Rollins lot: other parcel going on the market

The following article appeared in the Wellesley Townsman on September 4, 2014.

The Rollins lot at 636 Washington Street  Town of Wellesley website

The Rollins lot at 636 Washington Street
Source: Town of Wellesley website

The North 40 seems to be all anyone is talking about these days. (And rightly so!) But there is another parcel of land that Wellesley College may sell in the very near future to which nobody is paying any attention: the Rollins lot.

Located at 636 Washington Street, this parcel is comprised of one and three-quarter acres of woods bounded by Cottage Street and Leighton Road. At most five single family dwellings could be built there. (The two most eastern lots are located within the Cottage Street Historic District. Any houses constructed on these particular lots must therefore get design approval from the Historic District Commission.)

So who exactly was Rollins? And how did Wellesley College come to own this land?

Rollins refers not so much to a specific person but rather to the family that owned the property from 1868 to 1937. Originally, this estate was much larger — approximately 20 acres — stretching from Washington Street to Fuller Brook between Cottage Street and the site of Upland Road.

The centerpiece of the estate was a grand three-story Second-Empire mansion that had been constructed in the late 1850s for Abijah Baker, the pastor of the Wellesley Village Congregational Church who had been unceremoniously removed from the pulpit in 1861 following outrage from his parishioners over his opposition to the use of force in suppressing slavery within the South. (That’s a whole other story!)

Unfortunately for this article, no member of the Rollins family was remotely as interesting as Reverend Baker. When the family arrived in Wellesley, it consisted of John Rollins, a successful builder and contractor, his wife, Mary (Leighton) Rollins, and three of their adult children, Augusta, Hannah, and Edwin. In addition, they were joined by the widow of another son along with her two young children, Harry and Theodore.

As the family expanded following the marriages of Harry and Theodore, three additional houses were constructed at 7, 9, and 11 Cottage Street.

By 1910, of all the family members who came to Wellesley four decades earlier, only Harry Rollins was still alive. It was at this time that he began to develop the rear part of his family’s estate, laying out Appleby, Homestead, and Leighton Roads. (It is suspected that Appleby, like Leighton, was a family name.) Many of these lots were purchased by members of the Wellesley College community.

Following Harry’s accidental drowning in the Charles River in 1933, his widow, Margaret, and their son, Leighton, left Wellesley but retained ownership of the property for four more years. The original Rollins family mansion, having sat vacant and fallen into disrepair, was razed in 1938.

For unknown reasons, Wellesley College acquired the property in 1945. Given, however, that many students lived off campus at the time, it is entirely possible that the College intended to construct more student housing on this parcel of land. That plan, however, may have fizzled following the construction of additional dormitories on campus in 1952.

The Rollins property instead became woods and remains so today.

3 thoughts on “Rollins lot: other parcel going on the market

  1. I thought I had read somewhere that the land at the corner of Cottage Street and Washington Street was once the site of a shoe factory, and that’s why many of the houses on Cottage Street have little ells on the side where workers at the factory could do some side work at home. If true, this probably preceded the Rollins/Baker era as many of the house on cottage street look older than 1850.

    • What you read was correct. The shoe factory was located on the east corner of Cottage Street and Washington Street (on the site of the St. Andrew’s parking lot) from the 1850s until the 1880s. Charles Lovewell, who lived across the street on Lovewell Road, ran the factory for much of that time and even laid out Cottage Street (formerly Lovewell Place) in order to provide housing for his workers. It makes sense then that some of the cottages had small shops where the factory workers could do some of their work at home.

      It’s a somewhat long story, but simply put, the factory was closed because prominent Wellesley residents didn’t want a noisy and dirty factory so close to the center of town and to the college.

      But the Rollins family didn’t mind being nearby for all those years.

  2. Pingback: Wellesley Rollins Lot trees quaking in their roots | The Swellesley Report

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