This is the second of a two-part series on Josiah Gardner Abbott. Click here to read the first part.
When discussing the early development of Wellesley, you can’t ignore the Abbott family. After all, there are two separate neighborhoods that were named for the Abbotts: Abbott Road in Wellesley Hills and the Cliff-Abbott Estates north of Route 9. The ironic thing, however, is that the Abbott family didn’t reside at either of these locations.
When Josiah Gardner Abbott moved to Wellesley with his family in the mid-1860s, he took up residence in a house on twelve acres of land on Linden Street halfway between Rockland and Kingsbury Streets. The original size of their house is unknown, but one can only assume it was large given Abbott’s lucrative law career — during the late 1850s, his annual salary, excluding any windfalls, was nearly $30,000 (more than $800,000 in 2013 dollars).The Abbott estate, known as “The Hundreds,” quickly became one of the showplaces of Wellesley. Below is a map of the estate in 1897:
The Abbott estate was sold following the death of the last surviving child of Josiah Abbott in 1933. Before the house was razed, a public auction was held to sell the entire contents of the 53-room mansion. A notice in the Townsman advertising the auction lists many of the items that were put up for sale:
“Chickering baby grand piano, old gate leg table, pair of Girandole convex mirrors, butler’s secretary, rare satinwood hepplewhite card table, small mahogany serpentine front bureau — very old, claw and ball foot serpentine front desk, fine Chinese Chippendale library table, desk with cabinet top, ball and claw foot lowboy — carved knees and shells, pair Astral lamps, large lot of old china, glass, pewter, prints and engravings, number of old paintings by noted artist, several pieces of hand hammered American silver made before the Revolutionary War, many pieces of Sheffield in trays, service plates, tea set, etc., antique oriental rugs and carpets.”
Before the land was subdivided, the 12-acre property was strongly considered by the town as the site of a new high school. The planning board was in full support, but the Town Meeting members voted it down and opted for a location on Hunnewell Field (near to where the 1938 high school was actually built). The Abbott estate was instead developed into Kirkland Circle, which until 1940 was called Livermore Gardens East and Livermore Gardens West after Josiah Abbott’s wife, Caroline Livermore.
In addition to the Linden Street estate, Josiah Abbott also owned two large tracts of land that totaled nearly two hundred acres. Shortly after his death in 1891, the first of these two properties was developed by his children into the Belvedere subdivision located between Washington and Forest Streets in Wellesley Hills. (The name was taken from the Belvidere section of Lowell in which the family lived before moving to Wellesley.) Construction began as early as 1894 when the first stretch of Abbott Road was laid out from Washington Street. Over the next fifteen years, much of the north half of the Abbott Road neighborhood was developed, which included several new streets:
- Caroline Street and Livermore Road (named for Caroline Livermore)
- Fletcher and Franklin Roads (named for two of Josiah Abbott’s sons)
- Clovelly Road (originally called Stackpole Street, which was the name of the road on which the Abbotts lived in Lowell)
- Arlington Road (named for the street on which the Abbotts lived in Boston for a few years before moving to Wellesley)
The Belvedere subdivision immediately became one of the most desirable neighborhoods west of Boston. This was because the Abbott children placed certain restrictions on the construction of the residences in order to establish an exclusive neighborhood. These restrictions included minimum street frontage, setbacks, and construction costs. In 1909, the Abbott children sold the remaining undeveloped land around Abbott Road to the Maugus Real Estate Trust, under the control of Isaac Sprague, which developed the rest of the property including Windsor, Lincoln, and Inverness Roads.
The other tract of undeveloped land owned by Josiah Abbott was located due north of the Abbott estate between Worcester Street and the Weston border. This property remained in the Abbott family until 1934 when it was sold and then developed by George Arnold Haynes, who had already built a number of homes in the Cliff Estates. Together these two areas became known as the Cliff-Abbott Estates. Similar building restrictions to what were in place for Belvedere were used in the Abbott Estates.
Finally, I’m sure many of you are wondering about Josiah Abbott’s connection to Abbott Street, a small road off Weston Road near Wellesley Square. Well, the similarity between their names is just a coincidence. Abbott Street was developed around 1890 by Nathan Abbott who was unrelated to Josiah Abbott. Nathan Abbott, also a lawyer in Boston, had moved to Wellesley in the mid-1880s, taking up residence in a house on Washington Street on the current site of E.A. Davis & Co. and Blue Ginger. After developing the land to the rear of his house into Abbott Street, he left Wellesley and would soon become the first dean of the law school at Stanford University.
This concludes the two-part post on Josiah Gardner Abbott and the development of the land he once owned. I have to admit that much of Abbott’s life, including his service on the Electoral Commission in 1877, was a complete mystery to me before I started the research. And now I understand why. It’s not just because Abbott died 122 years ago. It’s also that he wasn’t very active in town affairs. Although Wellesley has been great at memorializing those citizens that devote their lives to improving the town, it’s been ambivalent at doing the same for those who haven’t. The only reason you probably knew of Abbott’s name was because of the subdivision of his land, not for his remarkable career as a lawyer and politician. I guess that’s no longer true.
- Norfolk County Registry of Deeds
- Needham Map of 1876
- Wellesley Atlases of 1888 and 1897
- Memoir of the Hon. Josiah Gardner Abbott, LL.D. by Charles Cowley (1892)
- Field Genealogy: Being the Record of All the Field Family in America…Volume 2 by Frederick Clifton Pierce (1901)
- Wellesley Townsman: 2 May 1930; 8 June 1934; 22 June 1934; 5 December 1935; 21 February 1936; 28 February 1936; 13 March 1936; 3 May 1940; 2 April 1981
- Wikipedia.org [Stanford Law School]