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The new land

New Brighton property (foreground, bright green), with the Chestnut Hill Campus beyond. Photo by www.aerialboston.com

New Brighton property (foreground, bright green), with the Chestnut Hill Campus beyond. Photo by Aerial Boston

On June 29, 2004, the word "Brighton" joined "Lower, Middle, Upper" and "Newton" as an adjective that can be applied to a segment of Boston College's 169 acres in Newton and Boston. On that day, Boston College completed its acquisition of 43 acres and five buildings from the Archdiocese of Boston for $99.4 million. It was the largest single land acquisition in University history after the 52.7-acre Lower Campus, which BC bought when it was a surplus state reservoir in 1949 for the bargain price of $10,000.

While ideas for, and rumors about, Boston College's plans for its new campus have spiced University and neighborhood conversations for months, BC will not make any plans for use of the new campus until it completes a major study of the property and the ways it which it can be integrated with the Chestnut Hill Campus. This review will begin shortly and could take a year to complete. Boston College will then submit a use plan to the City of Boston, with occupancy permits conditional on the city's approval. In the interim, the buildings may be used periodically for special meetings, and the fields will be used as they have been for some time, by joggers, dog-walkers, and Boston College athletic teams, and by loud and vigorous children who pour through the fences and onto the grass of the Brighton Campus's playing fields during lunch and recess at the neighboring Edison Middle School.



The big deals that made Boston College possible

South End Campus

On August 17, 1857, John McElroy, SJ, purchased a 65,100-square-foot parcel of land on Harrison Avenue between Concord and Newton streets in Boston's South End. The land belonged to the city, and McElroy paid $32,550. At 1.5 acres, the property was just large enough to house McElroy's planned two-building college and a church, and, importantly, was connected to Boston's neighborhoods by horse-drawn trolley. Boston College opened for business six years later, with 22 students and three faculty.

Chestnut Hill Campus

In 1907, President Thomas Gasson, SJ, announced to alumni that Boston College was leaving the South End and heading to suburban Chestnut Hill, where he had purchased (for $187,500) a 31-acre farm on the heights overlooking twin reservoirs. The Recitation Building (later named Gasson Hall) was completed in 1913, and other buildings followed. By 1925, Boston College's student body topped 1,000. By the 1940s, BC had founded schools of business, law, graduate arts and sciences, and nursing.

Lower Campus

In 1948, the Lawrence Basin, the upper of the two Boston reservoirs below the campus, was declared inactive. BC paid $10,000 for the 52.7 acres, with the cost of filling in the basin estimated at $750,000. The last of the water disappeared in 1969, much of it having been replaced with materials excavated to make way for Route 128. Alumni Stadium was in place by 1957, and over the next 45 years, BC built a village to house undergraduate students, with the latest addition—the St. Ignatius Gate Residence Hall—scheduled to open in August 2004.

Newton Campus

In 1974, Boston College acquired the 40-acre, 15-building campus of Newton College of the Sacred Heart, a highly regarded women's institution that, like many single-sex colleges, had experienced declines in applications and revenues. BC assumed Newton College's liabilities of approximately $5 million, hired Newton College faculty, and undertook responsibility for supporting alumnae activities. The Law School, which had occupied More Hall, moved to Newton, and the Newton College residence halls became home to Boston College freshmen.



In 1880, five years after the Archdiocese of Boston was declared independent from the New York Province, Archbishop John J. Williams (1822–1907) bought the 26-acre Stanwood estate in Brighton for $18,500. There, upon its rolling orchards and meadows, he built St. John's Seminary. Sulpician priests from France and Maryland, dedicated to clerical formation, were brought in to teach the school's first class of 32 aspirants, who entered seminary on September 22, 1884. A year later the archdiocese purchased an adjoining 18-acre estate for the construction of a junior seminary that would enroll high school-age students. Williams's successor, Cardinal William H. O'Connell (1857–1944), had grander ambitions for the Brighton campus. The BC graduate (1881) dreamed of turning the pastoral landscape into a "Little Rome," where on "every hilltop now for miles around gleams the sacred sign of our redemption." In 1909, O'Connell began purchasing land adjacent to St. John's Seminary and encouraged other Catholic institutions to build nearby: Boston College, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, St. Gabriel's Monastery, and the Religious of the Cenacle. By the mid-1920s, with the aid of a bequest from a vaudeville magnate, O'Connell was able to relocate himself and the archdiocese to the residence and chancery building. On a hill behind the residence he constructed a "shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which he has destined to be his mausoleum," according to an official history of the Archdiocese published in February 1944. O'Connell was interred in the shrine shortly afterward, on April 28, 1944.

Paul Voosen


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