This late-Georgian farmhouse in Boxborough, Mass showcases how architectural integrity and historical context matter in historic preservation. Architectural integrity means the degree to which a building’s original design and physical composition is evident and intact. Historic contexts are the patterns, themes, or trends in history by which a specific property or site is understood and its meaning (or significance) within history is made clear. In this example, the old farmhouse retains much of its architectural integrity as it physically appears much as it would have upon its time of construction. However, the former farmland was sold off and developed as a residential subdivision, which completely obscures the historical context of the building in relation to its original use. The Simeon Wetherbee Farm remained in the Wetherbee family until the 1965, when the land was likely soon after subdivided and sold off for housing lots. A majority of the homes built surrounding this old farmhouse are classified as “Neo-Traditional” a modern take on Colonial architecture, but with cheaper materials and odd proportions. They are not a favorite among architects and historians.
Tracing the history of old New England homes can be difficult and finding the history of this house is no different! The rural property here in Boxborough, MA, was owned in 1731 by Moses Foster, a teacher according to a deed of that year. A home was built here, but it appears it was a one-story house, which is verified as the 1798 tax lists report two single-story houses on the property. It is likely that a subsequent owner modified one of the homes and added a second story to fit a growing family here, probably in the early 19th century. To add more layers to this, the historical commission’s research lists the house date as c.1731, the sign on the house reads c.1778, and my estimation is c.1810. Who said historic preservation and house research is easy?!
Before most small New England towns had single school buildings for elementary, middle and high school, small one-room schoolhouses like this dotted the landscape, especially in rural towns. Having smaller schools spread out allowed for a greater number of students to attend school without traveling by horseback long distances, and more local school buildings was a great solution. This c.1857 school building was in use until 1949, and it didn’t even have heat, running water, or electricity until the 1930s, making smart design a necessity to get the most out of the building. Large windows would provide natural light to flood the classroom and the steep gable roof would ensure snow to slide off the roof. Sadly, many towns have lost these buildings, but some have been restored or even repurposed as homes!
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.
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.
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?
George Otis Draper (1867-1923) was born in Hopedale and attended MIT to prepare to help run the extremely busy Draper Corporation in town, a family business (featured previously). With his position at the company, he had the money in the late 19th century to build a massive country estate known as The Larches. The shingled Colonial Revival style home featured a massive castellated tower and appeared like a castle in the countryside. George O. Draper sold this home to his aunt Hannah Thwing Draper Osgood in 1909, and within a month, the home burned to the ground. Around the time her husband died, she rebuilt the Larches and lived here with her daughter until they both died in 1929. The “new Larches” is a stunning blending of Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles. The home was likely designed by Robert Allen Cook, who was based out of nearby Milford, MA. The property today is run by Crossroads Clubhouse, an employment and recovery center that offers people with mental health conditions opportunities to achieve their full potential.