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.
Located in what historian Samuel Eliot Morison dubbed the “horsey end of town”, this stable in the Flat of Beacon Hill is built on 19th century-made land along the Charles River. The sub-area of Beacon Hill is best-known for the prevalence of old stables and carriage houses, converted to residential use. This stable dates to around 1860, when many of the Boston Brahmins of Beacon Hill either built their own private stables or rented space in a livery stable. By 1870, Alsom Garcelon was listed in city directories as a stablekeeper here, and he managed a number of others in the vicinity. After Garcelon’s death, the stable was owned by the wealthy Sears Family, who boarded some of their horses here. By the 1920s, the building was converted to a clubhouse, known as the Byron Street House. The clubhouse was largely rebuilt by architects Putnam & Cox, who also re-designed the interior space to a more social atmosphere. The former stable was later occupied as the Bishop-Lee School of Theater, run by Paul and Emily (Perry) Bishop. By 1970, it was converted again, but to a single-family home, which it remains to this day.
Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood is a dream, no matter what time of year, though I am a huge fan of it in the winter so the leaves don’t obscure the architectural details! This home just steps from the Public Garden was built in 1903 for Walter Baylies (1862-1936) and his wife, Charlotte. The couple had purchased a c.1860 Second Empire mansion (basically a sister house or twin to the adjacent at 3 Commonwealth Ave), and demolished it for a more “modern” residence. Baylies was extremely wealthy with investments in nearly everything, and he wanted his city residence to stand out amongst the earlier, brick and brownstone townhouses on the eastern edge of the neighborhood. Architect Arthur Rice designed the house in the Renaissance Revival style, and it is finished with Indiana Limestone. Of particular note is the one-story ballroom, which was built to the side of the home, set back behind a small garden. An empty house lot, formerly occupied by a stable, was used simply for the Baylies’ ballroom, constructed in 1909 for their daughter. Talk about a status symbol! The home was purchased by Walter’s heirs in 1941 by the Boston Center for Adult Education. The home was again purchased in 2020, and is back to a single-family home! I can’t even imagine how stunning the interior is!
The country estate of Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893), “Langwater” sits in North Easton amongst a collection of some of America’s greatest architectural treasures, all thanks to the Ames Family. The Ames family was a wealthy family which had lived in Easton for many generations. Frederick’s grandfather Oliver Ames Sr. founded the Ames Shovel Works in Easton, Massachusetts. The Shovel Works earned the family a huge fortune, during a time when aggressive canal and railroad expansion was built by the hands of thousands of men using shovels. Frederick’s father Oliver Jr. was president of the Union Pacific Railroad during the building of the transcontinental railroad. Frederick’s cousin Oliver Ames was governor of Massachusetts 1887–1890. Frederick himself was Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts. With this immense wealth, Frederick built a castle where he would spend most of the year, overseeing his various businesses, in his hometown of Easton, Massachusetts. The mansion was designed by architect George Snell and built around 1860, with a couple additions and updates until Frederick’s death. A few years before his death, Frederick hired famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who he already worked with in designing the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall(Easton’s Town Hall), to design a gate house leading to Langwater (more on that later).
I love historic hotels, so when I decided that I was overdue for a “stay-cation” in Boston, spending time unwinding in an old building was mandatory. When walking around the Back Bay, I always loved the old Boston Police Department Headquarters building and used this as an opportunity to learn more about its history! The Boston Police Department Headquarters building on Berkeley Street was built in 1925, and was designed by the architectural firm of Ritchie, Parsons & Taylor, a firm that specialized in civic and institutional buildings. Prior to this building, the Boston Police Department was based out of an old townhouse in Pemberton Square. By the 1920s, such an out-dated and small building was not a good symbol for one of America’s premier police forces, so the City of Boston purchased a lot in the Back Bay and funded the new modern building. The structure is a late example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture in the city, and is classically refined. The brick building is clad with limestone, which is rusticated on the ground two floors. The building housed police department offices for over 70 years until 1997, when they built a new, Modern building in Roxbury. This building was boarded up for years until it was sold to an Irish hotel chain, who added two additional floors at the roof. They quickly went out of business and sold the hotel. The hotel today is operated by Loews, and they do a great job of highlighting the history of the building, from the meeting rooms named after significant police department employees of the past, the appropriately named Precinct Bar, to the Police-blue lanterns flanking the main entrance.
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.