KING’S HANDBOOK OF NEWTON, authored by M.F. Sweetser, was published in 1889 and gives a good idea of what the rapidly growing city was like in the 1880’s. Here is Sweetser’s description of the “little Arcadian settlement” of Waban, which had suddenly sprouted into existence with the advent of the railroad in 1886:
The railway station at Waban is a handsome little structure of stone, opened August 16, 1886, and surrounded by a charming park of lawns and shrubbery and ancient forest trees. It is about midway of the new Circuit Railway, which has thirty-five trains daily (and twelve on Sunday) thence to Boston. It was one of the last designs of the late H. H. Richardson.
The fine trees of this neighborhood, elms, oaks, lindens, and butternuts, are worthy of admiration; and the great pine-groves exhale a delightful and healthful perfume, and add to the attractions of the natural scenery. Within a few minutes’ walk are the emerald meadows of the Charles River, whose crystal current winds around the lowlands in long loops, affording easy facilities for boating and fishing. This is the tranquil and lonely reach between the Upper and Lower Falls, amid the most idyllic rural scenery.
Waban is intersected by what was formerly known as the Old Sherborn Road, later changed to Beacon Street, which is now one of the main arteries of business and travel to Boston; it is crossed, also, by Chestnut and Woodward Streets. The land is elevated and undulating, and the location is extremely healthy. Fine old shade-trees lend variety, and afford a grateful shade, besides forming picturesque elements in the beautiful scenery for which the place is noted. The drives and the walks in and about Waban are as varied and diversified as can be found in this region. In fact, throughout all Newton, “The Garden City,” there is no place that exceeds this in natural beauty. The view westward across the emerald meadows, from the wooded hill near the station, is famous for its rich pastoral beauty, and includes many a silvery loop of the wide-winding Charles River, beyond the ruined and long-abandoned glue-mills. It is about half of a mile from Waban to the Pine-Farm School; about a mile to Newton Upper Falls, or to Newton Highlands; and somewhat farther to Newton Lower Falls, or to West Newton.
Rising from the groves “of pine and maple along the river, and the intervening meadows, is a chain of bluffs, broken in the most picturesque and often weird way by natural glades and amphitheaters. These bluffs reach their maximum altitude in a broad plateau, from which stretches a most bewildering panorama of natural scenery. To the left rises the quaint old village of Upper Falls, with that mighty production of modern engineering, Echo Bridge. Before one, through the pine tops, flows the sinuous, sparkling river; and beyond the meadows and the herds of feeding cattle, cornfields and villages, and away in the distance at the horizon loom the great Blue Hills of Milton. Turning to the right, we trace the river under the massive stone bridge of the old Boston Aqueduct, through the greenest of fields, and finally lose sight of it in a series of sharp bends as it approaches the Lower Falls. Almost at our feet nestles the village, and over the housetops, through the curling smoke, we catch glimpses of Weston, Waltham, and Auburndale.
Beacon Street crosses the line of the Circuit Railway, near the exquisite Waban station, and only a little way from the spacious Almshouse, built about fifty years ago, and now about to be abandoned. Then it traverses the dull marsh-lands of Cold Spring Brook, and the populous but architecturally unfortunate Hibernian settlement of Cork City; and so on into Newton Centre, hard by the classic strand of Baptist Pond. Here the bicycler must draw on his kid gloves and his best English accent, as he spins along the same supernal street to Chestnut Hill and Longwood and the Mill Dam, and so, in due time, to the Boston Public Garden, the State House, and King’s Chapel.
But the aesthetic pilgrim will not so easily pass by the little Arcadian settlement of Waban, concerning which there are a few words to be said, howbeit the tranquil and pastoral beauty of the region fairly evades description. The name “Waban” was happily chosen to designate one of the most charming localities in Newton, embraced within Wards 4 and 5 of this prosperous and growing city. Tradition tells us that this was a favorite hunting-ground of Waban, the chief of the Nonantum Indians. Here, spring and fall, he encamped with parties of his braves, to hunt and fish along the banks of the Quinobequin — the beautiful Charles River of to-day. Here they could find deer and bear, foxes and wolves, and a great variety of smaller game, and fish in abundance, wherewith to enrich the larders of their wigwams, and to content their squaws and papooses, withal.
Later in the same century, the Waban region was the farm of Deacon John Staples, weaver, who came to Newton in 1688, at the age of thirty, and fulfilled the duties of town clerk, selectman, and deacon for many years. When he died, in 1740, he bequeathed to the church seventeen acres of land,” for the support of the ministerial fire”; a lot of Province Bills of Credit, for the poor; and a silver tankard, which is still used in the communion service. The farm passed into the possession of Moses Craft (in 1729), then to Joseph Craft (in 1753), and then to William Wiswall, Second (in 1788). To this place, many years ago, came David Kinmonth, the predecessor of Hogg, Brown & Taylor (now Beal, Higgins & Henderson), in the hope that the air of the pine-woods would restore his shattered health. The expectation failed; but, before his demise, the great merchant projected a capacious mansion, with a deer-park, and fronted his domain with a sturdy wall of stone. Subsequently the estate passed into the hands of William C. Strong, the well-known florist and nurseryman, who is now in occupation, dwelling in a spacious modern house with several gables, not far from the station. The old Kinmonth house, nearby on Beacon Street, sometime the home of Captain Edward Wyman (brother of Dr. Jeffries Wyman), now belongs to and is occupied by Mrs. Marshall Scudder.
In the lovely glade back and to the eastward of these houses are William C. Strong’s great nurseries, on the rich soil of an ancient lake-bottom, and sheltered from the cold winds by ramparts of hills and pine groves. Nearly forty years ago Mr. Strong carried on the business, at Nonantum Hill, in Brighton, where he had purchased the nurseries of the late Hon. Joseph Breck. Later he made heavy purchases of land at the present village of Waban, where he now carries on his entire nursery business and makes his home. His products in trees, plants, and flowers have been long and favorably known; and he has attained an enviable reputation as President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and as Vice-President of the American Pomological Society and the American Horticultural Society, and as author of “Fruit Culture” and other books in this line. He has lately transferred his business to his home farm, where he has land peculiarly well-adapted to the work; and he is now confining his attention more especially to the production of the choicest kinds of hardy trees and plants. All the numerous novelties are here tested, and either propagated and introduced or else rejected, as they are proved to be worthy or otherwise.
It is well known that the country is flooded with pretentious novelties of no value, except to fill the pockets of unscrupulous dealers. This evil has undoubtedly been a serious hindrance to the advance of the interests of horticulture. By his trustworthy experiments and his impartial judgment, Mr. Strong is rendering a quiet but most important service to the public. Upon his grounds may be seen perfect specimens of all the most desirable kinds of trees, shrubs, roses, vines, and herbaceous plants suited to this climate. The quality of the soil and the location are so exceptionally fine, and the facilities for propagation are so perfect, that the finest specimens are offered at unusually low prices. The citizens of Newton and all others interested in horticulture will find profit in visiting this establishment, either for inspection or as purchasers. The place is easily reached by railroad either way, on the Circuit, the post-office address being Newton Highlands.
Recently evidences of real-estate development have become manifest along this beautiful undulating plain, where streets are being laid out across the pasture-lands and upland meadows, and new houses are rising here and there by the roadsides. Windsor Street has been built across the Strong estate, in a graceful curve and by easy grades, to the crest of Beacon Hill, which it follows, for a considerable distance, along the backbone of this far-viewing ridge. Here, where land is still sold by the acre (rather than by the square foot), it is hoped that a number of fine suburban estates may be established, to balance the architectural beauties of Chestnut Hill, on the other side of Newton. The hill had long been called Moffatt Hill, but with scant reason; and when the new streets were built to its summit, the name of BEACON HILL was bestowed upon it, in recognition of the fact that for a number of years the tall beacon of the United-States Coast Survey and the Massachusetts State Survey had been its most conspicuous feature. Mr. Edward L. Collins, of Waban, has discovered the following facts about the first settler on this ridge: “In a conversation with an old resident I learned something of the unknown Moffat. As near as can be remembered, this Moffat ‘squatted,’ as he expressed it, on the top of the hill that bears his name. He was a very odd body, living quite by himself, with the exception of a horse, a cow, and a couple of dogs that occupied the same room in his miserable hut. Moffat associated with no one, save when he was obliged to buy provisions or some other dire necessity. Indeed, the neighbors knew nothing about him. He was as much of a mystery to them at that time as he is to those of to-day. As near as my informant remembers, it was some fifty or sixty years ago he lived on Beacon Hill; but whether he actually owned property there was not known.”
Among the gentlemen who have founded their homes on this beautiful highland is Louis K. Harlow, whose etchings and illustrations are famous for their delicacy and beauty, and have given him a high measure of fame among our New-England artists. Halfway up the hill stands the house of Alexander Davidson, designed by H. Langford Warren, in a skilful adaptation of the old English style.
From the crest of the gracefully rounded hill, situated among the pastures and groves, one gains a charming view over many tall-spired villages, the picturesque hills of Waltham and Wellesley, bits of the distant Mounts Wachusett and Monadnock, with parts of Boston and the turquoise-tinted Blue Hills of Milton. Thence may be seen also the public buildings at Newton Upper Falls, the spires of the Highlands and the Centre, the theological buildings on Institute Hill, the round crest of Waban Hill, the Woodland-Park Hotel and Haskell estate at Woodland (Auburndale), Bear Mountain in Weston, Maugus Hill in Wellesley, Pegan Hill at South Natick, and the tall church of Highlandville, down in Needham. The hill rises 223 feet above the sea-level.
On the same side of the railway, and near Woodward Street, is the quiet and retired home of the Hon. Edwin P. Seaver, who has been for some years Superintendent of Schools for the city of Boston. In this same vicinity stands the Tower house (so called), now the home of H. Langford Warren, a Boston architect. It is more than a century old, and was the home of the ancient pedagogue of this region. Opposite is a pretty house, planned by Mr. Warren, owned by Charles J. Page, and occupied by Charles F. Clement, of the Chilton Manufacturing Company. There are several new houses on Chestnut Street, including those owned by Charles J. Page, Frederic H. Henshaw, and William R. Dresser, of the Broadway National Bank, and Chauncey B. McGee (the Boston life-insurance agent), which were designed and erected by Mr. Warren, whose fine architectural taste has made a deep impress on the village of Waban, in the very dawn of its existence. Warren was one of the disciples of the late Henry Hobson Richardson, in whose studio he spent many profitable years.
The first house on the west side of the railway pertains to the Collins family, who are among the chief land-owners in this region, and one of the largest, oldest, and most beautiful estates at Waban is the Collins property, which has been in the family for a hundred and ten years. Matthias Collins came from Marblehead in 1778, and bought one hundred acres of Joseph Craft, on the Sherborn Road, adjoining the farm of John Woodward. On his death, in 1785, the property was inherited by his only son, Matthias Collins, Second, who enlarged it by the purchase of seventy-eight acres of land adjoining. This whole estate he divided between three of his sons, Amasa, Edward J., and Frederick A. Collins, the latter of whom is now living, retired, at Waban. The late Edward Jackson Collins, who died July 25, 1879, was one of Newton’s most respected sons. He had an established reputation for solidity of character, generosity, public spirit, and love for his native town. During the war, when so much money was required for the credit of cities and towns, he came forward to aid Newton, and, with his own personal endorsement of the notes of the town, established its credit, so that money could be raised without trouble or delay. Consequently, her quota was always ready. He filled acceptably many offices of trust, in the town, city, county, and State: was treasurer of Newton 21 years, treasurer of the Newton Savings Bank 25 years, director of the Newton National Bank 29 years, county commissioner 12 years, and represented Newton a number of terms in the General Court. The original Collins property, with its numerous additions, is again united in the fourth generation; and the entire estate is owned by the widow of the late Edward J., his son Edward L., and Mrs. Alice Collins-Gould, the wife of William H. Gould. It is a tract of land embracing over two hundred acres, extending from Beacon Street to Charles River, by which it is bounded for nearly a mile between Newton Upper and Lower Falls.
The Collins property, together with the contiguous estate of Samuel Hano, between the railroad and the river, and covering many hundreds of acres, is being laid out as a great landscape-park, by Ernest W. Bowditch, the well-known civil engineer, with winding drives, groups of trees, bits of shrubbery, broad lawns, and other natural beauties, heightened in effect by the crystalline river murmuring alongside. It is expected that this domain will be sold for residences, in such large blocks that no one can join the colony unless possessed of some means, so that Waban cherishes hopes of being, at some time in the far future, a sort of inland Nahant or Beverly Farms.
The river in front of Waban gives over half a league of good boating-ground, between Turtle Island and the first bridge at Newton Lower Falls; and there are several boats owned by the gentry who live in this vicinity.