Not much remains of one of Roxbury’s once grand rural estates, but as there is some left, I want to feature it before it’s all gone, possibly any day now! Horatio Harris was born in Dorchester (present-day South Boston) in 1821 and ran a prominent auction house in Boston. He built his country estate in Roxbury beginning in 1857 in the Gothic Revival style, adding on and updating numerous times. During the Civil War, the firm of Horatio Harris & Co. obtained the contract to sell at auction all goods which were confiscated by the United States’ land or naval forces and brought to Boston. He made a lot of money and added to his land holdings and estate house in Roxbury. The mansion’s construction was timely as Roxbury was transitioning from a rural town, with farms and country estates of wealthy Boston merchants, to a streetcar suburb, increasing the land value of his holdings. The estate included nearly 30 acres of meandering paths, a lake with an island, outbuildings, and an observation tower – one of which remain today besides the ruin of the former mansion. Horatio died in 1876, in the decades following his death, his heirs began subdividing the estate, developing some and selling other plots off for houselots. By the early 1900s, Jewish people began moving into Roxbury, mixing with the predominantly Yankee population. By 1915, the Harris manor house was owned by the Hebrew Alliance of Roxbury, Inc. By the 1920s, they expanded facilities, adding a school building to the front of the former Harris Mansion, completely obscuring the facade of the old estate. In the 1940s, the upper stories were removed. Seemingly the death knell of the old Harris Villa was a fire in 2019, which gutted much of the remaining original fabric of the estate. All that remains is a bay window, some window trim details and a Gothic porte-cochere at the rear of the estate. See it before it’s too late!
Roxbury Boston History
Harriswood Crescent // 1889
Harriswood Crescent was built in 1889-90 at the height of Roxbury’s development as a streetcar suburb which coincided with the electrification of the streetcar lines in Boston. The area of Roxbury in which the Crescent is located, known at the time as Boston Highlands due to its rocky terrain and steep grades, was an extremely desirable residential location. As land values raised, middle and upper-class families looked for varied housing types that fit their demands. Seen as a great investment of the family estate, the heirs of wealthy businessman Horatio Harris (1821-1876) redeveloped lots on one side of a rocky park for fine townhouses, which were named Harriswood Crescent. The name was probably chosen for its historical associations with Boston’s Tontine Crescent and the great Georgian crescents of London and Bath in England. Architect J. Williams Beal designed the row, which was one of his first commissions upon returning to Boston in 1888 after employment as a draftsman at McKim, Mead & White and a long study in England to view architecture. Built at 15 separate units, the row of Tudor style houses is among the only of such developments in Boston, and New England at large.
Peleg Eddy House // c.1895
Roxbury is not well-known for its Shingle style architecture, but this example might change that! This dwelling was built around 1895 by the heirs of Horatio Harris on family land that was subdivided for house lots at the end of the 19th century. The expansive Harris estate was developed, largely on speculation and included some amazing single family homes, rowhouses and multi-family dwellings. This Shingle style home appears to have also been built on speculation and was owned by the Harris heirs for some time. The property was occupied for some time by Peleg E. Eddy and his wife Caroline in the earliest years of the house’s existence. I could not locate the architect, but it could be estimated as a design by J. Williams Beal, a local architect who was commissioned to design the nearby Harriswood Crescent development for the Harris family. The design features a Roxbury puddingstone first floor and chimney which contrast elegantly with the shingle siding.
Henry A. Thomas House // 1870
People don’t explore Roxbury enough! The neighborhood is full of amazing architecture with buildings in a great state of preservation and some waiting for the overlapping vinyl siding to be removed. This restored beauty sits perched above the road and is one of the best examples of a Second Empire merchant’s home in Roxbury. The house was built around 1870, within a year of owner Henry A. Thomas purchasing the lot here for $4,800. Mr. Thomas owned a boot and shoe retail store in Downtown Boston for years. The lot was later subdivided and stucco apartments were built to the side, notable at the time when Roxbury began to really densify with housing construction in the early 1900s.
Dimock Center – Cheney Surgical Building // 1899
With funds for expansion at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, the hospital’s board commissioned architect Willard T. Sears (also the architect of the earlier Cary Cottage and Zakrzewska Building) to design a new surgical building at the hospital’s growing campus. Construction began on the new Cheney Surgical building in 1899 on the birthday of its namesake, Edna Dow Cheney an original incorporator of the hospital and then President. The Cheney Surgical Building was designed in the Colonial Revival style in brick, with a four-story central block with three-story wings. The central entranceway is accentuated by a classical porte-cochere topped by a Palladian window, in keeping with the Georgian Revival tradition of symmetry and classical vocabulary. The building is one of the first you see when climbing the hill into the campus.
Dimock Center – Goddard Nurses Home // 1909
Located adjacent to the Zakrzewska Building and Cary Cottage at the former New England Hospital for Women and Children is the 1909 Goddard Nurses Home, designed by John A. Fox. This three story brick building typifies the Classical Revival style with its recessed central entranceway and symmetrical fenestration with flared brick keystone lintels. The slate hipped roof is perforated by three dormers on the front facade. The broad overhanging eaves have exposed rafters which is an element of Craftsman design, common at the time. The Goddard Nurses Home provided living accomodations for up to fifty nurses who worked at the hospital. It was named after Lucy Goddard, one of the original incorporators of the women’s hospital, she served as president for twenty-five years.
Dimock Center – Sewall Maternity Building // 1892
As the New England Hospital for Women and Children continued to grow in the decades following its founding in 1862, expanded facilities were needed to deal with increased patients along with new nurses and doctors to treat them. Land was acquired across from the Cary Cottage and Zakrzewska Building, and a second building campaign began to expand the facilities and grow the women’s hospital. The management of the hospital did not hire Cummings and Sears, but went with architect John A. Fox to furnish plans for a new maternity building. The Sewall Maternity Building was designed in the Colonial Revival style, a relatively modest example that features a unique broken pediment over the door housing a large window. In 1916, the building was expanded by an addition at the rear which enclosed a central courtyard, it was also designed by John Fox.
Dimock Center – Zakrzewska Building // 1873
Following the construction of Cary Cottage at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury (last post), architects Cummings and Sears turned their attention to designing the most important facility in the complex, the large two-story Zakrzewska Building built in 1873. It is a fine example of polychromatic High Victorian Gothic style with Stick detailing. The building is characterized by its decorative stone and brick string courses, arched window heads, polychrome slate roof, end towers, and a gambrel dormer. The building was named after Dr. Maria Zakrzewska (1829-1902), a Polish-American doctor who moved to the United States in 1853, eventually settling in Boston in 1859, working as a professor of obstetrics at the New England Female Medical College. There, she realized that women in medicine did not have the same opportunity to advance in their field and left, launching her own hospital, the New England Hospital for Women and Children. It was the first in Boston, and the second hospital in America, to be run by women physicians and surgeons. Dr. Zakrzewska knew that the opportunity to work with large numbers of patients was vital if women physicians were to achieve the same levels of training and standards of practice as male physicians. The hospital became a primary training hospital for several generations of women physicians, and also trained nurses. The hospital was extremely successful and remains a medical institution to this day, as the Dimock Health Center.
Dimock Center – Cary Cottage // 1872
The New England Hospital for Women and Children (known today as the Dimock Community Health Center), is comprised of eight major buildings on a nine acre site located on a small hill in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, close to the border with Jamaica Plain. The complex is significant for its role in the history of women in medicine as both a teaching and a practicing hospital, as well as for its architecture. The facility was incorporated as the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1863, almost five years before Roxbury was annexed to Boston. The Hospital was founded by Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska together with Lucy Goddard and Edna Dow Cheney in order to provide women with medical care by competent physicians of their own sex and to educate women in the study and practice of medicine. As such, it was one of the first hospitals of its kind in America. The oldest building in the complex is the Cary Cottage, pictured here. The charming building was constructed in 1872 by the architecture firm of Cummings & Sears. The Cary Cottage served as the hospital’s original maternity cottage, and is also important as an almost intact example of Stick Style architecture. The building was intentionally detached from the general surgical facilities to minimize the dangers of infection during childbirth.
Egleston Square Substation // 1909
Streetcar suburbs of Boston have long been connected to the city by horse-drawn streetcars. As the city expanded and transportation shifted electrical, things changed in a big way! By the time the last horse-drawn streetcar was retired in 1897, the West End Street Railway Company had replaced its fleet of 9,000 horses with electric streetcars. Things were built upwards, with an elevated railway constructed between 1898 and 1901 that ran down Washington Street in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston along the boundary of Jamaica Plain. The route had a stop in the middle of Egleston Square, with the surrounding neighborhood largely occupied by wood-frame, detached triple-deckers, two-family, and single-family houses, with many occupied by workers from the breweries nearby. Located on Washington Street in Roxbury, the Egleston Square substation was built in 1909 by the Boston Elevated Railway Company (predecessor of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) to convert AC (alternating current) electricity to DC (direct current) for use by its street railway cars and elevated cars. The building was designed by Robert S. Peabody of Peabody and Stearns, a prominent and expensive firm (yes the MBTA once invested in their infrastructure). After the station was effectively abandoned by the MBTA, the substation fell into disrepair, with a roof in failure in 2005. It was then acquired by Boston Neighborhood Network Media, a local nonprofit, who have converted it for use as office and television studio space. Scott Payette was the firm responsible for the intensive restoration and renovation.