In 1775, Silas Wetherbee gave three acres of land in present day Boxborough, MA, to be used as a meetinghouse and burial ground site for the new town that he and 17 other outlying farmers of Stow, Harvard, and Littleton hoped to establish. That year, having formed a new religious society, they acquired the old meetinghouse in the nearby town of Harvard, dismantled it, and began to reconstruct it on land donated by Wetherbee. In 1783, the Town of Boxborough was officially incorporated, with the meetinghouse at its approximate center. That next year, Silas sold his son Levi, “60 acres of land, half of a building referred to as the “old house,” and half of a barn, all located just east of the townhouse. The farm was run by Levi until his death in 1829, when it came into the possession of his son, John Wetherbee (1800-1858). In 1908, the property was sold out of the family when it was purchased by Burpee Clark Steele, who owned it for the next seventeen years. Steele had immigrated from Nova Scotia to Boxborough in 1886, and he quickly became known for his expansive apple orchards. In 1925, Burpee Steele conveyed the farm to his son, Burpee Franklin Steele. Under his ownership, the old barn blew down in the Great Hurricane of 1938, and he constructed a new barn years later. Also a later addition, the Richardson Ice House was moved to the site by the local historical society in the 1990s. The farm today is protected by the town, but the buildings could use some better maintenance. Hopefully the town funds their preservation so they do not decay.
One thing I really love about small towns in New England is the prevalence of amazing old homes on the winding back roads. Located in Boxborough, MA, the Jacob Littlefield Farmhouse showcases the agricultural character and charm seen in the town. The farmhouse and outbuildings were built by Jacob Littlefield, who likely hired a housewright from town as the home is a near match to a home built on a nearby street. Mr. Littlefield was a farmer from Wells, Maine with seven children and a wife named Anna. After his death, his wife Anna owned the farm, until her death in 1896. Their son Albert ran the farm from about 1896-1922, after which time Jacob’s grandson Earl was the owner. Earl was taxed in 1928 for ownership of two horses, 17 cows, a bull, the house, barn and shed, tool house, ice house, root house, hen house, garage, and a second house on 101 acres. He resided here until 1929 when it was sold out of the family. Since then, subsequent owners have restored the home and the various outbuildings to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of the property. We need more stewards of old homes like this!
The area which became the town of Boxborough, Massachusetts, was first inhabited by the Native Americans of the Nipmuc and Pennacook tribes. Land in Boxborough was not settled by colonists until the beginning of the eighteenth century by farmers looking for fertile land to establish farms, who branched out from nearby Acton. Boxborough was formed from Harvard, Littleton, and Stow in 1783 and was incorporated as its own town. With the exception of small local industries including gristmills, sawmills, and cooperages as well as some minor boot and shoemaking, comb-making, and a lime quarry and kiln, Boxborough’s economy remained almost entirely agricultural through the 19th century. The town grew steadily and a Town Hall building was funded by the turn of the 20th century. This Queen Anne/Colonial Revival Town Hall building was constructed in 1901, atop the foundation which was constructed of locally gathered cobblestone by local volunteer farmers. Today, the town retains much of its agricultural heritage, but it is definitely under threat by subdivisions and Neo-Colonial mansions further contributing to Bostons suburban sprawl.
Did you know that Boston once had it’s own Hogwarts? While we didn’t have wizards and witches in the streets, we did have young magicians learning the tricks of the trade! The Boston School of Magic was founded in the 1880s by William Davis LeRoy (1862-1919), a professional magician who also served as President of the Conjuror’s Club of Boston. Upon opening its doors, the Boston School of Magic was one of a handful of such schools in the country. For $75, you could learn how to escape from a pair of handcuffs from a professional instructor at W.D. Leroy’s “School of Magic”, and even buy some magic items for shows from his large catalogue. Mr. LeRoy was also friends with the famous Harry Houdini, who purchased items from his store and consulted with him on new acts. Houdini was extremely popular in Boston and held many acts and feats of strength here. The Boston School of Magic was located in the second floor of the Blanchard Building at 103 Court Street, a brick commercial building with stone facade constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The building was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a two-story structure, which too was razed for Government Center.
Less than a dozen wood-frame buildings exist on Beacon Hill in Boston, and this curious building is one of them, and also happens to be one of the oldest structures in the neighborhood! Built by 1800, this structure was constructed as an ell/addition to the Glapion-Middleton House at 5 Pinckney Street in Boston. The Glapion-Middleton House (previously featured) was constructed in 1787 after two Black men, George Middleton and Louis Glapion and their wives, built a small double house in the abolitionist center of Boston, Beacon Hill. In recent years, some have speculated that due to this living arrangement and other accounts, that Glapion and Middleton were in-fact gay men, but this is unsubstantiated. After the home was constructed, a two-story, five-bay ell was constructed which connected the home to Joy Street at the corner. The ell served as additional space for the two families and they appear to have had a workshop or store in part of the building. In 1855, owners demolished the center bay of the ell and erected a brick townhouse, similar to others in the neighborhood. The ell in this building was occupied as a store for the majority of its life and became an Italian restaurant and soon after a “Boyer’s Creamery Luncheon”. The property has since been converted to a residence.
Boston has many examples of adaptive reuse, likely none as frequent as converted horse stables and carriage houses from the 19th century. These one-story stables with a mansard roof on Stanhope Street in the Back Bay were constructed by 1868. The street once held other stable buildings, but those lots were either redeveloped or closed for the extension of Clarendon Street. The stables were used to store the horses and carriages of wealthy Back Bay residents including Jacob Pfaff, Dexter Follett, and Barney Corey. When automobiles replaced horses as a primary way of getting around, these buildings were converted to garages. As the land value raised here, they were adapted to commercial use eventually as restaurants. The building at the far left (now Red Lantern) was originally occupied by Gundlach’s Hofbrau German Restaurant, followed by the Red Coach Grill. A large fire occurred at the restaurant in 1955, likely destroying any historic fabric inside. The Stanhope Stables are threatened for redevelopment as the high-value land facilitates a higher and better use (presently proposed as a hotel). While the preservationist in me wants to see these stables remain intact, my stance is that the brick facades should be reconfigured into a new development in a lobby or restaurant.
What do you think?
Located on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, Boston, you’ll find this charming Tudor style commercial building, which appears as if it was plucked from the England! The Studio Building was built in 1914, and replaced a livery stable on the site (not really necessary with the growing popularity of the automobile). The building was designed by the architectural firm of Loring & Leland for William Coombs Codman of the Brahmin Boston family as an investment. The building was constructed on a prominent corner lot with commercial/retail use at the ground floor and artist studios above. Just six years after the building was complete, Charles Street was widened, and the building was shaved back over 10′ with all new openings seen here.
The Charles Roberts Mansion in Beacon Hill maintains its architectural integrity and is an extremely rare example of the Egyptian Revival and Second Empire styles in Boston. The mansion was constructed in 1871 for Charles and Mercy Roberts, likely as a boarding house for transient legislators working at the Massachusetts State House nearby and other middle-class citizens. The mansion was designed by William Washburn, a prolific architect who lived nearby and is credited with iconic early Boston buildings like the Revere and American Houses (early Boston hotels), the original Tremont Temple, and the old Charlestown City Hall, all since demolished. This mansion is the only extant building by Washburn to my knowledge. The brick and sandstone building features paired columns at the entrance with Egyptian Revival lotus leaf capitals, additionally, the triangular dormers at the mansard roof provide a slight Egyptian Revival note. The Egyptian Revival style was rarely used in American domestic architectural design. More frequently used in the design of cemetery entrance gates and memorials in the form of obelisks, the Egyptian Revival made sporadic appearances in the design of American buildings between the 1820s and the 1870s. Another period of the Egyptian Revival architectural style also occurred in the 1920s, with design of silent movie theaters, which coincided with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.
Boston’s constant churning of development has given us amazing architectural landmarks, and incredibly unfathomable architectural loss. One of such cases of loss is the former Brattle Street Church which was located on Brattle Street, roughly where the main entrance to Boston City Hall is located today. Demolition of significant architecture in Boston began way before the period of Urban Renewal in the mid-20th century, and the loss of the Brattle Street Church in Downtown Boston showcases this. The Brattle Street Church had been founded in the 1690s by a group of merchants seeking an alternative to the authority exercised by Increase and Cotton Mather in Boston’s existing congregations. Despite these beginnings, the church remained Congregational through the 18th century. At the time of the Revolution, Brattle Street counted such figures as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and John and Abigail Adams among its parishioners. The original wooden church was replaced in 1772 by this stunning brick building, designed by Thomas Dawes. Just years after the doors opened, the American Revolution upended life in Boston. This building was a survivor, and was apparently hit by cannon-fire by the American batteries at the siege of Boston. A cannonball can be seen lodged into the building at the second floor, to the right of the Palladian window. After the American Civil War, development of the Back Bay led to a shifting population away from the downtown core, and a new church was erected for the congregation, the Brattle Square Church, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. This church was demolished in 1872, just 100 years after it opened its doors and took a cannon for America.
Few architects today continually put out good designs for new construction. One of those firms is Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), who designed The Clarendon, a high-rise apartment building catty-corner to the tallest building in New England, the Hancock Tower. The Clarendon rises 32-stories atop a five-story limestone base, which relates to the scale of the base of the Old John Hancock Building (across the street). Above, the building is clad in the traditional Boston palette of red brick and limestone, but expressed in a way that relates to its modern neighbors with two-story recessed masses that break up the sheer height of the building. Above the base, the building sets back to create elevated green spaces and to mitigate wind conditions caused by the John Hancock Tower. Together the design features and materials provide a nod to historical context in Boston, while being unapologetically Modern. Part of the appeal for me is how this building does not command the corner, but adds to the rich layered fabric in this section of the Back Bay.
What do you think of the Clarendon?