City of Homes

Victorian Walks: The Melrose Highlands

... third tour in the Victorian Homes series

by Bernadette Mahoney

"The Village" walk showed us a wide variety of homes from the Greek Revival houses built in the 1840s near Wyoming Station to the Neo-Classical house built in 1899 down the street from the Melrose/Cedar Park Station and they were grand so our title seems to be intact.

As we mentioned before, our next stop, the Melrose Highland Station area, was the perfect spot for the Victorian architecture of the late 1880s. And, while the area has wonderful samples of Victorian styles scattered throughout, the Queen Anne style does prevail in areas where there are hills, ledges, and spectacular views.

Woodland Avenue was one of the areas where the Queen Anne style house and the landscape were a perfect fit. In A History of the Development of Woodland Avenue, Melrose, Massachusetts, for the Victorian Melrose Society's Walking Tour, October, 1994, researched by Mary Cerretani, Ruth Conti, Ainsley Donaldson, Connie Rawson, David Tower, and Diane and Leo Yuckienuz, it describes how General Contractors Higgins & Cook developed the area. Out of thirteen Victorian houses built in the area, all but one was a Queen Anne style.

In that same article there is this description of the many forms of this style house: "In its most elaborate form, Queen Anne houses consisted of integrating several different 3-dimensional geometric shapes (rectangles, squares, octagons, cylinders, etc.) into one house, creating elaborate roof lines, walls, and corners. The basic siding varied within one house from clapboards, to shingles and sometimes to masonry. The shingles were often cut to create many elaborate patterns. Different kinds of turned wood and metal detailing were used throughout the exterior from the roof to the ground. Elaborate, coordinated color schemes would be used to contrast the many surface differences." So many forms of this style were used that no two houses are alike.

The Melrose Historical Society's records show that, in addition to Victorian homes, the Highlands has a unique three-story 18 apartment house building called Undercliff Terrace which was one of the first large apartment houses in Melrose.

The Melrose Historical Society's records included a paragraph describing the Historical Significance of the apartment building. It seems that the building is on land where Frank A. Messenger's beautiful Victorian home once stood. The home was sold in 1900 and made into the Victorian Cliffs Hotel. The hotel lasted a few years and was boarded up. In 1910 it was razed to build the apartment house. A prominent local physician, Dr. Willis M. Townsend, and David Pingree, whose wife was Anna Eva Fay, a world famous mystic, financed the project. In 1911, construction was halted because of a serious fire and, later that year Mr. Pingree withdrew his financial support. Dr. Townsend was unable to go forward alone so he, too, withdrew his support. The building was finally finished by the new owner, Thomas A. Burke of Winthrop, the operator of a large Boston tailoring firm. Another fire erupted in 1942 causing the evacuation of tenants from the upper floors over fire department ladders. Among the evacuees was Percy L. Witmore, Calvin Coolidge's private secretary when Coolidge was Governor of Massachusetts.

Like the village it takes to bring up a child, it took the cooperation of a lot of people to publish this series. My thanks to Inge Endter of the MIT Media Lab's Technical Staff and fellow SilverStringers Bill Jodrey, Virginia Hanley, Jim Driscoll, Don Norris, Russ Priestley, Bob Ross, Ella Letterie, and Natalie Thomson.

The photographs appearing in this tour were taken by SilverStringers Bill Jodrey and Bernadette Mahoney. By clicking the image you will be able to see the pictures in full size.


This is not a walking tour because of the distance covered and the hills to be climbed. However, we do have a map to guide you should you wish to view the houses by car.

For the best viewing by car, you need to start from Main Street. Head up Main Street towards Wakefield. Pass Franklin Street and take the next left onto West Highland Avenue. Follow West Highland Avenue to Henry Avenue.

55 West Highland Avenue: This house on the corner built in 1902 is a late-Victorian picturesque gem which features a restored shingled exterior. A side-gabled roof swoops down to shelter the small entry porch with a  rusticated stone column and large supporting brackets. A two-story turret projects from the roofline in front.

Continue on West Highland Avenue to the end. Take a left onto Chipman Avenue and a right onto Franklin Street which takes you into the Melrose Highland Station area.

As you pass over the railroad tracks, you will notice that it is different from the two other stations. Here the commercial area overshadows the railroad station.

Continue on Franklin Street.

On your immediate right is the three-story apartment building called Undercliff Terrace.

596-601 Franklin Street: This Italian Renaissance-style apartment house has three separate entrances. It has a flat roof with decorative roofline construction which resembles some buildings in Spanish Mission style. It's outside construction is terra cotta overlaid with stucco.

Continuing along Franklin Street, there are some lovely Victorian homes of various styles. The samples you have seen in the other two City of Homes' tours will help you identify their style or combination of styles.

When you come to 816 Franklin Street (on your left), pull over and take a look at this house.

816 Franklin Street: This small brick house built in 1874 is an excellent example of a Second Empire style with lovely proportions and scale. It has a  characteristic slate Mansard roof with lovely scrolled brackets supporting hoods on the second-floor windows. The unique multi-bracketed frieze adds interest.

Proceed on Franklin Street to Warren Street (on your left). Pull over again. This time you need to park the car and carefully cross the street to view 833 Franklin Street.

833 Franklin Street: This house was built in 1869 and Jim McArdle calls it the "Shingle Queen" of Melrose. It has a large side-gabled roof with central bay, a balustrade on the third floor, and an octagonal turret on the right above a square bay with multi-paned stained glass. It has a basket-handle porch and a bulls-eye applique on the verge board. Glorious cut shingles of all sizes and shapes enliven the surfaces.

Right across from Warren Street is Woodland Avenue (once called North Warren Street) your next destinaton. Take a right turn up Woodland Avenue. 833 Franklin Street is now on your right.

15 Woodland Avenue: This is the very next house on your right. A Queen Anne style, it was built near the end of the 1800s (1888-1890). The complicated hipped roof reveals a basic design of several rectangles of different sizes put together, the smaller one in front of the bigger one. It has a corner turret with a sunburst motif in its pediment and the side bay has hooded, diagonal first floor windows. The shingle banding between the floors is painted to contrast with the clapboards from roof to sill around the rest of the house.

Continue up Woodland Avenue.

54 Woodland Avenue is on your left. This house was also built near the end of the 1800s (1888-1890) and is a Queen Anne style. Note the steeple turret roof with the flared bottom, the woodwork in the dormer pediment and the front porch balustrade.

60 Woodland Avenue: This is the very next house. It, too, is a Queen Anne style built near the end of the 1800s (1888-1890). The house set high above the street is best viewed from Clifton Park. It has cut shingles, a three-story bay to the left, and the corner turret is octagonal shaped with a steeple roof.

Go up Woodland Avenue to the second entrance to Clifton Park and drive up the road to the end where there is a sign "Clifton Park". As you turn to go down the hill, stop and look around. Before you is a picture that demonstrates very clearly how the landscape of the Highlands and the Queen Anne style house are a perfect fit. Perched on each hill and ledge is a beautiful Victorian house.

Go down the hill to the end and take a left onto Woodland Avenue. Go back down Woodland Avenue and take a left onto Franklin Street. Pass Warren Street and Garden Street and take a right onto Vinton Street.

344 Vinton Street is on your immediate right. The Ezra Vinton House - This house was built by Ezra Vinton in 1790, on the site of an earlier house. Ezra's brothers, Thomas and Timothy, had farms nearby. All three marched to Lexington in Captain Samuel Sprague's Company of Minutemen on the night of April 19, 1775. Two of the Vintons married Green family daughters. Until the 1840s, the three Vinton farms and the Green family farms occupied virtually all the land that is now Melrose Highlands.

The stone and granite foundation dates from the original 1750 house, as does the barn. The exterior of the house features some of the original clapboards, hand-tapered where they butt and  overlap, a large center chimney and a partial hip roof. There is an old granite millstone, over 4 feet in diameter, as the front door step.

Continue on Vinton Street. Just past Brunswick Place on your left is another Mansard-style house.

305 Vinton Street: Built in 1834, this Mansard-style house is one of several built by the Messenger family who owned extensive land in Melrose in the 1800s.

Continue along Vinton Street. At the intersection of Vinton Street, Warwick Road and Orris Street, go straight ahead up Warwick Road to Dyer. Take a left onto Dyer Avenue and then a left onto Sewall Woods Road. Bear right at Glen Road and go down the hill. #33 is on your left at the corner of Upland Road.

33 Sewall Woods Road: Built in 1895, this magnificent Richardson Shingle/Colonial Revival is on a hill overlooking Sewall Woods. It has a large wrap-around veranda, now partially enclosed, with paired Ionic columns. It also has a massive bisecting gambrel roof with a unique Palladian window in the front gable. A Gothic arch with diamond-paned mullioned bay is to the left, mirroring a similar pointed gable bay on the right. Charming scale and detail.

Turn left onto Upland Road to see the side view. Follow Upland Road up the hill and it will bring you to Vinton Street. The Roosevelt School is across the street.

This is the last house on the tour. Turn right onto Vinton Street. Turn left at the lights onto Lynn Fells Parkway and it will take you to Main Street. A left onto Main Street will take you back to your starting point.

Editors' note: Our thanks to Jim McArdle and Barbara Gilchrist who contributed descriptive information on the homes.

January 7, 2000

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