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!
These two townhouses were built in 1860 and were once part of a row of four matching homes constructed for wealthy Bostonians. The end units feature stronger detailing with the center two homes being slightly recessed and less ornate, all four constructed of brick with brownstone facades. The original owners wanted to ensure that their new homes would be harmonious in design, both with each other and with the other houses being built nearby.The property already was subject to restrictions contained in the deeds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who sold much of the land in the Back Bay for development, but the owners added further stipulations. Among them that “the front of said houses shall be of free stone and the height not less than three stories” and “the cornice and roof of all the houses shall be uniform, and shall conform to a plan to be hereinafter agreed upon.” The right house seen here was occupied by Henry Atkins, a grocer and importer of wines and spirits. The left home was occupied by John Chandler, a dry goods merchant and his wife. They both died at a young age in 1875 and 1876 respectively, and the home was sold off by their children’s guardian to Charles Porter, a physician and surgeon. He served as a doctor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School under Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked as Chief Surgeon at Mass. General Hospital. His wife, Margaret Cochran Dewar, who also was a physician and was resident surgeon at Sheffield Hospital in England. She had graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1894, among the first women in Scotland to receive a university degree and the first to receive a university medical qualification. In 1925, the two homes here were purchased and combined to one multi-family apartment building and remodelled the structure with ugly brick additions. By 1996, a developer purchased the building and restored them by installing a new façade and fenestration more consistent with the historical nature of the building, making their heights identical once again.
These two townhomes on the end of the iconic Louisburg Square in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood were built in 1846 and stand as excellent examples of the Greek Revival style of architecture. Louisburg Square is a private park, maintained by the owners which overlook it, and the enclave of homes has become the most exclusive in the already swank Beacon Hill neighborhood; with townhouses listing for over $15,000,000! No.1 Louisburg Square was built for George R. Russell, of Russell & Co., East India Merchants. The home stayed in the family for nearly 100 years and changed hands later to other well-connected Bostonians. The adjacent house was acquired in 1849 by Joseph Iasigi, an affluent Turkish-born merchant as well as the Turkish Consul in Boston. He donated the statues of Christopher Columbus and Aristedes that still grace the northern and southern ends of the Square. When the marble statue of Aristedes arrived in Boston, Iasigi announced his intentions to locate the statue in the park to his neighbors. The neighbors hemmed and hawed about placing a Greek statue in their revered Louisburg Square and appointed a committee of three to think it over. When Joseph added that he would also import a statue of Christopher Columbus, they wholeheartedly agreed to both. Iasigi later relocated to a larger Second Empire style house in the neighborhood a decade later (featured on here previously). When he moved, Elijah Williams occupied the house, later constructing a stunning horse stable in the Beacon Hill flats (featured previously). Together, the two homes provide a stunning entrance to a luxurious and well-preserved corner of Boston.
This stunning townhouse on Beacon Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston was constructed in 1913 for George Eddy Warren and his wife Frances Knowles Warren. The home, designed by Parker, Thomas & Rice, is one of the more elegant Classical Revival townhomes in the city, with its symmetrical, prominent bowfront, piano nobile with full-height windows, classical lintels, and thoughtful use of brick and stone construction. George E. Warren was a coal dealer, who was selected to head the U.S. Army’s Raw Materials Division during WWI for his expertise. During the war he was in charge of the fuel and forage division, overseeing an important aspect of 20th century warfare, petroleum manufacturing and distribution. His wife Frances was the daughter of Francis B. Knowles, a co-founder of Rollins College in Florida, the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of Florida. Frances volunteered her time in Boston as President of the YWCA, progressing women’s empowerment and social justice in the city. After successive ownership, the townhome was acquired by Emerson College and combined with its neighbor on the interior. In 2000, the home was reverted back to a residence and houses two condominium units.
It is hard to stand out in the Back Bay with rows of stunning townhouses, but the Bates Mansion does just that. Attributed to Arthur Gilman, a prominent Boston architect, the home was built for John D. Bates and his wife, Mary, who was related to the architect by her first marriage. Mr. Bates – a shipping merchant dealing in the sugar trade also served as Danish Consul in Boston – died in Europe in 1863, leaving Mary and their son, to live at the magnificent structure until 1865, when they downsized. After subsequent ownership, the property was purchased by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston in 1947, combined with the adjacent property, and converted to a day school and convent. The combined structures were later purchased by developer in the 1990s and transformed into nine condominium units. The massive Second Empire mansion was the first building constructed in Boston using Acadian freestone and features a projecting central bay over the entrance supported by Corinthian columns.
Funded by Amos A. Lawrence, the rowhouses at the end and along Monmouth Court in the Longwood area of Brookline, MA, stand out as Brookline’s version of the Back Bay. While much of Brookline in the 19th century was developed with single family homes, Amos Lawrence wanted to provide high-end apartment housing in a denser format for Civil War soldiers and their families. The four rows of five houses were designed by two architects who worked on projects together, George Tilden and John Pickering Putnam. All four buildings are unique, but together employ similar styles and features. The Victorian Gothic buildings have intricate brickwork, mansard roofs, brick parapets and gothic dormers. The buildings were sold off as individual units in the 1920s.
Nearly identical to the Nathaniel Pope Russell House at 34 Beacon Street in Beacon Hill, Boston, the Tuckerman-Parkman House at 33 Beacon Street, has a darker history. The home was first owned by Edward Tuckerman. Edward Francis Tuckerman (1775-1843) was an entrepreneur and father of Professor Edward Tuckerman, a noted botanist and lichenologist for whom Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington was named. Tuckerman, Sr. lived at 33 Beacon Street until his death in 1850. After Tuckerman’s death, George Parkman’s widow and son, George Francis Parkman moved in. George Parkman was a medical doctor, businessman, and philanthropist, who was a member of one of Boston’s richest families, but is arguably most well-known for his gruesome murder.
In 1849, Parkman mysteriously disappeared. The physician had last been seen walking towards the Harvard Medical College, and many suspected Parkman had been robbed and murdered with his body thrown into a river or pit, as he was known to lend money to colleagues and friends and later walking around town to collect those debts. Harvard Medical School janitor, Ephraim Littlefield had his own suspicions and sought to solve the case himself, and earn the hefty reward for finding Dr. Parkman. He spent two grueling nights tunneling near the basement laboratory of chemistry professor John White Webster looking for clues. He dug until he ran into a human pelvis, a dismembered thigh and a lower leg. Littlefield immediately called the police, who arrested Dr. Webster, and then worked to find the rest of the body, as it wasn’t in the privy. They searched Webster’s lab and opened a large chest — out came a headless, armless, hairy, partially burned torso, with a thigh stuffed inside. Mrs. Parkman, now a widow was asked to identify the body, which she did based on birthmarks on the lower back and genitals.
It is now known that Professor Webster owed Dr. Parkman a substantial sum of money. The professor lost patience with Parkman’s constant reminders that his payment was long overdue. Professor Webster killed Parkman in a rage, dismembered his tall, lanky frame and concealed the body parts in a wall of his Harvard Medical School laboratory. The trial was an event and is known to have been one of the first major cases where forensic anthropology was used to solve a case as Parkman’s dentist, Dr. Nathan Keep, who would go on to found the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1867, was also called to testify. A jawbone with false teeth was found in the furnace of Webster’s lab. Keep recognized the dental work that he had done on Parkman two years prior. He even demonstrated for the court how the bone fit into a mold that he’d made of Parkman’s mouth during life.
While the murder occurred elsewhere, this home became the location of Parkman’s widow and son until their deaths. Parkman Jr., left a magnificent legacy to the City of Boston, including the house and 5.5 million dollars for the maintenance of the Boston Common. By 1930, number 33 Beacon Street housed the Boston Parks Department and the meetings of the Park Commissioners. By 1940, the house contained the Boston Cemetery Division as well as the Boston Parks Department, and is owned by the City to this day.