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Codman Square District
Codman Square and Public Library
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 National Register Listing: Codman Square District

Designated 1983

[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]

Church: 1806
Library: 1904, Charles Bateman
School: 1900, Hartwell, Richardson, Driver
Lithgow Building: 1899, Oliver Warren Lithgow, Joseph Greene


Description

The Codman Square Historic District, located at a major crossroads in the Dorchester section of Boston, lies within a dense urban neighborhood. This intersection evolved in the nineteenth and early 20th centuries as an important civic, commercial and religious center for the surrounding residential area. Situated on a high plateau, it is crossed by Washington Street, the main artery which runs North/South, and by three other thoroughfares. Norfolk, Talbot, and Centre Streets that rise from a lower elevation before they meet Washington Street and intersect the square. The nominated area, occupying approximately 4 acres, contains four contributing structures. The one intrusion is a single story commercial building (see A on map) constructed in 1913 adjacent to, and sharing party walls with one of the significant properties (#3). The district's boundaries are generally formed by the lot lines of the nominated buildings, and the streets which create the intersection known as Codman Square. The remainder of the buildings facing on Codman Square are primarily one story commercial structures.

The structures in the district serve as symbols of the area's evolution from a rural Puritan community in the early 1800's to a bustling middle class streetcar suburb at the end of that century. Because of their wide range of construction dates and because of their well articulated forms, the buildings also serve as excellent models of architectural styles ranging from the Federal to Classical Revival. The oldest one is the 1806 Congregational Church, significant for its architectural merit, as well as for being the cornerstone structure around which others would later cluster. The construction of the other three buildings-a school, a commercial block, and a library-all dating from the early 1900s, helped to establish firmly the intersection as an important community center, and their high quality of design reflect the prosperity of that period.

The descriptions which follow, beginning with the Congregational Church, proceed chronologically and go in clock-wise order around the Square.

The Second Church of Dorchester (#1; photos #4, 5) located on the crest of Washington Street, is set back approximately 70 feet from the street, on a lot which is lineated by granite posts and a wrought iron fence on its front property line. These characteristics of the landscape lend a gracious air to the surrounding urban environment. The building, standing as an impressive monument to the community's Puritan heritage, more significantly serves as a landmark to the New England region by representing an excellent ample of a Federal style meeting house based on the designs popularized by Charles Bulfinch and Asher Benjamin.

Constructed of Maine timber, the Dorchester Meeting House, as originally designed named, was composed of three main units: the steeple tower, the vestibule, and the auditorium block. The building, although added on to over the years, continues to be dominated by these principal elements.

The main auditorium section of the building, which forms the church's sanctuary, is similar in design to many New England meeting houses of the period. Spare in ornamentation, this six bay structure with 12/12 double hung sash is two storied, rectangular in plan, with a pitched roof. Its west and principal facade, with the projecting vestibule, is articulated by pilasters at the two exterior corners, raking eaves, and a wide simple molded cornice that continues around the entire building.

The 3 bay, 2 story vestibule projects from the main body of the building, and rises as high as that section's cornice line. Its face is delineated by four symmetrically placed Tuscan pilasters between which are located three entries. Each doorway is arched and capped with a fanlight. The central and larger one is further detailed by engaged columns which stand on either side of the door frame. Three windows mark the second level, their placement corresponds to the entries below with the two side set 12/12 sash frames being separated by a central Palladian window. The two shallower sides of the vestibule contain a single doorway with a window placed above which are similar in design to those on he principal facade. The vestibule's cornice conforms to that used on the rest of the building. The flat roof of the vestibule is enclosed by a turned balustrade and is pierced by the box-like tower. This section, also surrounded by a balustrade, is further enhanced by clock faces on all four sides, and a single 12/12 sash window on the west elevation.

The steeple, which sits atop the tower, is of two stages and crowned by a copper dome. The lower octagonally shaped stage contains four arched openings and eight slender Ionic pilasters at each corner. It is further adorned by a cornice which echoes that on the lower part of the building and a latticework balustrade in a lozenge pattern. The second stage is the octagonal lantern with eight arched windows with tracery patterns and eight Corinthian columns that support the uppermost dome and elaborate weathervane. This final set of columns also completes the scheme of superimposed orders that began on the first story.

Although the west facade retains its original 1806 appearance, major additions have been made to the church and have in particular altered the massing of the rear (east) elevation. These changes occurred in 1869 and 1892, with the latter obscuring the earlier alteration. As seen now, the 1892 Federal Revival style addition appears as a l 1/2 story extension to the eastern end of the older building. Although it maintains the same roof line as the original structure, the south face of the addition with its dormer, palladian window, 3 sided bow projection, as well as the numerous asymmetrical windows on the east side, appear in contrast to the simplicity of the earlier structure.

In 1929 a third addition was made to the church. This was the 2 story, brick parish house constructed and connected to the north side and east end of the 1892 addition. It is [word missing] shape in plan and like the main facade of the church, one of its gable bay-windowed ends, articulated by two pilasters at each corner, faces West. Its principal elevation and ell extension however face North. On the gable end of the ell wing, the bay window and Pilaster forms repeat those seen on the west elevation.

The last date of a major alteration is 1960, when the entire clapboard exterior of the church was covered with aluminum sheathing. Fortunately this alteration did not include removal of original trim.

Adjacent to the church, lying southeast on a triangular parcel is the former Dorchester High School (#2; photo #7, 8, 9, 10), more recently known as Girl' s Latin Academy. Constructed in 1900 and designed by Hartwell, Richardson & Driver, this yellow brick Renaissance Revival structure highlighted by limestone detail, stands prominently in the district.

The school complex consists of three building masses. The two which are closely integrated and highly decorated with limestone date from the original period of construction. The less ornate 1910 addition, also designed by Hartwell, Richardson & river, is connected by an extension to the east end of the older structure.

The principal mass of the complex measuring approximately 250' x 70' is hip roofed and three storied with a full basement. Its main symmetrically designed facade and roofline, pierced by four chimneys and three dormers, faces south along Talbot Avenue. It features limestone detail in the carved central entry, in courses outlining the floors of the building, in ornate blocks on the top level, and in arches over the third story windows. Limestone is also used for sills and in panels placed below the uppermost windows, which are incised with the names of famous men in history. This main elevation is divided into five sections which are delineated by brick rustication and sandstone blocks. Within each section, windows on each level are clustered in groups of three and either and individually or are paired to represent a single unit. The three interior sections project slightly from the main portion of the building. This entire area is highlighted brick piers that rise from the second story and from which spring limestone arches that cap the fenestration on the third level. All windows are rectangular with 2/2 double hung sash except those on the uppermost story which are arched.

Looking at the west elevation, the original building can clearly be seen as two separate units. This facade of the main structure is composed of 7 bays with the window configuration corresponding to that on the principal elevation but less ornamented. From this view, one face of the ell extension is visible. It features a major parapet wall that projects slightly from the west facade of the building and terminates in a gabled configuration. This two story wing, nestled on the slope of the property, measures 110' x 50? and is marked by limestone banding.

Attached to the east of the original building complex lies the 1910 addition. It is connected to the older structure, by a 2 story, 3 bay curved unit. The newer "u" shaped, flat roofed wing, measuring 120' x 79', is 3 stories in height with a 1/2 story basement level that becomes a full one as the building slopes down the side of the hill. This smaller addition, although marked by little decorative detail, is of buff colored brick accented by limestone banding at the floor levels as well as by limestone sills; its fenestration pattern is organized symmetrically. Further detail is seen in the brickwork which is set in a rusticated pattern at the corners of the building and is also used in a displayed lintel form above the windows.

Across the street, and slightly southwest of the school, sits the Lithgow Building, which curves around the corner of Washington Street and Talbot Avenue as its plan conforms to its wedge shaped lot. Constructed by Joseph J. Greene, a well respected local architect, this 3 story flat roofed building of dark brick displays many details associated with the classicism of the Georgian Revival style. Some of the elements which are utilized on this building are stone keystones above windows, a modillion block cornice, and quoins which rise from the second to third story and separate each unit of paired windows. Further decorative features that contribute to the building's strong presence on the Square, are the brick piers and columns used alternately on the first floor, the limestone banding which runs the full course of the building above the first and third story and the entranceway supported by brick columns and highlighted by a coffered ceiling.

Changes to the building have been minor and generally are the result of the neglect and under-utilization which the building has experienced in recent years. Signs of this are indicated by the boarded windows, doors, and the loss of some of the lower limestone banding. Other alterations are seen in the remnants of a modernized storefront facade placed on the Southwest end of the building which apparently covers a brick pier or column.

At the Southwest corner of the district, located at the intersection of Norfolk and Washington Street, is the old Codman Square Branch Library (#4), constructed in 1904, as a municipa1 building by the city's Public Building Department. Georgian Revival in design, the red brick gambrel roof structure is replete with details that refer to that earlier 18th century style. These features include: cupola, roof balustrade, Palladian window, dentil and egg and dart cornice molding, granite splayed lintels, and a semi-elliptical entranceway enhanced by two Roman Ionic columns and a balustrade.

The 1 1/2 story structure with a full basement rises from a granite foundation. Its exterior brick sheathing is accented by a granite band that extends around the building above the basement level, as well as by a wide cornice and entablature as an upper banding element. The north and principal facade facing Codman Square has 3 bays with a semi-elliptical entry pavilion. The windows on the lower floor, and throughout the building on this level, are diamond paned of casement construction. Two pedimented dormers flank a central Palladian window dormer.

The east and west facade are simi1ar to each other in design and ornamentation. Both have a semi-octagonal, one-story, flat roofed bay that projects from the building's surface. Located on the wall above this extension is a large lunette with diamond panes.

The rear or south facade contains a major two story, gambrel roof extension which gives the building its cruciform plan. The projection is marked by dormers on the east and west side which are located at right angles to the two on the main structure. Lower windows on this elevation are 2/2 sash configuration.

The only noted change made to the building has been the construction in 1938 of a small 3 bay addition consisting of one story with a full basement level. This wing is located at the southwest corner of the original structure.

Although standing in the midst of a community experiencing building decline and abandonment, these four dominant, impressive structures exist in remarkably intact order. Their continued survival is important not only as a representation of their community's development, but also as a positive psychological element to the neighborhood .


Significance

The Codman Square Historic District, composed of four prominent structures, lies in the center of the Dorchester section of Boston. Formed by the intersection of major north-south (Washington Street) and east-west arteries (Talbot Avenue), it creates an important crossroads for the area. Over the course of the nineteenth century it evolved from a rural religious center to a commercial and civic hub. The four buildings, the Church (#1), the school (#2), the Lithgow Building (#3), and the library (#4) - demonstrate each of these uses and reflect the full evolution of the Square. The growth of the district, although similar to other early Boston streetcar suburbs, is noteworthy in two respects; it serves as an excellent example of nineteenth century urban development patterns, and more importantly, the four focal structures in the square stand as excellent examples of varied architectural forms and reflect the long prosperous era Codman Square enjoyed. The district retains its integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and meets criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places.

Dorchester, now a large neighborhood within Boston, was originally a separate town formally incorporated by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Its original territory included present day South Boston and Hyde Park, but by 1868 it had assumed its present boundaries and in 1869, it was annexed to Boston. Early settlement was concentrated in the northern section of the town, around present day Everett Square and Meeting House Hill. Although the Codman Square area, which lay to the South, remained sparsely developed through the mid-nineteenth century, there were a number of large farms located along Washington Street. From the late seventeenth century, when major road patterns were established in the town, to the present day, it has been an important crossroads. In 1654, the Upper Road, now Washington Street, was laid out by order of the Colonial Government to connect Roxbury to Braintree; and by the end of the seventeenth century, Centre Street emerged at present day Codman Square as a connecting road between the two major north/south arteries- Washington Street and Adams Street. An additional secondary road, also crossed this intersection. Codman Square, at this early juncture, had clearly established a framework for its future role as a transportation center, which later played a significant part in its growth.

Through the mid-nineteenth century few development patterns changed in the area. As seen in an 1830 map, it remained a rural settlement with only fourteen buildings located in vicinity of the Square. However, early in the century two important structures, the Second Church (#l) and town hall had been built at this intersection, and established the district and the civic and religious center, which it remained through the mid-twentieth century.

The Congregational Church, built in l806 by Oliver Warren was dedicated with John Codman as minister in l808. Codman served in this capacity until 1847. The building was constructed in response to overcrowding in the First Church (Meeting House Hill) as well as to an apparent need of the parishioners for a mere conveniently located place of worship. Sitting atop a ridge on Washington Street, the white clapboard building, with a two staged belfry, is an excellent example of a Federal style church popularized early in the century by the books of Asher Benjamin. An additional feature contributing to the church's significance is its steeple bell cast in 1816 by the noteworthy firm of Paul Revere & Sons. In respect to the district's social history, many community leaders of the nineteenth century were active church members. Those closely associated with it during the 19th century include Walter Baker, chocolate factory owner at Lower Mills, and Roswell Gleason, a pewter manufacturer. The church is also considered to be the oldest Congregational meeting house in Boston still being used for that purpose.

The town hall, built in 1816, was the second building constructed at this intersection. This building located at the corner of Washington and Norfolk Streets, continued to be used through the early twentieth century when it was replaced by the present Georgian Revival municipal building constructed by the city to house the branch library.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, as a result of annexation to the city in 1869 and the advent of improved public transportation, major development occurred throughout Dorchester and transformed it from a rural district of village clusters with a population of 8,000 in 1850 to a middle class suburb of residential enclaves with a population of 150,000 in 1900. The expansion which took place in the Codman Square area exemplifies the transition. Two factors, however, made this section distinct and encouraged residential building as well as commercial and municipal construction. One development which fostered growth was the established road system that crossed the square, providing avenues for transit lines. The other was the sense that the intersection with the church and town hall was already a developed civic center for the area, and now with a growing population, could further serve the needs of the people by becoming a commercial and municipal center too. Both elements acting together contributed to the major physical expansion which occurred here at the end of the nineteenth century.

Public transportation by means of railway lines served the area surrounding Codman Square as early as the 1850s, but it was the streetcars, initially horse drawn in the 1870s, and then electrified by the1880s, which had such a significant impact on the growth of the district. The main transportation route ran north/south along Washington Street from the Square to Mt. Bowdoin, and from Roxbury, fed into lines which ran to downtown Boston. By the 1890s, the route was extended as far south as Gallivan Boulevard, and crosslines were developed which passed through the Square and ran along Talbot Avenue and Norfolk Street. These transportation routes, developed close to 100 years ago, continue to be used by buses today.

By the turn of the twentieth century, as Codman Square became a firmly established transportation center and as residential areas quickly grew in the vicinity, important commercial and civic buildings were erected at the major street corners anchoring the area as a commercial and municipal hub.

Not only was private money being invested for commercial construction, but a large thrust of public funds was being expended to construct a new high school and a municipal building, which would house a branch library. In the course of five years, three prominent Classical Revival style buildings were constructed in the Square, creating, along with the church, an impressive community center.

Two of the structures, the high school (#2) and Lithgow Building (3), standing on either side of Talbot Avenue, east of Washington Street, were built virtually simultaneously.

Dorchester High School was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by the noteworthy Boston firm of Hartwell, Richardson & Driver, known during this period for their school and municipal buildings. Constructed in 1900 and opened in 1901, this dignified building was the third to be used as Dorchester's High School Although a substantial 3 story structure, the student population, which originally was 800 pupils, quickly outgrew he building, and within ten years a "U" shaped 18 room addition was designed by the building's original architects and constructed on the east side of the older structure.

As a result of continued growth in the district, the school later became Dorchester High for Girls, with a new high school for boys having been built on Dunbar Avenue. By the mid twentieth century, the school housed the city wide selective high school, Girls Latin Academy which remained in this location until 1981.

An additional element which contributes to the building's significance is the tesselated pavement located in the main interior entrance. These tiles, a gift from the town of Dorchester, England in 1906, date from the period of the Roman Conquest.

The other structure contemporary to the high school is the Lithgow Building. It was designed in 1899 by Joseph T. Greene, a local architect and prominent Mason from Milton, generally recognized for his residential designs and the Bispham Building in Dorchester Lower Mills. The Codman Square structure, which curves around Washington Street to Talbot Avenue, was built originally to house a store on the first floor, offices on the second, and a Masonic Lodge hall on the third. It remained in the hands of the original owner, Lydia Taft, for almost 50 years, and was fully used in its intended capacity through the 1960's

The final structure of significance at Codman Square is the municipal building (#4) located at the corner of Norfolk and Washington Street. Built in 1904 to replace the old town hall, it was constructed by the City's Public Building Department under the supervision of the department's architect, Charles Bateman. This handsome Georgian Revival Style building was part of a large public effort made at the time to provide additional branch library facilities and reading rooms to the city's quickly expanding outlying areas. This particular municipal structure however, when opened in 1905, was the first to devote its total space (except the basement) to a library purpose. Originally known as a reading room, it was formally sanctioned a branch library in 1914 and given additional hours of operation.

The basement level, initially used as a ward room for the city, has housed public health services since the 1930s.

Through the 1920s and early 1930s, the Codman Square area continued to expand as a commercial and retail district, especially along Washington Street, with a number of typical one and two story Art Deco derived structures being constructed during this period.

However, similar to other older inner suburbs, the district's long era of growth and prosperity gradually came to a close after the Second War. By the late 1960's and early 1970s, building abandonment and vacancy, as well as a decline in the retail business had [worsened?] a chronic situation. In fact, two of the structures in the nominated district- the school and the Lithgow Building- at present remain vacant, but are under active consideration for rehabilitation using the incentives of the Economic Recovery Act of 1981



Geographic Data

Boundary description: The Codman Square district is generally bounded by Washington and Moultrie Streets, the back lot line of Assessors parcel #689 (Church) between Moultrie and Centre Streets, the back lot line of assessors parcel #4781 (school) between Centre Street and Talbot Avenue, Lithgow Street, Talbot Avenue, the side and the back lot line of Assessors parcel #4805, Epping Street, and Norfolk Streets. It includes assessor's #698, 4781, 4805, and 1282.

The northerly and westerly sides of Norfolk and Washington Streets are not included in the District. They are single story retail storefronts in caststone of no particular distinction and relate only in retail use and small sense of closure to the square. The southerly side of Talbot Avenue to its intersection with Lithgow Street is not included in the District because they are vacant lots (contrary to parcel and building outline on District map).


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Created: May 30, 2005   Modified: May 30, 2005