Early Industrial Period, 1830-1870
In 1830, Lexington was still primarily a farming community, with a small mill at East Lexington and another near the Burlington line, two or three stores at the Center, and one at East Lexington. There were fur factories in East Lexington and a number of blacksmith shops and taverns scattered along the main highway.
The town's population in 1830 was 1,543 - by 1840 it had increased to 1,642. There were approximately 260 houses in Lexington in 1841.
The arrival of the railroad in 1846 had a major impact on many aspects of town life. Spearheaded by local resident Benjamin Muzzey and others, the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad was a commuter branch built from Cambridge to Lexington Center. In Lexington, the railroad was laid out along Mill Brook.
The first train arrived at Lexington Center on August 26, 1846, and the depot was opened on October 14th. Initially, the train ran three times a day between Lexington and Boston.
In anticipation of the prosperity that the railroad would bring, Muzzey demolished his old hotel and built a larger one on the same site, including a barn, outbuildings, bowling alley, billiard saloon, and gashouse. It was located in close proximity to the depot - on Massachusetts Avenue, opposite the end of Waltham Street (the present site of CVS) - but it stood just twenty years before burning in 1867.
With easy access to Boston, Lexington's population began to grow more rapidly. Between 1840 and 1850 the number of residents increased by 250 with another 440 added between 1850 and 1860. In 1860 there were about 125 more houses in town than there had been in 1840.
The in-migration which characterized this period included people from varying economic strata. Significant numbers of recent Irish immigrants fleeing the poverty of their native land settled in Lexington. An Irish working-class neighborhood developed in the Woburn Street area and beginning about 1860 a number of farmers with Irish surnames such as Maguire, Kinneen, Neville, Wilson, Moakley, and Ryan purchased more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Lexington.
They grew potatoes and corn and raised beef and dairy cows. Many of these farms were located along early highways, especially in the southwest part of town. The first Catholic services were held in Lexington in 1852 but the congregation did not have a church of their own until 1873.
The railroad also brought a new professional class of commuters, many of whom settled in close proximity to the depot, as well as wealthy summer residents. By 1850 additional cross streets had been laid out in the town center including Muzzey Street and Forest Street; further out were Middle and Maple Streets.
During this period, a number of more substantial and decorative houses were constructed along Hancock Street. These included the residences of General Samuel Chandler, the Charles Whitmore/Benjamin Brown estate, and the F.B. Hayes House. Of these, only the Chandler House (8 Goodwin Road) survives intact today. The former Hayes Barn was later converted to residential use and is visible at 13-15 Somerset Road. Prominent local builder David A. Tuttle also built a home for his own use at 40 Hancock Street.
The 1830 to 1850 period was one of great prosperity in East Lexington, due in large part to the efforts and successes of Eli Robbins who continued his father Stephen's fur-dressing business.
Having built the Brick Store in 1828, Eli had Robbins Hall (later known as the Stone Building) constructed at 735 Massachusetts Avenue in 1833 as a combination residence/place for lectures, preaching, and other meetings. Abolitionist/anti-slavery and temperance lectures and meetings were held here and Charles Follen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau all spoke during the mid-1800s. In 1891, Robbins' granddaughter, Ellen Stone, sold it to the Town of Lexington.
Eli Robbins also erected a flagpole and observatory open to the public on the top of Mount Independence where village Fourth of July celebrations were held. The Panic of 1837 brought a quick end to the prosperity of Eli Robbins, who was forced to declare bankruptcy. His financial ruin, in turn, slowed the growth of the east village. The coming of the railroad also had a huge impact, and by the end of the Civil War, the commercial center in town had permanently shifted to the Center Village.
During this period, additional important public buildings were constructed in both villages. In the East Village, the Follen Community Church was constructed adjacent to the Stone Building at 755 Massachusetts Avenue in 1840. The building was designed by the first minister of the parish, Dr. Charles Follen, and was constructed by Curtis Capell of Groton. Ironically, Dr. Follen died in an accident the day the church was dedicated. Follen Church was incorporated as the Second Congregational Society on April 18, 1845.
The Universalist Society church erected their structure in 1839, also in East Lexington. It stood at the junction of Locust Street and Massachusetts Avenue, on the present site of the East Lexington fire station.
At Lexington Center, a Baptist Church was constructed in 1833 (burned in 1891). The First Parish Church was constructed at 7 Harrington Road, opposite the common, in 1847 after the third meetinghouse was destroyed by fire. The new church was designed by Isaac Melvin who appears to have also been a parishioner.
A town hall was constructed in 1846 and stood on the site of Muzzey Junior High School. It was built by local builder David A. Tuttle, according to plans drawn by Melvin. Beginning in 1854, the upper chamber of the town hall was used to house the high school. (The building was later split into two sections and moved to Vine Street where it stands unrecognizable today.)
During this period several district schoolhouses were built or replaced. The Tidd-Bowditch School was constructed in 1852 on North Hancock Street to serve the north district and the same year the Hancock School was built on Waltham Street opposite Vine Brook Road and the Franklin School was constructed on Concord Avenue near Waltham Street. The Scotland or Howard School was built at the intersection of Lowell and Woburn Streets in 1853 and the Warren School was erected on School Street in 1854.
The Lexington Normal School, the first normal school or teacher's college in America, opened on July 3, 1839, and utilized the former Lexington Academy building (1 Hancock Street). The School moved to Newton in 1844 and eventually became today's Framingham State College. Their former building was remodeled for use by the Hancock Congregational Church in 1868. In 1845 the town's poor house and farm moved to a twenty-acre farm at the corner of Hill and Cedar Streets. In 1847 it was voted to fence, level, and ornament the Common. In order to accommodate new fire-fighting equipment, a new engine house was constructed on Waltham Street in the town center in 1857 and the engine house at East Lexington was expanded.
Surviving Properties - Residential
During the 1830 to 1870 period, the range of American architectural styles became more diverse, and more romantic styles found popularity. Architectural guidebooks such as Asher Benjamin's The American Builder's Companion (1826) and The Practical House Carpenter (1830) put the Greek Revival style within reach of Lexington builders and homeowners. Later publications such as A.J. Downing's Cottage Residences specifically popularized and spread the more romantic and picturesque Gothic Revival and Italianate modes.
The professional design of buildings became a more common practice and trained architects were more numerous. Local practitioners included Isaac Melvin, who was born in Concord but came to Lexington about 1833 and designed a number of important local structures over the next fourteen years. During this period, talented local builders such as David A. Tuttle and Curtis Capell also contributed to elevating the diversity and quality of the town's architecture.
The prosperity of East Lexington during the early 19th century means that many of the town's existing historic resources of this era are concentrated in this part of town.
In terms of residential construction, during the early years of the Early Industrial Period, most two-story houses continued to reflect the earlier predominance of side-gabled dwellings which were five bays wide and a single room deep with twin rear wall chimneys. The many examples of this house type are distinguished by the varying decorative details found in the door surround.
The construction of the Robbins meeting hall at East Lexington (later the Stone Building) in 1833 by master builder Isaac Melvin for Eli Robbins was instrumental in introducing the handbooks of Asher Benjamin. The varying ways in which Benjamin's books could be used is readily apparent in a number of door enframements in the east village.
The transition from the Federal style to the Greek Revival is clearly evident in a number of door surrounds including that of the Ionic-columned entrance at the Samuel Adams House at 773 Massachusetts Avenue, dating to 1830.
The Ammi Hall House at 870 Massachusetts Avenue was constructed in 1833 and is another two-story, 5x1-bay, dwelling with an elaborate entrance showing elements of both the Federal and Greek Revival styles. It may well have been influenced by the entrance of the Stone Building which was being constructed at the same time and also features columns, fret, and fan motifs.
Other elegant Greek Revival doorways include that on Peletiah Pierce House at 1106 Massachusetts Avenue which dates to 1834 and is clearly based on a plate in Benjamin's The Practice of Architecture.
Other examples of post-1830 5 x 1-bay houses in East Lexington include:
- 517 Massachusetts Avenue
- 794-796 Massachusetts Avenue
- 822 Massachusetts Avenue; 884 Massachusetts Avenue
- 898 Massachusetts Avenue
- 905 Massachusetts Avenue
- 915-917 Massachusetts Avenue
The doorway of the Eli Whitney House at 884 Massachusetts Avenue is nearly an identical copy of a plate in Benjamin's The Architect. The 5 x 1-bay form is also seen in lesser numbers in the Center Village and examples include the Amos Locke House at 18 Hancock Street, constructed in 1842 with Italianate style bay windows added later. A transitional Federal-Greek Revival dwelling with a 5 x 1-bay form is visible at 397 Lincoln Street.
The two most elaborate Greek Revival houses in Lexington are the Parker-Morrell-Dana House at 627 Massachusetts Avenue and the Muzzey House at 14 Glen Road South.
Originally constructed for Obadiah Parker c.1800, the Federal-style, brick-ended house at 627 Massachusetts Avenue was altered into a Greek temple-form dwelling in 1839 for furrier Ambrose Morell, a neighbor and business rival of Eli Robbins. Its doorframe is quite similar to a plate in Benjamin's Practice of Architecture.
The Benjamin Muzzey House originally stood on Massachusetts Avenue, on the site of the present Edison Station, and was moved to its present site in 1913. The 2 ½-story, 5 x 4-bay dwelling has flushboard pediment ends supported by pilasters embellished with carved anthemion ornament. The entrance porch is supported by Ionic columns and the front door is framed by full sidelights and pilasters, typical of the Greek Revival style.
The house at 344 Lowell Road is a simpler, 2 ½-story, 3 x 2-bay, a residence which shows the transition from Greek Revival to the later Italianate style. Greek Revival features include the wide paneled corner boards, the pedimented gables, the long first floor windows, and the full-length sidelights while the square porch posts and rounded attic windows show a growing Italianate influence.
The Greek Revival style was also used to embellish 1 ½-story, side-gabled cottages. Of the approximate ten such cottages that remain in the town today, the best examples include the Daniel Cummings House at 241 Grove Street and the William Locke House at 79 North Street. Both have pattern book-inspired entrances incorporating Greek fret designs. The house at 5 Pleasant Street has seen some alterations but is also of interest while the integrity of 477 Lowell Street is compromised slightly by additions and a recent (1976) move.
The gable front, side-hall plan, first popularized by the Greek Revival style, begins to emerge after the 1830s and is evident in isolated examples throughout Lexington. The Stephen Locke House at 130 Burlington Street was constructed in 1845 and is Lexington's best-preserved, front-gabled Greek Revival cottage. Typical of the style, it displays paneled corner boards, a sidehall, entablatured door surround with full-length sidelights, and a full entablature on the side elevations.
The cottage at 1 John Wilson Lane is a special example, still surrounded by its original open fields, now conservation land. Although seriously damaged by fire in the late 1970s, the house has been completely renovated and retains a full-width porch of fluted columns extending across the gable front and a Greek Revival-style entry with full-length sidelights. Other simple gable-front Greek Revival cottages include 76 Woburn Street, 147 Woburn Street, and 66 Woburn Street which displays a heavily recessed entry.
In some cases, stylistic overtones are more subtle. Constructed c. 1830, the Garrity House at 9 Hancock Street is a vernacular structure which is representative in its simplicity and picturesque massing of many modest farm buildings constructed in town; few of which survive today. A simple Greek Revival-style door surround is the building's only exterior ornamentation.
Another reminder of the simple dwellings of Lexington's agricultural past is visible at 43 Adams Street. The house has few period finishes other than corner boards and a frieze. The high "knee wall" above the first-floor openings was achieved by lengthening the wall posts and elevating the eaves well above the attic floor. This practice became popular during the 1830s Greek Revival period. A similar cottage with just three bays across and a side-lit center entrance is visible at 44 Woburn Street.
The gable-front residence with side hall plan continued in popularity through the end of the century and was later adapted to other styles as well. In some cases, the gable-front was finished with a pediment, as is seen at 26 Hancock Street, 41 Lincoln Street, and 1596 Massachusetts Avenue. Often, the pediment is sheathed in flushboard siding.
Now owned by the Town of Lexington, the William Hosmer House at 1557 Massachusetts Avenue originally had an Ionic-columned porch on its side elevation. The house at 49 Parker Street is another excellent example of the style. It was built by David Tuttle in 1840 and was moved to its present site in 1892 from the site of the present Hancock Church on Massachusetts Avenue. The house at 2006 Massachusetts Avenue is another example of the gable-front Greek Revival house type.
The Gothic Revival style found very limited popularity in Lexington. The only known pre-Civil War Gothic cottage in town is the Sumner-Locke House at 16 Hancock Street, constructed in 1845. The house has steeply-pitched side gables and two steeply-pitched wall dormers on the front facade. Drip moldings cap the main entrance and many of the windows and it is likely that earlier "gingerbread" trim on the dormers and gables has been removed.
On other structures in town, there is stray evidence of the Gothic Revival including the use of pointed arches, drip molds and trefoil designs.
The Italianate style may have found its inspiration in the Italian Villa but left its mark on this New England village as well. There are several outstanding, high-style examples in Lexington but on more vernacular buildings the influence of the Italianate style is recognized by the use of brackets, bay windows, round-arched or entablatured windows and chamfered porch posts on vernacular buildings.
The pre-eminent local example of the Italianate style is the General Samuel Chandler House at 8 Goodwin Road, constructed in 1846. The impressive structure incorporates various hallmarks of the style including a tall, off-center tower, balconies, round-arched windows, corner porches, bracketed cornices and a flushboard wood exterior.
The house was built by Isaac Melvin whose design was influenced by A.J. Downing's book, Cottage Residences (1842). The Chandler House is individually listed on the National Register and is one of the few private dwellings in town to have attained this distinction.
Other good examples of the style displaying cruciform or T-plans but lacking a tower include the Davis-Holt House at 89-91 Bedford Street, constructed in 1851.
The house at 40 Hancock Street was constructed in 1847 and was built by prominent local builder, David Ainsworth Tuttle. Tuttle constructed thirty-nine buildings in Lexington between 1847 and 1894.
Tuttle was also the builder for the A.W. Crowninshield House at 315 Lincoln Street which dates to 1857. The 2 ½-story, side-gabled structure is capped by a central, octagonal cupola which originally overlooked Crowninshield's well-cultivated farm. In contrast to the Italianate feeling of the main house, the rear ell is Greek Revival in style.
Often, Italianate-style features were used to decorate more regular, rectilinear structures. The side-gabled house at 27-31 Vaille Avenue blends Greek Revival and Italianate style features such as pedimented window and door surrounds and bay windows.
The five-bay façade is fronted by a distinctive two-story piazza supported by pilastered posts. The c.1850 house at 1989 Massachusetts Avenue displays paired brackets at the cornice and chamfered posts supporting the entrance and side porches. The 2 ½-story, 3 x 2-bay, side-gabled house form was also popular during this period. The house at 1894 Massachusetts Avenue is a good example; the front porch is a later Colonial Revival addition.
Among the best preserved and most carefully detailed is the Prosser-Gookins House at 16 Bloomfield Street, a late example of the Italianate style which was constructed in 1872. The original owner, Levi Prosser, laid out Bloomfield Street in house lots in 1872 and named the street after his birthplace in Connecticut.
Other examples include the Caldwell House at 2318 Massachusetts Avenue built c.1852 but with a later front porch and the 1873 Fiske House at 71 East Street which is notable for retaining its associated barn. Italianate-era houses with 3 x 1-bay forms include 1894 Massachusetts Avenue, 1024 Massachusetts Avenue, 132 Woburn Street and several houses on Hancock Street.
Well-preserved examples of gablefront residences in the Italianate style include 977 Massachusetts Avenue, 28 Forest Street, 18 Muzzey Street, 8 Hancock Avenue and 114 East Street.
More numerous examples of the type are found on streets that were laid out in this period including Clarke Street (see Number 20), Forest Street (see also Number 30), Fletcher Avenue (see Number 7 and Number 8), and on Parker Street. The houses at 8 Fletcher Avenue and 20 Maple Street are two of the few front-gabled Italianate farmhouses with an attached barn.
The houses at 114 East Street and 9 Sunny Knoll Avenue retain separate gable-fronted barns. The house at 82 Waltham Street is one of the few flat-roofed Italianate style dwellings in town. As is typical, its broad eaves are trimmed with simple curved brackets and corner pilasters.
Other building types
Robbins Hall/The Stone Building at 735 Massachusetts Avenue is Lexington's best known and most ambitious Greek Revival structure. It was constructed as a lecture hall for East Lexington by Isaac Melvin in 1833 and is an adaptation of the classic Greek temple. The building is fronted by a monumental portico of fluted Doric columns which support a pediment pierced by quarter-round windows and a smaller fanlight at the peak of the gable.
The façade ornament is derived directly from a plate in one of Asher Benjamin's patternbooks and includes anthemions, stylized honeysuckle vines and Greek fret motifs. The building housed the East Lexington branch library for many years and is individually listed on the National Register.
The Stone Building is the earliest known commission by noted local architect Isaac Melvin. Born in Concord, Melvin came to Lexington about 1833. His other known designs include the Town Hall in 1846, a residence for General Samuel Chandler at 8 Goodwin Road in 1846 and the First Parish Church in 1847. Besides his various works in Lexington, Melvin designed the North Avenue Congregational Church in Cambridge, the Porter Congregational Church in Brockton, a building at the Westborough State Hospital and houses in Cambridge and Boston including his own robust Greek Revival-style residence at 19 Centre Street in Cambridge. Melvin died in California in 1852 during the Gold Rush.
Robbins Hall is also the first known work of local carpenter Curtis Capell (1806-1881) who came to Lexington from Groton in 1832. He was among the most prolific carpenters in East Lexington during this period and was also responsible for the alterations to the Morell House in 1839, the Universalist Church and various residences.
Constructed in 1846, Lexington's First Town Hall Building still stands (in two pieces) at 10-14 Vine Street and 16-20 Vine Street where it was moved and converted into tenements in 1902. The building at 16-20 Vine Street was the central, two-story, portion of the building while 10-14 Vine Street is a composite of the two side wings. The building's four Ionic columns and some round-headed windows were reused when Muzzey Junior High School was constructed.
The Follen Community Church at 755 Massachusetts Avenue in East Lexington dates to 1840 and is the oldest standing church building in Lexington. It was designed by the first minister of the parish, Dr. Charles Follen, who had acquired some architectural training in his native Germany. It was constructed by master builder Curtis Capell.
The structure was originally decidedly more Gothic Revival in feeling with crenellation, trefoil windows, diamond panes and pointed arches. It was remodeled in a Colonial Revival style in the early 20th century. The church was individually listed on the National Register in 1976 and has been recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Facing the Battle Green, the First Parish Church at 7 Harrington Road was constructed in 1847 according to plans by Isaac Melvin. The Greek Revival-style church is sheathed in horizontal flushboard with a portico of four Ionic columns. The influence of the Italianate style is expressed by round-arched windows, pronounced moldings, brackets and the balustrade which alternates balusters and paneled bases.
The Depot Building at 13 Depot Square was originally constructed in 1846 in the Italianate style. In 1917 the depot was damaged by fire and was repaired/rebuilt in the Colonial Revival style according to designs by architect William Roger Greeley. Among the alterations were the addition of the cupola, pedimented entrance and portico. The depot is reportedly the last remaining covered train shed in Massachusetts.
Several district schools were constructed in Lexington during this period and survive in various states of alteration. The 2 ½-story gablefront building at 1656 Massachusetts Avenue reportedly functioned as a schoolhouse from 1837 until it was sold by the town in 1851. The Bowditch-Tidd School at 11 Larchmont Lane was originally built on North Hancock Street in 1852 and was moved to its present site in 1906. Originally, Italianate in style, it has seen many alterations and additions and was used as a barn for some time before being converted to its present use as offices. The large house at 376 Lincoln Street is actually comprised of two former Lexington schoolhouses which were moved to this site in 1903-1904 and substantially remodeled by architect Willard D. Brown to serve as a residence for wealthy businessman J. Willard Hayden. The Warren School was built in 1854 by local builder David Tuttle.
The former Centre (Hancock) Engine House was constructed in 1857 on Waltham Street and moved to its present location at 6 Fletcher Avenue about 1877. Although it is of interest as one of two former fire stations in Lexington, the 1 ½-story structure has lost much of its architectural integrity in part due to its conversion to residential use.
There are no extant industrial structures in town which correspond to this development period.