Historical Narrative

The buildings in the Case Estates Area are representative of important periods in the town’s history, including the early 19th century farming era, 19th century estate period, and turn of the century early suburban development. Although architecturally diverse, many of the buildings are linked historically to the locally prominent Case family.

James Case Estate
Located within the area are the main estate house, outbuildings, and acres of undeveloped former estate land once belonging to James Case, one of Weston’s first summer estate owners. The James Case estate can be considered among the most complete remaining Weston summer estates. In the early 20th century, one of the Case daughters, Marian, purchased additional properties adjacent to family holdings and established Hillcrest Farms (later Hillcrest Gardens), an experimental farm and work/study experience for local boys during their summer vacation.
Hillcrest Gardens 1922, Weston Massachusetts book cover
Significance of the Area
The significance of the Case Estates Area to Weston and the region derives principally from the horticultural activities of Marian Case, who established Hillcrest Gardens as a regional horticultural center and helped preserve the agricultural tradition and rural landscape. After Miss Case’s death in 1944, the property became part of the Arnold Arboretum and was renamed the Case Estates. As the Case Estates, the property has continued to occupy a central place in the horticultural life of the Boston metropolitan area.

For the next 45 years, the land was used for display gardens, Arboretum classes, and special events, and as a nursery and testing area for new plants. In 1986, about one-third of the property, a 35-acre field, was sold to the town of Weston. In 1989, the Arboretum determined that the Case Estates was no longer central to its mission. Some of the houses have been sold to private owners, but the Arboretum has retained the land and does not presently plan to sell it.

Agricultural Land
Because of its unique history, the open farm fields and woodlands that comprise Weston’s rural heritage have been preserved here. From the Colonial period to the present day, sections of rich agricultural land in the Case Estates Area have been used for farming. Farm buildings and fields found new uses which preserved the area’s pastoral qualities: the 19th century estate, the early 20th century experimental farm, and, most recently, the suburban satellite of a major university horticultural center. Even today, the 35-acre town field continues to be farmed by a non-profit organization which maintains the agricultural usage and involves local residents in the raising and harvesting of food.

Wellesley Street
Wellesley Street, which connects Weston Center to the town of Wellesley, is one of the oldest roads in Weston. Located on this principal north-south route is the Thomas Rand Jr. House at 131 Wellesley Street (ca.1790, Map #4, MHC 296), the oldest in the Case Estates Area. Thomas Rand Jr. was a farmer whose family homestead was nearby at One Chestnut Street. Rand Jr. was also a housewright who may have built the house himself prior to his death in 1794 at age 36. His heirs sold the property in 1817 to the Hastings family, and successive generations lived here until Marian Case purchased it for Hillcrest Farms in 1909. She also purchased farmland between Wellesley and Ash Street from the Hastings family.
Nathan Barker
Nathan Barker, also a farmer, built the neighboring house at 101 Wellesley Street (Map #7, MHC 327), probably shortly after he purchased the land in 1843. The fact that he was prosperous is indicated by the size of his land holdings and the quality of the fashionable Greek Revival house. The choice of style may have influenced the style of the nearby house at 137 Wellesley Street (Map #1, MHC 291), probably built by farmer Otis Train after he purchased the land in 1847. Deed records indicate that Otis Train was also the original owner of the house at 138 Wellesley Street (Map #17, MHC 289). Train purchased this land from Edwin Hastings in 1855 and probably built a house by 1859, the year he sold the farm across the street at #137.
137 Wellesley Street
Charles White
In 1845, Nathan Barker sold part of his land to Charles White, who was the uncle of Laura Williams Case (Mrs. James Brown Case). It was through Charles White that the Case family came to summer in Weston beginning in 1863. James Brown Case (1826-1907) was a dry goods merchant and later a banker. He married Laura Williams (1833-1918) and the couple had four daughters: Caroline (1856-1919), Mabel (1858-1883), Louisa Williams Case (1862-1946) and Marian Roby Case (1864-1944). Mabel died in early maturity and Caroline was the only one to marry. During the winter months, the family lived at 468 Beacon Street or traveled.

James Case
James Case’s first purchase of land in Weston included 30 acres with a colonial farmhouse which served as the family summer home until it burned in 1882. The present Shingle Style James Case House at 89 Wellesley Street (Map #10, MHC 329), originally called “Rocklawn,” was built in 1889 from designs by architect Ernest Boyden and was said to have been one of the three most expensive houses in Weston when built, the others being the Blake and Hubbard estates. (The Blake estate has been demolished, the Hubbard House is at 80 Orchard Ave, MHC form #378).

Additional Estate Acreage
Over the years, James Case purchased additional acreage including the field across the street. One of these purchases included the small Italianate cottage at 84 Wellesley Street, built for “Deacon” Henry J. White (ca.1857-1866, Map #11, MHC 330, see also Maple Road/Wellesley Street Area), which James Case used as housing for the estate superintendent. The land was farmed, and outbuildings were built for storage of hay (Map #13, MHC 332) and winter firewood (Map #14) The principal outbuilding, a large frame barn behind the Case House, burned in 1947, leaving only a small section originally used for carriages (Map #9). Although the barn is no longer extant, the James Case property remains one of the most intact examples of a 19th century estate in Weston. The mansion house, superintendent’s house, and four outbuildings have survived in the Case Estates Area, and much of the surrounding land has remained undeveloped. Additional buildings associated with the Case family remain within the Maple Road/Wellesley Street Area.

Barker & Hastings Farm Land
In the 1890’s, some of the Barker and Hastings family farm land in the Case Estates Area began to be subdivided into house lots. The Howard L. Cooper House (#1) at 102 Wellesley Street (ca.1896, Map #25, MHC 297) was built on one of two newly created lots once part of the Barker farm. Two brothers in the Hastings family built the “twin” Isaac and George Hastings Houses at 132 and 134 Wellesley Street (Map #21 and 19, 132 Wellesley is MHC 294) about 1893 and 1900 on family land acquired from their father, Edwin. Perhaps foreseeing the break-up of these two farms was part of what motivated Marian Case to begin purchasing land adjacent to her father’s holdings.
Marian Case
The death of James Case in 1907 brought changes to the family. Marian, at age 45, decided to embark on a career combining farming and education. She began buying nearby properties in 1909, and by 1920 her holdings included 105 acres, either purchased or inherited from her parents. Over the years, about 40 acres was under cultivation. Marian Case preserved the land from further suburban development and maintained the local agricultural tradition well into the 20th century.

Hillcrest Farms
From 1910 to 1919, her property was known as Hillcrest Farms and was operated primarily as a truck farm. One of the “Hillcrest boys” described Miss Case’s original goals as follows: “Miss Case has said that we want to make this the most perfect farm in New England, to grow the best quality of fruit, to inspire New Englanders to return to the soil….(1913).” A 1917 article lists 50 vegetables grown at Hillcrest, with the most important being potatoes and corn. Cherries, pears, plums, apples, peaches and grapes were also grown, along with ten varieties of berries. These were delivered to Weston residents and sold on the premises. The income from the sale never equalled the cost of operating the property in Miss Case’s unique manner.
Marian Case portrait
Horticultural Development
Horticultural development began in the 1920’s, primarily through the work of John Wistar. The roads and paths, as well as iris and peony gardens no longer extant, resulted from his work in 1923. The name was changed to Hillcrest Gardens in 1920, reflecting the new emphasis on horticulture and additional uses of the property for display gardens and as a plant introduction station.
The Hillcrest Boys
Another of Miss Case’s goals for Hillcrest was to operate a practical school of agriculture which employed boys on their long summer vacations. Much of the farm labor was done by the “Hillcrest boys,” generally up to twenty local boys age 12 years and older, working full or half time for low wages of between $4 and $20 a month. They were given khaki uniforms and Hillcrest hats.
Group photo of the Hillcrest Boys
Outings & Education
Since “boys need amusement as well as work,” they had picnics, outings and sporting events. To interest the boys in nature and to keep in touch with the best work that was being done in agriculture, Miss Case planned regular lectures throughout the summer by specialists from horticultural organizations throughout the region. These lectures were open to the public, and by 1919, they were held weekly. Beginning in 1913, the boys had an hour each day of classroom work for the study of agriculture. As a way of training their eyes, they were required to write observation papers each day.

Formal Essays as History
Each boy had to write a more formal essay during the summer for presentation at the annual Labor Day exercises. These essays, along with the comments of Marian Case, were published each year from 1911 to 1941 and provide an invaluable record of the history of Hillcrest Gardens, including the development of the property and the underlying philosophy of Marian Case. In addition, there were included special papers by such horticulturists and botanists as John G. Jack, Elmer D. Merritt, Arthur Williams, E.H. Wilson, and John Wistar. The student reports have been described as generally of high quality and lasting value, covering such subjects as agricultural practices weather data, hurricane damage, monthly flowering lists of herbaceous plants, lists of birds, wild flowers…..records of plant introduction trials. These data have been of value. . . in determining the date of introduction and the persistence in New England of exotic plant introductions.

Hillcrest Gardens
Marian Case was a prominent member of local and international horticultural societies and was influential in horticultural affairs in New England. She used Hillcrest Gardens for experiments in raising seeds and plants collected from all over England, the Mediterranean area, and South Africa. Charles Sargent, John Jack and E.H.Wilson provided her with new and unusual seeds and plants for her horticultural displays and lectured at the school. She was an active member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, establishing the Hillcrest Medals for children’s gardens from 1918 to 1933. In 1926 and 1930, she was awarded medals by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her work at Hillcrest. Her series of summer lectures brought well-known specialists to Weston. She also contributed financially to Horticulture Magazine in its initial years and regularly contributed articles.
Farmhouses for Garden Property
In assembling the Hillcrest Gardens property, Marian Case purchased the three farmhouses on the north side of Wellesley Street, at 101, 131 and 137 Wellesley Street and the late 19th century house at 102 Wellesley Street. The latter was renamed “Appletree Cottage” and served as Miss Case’s home from 1910 until her death in 1944. The farmhouse at 131 Wellesley Street was purchased from the Hastings family, which had owned the property since 1817. The farmhouse at 137 Wellesley Street was purchased from George Milton, who had owned it for about 40 years. Milton retained the right to life tenancy and remained in the house until his death in 1918.
Appletree Cottage at 102 Wellesley Street was Marian Case's home
Staff Housing & the Clubhouse
The farmhouses were used as housing for staff and occasionally for boys boarding from neighboring towns. A relative of Miss Case, Mary Williams Chandler, lived at #137 from 1918 until her death in 1954. The red schoolhouse at 133 Wellesley Street (1910, Map #3, MHC 293) known as the clubhouse during the Hillcrest period, was under construction as a residence in 1910 when Marian Case moved it across the street to its present location and remodeled it as a meeting space. The clubhouse served as the social and educational hub of Hillcrest Gardens and was the location for games, parties, teas, Red Cross sales, picnics and social gatherings. Lectures were held on the second floor, which served also as the study hall and classroom. About 1913, Miss Case purchased 226 Ash Street (by 1908, Map #29) for use as a residence for her chauffeur, George Olson.

Cow Barn
Miss Case also built a number of new structures, the most notable being the Cow Barn at 101 Wellesley Street (1916, Map #8, MHC 328) and the large brick barn at 135 Wellesley Street (1927, Map #2, MHC 292) The cow barn, designed by Fox and Gale, was actually built on land owned by Marian’s mother, Laura Case, who died in 1918 and left the property to her daughter. The cow barn was the center of dairy operations at Hillcrest. The cows roamed the adjacent pasture and were watered at the pond, which is now the site of the town pool. The large brick 1927 barn, designed by Samuel Mead, was central to the operation of the Hillcrest agricultural program. Considered “an outstanding structure for its time,” the barn incorporated advances in design in the cold rooms for storage of fruits and vegetables and the special facilities for storage of manure. The building is unusual for its size, stylish design, and brick material.

Hurricane of 1938
Hillcrest Gardens flourished in the 1930’s until the disastrous hurricane of 1938, which damaged many of the specimen trees and destroyed the orchards and over 3,000 trees in woodland areas.

Death of Marian Case
The following year, ill health forced Miss Case to look for an organization to carry on the Hillcrest tradition. At her death in 1944, the property was willed to the Arnold Arboretum. which used the property, renamed the Case Estates, as a center for plant propagation and experimentation and for educational programs held in the schoolhouse.

Educational Development
Teaching and display gardens for perennials were developed here, the small ornamental tree collection was planted, and the rhododendron gardens expanded under the direction of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. Numerous small plant societies maintained gardens on the property. Over the next decades, two directors of the Arnold Arboretum, Dr. Richard Howard and Peter Ashton, lived at 137 Wellesley Street, while other houses were used as residences for superintendents and staff.

Land's Sake
In 1986, the Arboretum sold the 35-acre field across from Case House to the Town of Weston, which currently leases the property to a non-profit agricultural organization called Land’s Sake. Part of the mission of Land’s Sake is to maintain the agricultural heritage of Weston through the cultivation of crops and summer employment of Weston youths who earn money working in the farm fields. In this way, the preservation of the land and its use for agricultural purposes has been maintained in Weston to the present day.

Selling of Land
In 1989-90, the Arboretum determined that the Case Estates was no longer central to its mission and began to phase out operations. The houses at 86,101,102 and 137 Wellesley Street were sold to private owners. The Arboretum has agreed to give the town 18 months advance notice before selling the undeveloped land.