First Universalist Church, Marion // 1830

I do love a good adaptive reuse story! This Marion, Massachusetts church building was constructed in 1830 for the town’s growing Universalist congregation. Architect Seth Eaton was hired and furnished plans, likely relying on neighbor, Warren Blankinship, a carpenter and congregant, to construct the building. It blends together the Greek and Gothic Revival styles well, but in a less sophisticated form. By the mid 20th century, membership of the church dwindled, and it finally shuttered its doors. With the building’s future uncertain, at a time where demolition for surface parking lots was the go-to solution, Marion residents Andrew and Dorothy Patterson, purchased the building and soon after worked with local artists in town to restore the building for use as an art space. The Marion Art Center was thus founded in 1957, and to this day, serves as a non-profit community cultural organization dedicated to promoting the visual and performing arts.

Beaumont House // 1867

One of the most striking homes in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, is this Second Empire house built in 1870. The home was constructed for Francis B. Beaumont, who served in the Civil War as Colonel and returned to Massachusetts, settling in Jamaica Plain, around other returning vets with deep pockets. He commuted into Boston, and worked downtown as a clerk. He and his wife Clarissa had three children, two girls and one boy. Their son William, worked as a doctor in town. In 1897, he caught Scarlet Fever and died soon after. When Francis and Clarissa died in 1903 and 1905 respectively, the home was willed to their eldest daughter, Ethel. The house itself is a high-style example of Second Empire residential architecture in Boston and features decorated window surrounds and flush-board siding at the ground floor to look like granite. The home was purchased by Craddock Builders who are undergoing a large restoration project and gave the home a striking paint scheme, highlighting the many architectural details. The project is not yet complete (the front porch/steps are still being installed), but I can’t wait to see the final project, inside and out!

Tucker Octagon House // 1856

The Octagon form of architecture was conceived in 1848 in the prolific mind of Orson Squire Fowler, phrenologist and author of books on sex, family relations, and many other subjects. His book A Home for All, or, the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building struck the fancy of a certain few, and Octagon homes were built across the country, for just about a decade until they fell out of favor almost overnight. This home in West Gardiner, Maine, was built by Jesse Tucker in 1856 on land his father had cleared, replacing a more standard structure. The new octagon house was being constructed as a gift to Jesse’s soon-to-be wife, but tragically fell from the roof of the barn when building, and died. The home was completed, and it was seemingly acquired by Jesse’s twin brother David. The home remained in the Tucker family until the 1950s.

Newington Railroad Depot // 1873

The Newington Railroad Depot was built in 1873 at the narrowest point at the Piscataqua River as part of the Portsmouth and Dover Railroad. The Portsmouth and Dover Railroad Company was chartered in 1866 in order to provide a link between the eastern and western divisions of the Boston and Maine Railroad and also included the means to cross Great Bay. The rail line was completed in 1874 and included this railroad depot which included a residence for the stationmaster while he collected tolls for pedestrians and carriages crossing the bridge nearby, and operated the swing section of the bridge to permit boat traffic to pass. By 1915, the one story wing was constructed which served as a 10’x20′ waiting room and ticket office. The offshoot rail line remained in service until the completion of the General Sullivan Bridge in 1934, due to the popularity of the automobile. The rail line was subsequently abandoned, and the nearby tracks were taken up in 1940. Elmer Brooks, the longtime stationkeeper was allowed to remain in the old depot, renting the building from the State of New Hampshire, who acquired the site in 1940. He lived here until his death in 1971. After which, the building has decayed. The State of New Hampshire should restore this valuable piece of history and has an amazing opportunity for a park in the surrounding area. Hopefully something is done to preserve the building!

Robert Gould Shaw Estate // 1912

Born into the heart of Boston Brahmin society (Boston’s elite class), Robert Gould Shaw II (1872-1930) had a life of great opportunity, but full of tragedy. Robert was born in Boston and was a first cousin of Robert Gould Shaw, the famed military officer who accepted command of the first all-Black regiment (the 54th Massachusetts) in the Northeast. Robert II had a life of leisure, and enjoyed his position in society by drinking and enjoying elite sporting events. He became a wealthy landowner around Boston, and international polo player of the Myopia Hunt Club in the North Shore. He gained a reputation for alcohol abuse and promiscuity and divorced his first wife after just four years, she would later move to England and marry Waldorf Astor, and become the first woman seated as a Member of Parliament. The couple’s only son Robert Gould Shaw III followed his mother to England, but was eventually imprisoned there for six months for “homosexual offenses”. His alcoholism and his mother’s death, may have led to his suicide in 1970. Robert Gould II in Boston, remarried and purchased land in Oak Hill, Newton to build a country estate. He hired James Lovell Little Jr. to design the Tudor style property with a mansion, and various outbuildings including a carriage house and stable. As the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era and eventually the Great Depression, the Shaw fortune collapsed. Shaw died in New York in 1930. The estate was later purchased as the new home to Mt. Ida College, now a regional campus of UMass.

As another piece of this interesting family’s history… Louis Agassiz Shaw II, one of Robert’s four children in his second marriage, had all the opportunities of his father, as he attended Harvard, had a sizable bank account, but was a recluse and had some mental issues and paranoia. Like his elder half-brother Robert Gould Shaw III, and father, Louis struggled with depression and alcoholism and in 1964, he strangled his 64-year-old maid, who he said was plotting to murder him in his sleep. He confessed but plead not guilty; he was committed to Danvers State Hospital and later McLean, where he lived for 23 years until his death. After which, much of his art collection, which he intended to donate to the Fogg Museum at Harvard, was discovered to be fakes.

Beacon Hill Reservoir // 1849-1883

Did you know there was once a massive granite reservoir in Beacon Hill?

Long before the Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs that now supply water to Boston, the city’s original municipal water supply was Lake Cochituate, a reservoir in Metro-west. Due to Beacon Hill’s high elevation, the city selected the site behind the recently completed Massachusetts State House, to store and distribute water to the city. The site was too steep, so it had to be graded. Therefore, the top of Beacon Hill, where the beacon had long been standing, needed to be lowered to accommodate the reservoir. The soil was dug by hand and hauled by cart down to fill the old Mill Dam in the Bulfinch Triangle area. The reservoir, which opened in 1849, was unique in its approach. The design of the structure needed to minimize its footprint and reflect well on its surroundings in the prestigious location. In lieu of earthen bermed walls, as was the convention in most period distribution reservoirs, the design chose to create a watertight tank within a masonry structure. This made the structure the first elevated storage tank constructed in New England. Sheet lead was used to make the reservoir watertight (which likely led to a lot of health issues (hindsight is 20/20). By 1870, the poor water pressure made the Boston Waterworks build the Roxbury Standpipe, which relegated the Beacon Hill Reservoir to being an emergency water source for use only in case of fire or accident to the pumping-mains. In 1883, Boston Water Works sold the structure to the Commonwealth, who demolished it for the addition to the State House.

Beverly Public Library // 1913

The Beverly Public Library was established in 1855 as one of the earliest public libraries in Massachusetts, succeeding a private subscription library that was organized in town in 1802. Between 1855 and 1913, the town’s library was housed in the Town Hall building. When it was determined the cramped library space was insufficient, a new site was acquired nearby and funding was received for a new impressive structure. Cass Gilbert of New York, one of the premier architects of the time was hired to complete designs, he was paid a total of $651.81 for his work. Charles Greeley Loring (1881-1966) of Gilbert’s office (and a Beverly native) apparently worked out much of the details on the project and likely had a large part in the designs, probably because Cass Gilbert was working on designs for his iconic Woolworth Building in Manhattan at that same time. The walls of the library are clad in brick with a Flemish bond pattern and are trimmed with marble. At the main entry, double doors are framed by a classical surround, which is set within a concave curved recess/apse with a half-dome ceiling. The dome is embellished with terracotta moldings in a diamond pattern in which are centered small bas-reliefs in classical motifs. I can’t get over how gorgeous this library is!

Old Sullivan County Courthouse // 1826

In December 1824, a law was passed by the New Hampshire Legislature removing the of the Supreme Court of Judicature from Charlestown, New Hampshire to Newport, which was located at the convergence of multiple stagecoach lines along the Sugar River. Soon after, Sullivan County was formed from the northern part of Cheshire County. At a meeting held January 13, 1825 the town of Newport voted to raise $2,000.00 to assist in building a courthouse and town hall, in the center of town. The building was erected in 1826 with the Newport Town Hall on the first floor and County Courthouse on the second. The building continued to be used as a court as well as social purposes until 1872, when it was deeded to the Town of Newport. Since then, the structure was used as a school and grange hall, and it now is home to a restaurant, appropriately called “The Old Courthouse”. The 1826 building is an excellent example of vernacular Federal style architecture.

First Parish Church of Brookline // 1893

Dedicated in 1893, the First Parish Church of Brookline is the fourth to house the congregation that began as The Church of Christ here in 1717. Earlier iterations of the church were located here, at the geographic center of the new town which separated from Boston. Before this handsome stone church was constructed, the third home to the congregation was constructed in 1848 in the Gothic Revival style designed by architect Edward C. Cabot. The church purchased the former Brookline Town Hall in 1890, and sought to enlarge their church building, deciding to construct a new house of worship and expand, later connecting to the former Town Hall. The congregation hired the firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to H. H. Richardson, whose architectural influence is readily apparent in the Romanesque arches and heavy massing of the building. The church has a collection of some of the most stunning stained glass windows in the region, many of which are designed and signed by Louis C. Tiffany.

Old Kent Memorial Library // 1899

In 1897, Sidney A. Kent, a Suffield native, graduate of Suffield Academy and successful Chicago businessman sought to build a $35,000 library as a memorial to his parents in his home town. Land was purchased from the academy, demolishing a significant academic building, and the new Kent Memorial Library erected. Kent hired architectural giant Daniel Burnham (architect of the famous Flatiron Building in Manhattan) who also designed Kent’s home in Chicago. It sat on the site of land purchased by the first Kent ancestor in Suffield. Sidney Kent furnished nearly 7000 books and periodicals and left an endowment of $25,000. The building was dedicated on November l, 1899. It was eventually outgrown and a new building was constructed across the street.