Mount Vernon Congregational Church // 1892 & 1984

The Mount Vernon Congregation Church was founded in 1842 and originally was located in Ashburton Place on Beacon Hill (which I featured previously). As its members moved to the Back Bay, the congregation decided to build a new church in the western portion of the neighborhood. They hired architect C. Howard Walker to design the new church building, with stained glass windows by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany added as memorials to several members of the congregation over subsequent years. As originally designed, the church had a 45-foot high steeple on top of its 85-foot square tower, but over the years it became structurally unsound, and it was removed just before the Hurricane of 1938, which toppled many steeples all over the region. In 1970, the church merged with the Old South Church in the Back Bay. In 1977, developers proposed to remodel the church building into retail and office space. The proposal was approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in January of 1978. Before work could commence, a fire destroyed much of the church building leaving a shell of Roxbury Puddingstone walls and the tower, the developer pulled its funding and the building’s future was uncertain. One year later, architect Graham Gund purchased the building. Gund was familiar with adaptive reuse projects, like his restoration of the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge for his own office in Cambridge in the 1970s. Gund redesigned the building into 43 condominium units called Church Court. What are your thoughts on the architecture?

William Ellery Channing House // 1834

Located on Mount Vernon Street in Boston’s iconic Beacon Hill neighborhood, you can find this townhouse which was once home to William Ellery Channing (1780-1842). William, the son of William Channing and Lucy Ellery, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and as a child, he was cared for by the formerly enslaved woman Duchess Quamino, who later influenced his views on abolitionism. Channing graduated from Harvard Theological School, first in his class. After graduating, he was ordained minister of the Federal Street Church (now the Arlington Street Church in the Back Bay), where he served until his death. Channing embraced the great sociopolitical causes of day, speaking out against slavery, poverty, war, labor problems, and for the need for quality public education. When minister Channing moved into his new home, he wrote ‘Slavery’, which argued that slaves, “have the same rational nature and the same power of conscience” as those who are not enslaved. Slavery was a sin against God, in Channing’s view, because it prevented both slaves and slave-owners from following the ethical teachings of Jesus and perfecting their human nature. This view met strong disapproval from the powerful Bostonians in Channing’s congregation. In 1840, he broke from the congregation and died just two years later.

Mount Vernon Church // 1844-1968

The stunning Mount Vernon Church in Boston was built in 1844 in the very popular Greek Revival architectural style at the edge of Beacon Hill. Located on Ashburton Place, the granite church, designed by famed architect Richard Bond, had just 47 members at its inception led by pastor Edward N. Kirk. The congregation ballooned to 1,600 members until Kirk’s death in 1871, slowly decreasing after that. The church in 1892, followed the shifting Boston population to the developed Back Bay neighborhood and built a new place of worship at the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Ever-dwindling membership caused the church to become absorbed by the established Old South Church in 1970. The second Mount Vernon church in Back Bay burned in 1978, and was redeveloped into Church Court Condominiums by architect Graham Gund in 1983.

Ca. 1895 image of Mount Vernon Church as Isaac Rich Hall courtesy of BPL.

Back to the original building… After the church relocated to the Back Bay, the building was acquired by Boston University Law School and renamed Isaac Rich Hall, after an original founder of Boston University. The former church was renovated to contain a lecture hall, library, classrooms and offices (talk about adaptive reuse!) The granite building with its symmetrical facade was razed by 1968 for the more mundane (and tall) McCormack Office Building on Ashburton Place.

The Pillars // ca.1780

Located on North Canterbury Road, north of the town green, stands a massive home which appears as a strange blending of styles. This home was built in around 1780 as the Jenks Family Homestead. The home operated as a farm with various outbuildings and orchards surrounding. The minimal Georgian style home was eventually purchased by Hattie and Frank Miller as a country estate. Frank bought his wife Hattie the home after his long career in hotel management. Hattie got the idea to transform the property to resemble George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate with a massive two-story portico supported by columns. The couple completed the completely un-academic version of the two styles and held many events and balls inside the home which was also renovated on the inside with a large ballroom.