One of the most prominent homes in Jamaica Plain is the Riddell House, built in 1873. The Second Empire style house was built for Samuel S. Riddell, who is listed in directories as a merchant with offices in Downtown Boston. After the Civil War, it was common for those with money, to build larger mansions outside the city and commute in via horsecar or train. Boston at the time was an industrial powerhouse with coal stacks and horses spewing waste all over, so a respite from the urban conditions of Boston was a selling point for many to build homes farther out. Interestingly, Second Empire style homes by the 1870s were starting to wane in popularity, but the owner decided to have the home constructed in the style anyway. Besides the amazing siting on the hill with lush landscaping, the house features a large belvedere at the roof, which would allow Samuel the ability to see Boston in the distance, along with all the pollution at the time.
One of the oldest extant homes in the Sumner Hill neighborhood of Jamaica Plain is this stunning 1852 country mansion, built for William Hyslop Sumner. General William H. Sumner (1780-1861) was born in Roxbury, not far from where he built this house in his later years of life. He attended Harvard College, and after graduating, Sumner entered the law office of district attorney John Davis, gaining admittance to the bar in 1802. He practiced law from 1802 until 1818 when he left the field in order to concentrate on his military duties at the outbreak of the War of 1812. Sumner was involved in the state’s defenses. In September 1814 Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong sent Sumner, then a lieutenant colonel in the state militia, to coordinate the defense of Portland in the District of Maine (which was then still a part of Massachusetts). His task was to maintain 1,900 militia and create a better relationship between the Massachusetts militia and the U.S. Army forces posted there. After the war, he developed what we know today as East Boston. His maternal grandmother, Mehitable (Stoddard) Hyslop, owned Noddle’s Island. Sumner’s Beginning in 1833, in partnership with Stephen White and Francis J. Oliver, The East Boston Company was created to conduct the development of East Boston. They laid out the first planned neighborhood in the City of Boston, laying out grids and house lots. He would go on to write histories on the neighborhood which are referenced to this day. His country estate in Jamaica Plain is a blending of Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The home is undergoing a renovation currently.
As previously mentioned, Jamaica Plain as we know it, was once a part of the Town of West Roxbury. West Roxbury was originally a part of the Town of Roxbury, but due to its farmland and differing goals and quality of life, the town seceded from Roxbury in 1851. After the Civil War, like many other adjacent towns to Boston, West Roxbury was annexed into Boston in 1874. In the 23 years West Roxbury was its own town, they constructed a Town Hall worthy of the new town’s stature and standing. In 1866, David S. Greenough owner of the Loring-Greenough Estate, sold a prominent plot of land on the town’s main street for $10,000, money furnished by Nelson Curtis, a wealthy mason, politician and banker. George Ropes was commissioned as architect, who may have been the town architect as he also constructed the District 13 Police Station for the town. The stately masonry building featured brick construction with granite trim and quoins, a large entry portico and a mansard roof. A fire in 1908 destroyed the roof, and it was replaced with a more contemporary, Colonial Revival finish. In recent history, the building was a community center, with a swimming pool in the basement. The building remains a Boston Centers for Youth & Families, but in not great preservation. This is a PRIME candidate for Community Preservation Act funds.
One of my favorite homes in Jamaica Plain is this gorgeous old Victorian-era home, perched high on Sumner Hill. The house was built in 1875 seemingly for John L Webster and his wife Henrietta with John as the architect/builder. John built other homes in the neighborhood, and clearly did well for himself as he acquired one of the most prominent sites in the area for his own home. After his death in 1890, the home was willed to his daughter and her husband, Augustus T. Jenkins, who worked as a Clerk in Downtown Boston. The house blends many mid-to-late 19th century styles including Second Empire, Stick, and Victorian Gothic, and is among one of the most architecturally pleasing I have seen. The central tower, obscured in my photos by trees, probably provides some amazing views of the growing city in the distance.
The District 13 Police Station was built in 1873 in response to the needs of a growing community. Located in what is now Jamaica Plain, it was originally intended to serve the town of West Roxbury, which was itself annexed into Boston within the year it took to construct this building! The town of West Roxbury appropriated funds for a larger police station in the dense core of their town, but only acquired land in Sumner Hill, which was a rapidly developing neighborhood with large, upper-class mansions on large lots. To appease the neighbors, the town hired architect George Ropes to design this brick Victorian Gothic building with slate roof, punctured by a number of dormers. The building is one of the best-designed civic buildings in the present city of Boston and appears much as it would have when built 150 years ago. After West Roxbury was annexed, the City of Boston constructed an addition at the rear, designed in 1892 by Edmund M. Wheelwright, architect for the City of Boston, to serve as a municipal court building. The ornate building continued its use as a police station until the early 1980s until it was deaccessioned by the City of Boston and sold, subsequently converted to condominiums. I wonder if they kept the jail cells!
This lovely Italianate home in Jamaica Plain, Boston, was built around 1869 for newlyweds Samuel B. Capen and Helen W. Capen. The house (with a glorious, bold paint scheme) features a central entry with columned portico, central gable with arched window and decorative trusses, and decorative features like corbels at the eaves and window hoods at the ground floor. Owner Samuel Billings Capen (1842-1914) entered the carpet business in Boston at the age of 17 in the firm of Wentworth & Bright, and in 1864 became a partner in the firm, which later became Torrey, Bright & Capen Company. He later became an advocate for immigrants moving into Boston and served as President of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Chairman of Board of Trustees of Wellesley College, and Trustee of World’s Foundation. He died while on a trip with his wife and daughter in China, after a three day illness with pneumonia, while trying to spread Christianity in Shanghai. After his death, his widow and daughter returned to Jamaica Plain, where Helen lived to 97 years old.
Cyrus White (1830-1893) was born in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts and eventually settled in Boston, where he patented his “White’s Tropic Furnace”. The furnace was powered by coal, but due to its engineering, required only a small amount compared to competitors. From this invention, Cyrus opened a store in Jamaica Plain which sold house-furnishing goods, hardware, plumbing fixtures, furnaces, stoves, and drain and gas fittings, a business that boomed in Victorian-era Boston, with all the home building and wealth seen at the time. From his furnace invention and store, he could afford to build this Queen Anne home in the desirable Sumner Hill neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, Boston. Of particular note is the recessed entry within an arched opening and siding styles, including sawtooth edges at the overhang.
David Stoddard Greenough IV (1844-1924), was a descendant of David Stoddard Greenough and Anne Doane, who acquired the Loring-Greenough House after it was taken from loyalist Joshua Loring. David Greenough IV became a businessman and real estate developer, following his father’s footsteps, after the development of much of the family land near the old homestead. It was David who sold the old homestead out of the family, likely for development, as Jamaica Plain had become a streetcar suburb, with many older estate lots subdivided and homes demolished for commercial buildings or smaller homes. Luckily, the old estate was purchased and saved by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club. This home built for David Greenough IV was constructed in 1893, possibly as a high-end rental property. The home is a blending of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, which serves as a transition house from the Georgian style Loring-Greenough House to the intricate Queen Anne homes in the Sumner Hill neighborhood behind. The home was purchased by Susan W. Fitzgerald in the 1910s. Ms. Fitzgerald (1871-1943) is best known for her commitment to the women’s suffrage movement and her involvement in progressive political organizations, including sitting on the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1923-1925.
The history of the Old Jamaica Plain High School (originally West Roxbury High School) goes back to the year 1842, when the Town of Roxbury (which at the time, included Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury) established “Eliot High School,”. The school was named after Reverend John Eliot of Roxbury, who in 1689, gave 75 acres of land to the town for the maintenance, support, and encouragement of a school and school master at Jamaica or Pond Plain “in order to prevent the inconveniences of ignorance.” In 1855, the newly independent Town of West Roxbury took control of the high school until the town was annexed to Boston in 1873. During this time, the school became known as “West Roxbury High,” a name that appeared on this building, constructed in 1898. In July of 1923, the school’s name was changed to Jamaica Plain High School, to reflect its neighborhood. The building was designed by the firm Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul and is an exemplary example of the Tudor style in an academic building. The school department sold the building in the 1980s and built a larger, modern school in the area. This building was converted to apartments not long after, a use that remains to this day. Would you live in this old school building?
This refrigerator white painted house in Jamaica Plain was built in 1880 for Charles Hardon, an executive with C.A. Browning & Co. a millnery goods company (making and selling women’s hats). Business must have been good because Hardon was able to buy a large house lot from the Greenough Family and hired esteemed architect William Ralph Emerson to design a Queen Anne house for him and his family. The home was eventually purchased by Henry F. Colwell, a stock broker at the Boston Stock Exchange. The massive home is notable for the asymmetry, different siding types, and inset porches, all hallmarks of the Queen Anne style of architecture. If you owned this house, would you paint it differently?