No. 12244 James Blake House, June 25, 2011
National Register listing for the James Blake House, prepared in 1972
James Blake House, Built about 1650
Report prepared in 1972
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination 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]
The James Blake House is situated at the approximate center of Richardson Park and is bounded on the N by Columbia Road, the SW by East Cottage Street and the NE by Pond Street.
The building is a two-story, wood-frame, gable-roof house. It has a rectangular plan (38 feet by 20 feet) facing NE (to Pond Street), five bays wide by one bay deep. There is a central brick chimney projecting through the slate roof at the ridge (the slate having replaced wood shingles sometime after 1941). The eave and raking trim consist of a frieze and wood gutters. All elevations are covered with wood shingles. The windows are lead-set, diamond-pane casements with moulded trim and slipsills. The main NE elevation has a single central door with moulded trim above the railed platform. The rear SW elevation has a single door set left of center. The building stands on a stone-block foundation.
Sometime prior to 1747 a one-story, shed roof wing was added to what is now the SE elevation. Later (but prior to 1772) a similar wing was added to the NW elevation. The house also had two dormers on the NW elevation that were removed sometime after 1750.
Both the first and second floor interior plans consist of a single large room set to either side of the central chimney and a small room situated beyond its SW face. The central hall contains an enclosed wood stair butting against the NE face of the chimney and running from cellar to attic. The first floor is of modern hardwood while the second floor is of random width wood-plank. The doors vary throughout, some being paneled, some being of board and batten construction. The walls are finished with painted plaster except for the fireplace walls covered with painted vertical wood wainscoting. The ceiling of the first floor has exposed joists, that of the second floor is finished with plaster. The main framing timbers are exposed throughout the house and are finished with fine chamfering. The NW attic gable contains a large remnant of what is believed to be original 17th century plaster.
In 1895 the house was moved approximately one-quarter mile east to its present location. The 1895 restoration removed the two wings, replaced the then existing sash windows with the present casements and clapboarding with wood shingles.
The James Blake House is a fine example of 17th Century domestic architecture. Its traditional construction date of 1650 is supported by a study of the framing and joining. This date suggests that it is one of the few surviving houses in New England to have been built by immigrant carpenters. The exceptionally heavy timbers in the frame indicate that its builder was from the west of England.
The first occupant of the house was James Blake who married in 1651 Elizabeth Clap, daughter of Deacon Edward Clap and niece of Roger Clap. It has been suggested that this house was built in anticipation of this marriage. James Blake, active in public affairs, was among others a selectman, deputy to the General Court, and chosen Deacon of the Church. His descendants continued to live in the dwelling until 1825. After this time a variety of owners occupied the house until 1895 when the City of Boston acquired the property. At first the City planned to demolish the building but when the Dorchester Historical Society offered to move and preserve the house it was given to them along with the right to relocate it at Richardson Park. This was one of the earliest instances of a house being moved solely for the purpose of historic preservation.
Orcutt, William D. Good Old Dorchester (3rd ed.) (The Plimpton Press, 1916)
Stark, James H. The History of the Old Blake House (Boston, 1907)
Blake, Samuel. Blake Family: A Genealogical History of William Blake of Dorchester and His Descendants. (Boston, 1857)
The Records of the City of Boston (1895), stored at the Boston Public Library.
The following is from the Dorchester Historical Society
James Blake House Architectural Description
The James Blake House is a two-story, center chimney, gable-roof building of timber-frame construction. It has a rectangular plan, three bays wide and one bay deep, and measures 38 by 20 feet.
illus 1720 Illustration from Abbot Lowell Cummings. The Framed Houses of the Massachusetts Bay.1979. Dotted lines show former gable.
Built in 1661, it is one of a small number of post-Medieval timber-frame houses that survive in New England and one of only a few with West Country framing, that is, representative of the western English counties of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the City and County of Bristol. Most other buildings in Dorchester and in New England were built by housewrights from the south and east of England. (An example is the Pierce House on Oakton Avenue in Dorchester). West Country homes were known for using heavier timber in the framing, which is evident in the Blake House.
The James Blake House History
illus 6904 Probable appearance of the Blake House when it was first built (illustration drawn by John Goff).
The James Blake House is the oldest house in the City of Boston. It sits at 735 Columbia Road, about 400 yards from its original location on East Cottage Street, built near a spring and tributary of Mill Creek. The house was located west of Five Corners (now Edward Everett Square), not far from the First Meeting House at Pond and Cottage Streets. The Blake family’s land was adjacent to Clap family land.
The first occupants of the house were James and Elizabeth (Clap) Blake. James was born in Pitminster (Somerset), England, in 1624, and he emigrated with his parents the 1630s after the first wave of settlers had founded the town in 1630. James Blake was very involved in the growing community of Dorchester, as a deacon and elder, constable, selectman and deputy to the General Court. His wife, Elizabeth, was a niece of original settler Roger Clap and daughter of Edward Clapp, who came from England in 1635. Hers was one of the earliest recorded births, about 1632, in the newly established Puritan Society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
For a long time it was thought that the Blake house was built for the anticipated wedding of Elizabeth and James in 1651, but dendro-chronology shows the date of construction as 1661. The house was built for a growing family 10 years later. The Blake House became the focal point of a successful 91-acre estate, including a 10-acre home farm with at least two outbuildings, as well as orchards and gardens.
Through marriage, James became aligned with family from the English West Country. They were from a farming culture, involved with dairy products like milk and butter, growing grains and setting up grist mills, orchards for apples and cider, sheep for wool and livestock for food. The tanning business they established on Willow Court, a street near the South Bay that is now mostly renamed Enterprise Street, also depended on the rearing of animals by the Blakes and many other families.
illus 8232 Division plan from 1748 shows the first-known illustration of the Blake House.
In 1700 the house passed to James and Elizabeth’s son John, who bequeathed it in 1718 to his two sons, John and Josiah, who lived in opposite sides of the house. In 1748 the estate was subdivided legally. For more than a century after the split, the house was separated into east and west halves and lived in by two different Blake families. In 1772, one half was sold out of the Blake Family to a neighboring Clap. In 1825, Eunice and Caleb (Clapp) Williams bought the west half of the house from Rachel Blake, the last surviving Blake heir. Their sons Caleb and Charles inherited the west half in 1827 at the death of their mother and the east half in 1829 by a bequest in the will of John Hawes to their mother, already deceased. The house was united once again.
illus 6907 inventory of James Blake’s estate
illus 5497 Blake House in original location, somewhere in the parking lot of the energy company on Massachusetts Avenue across from the Dorchester Brewing Company, the parking lot is currently owned by the company Eversource.