The town of Litchfield, New Hampshire is located at the southern section of the state across the Merrimack River from the town that carries its name. Land which is now known as Litchfield, was once populated by the Abenaki people. The New Hampshire Archaeological Society has located over 30 Native American sites along the shore of the Merrimack River in Litchfield, with artifacts several thousands of years old being uncovered. European influences started in the 1650’s with early records showing that Litchfield was then a part of Dunstable, Massachusetts. Both sides of the Merrimack River were granted in 1656, to William Brenton, colonial governor of Rhode Island. The name was changed to “Brenton’s Farm” in 1729. Chief Passaconaway of the Penacook lived in a Litchfield settlement at least part of the year around this era. In 1728, sixteen proprietors divided up the Brenton Farm Land. In 1749, the land was granted to another group of settlers and named “Litchfield” after George Henry Lee, Earl of Lichfield. The town has historically been comprised of farmland without a true town common or center. A small enclave of buildings did center in town, where the town hall was built. This building, the Old Town Hall of Litchfield, was built in 1851 from parts of an older meetinghouse, which was built across the road from where the building now stands. A shift in the course of the Merrimack River during the early 1800s forced the dismantling of the original Meeting House and a new structure to be built. It is a modest Greek Revival structure with corner pilasters, entablature, and gable end facing the street which reads as a pediment. It is very well maintained to this day as the home to the Litchfield Historical Society.
Robert Palmer Jr. House // 1907
Robert Palmer Jr. (1856-1914) was born in Groton, Connecticut as the son of Robert Sr., a prominent businessman and Deacon in Noank’s seaside village (his house was featured previously). Robert Sr. established the Palmer shipyard, which became the largest business enterprise in Noank. Jr. would later join his father’s business and did well for himself financially, eventually marrying and building this Neo-Classical mansion on Church Street in town. The company, under Sr. and Jr.’s leadership, built many seafaring vessels that were internationally renowned until the company closed in 1914 after the death of Robert Jr. This house is unique in town for the monumental two-story portico, Palladian windows at the first floor, and a projecting entry vestibule.
First Church of Christ Scientist, Providence // 1906
One of the most stunning and monumental buildings in Providence is this building, a church which pretty closely resembles the Rhode Island State House! Christian Scientists in Providence began to hold informal services in 1889 and received a charter from the state legislature in 1895. Construction started on this church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist in 1906 from plans by local architect Howard Hoppin who roughly modeled the building after the congregation’s Mother Church in Boston. The Classical Revival building is capped by a copper hemispherical dome supported by a colonnade of Corinthian columns. The main block of the structure at the street is fairly modest, possibly due to the residential character of its surroundings.
West Roxbury District Courthouse // 1922
Boston neighborhoods are very confusing, and how the West Roxbury District Courthouse came to be located in Jamaica Plain is just one example. The independent Town of West Roxbury was in existence from 1851 until 1874, a mere 23 years, bookended by its time as a section of the Town of Roxbury and being annexed into the City of Boston. West Roxbury originally included parts of the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods. Ultimately, West Roxbury became one of the city’s eight large districts and its municipal court division is served by this Neo-Classical style building. Built in 1922, the current West Roxbury Courthouse building on Arborway, was and still is, from a municipal court perspective as well as an historical perspective, in West Roxbury. The West Roxbury District Courthouse was designed by Timothy G. O’Connell and Richard Shaw of the firm O’Connell and Shaw who were best known for their ecclesiastical designs in New England, largely specializing in the Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles. Their design for the West Roxbury Courthouse remains one of their finest non-religious buildings and a departure from their traditional styles.
Suffolk Savings Bank // 1906-1967
The Suffolk Savings Bank for Seamen and Others was incorporated in 1833 as a banking institution catered to seamen and merchants who received their earnings after a trip in cash, and wanted a secure place to store their funds. At the time, these men were among the richest in the city, and the bank did very well. It later became a national bank in 1865 and membership boomed. The bank grew and grew until the early 20th century, and it needed a new banking house that showcased their stability, but also provide a visual embodiment of the security their institution provides. The bank’s board hired world-renowned architect Cass Gilbert to design a new building, which would be located on one of the busiest corners in Downtown Boston at the corner of Tremont Street and Pemberton Square. The Classical Revival building was constructed of Hallowell Granite and featured four monumental columns recessed into the Tremont Street facade. Minimal windows allowed for security, while a domed skylight covered in a cap provided light into the rounded banking room below. Inside, the walls and floors were of marble with a tile coffered ceiling. The building lasted until 1965 when Urban Renewal brought the wrecking ball. The bank was demolished by 1967 for the present Center Plaza building in Government Center.
Prentiss House // 1843
This past weekend, I took a little “stay-cation” in Cambridge, and I am so glad I did! I stayed at the Prentiss House, a highly significant Greek Revival house near Porter Square. The Inn is operated by Thatch, a company that offers short-term hotel stays, long-term apartments, and co-living arrangements in the Boston area. They recently acquired and renovated this amazing old house and its a great place to stay!
The home was built in 1843 by William Saunders a well-known housewright for his son, William Augustus Saunders about the same time as his first child, Mary was born. Sadly, Mary died at just six years old and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery with her grave guarded by a tiny stone dog. The Saunders Family resided at the home for over 50 years until William and his wife’s death at the end of the 19th century. The original location of the mansion on Massachusetts Avenue necessitated its move to the newly laid out Prentiss Street to save it from commercial development pressure and the wrecking ball. The home was moved to its present site in 1925 for the erection of a one-story block of stores on Mass. Ave. In 1992, the home was purchased by local artist, Charlotte Forsythe and she began the journey of transforming the home into the Mary Prentiss Inn. An addition by Bell/Fandetti added rooms and subterranean parking to the building at that time. The Inn was purchased by Thatch in 2021, who modernized the rooms.
The house reads like a Greek Temple, not with a full portico, but by using colossal applied pilasters and an entablature carried across the gable, suggesting a classical pediment. Ornamental wreaths adorn the full-length porch and interior mouldings.
Baylies Mansion // 1903
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!
“Beachmound” Mansion // 1897
Beachmound, a unique summer residence in Newport, was built in 1897 by architect Henry Ives Cobb for Benjamin Thaw Sr., (1859-1933) a Pittsburgh banker and philanthropist. The mansion is Neo-Classical in style, taking cues from Classical architecture, specifically Greek Revival, with the monumental columns, pediments, and pilasters. Benjamin Thaw was the half-brother of Harry Kendall Thaw (known for the 1906 murder of architect Stanford White). The murder took over the press as one of the more salacious scandals of the gilded era. Harry Thaw’s wife, the actress/model Evelyn Nesbit was said to have been raped by Stanford White while 16 year old (White was 47). She later married Harry K. Thaw. Thaw shot and killed White, the internationally famous architect, in front of hundreds of witnesses in a theater during a performance in New York. Following two trials, he was acquitted based on the insanity defense, a stint in an asylum from which he escaped, and eventual court-ordered freedom, Thaw was a celebrity. A comical piece of the story is that when Thaw later visited “Mar-a-Lago”, the Post Mansion in Palm Beach, Florida (now best known as Donald Trump’s home), he gasped, “My God, I shot the wrong architect!” Beachmound remains as a stunning, refined summer estate in Newport, and is comprised of condo units.
South Canton Center School // 1848
Located across the street from the Canton Congregational Church (last post) you can find the cutest one room schoolhouse in central Connecticut. The schoolhouse, built in 1848, was one of nine one-room schoolhouses in Canton at the time. The perfectly proportioned classically designed school features two front doors, one on each side of the recessed entry, with the right door for girls and the left for boys. There were also two outhouses behind the building for students and the teacher. This building served the community as a school until 1942. In the years following, the building was used as a meeting place for women from the congregational church, a community library, and a small public space for members of town. It is owned by the Congregational Church, who maintain it to this day.
Lancaster Center School // 1904
Situated on the iconic Town Green of Lancaster, MA, this gorgeous Colonial Revival school building elegantly fits into the surrounding context of stately civic buildings in the small town. The Center School, (now known as the Prescott Building), was designed by architect Herbert Dudley Hale of Boston, and built in 1904 for use as the Town of Lancaster’s first high school. The building committee formed to oversee proposals and funding of the school settled quickly on the desire to see it built in the Colonial Revival style to compliment the other Town Green buildings at the time, most importantly the Charles Bulfinch-designed church at the northern end (more on that tomorrow). The Center School had been used continuously as a public school until 2001, when it outlived its utility as a modern and codified school facility. The building stood vacant for a number of years until it was restored and re-utilized as town offices next to the town hall.