Near neighbors

Small world. All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of backbayhouses.org

My grandfather[1] came from New York, and when I was growing up it was understood that the Stewards were from New York and the Ayers (my grandmother’s family) were from Boston. A little digging suggests a more complicated picture – my grandfather’s mother-in-law[2] came from Newark, and his maternal grandmother[3] had only New England ancestry – while there is also an interesting collateral connection, somewhat obscure to later generations of the family.

My grandfather’s mother had three surviving sisters and a younger brother. The Beeckman sisters were all notable beauties of the 1870s and ‘80s, and Katherine[4] in particular married well – probably well enough to keep the rest of the family in funds following the Crash of 1873. It is certainly true that my great-grandmother[5] and her sisters did not rush to marry: Daisy married my great-grandfather in 1885 and Aunt Helen[6] married William Pratt Lyman of Boston in 1886. (Aunt Mattie[7] married Amos Tuck French in 1914, following his divorce from a cousin of my great-grandfather’s.)

The Lymans … traveled frequently and chose to rent houses (or, occasionally, apartments) by the season.

The Lymans are interesting as representatives of a type once common, and today rather less so: they traveled frequently and chose to rent houses (or, occasionally, apartments) by the season. As I have worked on tracing the various Ayer family houses in other blog posts, I spot some familiar addresses, or at least intriguing proximities, for the Lymans on the one hand and my paternal grandmother’s relatives on the other.

Uncle William was a member of the Class of 1883 at Harvard, two years ahead of his future brother-in-law Amos French. At the time of his marriage, William was living with his mother[8] at 74 Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill in Boston. In 1890, the Boston city directory lists William P. Lyman, a partner in Lyman, Devens & Company, at 4 Post Office Square; he resided (presumably with Aunt Helen) at the newly-built Hotel Ludlow.

233 Marlborough Street

For the winter of 1892-93, the Lymans rented 233 Marlborough Street. They liked this unlucky house, which had failed to attract committed buyers over a fifteen-year period, well enough to take it for a second season in 1893-94.[9] Uncle William and Aunt Helen also had a house in Nahant, only just in the country and convenient to Post Office Square; perhaps they spent the winter of 1894-95 there.

Floor plan sketch for 254 Marlborough Street. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library Arts Department

In 1895-96, they rented 292 Marlborough Street, a Ware and Van Brunt design, further west and across Marlborough Street from their previous address.[10] For the next winter season, the Lymans tried hotel life again at the Hotel Berkeley, on the corner of Berkeley and Boylston Streets. In 1898-99, they made a final foray on Marlborough Street, renting 254 Marlborough Street, a house built as recently as 1887-88. The next owners were Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Grew, with some of whose descendants I later attended school.

At the time of the 1900 census, W. P. Lyman had taken 435 Beacon Street, at the corner of Hereford Street, but the family was absent and the “house closed.”[11] Perhaps they had gone abroad, as they next appeared in Boston in 1901, around the corner from 435 Beacon at 353 Commonwealth Avenue.[12] This was a house of fairly recent construction, abutting the far larger Oliver Ames house at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue.[13] The Lymans liked it well enough to take for a second season, in 1902-3.

The Kittredges were at 532 Beacon Street, on the left; the Lymans were at 528 Beacon Street, on the right.

They next tried a house two blocks away, west of Massachusetts Avenue, at 528 Beacon Street – this house was just two doors down from my grandmother’s great-aunt, Mary H. Kittredge, covered in my previous post. As early as 1903-4, then, the families of my future grandparents were neighbors: my grandfather’s aunt, Helen Lyman, would have passed the house belonging to my grandmother’s great-aunt on a daily basis. The Lymans’ latest rented house was also comparatively new, built by Rotch and Tilden, which might suggest something about what they looked for in a residence.

Partial floor plan for 331 Beacon Street. Courtesy of the Boston City Archives

There was another break in 1904-5, and then the next winter they were at a different Beacon Street address, at 331 Beacon. (This house was slightly older, and lacked the provenance of 528 Beacon.) The Lymans’ last move was the longest in duration, after which they appear to have left Boston and based themselves in Nahant; California became the focus, and it was there that Uncle William died in 1924. In 1906, they took 277 Beacon Street, even older than the other Beacon Street houses and built as part of a speculation. It appears larger than some of the other houses, though, and that might have been the attraction. The Lymans were still at 277 Beacon in 1910, when they appeared in the census: William P. Lyman, a banker, was living with his wife Helen in a household with four servants.[14]

It is interesting to reflect on the ease with which Helen and William Lyman moved between houses, aided by abundant household help. They had family in Newport – Helen’s mother, brother, and sisters – and they later led the general exodus of the Beeckman family to Santa Barbara; even the Stewards, like my Steward great-grandfather’s older brother John, took part. How funny, then, that the casual decision of my grandfather to postpone matriculating at Princeton for outdoor life in Arizona led inexorably to Harvard, and Boston … and to my grandmother.

Notes

[1] Gilbert Livingston Steward (1898-1991) was married to Anne Beekman Ayer 1927-47 and to Victoria Tytus Coolidge in 1951.

[2] Sara Theodora Ilsley (1881-1945) married Charles Fanning Ayer in 1904.

[3] Margaret Atherton Foster (1832-1904) was married to Gilbert Livingston Beeckman 1851-74.

[4] Katherine Livingston Beeckman (1855-1941) was married to Louis Lasher Lorillard 1874-1910.

[5] Margaret Atherton Beeckman (1861-1951) was married to Campbell Steward 1885-1936.

[6] Helen Beeckman (1858-1938) was married to William Pratt Lyman (Jr.) 1886-1924. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Uncle William and his family turn up on occasion in Regina Shober Gray’s diary.

[7] Martha Codwise Beeckman (1863-1951) was married to Amos Tuck French 1914-41.

[8] Abby Mauran Church Humphreys (1826-1891) was married to William Pratt Lyman 1855-64.

[9] For the next winter season, the house was rented by the newlyweds George Herbert and Laura (Wheelwright) Windeler. Their son, Herbert Wheelwright Windeler (1897-1917), was a close friend of my paternal grandfather’s at the Evans School in Arizona.

[10] Ruth (Appleton) Tuckerman bought the house in 1883 from Henry Van Brunt, who had bought it from the original owner in 1872. Mrs. Tuckerman owned the house for a number of years and rented it out when the family lived elsewhere. Her granddaughter, Anne Mercer (Tuckerman) Lawrence, was a close friend of my grandfather and both of his wives.

[11] The census taker visited 421 and 423 Beacon Street, then 20 Hereford, on 1 June 1900; when he resumed his visits, he continued at 435 Beacon Street.

[12] Coincidentally, this is not far from the Frederick Ayers at 395 Commonwealth Avenue.

[13] Later residents included John Kenneth Howard and his wife Ruth Gaston, who would befriend my paternal grandparents during her second marriage to Lawrence Foster.

[14] They were still at the house in 1911.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Near neighbors

  1. I enjoy reading your stories and, as an architect, especially like seeing the plans to these houses. My family came to California in the 1850s (unrelated to the gold rush, of course), but it’s fun to see the names from the earliest generations of ancestors in N.E., like Pratt and French, in this and other articles of the NEHGS.

  2. Very interesting article, Scott Steward. My father’s family are old Boston, and owned houses on Marlborough Street. The Grew family were good friends of theirs, as well as neighbors. Henry (?) Grew was U.S. Ambassador to Japan before WWII. I enjoy imagining the friendships along that street and others in Back Bay. Thank you for your research, and floor plans!!

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