In 1679, three years after the end of King Phillip’s War, an armed conflict in 1675–1678 between indigenous inhabitants of New England and New England colonists, land that would become Rochester, Mattapoisett, Marion, and Wareham was purchased from King Phillip, and immediately divided among 32 proprietors of “Old Rochester.” The first white settlers took up residence in 1680, and the Town of Rochester was incorporated in 1686. Rochester town center was formally established in 1697 when land was set aside for a meetinghouse, burying ground and training field. Rochester’s first meetinghouse, built in 1699, served as a church and town building. A larger meetinghouse was built in 1717, and a third in 1760, doubling in size every time as the town’s population grew. The old buildings were insufficient for the growing farming town, and wealthy widow Elizabeth Leonard funded half the cost of a new town hall building. The current structure on the town green was built in 1892 and is an uncommon example of a Queen Anne style town hall in Massachusetts. The building originally was painted a darker color, common in the style, but was given a bright white paint scheme to blend in with the older buildings on the Green.
Located on the edge of the Chester Town Green, you can find this beautiful Federal style commercial building. The use of blind arches at the facade is a fairly common feature found in brick Federal style buildings in Vermont. The structure was built around 1830 and has served a variety of uses through its existence, the most notable being the tin shop owned by various members of the Miller and Hadley families that sold stoves and hardware during the latter half of the 19th century. The tin business in New England grew rapidly after 1820. Tin shop owners imported tinplated sheet iron from Great Britain, shaped it into a variety of forms, and distributed their finished goods through peddlers and country stores. They also sold tinware in their shops. Colanders, dippers, dish kettles, funnels, measures, and pans were in greatest demand. Other common items included lanterns, foot stoves, teapots, coffeepots, “tin kitchens”, skimmers, and sconces. After its use as a tin shop, the building was occupied as a telephone exchange and electric utility company office. It presently is home to an antique store.
The Richardson Tavern on Main Street in Durham, NH, was built shortly after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War by Captain Joseph Richardson (1756-1824). The tavern was sited on a rise, providing views of Mill Pond in the distance. The tavern provided meeting spaces for town officials and juries to meet and discuss important city matters before the construction of the first purpose-built town hall just a block away. The Federal style tavern was “modernized” in the early 20th century with Colonial Revival dormers and eventually was converted into apartments as the ever-growing University of New Hampshire brought more students into town.
The “Old Parsonage” was built in 1813 by Capt. John Pitcher, brother of Elizabeth Pitcher Taber, benefactress of the town of Marion. The side of the building that faces the street (what we see) is actually the back of the original dwelling. The Federal period house sits on a raised stone foundation with a central door and shingle siding above. Behind his home, a large pasture was situated where his sheep and cows grazed on fields. Pitcher used to hang a ship’s bell from the branch of an oak tree and ring it every evening at 9 p.m. as a curfew bell for the town. The bell is now located in the Marion Natural History Museum. When Capt. Pitcher died, he left his house to the Congregational Church, which used it as a parsonage for many years. It was sold in May of 2021 and is likely a private home now.
These two townhouses were built in 1860 and were once part of a row of four matching homes constructed for wealthy Bostonians. The end units feature stronger detailing with the center two homes being slightly recessed and less ornate, all four constructed of brick with brownstone facades. The original owners wanted to ensure that their new homes would be harmonious in design, both with each other and with the other houses being built nearby.The property already was subject to restrictions contained in the deeds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who sold much of the land in the Back Bay for development, but the owners added further stipulations. Among them that “the front of said houses shall be of free stone and the height not less than three stories” and “the cornice and roof of all the houses shall be uniform, and shall conform to a plan to be hereinafter agreed upon.” The right house seen here was occupied by Henry Atkins, a grocer and importer of wines and spirits. The left home was occupied by John Chandler, a dry goods merchant and his wife. They both died at a young age in 1875 and 1876 respectively, and the home was sold off by their children’s guardian to Charles Porter, a physician and surgeon. He served as a doctor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School under Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked as Chief Surgeon at Mass. General Hospital. His wife, Margaret Cochran Dewar, who also was a physician and was resident surgeon at Sheffield Hospital in England. She had graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1894, among the first women in Scotland to receive a university degree and the first to receive a university medical qualification. In 1925, the two homes here were purchased and combined to one multi-family apartment building and remodelled the structure with ugly brick additions. By 1996, a developer purchased the building and restored them by installing a new façade and fenestration more consistent with the historical nature of the building, making their heights identical once again.
Extant one-room schoolhouses in New England are scarce, so whenever I stumble upon one, I always stop and take a photo! This little schoolhouse in Canterbury, Connecticut was built around 1850 near the village green, and provided schooling for the rural town center’s children for about 100 years until it closed after WWII. In 1947, the modern, Dr. Helen Baldwin School opened in town, forcing many smaller, outdated one-room schools to close. After this, many were either demolished or adapted to other uses. The Canterbury Green Schoolhouse was adapted to the town’s public library. The building later housed the town’s library until 2001, when a new library building was constructed. In the 2000s, the Canterbury Historical Society and town volunteers gathered funds and restored the building to her former glory and appearance. The school is now occasionally open as a small museum for the town.
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.
New England is lucky to have so many diverse house museums where architecture and history nerds like me can tour old houses and envision what it was like to live in that era. The Governor Henry Lippitt mansion in Providence stands out as one of the most significant Victorian-era homes in Rhode Island, and contains one of the best-preserved Victorian interiors in America. The mansion was likely designed by local architect Russell Warren, and modified by Henry Lippitt (1818-1891), heir to one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturing families, for his wife Mary Ann Balch (1823-1889) and their six children who survived to adulthood. While Henry was a prominent businessman, his wife Mary may have been even busier. Mary owned and managed rental properties in Providence, including this mansion, giving her husband Henry life tenancy. She oversaw day-to-day running of the mansion, supervising the servants while teaching her daughter Jeanie, who became deaf at age four due to complications from scarlet fever, to read lips and continue to develop her speech. The Lippitt Mansion is an early, and high-style example of an Italianate Villa/ Renaissance Revival design, which moved away from the more prescribed forms of architecture towards the more eclectic, Victorian-era mode. The home features two main facades, with the smaller, west (main) facade featuring a central pavilion with ornate foliate frieze and Corinthian columns, and the north (side) facade – my favorite – with a more commanding presence with a bold porte-cochere. The home remained in the Lippitt family for 114 years, and was later acquired by Preserve Rhode Island, who opened it to the public as a museum in 1993.
Possibly my favorite building type, the local town library buildings of New England, always amaze me with their small scale, yet architectural variety and intrigue. The library in Gardiner, Maine is no exception! This library building was constructed in 1881 from plans by Henry Richards, who was actually born in town in 1848. Henry graduated from Harvard in 1869, and soon after, took a post-graduate course in architecture at MIT. After completing schooling, he was a draftsman with Ware and Van Brunt. Soon after, he was a draftsman with Peabody and Stearns from 1872 to 1876, and then practiced architecture briefly on his own in Boston. During this time he married Laura Elizabeth Howe, daughter of Samuel Gridley and Julia Ward Howe. They moved to Gardiner, Maine and settled in a Federal house (featured previously), to learn more about Laura Richards and their house, check out the last post. Henry lived to be 100 years old! The library building is Queen Anne and Romanesque in style with a round corner tower with conical roof, brownstone and brick construction, and a stained glass ocular window with ogee parapet at the gable end roof. The small local library was added onto numerous times to hold a growing collection which includes works from Laura E. Richards, and Edwin Arlington Robinson, both Pulitzer Prize winning authors who lived in town.
The Octagon form of architecture was conceived in 1848 in the prolific mind of Orson Squire Fowler, phrenologist and author of books on sex, family relations, and many other subjects. His book A Home for All, or, the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building struck the fancy of a certain few, and Octagon homes were built across the country, for just about a decade until they fell out of favor almost overnight. This home in West Gardiner, Maine, was built by Jesse Tucker in 1856 on land his father had cleared, replacing a more standard structure. The new octagon house was being constructed as a gift to Jesse’s soon-to-be wife, but tragically fell from the roof of the barn when building, and died. The home was completed, and it was seemingly acquired by Jesse’s twin brother David. The home remained in the Tucker family until the 1950s.