Pierce Avenue / Oakton Avenue
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 Pierce Avenue Oakton Avenue, Click here
The Pierce / Oakton Street [Avenue] area's boundaries have been drawn to showcase the Pierce House, an extraordinary survivor from the mid 17th century [the date has since been found through dendrochronology to be actually 1683]. The Pierce House at 24 Oakton Street has been variously ascribed dates of 1640 and 1652 and needless to say is the oldest structure in this area. The Pierce House is a primary example of a first period dwelling. The frame of the house is of Massachusetts black oak. It is a two and one-half story salt-box with an integral lean-to. This house measures 6-bays in width and two piles in depth. It is noteworthy for its distinctive end wall gable profiles with sweeping roof lines. This house chronicles over two hundred years of structural evolution beginning with its mid 17th century wood frame and continuing through decorative alterations to main facade doorways (ca. late 18th c. pedimented enframents). The massive brick center chimney was replaced by a narrow 19th century chimney; original leaded glass was replaced with 6/6 replacement sash. This house was acquired by SPNEA in 1968 and is an important component in this organization's collection of study houses.
The Pierce/Oakton area is circumscribed on the north by the back lot lines of Pierce Street between #'s 10 - 48, on the east, by an irregular line that takes in the side lot lines of 48 Pierce Street, 41 Pierce Street, 46 Oakton Street and 51 Oakton Street. This eastern boundary basically skirts the edge of a hillcrest that slopes down to Plain Street in Neponset. The southern boundary follows the back lot lines of 35-51 Oak"ton as well as the north side of Delmont Street, running along the school yard of the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School and the front yard of an altered Italianate house at 20 Delmont Street. The western boundary does not take in the modern Adams Street Branch of the Boston Public Library building at 682-690 Adams Street, but does include Queen Anne three deckers at 663; 667; 671; 675 Adams Street and an unusual Queen Anne vernacular wood frame house at 664 Adams Street. 664 Adams Street is noteworthy for its irregular form, narrow 2-bay gable end to Adams Street, intact encircling verandah and towered segment with pyramidal roof cap on the Pierce Street facade.
Aside from the Pierce House, this small area is distinguished for its collection of Queen Anne houses and the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School (20 Oakton Street), a U-shaped Federal Revival brick and cast stone 2.5 story school building. Its l2-bay main facade is flanked by narrow projecting wings. This school building represents a relatively rare foray into the Federal or Neo Classical Revival style. While many Boston schools of the first half of the 20th century were built in the more robust sensibilities of the Georgian branch of the Colonial Revival, here the main entrance is marked by attenuated Ionic columns and narrow Doric pilasters, while cast stone panels exhibiting Federal swag and urn motifs appear above the secondary entrances. This school was built in 1926 from designs provided by John M. Gray.
Pierce Street encompasses a varied collection of "upright and wing" 2.5 story Italianate houses at the eastern edge of the area, including 44 and 48 as well as the stucco covered (modern alteration) 18 Pierce Street. The largest Italianate house in this area is the rambling, much altered Daniel Harwood mansion at 20 Delmont, which originally bad frontage on Adams Street and started out as an L-shaped 2.5 story house with gable roof and return eaves and has, over time, become much more irregular in form. Noteworthy Queen Anne residences along Pierce Street include: 41 Pierce Street, with its texturally rich surfaces over typically irregular Queen Anne form: e.g. high rustic rubble stone walls, smooth clapboards, staggered-butt shingles at the attic. 24 Pierce Street is a text book example of the Queen Anne style with its asymmetrical massing, plastic surfaces that expand to accommodate towers with narrow and wide pyramidal roof cap; as well as encircling verandahs with Classically derived porch elements. Clad with regular and diamond shaped shingles, it is enclosed by a complex series of intersecting gables, dormers and towered elements. The front gable boasts a Queen Anne sun flower motif in high relief. More restrained and harking back to Italianate T-forms and side hall plans is the Queen Anne house at 34 Pierce Street, a 2.5 story residence which stands with broad, overhanging gable facing the street. The Adams Street border of the district takes in three deckers with distinctive bowed corners and Queen Anne bays 663; 667; 671; 675 Adams Street. The Craftsman style of the 1910s fills the developmental "gaps" between the Queen Annes with solid, boxy, 2-family, 2.5 story examples at 9 ; 11; 15; 19 Pierce Street, 31; 33; 35 Pierce Street and 10 and 38 Oakton Street.
The Pierce House at 24 Oakton Street was one of a handful of houses built in the southern portion of Dorchester during the initial phase of English settlement. The majority of Dorchester's house lots were located in the northern portion of the town in areas like Allen's Plain (Pleasant Street) and Savin Hill. This southern portion of Dorchester encompassed the Great Lots which were primarily designated by the town selectmen as planting and meadow land. Early records provide evidence that house construction in these southern Great Lots was discouraged but nevertheless, the Pierce House was built at some point in the mid 17th century for Robert Pierce who is said to have come to Dorchester on the ship Mary and John in 1630. Pierce built his house on a hilltop, his boundary lines running about 40 rods wide from north to south from the tidewater on the east. He is said to have owned extensive lands to the west of his house while his land bordered Minot family land a short distance to the south. Robert died January 11, 1664. 24 Oakton passed to his son Thomas who built a barn on the estate in 1696. Thomas married Mary Fry of Weymouth; this union produced 9 children. By the close of the 17th century, the Pierce family holdings encompassed about 70 acres of upland pasture, meadow, "mead", and woodland. This estate passed to Thomas' son John in 1706. John Pierce was known as a sportsman, particularly adept at killing wild geese and was active in the work of the Church. John Pierce died in 1744, leaving this house to his son Samuel who in turn bequeathed it to Col. Pierce. Pierce achieved notoriety for his first hand account of the Boston Massacre. Prior to the onset of war, he resigned from a commission under George III to accept a commission of Lt. Col. in the Colonial Militia. Co. Pierce hosted 38 soldiers in his home on February 5, 1776. It was Col. Samuel Pierce who was responsible for adding a spacious parlor to the right lateral wall of the house in the third quarter of the 18th century. Samuel Pierce's son Lewis inherited the property from the Colonel at an unspecified date. A veteran of the War of 1812, Lewis Pierce "modernized" portions of the house's interior, living here until his death in 1871.
Lewis Francis Pierce, son of Lewis owned this house from 1871 until the time of his death in 1888 at which time it passed to his son William. This house remained in the Pierce family until 1968 when the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities acquired the property.
The story of the small area surrounding the Pierce House that has been outlined for the purposes of this survey represents a fairly standard pattern of development for Dorchester. Throughout the 17th, 18th and first half of the 19th century this area remained primarily farmland. The transportation improvement of the 1840s (the introduction of the the Colony Railroad in 1844) had a minimal effect on the development of this area (nearby Neponset Village, not withstanding which did experience significant growth as a trading center during the early 1830s). The oldest house in the area after the Pierce House is the former Daniel Harwood House, now in greatly altered form at 20 Delmont Street. Built c. 1860, the Harwood house faced Adams Street, had an ample front yard and U-shaped driveway and encompassed a large stable and glass "Hot House". Its Italianate form is still in evidence despite later additions. The Harwood property stretched northward from Minot Street to Oakton Avenue. Harwood is listed as a dentist at 109 Boylston Street in Boston. By 1915, the glory days of the Harwood estate were over and its land is shown as being subdivided into 15 house lots bordering Adams, Vale and Delmont Streets.
After the Civil War, Pierce lands were subdivided into fairly ample house lots. In 1874, Oakton Avenue is shown as cul de sac extending west from Plain Street and basically was the driveway to the ancient Pierce homestead at 24 Oakton Avenue. At that time the Pierce farm was a still-large, 358,720 ft tract, although four house lots are clearly outlined on the north side of Oakton Avenue (including the Pierce house's lot) indicating that the Pierce family was embarking into the real estate business. A few Italianate houses were built on Pierce Street during the early 1870s, including the J. Beecher Hoxie House at 48 Pierce Street which was built for a clerk and by the 1930s had passed from the Hoxies and Fays to Timothy Callahan, plumber. House construction activity in the area seems to be fairly neatly bracketed between 1884-1894. This building boom was preceded in the early 1880s by lot sales with Lewis Francis Pierce being the principal grantor. For example, the land for 34 Pierce Avenue was purchased by 1884 by an S. Albee with house construction taking place around 1890 for a family named Galvin. A Michael Galvin, book keeper, lived here until at least the early 1930s. Similarly, an F.A. Perkins bought a house lot from the Pierce Farm by 1884; and within the next decade. Augustus C. Richmond, local contractor, built 41 Pierce Street.
The towered Queen Anne house at 664 Adams Street by virtue of its distinctive form is, after the Pierce Homestead, the "place maker" structure in this area. It was built c. l880 for an E. Downing and over time was owned by Ardelle A. Mosely (1890s), Edward L. Knapp (1910s) and Charles F. Porfert, carpenter by the 1930s. Adams Street has been included as the western boundary of this area to call attention to two groups of well rendered 3-deckers with classical elements. These groups include 668; 672; 676 Adams Street and, on the west side of Adams Street, 663; 667; 671; 675 Adams Street. The latter group were built on part of the old Souther farm that bordered Adams Street and stretched from Beaumont Street to Elmer Road. Elmer Road started out as the driveway to the Carruth estate, just to the west of the Souther property. 663; 667; 671; 675 Adams Street ere built by 1918. Early residents included: M.M. Foster at 675; H.S. Clark at 671; I. G. Davis at #667 and C.G. Richmond at 663 Adams Street. Rounding out the story of the Pierce / Oakton area?s development are a trio of 2-family brick Georgian Revival residences at 35, 43 and 51 Oakton Avenue built during the 1920s. Residents of these houses during the early 1930s included John Freeman and Charles C. Grant at 35; Ferdinand E. Breed, Police sargent and Harry J. McTiernan at 43 and John E. Freeman. sports writer and Arthur F. Wallace, manager, 420 Boylston Street
In terms of non-residential buildings, the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School and its grounds comprise part of the southern edge of the district and straddles a significant drop in the grade between the level of Oak Street and Delmont Street to the south. The Kenny School was built in 1926 from designs provided by John M. Gray.
Statement of Significance
Considered eligible as pocket of well-preserved Italianate, Queen Anne, Craftsman and three-decker houses whose central focus is the Robert Pierce House; a mid 17th century two- and- one- half story saltbox with an integral lean-to. Its first owner, Robert Pierce is said to have come to Dorchester on the ship Mary and John in 1630. Members of the Pierce family lived in the Pierce House at 24 Oakton Street until 1968. Additionally, this area encompasses the former Daniel Harwood House at 20 Delmont Street, corner of Adams Street. Although missing its "hot house" and stables, this Italianate mansion provides a glimpse of the type of c. 1860 gentleman's estate that was once characteristic of Adams Street. Also noteworthy is the Federal Revival Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School at 20 Oakton Street, designed by John M. Gray in 1926. This area satisfies criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places and might also be designated a Boston Landmarks district.
Bibliography and/or References
Boston and Dorchester Maps/Atlases-1794, 1830, 1850, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1898, 1910, 1918, 1933
Boston Directories: 1870-1945
N. R nomination, The Pierce House, date?, BLC files
W.D. Orcutt, Good Old Dorchester, 1893
Various authors.The Dorchester Book Illustrated. 1899
Dorchester Tercentenery Comm., "Dorchester Old and New, Tercentenary, 1630-1930", Charles Publishing
Taxable Valuation of the Town of Dorchester, 1869
Cummings, Abbott Lowell, The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay
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Created: July 18, 2005 Modified: March 14, 2012