Sumner Hill in Jamaica Plain, Boston, is home to the most amazing Victorian-era homes in Boston. This elaborate house was built in 1884 for Walter Herbert Miller, a piano dealer and his wife, Mary Alice. The home exhibits asymmetry, porches with turned posts, a brick chimney facing the street, and the use of wood clapboards and shingle siding, adding intrigue. Starting around 1919, the home was rented by Judith Winsor Smith (1821-1921) a women’s suffrage activist, social reformer, and abolitionist until her death two years later. She was involved in the suffrage movement until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920, when she voted for the first time at 99. Judith’s daughter Zilpha Smith also lived at the home with her mother until her own death in 1926. In her twenties, Zilpha volunteered alongside her mother, in relief efforts to care for victims of the Great Boston Fire of 1872; the experience led her towards a career in social work. Smith joined the Associated Charities of Boston as Head of the Office Staff in 1879 and later became its General Secretary. At that organization, she applied new theories about “charity organization.” The charity organization movement aimed to coordinate private agencies in order to use their resources efficiently to ameliorate urban poverty.
Built in Sumner Hill’s first period of development, this Italianate home sits away from the street as any suburban retreat should. The house was built in 1854 for Luther Gilbert, a grocer who co-owned stores around Boston under the firm Gilbert & Knight. The home is possibly the first true Italianate style home in the neighborhood, a deviation from the popular Greek Revival style common for merchants in the decades before. The home was eventually purchased in 1877 by Elias Hook of Hook & Hastings a major organ manufacturer. The company did very well, supplying organs to churches all over the county and was said to be the largest organ manufactory in the world at the time. The home is so well preserved, and even has a historically appropriate paint scheme!!
Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant (1833-1890) was born in a poor Maine farming family and began working as a shoemaker to make ends meet. He devised a crude machine used in shoe manufacturing and moved to Boston in 1856 seeking backing for further development, thus began his career as an inventor. In his travels around shoe factories, Sturtevant was troubled by the airborne wood dust created by the machines wanted to invent a way to eliminate the dust and its resulting health effects. In 1867, he patented a rotary exhaust fan and began manufacturing the fan and selling it to industrial buyers across the country. He built a factory in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood that manufactured his invented air blowers, fans, and pneumatic conveyors. The factory in the 1870s was the largest fan manufacturing plant in the world. From his success, Ben Franklin Sturtevant built a house in the fashionable Sumner Hill neighborhood of Boston. The home was likely built in the Second Empire or Stick style, both popular at the time. When Benjamin died in the home, the home was willed to his widow until her death in 1903. In that time, the home was likely updated in the Queen Anne style, with Colonial embellishments. The couple’s youngest daughter, Lilla, occupied the home with her husband Eugene, who was previously hired to the B. F. Sturtevant Company by her late father. Eugene Foss, who married Lilla, was a member of the United States House of Representatives, and served as a three-term governor of Massachusetts. No biggie.
Tucked behind the St. John Episcopal Church in Sumner Hill, Boston, the Thomas Sherwin House sits atop the peak of the hill, and likely has views of downtown Boston from its upper floor. The house was built in 1883 for Thomas Sherwin, an auditor, and possibly the man of the same name who was a Brigadier General in the American Civil War. The home was designed by the powerhouse architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt and spans two major architectural styles of the period; Stick style and Queen Anne. The home is one of the best examples in the neighborhood and is very well preserved!
I was going through my phone to make space and realized I still had some houses in Jamaica Plain’s Sumner Hill neighborhood that I have not yet shared. This Victorian-era home was built in the late 1880s for S.F. Woodman, an insurance agent for Travelers Insurance. Mr. Woodman had this home built not far from the streetcar line, where he would commute into the city for his job, for twenty more years until his retirement in 1909. The house (like many of the period), exhibits a blending of styles, mostly showcasing the Queen Anne style but also exhibiting Shingle style and Colonial Revival elements.
Tucked behind the massive Emmel Building (last post), you will find these two charming houses on the dead-end street in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Like the Emmel Building, these two homes were built by Charles Emmel, an architectural sculptor and real estate investor, who hired local architect George Zimmer to furnish plans for the buildings. The two transitional Queen Anne houses feature some of Emmel’s architectural decoration, from the lion’s head corbels to the decorative lintels above the windows, these homes really stand out!
In 1896, architectural sculptor Charles Emmel purchased land in the rapidly developing Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain, Boston. He hired local architect George Zimmer, to design a massive double-house which would serve as an income-producing investment, and could also be a sort of advertisement for his sculpture work. The result is this massive Colonial Revival style property, perched atop a puddingstone foundation. Architectural ornament has been lovingly preserved, a testament to the owners of the building today and the amazing work of the original owner, Mr. Emmel. I found myself staring at the building for a while when walking by, looking at all the hidden detail and architectural ornament which adds so much to the building.
Just a block from the Bethel AME Church (last post) in Jamaica Plain, Boston, you will find this absolutely charming old fire station. The station was built in 1909 about the same time as the new Forest Hills Train Station was completed, signaling a huge population and development boom in the area. To provide emergency and fire service to the newly developing neighborhoods surrounding the train station, the City of Boston hired the architectural firm of Moller and Smith to design a new station that would allow for horses and related apparatus as well as a new fire automobile to enter the building. The Arts and Crafts style building is constructed of brick supported by structural steel finished with Carolina pine at the interior. The building retains its pyramidal hipped roof in slate and a unique corner tower capped with a castellated parapet.
During the rich Arts and Crafts movement of Boston, dozens of churches and their associated buildings were constructed using principles of the movement, which sought to incorporate English design with hand-crafted detailing, moving away from the mass-produced features and architecture seen in the Victorian-era/Industrial Revolution. After WWI, the Forest Hills neighborhood of Boston saw a massive influx of residents and housing construction, leading to the desire for a new neighborhood church. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese commissioned Boston architects Timothy O’Connell and Richard Shaw, who specialized in ecclesiastical design to build the new church. Opened in 1921, the building is constructed of random ashlar walls with buttresses, lancet windows, and a large rose window, all nods to Gothic architectural precedent. Demographic changes and declining church attendance led the parish, for the first time in 1995, to accept aid from the archdiocese to meet expenses. Unable to justify keeping the church open, the Archdiocese sold the church to Reverend Ray Hammond and the Reverend Gloria White-Hammond, a husband-and-wife pastoral team, who started a local African Methodist Church (Bethel AME Church) in the neighborhood.
While the demolition of the 1909 Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain (last post) was a huge architectural and historic loss for the city of Boston, the present building is a landmark in its own right. The present building was built in 1987 as a pivotal project in the MBTA’s Southwest Corridor Improvement Program, which was largely unfinished (thanks to neighborhood pushback and protests against the proposed highway to cut through the neighborhoods). The existing station, designed by local firm Cambridge Seven, is situated between two important points in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system, and thus was given the appearance of a greenhouse by the architects. The distinctive clock tower, rising 120 feet above the station, signals the station location and is a nod to the days when stations once had prominent clocks to help passengers keep tabs on the time, before the days of cellphones!