House-hunting in 1910
Here are some early 20th century real estate ads for Burlington and area towns. In some of the Burlington ads, the town’s name is pushed aside by a moniker like Winnmere, probably because the name Burlington meant nothing in Massachusetts.
Most ads direct you to the electric trolley system. The system included a route from Boston to Lowell via Woburn, Burlington and Billerica.
For purposes of assessment, Burlington in 1940 divided its area into 14 districts, or rather, into Burlington proper and 13 subdivisions. This was the result of a housing development which grew in that period directly following the first World War.
During the decade of the twenties many people were making good money since business was booming in and around Boston and families from Somerville and Cambridge and Everett and other places, which were considered “the city” felt that they could afford a summer place or camp in the outskirts.
Burlington was one such small country community which seemed to be the place to go. Those people began to buy lots in areas of town named by developers “Village Acres,” “Overlook” and “Pinewold.” John Hinston was one of those early developers and he advertised special free excursions on Saturdays and Sundays from Boston to his property in Burlington and Billerica called “Garden Acres.” “Lead the simple life,” his advertisements read, “Sale of chicken farms.”
He sold lots of 5,000 sq. ft. for from $9.00 to $29.00 and one-acre “chicken farms” for $59.00, payable $5.00 down and $1.00 a week. “Buy one or more acres of land in this fast growing Suburb,” said Hinston, “where you can make a good living on chickens and raise your own vegetables, keep a cow, where your family will be rosy and healthy, and you will be your own master and grow independent.”
Hinston’s customers came by train to Woburn where they would board the trolley cars at first and then after 1921 the buses for Billerica which took them fairly close to where the advertised land was located. The walk in from the bus line, especially on a good summer day, was both short and enjoyable since Burlington’s countryside at that time of year was at its best. Hinston and others did very well.
Hinston’s customers not only built camps here, some of them built good substantial houses. But then came the crash of 1929 and soon some of those people found that they could no longer afford both a house in the city and a camp or another house in the country, and some of them moved permanently out of the city as the least expensive of two choices. But again, all of them did not come because of the depression, many came because they felt this town was a good place in which to live.
They became good substantial Burlington citizens. In 1940 the assessing districts were:
- Burlington (meaning mostly the central section)
- Overlook (Peach Orchard, Wellesley Ave., etc.)
- Village Acres (Bedford, Fairfax, Church Lane)
- Village Farms (Winona, Nevada, Rahway, etc.)
- Garden Acres (Wilmington Road)
- Garden Acres Add. (Wilmington, Wheatland, Westwood)
- Winnmere (Winn, Glen, Overlook, Edgemere, etc.)
- Winnmere Add. (Winn, Hampden, Harriett)
- Burlington Farms (Hillcrest, Pathwoods, Purity Springs)
- Pinewold (Terrace Hall, Bedford, Humboldt, etc.)
- Bungalow Park (Cambridge, Douglass, Van Norden)
- Riverbank Terrace (Francis Wyman)
- Perkins Lots (Lexington, Bedford)
- Burlington Heights (Church Lane, Elm, Edgemont, etc.)
Winnmere probably was the oldest developed section of town other than the center and Havenville, both of which had post offices at one time. Because of its fertile soil the Winnmere flats had been farmed ever since Edward Winn built his log cabin on Wyman Street in 1642. The hill south of it, once called Mt. Playnum, was the site of an aborted copper mine prior to the Revolution and the site of a Nike installation after the last war.
Sometime prior to World War I a fellow named McDonald built and ran a little store on land facing Winn Street between Harriet and Glen avenues. Joseph and Lena Carbone bought it shortly thereafter and added on to it.
During the Depression years his was one of two stores in town which handled scores of food orders for residents down on their luck and existing on a combination of welfare, town help and the WPA. Carbone’s store has had the longest life of any store still operating in town. But it is no longer Carbone’s Market for Joe is gone. Other stores have grown up alongside.
Another store in the area during the two decades between the wars was Mary Vincent’s Variety Store. It stood on the corner of Winn St. and Winnmere Ave. on land which was designated a hundred years earlier as the Winn Tombyard. Beyond it was Alexander Brown’s home from which he operated a meat business making the rounds to his customers several times a week.
Jennie and Bill Farmer once lived in a little house on Glen Ave. which subsequently went to a Johnson and then to Bob Lake. Farmer built a dance hall, the only one Burlington ever had, on Edgemere Ave. overlooking Winn St. It was a building 40 feet wide by 100 feet long. It was never really accepted by Burlington’s older inhabitants just as Pinehurst Park in Billerica was frowned upon. It lasted only four years for it burned down in 1923.
There also was a little store in the building still standing on the corner of Winn St. and Harriet Ave. next to the John Blais home. It was once owned by a John Flaherty. The Iannacci name is connected with that house as well; Tony operated a fuel oil business and Nick ran a taxi. George Gormley remembers that James Michael Curley once came to Burlington during one of his campaigns for public office and spoke to a group of Burlington citizens from the front steps there. The Gormley family came to Burlington in 1925 and moved into a house on Fairlawn Avenue built for the widow Gormley that year. The elder Gormley, a native of County Antrim, Ireland, had died in 1914 leaving his wife Catherine O’Neil and eight children. There had been twelve children born to them. Catherine also was a native of Ireland, having been born in a little town on the southwestern coast about thirty miles from Killarney called Cahirciveen. She loved to play Whist and went to every party that the Grange or any other organization held around. She was a delight to listen to for she carried her native brogue with her until the day she died.
Those of her children known to Burlington residents were John, who acted as a father to the younger members of the family after the death of Mr. Gormley, Mary born 1894, Catherine 1897, Thomas 1901, Charles 1902, Eugene 1905, and George 1908. Thomas, Eugene and George were in the service during World War II. Thomas died here in 1968 while he was serving as custodian at the Town Hall; Mary and Catherine remained in the house on the hill until Mary died in 1972 and Catherine in 1979.
George, the only one still living, held the office of Assessor in this town from 1947 until his retirement in 1975. For many years he worked in partnership with Frank Ralphs painting and paperhanging. He once owned the so-called well lot across from his home from which the Winn mansion, built in 1732, received a continuous supply of cold running water all year long, delivered to it through wooden underground pipes. That mansion was taken down and moved to Wellesley in 1938 but in the late 20’s a fellow by the name of Ben Coates lived there who was noted for his fine penmanship and beautiful script.
Associated with Winnmere are a number of other well-known names. There was Harry Drugan whose daughter Jessica married Thomas Murray; Jimmy Russo who was a mailman in Lexington for years and was quite outspoken at Town Meetings here; Tony Russo of Ardmore Avenue; the brothers Edward and Andrew Sousa – Ed operated an automobile repair shop at the rear of his home and was considered one of the finest mechanics in the area; his wife Dorothy became switchboard operator in the new Town Hall and retired only a few months ago; Laura Perrie who for years ran a really fine pottery, “Perrie’s Pottery” and whose last works were the commemorative plates, plaques and bells made for Burlington 175th anniversary celebration; George mentioned that one of the Borsellis had a poolroom in the house now occupied by Mr. McLaren but this writer does not remember that.
But progress, when it comes, is also a destroyer. Andrew Blanchard who was an excellent Mason spent years building himself a home mostly of fieldstone on what was once Derryfield Ave. It proved to be a long, tedious and backbreaking project but the result was impressive and pleasing. It was finished shortly before Route 128 was pushed through town in 1949. Since Andy’s house stood directly in the way of one approach to that highway it was slated for destruction. A bulldozer knocked down in a few hours what it had taken Blanchard years to build.
Nothing is so permanent as change, which, some say, is not always for the better.
— From Burlington, Past and Present, Daily Times and Chronicle, June 29, 1982
Those were the days
Dear Mr. Robert Fahey,
What’s up with all the “chicken farm lots”? Could you elaborate on those?
Another development that had lots for sale was between Burlington and Billerica along the state road that was named”River Bank Terrace”. Lots were divided into 25’ x 100’. The subdivision was recorded in Lowell at first and then in Cambridge because the county line was the Billerica and Burlington town line. The subdivision ran along Francis Wyman rd into Billerica at Riverbank Rd. At the bottom of the hill in Pinehurst on the left on the wide curve of Boston Rd or Cambridge Rd. depending on which town you were standing. I have a copy of the subdivision layout showing the paper streets.
I find this interesting because my mother was born in Burlington in 1910, in a house at 25 Chestnut St owned by the Reed family at that time.
Some other information I have been told about the trolley line from Woburn to Lowell required the building of an extension of Winn St. from the bottom of Center St hill (near The Memorial School) to the bottom of Cambridge St hill. Further along on Cambridge St from the end of Chestnut St by the car wash to the far end of County Rd Cambridge St was straightened for the trolley tracks. I believe some of the developments in the ads were off of these new sections of road.