thomas Needham, a noted English gardener and vintner to tend the grounds. With his son, John Brooks Bigelow, Samuel established a horse railroad that ran from Newton to Boston by way of Cambridge and the West Boston Bridge. Bigelow Street was put through in 1858.
Bennett Street was named for Stephen H. Bennett, who came to Brighton from East Boylston, Mass. in 1820, entered the cattle business, and accumulated a fortune estimated at $250,000, an immense sum in those days. He gave the town of Brighton the parcel of land on which the Winship School now stands. When the town built a new grammar school on nearby Chestnut Hill Avenue in 1873, it was named for Bennett. The structure, now a Jewish orthodox school, still stands, minus its distinctive Mansard roof.. The eastern end of Bennett Street was put through in 1858. The western portion, between Parsons and Oakland Street, dates from 1885.
Matchett Street, west of Oak Square, was named for the Matchett family. In 1820, William Perkins Matchett purchased an estate called Lime Grove on the southern side of Washington Street just west of Oak Square. The mansion stood about where Tip Top Street intersects Washington Street today. William's sons, George and Theodore, served on the Brighton School Committee. Another son, Charles Horatio Matchett, was the Socialist Labor Party candidate for President in 1896, the only Allston-Brighton born Presidential candidate.
Pratt Street in Allston was named for Isaac Pratt, a wealthy Boston banker, iron dealer, and landowner, who lived in an imposing mansion at the northeast corner of Brighton and Harvard Avenues. Pratt Street was laid out across his land in 1875.
Corey Road and Corey Hill were named for the Corey Family, which owned considerable acreage on the Brighton and Brookline boundary. The Corey homestead still stands on Washington Street in Brookline, a short distance from the town line.
Breck Avenue on Nonantum Hill was named for Joseph Breck, the famous horticulturalist, who came to Brighton from Medfield, Mass. in 1836. A noted horticulturalist, he was the editor of the Massachusett’s Farmer and the sixth President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, serving from 1859 to 1862. The Joseph Breck & Son Seed Company, which he established with his son, Charles H. B. Breck, also of Brighton, was one of the leading businesses of its kind in the country. The Breck residence stood on Washington Street in Oak Square, between Nonantum and Tremont Streets. Breck’s Gardens stood to the rear of the residence, on the site now occupied by the Oak Square School.
First called Crescent Avenue (originally it included Glenley Terrace and was crescent-shaped), Breck Avenue dates from 1846, having served originally as a carriageway to the Horace Gray Mansion atop Nonantum Hill. The avenue received its present name in the early 1900s.
Farrington Avenue in Allston was named for the Farrington family. In 1815, Isaac Farrington of Brookline purchased a portion of the old Gardner Estate. Farrington Avenue was laid out across this land in 1879. William H. Farrington, who engaged in the real estate and insurance business in Allston, served on the Boston City Council from 1894 to 1897.
Kenrick Street, which dates from 1856, was named for a prominent citizen of Newton, the pioneer horticulturalist John Kenrick. Kenrick was also a founder and president of Massachusetts’ first antislavery society. The Kenricks resided on Waverly Avenue in Newton in a house (the Durand-Kenrick House) which still stands.
Rogers Park and Rogers Park Avenue were named for Homer Rogers of Allston, chairman of the Boston Board of Aldermen in the late 1880s. Rogers, who lived on Gardner Street, was an important local businessman who served as president of both the Allston Cooperative Bank and the Market National Bank of Brighton.
Allen Road, a dead end street just west Brighton Center, was named for Washington C. Allen, who operated a grocery store in a building at the southwest corner of Washington Street and Academy Hill Road. He laid out Allen Place in 1838, building two houses there.
Nantasket Avenue was named by the Pierce family, who owned the property across which this narrow private way was laid out. One of the Pierces had lived in the town of Hull, serving as its health commissioner for a period of years. Nantasket being a section of Hull, it is probably safe to assume that Nantasket Avenue commemorates that association.
Other Allston-Brighton streets that were named after towns include Cambridge Street, Newton Street, Arlington Street, Athol Street, and Raymond Street. The latter was named for the town of Raymond, New Hampshire, from which hailed the Tucker family, the major 19th century landowners in North Allston.
Allston-Brighton names were, in turn, given to two Massachusetts communities. Gardner, Mass. was named for Col. Thomas Gardner, Allston’s Revolutionary War hero. The town of Dana (one of four communities inundated by the waters of the Swift river to create the Quabbin Reservoir) was named for the family whose founder, Richard Dana, was one of Brighton’s founders.
Cushman Road, off Murdock Street, was named for Hiram Cushman, a Shepard Street resident, who operated the earliest express service between Brighton and Boston.
Gordon Street was named for the Gordon family of Allston, major local landowners. The more northerly section of Gordon Street (between Cambridge and North Beacon Streets) was laid out across their farm in 1876. The portion lying south of Cambridge Street (originally called Allston Heights), dates from 1868.
Fairbanks Street was named for the Fairbanks family. Jacob Fairbanks, who owned the land through which the street passes, was a leading Brighton cattleman, who also served as President of the Market National Bank of Brighton and the Brighton Abattoir, which was established on the banks of the Charles River in North Brighton in 1872.
Undine Road, off of upper Lake Street, was named for the Undine Spring, a source of excellent spring water of wide reputation in the 19th century. Undine Road was the site of two notable local institutions---the Brighton Poor Farm (the structure still stands) and the Ellen H. Gifford Animal Shelter.
Waverley Street in North Brighton commemorates the Waverly family. Their mansion, a three story, brick, federal-style structure with four rooms on each floor, stood at the northeast corner of Waverly and Mackin Streets. The estate was later acquire by John Herrick, who devoted its 31 acres to fruit growing. Herrick Street, off of North Beacon Street, was named for this individual.
Hollis Place, a short dead end street which runs off of Allston Street near Union Square, was named for John Warren Hollis, a wealthy sheep dealer who owned substantial real estate in South Allston. Hollis was a native of Braintree and so named a street he laid out across a portion of this property after his native town. Hollis Place dates from 1856..
Union Square (originally called Hart’s Corner) and Union Street, commemorate the struggle for preservation of the federal union. Both were named in the 1850s.
A number of Allston-Brighton streets were named for figures of national importance: Washington Street, Lincoln Street (originally called Central Avenue), and Franklin Street are three obvious examples. Arthur Street, off of North Beacon, was put through in 1884, during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur. Cleveland Circle received its name in 1908, the year former President Grover Cleveland died.
Many local names are descriptive: Summit Avenue, Tip Top Street, Greycliff Road, Lake Street, Riverview Road, Stadium Way, Linden Street, Larch Street, and Reservoir Court, just to name a few.
When Cleveland Circle’s Aberdeen section was being laid out by the Aberdeen Land Company in the 1890s, its streets were given the names of British and Scottish locales: Chiswick, Sutherland, Kinross, Lanark, Kilsyth, Nottinghill, Windsor, Orkney, Kirkwood, Wiltshire, etc.
And finally, while there is no Pennsylvania Avenue in Allston-Brighton, we do have a Delaware Place---a small street named for the nation’s second smallest state.