A Do-It-Yourself Tour of Wellesley
Beth Hinchliffe writer
Did you know that every day you may drive past the homes of two Nobel Prize-winners, America’s greatest baseball player, two Presidential candidates, and the Captain of the town’s Minutemen? Or that you might live around the corner from the world’s 1870s “Disneyland,” ten properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an Underground Railroad stop, a 600-million-year-old Ice Age boulder, a Native Americans’ campground, or the site of the first game in the oldest high school football rivalry in the nation?
Wellesley is rich in characters, quirky anecdotes, and history. This “do-it-yourself” tour is an introduction to some of the highlights. You can use the map on pages 92 and 93 and take the complete tour or a portion of it, discover unknown historic sites, and learn the stories behind the familiar places in Wellesley that make up the tapestry of everyday life.
1 Town Hall (National Register of Historic Places). When Wellesley separated from Needham and became a town in 1881, benefactor Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (#60) donated this land and two French Chateau-style buildings (1883 library on right, 1885 Town Hall on left, combined into one Town Hall in 1959). The adjacent Arboretum has more than 80 champion trees and a duck pond.
2 Main Library. In 1959, a human chain moved books from the former library to the previous building here; the 2003 building has 260,000 items and an annual circulation of 575,000.
3 Morton Field. Commemorates Dr. William Morton who lived here when he discovered ether as anesthesia; site of the first Wellesley-Needham Football game (1882), America’s oldest high-school football rivalry.
4 Police Headquarters. Department founded 1893; prisoners were held at Town Hall until the first building on this site in 1950; current building dedicated 1996.
5 St. Paul Church. Formed in 1906 as mission of St. John; 1916 church built to look like country churches of Wells, England; school (1953) is K-8.
6 126 Brook Street. Built 1695; the oldest home in Wellesley.
7 Recycling-Disposal Facility. In 1960, Wellesley stopped using Sprague Fields for landfill and on this 75-acre parcel built an incinerator, closed in 1973. Residents pioneered trailblazing recycling program in 1971, which now annually recycles 5,000 tons and returns $644,000 to town.
8 Washington Street. Originally a Native American trail, then Sherborn Road (1671), later named for George Washington who traveled it in 1775 and 1789 (stopping for a drink at what is now St. John’s and “praising the quality of the water”); site of the annual Boston Marathon, won by Wellesley resident Greg Meyers in 1987.
9 Hunnewell Field. Hunnewell’s gift in 1902, linking Wellesley and Wellesley Hills; site of WWI’s Memorial Grove and the 2008 Beach Boys’ concert.
10 Wellesley High School. Soon-to-be-replaced eclectic Art-Deco building (1938) named for “America’s Greatest Biographer,” resident Gamaliel Bradford (493 Worcester Street, 1863-1932), today enrolls approximately 1,200 students in grades 9-12.
11 Playhouse Square. In 1921, Roger Babson (#12) built this theater for employees of his next-door Babson’s Reports; served as town’s Community Playhouse movie theater from 1928 -1986.
12 31 Abbott Road. Home of Roger Babson, whose forecasting revolutionized the financial world and who ran for President in 1940; he founded Babson Institute (now College) in this house in 1919.
13 Abbott Road. The Abbott family (and later Isaac Sprague) developed here beginning in the 1890s, creating their own zoning rules to ensure the look of the area; this inspired Wellesley to adopt the first zoning bylaws in the country in 1926.
14 Babson College. Babson Institute moved to new Georgian-style campus on 450-acre farm in 1923; now enrolls 1600 undergraduates and 800 MBA students, and is ranked #1 nationally in entrepreneurship studies.
15 Babson Globe. Twenty-five-ton, 28-foot-diameter outdoor revolving globe, dedicated in 1955, and still open to visitors.
16 Wellesley Country Club. On April 19, 1775, West Needham (now Wellesley) minutemen met here at Captain Caleb Kingsbury’s farm to march to battle; in 1838, Needham (of which Wellesley was part) built the current Greek Revival clubhouse as poor farm/town hall. On October 23, 1880, the current ballroom became the birthplace of the Town of Wellesley in a heated and successful debate over separation from Needham. Has been Wellesley Country Club’s clubhouse since 1910. Look quickly — the most historic building in town will soon be demolished or disassembled.
17 Longfellow Pond. Created in 1815 when Rosemary Brook was dammed up to power nail factory; later icehouse ruins still visible. Adjoins 200-acre Town Forest, with town water supply wells, ancient eskers, fields, and paths. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
18 Centennial Park (151 Oakland Street). Town’s 100th-birthday gift to itself; 42 acres of meadows, woods, brooks, and hiking paths across former summer campground of Chief Maugus; view to Blue Hills from 338-foot Maugus Hill. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
19 Mount Saint Vincent. In 1893, Sisters of Charity bought over 200 acres and opened the Academy of the Assumption, and later St. Joseph’s and Elizabeth Seton High School. After schools closed, they sold land to the Country Club, town (#18), and MassBay Community College; retired nuns now live here.
20 MassBay Community College. Land and buildings bought from Sisters in 1973; two-year public, open-enrollment college with 5,000 full- and part-time, day and evening students; features Felix Juliani (longtime Wellesley Selectmen) Art Gallery, and Wellesley Symphony Orchestra.
21 Warren Recreation Building. Current 1935 building was fourth school on site (first 1790), named for longtime teacher Annie Warren (born and lived around the corner); renovated for $7 million and re-opened as recreation center March 2004.
22 182 Walnut Street. Two-bay Walnut Firehouse (Hose #3) used 1903-1988; recently renovated into condos.
23 10 Bethel Road. Temple Beth Elohim, built in 1960 by 71 families; membership now over 890 families.
24 Ouellet Playground, Cedar Street. Dedicated in memory of local boy David Ouellett, Medal of Honor recipient killed in Vietnam in 1967.
25 Fyffe Footbridge, Lower Falls. Named for lifelong resident Mary Fyffe, Hunnewell descendant and environmental activist, spans the Charles River (original Native American name: Quinobequin, “river-that-winds-on-itself”) near Benjamin Mills Park (selectman and owner of first mill, 1701, and first inn, 1705) and Eaton-Moulton Mill (1853, 37 Walnut, h National Register of Historic Places).
26 27 Washington Street. Home of inventor Alexander Graham Bell; now Grossman’s
27 St. John Church. Oldest religious building in Wellesley (parish founded 1867); New England Gothic-style building dedicated 1881.
28 Farms Railroad Station (National Register of Historic Places). Architect Henry Hobson Richardson (Trinity Church, Boston) and legendary landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted (New York’s Central Park) teamed together for Wellesley’s three Romanesque train stations, grounds, and ponds; only the Farms (1890) remains intact (Square replaced by post office 1962; Hills renovated for business 1950s).
29 Hills Congregational Church. In 1847, 28 members of the Village Church (#72) broke off and formed the Orthodox Congregational Church; Moses Grant donated a bell, thus, the area was named Grantville (now Wellesley Hills; current building built 1901).
30 15 Chapel Place. Katharine Lee Bates’ (#50) childhood home; she walked from here to school in Wellesley Square (#53).
31 Hills Library (National Register of Historic Places). Using land and local stone donated by Isaac Sprague (#34), it opened in 1928; closed in 2006; triumphantly re-opened 2008.
32 Historical Society (229 Washington). Founded 1925, housed in Town Hall and Hills Library basement until donation of Dadmun-McNamara House (1824 home of Worcester Turnpike toll keeper Daniel Dadmun), which was moved down Route 9 (from over Weston Road) to this site in 1975.
33 Community Center. “The place where Wellesley meets,” built and maintained by private donations; designed and constructed by Joe and Louis Grignaffini; site of Council on Aging, Wellesley Award dinners, and, since 1968, the starting point for Wellesley’s parades.
34 Elm Park/Clock Tower (National Register of Historic Places). The center and symbol of Wellesley Hills; on site of 19th-century stagecoach inn. Sixty-five-foot tower honors Isaac Sprague (1859-1934), town leader who donated local stone for Hills Library, Sprague School, Central Fire Station; houses clock and bell from old Shaw School across the street. Built 1928, now illuminated by Community Preservation Committee and Wellesley Rotary.
35 Phillips Park (National Register of Historic Places 324 Washington Street). Wellesley’s first dedicated high school, 1894 -1907; later Intermediate Building; now apartments for seniors.
36 Fire Headquarters. 1987 building replaced wooden 1899 station; houses Engines 2, 3, and spare, Tower Unit, ambulance, and Haz-Mat response vehicle; serves 27,000 residents and more than 3,700 college students.
37 Route 9. Originally the Worcester Turnpike, an 1810 toll road that brought supplies between Boston and New York for the War of 1812; enlarged and re-routed in 1930s.
38 Weston Road. Dates from 1711, in 19th-century called Blossom Street.
39 Beechwood Road. Early-mid-1900s site of fields for carnation industry (Wellesley once known as “carnation capital of the country”). See also area near the current Tailby parking lot.
40 377 Weston Road. Built 1798 as Methodist Meetinghouse (one of the first in the country); turned into private home by Michael Cavanagh in 1843; located in “the Hundreds,” 100-acre lots between Weston Road and Hundreds Road, laid out for settlers in 1699.
41 26 Elmwood Road. Home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (“Ariel”) Sylvia Plath (WHS 1950), whose bestselling autobiographical novel The Bell Jar (chronicling her 1953 suicide attempt under the house’s breezeway) was set here. A 2003 biographical movie, Sylvia, starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.
42 Kelly Field. Dedicated in 1952 to brothers John and Joseph Kelly, who grew up nearby and were killed in WWII (two of the town’s 91 men who have died in service to country). The field used to be flooded for ice skating.
43 Boulder Brook Reservation. Sixty-four acres of meadows (cleared 19th-century farmland), woodlands, and craggy, 140-feet-high, 550-million year old Precambrian Rocky Ledges. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
44 4 Chesterton Road. Former home of Red Sox legend Ted Williams.
45 Fells Library. Wellesley’s oldest public building; the one-room Northwest/Unionville/Fells School 1858-1923 (one door for boys, one for girls); branch library 1924-2006; reopened by devoted patrons’ and Trustees’ fundraising efforts, 2008.
46 Weston Road. Underground railroad stop (1850s) in the Mansfield home opposite the schoolhouse.
47 264 Weston Road (opposite Mellon). Site of the home of farmer and minuteman Amos Mills, the only man from what is now Wellesley killed the first day of the Revolutionary War, April 19, 1775.
48 Morses Pond. Broad’s Pond was renamed for 1831 owner Daniel Morse; site of ice harvesting business throughout 1800s; now the town beach, with fishing, boating, and walking paths.
49 Weston Road Gardens (opposite Curve Street). Town gardeners grow “Victory Gardens” on free plots of Wellesley College land.
50 70 Curve Street. Adult home of Katharine Lee Bates (#30), who wrote “America the Beautiful” (first performed in Wellesley) during an 1893 trip to Pike’s Peak. She built the home in 1907, named it “the Scarab” (Egyptian symbol of creativity), and in 1929 died in her third-floor living quarters called “Bohemia.”
51 Cochituate Aqueduct (National Register of Historic Places). A 5.4 mile trail from Natick to Newton; western highlight is walking/cross country skiing path from Linden/Weston Road through Wellesley College’s “North 40,” past Morses Pond, Pine and Pickle Points, to Route 9 near St. James. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
52 103 Central Street. 1830 Hathaway family farmhouse became Hathaway House Bookshop (1925-1979), and then Stuart Swan Furniture (1981).
53 Central Street fire station. Built in 1929 for Hose #1 (founded 1890) on the site of the West Needham School from where Katharine Lee Bates graduated in 1884 (moved and renamed Fiske House). Houses Engine 1 and ladder.
54 Fiske House. Just inside the Wellesley College main gates.
55 Wellesley College. Henry Fowle Durant gave up law in Boston and founded this trailblazing college for women, opening in 1875 on 300 acres he had bought for his son, who died at age eight. Today (40 years after Hillary Clinton, ’69), there are 2,300 undergraduates. Opportunities for Wellesley residents include free or reduced rates for auditing lectures, performances, scholarships; access to the library, museum, sports arenas, greenhouses; and footpaths for walks around the lake. (www.wellesley.edu/public affairs).
56 Pond Road. One of Wellesley’s six designated rural “scenic roads,” beautiful view of Lake Waban.
57 Lake Waban. In 1650, preacher John Eliot founded an Indian village around this “great pond,” in 1658 building the country’s first sawmill. Andrew Dewing, the first English settler, built his home nearby, seeking their protection. “Sawmill Pond” was renamed to honor Chief Waban (“the Wind”).
58 Elm Bank Reservation (National Register of Historic Places) (900 Washington Street). Woodlands and fields surrounded by Charles River, open to public dawn to dusk.
59 Hunnewell Historic District (National Register of Historic Places). 29 buildings (earliest 1750, all but one still owned by Hunnewell family) on nearly 4,000 acres, including estate where the first game of golf in Massachusetts was played, in 1892.
60 845 Washington Street. Gaining his fortune in banking and railroads, Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (the town’s greatest benefactor who underwrote the 1880 fight for independence from Needham and donated Town Hall) built his mansion (named “Wellesley” after his wife’s family, Welles, who first settled here in 1763) on 137 acres in 1852. His world-renowned sculptured gardens drew visitors from around the world. The town took its name to honor him.
61 745 Washington Street. 1755 home of Minuteman Captain Aaron Smith (#68).
62 735 Washington Street. In 1863, college founder Durant (#55) bought Aaron Webber’s 1854 Federal/Colonial Revival house, now the President’s House.
63 Nehoiden Golf Course. One of the oldest nine-hole courses in the country, built 1900, owned by Wellesley College, membership open to residents.
64 Waban Arches. The Sudbury Aqueduct Path ( h National Register of Historic Places) from Dover Road leads to nine Roman-looking stone arches and view over Charles River. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
65 Baker Estate. Manmade Sabrina Lake is almost all that’s left of the 1870s Disneyland-like place of its time, which attracted world visitors to 800 acres with more than 100 exhibits, buildings, amusements, the 159-room Hotel Wellesley, and its own railroad stop.
66 Fuller Brook Path (past Leighton). Runs 2.3 miles to Maugus Avenue. (www.wellesleytrails.org)
67 17 Roanoke Road. Since she was too ill to travel, her 1946 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to 79-year-old Emily Balch here at her home. Wellesley professor, pacifist, and social activist, she lived in Wellesley from 1896 until just before her death in 1961.
68 Bullard Tavern (opposite Upland). A plaque marks the site from where West Needham (Wellesley) minutemen (including Aaron Mills (#47) and Captain Aaron Smith (#61) marched April 19, 1775.
69 Cottage Street Historic District. The first town Historic District protects the charming little cottages built in the last half of the 1800s to house workers of the Lovewell Shoe Factory, an enormous building with shrill whistles and dormitories for single workers on what is now St. Andrew’s parking lot.
70 Dana Hall. In 1881, Charles Dana donated his 100-acre “Nehoiden Farm” to friend Henry Durant (#55) for a preparatory school for Wellesley College. Later came Tenacre School (elementary, separated 1971) and Pine Manor Junior College (moved to Chestnut Hill 1962). Today, Dana is a boarding and day school for 485 girls in grades 6-12.
71 Wellesley Inn. In 1897, the former Wight Homestead (1868) became the Wellesley Tea Room, soon expanded into the inn; it was razed on the town’s 125th birthday, April 6, 2006; condominiums, stores, and restaurants will soon be built on the site.
72 Village Congregational Church. Center of 18th and 19th-century religious, political, and social life since its founding as West Needham parish in 1774; first meetinghouse faced Church Street; second (1835-1871) was moved to become Dana Hall; third (1872-1916) was destroyed in fire; present one (1923) was designed by the architects of the New York Public Library.
73 Post Office Square. The tour concludes at perhaps the oldest spot in town, the 600-million-year-old Ice Age granite boulder which shows glacial striations. As you enter the parking lot, its immediate surroundings are all that’s left of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted‘s grand design. The grounds and H.H. Richardson railroad station were demolished in 1962 to make way for a new post office.
These are some highlights of more than 350 years of life in Wellesley. There are many more right around you waiting to be discovered; for more ideas, read the town’s official history book Five Pounds Currency, Three Pounds of Corn, and go to www.wellesleytrails.org.
In a town where almost every road has its own intriguing tale, it’s impossible to list all of the interesting spots in one article, so WellesleyWeston Magazine will present “An Armchair Tour of Wellesley,” an illustrated speech by Town Historian Beth Hinchliffe (who created the tour on these pages), at the Wellesley Free Library on Sunday, January 25, 2009, at 2:00 pm.