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Upham's Corner
 Upham?s Corner

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 Uphams Corner, Click here

Architectural Description

Upham?s Corner encompasses an architecturally significant concentration of late 19th / early 20th century commercial, ecclesiastical and, to a lesser extent, residential structures. This area?s buildings are overwhelmingly constructed of masonry materials and present the decidedly urban image of a small city?s ?downtown? or commercial district. Although this area conveys a sense of a once vital commercial district presently struggling to survive a long litany of inner city problems, its historic resources are essentially unspoiled and might, indeed, provide, the key to Upham?s Corner?s revitalization. Unlike other underutilized urban commercial districts, there are few gaps in the streetscapes, business blocks retain their original height and the design quality from building to building is consistently high. This area is surrounded by three residential areas with potential for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, including, Jones Hill to the southeast, Trull-Glendale Streets to the southwest and Virginia Monadnock streets to the northwest. A fourth residential area, Humphreys-East cottage Street also contains some important historic domestic architectural resources. At the center of these historic residential areas is Upham?s Corner. For the purposes of this survey, Upham?s Corner is bounded by Holden and Annabel Streets on the east, the back lot lines of properties bordering odd numbered properties of Columbia Road on the south (including the North Dorchester burying Ground), Bird Street on the west, and the back lot lines of the even numbered properties bordering Columbia Road on the north; this boundary also includes both sides of Dudley Street between Columbia Road and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad track.

Beginning at the northwestern extremity of the Upham's Corner area is the Municipal Building at 510 Columbia Road, a V-shaped, 4-story brick and stone trimmed Georgian Revival structure whose broad curved wall memorably addresses the Bird Street/Columbia Road corner and serves as a "gateway" structure to the high quality design of the Upham's Corner area. Its facades are enlivened by rusticated brick work treatments on first floor walls and the Ionic piers of the upper floors as well as a large fan light-surmounted main entrance at the curved corner flanked by Ionic columns. The windows of the upper floor are arched and set off by prominent keystones. Next door to the east, a former two story c.1920's brick telephone company building has been adapted for reuse as St. Kevin's Roman Catholic Church (516 Columbia Road). Together with the Classical Revival St. Kevin's Center Hall and Elementary School ( c. 1920's) at 530 Columbia Road, the church flanks a charming park and religious shrine. Continuing eastward along Columbia Road is the Pilgrim Congregational Church at 544 Columbia Road. Built c.1890, this Gothic Revival brick and stoned trim church exhibits a centrifical plan with its various segments pulled out horizontally along the street, with a truncated tower at its center flanked by broad gables, with broader gables still at the east and west walls.

Between Pilgrim Congregational Church and Dudley Street is a melange of commercial structures representing quite disparate degrees of design refinement ranging from the four- story masonry, vaguely Classical Revival commercial block at 556-562 Columbia Road (which over time has housed a public meeting hall variously called Wheelock Hall and the Odd Fellows Hall) through two small , low, altered and generally nondescript buildings to a vaguely Art Deco (with Classical Revival overtones in the dentil courses at the tops of the window bays) Citizens Bank building at 570-72 Columbia Road, culminating in the landmark Columbia Square Building at 578-588 Columbia Road and 767-779 Dudley Street. Built during the mid 1890s, the Columbia Square Building memorably anchors the northwest corner of the important Dudley Street/Columbia Road intersection. Its Classical Revival surface treatments include upper floors set off by Doric pilasters and arched windows at the fourth (top) floor. The Columbia Road facade exhibits a panel between third and fourth floor windows which reads "Masonic Hall".

Crossing Dudley Street and continuing eastward along Columbia Road is another architecturally and historically significant "anchor" building known as the Pierce Building (592-598 Columbia Road). Together, the Columbia Square Building across the street and the Pierce Building serve as gateway structures to the Dudley Street commercial component of Uphams Corner, and for that matter marks the southern terminus of Dudley Street, a thoroughfare long important to the Dorchester and Roxbury communities. The Pierce Building rises to a height of four stories, utilizes a curved facade to memorably address an important cross roads, retains remarkably intact original storefront enframements and effectively employs Classical Revival elements its exterior design. Abutting the Pierce Building?s eastern wall is the 2-story Georgian Revival, ca. 1920s United Markets Inc. commercial block at 600 Columbia Road whose chastely rendered surface treatments make a strong design contribution to the Columbia Road streetscape. Next door to the United Markets Building on the east at 610 Columbia Road is a 4-story, brick commercial block that was built during the 19l0s and is currently underutilized with "bricked -in" storefronts and upper floor windows covered with plywood panels. It would be unfortunate, indeed to lose this building to neglect as it helps to set the design tone of this unique area near its eastern entry point. 610 Columbia Road is followed by a 4-story brick Georgian Revival apartment building with 15-bay main facade. Numbered 618-624 Columbia Road, this U-shaped building borders Hamlet Street, the extreme eastern edge of the Upham's Corner area. This building makes the transition from the 2.5 story residential scale of the Humphreys -East Cottage Street area to the 2-4 story scale of the Upham's Corner commercial district.

Before turning to the south side of Columbia Road at Upham?s Corner a few words should be said about the buildings of the Dudley Street component of Upham's Corner. The elevated railroad tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad provide a visually strong sense of the northern extent of this area. Situated near this northern boundary are two large, noteworthy apartment buildings of the 1890s: the narrow, twin polygonal bayed, Queen Anne Denmark Apartments at 713 Dudley Street and the massive and architecturally distinguished 6-story Monadnock Apartments (715-723 Dudley Street, which evidently represented the height of apartment living in their day, possess a design that is the equa1 to any Back Bay or Brookline apartment building of similar vintage with its subtly bowed tan brick surfaces and overall sophisticated Renaissance Revival design. Also noteworthy are the commercial/residential blocks at 722-26 Dudley Street and 728 Dudley Street (corner of Dudley Terrace). Both buildings' facades speak to the Queen Anne style's predilection for highly plastic wall surfaces via 3-story polygonal bays above the first floor store fronts. Also noteworthy is the Kerner Building at 761-765 Dudley Street, a relatively early (perhaps the earliest) masonry business block at Upham's Comer.

Returning to Columbia Road, one notices that the south side of this important thoroughfare is much more diverse in terms of streetscapes and building types. Here a Craftsman style fire station (Engine No. 21, 643 Columbia Road), the 17th century North Dorchester Cemetery with its stucco covered Mission style cemetery building (613-17 Columbia Road), Colonial Revival Shawmut Bank (577 Columbia Road) and above all the Neo Adamesque Strand Theatre (543/545 Columbia Road) constitute a varied, visually intriguing streetscape that is lacking in other historic Dorchester business districts. Further study is needed on the red brick, trapezoidal structure at 519-531 Columbia Road which may well be the oldest structure within the proposed Upham's Comer area boundaries. It is believed to be the old A.P. Wheelock livery stables that existed as early as 1874.

Historical Narrative

Known in the eighteenth century as Cemetery Corner, Uphams Corner is the area surrounding the junction of Dudley Street, Stoughton Street, Columbia Road, Cushing Avenue and Hancock Street. The oldest man-made site in this area is Dorchester?s North Burying Ground at the corner of Columbia Road and Cushing Avenue. This burial ground was created in 1634, the same year that the Boston Common was set out. It represents the initiative of a band of settlers from Dorset County, England. The Old North was Dorchester?s sole cemetery until as late as 1819 and attests to the primacy of northern Dorchester over its central and southern sections for two centuries.

William Stoughton (1631-1701), judge at the Salem witch craft trials of 1692 and namesake of nearby Stoughton Street is buried in the old North Burial Ground. Over time several individuals have been responsible for the care and beautification of the Old North Burial ground including Daniel Davenport (1773-61860). He succeeded Thomas Clapp as the Town gravedigger in 1797 but his interest in the old grave yard exceeded the limitations of this job description. In 1826, he published ?The Sexton?s Monitor and Dorchester Cemetery Memorial? in which he listed interesting inscriptions on many of the tombstones at Old North. He included an important record of the Ministers, Ruling Elders and Deacons of Dorchester and a Table of the annual Deaths from the Seventeenth Century to 1825. Samuel Downer Jr. (1807-1881) of Jones Hill is associated with the beautification of the Old North Burial Ground during the mid 19th century. He was a partner with Merriam and Downer, a Boston shipping form that traded with the West Indies. It was Downer who gave Old North the appearance of a Victorian ornamental garden. Thanks to Downer?s efforts, weeds were cleared away, paths were laid out and shade trees were planted.

Upham's Corner, sometimes labeled "Columbia Square" on late 19th century atlases was named after Amos Upham (1788-1879), a merchant who kept a dry goods store in the square for many years. Upham opened a store in 1804 which stood on the site of the present Columbia Square Building (578-588 Columbia Road). Upham's store was run by three generations of his family until as late as the mid 1890s. It was Amos and Abigail Humphrey Upham's son, James Humphrey Upham, who (cast the deciding vote in 1869 to annex Dorchester to the City of Boston. The old Federal style Upham's store was replaced during the mid 1890s by the present brick and granite structure that was variously known as "Odd Fellows Hall, [actually probably not Odd Fellows but Masonic Hall], the ?Columbia Square Building" and "Upham's Building.? It is said that Upham installed in his Columbia Building the very first electric light in Dorchester.

Upham's Comer, until as late as the 1910s had a more mixed-use, residential/commercial appearance. On the site of the Strand Theatre, 543-545 Columbia Road was once the location of the Clapp-Dyer Mansion. Originally built by Isaac Clap in 1810 as a Federal house and inherited by his adopted daughter, Eliza Clapp Thayer, the house was sold at the time of the Civil War to Micah Dyer, a Boston attorney. The Clapp - Dyer House was one of the major landmarks at Upham's Comer, particularly after Micah Dyer ?up-dated" the house with an encircling verandah, bracketed cornice and mansard roof. Furthermore the house was situated on an elevation, shaded by one-hundred-year-old trees and was surrounded by spacious lawns.

The Strand Theatre, in a sense serves a similar purpose as the old Clapp -Dyer House. Built in 1918, its distinctive Classical Revival facade presides over a highly visible bend in the streetscape that makes the transition from Columbia Road commercial blocks to Hancock Street residential properties. The Strand Theatre was designed by Funk and Wilcox and is described by architectural historian Douglas Shand Tucci as "probably the city's first movie palace built from the ground up as opposed to a remodeling.

Another residential landmark for many years at Upham's corner was the Samuel Bowen Pierce House, now the site the Pierce Building at 592-598 Columbia Road. Pierce, born in Vermont in 1804, had entered the crockery business and sold assorted goods throughout New England. The Pierce House faced the old North Burying Ground and was bounded by a low stone wall. After the death of Samuel Pierce, his son demolished the Pierce homestead and constructed the present building that bears his name. The Pierce Building was extant by 1910, by 1933 its tenants included Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, The Modeste Dress Shop, Louis' Beauty Salon, Upham's Corner Conservatory of Music, Family Welfare Society, Boston Mutual Life Insurance Company, and the Gegan's school of dance and piano.

By 1885, a city guide book noted of Upham's Comer that ?nowhere else can be seen the blending of old and new than here". This guide pointed out that a number of "beautiful mansions" were being built in the area and that fifteen the eighteen stores listed in the Dorchester section of the guide were in Upham's Corner. By the time the area was also a crossroads of several rail and trolley lines. It is interesting that while the immediate Upham's corner crossroads acquired a decidedly citified sensibility, its adjacent neighborhoods like Virginia / Monadnock Street and Jones Hill were able to retain a suburban appearance. During the last quarter of the 19th century there were several buildings erected at Upham's Comer that reflected the area's growing importance as a commercial center surrounded by rapidly developing residential areas. By 1874, the City of Boston had built Engine House No. 21. a brick structure with a wooden ell that was a predecessor building to the current Mission style fire station built between 1900 and 1910 at 643 Columbia Road. Charitable/Social organizations, always a mainstay of Victorian era commercial centers were well represented at Upham's Corner. As early as c. l890, Wheelock Hall, later Odd Fellows Hall at 556-562 Columbia Road provided meeting space for local groups. Wheelock Hall was named in honor of A.P. Wheelock who operated a large livery stable across the street at the corner of Hancock and Columbia Road (531 Columbia Road). The construction of churches is always a measure of an area's growth and certainly the construction of the Pilgrim Congregational Church at 544 Columbia Road in 1893 by Stephen Earl signifies local population growth (prior to this church's construction, its land had been pan of a vacant, multi-lot tract owned by Oliver Davenport). Anchoring the northwest corner of the Upham's Comer area is the Municipal Building at 510 Columbia Road which was built during the early 1900s and by 1933 was being used as a branch library of the Boston Public Library.

In 1897 a development of momentous importance to the character of Upham's Corner occurred with the widening of Columbia Road which meant that this thoroughfare was joined to the Dorchester Parkway and the Strandway linking Franklin Park with Marine Park in South Boston. At that time Columbia Road acquired a park-like character which constituted an important link in the Emerald Necklace Park system created by Frederick Law Olmstead which ultimately linked the Boston Common with Castle Island via an arc-like configuration of green spaces. This transformed Columbia Road passed through Upham's Corner and undoubtedly spurred onward the quality commercial block construction already well underway.

Dudley Street between Columbia Road and the railroad tracks is included in this area because it represents a continuation of the masonry "wall "of late 19th/early 20th century buildings bordering Columbia Road. Noteworthy buildings on this segment of Dudley include the Kerner Building at 761-765 Dudley Street, built c. 1880 and quite early for this area as a masonry commercial block. The Kerner Block was built on land owned by James H. and Charles A. Upham in the 1870s and was extant by 1884. By 1898 it contained four stores, one of which was the Dorchester Savings Bank. By 1933, Kerner Building tenants included James J. Coughlin, musician, James F. Campbell "tool and die forger", Michael Goodman, baker, Thomas J. Robertson, iron worker and several other tenants with no stated occupations.

Several large, architecturally distinguished apartment buildings line the west side of Dudley Street including the 1890 Denmark Apartments at 713 Dudley Street. This apartment was built for James W. Cook who was the proprietor of James W. Cook and Son, piano movers at 20 Avery Street. Cook also owned a boarding stable at Davenport Street and lived at 17 Greenwich Park in Boston's South End. Prior to Cook's purchase of this 8,179 square foot lot, this land had been owned by the Henry Humphrey's family, long associated with this area and ensconced for many years in a large U-shaped house at the corner of Humphrey's and Dudley Street. It should be noted that in 1874, Dudley Street was considered part of Stoughton Street. The Monadnock Apartments at 7l5-723 Dudley Street, one of the great architectural treasures of the Upham's Corner area, marks the entrance to Monadncck Street. Its Classical/Renaissance Revival facades are of a very high quality design. Its lot was purchased by John L.Withrow from the heirs of Ebenezer Sumner c.1895 and the building was standing by 1898.

Upham's Corner's commercial construction activity seems to have crested around and a bit past 1920. The Dorchester Trust Company at 555 Columbia Road (now the First National Bank) was built on part of the Clapp-Dyer House's lawn by 1918. The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company, now cleverly converted into St. Kevin's Church and School was extant by 1933. Perhaps no single early 20th century building did the most to change the lingering small town scale of Upham's Comer than the construction of the United Markets Inc. building during the 1920's. Once part of the Samuel B. Pierce house lot containing his stable, by 1895, this lot contained three double houses and Hall's stables, which were quite extensive, consisting of three large brick and wood stables. Hall's seems to have lingered into the early 1900's. By 1910, this site contained a single family house, three double houses, a stable and a garage. This garage was the Columbia Road Automobile Station, managed by a Fred Edwards and was the place in Dorchester to have work done on the first automobiles of Dorchester.

During the 1920s this garage was reworked into the present two- story structure at 600-618 Columbia Road. This building was constructed by two brothers, Paul and John Cifrino and it has the distinction of being the world's first "supermarket". According to Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, Dorchester Historian, "Unlike other markets, it stocked a complete line of groceries. Another thing that made it different was that it was a self-service store, with clerks only at the checkout counters--the prototype of the modern supermarket. The Cifrino Brothers who lived near St. Paul's Church on Hartford Street in Dorchester, ran a well- stocked store that included everything from fish to freshly-made peanut butter, fresh butter, and quality teas and coffees."

The Cifrino Brothers sold their store in the 1940s and opened the first Purity Supreme supermarket in the Boston area on Gallivan Boulevard (most recently a Flanagan?s supermarket). After World War II, the former Cifrino?s became the Elm Farm Market. By that time Uphams Corner was losing many of its long time residents to the suburbs. During the 1950s the park-like character of Columbia Road lost its park median strip in favor of more traffic lanes. The Elm Farm Markets shut its doors in the early 1970s. During the 1980s heartening developments at Uphams Corner included the rehabilitation of the Pierce Building by a local non-profit for artist space and successful community work towards revitalizing the Strand Theatre. Additionally, the Dorchester historical Society and the City of Boston took steps to halt the deterioration of the historic Dorchester North Burying Ground and to beautify its sacred ground.

Statement of Significance

Upham?s Corner

Upham?s Corner encompasses an architecturally significant concentration of late 19th / early 20th century commercial, ecclesiastical and, to a lesser extent, residential structures. This area?s buildings are overwhelmingly constructed of masonry materials and present the decidedly urban image of a s small city?s ?downtown? or commercial district. It is considered eligible as a National Register and Boston Landmark historic district by virtue of the consistent high design quality and cohesiveness of its historic structures. Known in the eighteenth century as Cemetery Corner, the oldest man-made site at Upham?s Corner is Dorchester?s North Burying Gournd (1634). Upham?s Corner was named after Amos Upham (1788-1879), a merchant who kept a dry goods store in the square for many years; the store?s site is occupied by the 1890s Columbia Square Building at 578-588 Columbia Road. The centerpiece of this area is the Strand Theatre (1918, Funk and Wilcox, architects), its handsome Classical Revival fa?ade presiding over the important Hancock Street/Columbia Road intersection. 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 Upham?s Corner Market?, BLC files

Dorchester Community News 2/23/90: ?Upham?s Corner Grew from Smal Crossroads into Urban Community?; 6/10/1994: ?Dyers of Upham?s corner were 19th century Community Heroes; 6/29/1990: ?Notorious Elm Farm Building Once Housed World?s First Super Market? by A.M. Sammarco.

Dorchester Tercentenary Committee, ?Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930.

Orcutt, W.D. Good Old Dorchester (1893).

Tucci, Douglass Shand, The Gothic Churches of Boston, 1972

Related Images: showing 8 of 26 (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 26 images.
Uphams CornerPilgrim Church InteriorMetropolitan Railroad Car 1870sRaising the Flagpole at Upham's Corner 1909
Upham's Corner 1895Trolley Stuck in Snow at Upham's CornerUphams CornerBird Street Station
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Created: July 18, 2005   Modified: March 14, 2012