City of Homes

Melrose: City of Homes

... a walking tour of Victorian homes

Bernadette Mahoney

It's spring, the perfect time of the year to stroll around the city. Everything is coming alive and vibrant colors are replacing the somber colors of winter. We'll let our pictures do the strolling and show you a sampling of how Melrose got the title of the "City of Homes," a title which has endured for one hundred years.

One hundred years! When you stop and think about it, a great many of us at the Melrose Mirror have been around for most of those years. In This is Melrose ... Past and Present a Business Directory and Comprehensive Community Guide, James McArdle writes that "The Melrose we know today once was a quiet farming community known as the North End of Malden owned largely by the descendants of the dozen or so original families." We remember the Kiley Farm, the last big farm in Melrose. We never knew any of the original families, of course, but a few of their homes have survived to this day.

The Upham House - 255 Upham Street, a salt box built in 1703 is included in the National Register of Historic Places, and the Upham Family Society, Inc., with over 200 members from throughout the United States, has its headquarters there.

The Phineas Sprague House - 301 West Foster Street, a hip-roofed Federal Colonial was built in the 1790's on the site of an earlier Sprague house that dated from 1692.

The Lynde-Grundy House 407 Washington Street was built around 1700 by Captain John Lynde and is the last house on Washington Street before it merges with the Fellsway West.

The Ezra Vinton House - 344 Vinton Street was built by Ezra Vinton in 1790, on the site of an earlier house.

It wasn't until 1845 when the Boston & Maine Railroad arrived here that Melrose was "discovered" as a desirable place to build a home. Only seven miles from Boston with many ponds and streams as well as wooded areas, it attracted bankers, merchants, teachers, and the like who worked in Boston but wanted to live in the country.

The first houses were built near the three railroad stations - Wyoming, Melrose, and Melrose Highlands. The architecture was Victorian and every style was represented: Gothic, Revival, Italianate, Mansard, Queen Anne, Stick, Shingle, and Colonial Revival. (The Highlands made an ideal place for the Queen Anne style to take advantage of the fantastic views.)

From the 1850's through the rest of the nineteenth century, there was a building boom in Melrose and, by the time it ended, a distinct Victorian character had emerged, setting Melrose apart. We celebrate that distinction with the Victorian Fair and everyone loves the small town community spirit that the Fair brings to the city every year.

Perhaps the best place to start our stroll is in an area where the Melrose Historical Society has already mapped out a walk. Not all the houses mentioned are pictured here, but we hope that will make you want to go there to view the rest. The six photographs appearing in this walk were taken by Silver Stringers Bernadette Mahoney and Bill Jodrey. By clicking the image, you will be able to see the pictures in full size.

Melrose Walks: The East Side, Upham Hill: Overview

This tour takes you on some of the prettiest residential streets in Melrose.

On route you will see fine examples of almost every style of Victorian architecture: Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Stick, Shingle and Colonial Revival.

Many of the homes on Bellevue Avenue and East Emerson Street were built by businessmen who were participants in the late nineteenth century boom that was to make America the leading industrial nation in the world in the next century. They came to Melrose primarily because it was convenient to Boston. They came here and built grand houses in part to show off their new found wealth and status.

This section of Melrose was not always such. In colonial times, most of this part of the east side consisted of several Upham family farms. Until the early nineteenth century, Upham Street was a private road off Main Street that led to an Upham barn. One of the oldest houses in the city, the Phineas Upham house, dating from 1703, still stands. It is a superb example of "first period" construction -- with a massive center chimney, summer beam and restored leaded glass windows. You will see two other Upham houses, one dating from the eighteenth century, another from the early nineteenth century.

Interspersed among these are houses from every decade of the twentieth century. These, too, are part of Melrose's history; but for now our focus is on the houses that are a century or more old.

We hope you enjoy this walk.

Note: you may wish to park in the Johnnie's Foodmaster parking lot at the corner of Main Street and the Lynn Fells Parkway. Begin the tour at the corner of Lynn Fells Parkway and Main Street.

Parkway to Bellevue: cross Main Street and proceed two blocks east on the Parkway. Then bear right on Bellevue.

Bellevue Avenue contains some of the most striking examples of Victorian architecture in the city. Almost every style from the 1860s to 1910 is represented, and many are large, stylish and set back from the street.

148 Bellevue: A shingle style house built in 1890.

97 Bellevue: A striking Colonial Revival house, built about 1905.

...71 Bellevue: This large Queen Anne style house was occupied for many years by William A. Grozier, owner of the Boston Post newspaper.

63 Bellevue: An Italianate style house built in 1890 for Frederick Thomas, a Boston stock broker.

...35 Bellevue: A Second Empire style house, probably the grandest example of this particular style in Melrose, characterized by the Mansard roof, arched dormers and colonnade around three sides of the house.

25 Bellevue: An outstanding Colonial Revival house built in 1902 for Francis P. Shumway, an advertising executive.

...15 Bellevue: A typical eclectic Victorian, built in 1884.

...Bellevue to Upham: turn left on Upham Street. Now the main road between Melrose and Saugus, this busy street was once merely a path among the farms of several members of the Upham family. You will see three of their homes on this street. Proceed two blocks along Upham.

...166 Upham Strret: the Nathan Upham house. This is actually two houses that were joined together in the mid-19th century. The original, larger structure on the left dates from the mid-18th century.

Note: you may wish to cross the street to view the next two houses on our tour, but use caution. Upham Street has heavy, fast moving traffic.

255 Upham Street: the Phineas Upham house. This house was built around 1703 and retains nearly all of its original features. James Bailey Upham, a descendant of Phineas, is credited with composing the Pledge of Allegiance. The original Melrose Historical Society bought and restored this house in 1915; it is now maintained by the Upham Family Society. It is open to the public by appointment on the third Saturday of each month.

...363-365 Upham Street: the Eli-Asa Upham House. Although the brothers Eli and Asa Upham were said to dislike one another, they built this two-family home and lived there -- in separate apartments -- until their deaths. According to local legend, when one brother died, the other refused to allow the coffin to be carried through his apartment, forcing the mourners to bear the coffin out through a window.

Upham to Lincoln Street: turn left from Upham onto Lincoln Street and proceed one block.

...27 Lincoln Street: standing proudly at the crest of the hill is this 1907 Colonial Revival house, built for George W. Jepson, owner of a Boston coal business.

Lincoln Street to East Emerson: turn left from Lincoln onto East Emerson Street and proceed two blocks.

...142 East Emerson: Another Colonial Revival house, incorporating Neoclassical details such as the Corinthian columns on the porches. It was built in 1903 for George P. Lord, who made his fortune in the string and twine business. A unique feature of this house is the Palladian window spanning each end of the house on the third story.

...128 East Emerson: A Georgian style home with a large porch that is probably not original to the house. Adding porches of this type became fashionable in the 1930s.

107 East Emerson: A late Victorian, carefully restored and painted in colors authentic to the period.

East Emerson to Orient Avenue: turn right on Orient Avenue. Here you will find several exceptionally well-preserved Queen Anne-style houses, featuring elaborate shingle work.

At this point you may continue to the end of Orient Avenue and then turn left on Porter Street, or turn right onto Orient Park, then left on Stratford Road, and left again on Porter Street.

...100 Porter Street: note the sign indicating this house was built "circa 1850."

Porter Street to Bellevue: turn right on Bellevue and continue back to the intersection of the Parkway and Main Street, allowing a second look at a few of the houses you saw at the beginning of our tour.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief tour and that you'll come back and explore this unique neighborhood again.

Editors note
Most of this information was taken from the brochure entitled "Melrose Walks: East Side, Upham Hill: Overview" produced by the Melrose Historical Society and is used here with its  permission.  There are two companion brochures describing other walks - one called "Melrose Walks: The Village" and the other "Melrose Walks: Main Street". All three can be obtained at the Melrose Public Library.

June 4, 1999

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