What is origin of Howard St. in Waltham, Mass.
June 28, 2011 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the origin of Howard St. in Waltham, Mass. I'd like to know who it was named after, when it was created, early inhabitants and ultimately - it would be great to find some early photos of the street.
posted by joshuamcginnis to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you want the full story, I would get in touch with the Waltham Historical Society. They have email: waltham.historical.society AT gmail, and their phone number is: 781-891-5815.

From a quick search, it looks like the Waltham Watch Company was a company from 1850 that manufactured watch/timepiece movements. Edward Howard was one of the founders of that company, and eventually left to form E. Howard and Company, another clock and watch maker.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:48 AM on June 28, 2011

That location is really close (to blocks) to where the E Howard Watch Company was located in Waltham and I spect that's the same Howard, though there were definitely other Howards in that area in that time period.. I'd suggest talking to the public librarian there for more information. If you can actually get to the library, they have Digital Sanborn Maps for in-library use that will actually allow you to look at historical street maps of Howard Street so you can see what was on that site over time.
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on June 28, 2011

It shows up as solidly residential by the time of a 1938 aerial (sadly, a proprietary source so I can't link).

Places to start:

Building history: Waltham has an online assessment website where you can get current owners and the initial construction dates. Sometimes they have earlier info if you go in in person. The building department might also have information -- some building departments in MA have info back to the early 1900s, especially if you go in in person.

With the assessment information, you can look up deeds online at the Middlesex South Recorder of Deeds. You might have to go to the physical registry to get earlier deeds. If you get early enough you might find the property subdivision created to make the street. By the looks of things, Howard Street was likely part of a larger project that would have included other streets running from Main to School.

For actual occupants, check with the Waltham Public Library for historic city directories. There should be a section of brightly-colored pages towards the end of each directory where occupants are listed by street address.

The Waltham Public Library should also have Sanborn Maps, which are early fire insurance maps. They will show individual buildings. (Sometimes dates as well, but it's unusual for residences to have that.) Sometimes the LOC has them available to the public online, but sadly, not for Waltham.

For the photos and the name, I'd start with the historical society.
posted by pie ninja at 11:59 AM on June 28, 2011

Response by poster: Believe it or not, I have contacted both the Waltham Historical Society and the librarian with no luck. It seems there is a lack of interest in helping a homeowner on the street who is very much interesting in learning and preserving the history of the area.

I haven't checked the Digital Sanborn Maps so I will look into this.

I do have an original 1889-1890 map of Waltham and Howard St. did not exist at that time. There are no occupants nearby with the name.

My house was built in 1911 so that would mean that the street would have had to have been built between 1891-1911. Edward Howard seems like an unlikely candidate given he was alive and well and not all that successful during this time.
posted by joshuamcginnis at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2011

There are little traces here and there. For example, this MIT student lived at 19 Howard Street in 1905 and this person lived at 22 Howard St in 1913 indicating that it was 1. existing and 2. residential by then. Sanborn Maps will be super helpful because you can eyeball the same location and see if there used to be, say, a factory on that space or what was going on.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks Jessa - that's interesting. I didn't think to look at Google Books. 1905 would be the earliest date I've seen so far. My house was built in 1911.

Is there a formal process for naming a street? Who approves such a change? I'm surprised the city would not have a record of this.
posted by joshuamcginnis at 12:09 PM on June 28, 2011

According to their online catalog, the Waltham Public Library has city directories for at least the period 1912-1960. Try going in in person to look at them -- directories from that era will usually have cross-reference by streets.

And if you haven't tried the assessor, building department, and deeds, I'd strongly suggest starting there.
posted by pie ninja at 12:18 PM on June 28, 2011

If you can get to your local registry of deeds, you might be able to trace the property back through the owners to get some clues. I did this for my mom's house in Natick and after a couple owners it started saying things like "Northern boundry on Selew's farm" and eventually, when I had gathered enough clues, I was able to get a copy of the original plot of the entire neighborhood from the town planning department, which gave me a lot of clues as to who owned entire chunks of the area a hundred years ago. Some of the names of the landowners were still prominent names in town, some with streets named after them. So you might get lucky there.

Keep checking all these sources and you might get lucky. Someone might have a news clipping or something. What I found with my town's historical society is that there were often people who specialized in different areas of town, usually because they were curious like you are.
posted by bondcliff at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2011

Best answer: Oh man this is fun. So it looks like it must have come in sometime before 99 and your map may be base don slightly outdated information which wouldn't be unusual. As far as I can tell from the 1901 directory, 19 Howard was a boarding house. You can get a long list of who lived where from this directory.

You might need to try again at the historical society until you find someone who is geeky about streets. The public library of Waltham doesn't have these, but the Watertown library has a collection of online directories of both Watertown and Waltham [careful, each town has a Howard St] where you can download them and do some keyword PDF searches. Doing this I can assuredly state there was not a Howard St in 1869 [as you know] but there was one in 1897 because there was a house painter who lived there [no street number, big download]. There was also a Howard Ice Company (formerly Howard Brothers who ran a general store sort of thing, I think they were all related). If you know anything about the "frozen water trade" you may know that it was somewhat short lived, so it's possible that the Howards of this endeavor were short-term famous. Abraham Lincoln Howard (of Watertown) bought a big display ad in the 1897 directory. Edward Everett Howard did the same in 1895. I think they are the brothers.

Howard Street in 1897 terminated at the railroad [CMRR, which may stand for central MA]. The street is also listed in the 1895 directory, with the same coordinates. The 1884 directory does not show Howard St. The 1890 one also doesn't but I'm not so sure it covers Waltham. The 1893 directory shows Howard in the same location. The neat thing about the old directories is that they don't just tell you who is in town, they tell you who left. The 1895 directory shows an exodus of Howards from Waltham. In 1893 Frank Howard was the Waltham Postmaster.

At this time there was also a Howard Division of Temperance [you know, the no drinking folks] which may be another clue to the historical naming.
posted by jessamyn at 1:12 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

If things haven't changed in the past two decades,* the Waltham Public Library just down the street from you has property records as well. But I'd start with newspaper archives and find out who the developer was (if there was one) as there might be a story about them and the naming of the street.

* when I lived on School Street just a few houses away from Howard
posted by zippy at 1:40 PM on June 28, 2011

I'm guessing it was named for General Oliver Otis Howard, Union general and first president of the Freedmen's Bureau (later Howard University in DC). He was also a noted temperance advocate.
posted by pentagoet at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2011

Here's the 1900 census enumeration for Howard Street. (Bottom of the page, street name given in left margin.)
posted by Knappster at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2011

It seems there is a lack of interest in helping a homeowner on the street who is very much interesting in learning and preserving the history of the area.

I doubt that. This is just the sort of thing where they give you resources and you dig yourself. If the answer isn't readily available in a reference, there's only a certain amount they'll do for you.

I can tell you that streets are often named when platted by the developers, who choose them for typically personal or thematic reasons. Streets given names of famous locals are often renamings years later. This isn't as common as you may think.

I would just caution you, then, to realize that you may not be able to find any definitive answer.
posted by dhartung at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2011

Contact the Gore, Lyman, and Stonehurst Estates as well. Also try genealogies for the Howard family at the town library and NEHGS downtown.

The people in Town Hall knew a lot about a close by street I lived on, so try them as well. Just say you have some questions about a street you live on. You want the town historian as well as the folks who manage what numbers go to what house. They have all the old maps. The assessors office may know a bit as well. While there stop by the elections people too.

Lastly, you might try John Brewers to see if they have anything there. They surprised me with the amount of stuff they dug up on him in the area and have a lot of other names on maps on the walls and such. They will predate 1899 by 100 years but that'll give you a cutoff at least. And you could have a beer. :-)
posted by jwells at 5:31 PM on June 28, 2011

I did a bit more digging looking at the other nearby names. Looks like that part of the town was part of the Fiske Estate [unless I am reading this all wrong which is certainly possible] which is where the oldest house in town stood on five acres. Caroline Fiske deeded the site to the town in a complicated will situation where her neice would receive some sort of payment from the town. She died in 1877. The town rejected the arrangement in 1878. [cite] Here's a photo of that house. There is definitely mention in that history book of the "rapacious hands" of the developers who were interested in it. Maybe you'd get more traction of you asked about the Fiske Estate and the weird controversy about it?
posted by jessamyn at 6:55 PM on June 28, 2011

I completely spaced and forgot NARA's Boston office is in Waltham. Stop by. I emailed them and will post if I hear back.
posted by jwells at 6:36 AM on June 29, 2011

I have a good friend who is a librarian at the Waltham Public Library. I'll check with him and then PM you his contact info.
posted by toddst at 9:53 AM on June 29, 2011

Response by poster: I've added a part #2 question with more information and my most recent findings here:
posted by joshuamcginnis at 9:58 AM on August 17, 2011

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