Sumner Hill in Jamaica Plain, Boston, is home to the most amazing Victorian-era homes in Boston. This elaborate house was built in 1884 for Walter Herbert Miller, a piano dealer and his wife, Mary Alice. The home exhibits asymmetry, porches with turned posts, a brick chimney facing the street, and the use of wood clapboards and shingle siding, adding intrigue. Starting around 1919, the home was rented by Judith Winsor Smith (1821-1921) a women’s suffrage activist, social reformer, and abolitionist until her death two years later. She was involved in the suffrage movement until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920, when she voted for the first time at 99. Judith’s daughter Zilpha Smith also lived at the home with her mother until her own death in 1926. In her twenties, Zilpha volunteered alongside her mother, in relief efforts to care for victims of the Great Boston Fire of 1872; the experience led her towards a career in social work. Smith joined the Associated Charities of Boston as Head of the Office Staff in 1879 and later became its General Secretary. At that organization, she applied new theories about “charity organization.” The charity organization movement aimed to coordinate private agencies in order to use their resources efficiently to ameliorate urban poverty.
Built in Sumner Hill’s first period of development, this Italianate home sits away from the street as any suburban retreat should. The house was built in 1854 for Luther Gilbert, a grocer who co-owned stores around Boston under the firm Gilbert & Knight. The home is possibly the first true Italianate style home in the neighborhood, a deviation from the popular Greek Revival style common for merchants in the decades before. The home was eventually purchased in 1877 by Elias Hook of Hook & Hastings a major organ manufacturer. The company did very well, supplying organs to churches all over the county and was said to be the largest organ manufactory in the world at the time. The home is so well preserved, and even has a historically appropriate paint scheme!!
Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant (1833-1890) was born in a poor Maine farming family and began working as a shoemaker to make ends meet. He devised a crude machine used in shoe manufacturing and moved to Boston in 1856 seeking backing for further development, thus began his career as an inventor. In his travels around shoe factories, Sturtevant was troubled by the airborne wood dust created by the machines wanted to invent a way to eliminate the dust and its resulting health effects. In 1867, he patented a rotary exhaust fan and began manufacturing the fan and selling it to industrial buyers across the country. He built a factory in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood that manufactured his invented air blowers, fans, and pneumatic conveyors. The factory in the 1870s was the largest fan manufacturing plant in the world. From his success, Ben Franklin Sturtevant built a house in the fashionable Sumner Hill neighborhood of Boston. The home was likely built in the Second Empire or Stick style, both popular at the time. When Benjamin died in the home, the home was willed to his widow until her death in 1903. In that time, the home was likely updated in the Queen Anne style, with Colonial embellishments. The couple’s youngest daughter, Lilla, occupied the home with her husband Eugene, who was previously hired to the B. F. Sturtevant Company by her late father. Eugene Foss, who married Lilla, was a member of the United States House of Representatives, and served as a three-term governor of Massachusetts. No biggie.
I was going through my phone to make space and realized I still had some houses in Jamaica Plain’s Sumner Hill neighborhood that I have not yet shared. This Victorian-era home was built in the late 1880s for S.F. Woodman, an insurance agent for Travelers Insurance. Mr. Woodman had this home built not far from the streetcar line, where he would commute into the city for his job, for twenty more years until his retirement in 1909. The house (like many of the period), exhibits a blending of styles, mostly showcasing the Queen Anne style but also exhibiting Shingle style and Colonial Revival elements.
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.
Tucked behind the massive Emmel Building (last post), you will find these two charming houses on the dead-end street in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Like the Emmel Building, these two homes were built by Charles Emmel, an architectural sculptor and real estate investor, who hired local architect George Zimmer to furnish plans for the buildings. The two transitional Queen Anne houses feature some of Emmel’s architectural decoration, from the lion’s head corbels to the decorative lintels above the windows, these homes really stand out!
In 1896, architectural sculptor Charles Emmel purchased land in the rapidly developing Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain, Boston. He hired local architect George Zimmer, to design a massive double-house which would serve as an income-producing investment, and could also be a sort of advertisement for his sculpture work. The result is this massive Colonial Revival style property, perched atop a puddingstone foundation. Architectural ornament has been lovingly preserved, a testament to the owners of the building today and the amazing work of the original owner, Mr. Emmel. I found myself staring at the building for a while when walking by, looking at all the hidden detail and architectural ornament which adds so much to the building.
While the demolition of the 1909 Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain (last post) was a huge architectural and historic loss for the city of Boston, the present building is a landmark in its own right. The present building was built in 1987 as a pivotal project in the MBTA’s Southwest Corridor Improvement Program, which was largely unfinished (thanks to neighborhood pushback and protests against the proposed highway to cut through the neighborhoods). The existing station, designed by local firm Cambridge Seven, is situated between two important points in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system, and thus was given the appearance of a greenhouse by the architects. The distinctive clock tower, rising 120 feet above the station, signals the station location and is a nod to the days when stations once had prominent clocks to help passengers keep tabs on the time, before the days of cellphones!
This historic rowhouse in the South End of Boston was home to the Women’s Service Club, a social and volunteer organization made up of Black women to uplift Black Bostonians of varied backgrounds, including soldiers, students, migrants and mothers. “464,” as some locals admiringly called it, was formed in the early 20th century as Boston. The city, once known as “Freedom’s Birthplace” and the “Athens of America” as a hub of abolitionist activity leading up to the Civil War, saw extreme segregation in housing and education for its Black residents by the early 20th century. From this, local activist Mary Evans Wilson organized a knitting group in 1917 to support soldiers of color fighting in World War I. An estimated 350 women joined the group, donating their talents to produce scarves and gloves for servicemen. Humanitarianism guided the activity of the Women’s Service Club’s over the next half century. This building was purchased in 1919 and operated as part-meeting space and part-settlement house. “A Home Away from Home,” as some described it, the building offered affordable shelter to female workers, migrants, and college students barred from on-campus housing due to racist policies. One of the club’s most prominent members was Melnea Cass (1896–1978), who served as its President for more than fifteen years. Cass initiated the Homemakers Training Program which certified domestic workers so they would be assured a liveable minimum wage, social security and other benefits. The club continues to do great work, but could use funding to restore the landmark building!
Boston’s South End neighborhood has so much history that NEEDS to be showcased. From the repetitive architecture of beautiful brick and stone bowfronts, to the history of African American activism, enterprise, and stories, the neighborhood is a gem of Boston. This building was constructed around 1865 for Thomas H. Snow (1833-1908) as his home. Snow was a wine and spirit merchant who had a store in Faneuil Hall Square. While that is interesting, Mr. Snow is not the highlight of this building, that comes later in 1899, when the building was rented to Madame Mary L. Johnson, a wig maker, scientific scalp specialist, and hair culturist. Mary Johnson and her husband, Dr. W. Alexander Johnson, were Black and ran one of just 200 Black-owned businesses in the city of Boston by the beginning of the 20th century. At their storefront, they sold hair goods at Johnson’s Hair Store. Sold all over the United States since 1900, their famous “Johnson Hair Food” was “the most scientific pomade yet discovered for growing, beautifying and softening the hair,” they claimed. In connection with their hair product outfit, Madame Johnson operated Johnson’s School of Beauty Culture, where a variety of services including manicuring, shampooing, scalp massage, facial massage, hairdressing, and scalp treatment were offered. The school provided young Black women in Boston technical training and skills, which there were limited options at the time. Mr. Johnson also was President of the Boston Negro Business League, which helped bolster Black businesses at the turn of the century.