Wellesley’s Historical Past… will soon no longer be on display at the site where a section of the town of Needham decided in 1880 to pull away and create the new town of Wellesley.
History buffs take notice! The original town hall of Wellesley was the site of the Wellesley Country Club building across from Babson College.
While Babson students know the location as “Thunder Road,” history students know the second floor ballroom to be the site of yet another Massachusetts revolution…the secession of a village from Needham proper in order to create a brand, new community…Wellesley!
Boston residents used to travel out to Needham/Wellesley for their summer vacations in order to escape the city’s heat and humidity.
A popular destination for Bostonians was Sabrina Lake and Ridge Hill Farms. Local entrepreneur William Baker, co-inventor of a sewing machine, had built a sprawling 755 acre estate around what had originally been called Elm Tree Pond. Baker renamed the lake after a friend and built a pavilion, amusement park, and a sanitary piggery!
At a lavish party Baker hosted, he dedicated his “scientific piggery”. Historical accounts note that, “For the party favors the men got a glass pig jar with beans inside. The women got a perfume bottle in the shape of a pig.” The eccentric Baker provided the pigs with little beds, sheets and pillows. Baker was at heart, a reformer whose main cause was public health education. He believed that the process of food production was key to the health and wellbeing of the American public, and was a big proponent of the need for sanitary conditions in food processing.
Ridge Hill Farms was the site of the Hotel Wellesley, built on the estate in 1877 at a cost of what is believed to be $190,000. Baker had buildings from the World’s Fair in Philadelphia disassembled and shipped to Needham! The Hotel Wellesley was located, “south of the junction of Grove and Charles River Streets.” Consisting of 160 guest rooms and suites, Hotel Wellesley had a, “billiard room with four tables, two bowling alleys, a music room with stage and scenery, and a large gymnasium*.”
Baker built a railroad connecting the Charles River Village station to his Hotel Wellesley to ferry guests back and forth. Excursion boats motored on Sabrina Lake and Baker’s pet bear “Billy Bruin” was on view to guests.
By the end of 1891, Hotel Wellesley had been consumed by flames, never to be rebuilt.
But the reputation of Wellesley as a scenic area of large estates lived on.
The Wellesley Historical Commission has been working on a plan to use some of the artifacts from the original town hall/original Wellesley Country Club, in a new building housing the Department of Public Works.
This plan ran into a major road block recently when estimates came in at twice the anticipated budget, resulting in a dramatic scaling back of the Historical Commission’s project. Commission members still hope to be able to blend Wellesley’s past with the design for Wellesley’s future.
*Photos courtesy Needham Historical Society
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