Monday, March 19, 2012

The Back Bay Stables

Charlesgate Stables, Newbury street and Massachusetts avenue (BPL Flickr photo group).



Newbury street, 1883. Notice the 'X' marks through the buildings on both sides of Newbury street (click image for larger view).




Newbury street, from Hereford street to Massachusetts avenue 1902.




Newbury street, 1917. Notice that the large commercial stable on the corner of Newbury street and Massachusetts avenue, as well as three smaller facilities, are now automobile garages. The residents of the Back Bay were exactly the kind of people who could afford cars, and would need a place to park them.



When I was in school, we were taught the wars-kings-generals-presidents school of history. While I think it's a perfectly legitimate approach for a big-picture understanding of the past, when it comes to local history I very much prefer the every day life aspects of history. What kind of jobs did people do, how did they get about, what was in the shops, these all interest me far more than who the politicians were and what they did. While this blog could be sub-titled 'Lost Buildings, Institutions, and other such Stuff,' I thought I'd take this opportunity to do a double.

The maps above do show old buildings (or at least their locations). But what I am interested in is what the buildings were used for. In this case, I'm interested particularly in the building on Newbury street between Hereford street and West Chester Park, later Massachusetts avenue. Please note that there are 'X' marks through each of the buildings on this block. These maps were created by the fire insurance industry, as an aid for determining the risk, and coverage cost, of each property. The 'X' drawn from corner to corner of a building was used to signify the storage of hay for horses, and thus a high fire risk.

Here, the buildings have led me back to my interest in every day life. Although it had never occurred to me, of course during the 19th Century a district of wealth like the Back Bay would require stables for the horses and carriages of the residents. And with all those residences, where would the horses and carriages be kept? Now I know; this single stretch of Newbury street was used to stable the horses and carriages of Boston's Back Bay residents.

We know that there were no other stables in the Back Bay because of the lack of 'X' marks on any other buildings in the district. The Newbury street block housed both private and commercial stables. We know that this block was designated (unofficially, perhaps) for stables because the stables show up here and only here on the 1883 map, in spite of their being many open plots to build on south of Dartmouth street. The property of the Back Bay residential district was considered too valuable to be wasted on stables, and the smell, noise and fire threat of stables would only disturb the finer senses of the Yankee stock that was moving in to the district. This block was as far as you could go without leaving the planned district, as just south, the Fenway drained Muddy river and Stony brook into the Charles, and the rectilinear street pattern broke down.



7 comments:

  1. Great post! And to this day the 19th century stable buildings on Newbury St. between Hereford and Mass. Ave. still exist, they've just been converted into upscale commercial space. Also I want to mention a great book about the lives of ordinary people "Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of The New England Home 1760-1860" by Jane C. Nylander (Yale University Press, 1993). She recreates daily life of that era from diary excerpts, newspapers and research into commercial development. The book is chock full of *wonderful* images of early 19th century commercial blocks in Boston, old newspaper ads and historic photos I'e never seen anywhere else from SPNEA and local historical societies. A really really great book, still in print.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found the book at the library - very interesting indeed.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the comment. I'll look up that book.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    I am often on this block of Newbury and have sensed predominance of the stable architecture but never really gave it much conscious thought until I was looking through the Boston City Directory from 1909 and 1910, tracking an unrelated topic and in scanning the page for that block noticed a very obvious trend in the occupation listing: all of the men at that entire block were chauffeur, stableman, butler, and so forth. Instantly it all clicked-- and when I googled "Newbury Street Stables" your blog came up. Thanks for doing the hard work for the rest of us!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Mark. My great-great grandfather worked at the Back Bay Stables. Could I post the above photo and drawings to my ancestry.com family tree site for my family to see? I am having difficulty with my recently created Google account so I'll sign this anonymous (AKA Lynda).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. to my 3/30/14 post. Mark, upon second thought, I am only looking to post the photo not the drawings to my ancestry.com family tree. Will wait for your reply. Thanks! Lynda

      Delete