Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, 670 Washington Street


No. 203 Postcard: Dorchester, Baptist Temple, Dorchester, postmarked 1909


Report prepared in 1997

[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors; therefore 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.]

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church (Photos 1 and 2) is located at 670 Washington Street, Dorchester, Massachusetts. Built in two stages between 1889-1892 by George W. Oliver, from designs provided by Boston architect and Dorchester resident Arthur Vinal this wooden church ranks among the finest examples of Shingle style ecclesiastical architecture in Boston.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church is situated on level ground at the northeast corner of Welles Avenue and Washington Street. The church stands at the southern gateway to the Codman Square commercial district as well as the western edge of the Ashmont Hill residential area.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, together with the Federal style 1806 Second Church in Dorchester at the northern end of the Codman Square area bracket Washington Street’s architecturally and historically significant mid 19th through early 20th century commercial, public and residential buildings. The northern part of the Codman Square area contains the historic Codman Square cross roads which includes segments of Talbot Avenue, Centre Street, Norfolk Street, as well as Washington Street. In addition to the churches of the Codman Square area, other well-designed buildings include the Hartwell, Richardson and Driver designed Dorchester High School, recently known as Girl’s Latin Academy, a massive, yellow brick Renaissance Revival building dating to 1900, the former Dorchester Women’s Club, a handsome A. Warren Gould-designed Colonial Revival wooden structure at 40 Centre-Street (1898), the Joseph T.Greene. – designed Lithgow Building, rendered in the Georgian Revival style in 1899; and the former Codman Square Branch Library housed in a masonry, cupola-topped Georgian Revival building of 1904. The Codman Square Historic District was designated in 1983

Additionally, the church’s towered, asymmetrical form and dark brown wood shingle sheathing echo those of the Shingle style residences of the Ashmont Hill neighborhood to the east, designed by Edwin J. Lewis and others during the 1880s and 1890s.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church stands on a trapezoidal-shaped lot containing 18,000 square feet with a building footprint covering 7,500 square feet. Bordering the church’s property, to the north is a one-story concrete commercial block.

To the east, the Ashmont Hill neighborhood unfolds with Italianate/Mansard and Queen Anne residences bordering Welles Avenue with a 2 1/2 story Queen Anne residence immediately adjacent to the eastern side of the church. Across Welles Avenue to the south is the modem masonry one story Codman Square branch of the Boston Public Library which replaced the Harrison Atwood-designed Henry L. Pierce School in 1967.

The church’s west facade overlooks altered double and single-family wooden Italianate houses of the 1870s at 665/667 and 671 Washington Street, respectively, as well as the Classical Revival

E-shaped, 3-story masonry apartment building erected during the 1910s.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church exhibits the Shingle style’s trademark complex shape and picturesque profiles achieved via the artful massing of its structural components. Particularly compelling is the heavy configuration of the sanctuary’s intersecting gables and the exotic appeal of the bell tower’s bulbous roof. In a sense the church is as much a work of sculpture as it is architecture with the artistic placement of a succession of varied volumes all unified by a smooth skin of dark brown shingles.

The building consists of three structural components: 1) a large rectangular sanctuary enclosed by an intersecting gable roof with a floor area of 4,000 square feet; 2) an off-center square bell tower segment capped by a distinctive pyramidal roof; and 3) a northern, single-story hip roofed component with shed-roofed dormers. All of the church’s structural components rise from low, rubble stone foundations.

Circumscribed by low concrete borders, open areas of grass and shrubbery border the Washington Street and Welles Avenue elevations, the width of this green space narrowing as it approaches the northwest and southeast corners of the lot. A short flight of concrete steps leads from the Washington Street sidewalk to a concrete path providing access to the main entrance currently located on the tower’s west elevation. A path also leads to an entrance at the center of the west porch. Passing through a porte cochere at the southwest corner of the building, an asphalt-covered driveway follows a semicircular path on the Welles Avenue side of the building.

Dorchester Temple Baptist Church: West Elevation

Reading from north to south, “the west or main elevation of the church is asymmetrically divided into a three bay / single bay / four bay arrangement of the church offices, tower and front porch, respectively. The three-bay section of the church offices is fenestrated by a double window flanked by single windows; all of the windows are square-headed and contain 12/12 wood sash. This hipped-roof section is ornamented with a simple molded cornice. A shed-roofed dormer extends the length of the northern slope.

Piercing the western facade of the dormer wall to the south of its intersection with the hip roof is a window containing 8/2 wood sash.

The off-center tower provides the composition with a strong vertical anchor. The western elevation of the tower exhibits double doors which are surmounted by a cornice headed entablature. Surmounted by a tripartite, multi-pane window, this entrance was added during the mid-20th century. Above this entrance, a tall and narrow stained glass window originally extended to a point approximately two thirds distant from the cornice of this later entrance’s entablature. At the third floor of the tower’s south facade is a double multi-pane window. The open “belfry” portion of the tower flares out into a shingled parapet; this sculptural form was somewhat marred by the addition of a low-pitched pedimented section of roof, most likely installed to eliminate bird access ,and weather- proof the flat deck. The tower roof is a pyramidal bell-shaped form comprised of three separate pitches and capped with a finial. During the mid 20th-century, a large marquee was cantilevered from the open bell tower. This electrified signboard read, “Dorchester WELCOME Temple.” Holes from the supports are still evident today.

The sanctuary’s western elevation exhibits an inset porch with three broad arches. This originally open porch was accessed by stairs across its full width.  Presently the center arch contains double doors which open on a short flight of brick stairs while the flanking arches contain multi-pane windows which rise from wood shingle-covered walls. To the right of the porch is a double window, each half containing 6/6 wood sash.

Rising above the west porch’s roof slope is abroad gable containing a bank of seven stained glass windows. Its sash strikes a Queen Anne note, with three small panes at the top and bottom bracketing single rectangular panes. The center window contains circular glass with small panes above and below. A small and narrow four-pane stained glass window lights the apex of the west gable. A gable roofed porte cochere extends from the southern end of the west wall.

South Elevation

The south elevation is the most inherently picturesque in terms of massing, roof configuration, fenestration and detailing. Its recessed gabled end wall emphasizes the bold profile of the tower with its distinctive segmental arched belfry opening and bell-shaped, finial-topped roof cap.  The south facade is dominated by its broad endwall gable and the porte cochere’s gabled form. This elevation is lit by a massive central arched window comprised of a ribbon of four 8/8 wood sash windows surmounted by the tall arched stained glass window above a rectangular, wood trimmed panel containing wood shingles. The window’s arch is accented by a wooden key stone. A porte cochere projects from the south west corner sheltering the side driveway. Surmounted by a gable roof, the porte cochere’s southern wall is pierced by a pair of arched openings. The porte cochere’s south wall displays a double multi-pane window.  The integrated lean-to at the southeast comer has a secondary entrance recessed within a curving, wood shingle covered continuation of the larger wall surface.

To the west of this side entrance, a Colonial Revival ornamental panel and Queen Anne oval window illustrate the fact that these styles were frequently blended with the Shingle style. The tall ornamental panel is surmounted by a swan’s neck scroll pediment which is accented by a wooden keystone. Above the panel, an oval stained glass window heightens the charm of the south elevation.

East Elevation

Both the east and north elevations are less formally finished than the street-facing facades. The rear facade of the sanctuary is dominated by a broad gable whose south slope culminates in a return while its north slope sweeps down to the projecting 5-bay wall of the northern component.

The one story structural component enclosing the Baptistry projects from the first floor of the sanctuary. Boards cover the Baptistry’s four small basement windows, two first floor windows, as well as windows flanking the stained glass window. To the north of the Baptistry is a multi-panel door which culminates in a two-light transom. A single window containing 6/2 wood sash is located to the right of the rear entrance. Above the Baptistry wall is a tall, keystone arched stained glass window. Situated near the apex of the east gable is a tall and narrow four-light window that echoes that of the west gable. A double 2/6 wood sash window appears at the north end of the sanctuary’s second level. Rising from the north slope of the Baptistry gable is a tall brick chimney. Contiguous with the Baptistry’s north wall is the two story hospitality/offices/classrooms component. The first level of this component exhibits five multi-light bays.

The second floor is a wall dormer which rises from a hip roof. The east facade of this dormer displays four windows containing 2/2 wood sash.

North Elevation.

The north elevation’s first floor exhibits a center polygonal bay which is flanked by double windows. At the eastern end of this elevation is a square bay with a single window on its north side and an entrance accessed by a short flight of steps on its west side. At the western end of this elevation are two windows separated by one bay’s width of wall. A small shed containing a stairway leading down to the basement projects from the west side of the polygonal bay located at  the center of the north wall.  The north elevation’s roof slope overhangs the “double windows flanking the center polygonal bay.  In general, the first floor’s windows contain 12/12 wood sash while those of the flat-roofed dormer contain  9/2 wood sash.

The northern component of the building is enclosed by a complex roof configuration consisting of a two-stage hip roof. Projecting from the lower hip’s northern slope is a 5- bay flat roofed wall dormer while the upper, hip projects from the sanctuary’s north gable.

 Rising from the northern end of the upper hip’s ridge is a low, square cupola which is shingled up to its eaves and provided ventilation of the sanctuary and class room levels. Other than a restricted portion at the south side, the louvers in the cupola are no longer visible. This cupola is enclosed by a miniature version of the bell tower’s bulbous roof cap.

Interior Features: First Floor

The church’s first floor consists of a large rectangular sanctuary with a porch projecting from its west wall. A narrow, 2-story Baptistry is located at the rear of the sanctuary, behind the altar. At the south end of the porch is a small, rectangular vestibule with entrances providing access to Washington Street and the port cochere on the Welles Avenue side of the building, as well as a stairway leading to the sanctuary’s balcony level. The entrance at the northern wall of the porch opens on to the tower entry. To the east of this entry are two offices. Both the offices and the sanctuary open on to the hospitality area or fellowship hall (originally a chapel). At the rear (east) of the rectangular fellowship hall is an enclosed stairhall, smaller fellowship room, and a handicapped-accessible toilet. A door on the south side of the secondary fellowship room provides access to a kitchen.

West Porch

The West Porch sustained considerable alterations during renovations prior to 1930 and in 1955. The porch was originally an open area with stairs across its full width, serving as a recessed entrance into the facility.  Entrance doors lead from the porch into the tower at the north end and the gallery stair at the south end. These doors are still present. The center arch contains modem double doors.  The first renovation resulted in the three openings receiving identical pairs of doors and sidelights. During the mid 1950s, the two archways that flank the-central entrance received new windows with walls below. At that time, the floor level of the porch was raised approximately 6 inches to meet the main floor level. The porch’s ceiling retains its original tongue and groove woodwork.

Tower Vestibule

The tower has sustained several alterations. Prior to 1930, the lower portion of the present stained glass window was removed to accommodate a new door. This window formerly extended to within approximately five and one half feet of the ground level.

When the window was shortened, the panel containing the words “Dorchester Temple Baptist Church” was repositioned into its present location. When the door was placed in the center of the tower’s Washington Street elevation the stair within the tower was shifted from its original position to the north wall. This shift necessitated the of the upper stair that provided access to the upper room. The present stair exhibits turned balusters as well as a turned and boldly rendered newel post. Hanging from the vestibule ceiling is an Art Deco milk glass lighting fixture. Double doors on the east and southeast side of the tower vestibule provide access to the sanctuary. These doors retain distinctive rectangular brass plates which read “PUSH” in incised lettering.

The Sanctuary

The sanctuary (photo 3), despite several relatively minor alterations, retains a high percentage of original, early 1890s elements. Architecturally, the Sanctuary exhibits an interesting blend of Classical Revival woodwork elements with ceiling truss-work that is Medieval Revival in sensibility. The juxtaposition of these two very different stylistic traditions speaks to the eclecticism and lack of concern for archaeologically correct design inherent in 1880s and early 1890s American architectural styles such as the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, as well as the Shingle style.

The Sanctuary is a large auditorium-like space that is characterized by an openness typical of the Shingle style. This sense of openness is achieved through the loftiness of the vaulted ceiling, the high altar space accented with artistic stained glass, and the low scale of the galleries at the north, south and west walls of the sanctuary. This church’s spaciousness is further underscored by three bays of doors segregating the Sanctuary from the Fellowship Room. These doors can be slid overhead in a manner anticipating the mechanics of the modern garage. The sanctuary’s pews are arranged in an Akron or semi- circular plan; a configuration that fosters an additional sense of intimacy. This intimate quality is enhanced by the, overhang of the galleries.

The oak woodwork in the sanctuary and throughout the building, including doors, paneling, casings, trim and window sash, retain their original varnish finishes. The walls are generally painted lime plaster on wood lathe. There are minor cracks in the plaster but the finish appears to be intact and repairable. Evidence of original stenciled finishes in the Sanctuary survives at the gallery level.

The semi-circular arrangement of the pews was evidently a frequently employed plan for churches of the 1880s and 1890s judging by Boston area churches such as the Eugene Clark-designed Allston Congregational Church on Quint Avenue in Allston. The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church’s pews exhibit unusually elegant proportions, design and quality craftsmanship.

The north wall of the Sanctuary exhibits three doors (a single and two double width) that slide up into the wall, opening the Fellowship Room to worship services. The lower third of each door consists of solid, multi-panel woodwork while the upper two thirds are composed by multi-lite wood sash with opaque panes. Above the sliding doors is the ceiling of the east gallery.

All of the galleries are faced with solid, multi-panel woodwork surmounted by iron “safety railings” which were installed in 1945. A large mural is located at the center of the wall above the east gallery. Depicting Christ after Baptism by John the Baptist, this mural was a gift of Tremont Temple and originally hung in front of the present baptistry, between the two sets of organ pipes. The mural’s inscription reads “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” At that time, the Baptistry was relocated from the center of the altar area to a flat-roofed annex addition directly behind its original location. The Baptistry opening is flanked by Doric pilasters which support an entablature. A plaque on the entablature exhibits incised lettering which reads, “I AM THE RESURRECTION”. Recessed behind the Baptistry’s Classical Revival wooden enframent is a mural depicting water with a wooded shore line in the background.

The Sanctuary’s rear wall is dominated by a broad proscenium arch which enframes the altar, organ pipes and Baptistry. Projecting in front of the arch is a low semi-circular platform containing an altar. Painted on the arch in original vine and leaf stenciling is the quotation from Habakkuk 2:20

“The Lord Is In His Holy Temple”. The arch springs from wooden entablatures which are “supported” by Doric pilasters. Recessed behind the proscenium arch is a Baptistry which is flanked by organ pipes. In its original form, the organ was a single unit located in the center of the choir loft. In 1919, the organ pipes were split into two sections across the front of the church. Joseph G. Cooper converted the organ’s playing action from a mechanical key and stop to electropneumatic control with a detached console.

Above the Baptistry is one of the church’s original stained glass windows. Donated by E.C. Wheeler in memory of his parents, this arched window depicts angels against a background of a beautiful white and blue coloration. This artistic window provides a physical link to the late 19th century rediscovery of “lost arts” such as mosaic tile artistry, mural painting, and fine wood carving as well as stained glass making. These ancient art forms were revived in England and America within the Arts and Crafts Movement as a reaction to mass production introduced decades earlier by the Industrial Revolution.

The Sanctuary’s south wall’s lower level is pierced by a bank of four post-1938 replacement multi-lite windows. To the east of these windows is an original artistic oval window depicting vines intertwined with a cross. Situated above the south gallery is a tall, arched window containing stained glass that was installed after a 1938 hurricane destroyed the original window. Designed by John Creed, a church member, this window’s glass exhibits vivid hues of red, green, gold, blue, yellow and lavender. The center of the window displays a circular motif containing four quadrants. The upper left corner depicts an open Bible. The lilies in the right quadrant recall Christ’s saying “Consider the lilies how they grow.” The upper right corner portrays the Spirit of God descending as a dove after Christ’s Baptism by John the Baptist. Beneath the dove is a representation of the sheep in the parable when Jesus said “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.”

The west wall exhibits four post-1938 stained glass windows on the first floor, encompassing a double window flanked by single windows. Like those on the south wall’s lower level, these windows contain clear diamond-shaped panes enframed by a border of square windows of a gold coloration. A bank of stained glass windows appear above the west balcony. These windows, in turn, are surmounted by a small and narrow rectangular stained glass window located near the apex of the west gable. Remnants of original painted stencil work are in evidence on the south wall of the west gallery.

The ceiling of the sanctuary is supported by an impressive system of trusses that spring from the four corners of the Sanctuary and feature Medieval Revival hardware. Suspended from the ceiling’s center is a large brass chandelier which retains milk glass globes from c. 1940.  

Lower Level: Offices and Fellowship Hall.  

The two offices on the north of the tower vestibule exhibit polished oak woodwork that is in evidence throughout the building, including door and window enframents exhibiting comer blocks with circular detail.

To the east of the offices is a large rectangular Fellowship Room which was built to serve as a chapel and later utilized as a Sunday School room. At the northeast comer of this room is a stairhall providing access to the basement and upper level. To the south of this stairhall is a meeting room which opens on to the Fellowship Room. To the south of this meeting room is a bathroom.

The north wall of the Fellowship Room features an alcove that was evidently the location of an altar when this room served as a Chapel. The alcove’s segmental arch and flanking pilasters were cut off when the ceiling was lowered.

The west wall is characterized by two bays, each containing three handsome oak doors. The lower third of each door exhibits solid panels while the upper two thirds is treated as multi-lite windows.

The south wall features three bays of doors which slide up into the ceiling and allow the Fellowship Room to open on to the Sanctuary. Suspended from the Fellowship Room’s ceiling are six milk glass lighting fixtures.

Upper Level: Classroom and Nursery

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church’s Upper Level is located above the offices and fellowship rooms on the north side of the building. This level encompasses a large classroom area which can be divided into three enclosed classrooms via two systems of folding doors. Adjacent to the classroom area, to the north, is a nursery room. Noteworthy features of the Upper Level include the two banks of eleven doors; each door exhibits six panels. A built-in wooden cupboard with a denticulated cornice is located at the southeast corner of the Class Room. At the center of the class room’s ceiling is a square opening covered by an ornate gingerbread punched and cut grille. This opening corresponds with the roofs ventilator cupola. Both the classroom and nursery exhibit polished oak woodwork finishes in evidence throughout, including surrounds accented by corner blocks incised with circular motifs.

The Basement

The basement is roughly bisected by an east-west center hall with access to the stair tower’s first floor vestibule provided by a flight of stairs at the hall’s northwest comer. On the north side of this hall is a large dining hall with a kitchen at its eastern end. On the south side of the hall are two storage rooms, boiler room, youth room and an unexcavated rectangular area along the west wall. The basement has little in the way of noteworthy architectural detail or elements. The basement was extensively modernized during the mid-1950s; a remodeling that is particularly evident in the paneling and floor covering of the dining room.

Archaeolocical Description

Although there are no prehistoric sites recorded on the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church parcel, it is located within a mile of the Neponset River, an important area for prehistoric activity and known site concentrations. Physical characteristics of the property include a flat, well-drained piece of land. The potential for locating significant prehistoric remains on the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church parcel is low due to construction impacts to the small parcel. 

The potential for the recovery of historic archaeological resources is moderate. The land- use history of the parcel reveals it was part of the Welles estate and had not been developed until the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church was erected in 1889. Archaeological remains dating from that time could include landscaping features such as planting holes, paths or walkways, evidence of changes to the exterior of the building including damage from the 1938 hurricane, and the social and recreational use of the yard” area by church and community members. Church related activities would have included ecclesiastical celebrations such as holidays and special services, educational activities specifically Sunday School, day-care, and youth groups, and social occasions such as fairs, bazaars, picnics and community meetings.


The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church is significant as Dorchester’s oldest Baptist church structure as well as its finest example of Shingle style ecclesiastical architecture. Organized in 1886, it is the fifth oldest Baptist Society in Dorchester. Built between 1889 and 1892, this building represents the work of Arthur H.Vinal. The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church retains integrity of location, design, siting, materials, feeling, association, and workmanship and is of local significance, fulfilling criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places.

The term Shingle style was coined in the 1950s by Yale architectural historian Vincent J. Scully Jr. to describe a uniquely American architectural style at a time when design was dominated by European historical revival styles. Widely utilized between 1880 and 1900, particularly in the design of New England seaside residences, the Shingle style, made memorable statements through complex, fluid form and smooth shingle textural, surfaces rather than with decorative detailing around doors, windows and porches. According to Virginia and Lee McAlester in A Field Guide to American Houses, the roots of the Shingle Style are three fold: “from the Queen Anne it borrowed wide porches, shingled surfaces, and asymmetrical forms. From the Colonial Revival it adapted gambrel roofs, rambling lean-to additions, classical columns, and Palladian windows. From the contemporaneous Richardsonian Romanesque it borrowed an emphasis on irregular sculpted shapes, Romanesque arches, and, in some examples, stone lower stories.”  One of the finest full- blown examples of a Shingle style Structure in the United States as well as the Boston area is the Henry Hobson Richardson-designed Mrs. M.F. Stoughton House (1882-1883) at 90 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church illustrates almost all of the aforementioned Shingle style characteristics. In addition to Arthur Vinal and Henry Hobson Richardson, accomplished practitioners of this style included William Ralph Emerson of Boston; John Calvin Stevens of Portland, Maine; McKim, Meade & White, Bruce Price, and Lamb and Rich of New York;.Wilson Eyre of Philadelphia; and Willis Polk of San Francisco.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church sits at the southern end of Codman Square in Boston’s Dorchester section. Located at the geographical center of Dorchester, Codman Square is the historic crossroads formed by Washington Street, Talbot Avenue and Norfolk Street.  Originally called Baker’s Corners in honor of Dr. James Baker, the proprietor of a dry goods store, it was renamed Codman Square in 1847 in memory of the Second Church’s Minister John Codman. Codman Square was the location of Dorchester’s Town Hall from 1816 until the town’s annexation to Boston in 1869. The Codman Square area’s significant municipal, residential, ecclesiastical

and commercial buildings date from 1806 to the 1930s and include the Second Church in Dorchester (1806), Dorchester Women’s Club (1898), Dorchester High School (1900) and the fomer Codman Square Branch Library (1904).

Located within Suffolk County in eastern Massachusetts, Dorchester was founded in 1630 and annexed to the city of Boston in 1869. Dorchester is bordered by South Boston and Roxbury on the north and Dorchester Bay on the east. The Neponset River separates Dorchester from Quincy and Milton to the south while Mattapan borders its western edge. A party of English Puritans from the ship Mary and John rowed ashore at Savin Hill, Dorchester in 1630. The first settlement was located in the vicinity of the Pleasant and Pond streets intersection in north Dorchester.

Although a node of industry was located on the Neponset River, at Lower Mills from the1630s onward, a high percentage of Dorchester’s land supported agricultural pursuits until as late as the 1880s. As a result of Dorchester’s annexation to the city in 1869 and the advent of improved public transportation, major development occurred throughout Dorchester, transforming it from a rural district of village clusters with a population of 8,000 in 1850 to a middle class suburb of residential enclaves with a population of 150,000 in 1900. The expansion which took place in the Codman Square area exemplifies this transition. Public transportation by means of railway lines served the area surrounding Codman Square as early as the 1850s, but it was the streetcars, initially horse drawn in the 1870s, and then electrified by the 1880s, which had a significant impact on the growth of the district. The main transportation route ran north/south along Washington Street from the Square to Mt. Bowdoin, and from Roxbury fed into lines which ran to downtown Boston. By the 1890s, the route was extended as far south as Gallivan Boulevard, and crosslines were developed which passed through Codman Square and ran along Talbot Avenue and Norfolk Street. As the result of these transportation improvements, enclaves of large, stylish and substantial residences evolved in Melville Park, Ashmont Hill and other areas of Dorchester.

A brief discussion of Ashmont Hill’s evolution is warranted given this neighborhood’s proximity to the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, the similarities between this neighborhood’s Shingle style houses and the Church as well as the fact that both this neighborhood and the church stand on land bequeathed to George D.Welles, Ashmont Hill’s developer. In 1870 Welles inherited a substantial amount of property from his grandfather John Welles, encompassing all of what is now Ashmont Hill. The property included the site of the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church and the Welles mansion on Welles Avenue, now the site of the Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library. Ashmont Hill’s subdivision into streets and house lots was supervised by Welles’ attorney and agent Edward Ingersoll Browne. Before this subdivision, the area bounded by Dorchester Avenue, Centre Street, Washington Street and Ashmont Street was completely devoid of streets. Surveyor H.W. Wilson’s 1871 plan for Ashmont Hill provided for Welles Avenue, Walton, Harley, Roslin, Ocean and Alban Streets as well as other streets outside the neighborhood. Land sales began in 1872 and by 1874 seven Massachusetts houses had been built on Ashmont Hill. The Depression of 1873 resulted in a brief setback for Welles, his development rebounding with sixteen houses built on his Ashmont Hill lots between 1874 and1884. Large Italianate Mansard, Queen Anne, Shingle and Colonial Revival houses were built for doctors, lawyers, artists, and architects on lots measuring 6,000 square feet or more.

John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, early 20th century mayor of Boston and grandfather of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy resided in a mansion at the corner of Welles Avenue and Harley Street.

Between 1884 and 1904, 160 houses were built in this area, with one hundred completed within the first decade. This building boom was fueled in part by the introduction of the electric trolley to Washington Street during the late l880s.

Two-family homes and three-deckers were the predominant housing types built between 1904 and 1930. Constructed between 1889 and 1892, the Dorchester Temple Baptist. Church was built at the height of the residential construction boom on Ashmont Hill and other streetcar accessible sections of Dorchester. Dorchester Temple Baptist Church began as a missionary church of the Union, now Tremont Temple, in Boston. The Church traces its beginnings in Dorchester to a building on Norfolk Street erected in the fall of 1884. This building contained a store on the ground floor, beneath a second floor hall with a capacity of three hundred people. Under the leadership of Deacon George Chipman and “helpers from the Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church,” the Norfolk Street hall was dedicated as a house of worship on March 8, 1885. At that time, the only church building within a radius of two miles was the Second Congregational Church in Codman Square. Shortly after its dedication, a Sunday School was organized to serve the children of the community. According to .church histories, the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church grew out of the Sunday School under the leadership of Richard B. Hassett, the first superintendent. On November 8, 1886, the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church was du1y organized with a membership of thirty six.

The organization of the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church represents an important chapter in the history of the Baptist Society in Dorchester. Although Baptists have resided in Dorchester since the 18th century, it was not until the second quarter of the 19th century that their numbers were sufficient to allow the construction of a church.

The first Baptist worship service in Dorchester was held on Ju1y 12,1835. The Baptist Society was organized in December, 1836 and the first meeting house was erected on Chickatawbut Street in the Neponset area in 1838. In 1907, the First Baptist Church moved to the corner of Adams and Ashmont Street. Later Baptist congregations in Dorchester include Stoughton Street Baptist (1845) at Uphams Comer, Bethany Baptist (1871) at West Cottage and Judson Street, The Blaney Memorial Baptist Church (1882) at Lower Mills and Emmanuel Baptist Church (1897) on Adams Street.

The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church’s purchase of the George D.Welles’ estate’s Lots 1,2 and 3 at the northeast corner of Washington Street and Welles Avenues, was recorded in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, Book 1901, Page 609 on October 5, 1889. The total cost of land and building was $40,000.00. Construction began in July, 1889 and the church’s corner stone was laid October 3,1889. Church membership numbered ninety-nine at the time of the laying of the cornerstone.

The architect of the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church was the prolific Boston architect Arthur H. Vinal. Born in Quincy in 1854, Vinal was initially employed by Peabody & Steams, one of Boston’s leading late 19th century architectural firms.

During his tenure as city architect he designed the Joshua Bates School, 725-731 Harrison Avenue in the South End, Minot School, Neponset Avenue, near Walnut Street in Dorchester and the Bowditch School, comer of Green and Cheshire Streets in West Roxbury. Perhaps his best known work, by virtue of its prominent location in the Back Bay, is the police and fire station building at Boylston and Hereford Streets. In 1886, he designed a two-story engine house at Saratoga Street near Byron Street in East Boston as well as the Medford Street School in Charlestown. The Metropolitan Water Works High Service Station at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir was one of his most important. commissions of the late 1880s. Vinal was also engaged in Boston theatre work, submitting designs for Washington Street theatres including the Pagoda and the Music Hall. Further afIeld, he designed opera houses for Augusta and Bangor, Maine. Boston philanthropist Robert B. Brigham was one Vinal’s most important patrons.  Vinal designed Brigham’s estate and a hospital named in his honor, now Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Additionally, Vinal designed the lodge at the base of the Bunker Hill monument.

Vinal’s work is also represented in numerous Boston area residences. During the 1880s, Vinal designed several Melville Avenue, Dorchester residences including his own home at 35 Melville Avenue (1882), a charming, picturesquely rendered Queen Anne residence. Additionally, his Dorchester work includes the W.F. Kakas residence at 40 Sawyer Avenue and a two-family residence at 341-343 Washington Street. During the 1890s, Vinal was responsible for three six-family residences at 382 to 388 Commonwealth Avenue as well as twenty Bay State Road row houses.

Undoubtedly Vinal’s reputation as an architect of handsome, upscale Dorchester residences aided his selection as the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church’s architect. Vinal’s Dorchester years were followed by a twenty-five year residency in Brookline and summers at Marble Head Neck. Arthur H. Vinal died in West Harpswell, Maine, August 25, 1923.

The Boylston Street Fire Station and the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church attest to Vinal’s unusual talents as both imitator and innovator in his approach to designing within the Richardsonian Romanesque and Shingle styles. Vinal was nearing the height of his career when he was awarded the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church contract in 1889.

The building permit application for the church was submitted on July 9,1889, and was granted on August 10. The church’s chapel (later the Sunday School) was completed for worship services in January, 1890. The auditorium or sanctuary was finished and formally dedicated on November 17, 1892 and the final inspection report for the building was recorded on December 12, 1892. The building inspection report describes the building as a single-story 48-foot high structure with references to a gallery level, an unpaved cellar and five wooden stairways.

The church’s Opus 334 organ was manufactured in 1893 especially for the church by George Sherburn Hutchings, one of the leading organ builders of his time. He had a reputation as a great case-maker and innovator within the realm of console improvements. Hutchings built organs for important Boston area institutions, including Symphony Hall, Arlington Street Church, St. Peter’s RC.Church (Bowdoin Street, Dorchester), First Unitarian Church (Meeting House Hill, Dorchester) and Mission Church (Mission Hill). 

The church’s long tradition of reaching out to the youth of the community began in 1897 when Dorchester Temple Baptist Church’s pastor, Rev. C.W. Chamberlain “realized that the young people of his church needed something to do in a collective way. This resulted in a branch Bible School at 165 Lauriat Avenue (now Woodrow Avenue).” Five years after its founding the school had an enrollment of 189.

Following the 1908 fire in Chelsea, many Canadians from Nova Scotia moved from Chelsea to Dorchester; the church membership doubled as some of them joined. Nova Scotians composed the majority of the church for fifty years. Under Dr. Otis Foye, the church reached its peak membership in 1928 with 1,131 members in the church and 1,032 students in the Sunday School. During the 1930s, membership was steady with the congregation encompassing skilled craftsmen, small business owners and sales people. The Church suffered considerable damage during the 1938 hurricane. The south gable’s stained glass window was destroyed when a large tree came through the window during the storm.

After World War II as Dorchester became increasingly Irish Catholic, many parishioners moved to the suburbs and the church’s attendance began to fall, a trend that continued into the early 1970s.

Organ chimes were installed in June 1950 as a memorial to the youth who died in World War II.

In 1954, the church purchased a Victorian house at 17 Ocean Street to be used as a parsonage at a cost of $14,500. In 1956, the basement was renovated and the youth room excavated and constructed. An author of a church publication entitled “A Celebration of New Beginnings” notes that “with the reintegration of the Boston public schools in the 1970s, whites again moved en masse to the suburbs, resulting in a further membership drop of over fifty percent.” Beginning with the leadership of interim pastor Dr. Joe O’Donnell and then Rev. Dan Buttry in 1978, attendance began to rise. After seeking support from key lay leaders such as Roy Mason and Hal Dutton, “the church began to welcome blacks and was virtually restarted through extensive contacts with neighborhood people and groups.”

By the 1980s, the demographics of the congregation began to reflect those of Dorchester with 12 different ethnic groups represented within the church’s membership. The “survivalist mentality” of the 1970s was superseded by a more hopeful outlook. By all accounts the church grew stronger and the worship service began to come alive as it expressed the racial/ethnic vitality in the congregation.

At the time of the church’s l00th Anniversary in 1986 the active membership had risen to 154, with most of the members in their twenties and thirties. Following, Rev. Dan Buttry’s resignation in 1987 a difficult seven year transition period ensued as the church searched for permanent leadership.

Since June,1993, Dorchester Temple Baptist Church has been under the co-pastoral leadership of Rev. Bruce Wall and Rev. Craig W. McMullen. Wall, a native of Roxbury, and McMullen, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, have worked successfully together to heal a community beset by urban problems. Rev. Wall fought the granting of liquor licenses, restored Sunday evening city bus service and labored to register voters. Rev. Wall has organized the Concerned Citizens of Roxbury and co-founded the “Drop-A- Dime” crime reporting organization. In September, 1994, Revs. Wall and McMullen led a sleep-in at Roberts Park, Dorchester, to fight drug traffic. They continue to offer a ministry of reconciliation between the racial and ethnic groups of the city as well as the Codman Square area of Dorchester. The membership currently embraces 140 active adult members and 160 children for a total of 300 parishioners.

During the 110 years since the church’s founding, Dorchester Temple has had sixteen pastors as well as a number of interim pastors. The longest pastorate was that of Dr. Otis W.Foye, from October, 1919 to October, 1940.

Many dedicated individuals have served the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church over time, including ministers, missionaries and lay men. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries members of the Church preached the gospel world-wide. Women have played an important role in realizing the mission of the church. During the 1890s Carrie Currant Murray was the first woman missionary to Alaska. Mrs.Mabel G. Oldfield was a missionary in Woochow, South China. Miss Emma Kelly had a notable ministry as pastor’s assistant for twenty-one years (1920-1941).

Herbert Flagg and Rev. F.R. Bruce represented the Baptist Church in Shanghai, China and Sanoway, Burma, respectively. Closer to home, Reverend and Mrs. L. Curtis Foye worked tirelessly for the Hull Street Medical Mission Dispensary in Boston. R.Dean Goodwin, pastor of the church from 1941 to 1944 later became Director of the Division of Communications of the American Baptist Convention. Archibald T. Davison, a member of the church in his youth was Harvard’s Musicologist and director of the university’s Glee Club for 45 years. Lifelong member Willard F. Rockwell was “one of the country’s industrial magnates” while Albert H. Curtis, a member of the church for sixty-one years, was President of the New England Baptist Hospital for 15 years and was active in its development for forty years. In recent years the music ministry under the leadership of Bil Mooney-McCoy has played a powerful role within the worship service.

Archaeological Significance

It is unlikely that any-prehistoric sites are located on the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church parcel. Given that most of the known prehistoric sites are concentrated near the Neponset River and that only a very small portion of the church parcel has not been impacted by construction, it is unlikely that any prehistoric survivals remain.

A moderate potential exists for the recovery of historical archaeological remains. The Dorchester Temple Baptist Church played an integral role in the development of the Codman Square/ Ashmont Hill community at the turn of the century. Built during a historically significant period, this parcel could contain archaeological survivals revealing evidence of the social, cultural, and economic development of the area.


Barrows, Samuel J. “Dorchester in the Last Hundred Years” in Justin Winsor’s Memorial History of         Boston. 1880-1881

Dorchester Tercentenary Committee. Dorchester Old and New 1630-1930. Chapple Publishing Co.          Ltd. 1930

Gottfried, Herbert and Jan Jennings, American Vernacular Interior Architecture,1870-1940. Van Nostrand-Rhinehold Co., 1988.

Harris, C.M, Historic Architecture Source Book. McGraw Hill, 1977

McAlester,Virginia & Lee, A Field Guide to American Houses.  Knopf, 1984

Ochse, Orpha The History of the Organ in the United States. The Globe Pequot Press, 1982.

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl H.H. Richardson Complete Architectural Works. The MIT Press, 1982

Orcutt,William Dana, Good Old Dorchester, Riverside Press, 1893.

Sammarco, Anthony M., Images of America: Dorchester, 1995

Scully,Vincent J. Jr. The Shingle Style and The Stick Style, Yale,1955.

Tucci, Douglas Shand, Church Building in Boston, Rumford Press, 1974

Whiffen, Marcus, American Architecture Since 1780. A Guide to the Styles.  The MIT Press, 1969.


The Dorchester Beacon: 6/12/1886, 10/16/1886, 1/7/1888, 11/21/1888, 7/21/1894, 12/22/1894


Boston Landmarks Commission: Ashmont Hill Area Description, by Robert Bell Rettig, 1972; Dorchester Cultural Resources Survey by Edward W. Gordon, 1994-1995.

Boston Public Library, Fine Arts Department: Architects File, obituary and references to the work of Arthur Vinal.

Dorchester Temple Baptist Church Archives: Anniversary Histories, Newspaper clippings, programs,etc.

Historic Boston, Inc. Religious Properties, A Boston Casebook, 1991

Mills, Don, Rehabilitation Assessment for the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, 15 July 1996

Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities Archives, Dorchester Post Card and Photo Files.

Suffolk County Registry of Deeds: vol. 1894, p. 402, date: 1889; vol. 1901, p.609, 1889

Wentworth Institute of Technology, Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, prepared by Tina Crochet’s Interior Design Students, 1996


Verbal Boundary Description

The boundaries of the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church run east from Washington Street along the side lot line shared with the commercial property numbered 668 Washington Street. The eastern boundary runs along the side lot line shared with the residential property numbered      Welles Avenue. This property’s southern lot line borders Welles Avenue, while its western boundary runs along Washington Street.

Verbal Boundary Justification The boundaries as nominated are the current and historic boundaries of the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, since its const


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April 9, 2020