Streetcar suburbs of Boston have long been connected to the city by horse-drawn streetcars. As the city expanded and transportation shifted electrical, things changed in a big way! By the time the last horse-drawn streetcar was retired in 1897, the West End Street Railway Company had replaced its fleet of 9,000 horses with electric streetcars. Things were built upwards, with an elevated railway constructed between 1898 and 1901 that ran down Washington Street in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston along the boundary of Jamaica Plain. The route had a stop in the middle of Egleston Square, with the surrounding neighborhood largely occupied by wood-frame, detached triple-deckers, two-family, and single-family houses, with many occupied by workers from the breweries nearby. Located on Washington Street in Roxbury, the Egleston Square substation was built in 1909 by the Boston Elevated Railway Company (predecessor of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) to convert AC (alternating current) electricity to DC (direct current) for use by its street railway cars and elevated cars. The building was designed by Robert S. Peabody of Peabody and Stearns, a prominent and expensive firm (yes the MBTA once invested in their infrastructure). After the station was effectively abandoned by the MBTA, the substation fell into disrepair, with a roof in failure in 2005. It was then acquired by Boston Neighborhood Network Media, a local nonprofit, who have converted it for use as office and television studio space. Scott Payette was the firm responsible for the intensive restoration and renovation.
282 Beacon Street // 1927
One of the finest apartment-houses in Boston is this towering building at the corner of Beacon and Exeter streets in the Back Bay neighborhood. In 1926, real estate dealers Elliott Henderson and Roger B. Tyler purchased two townhouses on small lots and demolished them for the present structure. They hired the architectural firm of Blackall and Elwell furnished the plans for the 11-story Renaissance Revival style residence which included ten large apartments. The design is unique to the Back Bay with amazing cast stone details at the entries with rounded arch windows, fanciful brickwork, and spiral columns!
Portland Custom House // 1868
Probably my favorite building in Portland, Maine is the former Custom House building, an imposing granite building located a stone’s throw from the Portland Harbor. It was built to accommodate the city’s growing customs business, which, by 1866, was collecting $900,000 annually in customs duties—making Portland one of the most significant seaports in the country. The building is typical of the notable designs completed under the direction of Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. Constructed between 1867 and 1872 (due to delays in obtaining granite for the upper stories) the U.S. Custom House combines elements of the Second Empire and Renaissance Revival styles and is one of the best preserved custom houses in New England. The interior custom hall is especially remarkable.
Portland City Hall // 1909
The City Hall in Portland, Maine is among my favorite civic buildings in New England and is the third that was built on this site. The previous city hall on the site of the present City Hall, completed in 1862, burned in Portland’s Great Fire of 1866. It was reconstructed in 1867 by designs of Francis H. Fassett, a Portland-based architect. In 1908, it burned again. So much damage was done that the building had to be removed. The present Portland City Hall was designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, assisted by local Portland architects John Calvin Stevens and his son, John Howard Stevens who together, oversaw day-to-day changes and work to the building. Interestingly, John Carrere is quoted as saying he would rather have his reputation rest on the Portland City Hall than upon any other building he designed (and he designed MANY great buildings). The impressive structure was inspired by the New York City Hall, which was built about 100 years prior in 1803-1812. The Portland City Hall remains today as a great visual anchor for the revitalizing downtown area of Portland.
Versailles School // 1924
While Baltic has long been the dense population center of the Town of Sprague, Connecticut, the Village of Versailles has also had ties to industry and growth. The village was originally named Eagleville but was renamed sometime in the late 19th century. The village is located along the Shetucket River and has had industry, which was slower to grow than neighboring Baltic. The village had a wood-frame school building, which was consumed by fire in the early 20th century. In 1924, this substantial “fire-proof” school was built just at the time the Town of Sprague was consolidating schools, in the three main population centers: Baltic, Hanover and Versailles. The schools were consolidated again and this building was sold in the mid-1950s. It was later a Masonic Lodge and is now a commercial use, occupied by Dark Manor, Inc., a haunted house company.
De La Salle // 1884
The Weld family has long been a prominent family in Boston, with ancestors dating back to the 17th century in New England. One of these men was William Fletcher Weld, a merchant, later making investments in railroads and real estate. By the time of his death in 1881, he had an estate of approximately $20 million, or more than half a billion in today’s dollars, and he left nearly all of it to his family. His eldest son, William Gordon Weld II, received a large inheritance and he began construction on this summer “residence”cottage” in Newport. The house was designed by local architect Dudley Newton, who had the estate built of locally-quarried granite. Architecturally, the dwelling is eclectic in style with Dutch Renaissance gables with conical roof forms seen typically in Queen Anne and Romanesque buildings. Weld spent his summers here for over a decade until his death in 1896. His widow Caroline, summered in the mansion until her death in 1918. By this point, Newport was beginning to fall out of favor as a wealthy resort community, and the many Gilded Age mansions were increasingly viewed as costly white elephants from a previous era. This property was sold by the Weld family in the early 1920s and became the De La Salle Academy, a Catholic school for boys, and remained in use until it closed in the early 1970s. After the school closed, the mansion was converted to condominiums and some townhomes were built on the expansive property.
Villa Rosa // 1900-1962
Built as the summer residence of Mr. Eben Rollins Morse and Mrs. Marion Steedman Morse of Boston and New York, Villa Rosa was one of the finest summer cottages in Newport. The property was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Morse, which originally included three, large estates two of which were featured previously. Mr. Morse was a stockbroker and investment banker, and the couple lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, maintaining a summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1900, the couple hired Ogden Codman, Jr., a society architect and historian from Boston, to design a townhome in New York (their new permanent home) and Newport, where they could summer with other wealthy New Yorkers. Their cottage, Villa Rosa, was a huge statement, likely to insert themselves into the high-society of Newport summers. Oriented to the south, rather than to Bellevue Avenue, the house took maximum advantage of its long narrow setting. The exterior of the house was covered in pastel pink stucco offset with white bas-relief panels and was crowned by a copper dome. The heart of the house was the green trellised circular Music Room or Ballroom, the first room in the United States to incorporate lattice design as a decorative scheme. The property was eventually sold for $21,500 to E.A. McNulty, a Rhode Island contractor. Ogden Codman’s masterpiece was demolished in December of 1962 and an apartment complex built on the site in 1965. Townhouse condominiums replaced the gardens in the 1970s and the gateposts, a final vestige, were cleared in 2004.
Image courtesy of Newport Historical Society.
Belair Stable // c.1875
Just past the Belair Gate Lodge (1870), you w5ll find one of the most eclectic and interesting buildings in Newport, Rhode Island. This structure was built around 1875 as the stable to the larger Belair estate, just a stone’s throw away. When it was built, local papers stated the building was “probably one of the most expensive stables in the city.” It was designed by Newport architect Dudley Newton at the same time he redesigned the main mansion and furnished plans for the new gate lodge for owner George H. Norman. Architecturally, there is A LOT going on here. The 1½-story, rough-face-granite-ashlar building is capped by a hexagonal-tile slate mansard roof. On the left is an octagonal tower with an out-of-scale roof pitch and at the other side of the carriage door is a circular-plan tower with battlemented parapet. At the center is a really unique trefoil gable with trefoil window centered within. So cool to stumble upon this!! Oh, and it’s now a single-family home. Swoon.
The Breakers – Library // 1895
Tied as my favorite room with the Morning Room at the iconic Breakers Mansion in Newport, the jaw-dropping library is almost too good to be true. The library was designed to be the centerpiece of life for Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was always well-read. The walls are paneled with Circassian walnut cut in Europe and stamped with gold. The ceiling is coffered with more gold leaf. The fireplace in the library is probably my favorite in the mansion, which was acquired from a 16th-century French chateau, Chateau d’Arnay Ie Duc. The walls in the library and its smaller alcove are covered with wainscoting of Circassian walnut decorated with low relief carving and gold leaf; the walls above the woodwork are covered with panels of gold-embossed Spanish leather. Yes, leather walls! What is your favorite part of the Breakers Library??
The Breakers – Music Room // 1895
You know you’ve “made it” if you have a music room, especially if you have one in your summer mansion in Newport! The Music Room in The Breakers evokes the opulent Parisian interiors of the Second Period and when inside the room, you just feel sensory overload (in the best way possible. The room is located off the Great Room and Morning Room, at the southern end of the house. The Music Room was used for recitals and dances for the Vanderbilt Family and guests. The room displays ornate woodwork and furnishings designed by Richard Van der Boyen and built by J. Allard of Paris. The room looks like it was plucked out of a French building and dropped into the mansion, and that is because it was! The room’s interior was constructed completely in France and then sent to America where it was installed at The Breakers by French craftsmen. My favorite parts of the interior are the bay window at the end and the gilt gold coffered ceiling.