This will be my most overtly political post to date. Surely, I’ve always been standing on my soapbox preaching the importance of knowing about Wellesley’s history, but I’ve never tried to rally the troops like I’ll do here. The issue at hand is 53 Grove Street, a small late-19th Century cottage that sits vacant at the rear of the Wellesley Inn construction site. Originally, the dwelling was to be incorporated into the development of the property, but it appears that the plans may be changing. So I’d like to make the argument that Wellesley must do everything in its power to preserve this piece of history.
However, before I talk about why this house is so important, let me give you some background on what’s been going on with the Wellesley Inn property in recent years. Of course, anyone familiar with the town knows that Wellesley lost the c. 1860 building (and a number of additions, including the 1965 annex) when it closed in 2005, was sold to the commercial developer, Spaulding & Slye LLC, and torn down the following year. The only part of the Wellesley Inn complex that was spared was 53 Grove Street located on the rear of the site, which I believe was to be used for a few affordable housing units. But before any construction began, the 2008 financial crisis hit, forcing Spaulding & Slye to suspend its plans for the site. Today, over four years later, the property is nothing more than a hole in the ground blocked from view by a solid white fence.
But just recently, at the beginning of this month, a new commercial developer, HRV Development LLC, began the process of buying the entire property from Spaulding & Slye. And it’s not clear whether this new developer wants to preserve 53 Grove Street or tear it down. That’s why this post is urgent. Maybe if people know that this house has a story to tell, then public pressure can sway HRV Development into saving it (assuming the sale goes through).
At this point, I’d like to put out a disclaimer. I am an advisory (non-voting) member of the Wellesley Historical Commission (WHC), the town board whose mission is “the preservation and protection of the tangible evidence of the architectural, aesthetic, cultural, economic, political and social history of Wellesley.” I was made aware of the changes in ownership of the Wellesley Inn property at a recent meeting of the WHC. What I write here is not necessarily representative of the views of the WHC, which is currently looking into the matter and will release a statement soon. Also, I’m not here to comment on the specific use of 53 Grove Street, including the issue of affordable housing. My sole purpose is to argue for the preservation of the dwelling on the basis of its historical importance.
So here’s the history of 53 Grove Street: The small two-story cottage was built 137 years ago, in 1876, by Daniel Grant, a local resident who erected a number of homes in the area, especially on the tract of land between Washington Street and Grove Street near Wellesley Square. That same year, Grant sold the property to Benjamin H. Sanborn, who had just arrived from Vermont with his new wife. Sanborn would enter into a career publishing textbooks, of which he produced more than two hundred before his retirement in 1913. He also made his mark on the town by serving on the school board for many years and helping to organize the Wellesley National Bank, of which he was the first vice-president. Sanborn moved away from Wellesley a few years before his death in 1926 at the age of 74.
In 1893, Sanborn sold 53 Grove Street to Captain John Allen Beebe, a successful whaling captain from Nantucket. At the time, Beebe’s daughter, Alice, was a student at Wellesley College and would go on to graduate in 1896. When Capt. Beebe died in 1907, he bequeathed $80,000 ($1.95 million in 2013 dollars) to her alma mater. This money went towards the construction of both Beebe Hall dormitory, completed in 1908, and the college library. His donation was especially important towards building the library because it completed the fundraising campaign that guaranteed a matching grant from Andrew Carnegie.
The house stayed in the Beebe family until it was sold in 1937, first to a Captain Flagg and then a month later to Helen Temple Cooke, the longtime principal of Dana Hall Schools. Cooke bought dozens of homes throughout the area for use as student dormitories and faculty/staff housing. 53 Grove Street was known as the ‘Beebe House’ and was owned by Dana Hall Schools until it was sold in 1973 to William White, owner of the Wellesley Treadway Inn. This was soon after the school finished shifting its campus from its original location on Grove Street near Wellesley Square (across the street from this house) to its current location south on Grove Street. The specific use of the house by the Wellesley Inn is unknown. As mentioned above, it now stands vacant.
I’m sure many of you have been asking yourself the question of whether Capt. John Allen Beebe has anything to do with Beebe Meadow or Beebe Way, both of which are located to the east of Grove Street south of Benvenue Street. Well, I’m not 100% sure, but I think that there’s no relationship. Beebe Meadow/Way were named for Charles Curtis Beebe, who settled in Wellesley in 1919 and lived at 188 Grove Street until his death in 1967. He was born in New York, far from Nantucket, where Capt. Beebe’s family had long resided. Furthermore, Charles Curtis Beebe’s wife was a 1900 graduate of Wellesley College, so I’m guessing that’s what brought him here. However, it’s still possible that they’re related because I couldn’t find a complete genealogy of the family of Charles Curtis Beebe.
But even without a connection to Beebe Meadow or Beebe Way, 53 Grove Street is still an historical treasure of Wellesley. And that’s not just because it’s one of the few remaining houses near Wellesley Square. Rather, the significance of 53 Grove Street lies in its connection to education in Wellesley. Its first owner, Benjamin Sanborn, was a textbook publisher who served on the Wellesley school board for many years during a time when the public schools were still in their infancy and needed much guidance. Then the house was owned by John Allen Beebe who gave $80,000 to Wellesley College to construct a dormitory and library. Its third longtime owner was the Dana Hall Schools and is one of the few relics of the old Dana Hall campus. So, 53 Grove Street has ties to the Wellesley Public Schools, Wellesley College, and Dana Hall. That’s quite the trifecta!
So for these reasons, I call on you to spread the word (by forwarding this post!). Only through knowledge of its importance will we have a chance to save 53 Grove Street. We already lost the Wellesley Inn. Let’s not lose this house as well.
- The Wellesley News: 19 April 1905
- Wellesley Townsman: 9 April 1926; 6 April 1967; 3 January 2013
- Wellesley Historical Commission webpage (accessed January 2013)
- Wellesley Historical Commission files – #53 Grove Street; #592A Washington Street; #576 Washington Street; #41 Atwood Road; Beebe Hall – Wellesley College;
- Findagrave.com: Captain John A. Beebe, Lydia Abigail (Jones) Beebe (accessed January 2013)
- Barney Genealogical Record – Nantucket Historical Association: (accessed January 2013)
- Wartime Whaling in East Indian Seas by Helen Winslow Chase in ‘Historic Nantucket’ of Spring 1991 (accessed January 2013)