This building at 94 Charles Street in Boston’s iconic Beacon Hill neighborhood was built in 1866 as a four-story single-family home, for a William Amory. After a few subsequent owners, it was occupied by Joseph Miller, who ran a ladies’ tailor shop in the building. Charles Street was originally lined with large townhouses, much like the rest of the neighborhood. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Charles Street became the main commercial thoroughfare in Beacon Hill, with commercial uses at storefronts. When automobiles proliferated, the City of Boston determined that widening the street was needed to allow more cars through the neighborhood. In 1920 wreckers simply lopped off the front 10 feet of the houses on the river (west) side of the street. Owners typically added back minimal adornment, but this house reinstalled a projecting oriel, to give the building more of its original Victorian era flair. The building was most recently occupied by the Charles Street Inn, and has since been home to rooms by Thatch Boston. Thatch is a really cool company that lets you rent apartments in the best locations in Boston’s many neighborhoods, for hotel-length stays all the way up to monthly or extended stays. The apartments fit a much-needed housing demand in Boston that traditional hotels and airbnb do not fill, and year-long apartment leases prove too long. I checked out some of the rooms and they are all bright, clean, and have open floorplans. Time for a stay-cation! Who’s with me!?
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.
Grace Church was built in 1835 for a growing congregation in Beacon Hill. The absolutely stunning Gothic style church was designed by William Washburn (1808–1890), an architect and city councilor in Boston. The church was constructed of granite and had massive stained glass windows and soaring towers with decorative embellishments. Inside, a massive central window flooded the interior with natural light, and illuminated paintings from Mario Bragaldi, a Milan artist. In 1865, the building was sold to the Methodist Episcopal Society. 1873, it merged with Hanover Street, and took the name First Methodist. The church was variously referred to as First, Grace, or Temple Street, sometimes all at once! This church was occupied until 1962, when it merged with Copley to form First-Copley, which appears to have then occupied the Old West Church. The building was soon after acquired by Boston University and demolished for the building on the site today, a true loss to one of Boston’s most beautiful buildings.
In the 1860s, the north slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood behind the old reservoir was made up of brick townhouses occupied by a mix of English, Irish, and African American families in what we would consider the middle-class. By the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood’s population began to leave to the nearby suburbs for more space. Due to this, immigrant groups moved into the north slope and West End. As a result, some of the more stately townhomes were demolished and replaced with larger tenement houses which could accommodate more families. In 1914, a Russian Jew named Max Gilman, purchased an old home on Temple Street and constructed this tenement house on the site. Max served with the United States Armed Forces during WWI, and upon returning to Boston, applied and was awarded citizenship. The building itself is a “dumbbell tenement” characterized by indentations at the sides of the otherwise boxy structure. These fairly shallow indentations in the wall plane permitted some fresh air and natural light to reach rooms at the center of a building, as opposed to just the front and rear. In New York City, the dumbbell was the predominant tenement building type erected between 1879 and 1901, from the tenement house law of 1879 requiring a window in every tenement bedroom. The form was never required in Boston, but the design took hold in cities all over the northeast.
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.
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.