Brandegee Estate

One of my earlier articles dealt with the Weld Tract, a 638 acre piece bestowed on Capt. Joseph Weld in 1642 by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony for his efforts in the war against Connecticut’s Pequot Indians.

To have an idea of its length, think of the present Weld Street that bisects the tract’s length. The present Arnold Arboretum was the start and heartland of the tract, and the old homestead, Weld Hall, was contained in the Arboretum’s Weld (now Peter’s) Hill.

Seven generations later, two Welds (on their mother’s side) built up neighboring estates that began to approach the original Weld Tract. Since Mrs. Larz Anderson is better known and more visible to Jamaica Plain residents who travel on Pond Street or Goddard Avenue, it seems appropriate here to look first at the efforts of Mrs. Anderson’s first cousin, Mary Pratt Sprague Brandegee. This latter name is known to readers of the fine print on signs on Allandale Road.

The easily seen stables on one corner of the Brandegee property are rented to the Boston Police Mounted Unit for $1 per year. The Brandegee Foundation is seen on signs on both sides of Allandale Road (as it is known in Brookline), and the well-known Allandale farm can be noted. Views across its fields on the backside of the Tract from Newton Street also reveal farm activity.

A rear gate with a fine bridge over marshland inside greets the visitor at the end of Mt. Walley Avenue off Pond Street, complete with Boston/Brookline boundary stones. Eighty-five acres of this new Weld Tract are in Boston, thus earning the title of “Boston’s last remaining farm,” while the remaining 110 acres sit in the confines of the Town of Brookline.

Despite pleasant views from the outside inwards, the estate’s hidden crown jewel is the Georgian Revival mansion, with seventy-nine rooms, built in 1901 for Mrs. Sprague (as Mary Pratt was then called) without doubt the largest home any Weld ever possessed. After the owner’s death in 1956 it became the fine home of the American Academy of Arts and Science until fairly recently. The encircling Italian gardens were the first such in the United States, designed by Thomas Platt. A second century AD 13-foot Roman female statue, sent from Italy by Mrs. Brandegee (as she had remarried in 1904 after her first husband’s death) crowns the gardens and deserves a separate paragraph.

For this ancient statue of Juno, queen of the Roman gods and jealous consort of the King of the gods, is alleged to be able to speak. Like the maids of the Erectheum’s porch on Athens’ Acropolis or like the statue of Memnon in the Egyptian desert, Juno’s utterances have been found to be the result of winds passing through Juno’s open mouth. The statue’s off-white color has often been taken for a mirage. All in all, don’t go for a visit there with someone who has a superactive imagination and you will enjoy this latter Weld Tract.

Mrs. Brandegee, originally Mary Pratt, inherited some of the Brookline land from her grandfather, William Fletcher Weld, a shipping tycoon. Two marriages — to attorney Charles Sprague and to Edward Brandegee — allowed her, along with her own resources, to build up a 195-acre estate between 1901 and 1905. At the time of her death in August 1956 at age 85, she was the grande dame of the Weld family.

By Walter H. Marx

R. Heath, Allandale Woods
R. Heath, Allandale Woods: A fragment of the First Families of Roxbury, 1989
Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, Under the Black Horse Flag, Boston 1927
Boston Herald Traveler, Oct 18, 1956
Boston Globe, June 3, 1982 - Allandale Keeps Farm Tradition Alive

Production assitance provided by Monica Salas.