In the neighborhood

The Fensgate, today's Charlesview Condominium. All images courtesy of

Real estate transactions might not seem very romantic, or as offering much in the way of narrative, but sometimes proximity and dates can signal ongoing relationships. One in my own family comes to mind: in 1899, my Ayer great-great-grandparents[1] moved from Lowell to Boston, initially renting a house on Beacon Street while they planned to build a new home on Commonwealth Avenue.

At the same time, my great-great-grandfather’s sister-in-law, the former Mary Hascall Wheaton,[2] was living in a house on Beacon Street while planning her own new house, just two doors down. Of all these houses, only Aunt Minnie Kittredge’s former home has been torn down, to make way for The Fensgate at the corner of Beacon Street and Charlesgate East. And while the street addresses don’t hint at it, the Kittredge and Ayer houses were just two blocks apart.

What connects these households isn’t, at first, readily apparent. Cornelia Ayer and Minnie Kittredge were sisters, two among the twelve children of Charles Augustus Wheaton (1809-1882) and Ellen Douglas Birdseye (1816-1858). Cornelia and Minnie were not even close in age, since Cornelia was sixteen years older than Minnie; she married Frederick Ayer when her sister was only seven. On the other hand, Cornelia’s husband – formerly of Syracuse, New York, the Wheaton sisters’ hometown – had relocated to Lowell, Massachusetts, and it was doubtless on a visit to the Ayers in Lowell that Minnie Wheaton met Frank Kittredge, a lawyer in practice there.

Cornelia Ayer died in 1878, and in 1884 her widower married a Wheaton connection: Cornelia and Minnie’s brother Dr. Charles Augustus Wheaton (Jr.) (1853-1916) had married Ursula Cochran Stewart of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1879, and it was Ursula Wheaton’s first cousin who married Frederick Ayer.[3]

532 Beacon Street at left, in the shadow of the Charlesview.

The Ayers remained in Lowell for some years – Frederick’s seven children were born in a succession of houses on the same lot between 1859 and 1890 – while the Kittredges moved to Boston. (Charles and Ursula Wheaton lived in St. Paul, and the remainder of Charles Wheaton Sr.’s children, eventually numbering seventeen, were scattered across the country.[4]) After some time in the South End, and then in the country at Roxbury, in 1897 the Kittredges bought the house at 536 Beacon Street,[5] at the very edge of the developed section of Beacon Street on the way to Kenmore Square. Frank Kittredge soon transferred the title in the property to his wife, and it was Mary H. Kittredge who applied for a building permit to construct a new house at 532 Beacon Street in April 1900.[6]

395 Commonwealth Avenue

The Ayers initially rented 232 Beacon Street during the 1899-1900 season. I expect that it was the family’s recent Grand Tour that made the Lowell house seem rather passé; in any case, they splashed out for a large new house at 395 Commonwealth Avenue, in the block between Massachusetts Avenue and Charlesgate East.[7] Today, as then, one can walk along Commonwealth to Charlesgate, then around the corner crossing Marlborough Street and Beacon Street to arrive at the Kittredges’ house.

George Alden Avery, a familiar face in Back Bay, designed 532 Beacon Street, while Alfred John Manning of New York was the architect of record for 395 Commonwealth Avenue. (He collaborated with Louis Comfort Tiffany on the house, the last remaining Tiffany domestic commission.)

While I cannot state that Ellen Ayer and Minnie Kittredge were intimate friends, it is certainly true that Frederick Ayer had known his first wife’s sister for more than 55 years when she died in 1914. A little more digging might show that Francis W. Kittredge was his brother-in-law’s lawyer in various matters,[8] or perhaps Frederick’s younger daughter, Louise,[9] was fond of her contemporary first cousins, the children of Minnie and Frank Kittredge. In any case, it is always nice to have local family in a new place, so in addition to Frederick’s married children in Boston, he had the family of his sister-in-law to call upon from time to time.[10] 

Continued here.


[1] Frederick Ayer (1822-1918) was married to Cornelia Wheaton 1858-78 and to Ellen Barrows Banning in 1884.

[2] Mary Hascall Wheaton (1851-1914) was married to Francis William Kittredge 1872-1913.

[3] Ellen Barrows Banning (1853-1918) was the daughter of William Lowber Banning and Mary Alicia Sweeney, whose sister Catherine married Jacob Henry Stewart.

[4] My great-grandfather Charles Fanning Ayer (1865-1956) was older than his youngest uncle and aunts, the children of Charles Augustus Wheaton’s second marriage.

[5] On 25/26 May 1897; Francis W. Kittredge transferred the property to his wife on 14 August 1897.

[6] Mary H. Kittredge bought the land for the house 12 July 1899 and filed the building permit 23 April 1900.

[7] Frederick Ayer bought the land 15 April 1899 and filed the building permit for the house 9 December 1899.

[8] Francis W. Kittredge was a member of the board of directors of the American Woolen Company, founded by Frederick Ayer, in 1902.

[9] Louise Raynor Ayer (1876-1955) was married to Donald Gordon 1900-23 and to Conrad Perkins Hatheway 1925-37.

[10] Two other Wheaton sisters – Ellen Wheaton Morgan (1839-1915) and Mabel Wheaton Barney (1855-1925) – were living nearby at 96 Bay State Road in 1910.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward