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.
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.
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.