“A Neighborhood Like A Family”
Pamela W. Fox writer
Photographs from the collection of the Weston Historical Society
The second in a series of articles in which we explore the people, history, and traditions that create Weston’s unique character.
The place-name Kendal Green was coined in the mid-1880s by the distinguished General James F.B. Marshall, who suggested it for the new post office near his home at North Avenue and Church Street. The nearby railroad station adopted the name, and the part of town served by the post office, including Lexington Street, upper Church Street, and most of North Avenue, came to be known as Kendal Green.
North Avenue was “the great thoroughfare” between Boston, New Hampshire and Vermont, and into Canada in the early years of Weston history. Farmers drove their cattle and hogs along North Avenue to slaughterhouses in Brighton and Charlestown. Stagecoaches followed this route. The
construction of the Fitchburg Railroad from 1843 to 1845 further stimulated growth.
At the intersection of North Avenue and Church Street, once known as Hobbs’ Corner, a cluster of important early houses is associated with the Hobbs family and Hobbs Tannery. Tanning hides was an important colonial industry, as the tough, strong leather material was indispensable for use in harnesses, saddles, and shoes. Hobbs Brook and the “Tannery Pond” provided the abundant water supply needed for washing, soaking, and tanning hides in pits of water mixed with ground-up bark, which produced tannin.
The tannery may have been established as early as 1730, the year Josiah Hobbs bought 122 acres in Weston and Waltham. Five generations operated the business and branched out into related enterprises like slaughtering cattle and making harnesses, carriages, whips, belts, boots, and shoes. An 1834 probate inventory lists several thousand skins and hides and more than 2,000 finished boots and shoes along with large quantities of shoemaking supplies. In 1837, about the peak of the industry in Weston, 5,606 pairs of boots and 17,182 pairs of shoes were made in the town. Local farmer-bootmakers included the father and grandfather of Francis Henry Hastings, who brought the organ factory to Weston half a century later.
In the late 19th century, the Hobbs land was inherited by James F.B. Marshall, grandson of First Parish minister Samuel Kendal. General Marshall was the founder of Hampton Institute in Virginia, a school for the education of black teachers. His best-known pupil, Booker T. Washington, visited the general in 1890 and spoke at Weston Town Hall. As a well-known educator, Marshall received many letters. Not coincidentally, in 1886 the postal service opened an office at 107-9 North Avenue, just two doors down from his home at No. 87. Marshall suggested the name Kendal Green as being “of pleasant sound and significance.” “Kendal” commemorated his grandfather, last of Weston’s colonial pastors, while “Kendal Green” was a type of green cloth manufactured in the English town of Kendal.
General Marshall helped start a general store in the same building as the post office. George W. Broderick, who ran it for almost half a century, sold grocery staples, newspapers, hardware, harnesses, fishing equipment, lard, sour pickles from the barrel, doughnuts, penny candy, and five-cent bottles of cream soda, birch and root beer, and orange crush. Neighbors came to get their mail and lingered to exchange gossip and debate politics. In 1897, the town installed a scale in front where trucks could be weighed. By the mid-1920s, Broderick’s had a gasoline pump.
The 1880s also saw the establishment of the Hook & Hastings organ factory, by far the largest of the town’s mills and industries. The owner, Francis Henry Hastings (1836-1916) was born at 199 North Avenue and educated at the nearby District School #4. His formal education ended at age 14, when he left Weston to apprentice at a Boston machine shop. At age 19, he joined the firm of E. & G.G. Hook, makers of some of the century’s greatest church and concert hall organs. Some three
decades later, after the death of the Hook brothers, Hastings became head of the prestigious firm. He decided to relocate the factory from Roxbury Crossing to the farm fields across from his boyhood home. Because the town had no zoning regulations, nothing prevented construction of a factory in this rural setting, nor did local residents seem to object. The huge wooden building, 280 feet long and three to four stories high, stood on Viles Street just north of the railroad tracks. It was visible from great distances in the deforested landscape. Proximity to the rail line made it easy to bring in supplies and ship the finished organs throughout the United States.
Hastings built his own Shingle style home, Seven Gables, at 190 North Avenue, with a stable and a caretaker’s house across the street. He also built about a dozen single and double cottages for his workers, located in small clusters on Viles Street, North Avenue, White Lane (now Brook Road), and Lexington Street. Housing was part of his plan to create a harmonious workplace at Kendal Green. The headline of an 1890 article in the Boston Herald called it “A Community of Labor” and “An Object Lesson for Employers and Employed—the Labor Experiment at Kendal Green. . . A Neighborhood Like a Family.” Hastings provided for recreation and social activities undoubtedly much needed in rural Weston. The Kendal Club sponsored debates, concerts, plays, dances, and suppers at Hastings Hall, a community center that also had a library, reading room, and game room. The playground on Viles Street and Brook Road, now owned by the Town of Weston, was used by the organ factory baseball team.
The manufacture of these large and complex instruments often took years and required a variety of skilled tradesmen. Hastings once remarked that he needed “every branch of mechanics. . . workmen in wood, in metal, in leather, knowledge of music and acoustics, architecture, electricity, pneumatics, hydraulics. . .” He maintained relationships with European organ builders and employed many Scandinavian workers. In busy times, the men worked ten hours a day, six days a week, and shipped out approximately one organ a week.
Hook & Hastings Co. closed its doors in 1935, a victim of changing times and the Depression. In its 108 years of operation in both Boston and Weston, E. and G.G. Hook and Hook & Hastings produced an estimated 2,614 organs ranging in size from eight to 80 feet. These included organs for First Parish and St. Peter’s Church in Weston, Weston College, Wellesley College, the College of Music in Wellesley, and the Unitarian church in Wellesley Hills.
By the late 19th century, Weston was a favorite destination for city dwellers seeking relief from the summer heat. In this pre-automobile era, the town offered healthful air and a bucolic atmosphere combined with convenient rail transportation from Boston. Wealthy businessmen established country retreats while others boarded with farm families or stayed in hotels. In 1897, George and Sarah Thurston purchased a farm on North Avenue and began taking in guests. When fire destroyed the farmhouse, they constructed the Drabbington Lodge, named after Sarah’s birthplace in England.
A newspaper article at the time of the opening in 1899 called it “one of the best suburban hotels.” Modern conveniences included “artificial light at night,” courtesy of newly available electrical service, plus two bathrooms on each floor to serve the 32 sleeping rooms. Behind the lodge was a tennis court and seven-hole golf course. In 1901 and 1902 the Thurstons built a “cottage” next door atop a knoll, and two years later they added a log bungalow behind the cottage. At the height of the season, all three buildings were filled to overflowing.
Newspaper clippings from the turn of the century give the names of families arriving each week from as far away as Minnesota, with children, nurses, chauffeurs, and governesses, for indefinite stays. In his book Once Upon a Pung, B.H. Dickson III describes “well-to-do people [who] would spend several weeks there rocking on the porch, playing golf, or walking along the shaded lanes in the neighborhood.”
In their walks through Kendal Green, guests at the inn would have seen more cows per square mile than in any other part of Weston. Through the 1950s, farmers planted fields of corn to send to market, keeping the stalks to feed their herds. Thomas Coburn’s farmhouse still remains at 163 North Avenue. Adjacent to it was a monumental red barn where he kept 25 to 30 cows. The old Whitney Tavern next door housed the hired men. Another branch of the Coburn family owned the white farmhouse and red barn still standing on Church Street. These farms, along with many others in the neighborhood, continued in agricultural use until after the Second World War.
To serve farmers, travelers on North Avenue, summer visitors, and the organ factory community, several businesses thrived on the site of the present Weston Market. By the mid-19th century, the Garfield family was operating a blacksmith shop and cider mill in a large barn next to Stony Brook. George W. Garfield was succeeded by his three sons: George, a wheelwright; Hiram, a blacksmith; and Daniel, a carriage maker, blacksmith, and cider and vinegar manufacturer.
At the turn of the century, the property was purchased by James T. Foote, a Nova Scotian immigrant who ran the blacksmith shop and expanded the Garfield cider business. He produced a very popular cider with an alcohol content of 20 percent. With the advent of the automobile age, Foote tore down the blacksmith shop and built a small general store, modern cider mill, and service station with a Socony gasoline pump. He began making his own ice cream and soft drinks including a root-beer-like creation billed as “Wello—the Health Drink of America.” The combination of automobile service, grocery staples, and homemade ice cream and soda proved to be a great success. After World War II, Foote’s sons Harold and Earle built a grocery and ice-cream store called Foote Brothers where neighbors gathered for their morning coffee.
No discussion of North Avenue businesses would be complete without a mention of the Dairy Joy, still a popular summer destination for Weston residents with a hankering for hamburgers and soft ice cream. Farmer Charles Cahill built the sales stand and luncheonette in 1927 as part of his Cedar Hill Farm (not to be confused with the Waltham farm of the same name.) With its 250 acres, Cedar Hill Farm was the largest dairy farm in Weston and included a complex of barns housing more than 100 cows, plus pasteurizing and bottling operations. The dairy operated into the early 1940s.
The abandoned buildings burned in a spectacular fire in 1949. The land was developed into what is known as the King’s Grant neighborhood. The old Cedar Hill Dairy Bar was purchased separately by Weston High School teachers Wallace “Pop” Sawyer and Aimo Teittinen, who later became the junior high principal. Their hard ice cream cost a nickel a cone. In the early 1960s, the stand was sold to the Maxwell family, who added French fries, onion rings, and fried clams to the menu and have operated the Dairy Joy ever since.