Roswell Gleason (1799-1887) came to Dorchester as a junior tinsmith and later took over the business where he was employed. By the mid-19thcentury had earned a fortune in the manufacture of pewter and silver-plated objects for home use–candlesticks, lamps and table-ware. He married Rebecca Vose, from a wealthy Dorchester/Milton family, and they built a mansion in Gothic Revival style at the corner of Park and Washington Street adjacent to their business.
Built in 1837, the Roswell Gleason House, named Lilacs, stood at corner of Washington and Park Streets. The house was one of the finest examples of the transition from Greek to Gothic Revival domestic architecture in the Boston area. The form of the house was characteristic of Greek Revival standards, but the decorative elements were part of the late Gothic style. The two-bay entrance contained a portico of gothic spirelets and floor-length lancet-shaped sidelight windows. There was a two-story, three-bay porch composed of arcaded, pointed arches supported by clustered columns with annulets below the capitals and scroll-carved decoration in the spandrels. The interior of the house was decorated in Empire style.
Prior to the fire that consumed the house, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acquired rooms from the house that are now installed in the American Wing.
In the 1890s when the estate was passed on and the subdivision of the property occurred, Claybourne Street (originally Ridge Road) was constructed, and the Gleason House was turned around to face east, later becoming 101 Claybourne Street. Two rooms from the house were donated to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts prior to demolition of the building in 1983, and the museum has installed the Gleason rooms in their newest wing for the Art of the Americas.
Roswell Gleason, 1799-1887
From American Series of Popular Biographies. Massachusetts Edition. This Volume Contains Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston: Graves & Steinbarger, 1891.
ROSWELL GLEASON, who introduced the art of silver-plating in America, was born in Putney, Vt., April 6, 1799, son of Reuben and Sally (Fuller) Gleason. Settling in Dorchester, Mass., in 1818, he associated himself with a Mr. Wilcox in the tinware trade; and on the death of his partner in 1830 he became sole proprietor of the business. His attention was subsequently diverted to the manufacture of Britannia ware and brass lamp fixtures, which soon became one of the chief industries of Dorchester; and at one time he employed a force of one hundred and twenty-five men. In 1849 he still further increased his business by introducing to the American people the art of silver-plating, thereby placing upon the market a new article of commerce known as plated ware, which immediately sprang into favor among those of moderate means; and he was therefore the pioneer in a business that now constitutes an important branch of the silverware trade. His two sons, on attaining their majority, were each admitted into the partnership, and the business was continued until 1871, when, both sons having died, he closed up his affairs and retired.
For many years he was one of the most prominent as well as popular residents of Dorchester, serving as Captain of the Dorchester Rifle Company. Politically, he was a Democrat. His death occurred, January 27, 1887.
In 1822 Mr. Gleason married Miss Rebecca T. Vose, daughter of Reuben and Polly (Willis) Vose, of Milton, Mass. She died June 22, 1891, aged eighty-six years. They were the parents of four children, of whom three — Mary Frances, Roswell, and Edward — lived to maturity. Roswell, who was born in 1826, died unmarried in July, 1866. Edward, whose birth took place in 1829, married majority, were each admitted to partnership; and the business was continued until 1871, when, both sons having died, he closed up his affairs and retired. For many years he was one of the most prominent as well as popular residents of Dorchester, serving as Captain of the Dorchester Rifle Company. Politically, he was a Democrat. His death occurred, January 27, 1887.
Augusta M. Depew, of Peekskill, N.Y., and at his death left a daughter, Edwardina Augusta Gleason. Mary Frances Gleason, who was born in 1825, married in 1848 one of the founders of Tonawanda, N.Y., William Vandervoort.
The following is from The Rich Men of Massachusetts: Containing a Statement of the Reputed Wealth of about Fifteen Hundred Persons, with Brief Sketches of More than One Thousand Characters. By A. Forbes and J.W. Greene. Boston: Published by W.V. Spencer, 1851.
Came to Dorchester from the country a poor boy. Commenced business without any other capital than a determination to do something and be somebody. Went to work; and all the noise he made was in his tinshop, where there was an incessant din, from day-light in the morning to a late hour of the night. He succeeded. Such a man must succeed; and it was but a short time before there might daily be seen an army of honest tin-pedlers departing from his factory to furnish the “real tin,” and to bring back in return “rags” and the “pewter.” He gives employment to a large number of laborers and gives support to many poor persons; is a bank director, enjoys the confidence of community, and is highly respected as a citizen.