Dorchester Atheneum
Monday, January 25, 2021
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Blake House, built ca 1648
Blake House, Edward Everett Square
Click image for more information
 Blake House (1661)
735 Columbia Road
(Richardson Park)
Dorchester, MA 02125

The oldest extant house in Boston, the James Blake House, sits on Columbia Road in Dorchester, about 400 yards from its original location on what is now Massachusetts Avenue. The house is the only example of West England country framing in Suffolk County. Most of the early colonial homes in Dorchester, such as the Pierce House, were built by housewrights from the south and east of England, where brick and plaster building predominated. However, the Blake House was built in the manner of the homes of western England, which had long used heavy timber framing methods. The James Blake House is a two-story, central chimney, gable-roof dwelling of timber-frame construction. It is on a rectangular plan, three bays wide and one bay deep and measures 38 by 20 feet. Built in 1661, the house is one of a relatively small number of its type - the post-Medieval, timber-frame house - surviving anywhere in New England. It is one of two early known West-of-England-derived houses to survive in Massachusetts - the other being the 1654 Coffin House in Newbury. The date of construction of the Blake House was determined by dendrochronology that revealed the timbers in the house are from trees felled in the winter of 1660-1661.

The original occupants were James Blake, born in Pitminster, England, in 1624, who emigrated with his parents to Dorchester in the 1630s and his wife Elizabeth Clap. Deacon James Blake became a constable, town selectman, and deputy to the General Court. James married Elizabeth Clap (the daughter of Deacon Edward Clap and niece of Roger Clap) in 1651, and it was long suggested that the house was built in anticipation of this marriage, but dendrochronology testing in 2006 revealed the house was most likely built in 1661. The house passed to their son John who in turn divided it between his two sons in 1718. The east and west halves of the house were occupied by separate families for over a century, one half being sold out of the Blake family in 1772. In 1825 Caleb and Eunice Williams purchased the west half of the house from Rachel Blake, the sole surviving heir, and in 1829 they acquired the east half by inheritance. The house remained in the Williams family until 1892 when it was acquired by George and Antonia Quinsler who in 1895 sold it to the City of Boston. The City government acquired the land to complete a large parcel for the building of municipal greenhouses.

The Dorchester Historical Society, which had been incorporated in 1891 undertook the preservation of the Blake House as its first major project. The Society convinced the City to grant the Society the house and the right to move it to Richardson Park at its own expense. By January, 1896, the house had been moved to its new location by a local building mover for $295. This seems to be the first recorded instance of a historic private residence being moved from its original site in order to rescue it from demolition. The Blake House is a museum of early American Home construction and is studied by students of architectural history.

Richardson Park
 Readers' Comments

From Frank Montegani, January, 2009

When I was a kid in the 40's and 50's, Richardson's Park did not have that name. It was known as the Blakey. It was most notable for coasting in the winter. Coasting was a sport of pursuers (boys) and the pursued (girls). Typically, 2 or 3 girls would sit on larger sleds on the sidewalk at the top of the hill and inch off from a stop. Solitary boys would wait until the girls were part-way down and then run down, belly-flop on their smaller sleds, speed past the girls, grab their runners, and turn them over. Looking back now, it seems terribly uncivilized, but then it was the way things were and we all had fun.

The other thing I remember about the Blakey was a special day in the summer when they would hand out free Hoodsies (remember them?) from the Blake House. It was probably some holiday, but I can't recall which. [it was Dorchester Day]

They were called Hoodsies because of the Hood Dairy name on the side. They were a small paper cup of ice cream, probably 6 ounces. They had a round paper lid with a tab on it pressed into a groove around the top of the cup. They always were accompanied by paper-wrapped, flat, double-ended wooden spoons. The spoons were separate; they were not attached in any way. One would unwrap the paper spoon, pull the lid out of he cup by the tab, and eat. The most characteristic thing about them, however, was the ice cream. It was in two flavors: vanilla and a light chocolate. In particular, the flavors were side by side, so that when you opened them you saw a semicircle of vanilla and a semicircle of light chocolate.

Out of curiosity I checked out the Hood Dairy web site. It turns out
that Hoodsies are alive and well. They are actually 3 ounces and not
the 6 that I guessed. It looks like the wooden spoons are a thing of
the past. Now they suggest scooping the ice cream with the bent lid
if you don't have a spoon.

Frank Montegani

Related Images: showing 8 of 59 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 59 images.
Old Blake HouseBlake HouseReplacing the Old Dorchester MilestoneBlake House
Wattle and Daub in attic at Blake HouseWattle and daub at Blake HouseBlake House Archaeology DayBlake House
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Created: December 15, 2003   Modified: July 15, 2014