Arlington's Great Residential Boom: 1900--1930

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This talk was offered as a course via Arlington Community Education. The speaker was Dee Morris. Ms. Morris currently lives in Medford, but lived at 1257 Mass Ave in Arlington for four years. She loved living in the heights; it was a quirky neighborhood, and an easy commute into Boston. The talk was given on Oct 10, 2019.

Arlington used to have a large number of market gardens, which eventually became residential neighborhoods. (I'd never heard the term "market garden" before. These were relatively small farms -- up to a few tens of acres in size -- that grew vegetables and flowers and sold them.)

Market gardening was Arlington's signature industry by 1886. It was big business. The town -- east Arlington in particular -- had rich soil, was flat, had cheap land, and was close to markets in Boston. East Arlington has very little ledge, unlike the heights or other communities in the area.

Back in the early 1900's, close proximity to Boston was a selling point. That hasn't changed since. Farmers often named their crops; this was a form of marketing. Arlington "pure white celery" used to be very popular in Boston. It wasn't just celery. It was "Arlington pure white" celery.

Many crops were sold in Faneuil hall marketplace, and transported by horse cart.

1898 was the beginning of the time when Arlington's market gardens were starting to fold.

Warren Rawson (1847--1908) was a prominent market gardener. Rawson Road is named after him. He had 30 greenhouses covering eight acres, and was a great salesman. He organized the Boston Market Gardeners Association, and bought six New Hampshire farms in 1901. Mr. Rawson was responsible for many innovations in greenhouses, which allowed farmers to grow produce all year long. By 1907, Mr. Rawson's farm was in the hands of his children, and not all of them wanted to continue the business.

Rawson's farm workers lived in tenements, which were basically town houses. He also hired day laborers from Boston. Wikipedia has two articles dedicated to the former worker tenement buildings: and

During 1909, there were complaints that Market Gardeners were given too many tax advantages over ordinary households. Town meeting was dominated by market gardeners, and they tended to vote in their interests.

In 1924, the Boston Globe published an article about market gardeners being driven from the suburbs.

In 1927, a developer built 25 two-family homes on the former Rawson farm. Developers of the time touted themselves as building "better communities". They were also quick to point out the benefits of the contemporary, modern housing they built.

Abbott Allen started farming in 1825, and passed the business down to his two sons. By 1920, the Allen farm was the last large market garden in Arlington. The farm was redeveloped as housing, generally with one-car garages. By 1920, the car was quickly becoming king in Arlington. The estate trustees dismantled his greenhouses, and sold off glass, piping, boilers, and other equipment.

Title to the Allen farm was transferred in 1923. At one point, Mr. Allen was the largest taxpayer in Arlington. The Allen house is still standing at 32 Lake Street. Herbert road is named for his son, Herbert Allen.

Daniel Tappens lived in Arlington center, and had a market garden on Mass Ave, near Tufts Street. The Boston Elevated Railway purchased his property and planned to store trains there, but townspeople objected. Boston Elevated eventually chose to store their cars in Cambridge, and the Tappens farm was redeveloped in 1936. These were single-family, colonial style homes, perhaps due to a more affluent class of people. They sold for $6,000 - $8,000 at the time. This would be $112,000 -- $149,000 in 2019 dollars.

During this time, the town newspaper was filled with stories about new housing developments. Many of these articles were written by the developers, to advertise the new home offerings. They occasionally wrote editorials about the beneficial things builders were doing for the middle class. (i.e., "you're the middle class. Not the upper crust, and not the lower crust. You are the pie".)

Ms. Morris highlighted the fine points of several neighborhoods she discussed: the roomy, regular looking houses, the smart, even spacing of the setbacks, and so on. Perhaps she really liked these neighborhoods, or perhaps she was trying to pitch them as the developers did. I'm not sure.

Dwight Moore had a market garden on Broadway. It's now a set of garden apartments at 181 Broadway.

During the 1930's the former Wyman Farm was redeveloped by Kelly Coal Company. Today, this area is known as Kelwyn Manor. The name "Kelwyn" comes from a combination of "Kelly" and "Wyman". This development produced a 192-home subdivision on 34 acres. These homes also sold for $6,000 -- $8,000 each.

Arlington's Lockland neighborhood originated as Locke farm. It's across the street from Arlington high school, and was an active farm when the high school was built in 1914. Mr. Locke didn't use greenhouses, but had large fields instead -- about two million square feet (45 acres) total. Arlington's town clerk heard that Mr. Locke was planning to sell his farm, and gathered a group of 28 residents to purchase the land and develop it. The investors purchased the property, subdivided the land, and sold it off.

Arlington heights had a few market gardens, which were also sold off and redeveloped as housing. Homes here tend to be more casual than those in the east. The streets were often named after the builders, or for the kind of people the builder hoped to attract. (For example, a builder who expected most of the buyers to be Italian would choose Italian-sounding names for the streets).

J. Wesley Wilbur was a streetcar conductor who made his name in real estate. Mr. Wilbur wasn't terribly interested in building houses; instead, he preferred to buy and sell land. Wilbur ave is named after him. Mr. Wilbur also bought and subdivided the land around Appleton Street. After buying a large parcel of land, he'd build roads so that people could come through the parcel and see the subdivisions.

During his life, Mr. Wilbur bought 76,000 lots in 233 communities, and sold them to 23,000 buyers. He bought and sold all around the country. The community of Wilbur by the Sea, FL is named after him.,_Florida.

Knowles farm was a two-acre farm in Arlington heights, and the very last to be transformed into housing. It was redeveloped as six houses in the 1980s.