Oak Hill Middle School // 1936

In the 1930s, America was in the throes of the Great Depression, and towns and cities struggled to provide services for the ever-growing populations, all the while suffering from lower tax revenues. The New Deal was enacted as a result, which provided a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1939. One of these programs was the Public Works Administration (PWA), which funded and built large-scale public works projects such as dams, bridges, hospitals, and schools, to provide jobs and bolster local economies. In Newton, the developing Oak Hill Village required a new public school, and the town received funding for the Oak Hill Middle School in 1935. Architects Densmore, LeClear, and Robbins were hired to provide designs for a new school, and builders completed the building the next year. The Georgian Revival building is constructed with red brick with cast stone trim. The 16-over-16 windows and cupola also work to showcase the beauty of the design.

Do you know of any PWA projects near you?

Oak Hill Evangelical Chapel // 1903

On a busy road in Oak Hill Village in Newton, Massachusetts, I saw this house which appeared as if it was built for a different use. After searching historic maps, I found it was originally home to the Oak Hill Evangelical Society, as a rural chapel. The chapel served as a local religious gathering place for the handful of families who lived around this section of Oak Hill and did not desire to travel to nearby villages to worship. The practitioners had money, and hired the Boston architectural firm of Cooper and Bailey, who designed many stunning civic and institutional buildings in New England. With the proliferation of the personal automobile, locals would later be able to travel to nearby churches easier, and this building was sold to a member, who converted it to residential use, which it has been used as to this day. The building is an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts architectural style with the raised rubblestone foundation, flared eaves with exposed rafters, and shingle siding which flares where it meets the foundation.

Turner Art Publishing Company Building // 1908

In 1907, the 86-acre Bigelow Estate (featured yesterday), was purchased by Horace K. Turner, owner of an art publishing company founded in Boston about 1904. Turner moved his workshops to the estate so the artists could work in healthy country surroundings. The firm required the long wings contoured into the hillside to provide ample natural light and views to the distance for the workers. In 1920, the entire property, including the Bigelow House and the bungalow workshops, were acquired by the New England Peabody Home, which had been located in Hyde Park for 25 years. It was set up as a school and hospital for “crippled children” and this brick building was added to the center section. Architects for this addition were Coolidge and Shattuck, successors to the firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. The Peabody Home was among the first to use sun treatment as a cure for physical ills and the extensive porches were well suited to this purpose. The Peabody Home became obsolete and the property was sold off in the mid-20th century. In 1979, the Peabody Home was sold to Edward Leventhal, who converted the buildings into 22 condominiums. Architects for the project were Jung/Brannen.

Robert Gould Shaw Estate // 1912

Born into the heart of Boston Brahmin society (Boston’s elite class), Robert Gould Shaw II (1872-1930) had a life of great opportunity, but full of tragedy. Robert was born in Boston and was a first cousin of Robert Gould Shaw, the famed military officer who accepted command of the first all-Black regiment (the 54th Massachusetts) in the Northeast. Robert II had a life of leisure, and enjoyed his position in society by drinking and enjoying elite sporting events. He became a wealthy landowner around Boston, and international polo player of the Myopia Hunt Club in the North Shore. He gained a reputation for alcohol abuse and promiscuity and divorced his first wife after just four years, she would later move to England and marry Waldorf Astor, and become the first woman seated as a Member of Parliament. The couple’s only son Robert Gould Shaw III followed his mother to England, but was eventually imprisoned there for six months for “homosexual offenses”. His alcoholism and his mother’s death, may have led to his suicide in 1970. Robert Gould II in Boston, remarried and purchased land in Oak Hill, Newton to build a country estate. He hired James Lovell Little Jr. to design the Tudor style property with a mansion, and various outbuildings including a carriage house and stable. As the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era and eventually the Great Depression, the Shaw fortune collapsed. Shaw died in New York in 1930. The estate was later purchased as the new home to Mt. Ida College, now a regional campus of UMass.

As another piece of this interesting family’s history… Louis Agassiz Shaw II, one of Robert’s four children in his second marriage, had all the opportunities of his father, as he attended Harvard, had a sizable bank account, but was a recluse and had some mental issues and paranoia. Like his elder half-brother Robert Gould Shaw III, and father, Louis struggled with depression and alcoholism and in 1964, he strangled his 64-year-old maid, who he said was plotting to murder him in his sleep. He confessed but plead not guilty; he was committed to Danvers State Hospital and later McLean, where he lived for 23 years until his death. After which, much of his art collection, which he intended to donate to the Fogg Museum at Harvard, was discovered to be fakes.

Murdock-Wiswall House // c.1718

Another of Oak Hill Village’s pre-Revolution homes is this stunner! This home was built some years before 1718 and was eventually occupied by Robert Murdock (1663-1754) and wife Hannah Stedman. Murdock emigrated from Scotland to Plymouth, MA in 1688 with his brother, later settling in Roxbury. In 1703, Robert bought a house and 120-acres of land here, and worked as a housewright. Like the King House (last post), the house was likely rebuilt or modified substantially at this time. Robert also served as a selectman, Constable, Surveyor of Highways, and Assessor in town until his death; and his son, Robert Murdock Jr., took over the property. By the mid-18th century, the estate was purchased by Jeremiah Wiswall (1725-1807). Wiswall served as Captain of the militia at the battle at Concord and Dorchester Heights during the Revolution and held a number of positions in the community including Overseer of the Poor, Constable, Selectman and as a hogreeve (person charted with the prevention or appraising of damages by stray swine). He was very involved in the events leading up to the Revolution including the committee on the tea embargo and drilled with the militia. He also lent money to the town to hire soldiers and owned a house designated as a place to receive smallpox inoculations in 1777, though it is unclear if it was this house he used. The house was eventually slated for demolition in the 1960s, but was saved by Dr. Roy Carlson, President of nearby Mount Ida College (now owned by UMass. For $1, he purchased the home from a developer and paid for it to be moved from its original location at the corner of Brookline and Dedham streets a ¼ mile southwest to its current location, on Carlson Ave, and it served as the President’s House.

Dike-King House // c.1740

Located in the Oak Hill Village of Newton, the Dike-King House remains as one of a few pre-Revolution houses, but the history is a little murky from what I found. Oak Hill was the most remote village of Newton historically and has maintained much of its open space to this day, as it did not see the suburban development following the streetcar in other villages in town connecting to nearby Boston. This house was apparently built by Jonathan Dike (1673-1751), a cooper, who lived here with his second wife Experience French (yes that was her name). The home he built was likely a much smaller dwelling and was added onto as the family grew. Jonathan died in 1751 and the home went to his eldest living son and later sold to Noah King in 1796. The house plaque on the house gives a date of 1795 as King purchased a house on the lot, but it was likely much older than one year old. Noah King was a housewright, deacon, and son of Dr. John King a prominent civic leader in the town. With his expertise as a housewright, he likely rebuilt much of the house into what we see today. Starting in 1796 through 1923 the property was run as a farm by members of the King family, but land was sold off around the Great Depression for much needed funds. Due to the asymmetry of the house, it is likely that it started as a half-house with just three bays with the door at the left-most bay, with the saltbox roof added around that time.

Frederick Collins House // 1847

This house was built in 1847 by Frederick A. Collins on land owned by his father, Mathias Collins III. Frederick Collins (1818-1892) had this house built just after his marriage the same year to Amelia M. Revere, purportedly a grandniece of Paul Revere. Prior to his marriage, Frederick A. Collins lived in Newton Upper Falls and started a glue factory with his brother, which
by 1855, had grown to three three factories and which folded upon the death of his brother Edward Collins in 1879. Collins was active in local affairs, serving in later life on the City Council. The home remains a significant monumental temple-front Greek Revival house in the Boston area. It was designated as a Newton Landmark, meaning it will be preserved for future generations to appreciate.

William Strong House // 1896

William C. Strong purchased the old Wyman Farm in present day Waban Village in 1875, consisting of 93 acres of open land and rolling hills. He subdivided some of the land after the completion of the Waban Station, later developing the Strong’s Block, the premier commercial block in the village. To kick off the development along Windsor Road, he hired architect Herbert Langford Warren, the Dean of Harvard’s Architecture School (who also owned a historic farmhouse nearby) to design a couple homes for sale. This stunning house is notable for the prominent gable end gambrel roof, shingle siding, and porte-cochere.

Staples-Crafts Farm // 1750

In 1688, John Staples, settled in the untouched landscape seven miles west of Boston, now known as Waban Village in the town of Newton. John was a weaver by trade but he ended up as the first public school teacher, the town clerk, a policeman, and an alderman. John married and lived in a modest farmhouse for decades here, witnessing the birth of a new nation nearby. The couple had no children of their own but raised some of Mary’s relatives including Moses Crafts, who would eventually take over the home. Craft rebuilt the house on the original foundation around 1750, constructing a colonial farmhouse two and a half stories high with five windows and two rooms across, one room wide.

Joseph Crafts died in 1821 at the age of 85, leaving no will and considerable
debts owed. The Judge of Probate ordered the property to be auctioned, and
Joseph’s son, Moses Crafts II, made the winning bid of $5.50 for the house,
barn, and a large tract of land! In 1824, Moses Craft II sold the property to his cousin William Wiswall, who gave the house a Federal period remodeling.

By the late 19th century, the home and ample farm land were acquired by William Strong and his wife Mary. William, President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, used the property for some time as a nursery, with apple orchards and rose gardens. After his petitioning for a train station in Waban, he parceled up the farmland into large house lots for sale, seeing the neighborhood shifting to a suburban village. He soon after built the Strong Block, the first commercial building here.