Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Seek Newton, Part III: Highlands

From Dave Brigham:

Moving deeper into my project to document the backside of each of the 13 villages of my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass., I've become more obsessed with geographic specificity. For this installment I consulted neighborhood maps to make sure I hewed close to the proper boundaries of Newton Highlands. This resulted in expanding the scope of this post, as parts of Newton that I thought were in Waban or Upper Falls turned out to be in the Highlands. Of course, longtime residents may disagree with my siting certain buildings or parks in a given neighborhood, when accepted wisdom puts those locations in a different mental zip code.

I used a map from Zipmap, which is obviously operated by geography wonks, so I assume it's reliable.

I put a lot of time and effort into researching the villages of Newton. I scan old maps on the city's web site looking for locations where I might find historical remnants. I peruse the city's assessor's database online to find the age of old buildings. I tromp around taking photos. I spend so much time on Google researching Newton's parks, conservation land, historical buildings and forgotten and disappeared locations that I see the search site's multicolored logo letters in my dreams. Still, I will inevitably miss curious, out-of-the-way spots.

And just when I think I've covered enough ground, physically and digitally, sometimes something sucks me back in. In the course of researching Newton Highlands, I spent about an hour hiking through Cold Spring Park, snapping photos of an old stone wall, the Lifecourse physical fitness trail and the old aqueduct that runs through the park.

That evening I did a Google search to find out the history of the park, which was once known as Cold Spring Swamp. I already knew that in the 1930's a company called Atlas Films bought up some of the swampland and made movies there. But then I ran across this fascinating fact -- "another mystery is how the Cardinal’s Coat of Arms arrived in Cold Spring Park" -- from "Mysteries of Cold Spring Park," an essay by Michael Clark I found online.

So I had no choice but to return.

Clark provided excellent clues for finding the spot, and within two minutes of my return, I found this slab of concrete, propped up on a small side path near the swamp:

How bizarre is that?! Here's the story, from Clark's essay:

"Boston’s Cardinal William Henry O’Connell was elevated to that rank in 1911 and reputedly had an ego only minutely smaller than St. Peter’s Basilica. A number of his coats of arms carved in stone grace what is now the Lake Street campus of Boston College. Possibly he distributed others on buildings throughout his archdiocese, but how did this large cement one end up near a small path on the side trail to Beaconwood Road? [Y]ou may note that it is inscribed not with the usual three O’Connell shamrocks, but with three fleur-de-lis. Was this a defective coat of arms that the Cardinal had cast into the dump of Cold Spring Swamp?"

The light wasn't great when I took my photo, so you may find it difficult to compare it to this photo of the Cardinal's Coat of Arms on the Holy Name Parish in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

As I said, I took other pictures in the park, none as interesting as the coat of arms. Here's a shot of an entry into the former Cochituate Aqueduct, which runs through a good chunk of Newton.

I wish there were some remnants of the aforementioned Atlas Films operation in the park. Details about this part of Newton's history are scant online. I intend to find out more further down the road as I turn this series into a book.

This is the third installment in this series. I hoped initially to roll out a post every month or so, but it's taken me longer to travel around and take pictures, do the research and steal time from other things in my life. The relatively warm winter has allowed me to catch up on taking pictures, so I hope to publish more regularly this year.

The first post in the series covered Lower Falls (see May 21, 2015, "I Seek Newton, Part I: Lower Falls"); the second, Auburndale (see September 20, 2015, "I Seek Newton, Part II: Auburndale"). This post is about the Highlands neighborhood, which has its own trolley stop, numerous beautiful old churches, a decent retail/restaurant strip featuring plenty of nice old buildings, cool historical markers and one of the more interesting former churches-turned-condo developments.

There are two old aqueducts that wind through the city. The Sudbury Aqueduct runs through much of Newton, including a neighborhood of fantastic old Victorian homes in the Highlands.

A short distance from this bucolic scene you'll find "downtown" Newton Highlands. I have a rooting interest in this village, as the building that once housed the original Brigham's Ice Cream location is here, as is a community center with my family's last name on it. There's no direct connection to my family, but I'm sure we're distant cousins.

Currently the Bread & Chocolate Bakery and Cafe, this building once housed the first Brigham's Ice Cream store, which Edward Brigham opened in 1924. While I love snapping pictures of the abandoned and derelict, the graffiti-covered and the rusty, I also find my heart beating faster when I discover connections to the past in buildings that are still around, and in good condition, and that so many of us pass each day without a second thought.

Just steps away from the bakery is a great toy store, Green Planet Kids, where I spend most of my time in the Highlands. As a stay-at-home dad/writer, I've shopped there for plenty of birthday presents on behalf of my kids. The store is located in one of a handful of great old commercial buildings along Lincoln Street.

Built in 1905, the building also features a candy store and a small provisions business on the ground floor, as well as apartments (or perhaps offices) in the upper two floors.

The striking Stevens building is another great place.

Built in 1888 to replace the wood frame Farnham's Block, the Stevens building was once much grander, as evidenced by the bricked-over windows. I found a Boston Evening Transcript news story from February 13, 1913, about a fire in the building's second floor, in what was then Lincoln Hall. There was a dance going on attended by "more than one hundred young people." Nobody was hurt.

Another great brick building is just down Lincoln Street, on the opposite side.

This place was built in 1895, and was formerly the Hyde School. It was converted to condos a few decades back during Newton's binge of selling surplus school buildings. That decision has come back to bite the city in recent years, with the city government buying some back, and enlarging others.

Newton has many examples of old buildings, including schools and churches, being converted to condos. One of the more interesting is this one that stands at the corner of Erie Avenue and Hartford Street.

Built in 1893 as the Cline Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, this great old building was converted to condos long ago. In between those chapters of its life, however, the building was an Odd Fellows Halls and an Elks Club.

Just around the corner on Walnut Street stands a beautiful building that remains a church.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church isn't abandoned or dilapidated, but it has some interesting history. Built in 1883, it was moved to this location in 1902, according to a brochure for a historic walking tour of the neighborhood.

While the Lincoln Street/Walnut Street nexus of downtown Newton Highlands is the primary hub of activity, there are plenty of other, more backside-y features in the village.

A relic from the days when the Worcester Turnpike (now Route 9) was privately operated, this is the milestone marking 7 miles to Boston. Here stood a tollkeeper’s booth and a gate where travelers were charged a small fee to pass.

About a half mile from the main retail area stands this funny little building. Currently under renovation by a landscape and masonry supply company, this place used to be somewhat hidden under a tree and behind some shrubbery. I have no idea what it was used for in the past, but I'll try to find out.

A stone's throw from this little shack stands the Newton Highlands Playground. Here's the backside of the concession building, which has obviously stood for quite some time.

Near the border of the Newton Upper Falls village stands the South Burying Ground, which dates to 1802.

The cemetery serves as a gateway of sorts to the extremely busy Needham Street retail zone, and I imagine many people who shop there have no idea this graveyard exists. Take a quick stroll off the main drag of stores, restaurants and office buildings, however, and you can still find a slice of old Newton.

Until I consulted the Zipmap, I thought the area southeast of Needham Street was entirely in the Upper Falls village. Turns out Nahanton Park, and the remnants of the city's poor farm, define the outer reaches of the Highlands.

The remains of a well at the old poor farm:

A foundation on the one-time poor farm property, which is now conservation land:

For more about about Newton Highlands, including some cool old photos, click this link.

The fourth part of my Newton series will focus on the village of Waban, a bit of a tough nut to crack.


  1. If you do NC don't forget The Hollow.

    1. I didn't grow up in Newton, so I've never heard of The Hollow. And by NC do you mean Newton Centre or Newton Corner?