History of Newton Highlands

A major portion of the current (but soon to be growing) file on the history of Newton Highlands comes to us via the generous contribution of Peter Szolovits (e-mail: psz@mit.edu). Several years ago, Peter compiled a collection of photos and historical notes and created a website called "Newton Highlands Historical Archive." (please see the following for full site: http://medg.lcs.mit.edu/people/psz/nhnac/HistoryArchive.html)

The Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council is grateful for Peter’s contribution to our website. Anybody interested in contributing to this historical page is encouraged to do so by sending materials and references to Srdjan S. Nedeljkovic (srdjan@zeus.bwh.harvard.edu).

Note: The material included here is typically original to the historical events that generated it. Therefore, some of it may be not up to date to the present. Furthermore, much of it has no specific source attribution; thus its authors are anonymous.

The Old Hyde School

THE HYDE SCHOOL, which presently serves as housing units, was named in honor of James F. C. Hyde, Newton's first mayor and the man most responsible for Newton's incorporation as a city. A native of Newton Highlands, Hyde also served on the School Committee and on the building committee for the first schoolhouse in the Highlands, a wooden building completed in 1872 on the site of the present residential complex parking lot. During its first year the new school had sixty-seven students and two teachers, Only three years later (1875), the School Committee report stated: 'It is earnestly hoped that the city will sometime have the means and the disposition to remodel the building so that the large and pretentious ugliness of its proportions may be modified in the interest of that education in good taste which a civilized community is under moral obligation to supply by its public buildings.'

In 1893 the city fulfilled this obligation by appropriating $50,000 for a brick schoolhouse designed by Hartwell & Richardson of Boston, When it was dedicated in 1895, there were eight teachers, and 321 students in kindergarten through ninth grade. Until the fire of April 25, 1981, this was the oldest schoolhouse in Newton still used for its original purpose.

By 1902 the population of the Highlands had increased so greatly that the School Committee recommended 'that a new building be built in the Hyde district at once.' The new building was finally completed in 1908, when the student body numbered 461, with sixteen teachers. Only one feature was missing: a gymnasium. In 1895 the Superintendent had chided the citizens of Newton for not supporting physical education in the schools. He wrote: 'Sometime the more enlightened people who are to live after us will no more think of erecting a schoolhouse without a gymnasium than without the requisite number of recitation rooms.' In 1967 the Hyde gymnasium was built, and the school was complete.

SOURCE: The above description is modified from a broadside produced in 1981, with the following attribution: Two hundred and fifty copies of this broadside were printed in June, 1981, at the North River Press, by Amy Montague and four Hyde School students: Corrie Burchfiel, Paul Callanan, Marc Fraioli, and Carter Wright. We are grateful to the Jackson Homestead for permission to reproduce the illustration, and to Marjorie Searl for assistance in historical research. All profits from the sale of these broadsides will benefit the Hyde Fund.

Brigham House: the old Newton Highlands Branch Library

A SUMMARY HISTORY OF THE NEWTON HIGHLANDS BRANCH LIBRARY (as of MAY,1958)

SOURCE: The following is adapted from a materials commemorating the opening of the Marion B. Morse Reading Room at the old Newton Highlands Branch Library (the Brigham House) on May 11, 1958. The current Brigham House Community Center formerly served as a branch of the Newton Library, until the present library building was opened in the early 1990s.

The history of a branch library in Newton Highlands began in January, 1908, when the seventh branch (or reading room) was started in the new Hyde School, with Miss Mabel Singleton in charge; a position which she held for thirty-nine years, or until her death in 1947. A book collection in her honor was placed in the branch library and had been added to each year by her sister Miss Elizabeth Singleton.

From 1908 until the early 1950's, a space in the Hyde School served as the Newton Highlands branch library. In l934 the former manual training room at the Hyde School was made available as a children's room and many thousand books were circulated to Newton Highlands boys and girls from this room. Visits by classes from the school were regularly featured while Mr. Clarence E. Churchill served as principal.

In July, l946, Mrs. Virginia M. Hutchinson, President of the Library Board passed away. Mrs. Hutchinson was library trustee for a period of twenty-four years end for seventeen of these years she was President. She was unusually well informed on public library matters in Massachusetts and especially in Newton and Newton Highlands. She was followed as woman representative on the Library Board by Mrs. James H. Zimmer and Mrs. George F. Brewer, both from Newton Highlands.

By 1951 the pressure for class room space at the Hyde School was very great and the Library Board was requested to seek other space for the adult library service of the Newton Highlands Branch Library. For some forty-two years adults had climbed the stairs to the branch in the school house. Although there was the awkwardness of being back from the street and on the second floor, the use made of the library was constant. There was always the hope that Newton Highlands would have a new branch library building of its own. One group which had this thought in mind was the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle of which Miss Marion B. Morse was a member.

After careful consideration of the possibilities for a new location for the library, the City purchased the residence of Dr. Frederick S. Keith, for many years a prominent physician of the Highlands. This Victorian type home, which is today’s Brigham House, was adapted for library use and had many advantages of convenience. The Newton Highlands Garden Club beautified the grounds with a planting including dogwood trees planted in memory of Miss Mabel A. Singleton and Miss Ethel Wiggen Skinner. Professor W. Northrop Morse planted a unique wild flower at the rear of the property. Sadly, in 1956 the City built a public parking area between the branch library and the business center, and many of these plantings were removed. This parking area included use of the rear of the library property.

The Board of Library Trustees received in March, 1957 a bequest of $5000.00 as specified in the will of Marion B. Morse. After careful consideration, a plan for a reading room extension of the Newton Highlands Branch Library was made by Mr. Y. Cornell Appleton, architect Mr. Appleton, a Boston architect and resident of Newton Centre, was also responsible for the addition to the old Main Library and for the new Nonantum Branch Library. The Board of Aldermen appropriated $7000.00 which was added to the bequest from the will of Ms. Morse, and the Marion B. Morse Reading Room was created. The successful bidder for the contract to erect the addition was Mr. Gerald A. Foley, a Newton Highlands contractor. With the added space in the new branch library, it was possible to move the children's library to the 20 Hartford Street location.

From the 1950’s to the early 1990’s, the Newton Highlands Branch Library thrived. The relationship of the branch library to parking facilities, the Hyde School, and the Newton Highlands commercial center was a fortunate and practical one.

Photographs from the Highlands

SOURCE: Mike Zirpolo kindly contributed a handful of scanned photo-graphs and postcards of the old Newton Highlands post office and other local scenes.

First is a photograph of Lincoln Street, with a streetcar.


The Newton Highlands Congregational Church


The second photo shows the Newton Highlands Congregational Church, which is on the corner of Lincoln Street and Hartford Street, opposite the Brigham House. It is visible in both of the first two photos.

Scene from Newton Highlands, 1907


Third is a 1907 photograph of a scene at Rockledge and Woodcliff streets.

The Newton Highlands Railroad Depot

A station was first built at the location of the present Newton Highlands MBTA stop when the Charles River Railroad was extended through Newton in 1852. This single track railroad was used to carry fill and gravel from Needham to the Back Bay during the late 1800s. The railbed was upgraded in the 1870s. By the end of the century, the Boston and Albany railroad provided regular passenger service using steam locomotives on a route that ran from Boston’s South Station, along the current Green Line to Riverside, then around the loop in Auburndale, connecting to the present Worcester-Fram-ingham commuter line, and then back to South Station. Called the Circuit Railway, this line led to the rapid development of the village of Newton Highlands. Freight service along the Circuit Branch ceased in 1958, in preparation for the opening of electrified trolley service in 1959 (the present-day Riverside Green Line).


The Newton Highlands Railroad Depot is now an MBTA stop, with the building housing an automobile parts store. Notice the steam locomotive parked at the station.

The Eliot MBTA Station


An old Green Line PCC-type train inbound at Eliot Station.

The Old Newton Highlands Post Office


Old Newton Highlands Post Office. It is thought that this Post Office was on Walnut Street, at or near 1155.



Thanks to Peter Szolovits, who created the majority of this History of Newton Highlands, and who kindly gave permission for its use. We hope to add more information on this page.

Anybody with more historical information, please contact the Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council, via Srdjan S. Nedeljkovic, by e-mail: srdjan@zeus.bwh.harvard.edu

Last Modified: March 18, 2002

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