Boston Fish Pier

Seaport Boulevard and D Street, South Boston

Boston Fish Pier, May 2016. Photo by Newton Court. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Constructed in 1911-1913, the Boston Fish Pier has been the focal point of the city’s fish industry for over a century. According to one study, the efficient and sophisticated nature of the Pier made it a model for the world’s fishing industry in the early 1900s. In 1936, 339 million pounds of fresh fish passed through the Boston Fish Pier. By 1975, however, the amount was 22 million pounds, a manifestation of a dramatic decrease in fish stock due to overfishing, a decline that has intensified since. Massachusetts once had, for example, the world’s richest cod stock. Today, the cod catch is a tiny fraction of what it was.

As a result, the Boston Fish Pier, now owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), has undergone substantial changes in recent decades. Originally focused on the landing and distribution of fresh fish caught in the waters off of Massachusetts, the majority of the fish now processed and sold there arrive from afar. One wholesaler and retailer housed at the Pier reported to The Boston Globe in 2016 that 75 percent of his fish was transported from overseas, arriving in Boston by plane or ship.

The Boston Fish Pier is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located in the Seaport District of South Boston and consists of three buildings, all of which were constructed in 1910-1914; one of them serves as a multipurpose function facility. As of 2020, the pier complex housed 20 commercial fishing boats and 19 seafood-related businesses.

While Massport subsidizes the rents of its tenants, many associated with the pier fear for its future. The key reasons are the lucrative nature of the space the pier occupies in an economically booming Seaport where the fishing business is an outlier and the ever-changing nature of the food industry.

Boston Fish Pier, circa 1910-1930. Public Domain. Source: Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

Getting there:

About 1.1 miles (about a 20-minute walk) from South Station (Red Line). The Silver Line bus from South Station passes close by.

To learn more:

David Abel, “A Milestone in the War Over the True State of Cod,” The Boston Globe, April 3, 2017.

Michael Bodley, “Fish Pier’s Seafood Business Evolving with the Industry,” The Boston Globe, June 16, 2016.

William Francis Gavin (Secretary of the Commonwealth), “Boston Fish Pier for Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places” (press release), March 21, 2017.

Hanna Krueger, “The Last of the Seafaring Life, at the Boston Fish Pier,” The Boston Globe, February 15, 2020.

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Mintz Associates, Boston Fish Pier Feasibility Study, Boston: Mintz Associates, Sept. 15, 1976.

Hyae In Park, Alex Poniatowski, Meryl Prendergast, and Calli Remillard, “Boston’s Last Fishing Pier,” Northeastern University School of Journalism, 2019.

Alana Semuels, Cape Cod’s Namesake Fish Population Rapidly Disappearing, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2014.

Brown Square

Pleasant Street (between Green St. and Titcomb St.), Newburyport

Postcard of Brown Square, 1913. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On May 31, 1836, the Essex County Antislavery Society held its first meeting at Brown Square. Among the speakers was the famed poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Established in 1802, the square was named after Moses Brown (1742-1827), the land’s donor, and, at the time, Newburyport’s second wealthiest individual and largest property owner.

Brown Square features an imposing statue of Newburyport’s most famous son: William Lloyd Garrison. On the base of the statue, which was erected in 1893, are engraved some of his most famous, hard-hitting words. The monument is located very close to what was the North Church, whose pastor, in 1830, invited Garrison to deliver a lecture about slavery. Many in the audience so disliked what the firebrand abolitionist had to say that he was uninvited to speak on a second night.

That the house of worship (the Central Congregational Church now occupies the site) at the western end of Brown Square treated Garrison poorly is related in some ways to the square’s namesake. Moses Brown was a merchant and shipbuilder, and an investor in the sugar, rum, and molasses trade. As such, like many in Newburyport, his wellbeing was tied to slavery. As an informational panel on the green notes, “Brown became wealthy and helped the development of Newburyport based on his profits from the ‘Triangle Trade,’ the economic engine that drove much of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In addition to Newburyport’s City Hall, various commercial establishments sit along the perimeter of Brown Square, including the Garrison Inn, a small hotel. Originally known as the Brown Square House, it was built (or commissioned) by Moses Brown.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. Brown Square is 1.3 miles away (about a 26-minute walk). You can traverse most of the distance via the Clipper City Rail Trail, which connects the Commuter Rail station to Newburyport’s Harborwalk, along the city’s waterfront.

To learn more:

Susan M. Harvey, Slavery in Massachusetts: A descendent of early settlers investigates the connections in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Fitchburg State University, June 2011.

Dyke Hendrickson, “The Economics of Slavery,” Daily News (Newburyport), April 14, 2014.

Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services

1031 Beacon Street and 1842 Beacon Street, Brookline

At 10am on Friday, December 30, 1994, John Salvi entered the offices of Planned Parenthood on Beacon Street in Brookline and opened fire with a rifle. Salvi, 22, then drove a short distance westward to Preterm Health Services, one of two other reproductive health clinics on Beacon Street at the time. Upon entering the first-floor office at 10:10am, he again opened fire, after asking if he was in the right place.

Shannon Lowney (l) and Leanne Nichols (r). Source: The Boston Globe.

In addition to wounding five individuals, Salvi killed two people that winter day on what anti-abortion activists called “Abortion Row”: Shannon Lowney, 25, a receptionist and Spanish translator at Planned Parenthood, and Leanne Nichols, 38, a receptionist at Preterm Health Services.

The following day, police finally caught up with Salvi. Authorities apprehended him shortly after he fired a dozen bullets at the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. At the time of the shootings, Salvi was an apprentice hairdresser living in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Active on the margins of the anti-abortion movement, Salvi suffered from mental illness, and, according to members of his own family, had grown increasingly fanatic in his religious beliefs.

In addition to John Salvi’s idiosyncrasies, the shootings in Brookline reflected a charged political climate regarding reproductive rights—locally and nationally.

Protests outside the clinics on Beacon Street in Brookline were common in the 1990s. They ranged from clinic blockades and prayer vigils to harassment of individuals entering the facilities. On at least one occasion, Salvi himself attended a protest outside Planned Parenthood.

Former site of the Planned Parenthood clinic, 1031 Beacon Street in Brookline. Photo by Joseph Nevins, October 2021.

In Greater Boston, the Catholic Church, then under the leadership of Archbishop Bernard Law, was vocal in its opposition to abortion. In his first public statement after becoming archbishop in 1984, Law called abortion “the primordial evil of our time.” (In 2002, Law resigned from his position in disgrace in the wake of revelations of widespread sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston and his role in ignoring or covering up of many such cases.*)

In the United States, the political climate regarding reproductive rights was not only charged, but also violent at times. In the 22 months preceding the killings in Brookline, there had been three other fatal shootings at clinics elsewhere in the country.

Former site of Preterm Health Services, October 2021.

In early 1996, a jury in Norfolk County Superior Court found John Salvi guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of armed assault with intent to murder. The judge, who had determined that Salvi was mentally competent to stand trial, sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Eight months later, authorities found Salvi dead in his cell in MCI Cedar Junction at Walpole (formerly known as Walpole State Prison); he had committed suicide.

That same year, Preterm Health Services and Planned Parenthood merged and moved to a new clinic, the Greater Boston Health Center, on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.

Outside of the former site of the Planned Parenthood clinic, there is a small plaque that honors the memory of Shannon Lowney. For unknown reasons, there is nothing similar honoring Leanne Nichols outside of the former site of Preterm Health Services.

Getting there:

For Planned Parenthood, Green Line (C Branch) to St. Mary’s Street station; the site is diagonally across the street. For Preterm Health Services, Green Line (C Branch) to Englewood Avenue station; the site is directly across the street.

To learn more:

Yvonne Abraham, “Remembering the Horror of the Brookline Clinic Shootings, 25 Years Later,” The Boston Globe, December 28, 2019.

Kevin Cullen and Brian McGrory, “Gunman Opens Fire in Brookline Clinics, Kills 2 and Wounds 5,” The Boston Globe, December 31, 1994. 

Daniel Golden and Brian McGrory, “Clinic Shooting Suspect John Salvi Captured,” The Boston Globe, January 1, 1995.

Abby Patkin, “The Shots that Rang Down Beacon Street,” Brookline TAB, December 30, 2019.

John Zaritsky, Murder on “Abortion Row” (a PBS Frontline documentary), first aired on February 6, 1996.

*See the entry on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End section of A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Florida Ruffin Ridley School and the Edward Devotion House

345 and 347 Harvard Street, Brookline

Edward Devotion House with the then-named Edward Devotion School behind it as well to the right of it, November 1, 1920. Photo by Leon H. Abdalian. Source: Leon Abdalian Collection, Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

On February 26, 2021, a ceremony took place in front of Brookline’s largest elementary school (kindergarten – 8th grade) to celebrate the renaming of what is now called the Florida Ruffin Ridley School.

The renaming grew out of a broad reckoning with Brookline’s involvement in slavery. In 2006, an entity called the Hidden Brookline Committee, which serves under the Town’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, began research on, with the goal of enhancing public understanding of, the history of slavery and freedom in Brookline. Hidden Brookline found that about more than a quarter of Brookline’s households owned human beings in the mid-1700s.

Among Brookline’s enslavers was Edward Devotion (1688-1744), who owned four landed properties, the largest of which is today the Coolidge Corner neighborhood. In his will, Devotion left a portion of his estate to Brookline and requested that it be used to build a school near the center of town. While the Town of Brookline never acted on this wish, it did honor Devotion’s bequest almost 150 years after his death when, in 1892, it opened a new school directly behind his house, and named it after him.

In early 2018, two Brookline residents, Deborah Brown and Anne Greenwald, launched a campaign to drop Edward Devotion’s name from the school due to his being an enslaver. In May of that year, Brookline Town Meeting (Brookline’s legislative body) voted to temporarily rename it the Coolidge Corner School.

A subsequent public process overseen by the Brookline School Committee resulted in 119 different proposals for a new, more permanent name from community members. A committee of students, guided by parents and school staff, then deliberated and opted to recommend that the school be named after Florida Ruffin Ridley, a prominent suffragist and civil rights leader. On November 20, 2019, the Town Meeting, by a vote of 195 to 15 (with 13 abstentions), approved the committee’s recommendation. The school’s new name officially went into effect on September 1, 2020.

Florida Ridley Ruffin School, October 2021. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Born and raised in Boston, Ridley was the second Black teacher in that city’s history. Along with her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, she helped found the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for Black women in the Boston area; she also served as an editor of the organization’s newspaper, The Women’s Era.  In 1896, Ridley moved to Brookline with her husband and purchased a home (which still stands, at 131 Kent Street). Together, they became either the first, or among the first, Black homeowners in Brookline.

Edward Devotion House, October 2021.

The Edward Devotion House remains standing on Harvard Street, with the U-shaped Florida Ruffin Ridley School surrounding it on three sides. The Devotion House was built around 1740 and contains a house frame which dates to approximately 1680. It is today owned by the Town of Brookline. It serves as the headquarters of the Brookline Historical Society, which administers the historic building and has been meeting there since 1901.

Getting there:

Green Line (C Branch) to Coolidge Corner station. 0.3 mile (6 minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass by the site.

To learn more:

Brookline Historical Society website.

Hidden Brookline website.

John Hilliard, “Brookline Town Meeting Votes to Rename Devotion School,” The Boston Globe, May 29, 2018.

John Laidler, “Brookline School Renamed After Civil Rights Leader and Suffragist,” The Boston Globe, November 25, 2019.

Max Larkin, “Under the Shadow of Slavery, Brookline Debates Renaming a School, WBUR.com, May 29, 2018.

Ken Liss, “African-Americans in Brookline: Seeking the First Homeowner,” Muddy River Musings blog, May 29, 2012.

Postcard, undated, circa 1940s. Source: Brookline Photograph Collection, Public Library of Brookline, via Digital Commonwealth.

Braves Field/Nickerson Field

285 Babcock Street, Allston

Nickerson Field, September 2015. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

The former site of the Allston Golf Club, Braves Field, the home of the National League’s Boston Braves was the largest baseball stadium in the country when it opened in August 1915. Prior to then, the Braves had played, since the team’s founding in 1871, at the South End Grounds

While the neighboring American League Boston Red Sox—the last team in baseball to field a Black player—were long marked by racism, the Braves, by comparison, were a progressive team. One year after the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first major league team to field a Black player (Jackie Robinson), the Braves became the fifth one to do so when they debuted Sam “Jet” Jethroe in 1950. By 1952, the Braves’ last year in the city (they moved to Milwaukee), Boston’s National League team had three Black players on its roster. (Today, the team is located in Atlanta, where it maintains its racially offensive name, one first adopted in 1912.)

Boston Braves players (left to right) Luis Marquez and Sam Jethroe at Braves Field, April 1951. Photo by Leslie Jones. Source: Leslie Jones Collections, Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

Boston University (BU) purchased Braves Field for $430,000 in 1953. Today it is the site of a university stadium called Nickerson Field, where BU’s men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams play. The offices of the BU police department are in the original building that housed the Braves’ administrative offices. In the entry area (close to Braves Field Way), in back of the stadium, a small monument marks the site of what was Braves Field.

Photo by Baseball Panoramic, June 14, 2014. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Getting there:

Green Line, B Branch to the Babcock Street stop. 0.4 mile (four-minute) walk.

To learn more:

Howard Bryant, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, Boston: Beacon Press, 2002.

Niquel Terry Ellis. “‘Dehumanizing’ and ‘racist.’ Native leaders decry Braves’ ‘Tomahawk chop’ ahead of World Series game in Atlanta,” CNN, October 28, 2021.

Patrick L. Kennedy, “Remembering the Wigwam” (Parts 1 & 2), BU Today, April 12 & 13, 2012.

Sharon Brody and Lynn Jolicoeur, “‘The Roots of Boston Baseball’: Former Braves Field Marks 100 Years,” WBUR.org, August 21, 2015.

Royall House and Slave Quarters

15 George Street, Medford

The Royall House, 1920. Photo by Leon H. Abdalian. Source: Leon Abdalian Collection, Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

Consisting of two residential buildings, the Royall House and Slave Quarters are what remain of the huge eighteenth-century estate owned by Isaac Royall, Sr. (1677-1739). Royall purchased the 500-acre property, a larger version of which had been previously known as Ten Hills Farm*, in 1732. Later that same year, Royall and his family moved into a what had been an already large house, one that he had had expanded. Royall also oversaw the construction of a large outbuilding to house the twenty-seven enslaved people he brought with him from his sugar plantation in Antigua.

The Africans enslaved by the Royall family in Medford (at the time part of Charlestown) engaged largely in domestic and agricultural work. Their labor enabled the gentlemanly lifestyle of Isaac Royall Jr., his lively civic engagement, and his entertaining of the Massachusetts ruling class. Royall Jr. served on the Governor’s Council and on the Board of Overseers of Harvard College.

The presence of slaves on the Royall estate reflects the fact that Greater Boston was an important center of slavery. In the 1740s, in what was then the Town of Boston, for example, there were more than 1,600 enslaved people—between 10 and 15 percent of the overall population, according to historian Jared Hardesty—many of whom were highly skilled and thus central to the area’s economy. This translated into about one out of every four Boston households having slaves.

Most enslaved people in the Boston area lived in the homes of their “owners.” In this regard, the Royall family, with its separate quarters for their enslaved workers, was exceptional.

Slave Quarters, July 2015. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Royall Jr.’s suspected Loyalist sympathies saw him flee Massachusetts during the American Revolution and live out his life in London. He bequeathed a portion of the proceeds from his original fortune and from land speculation in western Massachusetts to Harvard University. These funds helped to establish Harvard Law School.

In October 2015, a dynamic student movement inspired by the South African and British #RhodesMustFall activism emerged at Harvard Law School. Organized under the name “Royall Must Fall,” the students argued that the school’s seal, which contained the crest of the Royall family, endorsed a slaveholding legacy. The students’ efforts resulted in the Law School announcing, in March 2016, that it would drop the seal and replace it with a new one.

Once home to the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts and the individuals they held in bondage, the Royall House and Slave Quarters, the latter being the only such remaining structure in the northern United States**, is now a museum. The museum seeks to educate its visitors about both the Royall family and the struggles of the Africans whose enslavement helped to create the family’s fortune. In addition, the museum seeks to highlight how the legacies of slavery inform systemic inequalities in the present. It is open to the public for tours on weekends from May through October.

Getting there:

The site is a half-hour (1.3 mile) walk from the Red Line’s Davis Square station; MBTA bus lines also have stops nearby.

Nearby points of interest:

Tufts University, 419 Boston Avenue, Medford.

To learn more:

Daniel R. Coquilette and Bruce A. Kimball, On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Andrew M. Duerhen and Claire E. Parker, “Corporation Accepts Proposal to Change law School Seal, The Harvard Crimson, March 15, 2016.

Jared Ross Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston, New York: New York University Press, 2016.

Elise Lemire, Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

C. S. Manegold, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Royall House and Slave Quarters website.

*Regarding Ten Hills Farm, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

** There are indications that suggest that an outbuilding associated with the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury was also a slave quarters.

Royall House and Slave Quarters, July 2015. Photo by Joseph Nevins

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory and Ohiri Field (Harvard University)

13 Frisbie Place, Cambridge, and 95 North Harvard Street, Allston

Beginning in 1941, research on incendiary weapons development took place in the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge. The third-floor lab—”a glass-walled room-within-a-room” in the words of historian Robert Neer—was under the direction of Dr. Louis Fieser, a professor of organic chemistry. An official, top-secret project of the U.S. Department of War, Fieser’s work was listed as “Anonymous Research No. 4” in Harvard’s records.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1929-1931. Credit: HUV 2329 (BP 51), Harvard University Archives.

The research was the offspring of what was a marriage of sorts between academia, the U.S. military, and weapons manufacturers brought about by the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, the NDRC sought to enhance research on, and development of, military weaponry by building linkages between civilian researchers, the Pentagon, and industry. It was the brainchild of Vannever Bush, one of the founders of Raytheon (today Raytheon Technologies headquartered in Waltham*) and an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bush designated James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard, as the head of “Division B,” which was responsible for bombs, fuels, gases, and chemical problems.

Soon after the NDRC’s founding, Harvard assigned Fieser two rooms in the basement of the Converse Chemistry Laboratory (at 12 Oxford Street) to conduct research on explosives. As the research of Fieser and his team progressed, it shifted from poison gas to incendiary gels, requiring a move to the nearby Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory.

On July 4, 1942, Fieser and his fellow researchers brought the fruits of their labor to the Harvard soccer field, near the university tennis courts and the Harvard Business School, across the Charles River in the Boston neighborhood of Allston. University workers had prepared the field, digging a circle 60 feet in diameter, which firefighters from the City of Cambridge proceeded to fill with water. Fieser and others then carefully placed a 70-pound bomb containing white phosphorous and 45 pounds of jellied gasoline on a metal stand in the middle of the shallow pond. After Fieser flipped a switch, “a spectacular, billowing, 2,100-degree-Fahrenheit cloud arose over the field,” writes Neer. “Napalm bombs had arrived in the world.”  

July 4, 1942, Harvard soccer field. The first outdoor test of napalm. Source: Harvard Magazine.

The success of the test reflected how Fieser and his team had invented not only napalm, but a way to scatter the gruesome substance over a wide area, while igniting it. Liquid and gel incendiary weapons have a long, even ancient, history. What makes napalm an especially effective (and terrifying) weapon is that it is sticky and it burns at an extremely high temperature.

Louis Fieser, April 1965, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Source: Public Domain.

The U.S. military used napalm to horrific effect in Japan during World War II and in the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam. The Pentagon also used the weapon during its invasion of Iraq in 2003. For such reasons, napalm is symbolic for many of the horrors of war and of U.S. military power in particular.

The Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory was constructed in 1911-1912. A couple of weeks before it opened, The Harvard Crimson described the building as “the most perfectly planned and equipped physical-chemical laboratory in the world.” Harvard demolished the facility in 1999 to allow for the construction of the Bauer Life Sciences Building, which now stands on the site.

As for the Harvard soccer field, it was renovated and named Ohiri Field in 1983. (It is unclear if Ohiri Field sits on the exact same site as the old soccer field, but, most likely, at the very least, it overlaps with it.) Until 2010, Ohiri Field served as the primary home field for the Harvard men’s and women’s soccer teams. Since the opening of a new stadium called Jordan Field, Ohiri Field has served as the secondary home for the two teams.

Ohiri Field (undated) with Harvard Stadium, which sits on the other side of North Harvard Street, in the background. Source: Harvard Athletics.

Getting there:

Red Line to Harvard station. Enter Frisbie Place (a walkway that is diagonally across from where Quincy Street intersects Kirkland ) at Kirkland Street. The part of Frisbie Place where Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory once stood is a now a combination of a courtyard and, at its northern end, the Bauer Life Sciences Building (0.4 miles, about an 8-minute walk.) From there, Ohiri Field is a one-mile (approximately 20-minute) walk. MBTA buses from Harvard Square also pass in front of Ohiri Field.

To learn more:

Anonymous, “Gibbs Laboratory Ready,” The Harvard Crimson, December 20, 1912.

Louis F. Fieser, The Scientific Method: A Personal Account of Unusual Projects in War and in Peace, New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1964.

Robert M. Neer, Napalm: An American Biography, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

*Regarding Raytheon, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Acknowledgment:

Thanks to the Harvard University Archives and to Baker Library Special Collections (Harvard Business School) for their assistance.

Somerset Club

42 Beacon Street, Beacon Hill

First established in 1826 as an informal group, what is today the Somerset Club became formalized as the Beacon Club sometime thereafter. In 1851, the club purchased a house at the corner of Beacon and Somerset Streets to serve as its home. Renamed the Somerset Club the following year, it is the oldest of Boston’s private clubs.

Original home of the Somerset Club, corner of Somerset and Beacon Streets, 1860. Photo by Josiah Johnson Hawes. Source: Arts Department, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

In the years surrounding the Civil War, political tensions permeated the Somerset as many of its members were “Copperheads”—Democrats strongly opposed to abolitionism, the war and President Abraham Lincoln. This led to one of its members on the other side of the political divide to found the Union Club nearby (on 8 Park Street) in 1863.

Reflecting the Harvard ties of many elite social clubs, the Somerset is now located in what was the mansion of David Sears (Harvard class of 1807). The club purchased the property in 1871.

The Harvard Crimson newspaper has characterized the Somerset as “traditionally . . .  the haughtiest and most prestigious of clubs.” One does not to ask to join the Somerset, but rather one is asked. The club is so secretive that one needs to be a member to access its website.

Long associated with Boston Brahmins and WASPs—its members have included powerful Yankee politicians and businesspeople and deans from the area’s elite institutions of higher learning—the Somerset did not admit women until the late 1980s. While its membership still reflects “old money” and proper “pedigree,” the Somerset, like Boston’s private social clubs as a whole, is no longer at the center of the area’s pyramid of power. Given large political-economic shifts over the last several decades and the internationalization of Boston’s economy, the Somerset’s status is somewhat a relic of the past.

Somerset Club, 42 Beacon Street, March 2017. Photo by Eleni Macrakis.

Getting there:

Red or Green Line to Park Street Station. 0.3 mile (seven-minute) walk.

To learn more:

Samuel Hornblower, “Fifteen Minutes: The Old Boys’ Clubs,” The Harvard Crimson, April 27, 2000.

Alexander Whiteside Williams, A Social History of the Greater Boston Clubs, Barre, Massachusetts: Barre Publishers, 1970.

Cardinal’s Residence/McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Brighton

During the 1920s, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, under the leadership of Cardinal William Henry O’Connell, a man known for his highly elitist ways, moved its seat of power from the South End to a semi-suburban area of Brighton. Following Boston College’s relocation to Chestnut Hill—an affluent “village” comprised of parts of Boston, Brookline, and Newton—O’Connell set up shop at the intersection of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue, across from the BC campus, on the land of St. John’s Seminary.*

Cardinal O’Connell and Governor Cox at Charlestown Navy Yard, circa 1920-1929. Photo by Leslie Jones. Source: Leslie Jones Collection, Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

The cardinal’s residence, a three-story, ornate and opulent Italian Renaissance-style palazzo—one financed to a large degree from a bequest from the family of Benjamin F. Keith, a vaudeville magnate—was the centerpiece of the Archdiocese’s “Little Rome.” According to David Quigley, a historian at Boston College, the residence was “a visible symbol of the imperial archdiocese in the early 20th century, and then, during the very difficult years in 2002 and 2003 [referring to the revelations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy], it was a site of daily protest and picketing.”

In 2004, the Archdiocese, in dire need of funds to pay restitution to the victims of the sexual abuse, agreed to sell to Boston College 43 acres of land and numerous buildings, including the cardinal’s residence, for $99.4 million. Three years later, it sold another 20 acres and three additional buildings, one of which was the chancery, the headquarters of the Archdiocese (today the home of Boston College’s alumni center), for $65 million.

The current cardinal lives in a modest rectory attached to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.* Meanwhile, the offices of the Archdiocese are now located in Braintree, a South Shore town that has one of the Boston area’s greatest concentrations of residents of Irish descent. The move mimics the migration of many “old” Boston Catholics (those of Irish and Italian descent) to the suburbs. It also reflects a marked decrease in the Church’s political influence in the City of Boston in recent decades. As for the former home of all the Archdiocese of Boston’s cardinals in the 20th century, it is today Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.

McMullen Museum of Art, former cardinal’s residence of the Archdiocese of Boston, June 2017. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

Green Line, B Branch, to Boston College station.

To learn more:

Thomas H. O’Connor, Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and Its People, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Michael Paulson, “Seat of Boston’s Catholic Power Gives Way to Other Pursuits,” The New York Times, January 2, 2015.

Christine Williams, “Archdiocese Sells Brighton Campus to BC,” TheBostonPilot.com, May 24, 2007.

*There are entries on St. John’s Seminary and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Ivory Bean House

47-49 Monmouth Street, Brookline

Ivory Bean was a mason. In 1855, he purchased a piece of land at what is today 47-49 Monmouth Street in Brookline’s Longwood neighborhood for the price of $11,400. The person from whom Bean bought the property was Amos A. Lawrence, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. It is thought that Bean might have worked for the Lawrence family.

Noteworthy is the restrictive language contained in the property deed. In addition to banning various forms of economic activity—including that of a soap boiler brewer, tanner, distiller, sugar baker, or brick maker—it also forbade the property’s “occupation by any negro or negroes” and “by any native or natives of Ireland.”

That Amos Lawrence had antipathy toward people of Irish descent is not especially remarkable as such sentiment was common among non-Catholic Greater Bostonians during the time. His hostility toward Black people, however, is somewhat striking as Lawrence was a prominent abolitionist. This seeming contradiction manifests, in addition to his own idiosyncrasies, the complexities of the society in which the textile merchant lived and his position with it.

Portrait of Amos A. Lawrence, 1922. Public domain.

As historian Catherine Devlin explains, Lawrence criticized “slavery without recognizing his own dependence on it.” He also “[opposed] its spread on political grounds rather than championing the end to an unethical practice.” As such, Lawrence “was both culpable for profiting from slavery and admirable for trying to prevent its spread, a man who was both racist and a self-proclaimed abolitionist.”

Also noteworthy about the racially restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean property is its date. Historians typically trace the origins of racial covenants in the United States to the late 1800s. The 1920s marked a period of intense growth in their use—an outgrowth of a combination of factors: the Great Migration of Blacks from the U.S. South; a U.S. Supreme Court decision (in 1917) that outlawed the use of racial zoning by municipalities; and anti-Black race riots in many cities in the years 1917-1921. On the national level, racial covenants usually targeted Blacks, but, depending on the part of the country, also people of Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Mexican backgrounds. In Massachusetts, covenants barred people identified as Black, Irish, Italian, Polish, and the non-white broadly.

One cannot say with certainty when the first racially restrictive covenant came to be in the United States. (Many have mistakenly attributed the first racial covenant to a Brookline subdivision—“The Lindens”—created by Thomas Aspinwall Davis in 1843.*) But it is safe to say that the one Amos Lawrence imposed on the property of Ivory Bean is the earliest known instance of a racist property deed in Greater Boston and in the United States as a whole.

In approximately 1857, Ivory Bean built the house that now stands on the property. Today it is a private, multi-unit dwelling.

47-49 Monmouth Street, October 2021. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

Green Line (D Branch) to Longwood station (0.3 miles, about a 6-minute walk), or Green Line (B Branch) to St. Mary’s Street (0.2 miles, about a 4-minute walk).

To learn more:

Catherine Devlin, “Free Markets or Free People: Amos A. Lawrence and the Limits of the Abolitionist Movement,” Apollon Undergraduate Journal, Vol. 10, 2020: 8-29.

Catherine Elton, “How Has Boston Gotten Away with Being Segregated for So Long?” Boston Magazine, December 8, 2020.

Michael Jones-Correa, “The origins and diffusion of racial restrictive covenants,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 115, No. 4, 2000: 541-568.

Ronald Dale Karr, Between City and Country: Brookline, Massachusetts, and the Origins of Suburbia, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018.

Ken Liss, “Thomas Aspinwall Davis, Amos Lawrence, and Brookline Racial Covenants,” Brookline Historical Society website, undated, circa 2021.

Simon Ríos, “Racist covenants still stain property records. Mass. may try to have them removed,” WBUR, January 22, 2022.

Anne Wardwell, “’Longwood’ and ‘Cottage Farm’ in Brookline,” in Pauline Chase Harrell and Margaret Supplee Smith (editors), Victorian Boston Today: Ten Walking Tours, Boston: New England Chapter, Victorian Society in America, 1975: 58-69.

Nearby site of interest:

Longwood Mall, Kent and Beech Streets. The mall is a two-and-a-half-acre linear park linear park with historic beech trees. It is thought to contain the oldest grove of European Beech trees in the United States.

*Note

Anne Wardwell (see above) is the first author known to have written about the restrictive covenant associated with the Ivory Bean house. A history Ph.D. dissertation completed at Boston University in 1981 was the first scholarly source to do so. The author, Ronald Dale Karr, wrote:

“Before zoning, the primary protection against attempts to lower the class status of a development was the restrictive covenant. Restrictive covenants were written into deeds at the time of the original sale, enforceable in court by other landowners. Nearly every Brookline subdivision aimed at the upper-middle-class market employed these controls. For example, the deeds received by buyers at Linden Place in 1843 required that all buildings be erected at least thirty feet away from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected or placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses and their appurtenances exclusive of all yards, shops, or other conveniences for manufacturing or mechanical purposes.’ In Longwood, deeds from the Sears and Lawrence families commonly forbade commercial uses of the land for twenty years from the time of sale, and some varied detailed restrictions on the type of buildings that could be constructed. One even prohibited buildings to be occupied ‘by any negro or native of Ireland.'”

In the footnote associated with this text, Karr said that “This is the only example I uncovered of a restrictive covenant aimed at a racial, ethnic, or religious group.”

Historian Kenneth Jackson drew on Karr’s dissertation in his award-winning book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“Meanwhile, the use of uniform setback lines and the preference for centering a house to equalize both side yards created a homogeneous statement that enabled residents to eradicate many vestiges of the heterogeneity that characterized the cities they had fled. For example, in 1843, deeds for the lots in the Linden Place subdivision in Brookline, Massachusetts, included the provision that houses be erected at least 30 feet from the street and ‘that the only buildings to be erected and placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses.’ As the century progressed, deeds forbade sales to ‘any negro or native of Ireland.’”

Note that the excerpt implies that the racially restrictive covenant was associated with the Linden Place subdivision and also suggests that such covenants were multiple in number (i.e. “deeds forbade sales”). Jackson’s work thus distorts what Karr wrote in his dissertation. (Karr turned the dissertation into a book in 2018–see above.)

Subsequent authors have drawn on Jackson’s influential book regarding the origins of the racial covenant and have thus reproduced the original misrepresentation.

Finally, it is important to note that racial covenants stand out because of their formal nature. There were (and are), of course, all sorts of other, less formal means, by which homeowners, neighborhoods, and real estate interests have excluded negatively racialized individuals to maintain relative homogeneity in particular locales. (See, for example, here and James Loewen’s Sundown Towns.)

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to Jesus MacLean and Camille Arbogast, curators at the Brookline Historical Society, and to Ken Liss, President of the Brookline Historical Society, for their assistance. Thanks as well to Stephanie Call, the Associate Director of Archives and Education, Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.