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.
There is something so charming about old stable buildings in Boston! This stable (like the Garcelon-Sears Stable of the last post) is located on Byron Street in Beacon Hill Flat. This stable building is older, and originally was two stories, similar to the others on the street. The stable was constructed in the mid-1860s for Margaret Barker Sigourney, a wealthy widow who lived nearby in Back Bay. After other owners, by 1922, a coachman named James F. Burke owned and lived in the stable. The painted sign on the lintel over the vehicle door reading “Burke’s Hack & Livery Stable” apparently remains from this period. Burke also added the mansard roof at this time, evident from historic maps. The stable was eventually converted to a single-family home. Could you live in an old stable?
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.
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.
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.
One thing I really love about small towns in New England is the prevalence of amazing old homes on the winding back roads. Located in Boxborough, MA, the Jacob Littlefield Farmhouse showcases the agricultural character and charm seen in the town. The farmhouse and outbuildings were built by Jacob Littlefield, who likely hired a housewright from town as the home is a near match to a home built on a nearby street. Mr. Littlefield was a farmer from Wells, Maine with seven children and a wife named Anna. After his death, his wife Anna owned the farm, until her death in 1896. Their son Albert ran the farm from about 1896-1922, after which time Jacob’s grandson Earl was the owner. Earl was taxed in 1928 for ownership of two horses, 17 cows, a bull, the house, barn and shed, tool house, ice house, root house, hen house, garage, and a second house on 101 acres. He resided here until 1929 when it was sold out of the family. Since then, subsequent owners have restored the home and the various outbuildings to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of the property. We need more stewards of old homes like this!
Did you know that Boston once had it’s own Hogwarts? While we didn’t have wizards and witches in the streets, we did have young magicians learning the tricks of the trade! The Boston School of Magic was founded in the 1880s by William Davis LeRoy (1862-1919), a professional magician who also served as President of the Conjuror’s Club of Boston. Upon opening its doors, the Boston School of Magic was one of a handful of such schools in the country. For $75, you could learn how to escape from a pair of handcuffs from a professional instructor at W.D. Leroy’s “School of Magic”, and even buy some magic items for shows from his large catalogue. Mr. LeRoy was also friends with the famous Harry Houdini, who purchased items from his store and consulted with him on new acts. Houdini was extremely popular in Boston and held many acts and feats of strength here. The Boston School of Magic was located in the second floor of the Blanchard Building at 103 Court Street, a brick commercial building with stone facade constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The building was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a two-story structure, which too was razed for Government Center.
Less than a dozen wood-frame buildings exist on Beacon Hill in Boston, and this curious building is one of them, and also happens to be one of the oldest structures in the neighborhood! Built by 1800, this structure was constructed as an ell/addition to the Glapion-Middleton House at 5 Pinckney Street in Boston. The Glapion-Middleton House (previously featured) was constructed in 1787 after two Black men, George Middleton and Louis Glapion and their wives, built a small double house in the abolitionist center of Boston, Beacon Hill. In recent years, some have speculated that due to this living arrangement and other accounts, that Glapion and Middleton were in-fact gay men, but this is unsubstantiated. After the home was constructed, a two-story, five-bay ell was constructed which connected the home to Joy Street at the corner. The ell served as additional space for the two families and they appear to have had a workshop or store in part of the building. In 1855, owners demolished the center bay of the ell and erected a brick townhouse, similar to others in the neighborhood. The ell in this building was occupied as a store for the majority of its life and became an Italian restaurant and soon after a “Boyer’s Creamery Luncheon”. The property has since been converted to a residence.
Located on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, Boston, you’ll find this charming Tudor style commercial building, which appears as if it was plucked from the England! The Studio Building was built in 1914, and replaced a livery stable on the site (not really necessary with the growing popularity of the automobile). The building was designed by the architectural firm of Loring & Leland for William Coombs Codman of the Brahmin Boston family as an investment. The building was constructed on a prominent corner lot with commercial/retail use at the ground floor and artist studios above. Just six years after the building was complete, Charles Street was widened, and the building was shaved back over 10′ with all new openings seen here.