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Foley Beach at Horn Pond

WOBURN’S HOUSES ALL HAVE A STORY TO TELL

Whenever friends or relatives come to visit, especially ones who have never been to New England, they revel in the everyday things about this corner of America that we take so much for granted. A few years back a niece, now living in Nevada, arrived with her husband and two children, none of whom had ever been farther east than Salt Lake City.

As soon as they settled in at their hotel in East Woburn just off Route 93, they called and I directed them down Montvale Avenue through Woburn Center and along Pleasant and Lexington Streets to my house on the West Side. By the time they pulled in to my driveway they were bubbling over with eagerness to tell me all about the sights they had seen along the way.

At first I was puzzled and not quite sure what they were referring to until they made quite clear that the objects of their admiration and awe were the very things that we take so much for granted everyday. They were, it seems, overwhelmed by the variety and beauty of the houses and other imposing buildings they had seen along the way on their short trip through the heart of Woburn. While driving those few miles of well-traveled roads to my house, they saw what we fail to see everyday.

So it is with that in mind I put on my tourist hat and rose-colored glasses and took a ride though the streets of Woburn with Woburn’s Allen C. Hill, and I couldn’t have been in better hands. When it comes to recognizing and dating old houses Allen is an undisputed expert.

As a member of the American Institute of Architects and a national award winner for his restoration of the William Pitt Tavern at the Strawberry Banke Museum, Allen’s opinions and evaluations of historic properties all over New England are respected and valued by a long list of illustrious clients not least among them the Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA.( http://home.att.net/~allen.hill.historic.preservation/officeinfo/allen.html)

Allen agreed to “fire-hose” me with information as he calls it, and he guaranteed I would remember little, but absorb much in spite of myself. So at his suggestion we began our tour at what he terms the center of the architectural, economic and industrial history of Woburn, the intersection of Pleasant Street, Arlington Road and Warren Avenue. As Allen explained, within a radius of a few miles of that intersection the story of Woburn’s historic growth and development is revealed. It is the heart of the city and tells so many tales that one could linger for hours on each street reveling in the stories those houses tell.

But don’t linger too long at that busy intersection as I did while marveling at the beauty of the Graham Funeral Home or you will get honked and glared at by impatient drivers anxious to be on their way. At that point Allen, also awed at the architecture of the Graham Funeral Home, noted that funeral parlors have done a great deal to preserve old houses by maintaining them as businesses. It seems that fact has enabled them to preserve the integrity of structures that otherwise might have been demolished long ago.

We chose Arlington Road to begin our tour and as we passed along between so many remarkable structures, Allen noted that in spite of all the wonderful old houses on Arlington Road, the unpretentious house on the on the corner of Arlington Road and Warren Avenue across from Graham’s is the oldest among them.

It has, for certain, undergone many changes since it was constructed. But if you visit the Library of Congresses Web site and access the Woburn Panorama of 1883, you will see that the roofline of that house was originally confined to the main structure that faces Pleasant Street with only a short ell on the back, and that the corner where Grahams is now located was a vacant lot back in 1883.

(To access the map go to: <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gmdhome.html>http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gmdhome.html and put in Keyword “Woburn” then follow the instructions to zoom in on neighborhoods and specific houses.)

Allen also noted that the right side of Arlington Road is not only newer than the left, it is much more pretentious with its oversized mansions most of which were built in the 1890s. Then, as we near Horn Pond, 20th century houses begin popping up, showing the progression of development.

One of Allen’s favorite houses is one most would not even notice. At first glance it looks like it was built in the 1920s, but once he directed my eye to I peer down the driveway of number 59 Arlington Road I could see the remnants of 1870s gabled structure that had been almost hidden by an addition. Allen also pointed out the brick foundation and the bay windows that dated it sometime about 1870 in spite of the more bland 1920s updates.

The house at 70 Arlington Road is also worthy of note, and although its early avante guard, eclectic style makes it difficult to date, it probably can be dated between the early 1900s to 1920s. As Allen explains, it has a foot in the Colonial Revival period with its frontice piece, but the box windows are more in the simple Craftsman style. But it’s the porch that makes it stand out with its late Victorian design.

It seems that as home design got “more elaborate and fancier” there was a reaction all over Europe as well as the US. “That reaction,” Allen notes, “took different forms in different countries. In France and Belgium they called it Art Nouveau and in England and Scotland they called it Arts and Crafts and in this country it became known as Craftsman, named after the magazine published by a German furniture maker.” It was a reaction to all the elaborate Queen Anne and Victorian style houses.

As we came to the end of Arlington Road and turned up Buckman Street, we stopped for a moment at the corner as Allen noted a great house that goes back to the 1830s or 1840s with an addition added considerably later. The house has had its entrance recently remodeled with a frontice that is not at all inappropriate to the Greco Gothic style of the house in its simple heavy form. The Gothic style of the house is also evident in the cross gables that look like dormers except that there is no roof under them. All of these details make for a great house, very tenderly cared for and one that surly has many tales to tell of its more than 160-year history.

Wherever we went there were houses to marvel at. From the tannery worker houses to the more “grand” foremen’s houses, from the Greek Revival to Gothic Revival, from Queen Anne to Victorian and the Federal style and kit homes that were sold at Sears Roebuck, all told a story. When we continue our tour, we will travel up Warren Ave., down Court Street and onto Bennett Street then into the South End and along the Woburn Parkway and try to open your eyes to other treasures that until now eluded you.

But if you are intrigued by our tour, come join with the Woburn Historical Commission and lend a hand with our inventory of the spectacular homes of Woburn and learn to appreciate the stories the houses all around you have to tell.

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