Women’s Service Club of Boston // c.1860

This historic rowhouse in the South End of Boston was home to the Women’s Service Club, a social and volunteer organization made up of Black women to uplift Black Bostonians of varied backgrounds, including soldiers, students, migrants and mothers. “464,” as some locals admiringly called it, was formed in the early 20th century as Boston. The city, once known as “Freedom’s Birthplace” and the “Athens of America” as a hub of abolitionist activity leading up to the Civil War, saw extreme segregation in housing and education for its Black residents by the early 20th century. From this, local activist Mary Evans Wilson organized a knitting group in 1917 to support soldiers of color fighting in World War I. An estimated 350 women joined the group, donating their talents to produce scarves and gloves for servicemen. Humanitarianism guided the activity of the Women’s Service Club’s over the next half century. This building was purchased in 1919 and operated as part-meeting space and part-settlement house. “A Home Away from Home,” as some described it, the building offered affordable shelter to female workers, migrants, and college students barred from on-campus housing due to racist policies. One of the club’s most prominent members was Melnea Cass (1896–1978), who served as its President for more than fifteen years. Cass initiated the Homemakers Training Program which certified domestic workers so they would be assured a liveable minimum wage, social security and other benefits. The club continues to do great work, but could use funding to restore the landmark building!

Ebenezer Hancock House // 1767

Located a stones throw from the famed Union Oyster House along the Freedom Trail, you will find this historic brick structure. When you pass, you may think nothing of it as it lacks major exterior flair or pizzazz; however, it is one of the few pre-Revolution structures in Downtown Boston. In 1764, John Hancock (yes one of the Founding Fathers), inherited a parcel of land here from the estate of his uncle and father-figure Thomas Hancock. John Hancock combined the lot with an adjacent lot and had a brick mansion constructed there, similar to what we see today. Hancock did not occupy it, but by 1776, his brother Ebenezer did; the latter, as deputy paymaster general of the Continental Army, used his house as headquarters. Thus, it was here that the loan of 2 million silver
crowns from Louis XVI of France for financing the Continental Army negotiated by Benjamin Franklin in Paris is reported to have been stored in 1778. The home was later sold by Hancock to Benjamin Fuller, a shoe dealer, who ran a business out of the home while living there with family. The house was occupied by subsequent shoe merchants until the 1960s.

Preserved Gardner Farmhouse // ca.1820

This old farmhouse in Swansea, MA, was built by 1820 for Preserved Gardner (1795-1873), one of five sons of Peleg Gardner, who owned much of Gardners Point. Preserved lived in the home until his death in 1873, and the home and acres of farmland were willed to his only son to live past childhood, Ira Gardner (1836-1901). Ira donated a large tract of land adjacent to the farmhouse to the town in 1882 for a cemetery, in which his father was buried. Later, the farm was purchased by Thomas D. Covel a bank president of Fall River who operated it as a gentleman’s farm and made the house his summer home. A ‘gentleman farmer‘ utilized their farms for pleasure rather than for sustenance or profit. After WWII, the land was purchased by the town to be used as a park and the property is still owned by the town. The Federal home with its veranda that wraps around the side has been neglected by the town for decades while the parks adjacent are maintained adequately.

The town has weighed various options for the home ranging from demolishing it, to preserving the front facade and converting it to a garage and storage shed (with a small museum on the second floor). I hate that idea personally. This seems like an ideal candidate for the town to allow a private individual or developer to move the home and restore it back to its original grandeur. Thoughts?

Warren Armory // 1842

A castle in Rhode Island! Well not quite. At the conclusion of the Dorr Rebellion, where a mini Civil War in the state occurred, the State of Rhode Island gave the Warren Artillery Company $1500 for their loyal support during the conflict for the construction of an armory. Architect Russell Warren was reported to have designed Armory Hall, which is a one-story gable roof, Gothic Revival structure with two hexagonal castellated turrets. The building’s two turrets stand on either side of large arched front doors and were designed to house two Revolutionary War cannon. These cannon, named Pallas and Tantae, were built in Strasbourg, France in 1862 and were also given to the Warren Artillery Company for their support during the Dorr’s Rebellion. During the American Civil War, the Warren Artillery Company served with the Ninth Regiment of Rhode Island.

By WWI, the Artillery Company effectively disbanded and Armory Hall was rarely used. After WWII, with large numbers of returning veterans, the American Legion Post in Warren purchased the building for just $10! Over the years the crenellations on the two turrets deteriorated and were removed. Since 2012, a group has been restoring the historic armory back to its former glory to be used for functions and events.

Danvers Lunatic Asylum // 1874

One of my favorite buildings in Massachusetts has to be the Kirkbride Building at the former Danvers Lunatic Asylum. After the American Civil War, the need for an additional psychiatric hospital for the Boston area was critical, as others in the state and region were already at capacity. A site called Hawthorne Hill in Danvers was chosen for the new hospital; the scenic vistas, fresh air, and acres of farm land to work were part of the therapeutic treatments thought to have cured insanity. Stakeholders of the new hospital hired Nathaniel Bradlee, a Boston architect to design the Victorian Gothic main building and some later outbuildings. Bradlee employed the Kirkbride Plan, a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883) in the mid-19th century, which advocated for air circulation and natural light, through the use of elongated buildings.

Opened in 1878, the extravagant asylum drew some criticism from the working class residents of Danvers living in its shadow during the first years of operation, wondering why the “insane” were given such grand treatment. Patients were given ample space and could even farm on the grounds. As the asylum grew, the importance for new buildings were paramount. A series of underground tunnels connected many structures to allow the facility to fully function during the cold winter months.

Asylum formal garden, maintained by patients ca. 1880. Courtesy of Frank Cousins Collection.

The downfall of the Hospital began in the 20th century when the crowded hospital paired with lack of funding. By the 1930s, the number of patients grew to over 2,000 while the size of the staff remained relatively the same.As a result, the quality of care began to deteriorate as the overwhelmed staff struggled to control the massive number of patients. Patients were soon subjected to “special garments,” presumably straitjackets, as a means of control. In 1948, the first lobotomy was performed at the hospital and in the 1950s electric shock therapy was introduced. By the 1960s, state hospitals had become outdated and unnecessary due to better psychiatric medications, a more enlightened approach to treating mental illness and the establishment of a statewide system of community health centers.

The main tower was removed from the Kirkbride Building in the 1970s due to lack of funding. The hospital eventually closed in 1989 after a series of security concerns and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to entirely cut funding to the “outdated” facility. The former asylum sat shuttered high on the hill for decades until it was converted to apartments, with most outbuildings being demolished as part of the redevelopment. Now you can (willingly) live at a former insane asylum. Any takers?

2006 Image of Kirkbride Building during controlled demolition. Photo courtesy of Maurice Ribble (Flickr).

Boardman House // 1692

The 2nd oldest house in Saugus, the Boardman House, was built in 1692, just 72 years after the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. The Boardman House is an example of early New England architecture that exhibited exposed and decorated structural carpentry, and that evolved from English Post-medieval architecture transferred to New England by the early settlers. Built in 1692, the home is considered a hall and parlor plan, consisting of two rooms at each story separated by a stair hall at the front and by a massive central chimney at the rear. Sometime between 1692 and 1696, the rear lean-to kitchen was added to the house, creating the Saltbox roof.

Built by William Boardman, a carpenter, the home remained in the family until 1911, when it was purchased by a developer. The original 300-acre farmland was sub-divided and sold through the centuries after William’s death in 1696 at the age of 38. In 1913, the local community, concerned that these changes spelled certain destruction for the old house, appealed to William Sumner Appleton, founder and corresponding secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, and the purchase of the house was finally negotiated in 1914. Over the next year, Appleton had the foresight to purchase eight additional small lots surrounding the house, allowing it to stand in a comparatively open space and setting it apart from the close-set houses that eventually sprang up in the immediate neighborhood. The Boardman House is now one of a few 17th century house museums in the region.

Rockport Review Newspaper Office // c.1887

Located at 8 Bearskin Neck in Rockport, the former Rockport Review Newspaper Office building is a great example of transitional Queen Anne and Shingle style vernacular architecture in Cape Ann. The Rockport Review was established in 1880 by H.C. Cheever, proprietor and editor. Within years, he sold the office building, press, furniture and interest in the newspaper to Joseph Leman. With the new company and increased production, the former wood-frame building was replaced with a new office with a raised granite base (likely to protect from water).

New issues were printed and sold every Saturday on Bearskin Neck. Another of the Rockport Review’s publications was Lemuel Gott’s 1888 History of the Town of Rockport. The paper appears to have disbanded before the turn of the 20th century as it does not appear in later directories. The building was later converted to a residence and artist studios. As of 2020, it is home to Rusty & Ingrid, a husband and wife company specializing in screen prints of some of New England’s most iconic sights.

Providence Union Station // 1898

Located at the northern edge of Downtown Providence, Rhode Island, the Union Station complex transports us back to a time where the railroad ruled. The original Union Station was Providence’s first, opening in 1847 and was considered “a brilliant example of Romanesque architecture” in its time, and titled the longest building in America. The station was outgrown by the end of the 19th century. Stakeholders were analyzing what to do with the building, until a fire gutted the building in 1896, making way for a more advanced and larger station.

The new Union Station was designed by the architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, who were based out of Providence. Built in 1898, the new station in the Renaissance Revival style, was constructed with a unique yellow brick. Since the conclusion of WWII, the station, as with many nationwide, suffered a massive decline which correlated with personal automobile ownership and use. The station eventually closed and a new station was built just north, across from the State House. The old Union Station was adaptively reused and now is home to Rhode Island Public Radio, Union Station Brewery, and various non-profits.

Providence City Hall // 1878

Located in Downtown Providence at the southwestern end of Kennedy Plaza, stands a monumental Second Empire civic building, Providence City Hall. It’s story begins in 1831 when Providence residents ratified a city charter that year, as the population passed 17,000. The seat of city government was located in the Market House which still stands to this day. The city offices outgrew this building, and the City Council resolved to create a permanent municipal building in 1845.

Providence City Hall was constructed in 1875-1878 from the designs of Samuel F. J. Thayer, a Boston architect who won a competition, besting over 20 other submissions, which included designs by McKim & Mead, Ware & Van Brunt, and Charles B. Atwood to name a few. In designing the building, Thayer, being from Boston, was likely inspired by the iconic Boston City Hall, which was built in 1866 and set off a trend of Second Empire public buildings nationwide. Providence City Hall remains as a highly ornate and stately building, synonymous with the city’s rich history.

Providence Journal Building // 1906

The former Providence Journal Building in Downtown Providence was built in 1906 by Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns. The Beaux-Arts building is sited on a prominent corner lot and is one of the most interesting buildings in Downtown Providence. The building was constructed for the Providence Journal, the premier local newspaper in the rapidly growing city. This building served as the home of the paper from 1906 until the company moved into its present offices in 1934. When the Journal moved out, Liggett’s Drug Store expanded its storefronts and occupied much of the building.

After World War II, the building was occupied by J.J Newbury Variety Store, and by the 1950s, the building was “modernized”. Thankfully, much of the original detailing which included the two-story corinthian columns, intricate stone carvings and mansard roof were preserved, many located underneath the later renovation. In 1983, a renovation effort saw the building restored nearly to its original design, sans some odd looking storefronts.

Newspaper clipping showing Modern alterations, circa 1955. Courtesy of Providence Public Library digital collections.