Historic Houses of the Month: Lynde’s Point and the Charlestown Wharf Company

The Lynde family immigrated from Dunstable, Bedfordshire England, to Charlestown during the Great Migration. Thomas Lynde (1615-1693), a maltster by trade, was known to be in Charlestown by 1634. Following his death the inventory of Deacon Thomas Lynde’s estate listed two houses, a malt house, a stable, approximately 90 acres of various parcels of land much of it wooded, 13 cow commons, a hay lot, ¼ of a ketch, and two servants. The value of his estate was £1,709.  By the time of the revolution, the large tract of land along Charles River Bay extending southwest of Town Hill from Arrow Street to Craigie’s Point (later Prison Point) had become known as Lynde’s Point. 

In 1794, the widow of Thomas Lynde’s descendant Joseph Lynde sold the 20 acre parcel known as Lynde’s Point to Captain Archibald McNeil. The acreage comprised Washington Street, Old Rutherford Avenue (formerly Richmond Street and Bow Street) and part of Union Street, as well as the point of land west of Austin Street. Archibald’s father William was a rope maker whose ropewalks where located in Boston near High and Pearl Streets. After they were destroyed by fire in 1793 Captain McNeil established a new rope walk on his recently acquired acreage by Charles River Bay. The rope walk can be seen on the 1828 Peter Tufts Plan of Charlestown Peninsula. In 1800 McNeil sold Craigie’s Point to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the Charlestown State Prison. In 1804 Captain McNeil sold a parcel 75 feet by 325 feet to to Josiah Barker, shipbuilder.  McNeil sold another parcel to J. Morrill, Samuel Jaques, Jr. and Matthew Skilton who established a turpentine and sprits factory.

In the early 1800s, McNeil built himself a large square house on Washington Street near the corner of Union Street. Timothy Sawyer described it as being surrounded by fields and pastures, and noted that there was a 45 ft. passageway from the house to the ropewalk. The ropewalk was low enough that there was an unobstructed view from McNeil’s mansion. The Prison Point Bridge had not been built nor had the building of the Prison commenced.  One could look out across Charles River Bay at the Barrel Mansion on Cobble Hilll (later to become the McLean Asylum). Today, it is hard to imagine such a view.  In 1814, McNeil sold his residence to Colonel Samuel Jaques, a businessman originally from Wilmington who was involved in trade with the West Indies. At that time the estate comprised about two acres. There was a stable, a carriage house, several outbuildings and gardens. Colonel Jaques kept horses, short horned Durham cattle, common cattle, geese, ducks, and fine hunting dogs as he was a foxhunter. According to Sawyer, he even kept two buffalos.  Colonel Jaques remained in the house until 1832 when he moved to Ten Hills Farm, now Somerville. Charlestown was much larger at that time and included parts of Somerville, Arlington and Cambridge.  At the time of Sawyer’s writing in 1888, The McNeil/Jaques house was still standing and had been turned into a two-family residence.  Today, the house is no longer extant.

Josiah Barker (1763-1847) established a very successful shipyard on his parcel. Barker was a naval constructor who arrived in Charlestown in 1799 from Marshfield.  He worked for the U.S. Government in the Navy Yard, and supervised the refurbishment of the Constitution  from 1833-35. In 1810, Barker acquired a second parcel on Lynde’s Point making his private shipyard 130 feet by 350 feet. Barker constructed a 620 ton vessel, the Union, to be used as a privateer but the War of 1812 ended, and she was refitted to be a merchantman.  Working with another shipbuilder Captain John M. Robertson 38 vessels were built in Charlestown on the shores of Charles River Bay, among them the Pandora (1806), the Faun (1811) and the Aurora (1815).

Between 1799 and 1806 many Charlestown families with familiar names such as Frothingham, Warren, Devens and Tufts purchased lots laid out and sold by Captain McNeil. Washington Street had become a very desirable neighborhood. But in 1835, a much more complex development ensued when Josiah Barker’s shipyard was sold to the Charlestown Land and Wharf Company.  In the mid-1830s both the Charlestown Land and Wharf Company (which became the Charlestown Wharf Company) and the Charlestown Branch Railroad were incorporated.  These two companies were intertwined for the purpose of selling property to raise money and build a railroad. The Charlestown Branch Railroad ran along Charlestown’s shoreline utilizing the well positioned Wharfs on Charles River Bay to unload goods such as ‘cotton, coal and other articles.’ The Branch Railroad transported these goods across the Bay to the Boston and Lowell Railroad Depot near Lechmere for carriage to the Lowell mills. Initially the trains were horse drawn. In the following decade the Charlestown Branch Railroad became part of the Fitchburg Railroad.

In 1838, the Charlestown Wharf Company laid out 104 lots on Washington Street on the land between Washington Street and the Bay.  Washington Street was on high ground and a block from the water making these lots highly desirable. The Greek Revival houses across from the MDC rink on Washington Street are all that remain of the Charlestown Wharf Company’s residential development. Originally a longer row of brick townhouses comprising 72 to 98 Washington Street, only numbers 74-88 remain. These late Federal/Greek Revival homes are among the earliest examples of masonry row housing in Charlestown. They are believed to be the work of house wright John W. Milliken who was active from the 1820s to the early 1850s. The houses are two-story, three-bay side hall plans with gabled roofs and recessed entries.  Some have their original 5 pane glass transom and sidelight entry embellishments. When built, they probably all had a single centered roof dormer.  These houses had views of Charles River Bay.

Further research needs to be done to determine the provenance of the lots laid out southwest of Washington Street in 1838. A ward map of Lynde’s Point in 1912 does not depict houses, but indicates several railroad tracks on the site as well as a produce market and a freight house inland from Front Street.

Lynde’s Point is practically forgotten. The little street between Washington Street and Rutherford Avenue is still known as Lynde Street, memorializing this historic part of town which was once waterfront property. Charles River Bay and the Miller’s River were filled in and replaced by Rutherford Avenue, as well as the train tracks of four railroads that all terminated in Boston’s West End. For additional images, maps and plans go to nancykueny.com/blog.

Sources: Old Charlestown by Timothy Sawyer, MACRIS: Landmarks Commission Surveys, Ancestry.com, The Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown by Thomas Bellows Wyman, Report Accepted by the Charlestown Wharf Company June 5, 1838, Middlesex Registry of Deeds, Wikipedia, MassHist.org, Ward 5 1912 Plate, G.W. Bromley

© Nancy Hayford Kueny

 Charlestown Branch Railroad Plan

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