Brookline has never wanted to join Boston for its own good reasons, but it must have appreciated its proximity to our capital city, for when the time came in 1848 to design a seal it was desirous of showing a railroad train as a connecting link between the two places. Moreover, a tiny view of Boston appears in the distance on the right, although what the buildings represent is impossible to decipher. A reason for including our city is the fact that Brookline, then known by the unattractive, though probably descriptive, name of “Muddy River” once was a part of Boston. Governor Winthrop first mentioned “The hamlet of Muddy River.”
The agricultural items in the seal, bee-hive, wheat-sheaf, Scythe, rake, spade, plough and harrow, are emblematic of the character of the town from its early settlement when known by the curious names of Boston Cornfield and Boston Plantation. Harold Bowditch who has studied the seals of Massachusetts explains that the early name, Muddy River, is indicated by the black wavy fess; the fact that the land, then a part of Boston, was used for pasturage, by the bull’s heads. The design was executed by Francis N. Mitchell.
A number of acts were introduced urging the annexation of the two towns. In 1873 Charles D. Head had a good deal to say against the proposition. His statement read: “The town is once more called on to defend itself from being absorbed — a worse fate than befell the prophet Jonah, for he was swallowed singly, while if we go down we shall find previous competitors for internal advantages, and if dissatisfied with the want of accommodations, or if we disagree with our hospitable host, we shall not be likely to recover our liberty, or identity, as he did.”
The pressure of caring for the cattle on Boston Neck really led to the settlement of the Muddy River district. “Boston’s cows,” wrote John Gould Curtis for the Brookline Historical Society, “were getting into the corn in really troublesome fashion.” The town was already beginning to overflow its natural limits. This move to a more convenient pasture land is well described by John Josselyn. “Two miles from the town at a place called Muddy River, the Inhabitants have Farms — arable grounds, meadows where they keep their Cattle in the Summer, and bring them to Boston for the Winter.” It was “simply Boston’s back cow pasture,” added John Curtis. It hardly seems possible, but in the very early days of the Colony sailing vessels could proceed up Muddy River as far as the present Long- wood Avenue Bridge to the oyster beds there, but when the Mill Dam was built in 1821 this was no longer possible, of course.
There was considerable opposition to the project as indicated by a letter published in the Daily Advertiser of June 14, 1814: “Citizens of Boston! Have you ever visited the Mall! Have you ever inhaled the Western Breeze fragrant with per- fume, refreshing in every sense and invigorating every nerve? What think you of converting that beautiful sheet of water which skirts the Common into an empty mud basin, reeking with filth, abhorrent to the smell, and disgusting to the eye? By all of the Gods of sea, or lake or fountain, it is incredible!”
The origin of the name Brookline has been rather an enigma, but the usual explanation is that the Reverend John Pierce at the time of the opening of the Town Hall in 1845 reported a conversation with the great-great-grandson of Judge Samuel Sewall, who received a large grant at Muddy River from his father-in-law, Hull. He became convinced that Brookline got its name from a brook which ran past Sewall’s property, which gave the Judge the idea of the name of Brookline.
It would seem as if many distinguished persons had always had their eyes out for Brookline as a place of residence for among the earliest grantees of property there were John Cotton, William Colborne, Thomas Oliver, Thomas Leveritt (called “a lively pattern of old age”), Thomas Savage and Captain John Under hill. Cotton’s land was bounded on the northeast by the present Washington and Harvard Streets, and on the southwest by the Boston and Albany right-of-way. Leveritt’s property was situated between the Boston and Albany right-of-way and Walnut Street.
An amusing story is told of the opening of a toboggan slide, perhaps the steep, famous one from the top of Corey Hill, where no one could breathe until he reached the bottom. At the opening a town official was given the honor of taking the first coast. He got under way before his wife, who was expected to accompany him, had quite gained her seat. The report stated that he coasted down on the toboggan, while she “slid down on her own responsibility.”
When locating the school house a committee decided that the triangular piece of ground at the head of Walnut Street was the center of the town. The Punch Bowl Tavern near the foot of that same street seems to have been the nucleus around which many of the villagers gathered, and even visitors from other New England states referred jokingly to Brookline as “the Punch Bowl Village.” Its popularity was increased by the fact that it boasted a large dance hall.