History of Land Development in Waltham, Mass.
The South Side →
In 1814, Deacon Joel Fuller sold part of the estate of his late father to Seth Bemis (MLR 209/172, and widow's dower 214/40). This is the Seth Bemis who lived in Watertown and owned a large mill, there. It appears that Bemis did not live on the property, but rented it out, as the house was labeled "Cory" on the 1831 map and "Corey" on the 1848 map of Newton. The part of the Joseph Fuller farm sold to Seth Bemis contained around 70 acres. Its boundary stretched along the river from almost today's Moody Street bridge south to almost Crams Cove, then northeast to about the intersection of Crescent and Adams Street and then north along Adams to Ash Street, east to almost half way to Moody Street (where the bends are in Walnut and Chestnut Streets) and then north parallel to Adams up to Crescent Street. In the previous year, 1813, Bemis had bought an adjacent lot of about 22 acres from Henry and Anna Craft (MLR 205/453). This lot was roughly bounded by today's Adams Street on the west, almost to Lowell Street on the east, Ash Street on the north, and Robbins Street on the south. The lot may have angled a bit southeast, going east of Moody Street. It's not clear when or from whom the Crafts acquired this lot, but the Craft family is an old one in Newton, and Anna Craft was the daughter of Captain Amariah Fuller. Captain Amariah Fuller led a company of 105 men during the Battle of Lexington and Concord, in 1775. Henry Craft acquired Amariah Fuller's homestead (Jackson), so this lot may have gone along with that. Henry Craft also owned a lot just north of this, most of which was later incorporated in the lands owned by the Watch Factory (see below). In 1846, Bemis added another acre to his farm from Bradshaw Stearns' land (MLR 498/357). This lot was roughly bounded by today's Moody Street on the east, two-thirds of the way west along Spruce Street, and south to opposite Taylor Street. In 1852, after Seth Bemis' death, his estate was divided among his heirs, and this farm in Newton (by then Waltham) was deeded to Jonathan Bemis by the other heirs (MLR 129/447). Its area was 95 acres at the time.
Waltham's industrial history seems to be full of fortunate coincidences when real estate owners were interested in selling, and industrial developers were interested in buying. The Boston Manufacturing Company came to Waltham because John Boies was interested in selling his paper mill on the Charles River at exactly the same time that Lowell and Jackson were looking for the right spot for their revolutionary new cotton mill. In this case, the American (Waltham) Watch Company came to Waltham because Jonathan Bemis was interested in selling his newly acquired farm along the Charles River at exactly the same time that Aaron Dennison was looking for the right spot for his revolutionary new watch factory. Dennison had started his factory in Boston a year or two earlier, but was looking for a better location for it. Dennison visited Waltham in 1854 because of his connections to the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem at Piety Corner. There he heard about a mill site at Stony Brook, but that site didn’t work out. On his way back to Boston, he stopped in to see his friend Samuel Payson Emerson, who was the manager of the Boston Manufacturing Company's machine shop. Emerson, who had just invested in real estate along Moody Street south of the river (the first Moody Street bridge was built in 1846, Moody Street laid out around the same time, and the South Side annexed to Waltham from Newton in 1849), took Dennison to look at the old Bemis farm, which he knew was for sale. The rest, as they say, is history.
The actual land associated with the Watch Factory was purchased by a consortium called the Waltham Improvement Company (WIC), made up mostly of Waltham-related businessmen, which also developed and sold off the surrounding land for residential use. In 1854, the 95-acre Bemis Farm was sold to the WIC by Jarvis Brown, acting on behalf of Jonathan Bemis (MLR 678/27). To this was added about five acres from George Lawton, the same year (MLR 678/44). This extended the boundary east to Moody Street between Ash Street and Maple Street. Lawton had acquired the land from Paul Adams in 1841 (MLR 403/432), who had acquired it from William Hill, who had acquired it from Henry Craft (see MLR 397/411 and 355/447). To this were added two small lots from Bradshaw Stearns' land, which appear to have been just south of today's Maple Street and just west of Moody Street (MLR 688/156 and 728/524), and a small lot at the north by the river from Charles Lowell (MLR 685/302). The final piece was the lot bounded by today's High, Beech, Myrtle, and Moody Streets. The deed for it is dated 1855, but it appears to be included in the Doan Plan of 1854 (MLR 707/241). This lot came from Calvin Moulton, who acquired it from Ira Converse (MLR 584/199, 201, and 202). Converse had acquired it in 1842 as part of a larger lot of 12 acres stretching from High Street south to a bit south of Ash Street, and from Moody Street east to just west of Lowell Street. It was part of a larger lot of 17 acres (including the 5 acre lot Lowell sold to the WIC) which had belonged to Henry Craft some time before 1836 (see MLR 414/484, 404/375, 397/411, and 355/447). All this made up the famous Doan "Plan of the Lands owned by the American Watch Company, formerly the Waltham Improvement Company, October 1854, Plan Book 11, Page 49".
Some of the Craft lot encompassing High, Moody, and Ash Streets, which were not incorporated into the lands owned by the WIC (or American Watch Company), appear to have gone from Ira Converse to Calvin Fiske through a series of land transfers (MLR 613/499, 707/567, 733/253764/441). Subsequently, in 1865, Fiske sold part of it to John E. Tolman (MLR 954/346 and 347). The following year, in 1866, Tolman bought a triangularly shaped parcel from the American Watch Company to regularize the street grid between Ash and Brown Streets just east of Moody Street (MLR 992/275). Tolman built a house for himself on the east side of Moody Street between Ash and Myrtle Streets sometime between 1865 and 1871. In the 1871 town directory he was listed as a stone mason living at this location, and his house is shown on the 1875 map. It has since been replaced by commercial buildings. However, in 1867, Tolman sold a lot next to his on Ash Street to Charles Baker (MLR 1006/500) for $307. In 1868, Baker took out a mortgage with the Waltham Saving Bank for $500 (MLR 1038/92); and, in 1871, Baker sold the lot to John P. Noble for $2,900. According to the 1871 directory, Noble worked at the watch factory, and his house was shown at this location on the 1875 map. It is still there as No. 134 Ash Street. It was probably built 1868-1871.
Other parts of the Craft lot, not incorporated into the WIC lands (along the east side of today's Beech Street), went from Ira Converse to John E. Tolman, directly, in 1851 (MLR 608/143). In the same year, Tolman sold some of that land to Daniel Emerson (MLR 623/110), and then Emerson sold the lot on the corner of Beech and High Streets to Daniel S. Waldron, in 1865, for $600 (MLR 957/211). In 1866, Waldron took out a mortgage with the American Watch Company for $900, and Waldron was listed as living on High Street opposite Hall Street in the 1871 directory as a watchmaker. It appears that this may be the house still standing at 43-45 High Street, which was probably built c. 1866.