The last neighborhood Fourth of July parade wrapped up decades ago. The small cape houses that once dotted the landscape of the Woodlands neighborhood are continuously dwindling, with a steady stream of larger houses being built in their stead.
“Our house was—I think—the second house built in this neighborhood,” said JoAnn Jones, who was born JoAnn Leyland in 1952 and has lived near the corner of Halsey Avenue and Turner Road virtually ever since. Her dad purchased the land, like all of the original neighbors, when he returned from World War II.
“The deal was the vets were coming home,” Jones said, “and either the vet or his wife had to be a Wellesley resident.” That was the case for her family, and they bought the property at 5 Halsey Ave. for $650 in 1946. “If you didn’t build then it went back to the town.”
They fulfilled the requirement to build on the land within one-and-a-half years, and the property has been in the family for nearly 70 years now. During that stretch, the large forest land just steps from their home—the North 40—has remained relatively untouched, save for a period of time at the beginning when the town used it as a landfill.
Now, the college is looking to sell the 46-acre patch of land. The town is a potential suitor, but so too are developers who could add more houses—and, according to the Joneses, more strain—on a neighborhood that’s seen its character evolve dramatically in recent years.
“The people in this neighborhood came from the same start. We all had a common bond in the neighborhood,” she said. “When I run into someone new in the neighborhood [now] I say, ‘OK, whose house are you living in?’”
Her dad used to joke that if her family and the Walshs down the street both used a toaster at the same time a transformer would blow. “Times have definitely changed since then,” she said.
JoAnn and her husband, Peter Jones, bought the house from her dad in 1972. They raised their daughter there and have no plans to leave, even as the remaining houses that resemble their own are demolished and replaced by what the Joneses call “McMansions.”
“I’m not crazy about it to be honest,” JoAnn said of the redevelopment of her neighborhood, which has included the loss of her old neighbors to increased taxes and ever-growing demand for property. They estimate that half of the original houses in the neighborhood have been replace by bigger, more luxurious homes.
The house across the street is set to go along with the one immediately to the left of their home, they said. “We’ll be the last ones standing,” JoAnn said. “We have a bomb shelter in the back yard. I’d like to see them dig that up.”
“We’re actually starting to turn Wellesley into more of a Brookline,” Peter Jones said. “[It’s] more of a city than a plain town that people were expecting.”
If the town buys the North 40, Peter Jones said, it would mean an increase in taxes to fund both the purchase itself and any ensuing development. If a developer buys it, new roads accessing the Woodlands, and the increased traffic from an influx of residents, is a major concern, the Joneses said.
The issue has brought them and the neighborhood together, JoAnn said, as they work to voice their concerns loud and clear to the town officials who will ultimately decide if a purchase by the town is the right move.
“You’re going to be adding a lot,” JoAnn said of any potential development on the land.
There used to be a sign on the edge of the neighborhood that identified it as the Woodlands. Neither of the Joneses knows what happened to it, but they find themselves correcting newcomers who identify it as “The Generals.”
The streets, which were named after generals and admirals, are one of the last remaining indications of the origins of the neighborhood as a place for World War II veterans and their often-large families.
Back when she was still JoAnn Leyland and sharing 5 Halsey Ave. with her parents and siblings rather than her husband, the neighborhood was teeming with activity. Every year on the Fourth of July neighbors would unveil the floats they’d spent weeks working on in secrecy at the neighborhood parade.
JoAnn said she doesn’t remember exactly when the last parade occurred, but a color photograph she has of one Woodlands family dressed as “The Flintstones” dates the end sometime in the early-to-mid ’60s.
Games of capture the flag would span the entire street, she said, but over time the number of kids in the neighborhood has dropped considerably.
“It was definitely a wild, crazy neighborhood when I was a kid,” she said. “It was the place to play.”