1920 Map of Longmeadow showing the area of the Brookline development
“…lot shall not be re-sold to a colored person, an Italian or a Polander” – the Brookline Plan
The first two decades of the twentieth century saw rapid changes in technology and demographics and the greater Springfield area, including Longmeadow, was no exception. The development and growth of the street railway enabled many people the ability to live further away from where they worked in urban centers like Springfield. Additionally, immigrants from faraway places such as Eastern and Southern Europe were streaming into this area seeking greater economic opportunities and political freedom. Simultaneously, African Americans were migrating in large numbers to the Northeast for the exact same reasons. These forces shaped the creation of a new Longmeadow development known as Brookline.
"Sylvester Bliss place", Sept. 24, 1885. Drawing by Martha Goldthwait.
Longmeadow Historical Society collection
The land that would become the Brookline development, situated east of Longmeadow Street and north of Bliss Road, used to be the farm of Sylvester Bliss. In the early 1900s, land along Longmeadow Street which contained the trolley track to Springfield was highly prized by real estate developers. Hattie M. Bliss, daughter of Sylvester Bliss and the heir to his farmland, decided to sell the Bliss farm for development. In January of 1913, she sold the land to Edwin H. Robbins, a Springfield real estate developer. Hattie Bliss’s deed to Edwin H. Robbins included typical restrictions such as building setbacks from the property line; it also specified that one street would be named “Dayton” and another would be named “Rosemore”.
Edwin H. Robbins, who lived in Springfield, was a busy man who developed six different large tracts of land in Springfield into residential housing. Four of these developments were near his home on Wilbraham Road; the other two were in more distant sections of Springfield. Deeds for lots sold in the four nearby developments had a restriction that specified that “said lot shall not be resold to a colored person, a Polander or an Italian.” This restrictive covenant, which expired in either 1930 or 1935 depending on the development, was not on the deeds in the two developments far from his home.
In February 1913, Mr. Robbins filed the Brookline Plan at the Hampden Registry of Deeds and he started selling off the lots. His promotional materials promised an up-scale neighborhood; in one of his advertisements, he promised “I have restricted it so highly that I GUARANTEE YOU DESIRABLE NEIGHBORS…”
Advertisement for Brookline.
Springfield Republican, May 4, 1913
Some of the Brookline lots were sold to individuals, but most of them were sold in batches to other developers such as Riley-Alderman Realty Trust, A.T. Spooner Company, and Rood-Davidson Realty Trust. On eighty-eight of the lots (highlighted on the plan), Edwin H. Robbins added the resale restriction that he had used in Springfield: “said lot shall not be resold to a colored person, an Italian or a Polander.” All restrictions on the Brookline deeds were set to expire on January 1, 1935.
Brookline Plan, Hampden County Registry of Deeds.
Deeds for the highlighted lots had resale restrictions.
Deed for sale of Lot 6 located at Book 894 Page 482.
From Hampden County Registry of Deeds
Why would Mr. Robbins exclude these particular groups of people from ownership? We have no documentation of his intentions, but we can speculate. In many 1913 minds, an exclusive community that would be “the highest class development in Longmeadow” would not likely include African Americans or certain groups of recent European immigrants. Racial motivations likely mixed with nativist ones in also excluding locally surging immigrant populations from Southern and Eastern Europe.
It is relatively simple to define "an Italian" for the purposes of these deeds. But, who was a “Polander”? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a Polander is “a native or inhabitant of Poland.” In 1913, Poland was not a political entity; the geography that currently constitutes modern Poland had for centuries been partitioned between the Russian, Austria-Hungary, and German Empires. Most, if not all, of the Russian-controlled portion of Poland was in “The Pale”, the only portion of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live. Both Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Polish areas of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany were likely known as “Polanders”.
There were forty-five lots sold to Rood-Davidson Realty Trust (comprised of Dexter Rood and Arthur W. Davidson) that were not subject to this deed restriction and they are not highlighted on the plan. Again, we do not know exactly why Mr. Rood and Mr. Davidson's lots did not bear this provision. Perhaps they simply did not want to limit their pool of potential resale buyers. But there is also evidence that Davidson, at least, was open to religious diversity. Arthur Davidson was an immigrant from the Canadian province of Quebec which had a Catholic majority. Mrs. Davidson’s actions in 1916 when she hosted a meeting of the Longmeadow Maternal Association further support this position. The speaker at this meeting promoted the interdenominational connectivity of Christian denominations and Judaism on the basis of the Bible and the commandments. This message could be taken as an argument against those advocating for the idea of a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant elitist community.
Although Edwin Robbins was seemingly opposed to living with and building homes for those of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, he was willing to do business with them to further his financial interests. Bernhard Radding, a Jewish immigrant from Russia (and perhaps a Polander), was a real estate developer and general contractor. Mr. Radding was involved in the development of thirty-six of the lots in Brookline, most of which had deed restrictions that would have prevented a Polander from homeownership. His brother Julius (also perhaps a Polander) was living at 36 Belleclaire Avenue in 1920. If the intent of these restrictions was to keep out Eastern European immigrants, it seems they failed to do so.
Belleclaire Avenue 1918. Emerson Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society
Edwin Robbins was also willing to hire these recent immigrants to work at the Brookline development. In July 1913, during a heat wave in which the thermometers in the area reached 99 or 100 degrees, an Italian laborer grading streets in Brookline was one of many in western Massachusetts who succumbed to the heat. An earlier article in the Springfield Union reported that the man had died, but the authors have found no corroborating evidence that he did so.
Springfield Republican, July 4, 1913
Bliss Road, unpaved, 1913. Emerson Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society
All of the Brookline deed restrictions expired on January 1, 1935. While today these restrictions would be illegal, at the time they were not. In 1946, Massachusetts passed the Massachusetts Fair Housing Law which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, or religious creed. In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which enshrined equal housing opportunity at the federal level and provided federal enforcement mechanisms to combat housing discrimination.
Even so, housing discrimination still exists today. If you are living in Massachusetts and feel you have been a victim of discrimination, you can contact MCAD either by phone at (413) 739-2145 or by email at email@example.com and if you are living anywhere in the USA and you feel you have been the victim of housing discrimination, please contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development either by phone at (800) CALL-FHA (800-225-5342) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Contributed by Tim Casey and Beth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Members
Hampden County Registry of Deeds
1920 Map of Longmeadow
Archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society
Springfield Republican, May 4, 1913; July 4, 1913, March 8, 1916
Statistics for Massachusetts
Special thanks to Chris Holmgren