Brattle Street (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

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42 Brattle Street, whose Loyalist owner William Brattle gave the street his name

Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called the "King's Highway" or "Tory Row" before the American Revolutionary War,[1] is the site of many buildings of historic interest, including the modernist glass-and-concrete building that housed the Design Research store,[2] and a Georgian mansion where George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow both lived (though at different times.) Samuel Atkins Eliot, writing in 1913 about the seven Colonial mansions of Brattle Street's "Tory Row," called the area "not only one of the most beautiful but also one of the most historic streets in America."[3] "As a fashionable address it is doubtful if any other residential street in this country has enjoyed such long and uninterrupted prestige."[4]

Origins of Brattle Street as a forest path[edit]

Even before the settlement known as "Newe Towne" was planted on the site of the modern Cambridge, at the first good Charles River crossing west of Boston,[5] the path or trail from Charlestown to Watertown ran past the site of the current Harvard Square and westward along much of what is now Brattle Street.[6]

In early 17th century Newe Towne, according to historian John Fiske, "On the north side of Braintree Street, opposite Dunster, and thence eastward about as far as opposite the site of Linden, stood a row of six houses, and at their back was the ancient forest. Through this forest ran the trail or path from Charlestown to Watertown, nearly coinciding with the crooked line Kirkland - Mason - Brattle - Elmwood - Mount Auburn; this was the first highway from the seaboard into the inland country."[7] Where the current Ash Street intersects the current Brattle Street stood Newe Towne's West Gate, a palisaded fence to keep cattle out of the town.[7]

Eighteenth-century Brattle Street and "Tory Row"[edit]

During the 18th century, seven mansions were built along the main road to Watertown (which included not only the modern Brattle Street but also what is now Elmwood Avenue).[7] Because many of their owners were Loyalists during the American Revolution, these houses got the nickname "Tory Row". During and after the Revolution, many were confiscated by George Washington's army.[8] Some of these were, however, later restored to the families of their former owners.[9]

Even as the Tory Row mansions were being built, however, the forest remained a nearby presence in Cambridge. As late as 1759, a Harvard student writing home reported "many bears killed at Cambridge and the neighboring towns about this time, and several persons killed by them."[6] In the same year, 1759, the house at 105 Brattle Street was built, of which more below.

Provincial militia leader William Brattle, at one time the wealthiest man in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is thought to be the Brattle for whom the street was named. He had the house at 42 Brattle Street built for him in 1727. Brattle tried to keep peace between patriots and the British, but after the 1774 incident known as the Powder Alarm, an angry mob surrounded his house and forced him to flee.[10]

The Baroness Riedesel, whose husband commanded the Brunswick regiments that supported the British, spent much of the wartime "imprisoned" at 149 Brattle Street, the old Tory Row mansion now commonly called the Lechmere-Sewall-Riedesel House.[11] She has left a charming painting in words of the Tory society on Brattle Street before the Revolution came: "Never had I chanced upon such an agreeable situation. Seven families, who were connected with each other, partly by the ties of relationship and partly by affection, had here farms, gardens, and magnificent houses, and, not far off, plantations of fruit. The owners of these were in the habit of daily meeting each other in the afternoons, now at the house of one and now at another, and making themselves merry with music and the dance,— living in prosperity, united and happy, until, alas! this ruinous war separated them, and left all their houses desolate, except two, the proprietors of which were also soon obliged to flee."[6]

105 Brattle Street, Washington, and the Longfellows[edit]

105 Brattle Street, once General Washington's headquarters, later the home of Longfellow

Another Loyalist who fled Cambridge in 1774 was John Vassall, owner of the handsome yellow Georgian house at 105 Brattle Street, built for him in 1759. This vacant house was turned over in 1775 to George Washington, who took command of the Continental Army there.[12] Washington used the rooms at the building's southeast corner, upstairs and down, for his private apartments, where his wife Martha Washington joined him in December, 1775.[6] Washington lived in the house until July 1776.[13]

In the summer of 1837, a young Harvard professor named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow began renting some rooms in the house at 105 Brattle Street, now being run as a boarding house by the widow of Andrew Craigie, Washington's Apothecary General. Longfellow proudly wrote to a friend, "I live in a great house which looks like an Italian villa: have two large rooms opening into each other. They were once Gen. Washington's chambers".[14]

In 1843, Longfellow was given the house as a wedding gift by his father-in-law Nathan Appleton, when Longfellow married Nathan's daughter Frances.[15] The price of the house at that time was $10,000.[16] Longfellow's wife Frances, also called Fanny, was the first American woman to receive anesthesia during childbirth, giving birth in the house at 105 Brattle Street.[12]

Longfellow and his wife Frances had two sons as well as the three daughters memorialized in his 1860 poem "The Children's Hour" as "grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, and Edith with golden hair." All three daughters later had houses on Brattle Street, Alice inheriting her parents' home while Allegra and Edith had stylish homes built for them, at 113 and 115 Brattle Street, respectively, in 1887.

Brattle Street in the 19th century[edit]

During the early days of the 19th century, Brattle Street saw just a few houses added to the "Tory Row" mansions on its northern side, while the south side was still "meadow-land and orchards."[17]

Between 1805 and 1812, a decision was made and finally carried out to straighten the end of Brattle Street, where it joins Mount Auburn Street, renaming a part of the original Tory Row "Elmwood Avenue." As a result, the Brattle Street of today is different from the original Watertown highway, whose original route went along what is now Elmwood Avenue.[18] This is why "Elmwood," one of the seven original Tory Row mansions ("on Elmwood Avenue, then a part of the Watertown highway, which here made a sharp serpentine sweep to the southward, lived Lieutenant-Governor Oliver")[6] no longer has a Brattle Street address.

James Russell Lowell, writing in 1868, conjured up Brattle Street (the "Old Road") as it was in the 1830s, seen from the top of a hill near where Mount Auburn Hospital stands now:[19]

On your right, the Charles slipped smoothly through green and purple salt-meadows, darkened, here and there, with the blossoming black-grass as with a stranded cloud-shadow. Over these marshes, level as water, but without its glare, and with softer and more soothing gradations of perspective, the eye was carried to a horizon of softly-rounded hills. To your left hand, upon the Old Road, you saw some half-dozen dignified old houses of the colonial time, all comfortably fronting southward. If it were early June, the rows of horse-chestnuts along the fronts of these houses showed, through every crevice of their dark heap of foliage, and on the end of every drooping limb, a cone of pearly flowers, while the hill behind was white or rosy with the crowding blooms of various fruit-trees. There is no sound, unless a horseman clatters over the loose planks of the bridge.

As the 19th century lengthened, Brattle Street continued to attract wealthy families who built houses in the newest architectural styles, such as Greek Revival (#112 built in 1846), Stick style (#92, built in 1881), and Colonial Revival (#115, built in 1887). The Shingle style Mary Fiske Stoughton House at 90 Brattle Street has been called "the best suburban wooden house in America ... comparable only to the finest of Frank Lloyd Wright's."[20]

Brattle Street after 1900[edit]

In 1969, the architect owners of the Design Research store created a four-story glass and concrete Modernist building at 48 Brattle Street to showcase the Scandinavian clothing and housewares they had been selling on Brattle Street since 1953.[2][21]

During the summer months, Harvard Square and Brattle Square host many street performers and buskers. The Fokin Memorial sculpture (2001) at One Brattle Square is 10-inch brass representation of a favorite puppet once used there by puppeteer Igor Folkin.[22]

Gregory Corso's first book of poems is titled "Vestal Lady on Brattle: A Collection of Poems Written in Cambridge, Massachusetts 1954-1955."

Notable sites on modern Brattle Street[edit]

KML is from Wikidata

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ""Discovery Days" Highlights Cambridge History". Cambridge Community Television. Retrieved 2011-01-17. Known before the Revolution broke out as the "King's Highway" and "Tory Row," Brattle Street was the main thoroughfare for Cambridge's richest and most elegant neighborhood.
  2. ^ a b Pilar Viladas (2010-09-29). "One-Stop Living". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-17. In 1953, the architect Benjamin Thompson (1918-2002) opened a store called Design Research on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  3. ^ Samuel Atkins Eliot (1913). A history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630-1913. Cambridge Tribune. p. 75. Tory Row.
  4. ^ Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge: Old Cambridge, 1973 ISBN 0-262-53014-7, Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 55-67
  5. ^ Report on the Custody and Condition of the Public Records of Parishes. Boston: Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth. 1889. p. 298. Retrieved December 24, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d e Edward Abbott (1879). Samuel Adams Drake (ed.). History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts: containing carefully prepared histories of every city and town in the county. Estes and Lauriat. pp. 305–358. ISBN 1-142-17517-0. The territory we are now surveying, before its adoption as the site of "the newe towne," was traversed by the "path from Charlestown to Watertown," which is to be accounted the most ancient highway of Cambridge. Its course was about that of the present Kirkland, Mason, and Brattle streets, Elmwood Avenue, and Mount Auburn Street.
  7. ^ a b c John Fiske (1896). Arthur Gilman (ed.). The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-six. Riverside Press. pp. 1–13. The original New Town — or what we might perhaps call "Oldest Cambridge" — was comprised between Harvard Square and the river, from Holyoke Street on the east to Brattle Square on the west. By 1635, the streets now called Mount Auburn, Winthrop, South, Holyoke, Dunster, and Boylston had come into existence within these limits. The northern frontier street, upon the site of Harvard Street and Harvard Square, was called Braintree Street. A road upon the site of the lower end of Brattle Street with Brattle Square was known as Creek Lane, and it was continued in a southeasterly sweep into Boylston Street by Marsh Lane, afterwards called Eliot Street. On the north side of Braintree Street, opposite Dunster, and thence eastward about as far as opposite the site of Linden, stood a row of six houses, and at their back was the ancient forest. Through this forest ran the trail or path from Charlestown to Watertown, nearly coinciding with the crooked line Kirkland - Mason - Brattle - Elmwood - Mount Auburn; this was the first highway from the seaboard into the inland country. The palisaded wall, with its ditch, for defense against Indians and wolves, started at Windmill Hill, by the present site of Ash Street, and ran along the northern side of the present Common
  8. ^ "Brattle Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts" (PDF). The Trust for Architectural Easements. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-01-28. Retrieved 2011-01-21. Allegedly named for 18th-century Brattle Street resident – and British Loyalist – Col. William Brattle Jr., Brattle Street extends westward from Cambridge’s original historic core near Harvard Square, where the town’s first streets were laid out in the early 1630s.
  9. ^ Andrew McFarland Davis (1896). Arthur Gilman (ed.). The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-six. Riverside Press. pp. 14–34. During the thirty years which we have just considered, while there had been but little change in the population of the town, there had been a social development which has attracted considerable attention. Brattle Street as it now runs was open from Brattle Square nearly to Mount Auburn, and the property bordering upon it was owned by wealthy loyalists. This has given rise to the title, " Tory Row," by which their beautiful houses which are still standing have since been known. The picture of the social life of the inmates of these homes, as it has been handed down to us, is charming in the extreme. Nearly all of them passed into the hands of the Committee of Correspondence, and the revenue derived from them was appropriated for public service. Some of these estates were ultimately confiscated, but others were restored to the families of their former owners. The town was opposed to such returns, and, May 5, 1783, instructed its representative to vote against them.
  10. ^ "William Brattle House". Cambridge Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2011-01-20. He was the son of Thomas Brattle who founded Brattle Street Church in Boston, a prominent Congregational then Unitarian house of worship whose members included the Hancocks and the Adamses among other leading Boston families.
  11. ^ a b "Lechmere-Sewall-Riedesel House". Cambridge Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
  12. ^ a b "Longfellow House: History and Culture". US National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-01-21. The first use in the United States of anesthesia for childbirth was administered to Fanny Longfellow at the house.
  13. ^ Howard, Hugh. Houses of the Founding Fathers. New York: Artisan, 2007: ISBN 978-1-57965-275-3
  14. ^ Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: ISBN 0-8070-7026-2.
  15. ^ Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 109. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
  16. ^ Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: 167. ISBN 0-8070-7026-2.
  17. ^ Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1896). Arthur Gilman (ed.). The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-six. Riverside Press. pp. 35–42. Going north from my father's house, there were near it the Holmes House and one or two smaller houses; up "the Concord Road," now Massachusetts Avenue, there were but few; the Common was unfenced until 1830; up Brattle Street there were only the old houses of Tory Row and one or two late additions. On the south side of Brattle Street there was not a house from Hawthorn Street to Elmwood Avenue; all was meadow-land and orchards. Mount Auburn Street was merely "the back road to Mount Auburn," with a delightful bathing place at Simond's Hill, behind what is now the hospital, — an eminence afterwards carted away by the city and now utterly vanished.
  18. ^ Lucius Robinson Paige (1877). History of Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1630-1877. H.O. Houghton. pp. 203–204. It has already been stated that the road from Cambridge to Watertown for many years substantially coincided with the present Brattle Street, Elmwood Avenue, and Mount Auburn Street. To shorten the distance between Watertown and West Boston Bridge, the Town appointed a committee, Dec. 26,1805, to present a petition to the Court of Sessions " to establish the road as now laid out from the garden of the Hon. Elbridge Gerry to the garden of the late Thomas Brattle, Esq. "
  19. ^ James Russell Lowell (1864). Fireside Travels. Approaching it from the west by what was then called the New Road (it is called so no longer, for we change our names whenever we can, to the great detriment of all historical association), you would pause on the brow of Symonds' Hill to enjoy a view singularly soothing and placid. In front of you lay the town, tufted with elms, lindens, and horsechestnuts, which had seen Massachusetts a colony, and were fortunately unable to emigrate with the Tories by whom, or by whose fathers, they were planted.
  20. ^ Henry-Russell Hitchcock, as quoted in Arnold Lewis, American Country Houses of the Gilded Age (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1982), plate 36.
  21. ^ "We lived it here first" by Robert Campbell (2010-08-22) Boston Globe
  22. ^ Public Art: Cambridge Arts Council: Brattle Square Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "St. John's Chapel, Cambridge (1868)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. Founded in 1867, the Episcopal Theological School (now the Episcopal Divinity School) hired the architectural firm of Ware and Van Brunt to design their campus on Brattle Street in Cambridge.
  24. ^ "The Norton-Johnson-Burleigh House (1847)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. The Norton-Johnson-Burleigh House at 85 Brattle Street in Cambridge, is a Gothic-Revival villa built in 1847.
  25. ^ "The Misses Sarah and Emma Cary House (1881)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. The home of Sarah and Emma Cary, the unmarried sisters of Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, a famous educator and the co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College.
  26. ^ Anna Gedal. "Cambridge and the American Revolution" (PDF). Cambridge Historical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2011-01-17. Although a formal Revolutionary battle was never fought in Cambridge, its citizens witnessed more than their share of its events.
  27. ^ "Henry Vassall House (1746)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Archived from the original on 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2011-01-17. The oldest part of the Henry Vassall House, on Brattle Street in Cambridge, may date to as early as 1636, although the date usually given today is 1746.
  28. ^ "112 Brattle Street, Cambridge (1846)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. The facade of the 1846 Greek Revival style house at 112 Brattle Street in Cambridge faces Willard Street, while a columned porch faces Brattle.
  29. ^ "The Edith Longfellow Dana House (1887)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. Next to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge is the house of one of his three daughters, Edith, who had married Richard Henry Dana III, son of the author, Richard Henry Dana.
  30. ^ "History of the Lincoln House". Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Archived from the original on 2011-05-29. Retrieved 2011-03-27. The Institute purchased the house in July 1989 and made extensive restorations and renovations. The front parlor rooms were restored with period wallpaper and furnishings and the entire building was repainted in its original colors.
  31. ^ "114 Brattle Street, Cambridge (1903)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. In addition to its well-known Colonial-era houses, Brattle Street in Cambridge also has many Colonial Revival homes, built in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  32. ^ "The Annie Longfellow Thorp House (1887)". "Historic Buildings of Massachusetts" blog. Retrieved 2011-01-17. At 115 Brattle Street in Cambridge is a Colonial Revival style house built in 1887 for Annie Allegra Longfellow Thorp, a daughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
  33. ^ "Ruggles-Fayerweather House". Cambridge Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2011-01-17. In the 1770s, facing debtors, Ruggles sold the property to Thomas Fayerweather.