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St. Ambrose/Fields Corner East
 St. Ambrose, Fields Corner East

AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated March, 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]

Map showing boundaries:

For a pdf version of the map showing the boundaries of St Ambrose Fields Corner East, Click here

Architectural Description

St. Ambrose /Fields Corner East is a residential enclave of modest scale houses on the eastern edge of the Fields Corner commercial district. The focal point of this area is St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church, which stands at the corner of Adams and Dickens Street at the western edge of the district. For the purposes of this study, this area is bounded by the MBTA Red Line tracks on the east and south, Adams Street on the west (including 241 Adams Street), and very irregular boundary line on the north which takes in the south side of Leonard Street, from Adams to Gordon Place, turning north on Gordon Place and extending along the back lot lines of Duncan Street as far as Duncan Terrace, then turning south along the west side of Duncan Street, extending behind #'s 42-78 Leonard Street and jogging northward behind #'s 43-51 Clayton Street, extending across Clayton and behind 38/40 Griffin Court to the MBTA tracks.

In this area, architectural significance hinges to a great degree on the design merits of the modern Gothic Revival St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church and its Georgian Revival rectory. To the east of the church complex is a collection of mid-late 19th c. vernacular housing, of interest mostly for their siting, form, scale, and associations with the laboring class whose living accommodations are often by-passed in historic architectural surveys in favor of the more elaborate upscale housing of local gentry.

The earliest housing in the area is located on and near Adams Street with c.1860 housing still extant at 9, 11 Dickens Street is a wood frame dwelling that encompasses three structural components which are ranged horizontally along Dickens Street. This house's form and proportions speak to the idiosyncratic construction approaches of local carpenters and builders. 9,11 Dickens Street rises from a puddingstone foundation, retains its saw cut, bracketed Italianate door hood and is enclosed by a gable roof. To the rear of this house is an unusual 19th century 3-story wooden stable which is in poor condition. Another early house in this area is the Greek Revival cottage at #241 Adams Street which stands with its end wall gable facing Adams Street. It is the only residential building situated on the block bounded by Dorchester Avenue, Adams Street and the MBTA Red Line tracks (the rest of the buildings on this triangular parcel are part of the Fields Corner Commercial area).

The Italianate Mansard style is well represented in this area in the form of single family cottages bordering Clayton Street, including #'s 43, 65 and 67 Clayton Street. Particularly noteworthy is the row of Italianate Mansard workers cottages that extend from 42 to 78 Leonard Street. These 1.5 story, single family row houses exhibit 2-bay main facades with two dormers per building. These buildings stand in various states of preservation (mostly altered in some way) and constitute the most interesting streetscape in this area. Here and there are other pockets of interesting, modest cottages including mid 19th century wood vernacular dwellings on Gordon Pl. (off Leonard Street), Duncan Terrace and Duncan Place. It should be noted that the large, old willow tree on Duncan Street, just south of Duncan Place, should be preserved in the interests of maintaining an important natural "place maker" which provides relief within a fairly gritty urban streetscape.

In terms of late 19th century historic styles, 13, 15 Dickens represents a double house which, despite its vinyl siding, retains Stick Style treatments at the attic gable, including barge board treatments with large circular bosses and incised detail.

60-68 Dickens Street represents an important exception to this area's wood frame, cottage scale rule in terms of representative housing. Here, three contiguous yellow brick apartments dating to the first decade of the 20th century, serve as "gate way structures" to this area situated as they are next to the MBTA railroad bridge at Clayton and Dickens Street. Originally, 64 and 68 Dickens Street had stores on the first floor (now exhibiting infill materials). In terms of design, these apartments represent pretty standard fare for any Boston neighborhood but are of interest here because of their anomalous position within an area of small wood frame dwellings. Their appealing design qualities include key stone arch entrances, copper-paneled 2-story oriels (64 and 68), bow fronts (64 and 68) and boldly rendered corbelled cornices.

Situated along the east side of Clayton Street, adjacent to the MBTA Red Line tracks are several brick and wood industrial buildings, the most noteworthy of which is the former Beacon Lithographic Co. at 60 Clayton Street.

Returning to the St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church complex at 240 Adams Street, it should be noted that the present church was built ca. mid-l980s replacing the original church which was consumed in a fire. The original Gothic Revival church was built between 1915 and 1921 from designs provided by Dorchester architect W.H. McGinty. The rectory next door was constructed in 1928-1929 under the leadership of Father Harrigan. Constructed of brick and granite and designed in the Georgian Revival style, this rectangular building rises three stories to a flat roof. At the center of the main facade is an open brick entrance porch which projects from a recessed 3-bay wall. Flanking the entrance bay are 2-bay wings. This building's facades are enlivened by boldly rendered window lintels with wedge shaped lintels accented by granite keystones and corner stones. This building culminates in a molded metal cornice accented by modillion blocks and surmounted by a low parapet. Set back fifty feet from the street, this building contains about twenty rooms.

The present St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church at 248 Adams Street, built during the mid 1980s , evokes something of the design sensibility of the original church. The original church's main facade featured square pinnacle topped towers flanking a facade gable with three entrances set within pointed Gothic Revival arches as well as a great arched window at the second story, the upper portion of which contained a rose window. The old church was in the English Gothic Style, built of brick with granite trimmings. The current church evokes the English Gothic stylistic sensibility via a single square pinnacle topped tower. It is constructed of brick and exhibits granite trimmings. It is in the form of a Latin Cross. The rectory of St. Ambrose, however, survives from the construction of the original church complex and dates to 1928-29. The rectory is situated at 236 Adams Street and its main facade is set back 50 feet from the street. It is designed in the Georgian Revival style. Possessing an irregular form, its symmetrically fenestrated nine bay facade exhibits a recessed three bay central bay which is fronted by an open porch. The gray granite trimmings are quite emphatic with windows set off by large key and corner stones. This building culminates in deep modillion block cornice, low parapet and flat roof. Together with the church, St Ambrose rectory provides a memorable introduction to an area of modestly scaled dwellings which constitute a gritty working class residential section on the eastern edge of the Fields Comer commercial district.

Historical Narrative

Historically, The St. Ambrose / Fields Comer East area has been characterized as an area of modestly scaled workers housing bordered by the Fields Corner Commercial district on the west and neatly circumscribed by the great bend in the MBTA subway tracks to the east and south. This area occupies a flat plain that is situated between Mt Ida and Dorchester Bay. It is situated between the upscale residential areas of Harrison Square to the east and the middle class houses west of Fields Corner. The area east of Fields Corner built up slowly, despite the fact that Dorchester Avenue was set out as early as 1804, ceased to be a toll road in 1834 and the Old Colony Railroad was set out in 1844. Fields Corner was named for two brothers, Enos and Isaac Field who ran a general store at the intersection of Adams and Dorchester Avenue. The slow development probably had to do with the fact that this area was neither a prime hilltop with picturesque views nor was it situated right on the coast. The railroad in this area encouraged the development of light industry like the Beacon Lithographic Co. and Nashua Card Co. at 60 Clayton Street (extant by 1884). The 1850 Map of Dorchester shows a cluster of houses along Adams Street at the western end of this area. #241 Adams Street is apparently one of the houses shown on the 1850 map and is probably the oldest structure in the area. This Greek Revival, cottage scale dwelling has historical associations with Seth Williams. [This seems to be a mistake. The 1850 map shows a house with the name S. Williams on the east side of Dorchester Avenue just south of the intersection of Dorchester Avenue and Adams Street. The house that may be 241 Adams seems to have the name E. Jenkins attached to it. The 1858 map again shows S. Williams on Dorchester Avenue, and the house that may be 241 Adams Street has the name of J. Jenkins Est.--Earl Taylor] He was engaged in the leather trade at Pearl, corner of Purchase in downtown Boston. Williams was numbered among those who took advantage of the commuter railroad at Harrison Sq. By 1874 this station at the southeastern comer of this area was in place, serving both the workers of St Ambrose/Fields Comer East and the wealthy home owners of the Mill St/Clam Point area. The Shawmut Branch RR. intersected with the Old Colony Railroad right at Harrison Square. Dickens street is evidently the oldest street in this area, linking Adams Street (west) with Harrison Square (east).

9/11 Dickens Street is one of the oldest houses on this street. Extant by 1874, it was apparently built by John Colter, carpenter, who may well have been responsible for the construction of a number of houses in this area. Colter lived here until at least 1910. By the early 1930's an Andrew J. Supple, machinist lived here. Colter also owned the interesting Stick style double house next door at 13/15 Dickens Street which was built c.1880. A John A. Chisholm, carpenter, lived at #13 Dickens in 1933, continuing Colter's link with the local building trades. Leonard Street 's housing stock represents a "mixed bag" of mostly altered rectangular, T and L-shaped 1.5 and 2.5 story dwellings with little in the way of ornamentation with the exception of Italianate saw cut door hoods. The most memorable streetscape in the area consists of the 1.5 story Italianate/Mansard row at 42-78 Leonard Street with their narrow front yards, narrow 2-bay main facades, straight sided mansard roofs with pairs of cornice headed dormers. These houses provide a kind of "back bone" for the district and proudly emphasize the working class character of the area. This row was extant by 1874. At that time four of the units were owned by Charles S. Greenwood and six of the units were owned by John Mc Donald, while the remaining houses were the property of a variety of individual owners. Leonard Street was not cut through to Adams Street until the early 1900s, initially running westward from Clayton Street as far as Duncan Street. Leonard Street was finally cut through to Adams Street after the demise of William Gordon's green houses which stood on the north side of the present day St. Ambrose Rectory. Gordon Place, off the north side of Leonard is all that remains of the Gordon name in this area and its workers houses deserve further study as possible housing for Gordon's green house workers. Boston directories shed little light on the owners and/or occupants of Clayton Street's collection of single- family Italianate / Mansard cottages. 43 Clayton Street was built by 1874 and was originally owned by a J. Hunt. By 1884, Bedford, MA real estate broker Orrin W. Fiske owned this house, evidently as an investment property. By the 1930's an electrician named Patrick A. Brown owned 43 Clayton Street. Another Italianate / Mansard cottage on Clayton dating to at least the early 1870s is 65 Clayton Street. Boston Directories did not list occupations for this house's early owners including Jonathan B. Mathews (1870s), H.B. Warren (1880s) and James Chambers who owned this property from the 1890s until at least the 1930s. Similarly, information on owners of the L-shaped Mansard at 67 Clayton is sketchy with a Jonathan Sully owning this property during the 1870s. The heirs of T. W. Hoxie owning it in the 1880s, and various Wiltons (George H. Wilton, clerk, owning this house from the 1890s until at least the 1930's). Apartment living was introduced to this area during the early 1900s in the form of three contiguous multi family brick buildings at 60-68 Dickens Street. Residents included widows, retired persons and shoe workers.

The St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church site, during the 1870s-early 1900s represented a microcosm of the rest of the neighborhood. During that period, the double house and stable of Edward F. Pierce occupied the future church's site while the rectory's land contained the T -shaped house of Horace M. Holt. By the 1880s, Pierce's property encompassed six wooden structures plus a large stable. By 1910, C. Eaton Pierce owned seven wooden structures and two stables on the site of the future church. The first St Ambrose Church was built under the direction of Rev. John H. Harrigan beginning in 1915. Rev. Harrigan had organized this church in 1914. It was designed by Dorchester resident W. H. McGinty who lived for many years on Percival Street. By 1915, the lower church was completed and ready for occupancy. The upper church was begun in 1920 and completed in 1921. The original church contained an organ by Hook and Hastings of Waltham. The stained glass windows were made in Munich. The current church was built during the mid 1980s.

The rectory at 236 Adams Street was built in 1928-29. Containing about 20 rooms, the rectory encompassed an office, reception room, dining room and kitchen. The second and third floors contained apartments for the clergy. In 1929, 4,000 parishoners belonged to St Ambrose parish.

Bibliography and/or References

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

Boston Directories: 1870-1945

Metropolitan Boston. A Modern History, v.5, 1929 Alan Langtry editor.

The Gothic Churches of Dorchester-Douglas Shand Tucci, 1972

Related Images: showing 8 of 32 (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 32 images.
Fields Corner Transfer StationDalrymple JunctionFields Corner Veterans monument 9-18-05Field's Corner Railroad Station
St. Ambrose' ChurchRobinson Building, Fields CornerBus at Fields Corner 1932Charlies
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Created: July 18, 2005   Modified: February 22, 2012