Icon: Historic Melrose

A Boston suburb retains its turn-of-the-century charm.

WHEN BOSTON & MAINE Railroad built three passenger stations in Melrose Village in 1845, no one could have imagined how dramatically the sleepy town would change over the next few decades. Drawn by the short commute to Boston, dozens of wealthy businessmen poured in, whisking their families away from the increasingly industrialized (and dangerous) city and into this bucolic community. "Many professionals wanted to have a fancy house in the country," says local historian Phil Kukura, "and Melrose represented that."

[sidebar]To accommodate its new denizens, farmland in the area was rapidly parceled out into streets, commercial areas, and residential plots, all within walking distance of the three rail stations and Ell Pond. Bellevue Avenue, a wide thoroughfare on Melrose’s east side that’s about a half mile from the train, became the town’s swankiest address. In the country-home tradition, the four-block-long boulevard featured majestic homes with generously sized front lawns. These estates represented all the styles of the day: Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Italianate.

Bellevue Avenue was especially attractive to the doctors who practiced at the newly built Melrose Hospital (now Melrose-Wakefield Hospital). In fact, part of the street became known as "Doctors’ Row," a moniker that sticks to this day.

The Victorian Melrose Society occasionally sponsors house tours, offering intimate views of restored properties. "These are not just houses. They’re places to have a party – comfortably proud of themselves," says Kukura. And even now, one can walk from Melrose Cedar Station and understand the patrician appeal the town had more than a century ago.