Brookline, Massachusetts

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Brookline, Massachusetts
Coolidge Corner South Side, Brookline, MA, USA - panoramio.jpg
Intersection of Harvard and Beacon Streets in the Coolidge Corner neighborhood of Brookline
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Norfolk County Massachusetts incorporated and unincorporated areas Brookline highlighted.svg
Location as an exclave of Norfolk County in Massachusetts
Location map Boston Metropolitan Area.png
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USA Massachusetts location map.svg
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Coordinates: 42°19′54″N71°07′18″W / 42.33167°N 71.12167°W / 42.33167; -71.12167
Country Flag of the United States.svg  United States
State Flag of Massachusetts.svg  Massachusetts
County Norfolk
Region New England
  Type Representative town meeting
  Town AdministratorCharles Carey
  Select BoardHeather A. Hamilton (Chair)
John VanScoyoc (Vice-Chair)
Bernard W. Greene
Miriam Aschkenasy
Michael Sandman
  Total6.8 sq mi (17.7 km2)
  Land6.8 sq mi (17.6 km2)
  Water0.1 sq mi (0.1 km2)
50 ft (15 m)
  Density9,292.8/sq mi (3,590.4/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
  Summer (DST) UTC−4 (Eastern)
ZIP Codes
02445–02447, 02467
Area code 617/857
FIPS code 25-09175
GNIS feature ID0619456

Brookline /ˈbrʊkln/ is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States, and part of the Boston metropolitan area. Brookline borders six of Boston's neighborhoods: Brighton, Allston, Fenway–Kenmore, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and West Roxbury. The city of Newton lies to the west of Brookline. Brookline was first settled in 1638 as a hamlet in Boston, known as Muddy River; it was incorporated as a separate town in 1705.


At the time of the 2020 census, the population of the town was 63,191. [1] It has been the most populous municipality in Massachusetts to have a town (rather than city) form of government since Framingham changed to a city in 2018, following a 2017 referendum. [2]


1858 map of north-central Norfolk County, showing Brookline (upper left) along with Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, all three of which were later annexed by Boston Dorchester 1858.jpg
1858 map of north-central Norfolk County, showing Brookline (upper left) along with Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, all three of which were later annexed by Boston

Once part of Algonquian territory, Brookline was first settled by European colonists in the early 17th century. The area was an outlying part of the colonial settlement of Boston and known as the hamlet of Muddy River. In 1705, it was incorporated as the independent town of Brookline. The northern and southern borders of the town were marked by two small rivers or brooks, which is the town's namesake. The northern border with Brighton (which was itself part of Cambridge until 1807) was Smelt Brook. (That name appears on maps starting at least as early as 1852, but sometime between 1888 and 1925 the brook was covered over. [3] ) The southern boundary, abutting Boston, was the Muddy River.

In 1843, a racially restrictive covenant in Brookline forbade resale of property to "any negro or native of Ireland." [4] [5] [6]

The Town of Brighton was merged with Boston in 1874, and the Boston-Brookline border was redrawn to connect the new Back Bay neighborhood with Allston-Brighton. This merger created a narrow strip of land along the Charles River belonging to Boston, cutting Brookline off from the shoreline. It also put certain lands north of the Muddy River on the Boston side, including what are now Kenmore Square and Packard's Corner. The current northern border follows Commonwealth Avenue, and on the northeast, St. Mary's Street. When Frederick Law Olmsted designed the Emerald Necklace of parks and parkways for Boston in the 1890s, the Muddy River was integrated into the Riverway and Olmsted Park, creating parkland accessible by both Boston and Brookline residents.

Throughout its history, Brookline has resisted being annexed by Boston, in particular during the Boston–Brookline annexation debate of 1873. The neighboring towns of West Roxbury and Hyde Park connected Brookline to the rest of Norfolk County until they were annexed by Boston in 1874 and 1912, respectively, putting them in Suffolk County. Brookline is now separated from the remainder of Norfolk County.

Brookline has long been regarded as a pleasant and verdant environment. In the 1841 edition of the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Andrew Jackson Downing described the area this way:

The whole of this neighborhood of Brookline is a kind of landscape garden, and there is nothing in America of the sort, so inexpressibly charming as the lanes which lead from one cottage, or villa, to another. No animals are allowed to run at large, and the open gates, with tempting vistas and glimpses under the pendent boughs, give it quite an Arcadian air of rural freedom and enjoyment. These lanes are clothed with a profusion of trees and wild shrubbery, often almost to the carriage tracks, and curve and wind about, in a manner quite bewildering to the stranger who attempts to thread them alone; and there are more hints here for the lover of the picturesque in lanes than we ever saw assembled together in so small a compass. [7]

Brookline residents were among the first in the country to propose extending the vote to women. Benjamin F. Butler, in his 1882 campaign for Governor, advocated the idea. [8]

Transportation history

Two branches of upper Boston Post Road, established in the 1670s, passed through Brookline. Brookline Village was the original center of retail activity. [9] In 1810, the Boston and Worcester Turnpike, now Massachusetts Route 9, was laid out, starting on Huntington Avenue in Boston and passing through the village center on its way west.

Steam railroads came to Brookline in the middle of the 19th century. The Boston and Worcester Railroad was constructed in the early 1830s, and passed through Brookline near the Charles River. The rail line is still in active use, now paralleled by the Massachusetts Turnpike. The Highland branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad was built from Kenmore Square to Brookline Village in 1847, and was extended into Newton in 1852. In the late 1950s, this would become the Green Line D branch.

The portion of Beacon Street west of Kenmore Square was laid out in 1850. Streetcar tracks were laid above ground on Beacon Street in 1888, from Coolidge Corner to Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, via Kenmore Square. [10] In 1889, they were electrified and extended over the Brighton border at Cleveland Circle. They would eventually become the Green Line C branch.

Thanks to the Boston Elevated Railway system, this upgrade from horse-drawn carriage to electric trolleys occurred on many major streets all over the region, and made transportation into downtown Boston faster and cheaper. Much of Brookline was developed into a streetcar suburb, with large brick apartment buildings sprouting up along the new streetcar lines.

Housing and zoning history

Brookline has a history of racial covenants that blocked people of color and some ethnic minorities to own housing in Brookline. In the early 20th century, Brookline banned the construction of triple-decker housing, which was a form of housing popular with poor immigrant communities in the United States. Advocates for the ban justified the ban with anti-immigrant rhetoric. [11]

In 1922, Prescott F. Hall, a Brookline resident who co-founded the Immigration Restriction League, petitioned the Brookline government to exclusively allow single-family housing. In 1924, the Brookline government enacted a zoning change to only permit single-family housing in most of the territory of Brookline. Many of the present-day apartment buildings in Brookline were constructed prior to this zoning change. [11]

In 1970, the state authorized rent control in municipalities with more than 50,000 residents. [12] Brookline, Lynn, Somerville, and Cambridge subsequently adopted rent control. [12] Brookline began decontrolling units in 1991. [13]

Brookline has a recent history of blocking multifamily housing construction. Since the 1970s, new housing construction has plunged in Brookline. Brookline has enacted zoning changes that ban multi-apartment buildings and limit the height of buildings. Proposals for new development frequently faces onerous lawsuits. These restrictions on housing supply have led housing prices in Brookline to skyrocket in recent decades. In 2023, the median sale price for a single-family home in Brookline was $2.51 million, and the median condo price was $927,500. [11]

As a consequence of restrictions on housing supply, Brookline is overwhelmingly wealthy. Only 2.5% of its population is black, which is the second-lowest share of black people in any community in the Boston area. Only 14% of Brookline teachers, 21% of Brookline police and 22% of Brookline firefighters live in Brookline, as median salaries for these kinds of jobs make housing in Brookline largely unaffordable. [11]


Brookline was known as the hamlet of Muddy River and was considered part of Boston until the Town of Brookline was independently incorporated in 1705. (The Muddy River was used as the Brookline–Boston border at incorporation.) It is said that the name derives from a farm therein once owned by Judge Samuel Sewall. [14] Originally the property of CPT John Hull and Judith Quincy Hull. Judge Sewall came into possession of this tract, which embraced more than 350 acres, through Hannah Quincy Hull (Sewall) who was the Hull's only daughter. John Hull in his youth lived in Muddy River Hamlet, in a little house which stood near the Sears Memorial Church. Hull removed to Boston, where he amassed a large fortune for those days. Judge Sewall probably never lived on his Brookline estate. [15]


According to the United States Census Bureau, Brookline has a total area of 6.8 sq mi (17.7 km2), all but 0.039 sq mi (0.1 km2) (0.44%) of which is land.

The northern part of Brookline, roughly north of the D-line tracks, is urban in character, as highly walkable and transit rich. The population density of this northern part of town is nearly 20,000 inhabitants per square mile (8,000/km2), similar to the densest neighborhoods in nearby Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea, Massachusetts (the densest cities in New England), and slightly lower than that of central Boston's residential districts (Back Bay, South End, Fenway, etc.). The overall density of Brookline, which also includes suburban districts and grand estates south of the D-line, is still higher than that of many of the largest cities in the United States, especially in the South and West. Brookline borders Newton (part of Middlesex County) to the west and Boston (part of Suffolk County) in all other directions; it is therefore non-contiguous with any other part of Norfolk County. Brookline became an exclave of Norfolk County in 1873, when the neighboring town of West Roxbury was annexed by Boston (and left Norfolk County to join Suffolk County). Brookline refused to be annexed by Boston after the Boston–Brookline annexation debate of 1873.

Brookline separates the bulk of the city of Boston (except for a narrow neck or corridor near the Charles River) from its westernmost neighborhoods of Allston–Brighton, which had been the separate town of Brighton until annexed by Boston in 1873.


There are many neighborhood associations, some of which overlap. [16] [17]

Neighborhoods, squares, and notable areas of Brookline include:


The climate of Brookline is humid continental Dfa.

Climate data for Brookline, MA
Record high °F (°C)72.0
Mean daily maximum °F (°C)36.0
Mean daily minimum °F (°C)22.0
Record low °F (°C)−30.0
Average precipitation inches (mm)3.36
Source: [18]

Brookline falls under the USDA 6b Plant Hardiness zone. [19]


Historical population
1790 484    
1800 605+25.0%
1810 784+29.6%
1820 900+14.8%
1830 1,043+15.9%
1840 1,365+30.9%
1850 2,516+84.3%
1860 5,164+105.2%
1870 6,650+28.8%
1880 8,057+21.2%
1890 12,103+50.2%
1900 19,935+64.7%
1910 27,792+39.4%
1920 37,748+35.8%
1930 47,490+25.8%
1940 49,786+4.8%
1950 57,589+15.7%
1960 54,044−6.2%
1970 58,886+9.0%
1980 55,062−6.5%
1990 54,718−0.6%
2000 57,107+4.4%
2010 58,732+2.8%
2020 63,191+7.6%
: * = population estimate.
Source: United States census records and Population Estimates Program data. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [1] [31]

As of the census [32] of 2010, there were 58,732 people, 24,891 households, and 12,233 families residing in the town. The population density was 8,701.0 inhabitants per square mile (3,359.5/km2). There were 26,448 housing units at an average density of 3,889.6 per square mile (1,501.8/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 73.3% White, 3.4% Black or African American, 0.12% Native American, 15.6% Asian (6.7% Chinese, 2.6% Indian, 2.3% Korean, 1.8% Japanese), 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.01% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.0% of the population (0.9% Mexican, 0.8% Puerto Rican). (Source: 2010 Census Quickfacts)

There were 25,594 households, out of which 21.9% had children under the age of 18, living with them, 38.4% were married couples living together, 7.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 52.2% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.86.

In the town, the population distribution was wide, with 16.6% under the age of 18, 11.7%, from 18 to 24, 37.3% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 12.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.1 males.

The median income [33] for a household for 2021 in the town was $83,318, and the median income for a family was $122,356. Males had a median income of $56,861 versus $43,436 for females. The per capita income for the town was $44,327. About 4.5% of families and 9.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.3% of those under the age of 18 and 7.5% of those ages 65 and older. The poverty rate of Brookline's residents rate rose from 9.3% in 2000 to 13.1% in 2010. [34] and then reduced to 10.2% in 2021 [33]

Arts and culture

Points of interest

Overlooking Leverett Pond in Olmsted Park from the Brookline side Overlooking Leverett Pond in Olmsted Park from the Brookline, MA side.JPG
Overlooking Leverett Pond in Olmsted Park from the Brookline side

The following historic buildings are open to the public:

Other historic and cultural sites include:


Since 1916, Brookline has been governed by a representative town meeting, which is the town's legislative body, and a five-person Select Board, the town's executive branch. [42] [43] Fifteen town meeting representatives are elected to three year terms from each of the town's seventeen precincts. [44] From 1705 to 1916, the town was governed by an open town meeting and a Select Board.

New and existing laws

In 2017, a Brookline Town Meeting voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day. [45]

In 2019, Brookline banned the distribution of carry-out plastic bags at grocery stores and other businesses. [46]

In 2021, Brookline banned the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone born after January 1, 2000, in Article 8.23 of the town bylaws, expanding on Massachusetts' existing prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. [46] In March 2023, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the bylaw in the case Six Brothers Inc. v. Town of Brookline. [47]


Public schools

The town is served by the Public Schools of Brookline. The student body at Brookline High School includes students from more than 76 countries. Many students attend Brookline High from surrounding neighborhoods in Boston, such as Mission Hill and Mattapan through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) system.

There are eight elementary schools in the Brookline Public School system: Baker School, Coolidge Corner School, Driscoll, Heath, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pierce, and Runkle. As of December 2006, there were 6,089 K–12 students enrolled in the Brookline public schools. The system includes one early learning center, eight grades K–8 schools, and one comprehensive high school. The Old Lincoln School is a surplus building used by the town to temporarily teach students in when another school building is being renovated. It was rented in 2009 as the venue for the play Sleep No More.

As of the 2012–13 school year, the student body was 57.4% White, 18.1% Asian, 6.4% Black, 9.9% Hispanic, and 8.2% multi-race. Approximately 30% of students came from homes where English is not the first language.

Private schools

Several private primary and secondary schools are located in Brookline.

Higher education

Several institutes of higher education are located in Brookline.

Also, parts of the following are located in Brookline: Boston University including Wheelock College, Boston College, and Northeastern University's Parsons Field.

Newbury College closed in 2019. [48]



Brookline Village MBTA D-Train stop Brookline Village, Brookline, MA MBTA D-Train stop.JPG
Brookline Village MBTA D-Train stop

Light rail and subway

Brookline is served by the C and D branches of the MBTA's Green Line trains, with inbound service to downtown Boston and outbound service to Newton. The B line runs along the town's northern border of Commonwealth Avenue in Allston.


Brookline is served by several MBTA bus routes.

Public libraries

Fire department

The town of Brookline is protected full-time by the 158 paid, professional firefighters of the Brookline Fire Department (BFD). It currently operates out of five fire stations located throughout the town, under the command of a Deputy Chief per shift. The BFD also operates a fire apparatus fleet of four engines, two ladders, one quint, one cross-staffed rescue (special operations), two squads, one special operations unit, one haz-mat decon trailer, two maintenance units, as well as numerous other special, support, and reserve units. The Brookline Fire Department responds to approximately 8,500 emergency calls annually. The current Chief of Department is John F. Sullivan. [49]


Notable people

In film

In television

Sister cities

Brookline is twinned with:

See also

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Further reading