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Brattle Street

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One of the best addresses in the Boston area, Brattle Street provides an excellent catalogue of important domestic architecture from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. Sections of Brattle Street perpetuate “the Highway,” the Indian trail converted to the colonial turnpike between Watertown and Charlestown. In the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the road to Watertown began to attract a new group of residents, whose income often came from distant sources, such as Caribbean plantations, and who created estates by combining earlier farmlands. They built substantial mansions along what came to be known as Tory Row and worshipped at Christ Church (RA3), introducing an elite, Anglican culture to Puritan Cambridge. Most of these British sympathizers fled in advance of the Revolution, their houses converted for use of the Continental Army, such as General George Washington's headquarters in the John Vassall mansion (see BS5).

After the Revolution, these estates changed hands but remained basically intact until the mid-nineteenth century. From the 1840s on, the large properties were subdivided to create middle- or upper-class residential districts. In general, the land above Brattle Street along Reservoir Hill became the domain of grander houses than the flatlands closer to the river. Despite a mix of architectural forms, Colonial Revival was a natural vehicle for new houses, blurring the distinctions between eighteenth-century mansions and their late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century imitators. The residents of Brattle Street defeated an effort to introduce a trolley line here in 1894, securing the special character of street. Only a few institutional structures have invaded this residential enclave.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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