Family relationships are important to the history of the area. Carrie Brooks (Mrs. Frank) and Mabel Peakes (Mrs. Charles) were sisters. Another sister, Mrs. Fannie Thompson, owned the farmhouse across Merriam Street (on the site of the present 240 Merriam Street) which later burned down. A fourth sister, Cora McKenney (Mrs. Edmund) and the only brother, Winslow A. Washburn, built two of the earliest houses in the new subdivision, as described in the next paragraphs.
In April, 1905, Peakes and Brooks organized the Weston Land Association. Winslow A. Washburn served as clerk and two years later replaced Peakes as a trustee. In the Articles of Association, the venture is described as a “voluntary unincorporated joint stock association.” The association sold 500 shares of stock, each with a par value of $100, giving the venture an initial capital of $50,000. As trustees, Brooks and Peakes were given full power and authority to buy, sell, or lease property; survey, plot, and improve the lands; and erect houses.
The Trustees purchased two tracts of land on the west side of Merriam Street across from their homes. A 30-acre-parcel bought from George Flint of Lincoln was bordered to the north by the railroad tracks. The second piece, directly south of Flint’s land, was purchased from Mary J. Sherman. The trustees immediately created a subdivision plan drawn up by Joseph R. Worcester, a civil engineer who lived in Waltham and had his office at 53 State Street in Boston. Two curvilinear streets–Silver Hill and Westland Roads–were laid out with a total of 89 lots of varying sizes. Both Silver Hill and Westland were loop roads that did not carry through traffic.
Many of the lots were approximately 30,000 square feet, but buyers were apparently encouraged to purchase two adjoining lots. Many buyers were allowed to change the configuration of lots or buy portions of lots. At this time there were no zoning regulations in Weston, so the effort to achieve a minimum lot size of at least 30,000 square feet and to have common setback lines reflects the vision of the developers.
While Silver Hill was only the second “suburban” development in Weston, this type of development, often referred to as the “garden suburb,” dates back to the mid-19th century. Historians looking for its origins often point to picturesque Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in the 1850s, and to Riverside, Illinois, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1869. Both avoided the formal grid plan by using systems of curving roadways to create a restful domestic atmosphere.
The only other subdivision of this kind in Weston during this turn-of-the-century period was begun in 1897 on Pigeon Hill, near a station on the Central Massachusetts Railroad line. There were several important differences between Pigeon Hill and Silver Hill. The land on Pigeon Hill was conveniently located near the town center. Estate owner Horace Sears subdivided the hilltop parcel into two- and three-acre lots, which were sold to well-to-do businessmen and professionals, many of them part of Sears’ inner circle. The Pigeon Hill development had only 17 lots. Silver Hill, on the other hand, was located in the more remote northwest corner of Weston. Money for the Silver Hill development came not from a single wealthy individual, but rather from a stock association consisting of multiple small investors. The investors were hoping to capitalize on the increasing–but still limited–demand for smaller, more affordable house lots in a type of “garden suburb” that was new to the town. Although many of the 89 lots shown on the plan were sold as doubles, the resulting development was still considerably larger than Pigeon Hill. The original owners were not as well-educated or affluent as those on Pigeon Hill and included skilled employees of the organ and watch factories, salesmen, bookkeepers, and an interior decorator.
No one knows, for sure, the origin of the name Silver Hill. Two stories have been handed down from generation to generation, one that Captain Kidd came out from Boston with his “chest of silver” and buried it at the top of the hill, and the other that the name referred to a stand of silver birches. Several “diggings” atop the hill have failed to uncover any treasure. The name appears on the 1875 Atlas of Middlesex County, which shows the Silver Hill stop on the Fitchburg Railroad.
Some information on the new development is provided in brief notes in weekly Weston-oriented columns in the Waltham Daily Free Press Tribune. On April 7, 1905, the newspaper reported on progress:
The Weston Land Co’s holdings at Silver Hill are being surveyed and the streets laid out by J. R. Worcester. Grading the streets will begin at an early date and be completed by May. Mother Nature has done more for this charming spot than money could accomplish, the rolling surface, partly wooded and partly cultivated, with curved streets winding through the trees, making it resemble a natural park.
The April 28, 1905 issue added “The Weston Land Association are setting out some fine sugar maple trees on Silver Hill Rd.”
Lots sold briskly in the first year. According to newspaper reports, the Weston Land Association sold 380,000 square feet in ten days during the month of May, 1905. By the end of the year, nine individual owners had purchased a total of fifteen lots and Peakes’s company, F.E.Atteaux, had bought six lots on Westland Road. Three of the first nine individual owners were members of the Washburn family. They bought three prominent corner parcels, at 198 Merriam Street and 40 and 44 Silver Hill Road, and built substantial, well-designed homes that set the character for the new neighborhood. The Winslow Washburn House at 198 Merriam Street (1905, MHC #598, Map #27, Photo #4), one of the first to be completed in the new subdivision, was located at the corner of Westland Road at the entrance into the subdivision from Merriam Street. Washburn was a watchmaker at Waltham Watch Company, where his wife, Alice, also worked. In later years, Washburn worked as a time lock inspector for banks, traveling throughout Canada to repair the time pieces that regulated bank safes. Washburn also served as clerk and later trustee of the Weston Land Association. The house at No. 198 remained in the Washburn family until the late 20th century, owned by one of the Washburn’s two sons, Raymond, who was born in 1899 and lived in the house for almost a century.
No. 44 Silver Hill Road (1906, MHC #595, Map #21, Photo #1), the only two-family house in the neighborhood, was built by Weston Land Association trustee and Washburn brother-in-law, Charles Peakes. Peakes, who lived at 255 Merriam Street, is thought to have built this house as a rental property and as an example of the size of houses he wanted to see in the new subdivision.
New houses built within the first few years varied significantly in size. The largest, including those built by Washburn and Peakes, were valued for tax purposes at $3,000 to $4,500. Others were less substantial structures valued as low as $1,000. In 1906, William Frank Tucker, an “organ finisher” probably employed at the Hook & Hastings Company, built the house at 28 Silver Hill Road (1906, MHC #593, Map #18). Tucker died only a few years later, leaving his wife Loretta, son Gardner, who was a music teacher, and daughter Alice, a teacher. Another of the houses completed by 1906 was 24 Silver Hill Road (MHC #230, Map #17), built for Almon and Arabella Wright. Edward Parkhurst built two houses, one on Westland and the other at 14 Silver Hill Road (1907, MHC #592, Map #15). Lyman Wright built 268 Merriam Street (1908, Map #45, MHC #657), which was part of the subdivision. A house nearly identical to 198 Merriam Street was erected in 1909 at 40 Silver Hill Road (1909, MHC #594, Map #20, Photo #1) for Edmund K. and Cora McKenney. Cora was another of the five Washburn siblings. McKenney worked for the J. M. Mossman Company of New York, manufacturers of safes and bank vaults. Also in 1909, Frank and Grace Carr were first taxed for the house at 37 Silver Hill Road (MHC #589, Map #7, Photo #6).
Building continued at a steady pace in the 1910s. Walter Reed, listed in the 1909 directory as a bookkeeper in Boston, built 31 Silver Hill Road in 1910 (MHC #590, Map #8, Photo #5). Four houses were built in 1911-12. No. 49 Silver Hill Road (MHC #587, Map #5) was built by Henry Lawrence, also a bookkeeper in Boston, and his wife, Amy. No. 254 Merriam Street (MHC# 604, Map #47) was built by Frederick L. and Martha Kenyon. Frederick is listed in the 1921 Weston directory as an interior decorator on Canal Street in Boston. 12 Westland Road (1911, MHC #597, Map #26), valued at $3,500 in 1912, was owned by Ethel and Percy Rand, who worked at a sporting goods store. No. 204 Merriam Street (1911, MHC #607, Map #54) was built by Philip Howard, who died before the house was completed. His widow, Ruby Howard, lived there for many years with their four children.
Another prominent corner lot was bought by Margaret Whelpley of Waltham, who built 4 Silver Hill Road (MHC #591, Map #14). Although it is only 11/2 stories, this house bears a strong stylistic similarity to those at 198 Merriam Street and 40 Silver Hill Road and was probably designed by George Strout or inspired by the house at 198 Merriam Street. Henry and Flora Stone built a traditional Colonial Revival house at 55 Silver Hill Road (1917, MHC #586, Map #4) in 1917. Henry Stone is listed in directories as a salesman. In 1920, Mabel and Henry Grimwood built a Colonial Revival house at 54 Silver Hill Road (MHC #596, Map #22) that was similar to No. 55 across the street. Henry Grimwood worked for a store in Lincoln, and made deliveries with a horse and wagon. Subsequent houses built in the 1920s to early 1940s filled in many of the remaining lots. Lots on Westland Road sold more slowly than those on Silver Hill Road, and many purchasers built small 11/2 story cottages that were not as substantial or distinctive as their Silver Hill Road counterparts. Behind the Charles Peakes House at 44 Silver Hill Road was a well with a full-size pumphouse.
Water was pumped from the well into a tank on the top of the hill opposite the railroad station at the corner of Merriam and Silver Hill Road. According to Raymond Washburn, his aunt, Carrie Brooks, walked over here from her house on Merriam Street every day to turn on the pump. This water system served the neighborhood until the town took over the water supply in the 1920s.
In recent years, the combination of distinctive architecture, quiet streets, and a neighborly atmosphere has made Silver Hill and Westland Roads popular with young families. On Westland Road, many of the original houses have been considerably altered or torn down and replaced by new residences less compatible in size, style, setback, and massing. It is for this reason that the historic district does not include all of the original Silver Hill subdivision.