Just steps from the iconic Louisburg Square in Boston’s exclusive Beacon Hill neighborhood, a man named Joshua Bennett in 1834, purchased two recently completed townhouses built by housewrights Samuel H. Mitchell and Loring Dunbar. Joshua Holden Bennett (1792-1865) was born in Billerica, Massachusetts and split his time between his hometown and Boston. Bennett and his family owned the two identical bowfront houses until about 1930, likely renting them out to middle-upper class families. The home on the right (pictured) was later purchased by Benjamin B. Gillette an organist at a local church. After WWII, property values in Beacon Hill began to falter and this property and its neighbor became lodging houses of rented rooms to a more wealthy clientele than those on the North Slope of the hill. The home last sold in 1989 for $753,000 and is estimated at a value today at over $4,000,000!
Thayer Stable – Toy Theatre // 1865
Built in 1865, this gorgeous building in Beacon Hill shows how perfectly imperfect historic structures are. The stable building was first occupied by Samuel Neal, a carpenter, and Jonathan Dow, a blacksmith. Within a decade, the stable’s owner Nathaniel Thayer, appears to have kept his carriage in the building. By 1911, architect Harold S. Graves was hired to renovate the former stable which would soon become the Toy Theatre. The Toy Theatre was founded in 1911 by an amateur theatrical group to present plays that had not been presented professionally in Boston. That included both works written by members of the group itself and playwrights as far away as Europe. The founding group included many members of Boston’s high-society who were involved in the arts. The group desired a new, modern space and pooled together resources to build a more appropriate theatre in the Back Bay just a few years later (next post). This building was then converted to a residence.
Little-Byrd House // 1888
What sets Beacon Hill apart is that almost every home is unique to its neighbors. This townhouse on Brimmer Street stands out in a big way architecturally and does not remotely try to fit in with the red brick and traditional massing of the Greek Revival and Italianate rows on the surrounding streets. This home was built in 1888 on the last undeveloped parcel on the street. The house was built by Seth Russell Baker and Henry Wilson Savage, real estate developers and sold to a J. Little. By 1900 four families are listed as occupying the house, which was rented out by that time. By 1917 Marie Ames Byrd, wife of polar explorer Richard E. Byrd, had acquired the building, which she owned through at least 1938 according to atlas’. Byrd lived at and owned 9 Brimmer Street, and her mother, Helen A. Ames, owned 7 Brimmer. This house at 5 Brimmer was rented to upper class residents who sought apartment living in a desirable area of the city. Among them was Caroline P. Atkinson, the daughter of Edward Atkinson of Brookline, a successful antebellum cotton mill executive and, ironically, a major figure in the Boston-area abolitionist movement. William Coombs Codman and his son John also lived at 5 Brimmer Street, the former was a merchant trader with dealings in the East Indies and Calcutta. Architecturally, the building is unique with the use of rough-faced brownstone façade and copper at the entablature and parapet. Would you live here?
Peirce House // c.1860
On the north slope of Beacon Hill, you’ll find an excellent mix of early 19th century townhouses, early 20th century tenements, and landmarks related to Boston’s vibrant Black and Jewish communities which historically lived here. One thing you won’t see much of is wood-frame houses, many of which were replaced by the large, boxy tenements when land values and populations increased on the North Slope. One of the rare survivors of wooden homes from the 19th century here is this very narrow home on South Russell Street, built around 1860. Maps from the period show this house being owned by a Caroline Peirce. This tiny house was subdivided into four units around the time of the Great Depression!
Goldfarb Tenements // 1910
Constructed in 1910 to house ten apartments, this tenement building is architecturally significant and high-style to blend in with the many Federal and Greek Revival homes in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The building replaced an earlier home and was built for Lillian Goldfarb as an investment opportunity. The tenement block was designed by Max M. Kalman, a Russian-born, Boston-based architect who designed most of the post-1900 tenements on the North Slope. Kalman designed many tenements and other buildings in Beacon Hill and the West End for Jewish property-owners. The Goldfarb Tenement building is a richly detailed example of a tenement whose red brick, brownstone and cast stone-trimmed facades are dominated by substantial cast metal oriel windows. The cast metal is a cheaper material than traditional copper which would patina that same color.
Converse-Brown House // 1912
When walking around Boston, don’t forget to look up! When strolling around Beacon Hill, I always make a point to stop and look at details, and this towering mansard roof really caught my eye this time. In 1911, real estate developer Gerald G.E. Street purchased a brick horse stable and razed it to lay out house lots for ten townhouses. He hired architect Richard Arnold Fisher, a specialist in the ever-popular Colonial Revival style to design the houses. For this property, he veered into English/Tudor Revival with the stone frame casement windows. The house was purchased by Frederick Shepard Converse, a composer who taught at the New England Conservatory of Music in addition to composing such works at The Pipe of Desire, which in 1915 was the first American work ever performed at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. By 1927, the home was owned by Waldo H. Brown, New England manager of Colonial Air Transport Company, an early airline that flew between New York and Boston. The 32-year-old Waldo occupied the house with his wife Frances, three young children and four servants: housekeeper, cook, maid and nurse! In 1927 Brown filed a permit application to build a tall new room over a roof terrace with a slate mansard roof containing a huge studio window, possibly to house all of the servants in the home! Richard Arnold Fisher, the building’s original designer, was cited as architect.
Minot-Herter House // c.1825
Set along Beacon Street, one of the finest streets in Boston, this townhouse has uninterrupted views of the Boston Common and Public Garden. The house was built around 1825 after a large fire destroyed nearly all the homes on the block. Build it and they will come, and the upper-class Boston elite did! Attorney William Minot (1783-1873) purchased the land here as early as 1817, and is said to have hired Peter Banner, the English architect who designed Park Street Church, to design the first house on this site, which stood less than 10 years. Minot had a new home built in the 1820s and lived there until his death in 1873. By the late 1920s, Christian Archibald Herter lived here. Herter held a number of important offices in state and national government, serving as the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Governor of Massachusetts, and President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State (1959 to 1961). It was Herter who likely added the Federal Revival features on the house, including the porch, dormers and updated door surround.
Chapin-Bodge House // 1829
One of my favorite houses in Boston is this absolutely perfect townhouse on Pinckney Street in Beacon Hill. This house was built on speculation in 1829-1830 for Hollis Chapin by architect John Kutts. Kutts was active as a Boston architect between 1828 and 1838, but he is much less well-known compared to his peers today. I hope someone who is a better researcher than me stumbles upon this article because I would love to learn more about this architect! Kutts (possibly also Kutz) is a unique name for Boston, so it is likely he was a German immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania before moving up here. Back to the house. It was finished and sold in 1830 to Ebenezer T. Pope for four thousand dollars. The home was quickly bought and sold a couple more times as the values on Beacon Hill continued to grow. The property was purchased in the 1870s by Noah Bodge, as a rental property and it remained in the family through the 1920s. The home retains all the original details and provides a needed pop of color with the door and shutters.
Robert Gould Shaw Memorial // 1897
Commissioned from the celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the early 1880s and dedicated in 1897, The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial (aka the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial) has been acclaimed as the greatest American sculpture of the 19th century. The memorial was designed by famed artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and it is a stop on the Boston Black Heritage Trail, commemorating the valiant efforts of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Civil War regiments of African Americans enlisted in the North. In July 1863, the regiment was sent to South Carolina where an assault was planned on Fort Wagner guarding Charleston harbor. Shaw had asked to have 54th Regiment lead the attack. Of the 600 men in the attack that day, there were 285 casualties, and Col. Shaw was killed, but the men never wavered in the battle and demonstrated great courage and determination. Following this display of valor, other black regiments were formed, and by the end of the war, 10% of the union army was made up of African American soldiers.
The monument in Boston shows the 25-year-old Shaw seated on his horse, with his regiment as it marched down Beacon Street on May 28, 1863 to depart the city to fight in the South. The concept of Shaw on horseback with marching soldiers was inspired, at least in part, from a painting Saint-Gaudens saw in France, Campagne de France 1814, by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, which depicts Napoleon on horseback with rows of infantry in the background.While Shaw is the centerpiece of the monument, the significance of the monument is the Shaw Memorial is the first civic monument to pay homage to the heroism of African American soldiers in the U.S.
George G. Hall Stables // 1895
Many of the buildings along Byron Street in Boston were built in the mid-19th century as stables for wealthy residents of the Beacon Hill and Back Bay. Three similar private stables were constructed in 1865 for owners, but all three were purchased by George Gardner Hall, a wealthy hotelier and developer in Boston. Gardner demolished the three stables in 1895 and hired Boston architect William Whitney Lewis to furnish plans for a more stately stable building. The Romanesque Revival stable featured an entrance and exit set within the large Syrian arches on the facade. The building featured stalls for horses, a carriage room, harness room, and office on the ground floor, with storage space for hay, sleeping chambers for stable-hands, and living room with kitchen. The building allowed for wealthy residents to rent space for their horses if they didn’t have a stable of their own. The stable also likely provided carriages to Hall’s hotel downtown. A developer purchased the building after attempts were made in the 20th century to convert the building into a private auto garage. In the 1960s, he hired local architect Goody & Clancy Associates, who renovated the building, restoring the exterior and converted it into three housing units. There are three stone medallions on the facade that read “G.G.H” “No. 13” and “1895” which keep the stable’s history alive.