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A Brief Historical Overview

At the time of European settlement, much of the area that is now North Brookline was wetland. Amory Park and Hall’s Pond were part of a particular kind of wetland—an Atlantic White Cedar swamp—that extended to the Charles River. The high level of acidity and the low level of oxygen in such a swamp greatly slow down decay, building up peat. The peaty soil that was formed at that time still underlies the park, the sanctuary, and some of the neighborhood. During excavations in 2001, peat and chunks of stillundecayed cedar trees were unearthed.

Early settlers in Brookline cut the cedar trees for their rot-resistant wood and the wet areas were filled for farming or building. Bit by bit, the swamp was almost buried. By the mid 1800’s, only a one-acre pond remained.

In 1850, the pond, known as Swallow Pond, was part of the Ivy Street property owned by the family of Minna Hall. She and her friend, Harriet Hemenway, organized their friends to protest the killing of song birds, used at that time to decorate ladies’ hats. They founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society which successfully lobbied for legal protection of birds.

Reginald Heber Howe, Jr. described Swallow Pond in an 1899 book, On the Bird’s Highway, “This bit of country, where Nature still holds sway, is composed of the wilder portions of three estates, and though diminutive in the extreme, it yet offers to the birds all the attractions of marsh, thicket, upland, orchard and wood.” He added that there had been plans to fill the pond and run a street through it, but the pond had been so difficult to fill the plan was abandoned. In 1903, in order to build Amory Park, the Town of Brookline acquired the land that had been the Amory family homestead. Fill was added to raise the playing fields above the water table. The land that is now the Sanctuary remained in private hands.

Around 1910, Charles A. Newhall bought the land between Beacon Street and Hall’s Pond. He built brick apartment buildings facing Beacon Street, and behind them, provided a formal rose garden for his tenants.

In 1948, the Town built a storm drain system to collect rain water and direct it into Hall’s Pond. The area drained is about 110 acres, including Coolidge Corner.

Brookline bought Hall’s Pond for the Town’s first wildlife sanctuary in 1975. Amory Woods Wildlife Sanctuary was acquired in 1985. By the 1990’s, there was increasing worry about the water quality in the pond. Of additional concern were the invasive vines, originally garden plants, which were overunning the upland area and pulling down trees.

Beginning in 1995, Brookline planned a major restoration to improve the water quality of the pond and restore suitable habitats for native plants and animals. With state grants, Town funds and private contributions, the renewal project was completed in 2002.

To improve water quality, a sediment forebay was placed at the inlet pipe, so that the first rush of water and litter from the storm drains could be impounded. Two wetland areas were designed and planted. Invasive vines were removed from the upland and replaced with native shrubs and meadow plants. The Amory Woods parcel was joined to the rest of the Sanctuary, new boardwalks were built, and two entrance gates were installed.