Thomas H. Perkins (1764-1854) was one of the Boston area’s wealthiest individuals during the 19th century. He and his brother were the namesakes of James and Thomas H. Perkins and Company, a Boston-based trading company established in 1792.*
In 1799, Perkins purchased 53 acres of land on Heath and Warren Streets. Soon the property expanded to 70 acres. This was a time when a number of affluent Boston-area merchants were moving to the “countryside” of Brookline.
Known as “the Merchant Prince,” Thomas H. Perkins originally called his new landholding Brookline Farm. In the early years of Perkins’s ownership, it had domesticated animals, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, the purpose of which was to provide food for his Boston establishments. Soon, Perkins had the house that already stood on the property torn down and a large, plantation-style summer house built in its place. Over the years, greenhouses and other buildings—including a gardener’s cottage, a guesthouse, and a billiards pavilion—were erected. Perkins had a team of gardeners, reportedly spending more than $10,000 per year (an amount, in 1825, worth about $320,000 today) to build and maintain a beautiful landscape that included ponds, winding paths, huge lawns, and flowers and shrubs from all over world.
What makes Thomas H. Perkins’s estate noteworthy—apart from its size and the wealth it reflects—is how the merchant trader accrued the money that paid for it. (James Perkins built a lavish summer home, which no longer exists, at Pinebank, overlooking Jamaica Pond, in Jamaica Plain.) Prior to the establishment of Perkins and Company, the two founders’ business activities included slave-trading in Haiti. Their new company, with its base of operations along Boston’s waterfront and its fleet of ships that transported goods around the world, gained much of its tremendous wealth from smuggling opium into China. In this fashion, Thomas H. Perkins contributed to widespread drug addiction in China and to the imperialist Opium Wars that devastated the country. At “home,” Perkins employed his wealth in a more beneficent manner to fund key local institutions—from the Boston Athenaeum to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Perkins also donated one of his homes (and his name) to what became known as the Perkins School for the Blind.**
The Perkins family retained the property at 450 Warren Street until the 1950s. What remains of the estate is today a property of about 22 acres that (according to a 1983 inventory) includes 11 buildings. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the property, which is still privately held, has an estimated value (in 2024) of $47 million.
Green Line (D Branch) to Reservoir station or Green Line (C Branch) to Cleveland Circle. 1.5 mile (35 minute) walk. MBTA buses pass much closer to the site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Green Line (C Branch) to Coolidge Corner station. 0.3 mile (6 minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass by the site.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
The Chestnut Hill Reservoir, located at the western end of the city along the border with Brookline, opened in 1870 to help meet Boston’s water needs. Work on it began soon after the Civil War. With a capacity of 550,600,000 gallons, the reservoir greatly helped to relieve the pressure on Boston’s water system—at least for a while, particularly during a time of rapid population growth.
The reservoir was also noteworthy for the beauty of its grounds, constructed to allow for ambling in “nature” and, later, for its built infrastructure—particularly an 80-foot carriage road and greenway around the water body, a grand entrance arch connecting it to Beacon Street, and the pumping station (constructed in 1897). What the bucolic setting obscured was the arduous labor that went into constructing it.
Built on the site was housing to accommodate for more than 400 workers, many of whom were Irish and Canadian immigrants or Civil War veterans While the Cotichuate Water Board, which oversaw the project, claimed that its policy was to “pay our employés fair wages for their services, and have them well treated,” the workers perceived the wages as inadequate. On March 2, 1867, 225 workers, who were receiving $1.50 for their 12-to-14 hour-workdays, went on strike for higher pay. According to the Water Board, the workers “virtually proposed to supersede those in authority, and to fix their own wages…” The Board promptly fired all the striking workers, the majority of whom they said had been misled by “a few restless, rambling men [who] were the leaders in the affair,” and quickly found replacement workers, whose wages were raised to $1.75 a day. That the Water Board was able to behave as it did suggests the weak bargaining position of workers at the time, a result of low levels of organization among many laborers and the presence of many in need of wage work.
The reservoir was taken offline in 1978, but it still serves as a backup water source in case of emergency. The architecturally grand pumping station on the reservoir’s edge is today home to the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. The museum, entrance into which is free, interprets the history of Greater Boston’s water systems.
Green Line to Reservoir Station (D Line), or to Cleveland Circle Station (C Line). (0.4 miles, 8-minute walk.)
Boston Brahmins were eager to have a private club for racing horses and associated activities, yet free of the gambling which took place at public racetracks and which they found repulsive. So, in 1882, they founded The Country Club on 100 acres of land. Brookline, with its then-open countryside and proximity (in terms of travel by horse coach) to their homes in Boston, was an ideal location.
Horse-related activities dominated The Country Club for only a brief period. By the early 1900s, it was a multipurpose establishment dedicated to a variety of sporting endeavors, but still ones seen as “rural”—such as lawn tennis. Indeed, by this time what had been the racetrack was part of the golf course.
The Country Club, the first such establishment in the United States, both reflected and helped to define what it meant to be a member of Boston’s upper-class establishment. And, by inspiring the founding of other country clubs across the United States, it helped to produce the suburban lifestyle of the affluent and the associated landscape on a national scale. Long a bastion of WASP male privilege, The Country Club reportedly did not admit Jews until the 1970s, women (as full members) until 1989, and its first African American member until the following year.
Today, The Country Club sits on 236 acres of land. The privatized property is Brookline’s largest “green” space. Its membership of approximately 1300 individuals is secret, but it includes some of the Boston area’s most powerful individuals. Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots football team (who lives in an adjacent estate), is reportedly a member. And, until moving to Florida in 2020, so, too, were team quarterback Tom Brady and supermodel Giselle Bundchen, his spouse.
A MBTA bus, which runs between Forest Hill Station (Orange Line) and Reservoir Station (Green Line, D Branch), stops near the club’s entrance.
To learn more:
Richard J. Moss, Golf and the American Country Club, Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Michael Rawson, Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.