Melrose Centennial

What a difference a century makes

... things are different in Melrose

Christine MacKinnon, Free Press Staff

As the city celebrates its centennial birthday, the Free Press takes a look back to see how different things are in Melrose.

Then and now

In 1899, the Melrose Public Library was located at the YMCA and held 12,000 volumes.  Today's library has been at its West Emerson Street location since 1904 and has 124,495 holdings, including books on tape and videos.Today's library also has a room on the third floor full of historical documents pertaining to the city.

According to the 1899 city directory, Melrose had 14 schools. Today there are nine. In 1899, Melrose had four train stations: the Melrose Station on West Emerson Street, The Melrose Highland Station on Franklin Street, the Wyoming Station on Wyoming Avenue and the Fells Station.  Today there are three - Wyoming Hill, Cedar Park and Melrose Highlands.

The population has more than doubled in the last 100 years, from 12,676 in 1899 to 28,150 today.

In 1899, Melrose had both official measurers of wood and bark and weighers of hay and coal.Today the city has a sealer of weights and measures.

The city's first mayor was Levi S. Gould.  There have been 21 mayors in the last century.  Some of these men, such as Charles E. French and Charles J. Barton, served only one year.  The longest term was held by James Milano, who was mayor from 1972 to 1992.

Though the Free Press won't celebrate its 100th birthday for another two years, Melrose did have a weekly newspaper in 1899. The Melrose Reporter was published every Saturday. The office was on Dill's Block, Foster Street. At that time, what is now known as Dill's Court, was located opposite 12 West Foster St., which puts this office somewhere in the vicinity of Careers Inc., or the MassBank ATM machine.

The front-page story in the Melrose Reporter on March 18, 1899 is a copy of the welcoming address of Mr. Edwin S. Small, the president of the Sons and Daughters of Maine. The group had gathered at the YMCA hall the previous Tuesday to celebrate the 79th anniversary of Maine's admission to the union.

The cost of doing business

According to the March 18, 1899 Melrose Reporter, a 10-room, "pleasant tenement to let," was available for $15 a month.  A six-room house at 5 Foster St. was going for $13 a month. In the March 4, 1999 issue of the Free Press, a six-and-a-half room apartment in Melrose was advertised for $950 a month. In addition, last week's Free Press contains a sale listing for a one-bedroom unit at the Towers in Melrose for $114,900.

Postage was 2 cents per ounce as opposed to today's 33 cents per ounce. Mail was delivered twice a day and the post office was open seven days a week.

Remember the highest paid salary list? The 1899 Board of Selectmen proposed several budgetary items at its March 13 meeting. The anticipated salary for the superintendent of the water department was $1,200 per year. This same position paid $64,504 last year.

Melrose businesses

Some stores and services have survived the test of time. Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, now on Lebanon Street, was Melrose Hospital in 1899 and located at 75 Myrtle St., which was the former home of William Bailey and the current site of the Elks. The Melrose Savings Bank, founded in 1872, moved to the corner of Main and Foster streets in 1926 and is now the MassBank for Savings.

According to the Melrose Business Review, published as a supplement to the Free Press in 1974, the Melrose Cooperative Bank originally met once a month on the steps of Town Hall. The meetings moved inside to the selectmen's room, where loans were sold at auction to the highest bidder. The bank, founded in 1890, now does business at 638 Main St.

Although Hunt's Photo and Video was not then a Melrose business, it has been operating continuously since 1889. It moved from its Malden Square location to its current store about 12 years ago. And Deering Lumber, established in 1871, moved to its current location in the early 1920s.

A walk down Main Street and into the surrounding business community was very different in 1899.

In the days before Johnnie's Foodmaster and Shaw's, there were several places to get groceries. S.O. Eldridge offered "choice family groceries" at 7 Emerson St., Hancock's Market was at 143 West Emerson St., and Quincy Market, 420 Main St., specialized in beef, pork, ham and mutton "at rock bottom prices."

Many of the street numbers no longer seem to exist. The Eldridge location, for example, is now the BankBoston parking lot, and the old Quincy Market is part of Hugo's. Hancock's advertisement in the Melrose Reporter didn't specify whether it was on East or West Emerson Street. The East Emerson Street location is a private home, and 143 West Emerson St. seems to be either the railroad tracks or the Garniss Market parking lot.

The new city had a stable on Dell Avenue that is now the Melrose Storage Facility, and Smith Brothers Bicycles occupied the space now taken by the Children's Exchange and the United Outlet on Essex Street. On Main Street, one could buy new shoes at George Newhall and Co., hats at Miss N.A. Hamor, jewelry at W.A. Smith's and window shades at Chandler Hills.This same route today leads one to Pottle Florist, Whittemore Hardware and the pool at the YMCA.

This day in history

The city shares its birthday with President Grover Cleveland (1837); Rudolph Diesel, inventor of the engine (1858); fashion designer, Mollie Parnis (1905); actors Peter Graves (1925) and Kevin Dobson (1943); singer Wilson Pickett (1941) and actress Vanessa Williams (1963).

On the same day Gov.  Roger Wolcott was approving the articles of incorporation that changed Melrose from a city to a town, astronomers discovered Phoebe, a moon orbiting Saturn.

Other historical events that happened on March 18: American Express was founded (1850), Barnum & Bailey's "Greatest Show on Earth" opened (1881), Einar Dessau of Denmark made the first ham-radio broadcast (1909), Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh (1930), the National Baseball League approved the Boston Braves' move to Milwaukee (1953), the first free elections were held in East Germany (1990) and the Philadelphia '76ers retired Wilt Chamberlin's jersey (1991).


Originally published in
THE MELROSE FREE PRESS March 18, 1999.
Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.



April 9, 1999



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