Mount Bowdoin

[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]

Mount Bowdoin is situated near the center of Dorchester and is bounded by Washington, Bowdoin and Eldon Streets and Geneva Avenue. For the purposes of this Area Form, the boundaries have been drawn to include intact housing stock dating from the 1840’s -1920.This area includes properties on either side of Bowdoin Ave ( including Mt. Bowdoin Green) between Eldon and Rosseter Streets the.south side of Eldon Street between Washington Street and Mt. Bowdoin Terrace (including 194 Washington Street), the west side of Mount Bowdoin Terrace, up to and including #9, Nottingham Street between Bowdoin Ave. and #17 Nottingham Street as well as the apartments at 166/164 Rosseter Street (also #96 Bowdoin Ave.) This area also encompasses Mallon Road between #’s 28 and 42.

This area’s most compelling landscape feature is the oval park containing 25,170 square feet at the apex of the hill known as Mt. Bowdoin. This green space is surrounded by single and multi family residences which, despite alterations to fabric in some cases, still conveys a sense of the upscale residential community that developed here during the second half of the 19th century. Bowdoin Avenue is the main focus of architectural interest. The earliest extant housing is clustered near the center of this thoroughfare,on the south west slope of this hill and includesthe double wood frame Italianate dwelling at 41/43 Bowdoin Avenue which dates to the 1840’s. This house appears to have started out as a 5-bay x 2-bay center hall plan house that had an additional bay added to its north side at an undetermined date. Although covered with vinyl siding and missing apedimented dormer, it retains its original Doric pilasters on either side of the center entrance as well as an Italianate door hcod with heavy pendant brackets which may have been added a decade or so after its construction. A few doors to the south is another pre 1850 double house at 51/53 Bowdoin Ave., which is of a cottage- scale and like 41’43 stands with its long, six bay main facade facing the street, its 2-bay end wall gable facing north-south. Paired center entrances open on to a a late 19th century porch with simple posts and turned balusters. Although covered with vinyl siding, this house retains its original T-shaped form and above all, the wavy Carpenter Gothic barge boarding on as pair of gable roofed dormers. Also dating to c.1840-50 is the Italianate cottage at 35 Bowdoin Ave. which has been altered by the addition of a one story, full length enclosed front porch.

House construction activity seems to have been quite limited on Mt Bowdoin until its reactivation during the mid 1870s as the result of transportation developments such as the coming of the New York and New England Railroad in 1872 on the northern edge of this area. Houses which may have been built with the early N.Y. & N.E. commuters in mind includes Stick Style / Queen Anne houses at 39 Eldon Street and 9 Mt. Bowdoin Terrace. The former, is a 2.5 story clapboard clad house with intersecting gables and a recessed corner front porch noteworthy for its segmental arches. The latter house celebrates the turned wood work and Fastlakian elements popular during the 1870s and early 1880s. Particularly noteworthy at #9 Mt. Bowdoin Terrace is the small, covered balcony with turned posts projecting from the main facade’s gable. Dating to1874, 7 Bowdoin Avenue is an Italianate vernacular wood frame house with a later encircling Tuscan columned verandah. This house is noteworthy for its unusually extensive rear ell, gable roof with paired brackets at the eaves and a surviving component of the original back yard stable. 49 Bowdoin Avenue was evidently built during the mid 1880s and represents a retardataire example of an Italianate/Mansard cottage. It retains its original slate shingle roof.

Representing relatively rare survivors from Mt Bowdoin’s late 19th century flowering as a center for stylish and substantial Queen Anne residences are 6 and 8 Bowdoin Avenue. #6 was built c.1890 and features rustic rock faced first floor surface treatments, including substantial stone piers at the front porch as well as wood shingle covered upper floors and a massive hip roof which shelters its irregular form. #8 Bowdoin Avenue is an imposing, c.1880 brick and wood frame residence built for the prominent Hazard Stevens family. Known in its prime as “Crest Lawn”, and designed by E.A.P. Newcomb, this house over looks Mt. Bowdoin Green and is characterized by unusually high brick first floor walls with wooden upper floors. Although this house has been altered l synthetic surface treatments, it retains its original irregular form, well crafted chimney with ornamental brick work treatments, bold curvilinear wooden roof brackets and distinctive and complex hip and gable roof configuration. Other substantial houses dating from c.1890 include the towered Queen Anne Fitton House at 16 Bowdoin Ave. (overlooking the green) and the very intact Shingle Style Lenihan House at 19 Bowdoin Ave. with its rustic stone and boulder first floor and wood shingle covered upper floors all of which lends considerable interest to the immediate streetscape.

Sadly, the Samuel J.F. Thayer -designed Mary F. Mallon mansion is no longer extant. Built in 1880, it stood at the corner of what is now Bowdoin Ave and Mallon Road. The editor of American Architect and Building News thought highly enough of the Mallon mansion’s design to include a photograph of it in their April 2,1892 edition. Currently occupying the former Mallon property are four 3-story,6-family apartments numbered 20,24,28 and 32 Bowdoin Avenue. Although not in the same sophisticated design league as the Mallon mansion, these wood frame apartments, with the repetition of their distinctive, boxy flat roofed forms and handsome Colonial Revival detailing, nevertheless provide a charming backdrop for Mt. Bowdoin Green. These apartments were built in 1927 from designs provided by Eisenberg and Feer.

Here and there in this area, well preserved middle class residences blending irregular Queen Anne form with Colonial Revival detailing survive to provide testament to the considerable house construction activity on Mt. Bowdoin during the early 1890’s. At 59 Bowdoin Avenue, a Colonial Revival porch with Tuscan columns and high relief plaster swag detail projects from a main block that is enlivened by the use of diamond-shaped shingles. #61 Bowdoin Avenue is noteworthy for its bowed and towered main facade which stands adjacent to an open, pedimented Colonial Revival porch. The main facade’s gable exhibits a trio of attic windows arranged in an unusual stepped configuration. Virtually the entire eastern side of Nottingham Street from Bowdoin Avenue to 17 Nottingham St. is of interest for its progression of relatively substantial Queen Anne/Colonial Revival houses dating from the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Before this noteworthy streetscape comes to an abrupt halt at a large vacant lot , it culminates in the very intact Colonial Revival #17 Nottingham Street which was built in 1895 from designs provided by Charles E. Park. Here, the boxyness of its wood shingle covered form is relieved by a handsome, open Tuscan columned, pedimented front porch and bowed bay on its southeastern wall. Its hip roof with exposed rafters hints at the Craftsman style that would be so popular a decade later. Perhaps the finest example of the Colonial Revival Style on Mt. Bowdoin is #62 Bowdoin Avenue. This boxy, 2-story, hip roofed house retains its original clapboard sheathing as well as Corinthian columned, plaster swag-ornamented front porch, cornice headed lintels, modillion block cornice and pedimented center gable with well detailed Palladian window. Brief mention should be made of the felicitous design contribution to the district made by the solid, well-designed c.1910’s Colonial Revival and Craftsman houses of Mallon Road between Bowdoin Ave. and Mt. Bowdoin Terrace.

Two noteworthy masonry apartments dating to the first quarter of the 20th century are encompassed within this area including the yellow brick, Georgian Revival 3- story apartment building at 96 Bowdoin Avenue and 164/166 Rosseter St.. Situated on the site of the 18th century Governor James Bowdoin mansion, the present apartment complex follows the curve of Rosseter Street as it meets Bowdoin Ave. It acts as a “wall”, defining the southern edge of the district, screening it from the view of vacant lots and drastically altered structures bordering Bowdoin and Washington Streets (known historically as the Four Corners). A second noteworthy masonry apartment is the U-shaped, 3-story apartment at 15/15A Bowdoin Ave. This well-cared for Renaissance Revival red brick structure, with its recessed court yard, provides a dignified back drop for the western side of Mt. Bowdoin Green.

Mount Bowdoin was named for James Bowdoin, the Revolutionary War patriot and governor of Massachusetts during the late 1780’s.As early as the mid 18th century, Governor Bowdoin summered on Dorchester’s Mt. Bowdoin or Bowdoin Hill as it was originally known. He was undoubtedly attracted to the panoramic views of the harbor and Blue Hills visible from atop the hill that would be named in his honor.The Bowdoin House was located on the crest of a secondary hill projecting from the lower southern slopes of Mt. Bowdoin. In fact, Bowdoin Avenue started out as a two-pronged driveway leading up the hill from Four Corners (Bowdoin, Washington, Harvard Streets intersection) to the Bowdoin house.The western “arm” of this driveway continued northward past Bowdoin’s residence and over the Mount’s upland pasture.This road represents present day Bowdoin Avenue. The eastern “arm” of Bowdoin Avenue ran directly past the governor’s house and was renamed Rosseter Street during the late 19th century. Although the Bowdoin house is said to have survived until the Civil War, Boston and Dorchester atlases suggest that it was still standing as late as 1910 under the ownership of the Richard Robinson, James J. Costello and Walter F. Keen families. The site of the old Bowdoin house is currently occupied by the yellow brick Georgian Revival apartment building erected in 1915. In 1836, the Bowdoin estate on Mt. Bowdoin was subdivided into 90 house lots. Cornelius Coolidge was responsible for this plan while the surveyor was Thomas M. Moseley. Coolidge is perhaps best known as the architect of numerous Beacon Hill town houses dating from the 1820’s and 30’s. He was responsible for the charming row of red brick houses bordering the south side of Acorn Street as well as the Parkman House on Beacon Street near the State House. Coolidge may have been thinking of the Tontine Crescent or Louisburg Square (then in the early stages of its development) when he set out the oval park at the top of the hill henceforth known as Mt. Bowdoin Green. The 1836 plan shows a small structure labeled “observatory” near the center of Mt. Bowdoin Green, although no description of this

The Hazard house was called “Crestlawn”. It was designed by E. A. P. Newcomb architect of mansion scale houses on Melville Avenue, Dorchester as well as the three turreted, 700 foot long Lowell R.R station (1871-78) on Causeway Street, now the location of North Station in Boston.Another Hazard House (owned by a D. L. Hazard) survives at 39 Eldon Street. Built c.1875-80, this well preserved Stick / Queen Anne house retains its original form, materials and elements. By the mid 1890’s Mary F. Mallon owned this house. Later owners included Marcella E. Hicks (1910’s), and Charles Julian, meat cutter, during the 1930’s. Around the corner from 39 Eldon Streetat 9 Mt. Bowdoin Terrace, is another survivor from the early days of commuter rail accessibility. It was built c. early 1870’s for a James A. Flinn (occupation?) while its second owner, William H. Gallison commuted to a job with a steam and gas pipe manufacturing company at 36 Oliver Street. Later owners included Thornton F. Stone, book keeper (1910’s and 20’s), John B. Loring, lawyer and insurance agent (1930’s) and Phillip Carey, U.S. Army (1940’s). Other substantial residences blending wood and masonry materials is the Shingle/Queen Anne house at 6 Bowdoin Avenue (c.1890) and the Shingle Style house at 19 Bowdoin Avenue. The latter house was built on a Bellamy – owned lot c.1890 and its first owners were Mary and Charles Lennihan. Mr. Lennihan evidently made a comfortable living as a plumber with Henry Hussey and Co. (71 Kingston Street in downtown Boston) judging by the high quality craftsmanship of the wood shingle sheathing and expert placement of the rock and boulder covered first floor. Indeed, #19 Bowdoin Avenue is perhaps the best preserved of the extant substantial late 19th century housing within this area.

Taking up where Cornelius Coolidge and Thomas Mosely left off in 1836 with the laying out of Bowdoin Avenue, the remaining streets of Mt. Bowdoin were set out between 1880 and 1900, including Eldon Street (early 1880’s) the northern half of Rosseter Street (1882), Nottingham St. (1891-97) and Bullard Street (by 1898).

Good examples of sizeable, intact Queen Anne/Colonial Revival housing dating from the early 1890’s on Mt. Bowdoin include 59 Bowdoin Avenue, built in 1893 for John P. Dinand by S.H. Johnson, builder, and 61 Bowdoin Ave, also dating from the early 1890’s and built for a member of the Dinand family. Across the street at #62 Bowdoin Avenue is a house whose form and details attest to Georgian Revival influences. This house was built c.1890, on land owned by the heirs of an Edward A. Dexter during the 1870’s and 80’s. Its first owner was a Martha M. Keyser. By the 1910’s, Charles J. Leonard, Superintendent of the Fields Corner R. R. Station lived here. Nottingham Street, forming the eastern edge of this area possesses a solid, well crafted collection of more or less intact Queen Anne and / or Colonial Revival residences, perhaps most notably 17 Nottingham which was built in 1895-96 for a Miss Mary A. Suffa from designs supplied by Charles E. Park. Mr. Park was active in Boston architectural circles between 1890 and 1905. Examples of his more urban residential work is located in Boston’s St. Botolph district. He was also responsible for the Canterbury Hotel and the Broad Exchange Building on Franklin Street, Boston (1903).

One indication of the growth of Mt. Bowdoin during the 1890’s was the construction of the Mt. Bowdoin Reading Room Building, which housed a branch of the Boston Public Library. Built c.1897 and still extant in relatively good condition at 194 Washington Street, this Queen Anne brick and wood frame structure was designed by the important Dorchester architect Edwin J. Lewis Jr. Mr. Lewis was responsible for numerous substantial residences on Ashmont Hill as well as other upscale Dorchester neighborhoods. Perhaps his best known Dorchester building are the Peabody apartments at Peabody Square, built in 1896-97, in other words a contemporary of the Mt. Bowdoin Library. By the late 1920’s the Mt. Bowdoin Library building was evidently completely occupied for commercial purposes including Louis Scherer, baker and Thomas C. Lewis, engraver (1928 -c.1940).

[missing text] structure has surfaced in the course of this research. Evidently, the sale of lots atop Mt. Bowdoin was initially slow but this was also the case with the sale of lots in developments in Boston suburbs such as Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. The financial ‘panic” of 1837 undoubtedly hindered prospective homeowners’ ability to secure mortgages. Mt. Bowdoin figured prominently in the celebration of Dorchester’s 225th anniversary of settlement on July 4,1855.Salutes of cannon were fired at sunrise,noon and sunset by the Boston Light Artillery from Mt. Bowdoin and Commercial Point. Dorchester native and U.S. Congressman Edward Everett was the guest of honor at these festivities.

Early development (1840-1875) on Mt. Bowdoin is associated with at least two carpenter/developers: Robert M. Lapham, active in Dorchester building trades between the 1840’s and as late as the 1890’s and William Hunt. The latter was busily constructing residences along the western side of Bowdoin Ave and eastern side of Washington Street during the 1870’s. Still extant from the earliest phase of development are dwellings on the southwestern side of Bowdoin Avenue midway between the top of the hill and the site of the Bowdoin house. #41/43 Bowdoin Ave. is a 2-story Greek Revival/Italianate house whose lot was sold by James Weld of Dorchester to Robert M. Lapham, carpenter on November 2, 1843, suggesting that this house was built in the spring/summer of 1844. Norfolk deeds Book 144, Page 24). Other buildings of similar vintage probably built by Robert Lapham include the Carpenter Gothic cottage at 51/53 Bowdoin Avenue and the Italianate cottage at 35 Bowdoin Avenue. During the 1870’s and 80’s Samuel S. Spear owned #51/53 (no occupation listed). It was owned but not occupied by Albert AS. Chittendon, collector from the 1890’s -1920’s.

After the Civil War, house construction activity on Mount Bowdoin accelerated as the result of the coming of the New York and New England Railroad. The Mt. Bowdoin Railroad station was located at the northwestern edge of this area,opposite the intersection of Washington Street and Eldon Street.

The introduction of commuter rail to the area evidently set the stage for local carpenter William Hunt to purchase house lots bordering Washington St. and Bowdoin Avenue. In 1874, Hunt built the substantial Italianate house at #7 Bowdoin Ave. for himself and his family. In 1868, he was listed as living on Washington Street “near the depot”. Hunt’s heirs owned 7 Bowdoin Avenue until c.1890, passing to J. Annie Bense around 1900 and remaining in her family until carpenter Harry A. Kleberg purchased this property during the early 1940’s. Hunt is said to have built four other houses on Bowdoin Avenue, further research is needed to identify these residences.

Mt. Bowdoin’s early houses tended to be of modest, cottage scale. During the 1880’s and 90’s more substantial residences were built in this area. Unfortunately the most substantial of all, the c.1880 Mary F. Mallon mansion was taken down in the 1920’s to accommodate four 6-family apartments (see below for more on these apartments). William Bellamy and General Hazard Stevens are credited with building the first two “modern” houses on ML Bowdoin, meaning that these houses had plumbing and gas light. Although the Bellamy House is located outside the boundaries of this survey area, the c.1880 General Hazard Stevens house is still extant at # 8 Bowdoin Avenue. Overlooking the north side of Mt. Bowdoin Green, this Queen Anne house has been altered by the application of vinyl siding and modern shingles, although it does retain extensive sections of well crafted brickwork.

During the 1910s and 20s, masonry apartments were built here and there on Mt. Bowdoin, but never in significant numbers. The earliest apartment complex built in this area is 96 Bowdoin Avenue164-166 Rosseter Street. Built in 1915 from designs provided by Samuel S. Levy (active c.1905-19301. this yellow brick Georgian Revival apartment building stands on the site of the old Governor James Bowdoin house. Its original owner was the Modern Building Co./Benjamin Chertook, lawyer, 73 Tremont Street . He was also an early resident of this building. A sampling of renters living here during the 1930’s includes Samuel Cerier, owner of Cerier’s Lunch, 2 Bowdoin Street; Joseph Handelmann, employee of the Superior Tea Co. and Allen Hurwith, tailor.

Facing Mt. Bowdoin Green on the west side of Bowdoin Avenue, the U-shaped apartment at 15/15A

Bowdoin Avenue was built c.1919-27. A sampling of tenants living here in 1935 reveals a high percentage of Jewish residents living in the area by that time , including: Louis Abelman of M. Abelman and Son store fixtures, Jacob P. Strachman, optician, Morris Segal, salesman, Morris Landfeld, builder, and Donald Stahl, lawyer.

Directly across the green from this apartment are four, 6 family wood frame apartments numbered

20,24,28 and 32 Bowdoin Avenue. These Colonial Revival, 3-story multi family structures were built in 1927 from designs provided by Boston architects Eisenberg and Feer. These apartments stand on the site of the c.1880 Mallon estate. Among the tenants living here in 1935 include Phillip F. Baggish,employee of the Steam Division of the FFI Co., Timothy A. Daly, carpenter, Isadore Menzer, produce, David Goldstein, sales manager and Jacob Leppo of the Leppo Mfg. Co, upholsterers.

The Mt. Bowdoin area suffered a reversal of fortune during the 1950s-70s, but during the 1980s , the Mt. Bowdoin/Glenway Neighborhood Housing Services loaned over one million dollars to local homeowners for home improvements. Through its programs, the group has fixed up vacant and substandard housing in the area. Joel Scwartz, director of Mt. Bowdoin/Glenway Neighborhood Housing Services, along with Helen Homer, a longtime resident and advocate for Mt. Bowdoin and John Cleckley, a developer and resident have saved architecturally -significant structures while acting as a conduit for neighborhood investment. Although the investment of funds in inner -city neighborhoods has not been a common occurrence in recent years, there is still much work to be done by way of securing vacant buildings, preserving historic fabric and constructing new housing on vacant lots that would complement existing housing in terms of form, materials and elements.



Posted on

June 18, 2022

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