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Boston Sanatorium
 Boston Sanatorium

AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated January, 1995 and recorded by Edward W. Gordon.

[Note: this reproduction of the information in the Boston Landmarks Area 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]

For a pdf version of the map showing the boundaries of Boston Sanatorium, Click here

Architectural Description

The former Boston Sanatorium complex is located at 191-151 River Street, mid-way between Dorchester Lower Mills and Mattapan Square in Mattapan. Its 14 buildings are situated within a campus-like setting characterized by a substantial expanse of front lawn with rock outcroppings, areas of moderate to dense tree cover, asphalt paved parking lots as well as a meandering system of driveways which connect River Street with various buildings of the complex. In general the terrain is characterized by high ground within the northern central sections of the 51 acre tract which rolls gradually southward to the flat plain bordering River Street and the Neponset River. Enclosing its River Street perimeter is a low stone wall. The large gable-roofed Italianate house at the southwestern corner of the property provides clues to this area's origins as a residential estate. The generous amount of open space within the former Boston Sanatorium complex provides a rare glimpse of rural Dorchester/Mattapan before waves of house construction transformed the area during the first of the twentieth century.

Architecturally, the buildings of the former Boston Sanatorium complex exhibit characteristics of the Italianate, Tudor Revival, Georgian Revival and Art Deco Styles. Exterior fabric includes wood, brick, concrete, stucco as well as combinations of all of these materials. Building heights vary, ranging from one and one half story cottages through two story dormitories to a five story administration building. Residential enclaves border this property on three sides as well as the south side of River Street. The Neponset River meanders one block to the south of this complex.

This complex may be divided into three distinct east-west ?zones.? The first zone is characterized by the flat expense of lawn-covered plain bordering River Street. Here, buildings are located on either side of a great U-shaped driveway which leads up to the Administration Building. The second zone represents the center of this property. Here institutional buildings are situated on the crest of a hill and overlook the front lawn and River Street. The third zone represents the dormitory or ward buildings behind the administration building. This northern most zone is characterized by deteriorating buildings, asphalt-paved parking lots and areas of dense underbrush and tree cover. Listed below is an architectural description of the surviving buildings of the Conness estate/Consumptives Hospital and Boston Sanatorium. Reading clockwise from the south western corner of the property, these buildings are numbered 1-13 for the purposes of this MHC Area Form.

1) The oldest building encompassed within this property is the large, L-shaped , two story, gable roofed residence at 249 River Street. This Italianate house's 5-bay x 3-bay main block exhibits an encircling verandah with champfered posts and a center entrance. This building is further characterized by east-west end wall gables with return eaves, octagonal bay at the east wall, trio of pedimented dormers at the main facade and corbelled brick chimneys. Built c. 1856-57, as a residence and currently altered by the application of vinyl siding, this still-handsome residence provides a glimpse of River Street when it was lined with farms and country estates during the 19th century. For many years this house served as the residence of the Superintendent of the Consumptives Hospital, later Boston Sanatorium.

2) Located behind the Superintendent's House is a rectangular Colonial Revival wood frame cottage that is labeled Doctor's Residence on the 1933 Boston and Dorchester Atlas. This modest dwelling is characterized by vinyl and wood shingle sheathing. Enclosed by a hip and gable roof, the gable's east slope encloses a screened in porch. Evidently this structure was built c. 1930-33.

3) The Administration or Foley Building is the largest building on this campus. Built in two stages (1910 and 1928-30), this building is spread out horizontally (east-west) along the crest of a rise which slopes down to the broad expanse of lawn bordering River Street. This building is composed of a five story,19-bay main block with 14-bay wings. It is constructed of red brick with gray cast-stone trimmings. Considerable design interest is focused on the main block's center entrance bay which exhibits octagonal Tudoresque piers culminating in ornamental conical caps. Flanking the main entrance are shallow, arched niches. The entrance bay is surmounted by a low pedimented parapet with ornamental cast stone panel. In general, the main facade exhibits a lively "cross-hatching" effect composed of horizontal cast stone courses and vertical brick piers. The windows of the uppermost floor culminate in arches which are flanked by spandrels containing raised foliate cast stone detail. Aside from the Tudoresque massing and center piers, this building's design influences nod to the Renaissance and Classical Revival styles. This building represents the work of Maginnis and Walsh (main block) and James Ritchie and Associates (wings).

4) Behind the Administration Building is an Art Deco building of considerable architectural interest. Constructed of brick and cast stone this two story brick structure appears labeled "Supply Room/Dinning Room/Kitchen/Ice Plant" on the 1933 Boston and Dorchester Atlas. This atlas shows the Supply Room linked to the Administration building by what appears to be either a brick wall or an enclosed corridor. These buildings were linked at an undetermined date by a nondescript modern two story brick addition. The Supply Room's west wall exhibits a low, towered component with squat, streamlined Art Deco massing. Particularly noteworthy are the stylized Deco trimmings which include a gargoyle and banding with incized fan and foliate detail. This building represents the work of James H. Ritchie and Associates.

5) Situated to the west of the Supply Room is a building labeled Ward I on the 1933 Atlas. This building and the nearly identical Ward E. (Bldg.#l0) on the east side of the administration building evidently date to the 1910s, although further research is needed here. These 2-story buildings are long, low and rectangular in form with symmetrical 15-bay main facades. At the center of the main facades are three bay pavilions faced with brick which contrast with the smooth stucco covered walls of the wings. The arched first floor windows lend a formal appearance to these buildings imparting them with the sensibility of open loggias. The double second floor windows exhibit 1/1 wood sash and are set beneath deep eaves that lend a Craftsman style quality to buildings that would otherwise be classified as Georgian Revival. The side walls of these buildings are champfered and "read" as separate structural components. The entire length of these buildings are enclosed by gable roofs.

6,7,8,9) Directly behind the administration are four connected Dormitory or Ward buildings which are currently vacant and in an advanced state of decay. These buildings are constructed of concrete and form an E-shaped configuration. #'s 8 and 9 were extant by as early as 1910 and are labeled Wards B and A, respectively on the 1933 Atlas. #?s 5, 6 and 7 were evidently built during the 1910s and 20s. #6 appears labeled Ward C on the 1933 atlas, while # 7, which is presumably Ward D, appears unlabeled on the Atlases of the 20s and 30s. All of these buildings, with the exception of the four story "Ward D", are 2 stories tall. Although constructed of concrete, a material not often associated with academic architectural formalism, these structures, with their angled corner quoins, tall first floor windows, string courses, apron panels and paneled parapets manage to convey a remarkable degree of stately sophistication and design interest. These structures evidently represent the work of the important Boston architectural firm of Maginnis and Walsh.

Further on site study is needed to determine the existence and condition of the buildings labeled Chapel and Cottage Ward on the 1933 atlas.

10) Ward E (see 35)

11) Together with the Superintendent's House (#1), this modest cottage scale wood frame structure are the only survivors from this property's era as the Conness estate. Over time there have been at least seven wooden structures in this area--most of them utilized as stables and storage facilities, but only three survive to the present day. This 3-bay x 2-bay cottage was built c. 1884-94 and rises two stories from a low rubble stone basement to a gable roof with return eaves. Abutting the rear wall is a one story lean-to. The front of the building exhibits an open porch with Doric posts. This building is vacant with most of its windows covered with boards. It would be unfortunate, indeed, to lose this historic link with the era of country estates (1850-1905) in this area.

12) The Power House is a T-shaped brick and cast stone trimmed building that was built in 1903 by B.F. Carroll of Brookline from designs provided by Maginnis and Walsh. It was enlarged over two decades later by James H. Ritchie and Associates and by that time was referred to as the Boiler Room and Laundry. During the course of its 1930 enlargement, it received Art Deco treatments, most notably banding with incized geometric detail at the parapet. The tall smoke stack is apparently part of the 1930 expansion of the original Power House.

13) Situated behind the former Nurses Home (Bldg #14) is a one story, utilitarian brick structure built in 1931 to house 10 cars.

14) The former Nurses Home (1929) is arguably the most architecturally distinguished building in this area. This 3-story brick, steel, concrete and wood structure represents a felicitous blend of the Renaissance and Classical Revival styles. Essentially U-shaped in form, its main (west) facade overlooks this property's great lawn and U-shaped driveway. The main block's 11-bay facade is recessed between two wings. Running between the flanking bay x 5-bay wings is a one story projecting component with entrance bays at either end set within segmental arches and flanked by Tuscan columns. These entrances are reached via low flights of stone stairs. Between these entrances, Doric cast stone pilasters set off 5-bays. Situated on top of the projecting first floor is a balustrade with ball-topped paneled plinths and well turned balusters. Floors 2 and 3 of the main facade are set well back between the wings, culminating in gables which flank a ridge roof. These gables contain oval windows enframed by high relief swag and rosette ornamentation reminiscent of the late 17th/early 18th century details of British architect Sir Christopher Wren. These gables are further punctuated by ball-topped king posts exhibiting vertical guilloche moldings. In general, the wings rise from high cast stone basements which effectively contrast with the red brick of the upper floors. The wings? corners are edged with brick work quoins. The windows of the first floor are set within blind key stone arches. The second floor windows of both wings and main block are of standard size, multi paned and set off by white key stones. The third floor is set off from the lower floor by a continuous sill course. A string course of identical width is located just above these windows. The wings culminate in flat roofs enclosed by a low balustrade which echoes the design of the balustrade atop the first floor. In many ways, the buildings situated in the ?foreground? nearest to River Street (the Italianate Conness House and the Nurse's Home) together with the Administration Building (l908 and 1929), visible in the "middle ground", provide a remarkable visual summation of the architectural evolution of this area from 1856 to 1930.

Historical Narrative

Over time, the former Boston Sanatorium property evolved from a country estate into a consumptives hospital and sanatorium administered by Boston City Hospital. Evidence of its country estate era (1856-1906) is evident in the substantial Italianate house at 249 River Street and its relationship to the surrounding park-like green space which eventually became the campus of the Boston Sanatorium. This property provides evidence of Boston and Dorchester's role as a leader in the movement to provide more humane living conditions for society's economically and physically disadvantaged. Additionally, this complex encompasses architecturally distinguished examples of institutional architecture by Boston architectural firms such as Maginnis and Walsh, French and Hubbard and James H. Ritchie and Associates.

Boston Sanatorium's beginnings lie in the construction of the large Italianate house on 4 acres of land at 249 River Street c. 1856-1857. Long known as the Superintendent's house for the sanatorium complex, this house was built for Dedham merchant Joshua P. Thompson who purchased 4 acres of land along River Street from Aaron D. Capen, farmer on June 1, 1856, for $2,000. The Thompson's owned this property for a decade, selling it to Tilden Ames of Marshfield for $9,000.00 on June 28, 1865. An earlier mortgage deed between Thompson and next door neighbor Thomas Liversidge indicates that this house was standing by October, 1859. In any event, this estate was owned by various Ameses of Marshfield until May, l869, when it was sold to Susan C. Stowell of Dorchester, wife of Edmund H. Stowell for $l0,000.00. The Stowell's sold this property fairly quickly, selling it August 25, 1870 to John Conness of New York City for $12,000.00. Thus began three and a half decades of ownership by the well connected Conness family. Irish born John Conness was a Senator from California during the 1860s and by all accounts was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and, indeed, was a pall bearer at the president?s funeral in April, 1865. Further research is needed to determine why Conness moved to the east coast after the Civil War. Conness evidently purchased the 249 River Street house (Bldg.# 1) as a place of retirement. He was a Trustee of Cedar Grove Cemetery and is buried at Cedar Grove. His wife, Mary R. Conness owned this property until October 1906, selling it at that time to the City of Boston for $35,600.00. By that time the River Street property had grown from 4 acres to an extensive tract of over two million square feet or nearly 51 acres. The origina1 4 acre house lot had been augmented by land purchased by Conness from Aaron L. Capen in 1872 and from John Capen in 1883.

In 1906, at the time of the City's purchase of the Conness property, this estate contained a large U-shaped wooden stable, three smaller stables and an L-shaped cottage (Bldg. # 11), in addition to the Thompson-Ames-Stowell-Conness House. The house and cottage are all that remain to provide physical evidence of this property's estate era. Curiously, the 1899 Boston and Dorchester Atlas shows proposed streets labeled Golding and Manchester set out over the Conness property as well as a driveway linking the Conness house with the Liversidge mansion next door. Evidently the Conness family was considering subdividing their property for the purposes of a suburban housing development before the City stepped in to purchase this parcel for the purposes of a hospital. The precedent for establishing an institution providing services to the poor had already been established on River Street during the late 19th century by the Liversidges, the Conness family's next door neighbors to the west. During the late 19th century, the Liversidges opened the doors of their towered Italianate/Mansard mansion to "poor and neglected boys from seven to fourteen years old" on the condition that the boys were natives of England or New England. In addition to shelter, the boys were offered job training.

In any event, the era of this property's years as a hospital began in 1906 with the City?s purchase of the Conness estate. The hospital established here was originally administrated by the Consumptives Hospital Department of Boston City Hospital. The original purpose of the Consumptives Hospital was to care for indigent persons suffering from advanced Tuberculosis. Part of the historical significance of this property is as a representative of a trend toward the establishment of satellite specialty hospitals by Boston City Hospital during the 1890s and early 1900s. Boston City Hospital was founded in l848. The establishment of the Consumptives Hospital on River Street in 1906-1907 may be seen as a later chapter within the history of the City of Boston's concern for the health care of its needy citizens. Along these same lines, Dorchester, too, had had a long history of establishing institutions for the betterment of the poor, although private initiative rather than municipal largesse had been the force behind the founding of institutions such as the Industrial School for Girls (1853). The Consumptives Hospital was one of six hospitals added to the Boston City Hospital system during the first decade of the twentieth century. By 1910, the grounds of the hospital encompassed nine structures, with seven of this number constructed of wood. Still extant to document the beginnings of this hospital are the Superintendent?s House (Conness House, Bldg #1), a wooden cottage (Bldg #11), the nucleus of the present power house (Bldg. #12) and the concrete-constructed Wards A and B (Bldgs. #9,8) By 1917, the number of buildings associated with the Consumptives Hospital had grown to 18, including 12 wooden buildings, three brick buildings and three concrete buildings.

Before discussing extant buildings dating from 1910-1917, a word of caution should be mentioned to future researchers of this property. The street addresses on Boston Buildings Department "jackets" containing information on these buildings often represent several buildings sharing the same address so it is often hard to ascertain the identity of a specific building. Buildings dating to the second decade of the twentieth century apparently include Wards C,E and I, and the Doctor's Residence (Bldg.#2). The architectural firm responsible for the construction of hospital buildings between 1907 and 1920 was Maginnis and Walsh. This important Boston firm is best known for ecclesiastica1 buildings designed for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Indeed, Douglas Shand Tucci in Built in Boston, City and Suburb, 1800-1950 notes that this firm's senior partner Charles Donnagh Maginnis, became the leading Roman Catholic architect in this country during the first quarter of the 20th century. According to Tucci, Maginnis's masterpiece may well be the Church of St Catherine of Genoa on Spring Hill in Somerville, MA (1907-1916) and thus contemporary with Maginnis and Walsh's work at the Consumptives Hospital in Mattapan. Other churches designed by this firm include Our Lady of the Presentation in Brighton (1913). St Aidan's in Brookline (1911) , St Julia's in Weston (1920) and St Paul's in Dorchester (1920). Maginnis and Walsh collaborated with various builders during the course of their work at the Consumptives Hospital, including: Martin Flynn, Stephen Brennan, Haynes Construction Co. and J.E. Locatelli Co. Inc.

By the early 1920s Maginnis and Walsh's monopoly on construction projects at the Consumptives Hospital was briefly usurped by the Boston architectural firm of French and Hubbard before the ascendancy of James H. Ritchie and Associates during the late 1920s. French and Hubbard are credited with the design of the "Refrigerator Room" , sometimes labeled "Supply Room"(Bldg # 4) on maps of the 20s and 30s and located behind the administration building. Maginnis and Walsh's most important legacy within the hospital complex is the administration building which is a competent example of the Tudor Revival style with fleeting references to Renaissance Revival. In terms of design, the Administration Building (Bldg. #3), begun in late 1910, has more in common with this firm's work at Emmanuel College (1913) in the Fenway section of Boston than with any of this firm's Gothic Revival churches.

During the late 1920s profound changes occurred in terms of the way the Consumptives Hospital was administered. In March, 1927, the City Council, with the Mayor's approval, transferred the powers and duties of the trustees of the Boston Consumptives Hospital to the trustees of the Boston City Hospital, Sanatorium Division. The Consumptives Hospital became henceforth known as the Boston Sanatorium. On May 22, 1928, a loan appropriation of $1,400,000 was granted the Boston Sanatorium for "a new building, additions, equipment and furnishings." Evidently this appropriation covered the cost of the expansion of the Maginnis and Walsh designed Administration Building of 1910. The architectural firm responsible for this building's expansion was James H Ritchie and Associates of Boston. This firm would be responsible for the remainder of the hospital's buildings erected during the late 20's and 30's. Arguably Ritchie's most architecturally distinguished work on this campus is the Nurse's Home (Bldg l4) built in 1929 in a pleasing amalgam of the Renaissance and Georgian Revival styles. The Nurse's home was built by L.S. Kaufman & Co. who, at $143,000.00, were the low bidders on this project.

The Ritchie Company was also responsible for the expansion of the Boiler House and Laundry (Bldg. #12) in l930 (rendered in a rather severe interpretation of the Art Deco style, in keeping with the utilitarian purposes of this building) and a ten car garage (Bldg. #13) behind the Nurses Home (1931). The Ritchie's firm was active in Boston architectural circles from c.1910 until the 1950s, and for many years were headquartered at 100 Arlington Street, Boston. Perhaps this firm's best known building is the Boston Police Department Headquarters on Berkeley Street in the Back Bay. As late as 1956-58, this firm was involved in hospital design at the Boston Dispensary's Rehabilitation Institute on Harrison Avenue in Boston's South End.

In 1929, with the ambitious expansion of the sanatorium's physical plant well underway, the hospital's program and policies were reorganized in anticipation of the complex's change of function from a hospital with the narrow focus of caring for persons with advanced cases of Tuberculosis to a much larger facility charged with the care of impoverished persons with all stages of this disease. It was noted in the Annual Report of the Hospital Department for 1929 that "in other words, our function has been enlarged from an asylum for the dying to that of a true sanatorium." This report voiced concerns about the hospital's inability to attract a well-trained permanent staff, remarking on this campuses lack of proximity to downtown Boston ,"wretched" living quarters for the staff and the continual problem of medical interns appointed for only short periods of time. Evidently, the expansion of the old buildings and the construction of new staff living quarters served to alleviate many of the problems cited in the 1929 Annual Report. In 1930, the staff of the Sanatorium treated 835 persons suffering from Tuberculosis. This figure represents an increase of patients from the previous year. By 1933, the Boston Sanatorium complex was substantially complete. By that year a total of 21 buildings were situated on the sanatorium's grounds essentially representing the greatest extent of its growth.

Approximately a half dozen buildings have disappeared from this complex over the past ten to 20 years. Buildings shown on the 1933 Boston and Dorchester Atlas that are no longer standing include three wooden buildings once located to the west of the Supply Room/Dinning/Kitchen/Ice Plant and Ward F. Further study of the premises is needed to establish the existence of the Chapel and Cottage Ward. Additionally, the Ward Buildings (Bldgs. # 6-9) behind the Administration Building stand vacant and are in various stages of decay. Over time, this facility's function as a sanatorium has been gradually diminished as cases of Tuberculosis have decreased (although this disease has made an unfortunate "come back" over the past few years). Another major factor in the demise of the Boston Sanatorium has been the Commonwealth?s policy of the past decade to dismantle public institutional complexes and disperse patient populations within communities. Evidently, most of the current care within this complex is concentrated in the Administration or Foley Building under the title of Boston Specialty Rehabilitation Hospital. The Nurses Home houses the S.T.A.I.R, (Short Term Addiction Intensive Rehabilitation) program, a 28-day drug detox program. In addition the former Doctor's Residence behind the Superintendent's house is presently used for a Boston Police Stress Program.

At the present time, the former Boston Sanatorium complex is noteworthy for its open, 51 acre park-like setting which provides a glimpse of Mattapan/River Street before intensive mid 20th century suburbanization, recalling the era of farms (pre 1850) estates (1850-1900) and the early years of institutional development (turn of the century). In recent years, several of this complex's historic structures have been allowed to deteriorate and disappear altogether. Although it is commendable that the major buildings of this campus continue to serve the community, new uses need to be found for the vacant and vandalized buildings to the rear of the Administration Building.

Bibliography and/or References

Boston/Dorchester Maps/Atlases: 1794, 1830, 1850, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1898, 1910, 1918, 1933

Boston Directories: 1870-1945

City of Boston Buildings Dept. permits: 191-249 River Street, Mattapan

Boston Public Library Architects Files

Interview w / Anthony M. Sammarco re: Conness family

Annual Report of the Health Department, Sanatorium Division: 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931

Suffolk County Deeds 246: 192, 259: 260, 296:106, 336: 195, 379: 124; Suffolk Deeds 3162: 161

Tucci, Douglas Shand, Built in Boston. City and Suburb (1978)

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Conness Estate, River Street
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Created: July 17, 2005   Modified: March 14, 2012