Meriam Hill and Munroe Hill

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Meriam Hill

With a central location on a hill just behind Lexington’s historic center, steps from the Battle Green, Minuteman Bike Path, shops, and restaurants, Meriam Hill’s siting alone would make it a desirable neighborhood in which to live. However, couple that with any of the finest homes in town, and you understand why this beloved area is so coveted. Willard Brown (who designed the Cary Memorial Library), E.A.P. Newcomb, Allen & Kenway, and Walter Paine are just a few of the noted Boston and Lexington-area architects whose work is represented here. Indeed, a few of them lived here themselves.

Oakmount Castle (torn down in 1941)

The bike path, of course, used to be the train track, and the old Lexington Depot is located just at the bottom of the hill. Restored and used by the Lexington Historical Society today, the proximity of the Depot was a main selling point in the early days. As noted at the Lexington Historic Survey, Meriam Hill was developed in the late 19th century, and was:

…home to many of the influential citizens who helped to transform the town from a rural town to a prosperous suburb. Proximity to the depot made Meriam Hill a desirable place to settle for many Lexington professionals who worked in Boston. Most of the neighborhood residents knew each other from financial clubs and many had first come to Lexington as summer residents. A number of the buildings in the neighborhood are architect-designed. This area includes one property, the former Merriam Factory at 7-9 Oakland Street, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The names Meriam and Merriam are often confused. As the Survey goes on to explain:

The area takes its name from the pre-Revolutionary Meriam family who owned much of area in the 19th century. The hill was first divided into thirty-three house lots in the 1870s although construction did not take place until the 1880s. One of the first to buy was Matthew P. Merriam (no relation to the earlier Meriams) who purchased eight lots and established a shoe findings factory at 7-9 Oakland Street in 1882. The factory employed approximately thirty workers at a time, most of whom were women. In the late 19th century this was the largest manufacturing facility in Lexington. The building was later home to the Adams Press and later, the Lexington Press. In recent years the former factory was renovated for housing for victims of brain injury. At the age of 60 Matthew Merriam had a new house built across the street from the factory at 2 Oakland Street, designed by Boston architect Walter Paine who also designed the Hancock Church.

An old view of Stetson Street

Stetson Street Today

The neighborhood is roughly contained within Adams Street, Hancock Street, Grant Street, Colony Road, and Massachusetts Avenue:

Meriam Hill

 

 

Munroe Hill

Along with Meriam Hill, Munroe Hill represents the other major turn-of-the-century development in Lexington’s suburbanization. And as with its sister neighborhood just on the other side of Lexington Center, it is one of the town’s most desirable. The photos and much of the information is from the excellent Lexington Historic Survey web site.

Munroe Hill, Google Map

 

45 Percy Road, courtesy of the Lexington Historic Survey

 

According to the Lexington Historic Survey, the  neighborhood has its beginnings in the formation in 1891 with the formation of the Lexington Land Company, to develop Munroe Hill, the land behind the historic Munroe Tavern.

Among its trustees were William H. Mason, a real estate broker with offices in Boston, and James S. Munroe, who was born at the old Munroe Tavern in 1824 and resided for his entire life in the immediate neighborhood of his birthplace

As with Meriam Hill, the construction of the railroad created demand for the area. Many of the original purchasers of the lots were middle-class businessmen from Boston, many of who had been visitors to some of Lexington’s hotels when the town was known as a “health resort.” The survey page also points out that: “by 1887 it is estimated that 23% of Lexington’s business and professional workers were commuters.” There had been a station at the bottom of the hill, Munroe Station, which until 1959 stoof near Tower Park, close to the present-day location Season’s Four nursery.

Unlike other late 19th century neighborhoods in Lexington, Mt. Vernon/Munroe Hill was not a speculative development. The houses reflected the latest architectural trends and many were probably designed by professional architects although only the identities of a few are known. The earliest residences constructed on Munroe Hill combined elements of the Queen Anne, Shingle and Colonial Revival styles.

Excellent example of a Shingle Style Home, built by Col. Charles Thornton, a resident of Cambridge who summered at the Russell House for several years. The house next door at 16 Percy Road was constructed for his sister.

Above is a photo of one of our sales, 32 Percy Road. Percy Road had originally been named Mt. Vernon street but in 1981 was controversially re-named Percy Road, after the British general who, in retreat back through Lexington from Concord, commandeered the Munroe Tavern as a makeshift hospital for the Regulars.

32 Percy dates back at least to 1900 and was likely one of the original farmhouses that existed before the land was subdivided. Our clients purchased the house from the architect Merle Westlake Jr. Westlake had been a principal architect at Hugh Stubbins and Associates (Stubbins had also been a Lexingtonian). Prior to associating with Stubbins, Westlake worked for Eliel and Eero Saarinen. He was principal architect for numerous major works, Harvard University, Omnimax Theater, Boston Museum of Science, and the Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif. (Source).

 

The formal Georgian Revival house at 6 Eliot Road is one of the largest residential structures ever built in Lexington. The building designed by New York architect Oswald Hering and was constructed in 1907 for copper manufacturer Harry Fay at a cost of $50,000. Photographs of the building were published in the national architectural publication, Brickbuilder. The mansion was later owned by Richard Engstrom, a chemist. Today it houses an Armenian School for Girls.

A final colorful note (tragedy + time = comedy, but nefariousness + time = colorful): the swindler Charles Ponzi owned the mansion at 19 Slocum Road, and lived there until his incarceration in 1920.

Read more about the Munroe Neighborhood here.