Lying just four miles from downtown Boston, the small but determined community of Brookline, Massachusetts, has maintained independence throughout its 300-year history. Once known as Muddy River, this little city incorporated in 1705 as Brookline. It became the first American town to reject annexation by a larger neighbor when it rebuffed Boston in 1873, sealing its own identity while setting a precedent for other affluent suburbs.
Perhaps the city’s greatest historical claim to fame, and one of Brookline’s top tourist spots, is the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy at 83 Beals Street. In 1967, four years after the assassination of the 35th U.S. President, his mother had the home restored to its 1917 appearance. Today, the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site offers tours of the house, the backyard and Brookline’s Coolidge Corner neighborhood from May through October.
Armchair tourists can visit the Brookline Historical Society online to get an overview of Coolidge Corner, as well as several other historic neighborhoods in Brookline, such as Longwood and Brookline Village. Quite a few of the sites are worth a closer look, including William Ingersoll Bowditch House. Bowditch, who lived there from 1845 until 1867, harbored runaway slaves in his home, making it an important station on what came to be known as the Underground Railroad.
Two other historic Brookline tourist spots worth visiting in person are Edward Devotion House and Coolidge Corner Theatre. The Devotion home is one of the oldest houses in Brookline. Solomon Hill built the current house around 1740, expanding on the framework built by his grandfather, Edward Devotion, around 1680. The non-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre, originally built as a church in 1906, has operated as a movie theater since 1933. The Art Deco styling complements the theater’s mission to provide a venue for art-house and independent films.
Coolidge Corner Theatre is not the only non-profit organization in Brookline dedicated to the entertainment arts. Since 1974, Puppet Showplace Theatre has amused and taught children as well as adults. Each year more than 20,000 people attend its award-winning performances or take workshops and classes in the art of puppetry.
In spite of a population density greater than many major American cities—and as high as 20,000 residents per square mile in the north part of town—Brookline is a surprisingly green community. The city maintains 36 parks and four nature sanctuaries, including 25-acre D. Blakely Hoar Sanctuary for birds and 26-acre Lost Pond Conservation Area. Lost Pond borders lands set aside by the state and by the town of Newton to form more than 100 acres of open space.
The city’s largest park is 61-acre Lars Anderson Park, donated by Brookline resident Isabel Anderson. She and her husband, Lars Anderson, became fascinated with automobiles, first purchasing an 1899 Winton Runabout. They continued to buy both American and European cars, eventually displaying the collection in their carriage house. Today that carriage house is the Lars Anderson Auto Museum, another of Brookline’s popular attractions.