The Story of a Little Bridge on Cameron Street

In starting this blog, one of my main motivations is to help people recognize the historical aspects of seemingly unhistorical things in Wellesley, be it a building, a street name, or a small pond. Part of this desire comes from the fact that only the “important” people and places from Wellesley’s past are presented to the public. My frustrations about this are compounded by the sporadic occurrences of these history lessons. They only seem to pop up when there’s a fight over planned demolitions of historic buildings (e.g., the 1938 High School, the Wellesley Inn, or the old Country Club clubhouse) or during special occasions, such as the town’s birthday (April 6th) or dedications of plaques and memorials. So this blog is my attempt to bring Wellesley’s past to the forefront with greater frequency in the hopes that more people will have a broader and deeper understanding of the town’s rich history.

The first story I would like to share involves Cameron Street, the road used to access the main library and the Hunnewell Elementary School (as shown in the embedded Google map below). Currently, it runs south from Washington Street just east of Wellesley Square to Hampden Street with a length of only a quarter mile. In particular, I want to look at the stone bridge where Cameron Street crosses over the Fuller Brook. The bridge, itself, is charming, but unassuming. However, if you’re curious enough to look into the construction of this bridge, a fascinating story appears — one, no doubt, filled with juicy tidbits of Wellesley history.

To fully understand this story, you need to know what Cameron Street and the surrounding area looked like just before construction of the bridge began in 1928. So for starters, familiarize yourself with the modern geography of the area by zooming in and panning around using the above embedded Google map or click here to see Bing Maps’ MUCH COOLER bird’s eye view (which I’m unable to embed). Now that you’re oriented with the area, let’s jump back in time.

In 1928, Cameron Street was nothing more than an unaccepted private way that divided the Simons Estate to the east (which occupied the entire property between Cameron and Brook Streets from Washington Street all the way south to the Fuller Brook — now the site of the main library and Hunnewell Elementary School) and the original Dana Hall campus to the west (now the site of an office building, some parking lots, the Glen Grove apartment complex, and Bardwell Auditorium, the only vestige of the old Dana Hall campus). Additionally, Cameron Street in 1928 did not cross over Fuller Brook. Instead, it turned west about a hundred feet north of the brook and exited onto Grove Street (passing by the home of the Cameron family for which the street was named — which has long since been moved or razed).

So let’s finally talk about the significance of the stone bridge: At this time in Wellesley’s history, the town was facing serious traffic issues. A soaring population (approximately six thousand in 1920 to ten thousand in 1928) along with the increasing popularity of the automobile resulted in jammed roadways, which were laid out at a time when Wellesley was a sleepy rural community, not a bustling suburb where residents used their cars daily to get to work, go shopping, and visit friends. The main centers of town, especially Wellesley Square, were always congested. To alleviate this traffic, the town wanted to make Cameron Street an accepted public way to provide a cut-thru for drivers to get from Washington Street to Grove Street, thereby avoiding the main intersection. However, rather than laying Cameron Street on top of the existing private way, entirely north of the brook, the Town Meeting of 1928 approved a plan to construct a bridge and extend the street over the brook to Hampden Street (which connects to Grove Street).

Perhaps, this Town Meeting article passed unanimously because Helen Temple Cooke, the longtime head of Dana Hall, offered to assume all costs associated with the $15,000 project. Cooke was always deeply passionate about the welfare of the town, even lamenting over her decision in 1939 to establish Dana Hall as a non-profit institution, thus removing a hefty tax burden. From then on, she would annually gift to the town much of what she would have paid in taxes. It is not surprising then that Cooke would have no objections to covering the costs of constructing the fieldstone bridge and laying out the road.

By the fall of 1930, the road and bridge were completed and those drivers that were heading south of Wellesley Square could now get there more quickly. An epilogue to this story, however, would show that traffic in Wellesley Square was not alleviated, as the town population continued to soar. Furthermore, the construction of the Hunnewell Elementary School in 1938 made Cameron Street a less desirable cut-thru. Regardless, Wellesley today has a wonderful little bridge that tells an interesting story — one that I hope you will remember every time you drive or walk over it.

Sources:

  • The Wellesley Atlases of 1888 and 1897
  • Wellesley Townsman: 9 March 1928; 23 March 1928; 22 August 1930; 5 September 1930; 30 June 1939
  • Google Maps & Bing Maps
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