United States > Massachusetts > Greater Boston > City of Boston > Brighton

At the northwest edge of the city, where Boston meets Brookline and Newton (and the affluent Chestnut Hill neighborhood spans all three towns and cities), Brighton is dynamic historic neighborhood with a young population anchored by Boston College, Boston University, and the Longwood Medical Area.

An avenue of elegant apartments, side streets with Victorian houses. The neighborhood is centered on Commonwealth Avenue, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also planned Boston's Emerald Necklace of parks and New York City's Central Park. Commonwealth Avenue is flanked by stately brick and limestone apartments from the early 1900s, while the side streets can feel like Brookline, with large, ornate houses. Sections of the neighborhood, like the Aberdeen Historic District, can feel like a bucolic garden suburb where the winding roads follow the contours of the land's rocky outcroppings – that also happens to have a short walk to the T, and to the restaurants and bars around Harvard Avenue.

Chestnut Hill Reservoir popular for running and dogwalking. The Chestnut Hill Reservoir is in the corner of the neighborhood where Boston meets Brookline and Newton. When the pumphouses were built, the residents did not want bland or utilitarian design ruining their views, so they retained some of the greatest architects working at the time – H. H. Richardson and Stanford White – to design their industrial buildings. Today, one has been converted to condos while the other is the Waterworks museum. The picturesque reservoir is a welcome open space and a popular place for running or walking.


Brighton is a large neighborhood with several distinct sections.

Aberdeen (PDF) was developed in the 1870s on the principles of a 'garden city' using the principles of landscape architect Andrew Jackson Dowling's Cottage Residences. The rockiest and most rustic section of the neighborhood is bounded by Lanark, Kilsyth, Sutherland, and Selkirk roads. Here, freestanding clapboard or shingled houses from the 1890s are set back from winding roads, among large front and side yards with stone outcroppings and mature trees. The Aberdeen Architectural Conservation District contains a notable Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Tudor, Mission, and even Medieval Revival houses. These houses are larger and more ornate than those in Cleveland Circle/Englewood.

By the mid 1880s, house construction, triggered by the introduction of train service on Beacon Street, began to transform this area. In 1890, the Brighton Item described the idyllic neighborhood that awaited prospective Aberdeen homeowners: "Several hundred feet above any considerable portion of land in the neighborhood, commanding magnificent views in every direction, well watered, a perfect combination of woodland, and glade, and admitting the free exercise of the artistic taste of the landscape gardener, these lands are sure to be sought for residential purposes by the most desirable buyers."

Chestnut Hill. The Chestnut Hill neighborhood extends into Brookline and Newton as well as the city of Boston, where it overlaps with a section of West Roxbury and part of Brighton, surrounding the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. It is regarded as one of the most desirable addresses within greater Boston, and residences within it can be identified by the 02467 zip code.

Cleveland Circle (around the intersection of Beacon St. and Chestnut Hill Avenue) borders the picturesque Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and has easy access to the B, C, and D trains of the Green Line. It is the 'village center' for the larger Aberdeen district within Brighton (see below). Developed beginning in the late 1800s, the single-family houses are in the Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and Colonial Revival designs – although smaller than those in Aberdeen. In addition, the terrain here is less rugged and as a result, the urban plan is a bit more straightforward. Students tend to make up a smaller percentage of the rental population here than in other parts of Brighton.

Oak Square/West Brighton. At the intersection of Nonantum and Faneuil streets, Oak Square is named for an ancient oak that stood here until it came down in the mid-1800s. It was said to have been the largest in the state, and children would play in the hollow of its 10 foot wide trunk. Oak Square and West Brighton is further away from the subway stops, and is less densely developed. This section of the neighborhood is primarily houses rather than apartment buildings.

Best blocks and notable buildings

Commonwealth Avenue was planned by celebrated landscape designed Frederick Law Olmsted, and the stately brick and limestone apartment buildings which line the thoroughfare evoke those in Fenway-Kenmore.

89 Englewood Ave. is a brick Queen Anne house built in 1886. It is one of the few masonry buildings erected here prior to 1900, when the area was still relatively remote.

126 Englewood Ave. is a Georgian Revival residence built c. 1890.

Medieval Revival buildings at 16 Colliston Rd. and 25 Kinross Rd.

An oval of 50 connected Georgian Revival rowhouses at 1729-1767 Commonwealth Avenue, 1-21 Wallingford Rd., and 2-48 Leamington Road. These were designed by 1909 by A. Estes.

With a very different feeling from Aberdeen's bucolic atmosphere, the Brighton Center Commercial Area (the intersection of Washington and Market streets with Chestnut Avenue) is one of the other most significant historic sections within the neighborhood. The area was the epicenter of the cattle market and taverns from 1820-1870, and in the early 1900s was reused for the burgeoning automobile trade.

The Old Parsonage (338 Washington St.). Built c.1790, this was the residence of the Rev. John Foster and his wife Hannah Webster Foster (1758-1840), author of the most popular literary work in New England in the early 1800s: "The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton." This tale of seduction was based on the experiences of Reverend Foster's cousin, Eliza Whitman. Truly, every generation has its 50 Shades of Grey. Their daughters, Harriet Vaughan Cheney and Eliza Lanesford Cushing became popular writers in the 1800s.

Agricultural Hall (356-360 Washington St.) Originally located atop Agricultural Hill on the site of the Winship School on Dighton Street, this c. 1820s Greek Revival structure was moved to its present lot in 1844. In its original condition, this wooden exhibition hall was a two-story structure, measuring seventy by thirty-six feet long. The lower level was used to display the latest farm implements, and mammoth vegetables, while the upper level was devoted to textile and handicraft exhibits." After it was moved to the northeast corner of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Washington Street, it became the Eastern Hotel, one of the half dozen or so hotels at Brighton Center that catered to cattlemen.

6 Academy Hill Road is a Greek Revival building constructed before 1830.

The Brighton Police Station (301 Washington St.) was designed by Edmund March Wheelwright, the architect for Longfellow Bridge and the miniature castle (44 Bow St.) for the Harvard Square.


The eastern section of Brighton is well-served by the T, with 8 stops on the B train of the Green Line, as well as additional stops for the C and D trains as well. However, the center and western part of the neighborhood are not as convenient to subway stations.


Brighton is in the northwest corner of Boston, with Allston to the northeast and the town of Watertown across the Charles River; the town of Newton's Newton Corner neighborhood to the west and Chestnut Hill to the south; and Brookline to the east.

In 1630, the land comprising today's Brighton and Allston were part of Watertown. In 1634, the Massachusetts Bay colony transferred ownership of the land to Newtowne, later known as Cambridge. Brighton was known as Little Cambridge, and with the secession of Newton in 1688, was the only part of Cambridge south of the Charles River. In 1807, Brighton became an independent town, and was renamed after the English town of Brighton.

Colonial and revolutionary history

In 1646, the missionary John Eliot (c.1604-1690) establishing a "Praying Indian" village at the Brighton-Newton border, to convert native Americans to Christianity. Eliot edited the first book published in the North American colonies (the Bay Psalm Book, in 1640), founded the Roxbury Latin School in 1645, and translated the Bible into Algonquin in 1663.

In the 1700s, Little Cambridge became a prosperous farming community, with under 300 residents. Among these were Boston merchant Benjamin Faneuil (1702-1786), whose descendant Peter Faneuil (1700-1743), a merchant and slave trader, donated Faneuil Hall to the city of Boston. There is a certain awkwardness to the building known as "the Cradle of Liberty" having been financed with profits from Faneuil's slave trading. The family is also remembered in Faneuil Street in Brighton.

If you think Brighton on a Saturday night is a meat market now ... In 1775, a cattle market was established in Little Cambridge to supply the Continental Army, by father and son Jonathan Winship I and II. They arrived in Little Cambridge from Lexington on the eve of the Revolution, and secured purchasing contracts with almost all the farmers in the surrounding communities that they would purchase their cattle. After the cattle was sent to Little Cambridge, the animals were processed for the patriots at their Academy Hill Road slaughterhouse. General Washington, recognizing the importance of a well fed army, posted soldiers at the Winship warehouses to protect them against sabotage. By the war's end the Winships were the largest meat packers in Massachusetts and the richest family in Brighton.

By 1866, the town contained almost four dozen slaughterhouses, which were were consolidated into the Brighton Stock Yards and Brighton Abattoir. (If there were ever a name for a punk club in the neighborhood, that would be it. Just saying.).

From the 1780s to the 1820s, Brighton became a prosperous and progressive town center, and the town center was developed in the Federal style popular at this time. It was one of the important horticultural and cattle markets for the region. Much credit for the town's growth has been given to the Reverend John Foster: "Harvard trustee, gentleman, and aristocrat ... well-suited to the community he had been called to serve," according to a description in the late 1700s.

Every generation ever has had its 50 Shades of Grey. The Rev. Foster's wife Hannah was an interesting figure in her own right. She secretly wrote the most popular literary work in New England in the early 1800s: the controversial novel of seduction, The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton. It was published under a pseudonym in 1797, and did not appear under her name until 1856, 16 years after her death. The book was based on the experiences of Reverend Foster's cousin, Eliza Whitman, became the most popular literary work in New England in the early 1800s."

The um, flowering, of Brighton's horticultural industry. During the 1820s and '30s, these new roads provided access to persons doing business with Brighton's thriving agricultural concerns. Eminent visitors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (whose poems likely didn't sell as well as Hannah Foster's scandalous book) and William Cullen Bryant traveled through Brighton Center on their way to the nurseries of Joseph L.L. Warren's Nonantum Vale Gardens, Jonathan Winship, and Joseph Breck. The decision of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture (MSPA) to locate its fairgrounds and exhibition hall permanently in Brighton enhanced the town's position as a horticultural center.

One of the earliest and largest agricultural fairs in the nation, the Brighton fair and Cattle show, was held in October of each year from 1817 to 1835. These fairs "embraced everything that could interest a farmer or be of benefit to agriculture; and in connection with them the importation of superior breeds of farm animals laid a firm and scientific base for the excellence which developed later.

But by 1835, competition from other fairs caused the Brighton Fair to cease operations. Little physical evidence of the vitality and importance of the fair remains within Brighton, with the exception of Agricultural Hall (356-360 Washington St.).