A Tour of Wellesley Square

During my freshman year of college, I had a pretty bad eBay addiction. I won’t admit to much of what I bought, but I will say that it included hundreds of old postcards, many of those of Wellesley. And one of my absolute favorite purchases was this postcard:

WellesleySquarePostcard

The ‘Business Section’ a.k.a. Wellesley Square – c. 1906 (Source: Joshua Dorin)

This view of Wellesley Square looks east down Washington Street. It should be pretty familiar because most of what you see is still there today. Below is a present-day shot from the same location:

WellesleySquare

Wellesley Square – January 2013 (Taken by Joshua Dorin)

The lighting is pretty poor, but you should be able to see the similarities. Of the six buildings in the postcard, three remain as is, two were razed, and one was remodeled. So how about I give you a little tour of Wellesley Square, including a brief description of each of those six buildings. In the future, I plan to write up a full post on each block, but this is a good introduction. So on with the tour!

wellesleysquarepostcardA

Wellesley’s ‘skyscraper’ — the Shattuck Block — was built in 1888-89 by Frank Shattuck on the site of the old Flagg Variety Store (which was the first commercial building built in Wellesley Square, probably around 1840). Much can be said of the Shattuck Block, but I’ll keep it brief here. From 1889 to 1904, the Wellesley Post Office occupied the entire first-floor side along Grove Street. Upstairs, on the second floor, were suites of offices, including those of town treasurer Albert Jennings, whose scandalous actions in 1902 made headlines in the Boston and New York newspapers — a topic I wrote about in an earlier post. On the third floor (and the half story on the fourth floor) were the headquarters of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization until 1919 when it moved to what is now known as the Odd Fellows Building on Central Street. In 1960, the Shattuck Block was remodeled by squaring off the fourth floor and paneling the exterior. I have no idea what they were thinking. Growing up, I always thought it was one of the ugliest buildings in all of Wellesley. Fortunately, the panels have since been removed during a renovation of the building’s exterior, bringing back some (but not all) of the charm the Shattuck Block once had.

wellesleysquarepostcardCFurther down from the Shattuck Block on the north side of Wellesley Square were the Shaw Block and Partridge Block. The Shaw Block was built in the early 1890s by John W. Shaw, one of the most important Wellesley developers throughout the second half of the 19th Century. (The Shaw School at the corner of Forest Street and Washington Street was named for him after he donated a bell and clock to the school when it was constructed in 1874. The bell and clock are now used in the Sprague Memorial Clock Tower.) From 1912 until the Shaw Block was razed in 1932, the primary occupant was the Wellesley Fruit Company. When this business outgrew its tight quarters, a larger building was constructed on the site.

Beyond the Shaw Block to the east was the Partridge Block, which was built in 1904 by William Partridge on the site of the former Blanchard’s Tavern/Jennings house (which was moved behind the Shaw Block and razed in 1932). The Partridge Block has been the location of a countless number of small stores, but it’s best known for being the first home of E.A. Davis & Company from 1904 until 1922 when the store moved to its current spot in the newly completed Holman Block just past Church Street.

wellesleysquarepostcardBAcross Washington Street, on the south side of Wellesley Square, sat the imposing Taylor Block and the smaller Norman Block. Constructed in 1904 by Charles N. Taylor (on the site of a famous buttonwood tree where Dr. William T. G. Morton, a dentist who was the first person to demonstrate the use of ether as an anesthetic, was hanged in effigy around 1860 because of unpaid debts), the Taylor Block was built to house the newly founded Wellesley National Bank, of which Taylor was president. It was also the location of the Wellesley Post Office from 1904 until the current post office opened on Grove Street in 1964.

Just east of the Taylor Block was the Norman Block, built in 1906 by Charles N. Taylor and named for his son, Norman. It sits on the former location of McClellan’s Wheelwright Shop. The Wellesley Townsman and its publishing arm, the Wellesley Press, occupied this building until 1930 when they moved into the Colonial Building at the corner of Central Street and the Crest Road bridge. The Wellesley Cooperative Bank also had its quarters here from its founding in 1910 until 1948.

wellesleysquarepostcardDThe final building in the Wellesley Square postcard is the old Waban Hall (also called at various times the Fuller Block, the Nehoiden, and the Montague). This was the second commercial block built in Wellesley Square (after the Flagg Variety Store  — though Blanchard’s Tavern/Jennings house dates back to the late 18th Century). Waban Hall was built around 1858 by three Fuller brothers (two of whom lived on Great Plain Avenue in Wellesley). In the new block, they opened a grocery store, which would have several different owners over the next few decades. On the second floor of Waban Hall was a meeting space for social and religious gatherings that was also used as the West Needham High School from 1865 to 1871. In 1912, a fire destroyed the second floor of Waban Hall. The following year, the building was razed and the Waban Block was erected by…you guessed it, Charles N. Taylor (who was one of the most active developers in Wellesley during the first three decades of the 1900s). Unlike the Taylor and Norman Blocks, the Waban Block didn’t have any historically really important tenants with the exception of the Wellesley Hotel, which operated on the second and third floors from the building’s completion in 1913 until it closed in 1986.

Well, that ends our brief tour of Wellesley Square. In the near future, I’ll write up a much longer post for each of these buildings. But until then, this summary should give you something to think about when you’re in Wellesley Square, be it walking to the library, sitting in your car at a red light, or eating a slice of pizza for lunch.

Sources:

  • 1856 Map of Needham
  • 1897 Wellesley Atlas
  • Our Town: December 1902
  • Wellesley Townsman: 14 December 1906; 18 April 1913; 27 June 1919; 28 July 1922; 29 September 1922; 25 January 1929; 11 October 1929; 18 October 1929; 26 September 1930; 26 August 1932; 10 April 1941; 7 August 1947;  6 April 1950; 25 January 1951; 29 March 1951; 28 November 1957; 4 February 1960; 24 November 1960;  9 February 1961; 28 November 1963; 16 July 1964; 15 August 1968; 4 December 1986
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