At the edge of the Charles River at the far edge of Newton, Massachusetts, homeless working boys of the Boston area had a place to rest their head. The Working Boys Home was established in 1883, as a new Catholic charity in Boston. Its mission was to provide a home for working adolescent boys (messenger boys, newsboys, boot blacks, etc.) who had no place to call home and often slept in abandoned buildings, alleys, stables, and other such places. The Working Boys Home was open to homeless boys between 12 and 17 years of age, and all were expected to work and contribute a part of their wages to the support of the home. The original space in Jamaica Plain and subsequent Bennett Street (North End) locations were deemed too inadequate. In 1890, the 48-acre estate in the Oak Hill section of Newton was purchased and this four-story brick building built from plans by William H. McGinty. After WWII, city prosperity other services reduced childhood homelessness, and the last group of boys moved out of the Working Boys Home in 1961. The property was sold in 1979 to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston to be used as a center for activities meeting cross-generational needs, now known as JCC Greater Boston.
Oak Hill Newton
Hyde-Richardson House // c.1728
The Hyde-Richardson House is one of roughly twenty remaining pre-Revolutionary War homes in Newton. The home was built for Timothy Hyde (1689-1756) after he inherited the property including 36 acres and a house from his father John Hyde. Timothy had two wives: Rebecca Davis who he married in 1718 and died in 1724 (seemingly in childbirth); and his second wife Sarah Whitmore, whom he married in 1727. The home was likely built soon after his second marriage. It is possible that parts of the original home on the site were reused for this structure. He served as Surveyor of Highways and Constable and in 1710 was drafted to serve with the militia in the successful siege of Port Royal in Canada. In 1761, Jeremiah Richardson bought the property and married his wife Dorcas Hall that same year. Richardson was a deacon and like Timothy, served as Surveyor of Highways. The property remained a farm until the 1930s when the automobile and suburban expansion reached the Oak Hill section of Newton. The farmland was ultimately was subdivided to create the surrounding neighborhood in the mid 20th century.
Ellen Banning Ayer Country Estate – “Ledgebrook” // c.1905
Ellen Banning Ayer (1853-1918) of Minnesota married Frederick Ayer in 1884 and her life completely changed. Frederick Ayer was one of the richest men in New England and he was involved in the patent medicine business, but is better known for his work in the textile industry. After buying the Tremont and Suffolk mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, he bought up many textile operations in nearby Lawrence, combining them in 1899 into the American Woolen Company, of which he was the first president. The couple had at least three houses in Lowell, Boston, Pride’s Crossing and had three children (one of whom Beatrice, later married the famed general George Patton). As the Ayer Mansion on Commonwealth Avenue was being built, the family was looking for a country house near the city. One year, Frederick asked Ellen what she wanted for a gift and she said “roses”. Frederick purchased an old farmhouse on Nahanton Street in Newton and had greenhouses and a stable built immediately, followed by a Colonial Revival country house for his wife Ellen. The mansion held lavish parties for the Ayers, who loved to entertain and it was passed down to their eldest daughter Katharine Ayer Merrill. After her death in the 1980s, the large site was eyed for redevelopment. The architectural firm of Dimella Shaffer was hired, and they restored the Ayer House, and designed forty residential units on the site, all tucked into the woods gently peering out here and there.
George Kaplan House // 1946
The George Kaplan House, erected in 1946, is an excellent and exceptionally well preserved example of the International Style in the Boston area. The home is located on a suburban road in Oak Hill, Newton, and displays characteristics such as strong geometric forms, a flat roof, banded windows interspersed with expanses of blank walls and absence of ornament. The Kaplan House was designed by Walter Gropius‘ firm ‘The Architect’s Collaborative’ (TAC) of Cambridge, which was founded just one year prior, and this home was their first completed project. The home was built for George and Ethel Kaplan, a young couple who moved here from Brookline. Kaplan worked in design himself and manufactured shoe fabrics.
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.
Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow House // 1886
The Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow House, sitting high on Oak Hill in Newton, is among the last designs (1886) of architectural icon Henry Hobson Richardson. If you already didn’t know, Richardson was one of the foremost architects of his day and is known both for bold Richardsonian Romanesque and Shingle style designs. He was hired by Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow to provide plans for a sprawling country retreat from the noisy and cramped conditions in Boston. Dr. Bigelow was an eminent surgeon in Boston who earlier, helped facilitate the first public dose of ether as anesthesia on a patient, a breakthrough that led to the stunning Ether Monument in the Boston Public Garden. Bigelow only got to enjoy the country estate for a couple years until he died in the home in 1890. Years later, the estate (and nearby buildings) became home to the Peabody Home of Crippled Children, which worked as a sort of open-air hospital. Eventually, the home was vacated and sat, deteriorating on the hill. It was saved from demolition through the efforts of preservationists in Newton, and was restored as a part of “This Old House” with Bob Vila. It was restored as a set of five condominiums sited in a sunny interior courtyard.
Baldpate Road House // 1959
Occupying the highest elevation (315 feet) in Newton, Massachusetts Baldpate Hill and its residential development encompasses perhaps the largest concentration of architect-designed custom homes from the 1940-1960 period
in the city. Newton realtor Arnold Hartmann purchased large land holdings in the minimally developed Oak Hill village, developed some land into the Newton Country Club and other areas for suburban neighborhoods. He laid out building lots on Baldpate Hill from 1926 to the late 1950s, and many of the homes were built after WWII. One of the later homes built is this house, built in 1959 from plans by the architectural firm of Hoover & Hill of Cambridge. The home features a low-slung roof with the home in a Ranch form, yet extends to two stories as the hill drops off at the rear of the home. A small garden is located in the front yard, and terraced yard is located at the rear.
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.