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Oak Square History

Prior to Allston-Brighton's first English settlement in 1647-49, the Oak Square area had been a Native American settlement. It was at Nonantum Hill in 1646 that Rev. John Elliot, New England's great Indian missionary, preached the Christian gospel to the tribe and their leader, Waban. The "praying village" of Nonantum became one of fourteen Christian Indian communities in New England. Elliot's ability to reach the Indians via his command of the Algonquian language, made English settlement of Allston -Brighton possible by the late 1640s. The grounds of the Our Lady of the Presentation School, at 634 Washington Street, for example, might yield significant sub service remains of Waban's Native American settlement.

During the first half of the 19th century, Brighton was an important horticultural center, boasting three major nursery concerns that had national reputations. One of these nurseries, Joseph Breck's Gardens was situated at the northwest corner of Nonantum and Washington streets at Oak Square. Although little evidence remains of this important industry within the Oak Square/Hunnewell Hill area, physical links with other aspects of this area's history are still intact.

Brighton's long commitment to public education is symbolized in the Oak Square School at Nonantum Street. Built in 1894 from designs provided by Edward March Wheelwright, this handsome Colonial Revival School was the focus of local preservationists efforts during the late 1970s to save the building; these efforts were successful and the school has been adapted for reuse as condominiums.

Western Brighton's significant historical associations with late 19th and early 20th century Catholic institutions are symbolized by Our Lady of the Presentation Church, rectory and school at 680, 676 and 632 Washington Street.

Oak Square and Washington St c1910

By the mid-17th century, Richard Champney owned a large tract on the north side of Oak Square. Emigrating from Lincolnshire, England in 1635, Champney was an important figure in early Cambridge, serving his community as Ruling Elder of the Cambridge Church, a position second only to the minister as a church leader. Champney's descendants owned land at Oak Square as late as the 1890s. The Queen Anne residence at 647 Washington Street was built on Champney family land c. 1890-1897 for Frederick C. Mosely, treasurer, 70 Kilby Street, Boston.

Oak Square was a major cross road as early as the mid-17th century. Nonantum and Faneuil streets existed as a Native American trail long before English settlement. Prior to 1810, Nonantum Street was called Indian Lane. Formally set out in 1840 as Faneuil Street, this thoroughfare was called the New County Road as early as 1794. Originally called "the Great County Road" and "the Natick road", Washington Street was set out in 1657 to connect Brookline with Newton. It was paved for the first time and named Washington Street in 1840.

Hunnewell Hill may have been named for the Francis Hunnewell family who owned extensive real estate throughout Allston-Brighton during the mid-to-late 19th century. The Francis Hunnewell Family lived at Cleveland Circle by the early 1870s. Variously called Bowen Hill, Lime Hill and Washington Hill during the 18th and the early 19th century, Hunnewell Hill was a sparsely populated place, distinguished mainly by colonial farms, orchards, Indian villages, and primitive roads. Native Americans were reportedly living in the area as late as the early 1800s. During the 18th century, the Matchett family of gentleman farmers had a great estate on Bowen Hill. Matchetts lived in the area until the 1850s. In 1795, the family of Daniel Bowen became major land owners on Bowen Hill. Daniel Bowen was the curator of the Columbian Museum of curiosities on Tremont Street in Boston. The Bowen estate is said to have encompassed a wax museum. Daniel Bowen was the uncle of the talented engraver Abel Bowen who delineated scenes of Boston for various books and magazines during the second quarter of the 19th century. The Bowens, together with Brighton Center's Rev. John Foster , Foster's novelist wife Hannah and Unitarian journal editor and peace activist Dr. Noah Worcester contributed to Brighton's reputation as a focus for art and literature in New England between c. 1790-1840. No structures survive to document the Federal period in the Oak square area.

During the mid-19th century, Oak Square became an important center for Brighton's nurseries. As early as 1820, Joseph L.L.F. Warren established a horticultural firm a quarter of a mile west of Oak Square at the southwest corner of Lake and Washington streets. His nursery, Nonantum Vale Gardens, attracted such eminent visitors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant. During the 1840s, Horace Gray founded an important horticultural establishment south of Oak Square on Nonantum Hill. He erected on his estate "the largest grape houses known in the United States in which were grown extensively numerous varieties of foreign grapes." Originally founded in 1836 at Washington and Allston Street in Allston Brighton, Joseph Breck's nursery was reestablished at the northwest corner of Nonantum and Washington streets at Oak Square in 1854. Breck was the author of an outstanding horticultural treatise, The Young Florist or Conversations on the Culture of Flowers and on Natural History. Breck came to Brighton from Lancaster, Massachusetts, having served as superintendent of the Horticultural Gardens there. As editor of the New England Farmer, he was a leading figure in national horticultural circles. Located at the southwest corner of Oak Square .Breck's land encompassed a house, green houses and an orchard which was located on the site of the 1894 Oak Square School at 25 Nonantum Street

Oak Square was also an early focus for education in A11ston-Brighton. The first school in Allston -Brighton was established in 1722 at Brighton Center. As early as 1805, a private, "classical school for boys" was established by Jacob Knapp on Bowen Hill. The first Brighton School Committee was elected in 1820. Until 1840, however, there were only four schoolhouses in the town, including: the central school at Brighton Center founded in 1722, the eastern school, established in 1832, on Cambridge Street, near its intersection with Gordon Street, the northern school, built in 1534 on the site of the present Storrow School on Waverly Street and the Oak Square School. Constructed in 1825 on the green under the historic White Oak, the first Oak Square School or "the little red school house" was demolished in 1854 to accommodate the construction of the 1855 Oak Square School. During the early 1900s, this wooden, Italianate school building was moved from Oak Square to 16 Bigelow Street. At its new location, the old school was widened and a third floor was added without the loss of its original, bracketed roof and corner pilasters. The triangular school house lot in Oak Square became an ornamental park c. 1900-1909. The wooden Colonial Revival 1894 Oak Square School, was built on the southwest side of the square at 35 Nonantum Street. Built at a cost of $15,000.00, the original structure contained two rooms. By the 1970s, the Oak Square School was the city of Boston's last public school housed in a wooden building and was adapted for reuse as condominiums c. 1980.c. 1980. This school was designed by the important Boston architect Edmund Marsh Wheelwright. Serving as the city architect of Boston from 1891 to 1895, Edmund March Wheelwright was the architect of the Longfellow Bridge, the Park street subway entrances, the Harvard Lampoon Building and Jordan Hall. In Brighton, he designed the old Brighton High school, now the William Howard Taft Middle School at 25 Warren Street (1894) and the Brighton Police Station (1893) on Washington Street. Wheelwright was born in Roxbury in 1854 and was educated at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He subsequently worked in the offices of both Peabody & Stearns and McKim, Mead & White. In l888 he formed the partnership of Wheelwright and Haven. Architectural historian Charles Eliot Norton praised Wheelwright for his ability "to make the beauty of his buildings reside in their proportions, and in the lines and arrangements of their doors and windows; he has the sense to discard superfluous ornament... which another man might have been tempted to add."

The Oak Square / Hunnewell Hill area remained sparsely populated until the introduction of the electric street car to Oak Square in 1890. Nevertheless, several houses were built along Washington Street on Hunnewell Hill before the coming of commuter transportation. (Hunnewell Hill is a late 19th century name for the eminence west of Oak Square. Its derivation is unclear, although it may have been named for Frances Hunnewell who owned several parcels of land at Cleveland Circle during the 1870s. By 1875,a handful of Yankee protestant families lived on the eastern slopes of the hill, including Champneys, Shedds, Shillabers, Smiths, Carltons, Richards, Bracketts and Sanborns. Further research may indicate that at least one of these homesteads survives encased in a larger Queen Anne or Shingle Style structure. Although later atlases indicate a different "foot print" the Italianate/Colonial Revival house at 692 Washington Street may be the Aaron Richards House shown on the 1875 Brighton Atlas. By 1885, David M. Weston, President of the American Tool and Machine Co. owned the house on this lot. Later owners of this house included Annie C. Williams and Nellie I. Daggett 1910s) and John J. Fanning, chief radio announcer and director during the '20s and '30s.

Built as early as c. 1875-1885, the Italianate/Mansard house at 719 Washington Street was built for Clara A. and George G. Jones, clergyman. Built on land owned by William H. Long, the Jones family lived here until the early 1900s. By 1909 William H. Stinson is listed at this address. Later occupants included C.J.B. Driscoll during the 1920s and Antonio Di Sicullo and Angelo Marchitelli, chef.

In 1889, Allston-Brighton's third streetcar line made its inaugural run, linking the Coolidge Corner to Cleveland Circle streetcar line with Oak Square via Washington Street. The West End Railway Co., owned by steam ship company president and real estate magnate Henry M. Whitney, operated the Oak Square branch of this line. The shingle style house at 704 Washington Street was built c. 1890 for John G. Godding, proprietor of Godding Apothecaries, 278 Dartmouth Street, Boston. Godding and his wife Adelaide G. Godding lived here until c. 1920. Next door to the west, the Goddings neighbor was Dexter Brackett's Nursery with its "Florist Green houses". An asphalt paved lot occupies the site of Brackett's house and green houses. During the 1920s and '30s Gladys C. and Orazio W. Di Bona, "restaurant, Westland Avenue" are listed at this address.

The shingle/Colonial Revival style house at 668 Washington Street was built c. 1886-1894 for Mary E. Hatch on land carved from David Weston's house lot. By 1909, this was the summer home of Henry V. Slack, "U.S. Gauger, 45 Milk Street." During the winter the Slack family lived at 312 Columbus Avenue, Boston. Also listed at the Brighton address was Henry A. Slack, clerk, Adams Exchange Co., South Station. By 1916, liquor store owner Michael Leverone and his wife Giustina lived here. by 1930, Ernest L. Leverone, salesman is listed at this address.

The Queen Anne house with the distinctive porte cochere and stable at 664 Washington Street was built c. 1885-1890 for Charles M. Tillinghast, insurance company executive. Tillinghast commuted to offices at 24 Exchange Place, Boston. During the 1920s and 1930s, Algernon L. Jewett, salesman, owned this property.

The odd-numbered, north side of Washington Street developed over a longer period of time . As early as 1875 Matchett Street and Richards Street, later Presentation Road are shown as proposed north-south thoroughfares bordering 60 undeveloped lots owned by B. Gay. These streets were set out during the early 1900s while housing on the north side was constructed during the 1910s. Designed by Roxbury architect James Haddock, the 1908 Spanish Colonial revival duplex at 709-711 Washington Street was part of this third wave of houses built on Hunnewell Hill. It was built for S. Rich, 101 Tremont Street, Boston. Susan E. Wadsworth and J.T. Madden owned this house during the 1910s and '20s, respectively.

Running between Washington and Tremont streets, Tip Top Street is shown on a Hartly B. White Plan dated March, 1909 and was formally set out c. 1910-1915 over land owned by John W. Carlton and Nathan Cushing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally located at 654 Washington Street, the Cushing house was either moved or demolished to accommodate the setting out of Tip Top Street. The Nathan Cushing Queen Anne house at 15 Tip Top street is representative of the third wave of housing atop Hunnewell Hill. Dating to c.1910-1915, the Michael A. Ryan family, this house's original owners may have been attracted to this street because of its proximity to Our Lady of the Presentation Church whose construction was underway by 1913. The Ryans lived here until at least the early 1930s. Standing by 1916, 12 Tip Top Street is a Craftsman style cottage built for Mary B. Finch. By 1925, J. Donovan lived at this address.

Prior to 1910, Hunnewell Hill had been a Yankee Protestant bastion. By the 1920s, a number of Italian and Irish families had settled on the hill. The construction of the Our Lady of the Presentation Church complex between 1913-1920 represents a watershed in the history of the Oak Square/Hunnewell Hill area. Serving as a catalyst for ethnic change in this area, this parish's organization was announced in The Pilot on November 14, 1909. The Presentation Parish "honors the entrance of the All-Holy mother of God into the Temple." Possessing a total circumference of six miles, Presentation Parish was formed out of portions of the Parishes of Our Lady, Newton and St. Columbkille's, Brighton. The first services were held in a new automobile garage" associated with a three decker at 325 Faneuil Street; an apartment in this three decker served as the first rectory. The first priest was the Boston College and St. John's Seminary-educated Father Lenehan. Designed by Catholic Church specialists Maginnis and Walsh, Our Lady of the Presentation Church at 680 Washington was built between 1913-1921 at 680 Washington Street

According to Douglass Shand Tucci, "Maginnis and Walsh's senior partner, Charles Donah Maginnis, became the leading Roman Catholic Church architect in this country." Fine examples of his work include the Church of St. Catherine of Genoa, on Spring Hill in Somerville (1907-1906), St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norwood (1909)), St. Aidan's in Brookline (1911), St. Julia's in Weston (1920) and the exquisite chapel at St. John's Seminary, Brighton (1899-1902). In 1909, he began to design the beautiful Gothic Revival buildings at Boston College. In 1916, Maginnis and Walsh provided designs for Emmanuel College in the Fenway. During the 1920s, he designed St. Paul's in Dorchester and St. Theresa's in West Roxbury.

Worship services were conducted in the lower church between 1918-1921. The upper church was opened to parishioners in November, 1921. The church's interior was designed by Albert W. Sexton & Son, Boston ecclesiastical decorators. The ornamentation in the church celebrates Mary's life and virtues. The walls of the church exhibit stone angels holding shields carved in high relief; these shields depict "the various titles of Our Lady familiar with the Litany of Laredo The church also retains its original stained glass and the great organ. Additional art works in the church are hand-carved railings and roof beams, marble altars, and statuary. Other interesting features include an electronic carillon timed and controlled from the Rectory. The Jacobethan Revival Rectory at 676 Washington Street was constructed in 1913 by W.J. Larsfield of 20 Leamington Road, Brighton, from designs provided by H. Thaxter Underwood, 46 Cornhill, Boston.

Both the upper church and the rectory were thoroughly refurbished in 1950, and the lower church was reconstructed in 1962. The auditorium steps and organ loft were lowered to floor level, new lights, pews, and a pulpit were installed, walls were painted or paneled in oak, the sanctuary was carpeted, the organ was removed to the front of the church on the Epistle side, confessionals were replaced, and a wall-to- wall rubber tile floor was put down.

The beginnings of Our Lady of the Presentation Grammar School at 632 Washington Street date to 1917 when Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur came from their convent in Somerville to teach Sunday School at the Hunnewell Hill church. Built in 1928-1929, Our Lady of the Presentation School replaced a temporary structure containing six class rooms built in 1922. At the beginning of the 1929-1930 school year, 315 students were enrolled in the school. Further research is needed to determine the school's architect. The school's teachers, the Sister's of Notre Dame, were housed in a convent at 25 Burton Street and by 1935, moved into more spacious quarters on the former Brown estate, just over the Newton line on Washington Street.

The property adjoining the convent on the Boston side, known as the Whittemore Estate at 724 Washington Street was purchased by Father Murphy, pastor of Our Lady, in June 1942. The ornate Queen Anne Whittemore House was transformed into Presentation Academy, a high school for girls while the carriage house on the premises (no longer extant) called "The Villa" was renovated, providing a lunch room for the students and a place of assembly for various parish activities. 724 Washington Street was built c. 1894-1899 by C.W. Bowers & Co. for John Quincy Adams Whittemore, a prominent manufacturer of shoe polish. The Whittemore mansion was designed by J. Merrill Brown, one of the most talented Boston area specialists in Queen Anne domestic architecture. Several fine examples of Brown's work are located at 6 and 9 Walnut Street (1886-1887), Avon Hill, Cambridge. 724 Washington Street currently serves as a private home.

By 1963, Our Lady of the Presentation Church enjoyed the support of 5,000 parishioners, from approximately 1,650 Presentation families. These families were involved in 23 parochial organizations, including: the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Confraternity of Christian doctrine, Catholic Daughters of America, Holy Name Society and others. The church continues to serve as an important focus for the spiritual, educational and social needs of the community.

During the 1910-1930 period, the rising population of the Oak Square/Hunnewell Hill area necessitated the construction of a new fire station and library at Oak Square. During this twenty year period Allston-Brighton's population doubled, rising from 27,000 to 60,000, becoming the most densely populated of Brighton's outer neighborhoods. During the mayoral election of 1910, the Faneuil Improvement Association community group supported Fitzgerald's opponent, the reform candidate and Yankee financier James Jackson Storrow. In 1910 the number of Yankees slightly exceeded the Irish. The mayoral election of 1910 ushered in a twenty year period characterized by the exodus of the Yankees from Allston-Brighton and the settlement of sizable numbers of middle class Irish and smaller numbers of middle-class Jews and Italians. Built in 1913, The Oak Square Fire Station (Engine Co. 51) at 425 Faneuil Street represents one of the few capital improvements made by the administration of Mayor John Fitzgerald. It was designed in the Tapestry Brick style by Maginnis and Walsh, architects better known for their Roman Catholic Churches.

The Faneuil Branch of the Boston Public Library at 419 Faneuil Street was constructed between 1931-1932 from designs provided by Kilham, Hopkins and Greeley. It is one of the few buildings in Brighton designed in the Art Deco style. Walter H. Kilham(1868-1948) and James C. Hopkins (1873-1938) established their partnership in 1900 and established a successful firm which was joined in 1925 by William Roger Greeley. Kilham and Hopkins designed the Dedham high School (1915), Lincoln School, Framingham (1919), City Hall, Waltham, and the Dover Town Hall (1920). They were also responsible for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in the Fenway (1920) as well as numerous apartment houses. The Faneuil Branch Library's cornerstone was laid in October, 1931 by Mayor James Michael Curley. The main book stack held 6,500 volumes. Black Belgian marble was utilized for the vestibule's wainscoting and the children's room's fire place mantle. The ornamental, over mantle panel was painted by O.R. Freeman of the Kilham office. Approximately 2000 books were accommodated in the children's room while 2500 books were housed in the adult reading room.


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