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Codman Hill
 Codman Hill

AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated April, 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 Codman Hill, Click here

Architectural Description

The Codman Hill area, for the purposes of this survey, encompasses what was essentially the large estate of the Reverend John Codman of the Second Church at Codman Square. This area is bounded by the back lot lines of Wilmington Avenue, between Milton Avenue and Nevada Street on the north. The northern boundary then jogs southward along the east side of Nevada Street and then turns east along the back lot lines of Codman Hill Avenue as far as #9/11 Codman Hill Avenue. The eastern boundary follows the side lot lines of #9/11 and 6/8 Codman Hill Avenue. The southern boundary follows the back lot lines of #'s 6/8-44/46 Codman Hill A venue, jogs south along Nevada Street, turns west along Codman Street and includes the narrow triangular park between Codman Street, Gallivan Boulevard and Milton Avenue. The western boundary is Milton Avenue (docs not include housing bordering the west side of this thoroughfare) between Codman Street and Wilmington Avenue. The architectural significance of this area lies in its solid, well maintained, primarily 1920s housing stock which is representative of the type of housing built after World I on the rapidly diminishing tracts of Dorchester farm and estate land. Buildings and groups of buildings chosen for research in this area tend to reflect both the typical and inevitably, the atypical for housing in a suburban section such as Codman Hill.

The two-family frame houses along Codman Hill Avenue (between Milton Avenue and Nevada Street) i.e., 48/50 - 92/94 Codman Hill Avenue) are representative of a common local house type, specifically the 1920s gambrel-fronted Colonial Revival. These houses overlook small front lawns and the overall image of this area is a pleasing uniformity of set backs and structural forms situated on high ground above Gallivan Boulevard. The atypical housing in this area tends to be earlier (c. 1898-1910) and more Queen Anne in terms of form and elements, i.e., #'s 119, 131 and 144 Wilmington Avenue. Indeed #144 Codman Hill Avenue, corner of Nevada exhibits the most architecturally ambitious houses in this area in terms of Queen Anne irregular form and fairly complex roof configuration and well rendered Colonial Revival elements. The 2-family residences at #'s 100 and 104 Wilmington Avenue represent solid, straightforward examples of the Craftsman style with their L-shaped forms and hip roofs with exposed rafters.

The most memorable streetscape of this area and in many ways the "public face" of this section of post World War I suburban Dorchester is the stretch of Queen Anne single family housing between #'s 6/8 and 26/28 Codman Street. These houses are set high on brick and stone basements and stand with narrow end wall gables facing the street, forming a pleasant back drop for the small triangular park bounded by Gallivan Blvd., Milton Avenue, Codman Hill Street and the side lot line of 118 Gallivan Boulevard.

Historical Narrative

Codman Hill in Dorchester was named for the Reverend John Cadman who was pastor of Codman Square's Second Church from 1808-1847. John Codman (1782-1847) was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard University in 1802. Although he studied law, he went on to pursue theological training in Scotland and became an influential preacher. The Cadman Hill area represents a small portion of Codman's estate which encompassed over 64 acres. The Codman House was located on the eastern crest of Codman Hill between present day Codman Hill and Wilmington Avenues. As late as the 1860s, the Codman Mansion was one of the only houses standing in the sparsely populated area between Codman Square and Lower Mills. It was built c. 1791 for Seth Thayer and was sold to Dr. Cadman in l808. According to Dorchester historian William Dana Orcutt this house, at the time of its purchase by Codman ? was simply a square building; and it presented somewhat the appearance of a fortification as it was mounted on the top of a series of terraces that made it difficult of approach?. Over time, Codman, scion of a wealthy family, enlarged the old Thayer place via the addition of numerous ells until it had "the unclerical appearance of a rope walk: or a ten-pin alley." In fact, the Codman mansion was quite an elegant Federal residence with porches on three sides. It was surrounded by mulberry trees left over from a failed attempt, evidently by Thayer, to conduct a silkworm farm on the premises. Codman owned roughly the area bounded by Washington, Morton, Torrey Streets and Blue Hill Avenue. This estate had acres of sloping fields and looked out over Lower Mills and the Blue Hills. The Codman mansion was a popular stop over for ministers on their way from the countryside to theological gatherings in Boston. The Codman mansion was the scene of heated debates during the Congregational church's "Great Schism" during the early 1800s when the more liberal Unitarian wing of the church broke away from the more conservative Trinitarians. Following Codman's death in 1847, the junction of Washington, Norfolk, Centre and Talbot, known as Baker's Corners, was renamed Codman Square in honor of the beloved reverend. The house remained in the Codman family until the Civil War. After the
Civil War it was leased to a boarding school for young ladies, first Miss Dodge's School and later Mrs. Cochran's School. Indeed the 1874 Atlas shows the old Codman house as owned by Mrs. Charlotte Cochran, at the south east corner of this area. John Codman's heirs are shown as owning 3 large plots to the west of the old Codman mansion. Codman Street was a much narrower way prior to the early 1900s and more or less followed the much wider path of present day Gallivan Boulevard. It is unclear if Fairmount Avenue, which forms the northern edge of this area exists for "real" or only on paper. The Codman estate was subdivided during the late 19th century and the Codman mansion was destroyed by fire in 1928. All of this historical background on a lost mansion is meant to set the stage for the development of suburban housing in the area that was in close proximity to the Codman House and provides such a contrast to the Federal period country estate that once presided over this distinctively elevated land.

The oldest house in this area is 144 Codman Hill Avenue. Built in 1898-99 on lots owned by a John Cadigan and others, it was built for Eugene E. Ziegler, draughtsman, 1 Somerset, Boston. Ziegler may well have been responsible for the design of this house although the building permit mentions an S.C. Merrill as the builder. #131 Wilmington Avenue is another survivor from what may have been a failed attempt at a suburban development. It was built in the Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style in 1902 for a K.C. Rockwell by Frederick J. Rockwell, builder. The architectural firm was West and Stranger. At that time, Frederick J. Rockwell evidently built a stable which was later replaced by a one family dwelling in 1923 at 127 Wilmington Avenue. In 1933, Henry E. Sutherland, president of Barney and Carey Company, 99 Norwell, Dorchester owned this property.

Judging by atlases and a random sampling of building permits, the 1910s and 20s were boom years for house construction activity on Codman Hill. The development of this area coincided with the creation of Gallivan Blvd during the 1920s. This thoroughfare (Route 203) forms part of the southern edge of this area. As previously noted, Gallivan Blvd was originally known as Codman Street (from the intersection of Granite Avenue to Mattapan) and as Marsh Street from Granite Ave. to Neponset Circle. It was named for James Ambrose Gallivan (1866-1928), a Harvard graduate, journalist, member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Street Commissioner for the City of Boston and representative to the United States Congress. In any event, even before what amounted to the widening of Codman Street to create Gallivan Blvd., suburban housing was being built up near the old Codman mansion. #119 Wilmington Avenue was built in 1915 for Jeremiah Riordan (occupation unlisted). It was built as a one family dwelling from plans provided by Daniel J. Rantin. 100 Wilmington Street was built as a two family dwelling in 1925 for the Raymond C. Bassi Co. (constuction company) of 32 Burgess Street, Roxbury. The architects were Winebaum and Wexler. The builder or in this case "mechanic" was Raymond W. Bassi. By 1933, it was owned by James J. Brabazon, a supervisor at Filene's Department Store. As late as 1918, Codman Hill Street had yet to be set out. The atlas of that year shows a proposed Codman Hill Street with a meandering path rather than the present linear configuration. Codman Hill Street was the scene of considerable house construction activity during the mid 1920s. #'s 48-78 Codman Hill Street were built in 1926 from designs provided by John C. Spillane. According to the 1933 Boston Directory: #48 was vacant, #49 was owned by Thomas McGagh, gardener, #50 was owned by Patrick Hennessey of the EEl Co., #51 was owned by Roger F. Austin Clerk, #53 was the residence of Edward B. Crowley, #54 was the home of John D. Connell. # 58 was the residence of Alfred J. Cushing, President of the Cushing Refrigerator Inc., #62 was owned by John P. Fay, #65 was the property of William A. Walker, President and Treasurer of Jackson Co. Inc., Hatters and Furriers, #74 was owned by Henry P. Wright, Floor Supt., 450 Washington Street and #78 was owned by a John J. Connolly.

Further research is needed on the triangular park in this area which is bounded by Codman Street and Gallivan Blvd in front of #'s 26/28-82 Codman Street. This park, together with its backdrop of compact, well maintained suburban residences provides this area with its most memorable visual identity.

Bibliography and/or References

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

Boston Directories: 1870-1945

Orcutt, William Dana, Good Old Dorchester, 1893

Sammarco, Anthony M., "Codman Hill, named for Reverend John Codman", 3 8/90, Dorch. Comm. News

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Created: July 18, 2005   Modified: March 14, 2012