Image: No. 10081 Real-photo postcard, The Peabody, Ashmont, Mass.
Report prepared 2001.
[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 Peabody, a 3 1/2-story apartment building built in 1896-1897, is an early example of the open-courtyard, brick, Tudoresque apartment house which became pervasive in the early 20th-century. Designed by prominent local architect, Edwin J. Lewis, Jr., a resident of Ashmont, it is grandly executed in style and material to suggest the form of an English manor house organized around a small, raised, landscaped courtyard partially screened from Ashmont Street by a low brick wall.
The building fronts Peabody Square, the intersection of Dorchester and Talbot Avenues with Ashmont Street in the south-central Ashmont section of Dorchester, a streetcar suburb of upscale, late 19th/early 20th century residences. The square itself, centered by the small, triangular – Peabody Park, boasts high-quality commercial, ecclesiastical, municipal and residential buildings, including the red-brick and shingle, Queen Anne O’Brien’s Market building (1884, 1911-13 Dorchester Avenue), the complementary, brick and shingle Hotel Argyle with red brick stable (1888/92, 174 Ashmont Street), the Ashmont Block (1892, 164 Ashmont Street), the Renaissance Revival, yellow brick Ashmont Fire Station (1895, 1890 Dorchester Avenue) and the gray, ashlar granite, modern Gothic All Saints’ Episcopal Church (1891/94, 211 Ashmont Street, NRIND 1990), an early masterpiece of Ralph Adams Cram and Bernard Grosvenor Goodhue.
Form, design and finishes assimilate The Peabody to its setting in the high-style neighborhood. The building provided an early acceptable solution to the intense demand for apartment housing, even among the upper middle class during the intense urbanization of the late 19th century. The Peabody was considered sufficiently elegant to be immediately included as an address in Clark’s Boston Blue Book, a directory of Boston’s social elite. Its accommodation of professional office space at street level addresses the commercial focus of Peabody Square.
Located on the south side of Ashmont Street between Dorchester Avenue and Bushnell Street, the Peabody nearly covers its entire lot. The 3 ½ story apartment building rises from a cut-stone foundation to dark brick walls set in Flemish bond above grade. A combination of variegated, deep-red stretchers and burnt-black headers moderates the contrast between the dark gay granite of All Saints’ Church and. the bright red-brick of the market building and the hotel on the other side of the square. The form of the Peabody consists of four adjoining but not interconnected sections separated by a fire wall. The sections, originally comprised of one apartment per floor, are combined at their narrow ends to form a U-shaped apartment building around a small, picturesque courtyard (see attached floor plan). This configuration allows maximum light and ventilation for each flat. Sections A and D which form the wings of the U are identical in elevation and originally had the same floor plan. Sections C and D differ in both elevation and floor plan. The raised courtyard is accessed by granite steps and is screened by a low stone wall surmounted by a wrought-iron fence. Originally twice as high, the brick wall formerly boasted taller sections at the stairway which supported a decorative arch holding a lantern. This decoration has been replaced by a simple bar suspended between the gable-roof porches to support an arched metal sign identifying the property as “The Peabody.” The courtyard itself is almost entirely paved with asphalt, but includes decoratively landscaped planting areas along the foundation. A low brick wall extends between the closed brick rails of the interior corner entry porches. Extending as a retaining wall below grade, it creates a well for basement windows.
Although all elevations are irregular, massing and composition present an image of symmetry. Wall detail on all building sections includes: 1- and 2-bay wide, gable-roofed, wall-dormered areas on each elevation; a 3-story, angled bay centered by a chimney on the west elevation of section C; wide string course above the first floor and variously between the second and third stories, and doubled corbelled arches over stair hall windows. The complex, slate-tiled roof – combining hipped sections with cross gables is interrupted by gable-roofed, half-timbered dormers and massive, tall, corbelled, Jacobean chimney stacks with decorative brickwork. Gables have shaped parapets with limestone caps, while projecting eaves present exposed rafters. Garden entries of heavy, paneled wooden doors with multi-paned lights are located at the interior corners of the courtyard and a cross gable near the north end of the interior elevations of Sections A and D. Corner entries (accessing Sections B and C) are sheltered by the hip-roofed, half-timbered porches with closed, brick rails. Other courtyard entries (admission to Sections A and D) have gable-roofed porches. Recessed office entrances front Ashmont Street.
Fenestration on all elevations principally consists of 4/1, double-hung sash grouped in paired and tripart formation; some 1/1, 6/1 double-hung sash as well as casement windows also exist. Most windows are surmounted by flat arches with radiating voussoirs and are trimmed with limestone sills. Casement windows illuminate stair halls and some closet areas. Originally fitted with leaded glass, many have now been replaced with single-paned lights. Except for the northernmost bay near Ashmont Street, courtyard windows of Sections A and D are shortened.
Identical Sections A and D form the sides of the U-shaped plan. Their north (Ashmont Street) elevations have 2 bays: tripart windows occupy each level of the projecting, 3 1/2-story, gable-roofed bays. The interior bay on the main plane incorporates 1-story, shed-roofed sections that house office entries recessed behind segmental-arched openings as well as small, double-leafed casement windows for the waiting room. Second and third levels in the interior bay respectively have paired and single windows.
The asymmetrical, 8-bay, east (Bushnell Street) elevation of the Peabody consists of the east longitudinal side of Section A and the east short side of Section B. Paired windows occupy each bay except for the single window in the first floor, northernmost bay (office), tiny casement windows in the fourth bay from the south corner (closets), and tripart windows in the first bay (parlors Section B) and third bay (dining rooms section A) from the south end and on the first floor in the second bay (parlor) from the northeast corner. The six northern bays on the west (Dorchester Avenue) elevation of Section D are identical to the corresponding bays on the east elevation (Bushnell Street) of Section A. A projecting section at the south end of the Dorchester Avenue elevation represents the west elevation of Section C. It includes an angled bay centered by a chimney (parlor Section C) and flat bays with single windows (bedroom Section C) in both the west and north walls.
The 8-bay, rear (south) elevation (Sections B and C) is also irregular with small, single windows illuminating the central, gabled section (adjacent rear stair halls for each section separated by a fire wall). Shortened, tripart windows (kitchens Sections B and C) occupy the bays on ether side of the gabled section. Full-size tripart windows define the second bay from the west end (dining rooms Section C). Shortened single windows are located in the third bay from the east end (bathrooms Section B).
The identical, 8-bay, side elevations of the courtyard represent the west and east elevations of Sections A and D respectively. In the gabled stair hall bays above the porches, small, double-leafed casement windows on the second floor are surmounted by blind, Gothic arches; small four-part casement windows on the third floor are set beneath flat arches. Shortened windows stand in single (first, third, and fifth bays from the interior corner), paired (fourth bay from the north end), and tripart formation (second bay from the interior corner).
The 3-bay wall fronting the south end of the courtyard is comprised of sections of the north elevations of Sections B and C. The left (east) bay is occupied by double-leafed casement windows (the front stair hall Section B). Tripart windows define the center bay (dining rooms Section B). The right (west) bay is delineated by a single 6/1, double-hung sash window (bedroom, Section C).
On the interior, public vestibules and stair halls illuminated by either paired or four-part, casement windows are enhanced with bright oak woodwork including stairs, balustrades, and wainscoting. Rear stairways are more modestly detailed with painted, period trim, dumbwaiters and wainscoting. Wood-burning fireplaces with period mantels remain in each suite. Unit layout varies with location. Apartments in Sections A and D were subdivided in the 1930s. Some were returned to single units in a recent, certified rehabilitation, but original floor plans remain compromised is some areas. Standing trim, however, remains substantially intact. Bathrooms and kitchens have been upgraded with modem casework and appliances.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE.
The Peabody, erected in 1896/97 at 195-197 Ashmont Street in the Dorchester section of Boston, possesses integrity of location, design, materials, settings, and workmanship, and is significant as an early example of the popular, turn-of-the-century, suburban, brick, Tudoresque, open-courtyard apartment building. The Peabody is also significant for its association with its owners and namesakes Col. Oliver W. Peabody and Mary Lothrop Peabody, and its architect Edwin J. Lewis, Jr., al1 of whom played important roles in the development of the vicinity known as Ashmont. For these reasons, the Peabody meets Criteria A and C at the local level of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Peabody was constructed on land transferred to Col. Peabody in 1895 from the neighboring Parish of All Saints Church. After the death of his widow, Peabody’s estate transferred it, along with all the property the couple had owned in Ashmont, to the Protestant Episcopal Church for benefit of the interests of the parish, which retained control until 1961. According to published vestry minutes, design of the Peabody was intended to complement the new All Saints Church (1892-4, NR 1980) at 211 Ashmont Street of which Oliver and his wife, Mary Lothrop Peabody were principal benefactors. Al1 Saints Ashmont was the first church designed by America’s foremost ecclesiastic architect, Ralph Adams Cram, and his partner, Bernard Grosvenor Goodhue. The Peabody’s continued to secure the church’s immediate vicinity by also sponsoring construction on its other sides: the parish house to the east (1906, also designed by Cram), and the rectory across Ashmont Street to the north (1912, designed by Lewis).
Vantage of the church from the major intersection of Talbot and Dorchester Avenues with Ashmont Street was safeguarded by the Peabodys with the creation of Peabody Square (1891, originally Ashmont Square). Described as one of Boston’s finest plazas, Peabody Square functions as the focal point and commercial center of Ashmont. The square was formally planned in 1891 when Talbot Avenue was laid out. Col. Peabody purchased the center lot to prevent construction which could block the view of All Saints’ Church. He donated the property to the city in 1893 with the expectation that it would become a circular park centered by a fountain. In the end, an oblong, granite basin was donated to the site in the colonel’s memory by his brother, Francis Peabody. The Boston City Council renamed the square in 1893 in honor of its patron. In 1911 a Howard clock was added by the city, largely at the behest of Mayor John F. Fitzgerald, also an Ashmont resident. Designed by Dorchester architect William D. Austin, it consists of a four-dial case, adorned with scrolls and animal heads and surmounted by a pineapple, symbol of hospitality, set atop a fluted, square pillar.
The area of Ashmont, centered on Dorchester Avenue, remained largely unsettled from the 1630 founding of Dorchester (later incorporated into the city of Boston in 1870) until the early 1800s. It grew in the 1870s as a small, upper-middle class village on the hills to either side of Peabody Square. Development first advanced as a result of construction in the square of Ashmont Station (1871) on the Old Colony Railroad. The western hill, now known as Ashmont Hill (Welles Hill in the 19th century), was formerly the site of the 100 acre Welles estate, occupied at the end of the American Revolution by Gen. John Knox. The holding subsequently became the home of John Welles, a 1782 graduate of Harvard. Welles’ varied career included stints as an associate of Welles and Co., the first prominent American banking house in Paris; a prominent local politician, president of the Boston Common Council, state senator; pioneer horticulturalist and President of the Massachusetts Agricultural Society. The town of Wellesley and Wellesley College both derive from the family name. Senator Welles moved his family to the Natick MA estate of his wife’s branch of the Welles family. The Ashmont property was then leased to a number of notable individuals including Daniel Webster.
The eastern hill, now known as Carruth’s Hill (Ashmont Hill in the 19th century), was the site of two estates. The area north of Ashmont Street was occupied by the Newhall Estate, summer home between 1824 and 1878 of the Chester Newhall family. A prosperous boot and shoe manufacturer, he was also a founder of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and participated in establishment of Cambridge’s Mt. Auburn Cemetery. After 1845 the southern portion of the hill was held by the Carruth Estate (named either Ashmont or Beaumont), the home of Nathan Carruth. Born in North Brookfield, MA, in 1810, Carruth came to Boston at age 15, earned his fortune through the West Indian trade, became an anti-slavery activist, and a benefactor of many western mission colleges.
Such country seats were fashionable among elite men of affairs. Merchants, financiers, and manufacturers who transformed the Massachusetts economy from its origins in agriculture to one consecutively driven by commerce, then industry, identified ownership of a rural manor with a patrician lifestyle. Dorchester, Ashmont in particular, had a high concentration of such country manors, at the time sufficiently removed from Boston. These businessmen, although interested in preserving and enhancing the landscape, were also concerned with remuneration. Newhall’s attention focused on design, otherwise expressed in his involvement with Mt. Auburn. Carruth’s pursuit was development. As the first president of-the Old colony Railroad, he built the line through Dorchester in 1845, the same time that he established his estate in Ashmont. Ashmont Street was laid out four years later. In 1870, the year of Dorchester’s annexation to Boston, Carruth was involved in routing a branch rail line through Ashmont to Milton.
Annexation was popular in Ashmont and local landowners quickly moved to benefit. Carruth Street, named for Nathan, was laid out and subdivisions were devised between it and Dorchester Avenue. Most of the Welles estate was platted by 1871. Ashmont Station was sited the same year. In 1873, a trestle was added to carry trains above Ashmont Street allowing creation of the square which centers the village. [Note- is this true?] The financial depression of the 1870s inhibited development until 1884 when a brick and shingle market building, designed by Boston architect W. Whitney Lewis, was constructed on the square by Jacques & Griffin. The complementary-designed, Hotel Argyle (1882-92, possibly by Lewis) was built across Ashmont Street with an adjoining red-brick stable (remodeled to a car barn in 1910 by architects Guy and Proctor). Next door, the 1892 Ashmont Block (designed by local architect-builder H.M. Wallis) housed club rooms and a large, second-floor function hall. These buildings formed the nucleus of Ashmont’s village center. In the early 1990s these three buildings were successfully rehabilitated into condominiums named Ashmont Commons according to the plans of Sutphin Associates of Cambridge. Jacques & Griffin, who built the market, were also real estate developers. Jacques built several houses on Ashmont Street, at least one of which was designed by Edwin Lewis, Jr.
ALL SAINTS CHURCH AND THE PEABODY CONNECTION
All Saints Episcopal Church, built at the corner of Ashmont and Bushnell Streets on a lot donated to the parish by Oliver Peabody, is one of only two parishes of the High Church tradition in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. As such, it attracts a congregation from all over Greater Boston. Initiated in 1867 at Dorchester Lower Mills, All Saints’ became a parish in 1874.
Tradition holds that on their way from their Milton estate to attend services at King’s Chapel in downtown Boston on Holy Innocents’ Day, December 28, 1879, Col. Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody were faced with a snow squall. As an alternative, they stopped to worship at the nearby Episcopalian chapel of All Saints, then located on Dorchester Avenue between Codman and Richmond Streets. Having, lost an infant daughter, the Peabodys were especially moved by the sermon on the Holy Innocents delivered by the rector who himself had recently lost a baby daughter. Although each was a life-long Unitarian and the child of a notable minister, the Peabodys became regular worshipers at All Saints. Confirmed in the church in 1882, they remained earnest Episcopalians, generous promoters and benefactors of the parish.
Oliver White Peabody (b. Springfield, May 9, 1834; d. Milton, October 23, 1896), a scion of one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, was orphaned at age 13 and forced to make his own way. His mother, Amelia White Peabody, having died around the time of his birth. His father, Rev. William B. Peabody, minister of the Unitarian Church in Springfield, died in 1847. Having graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, but lacking the funds to enter Harvard, Oliver Peabody and his brother Francis joined the banking house, John E. Thayer & Bro. Oliver advanced quickly. In 1859 he married Mary Lothrop, daughter of Boston clergyman S.K. Lothrop, but his career was interrupted by the Civil War. Peabody enlisted in the first company of cadets in September 1862 and helped recruit Company H of the 45th Massachusetts volunteers. First appointed Captain, he became a Lieutenant Colonel, before being mustered out of service in July of 1863, where he reentered the employ of John Thayer. In 1865, Colonel Peabody, his brother Francis, and Henry P. Kidder founded Kidder, Peabody and Company as the successor to the former firm. Kidder, Peabody became a leading investment bank of international importance. In contrast, Oliver Peabody’s private life was not without tragedy. His brother Everett was killed during the Civil War, and his only child, a daughter Amelia White Peabody, died in 1866 at age two.
In 1882 the Peabodys funded the relocation of the frame chapel of All Saints from Lower Mills to Ashmont. Its new location was the current site of the subway station, immediately southwest of the Peabody. Upon erection of the new stone church designed by Cram, Oliver and Mary Peabody donated some $85,000 of the required $105,000. The death of his twin brother William prompted Oliver to fund construction of the church’s stone tower, completed in 1894 in memory of his deceased brothers. Four years later, Colonel Peabody himself died. Mary Peabody continued to fund improvements at All Saints, including the construction of the parish house and rectory. Upon her demise in 1910, Mary Peabody endowed the church with a substantial fortune.
By the turn of the century All Saints Ashmont had earned an international renown for its beauty. It became a paradigm for American parish church architecture in the first half of the 20th century. Its chancel is recognized as one of the world’s finest Gothic Revival interiors. Cram’s work launched the school of Boston Gothicists at the end of the contemporary Arts and Crafts movement.
EDWIN J. LEWIS, JR.AND THE PEABODY
The English Village Gothic charm, high artistic standard and new aesthetic sensibility of All Saints were welcomed in Ashmont and emulated by Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. at the Peabody. Colonel Peabody, as one of his last undertakings, commissioned Lewis to devise the Peabody in a manner to compliment as well as protect the church. Peabody’s memorial in All Saints vestry’s minutes reported that, uncharacteristic of a businessman, he ignored the developer’s primary concern for profitability and set as the first standard of design that the apartment house enhance rather than obscure the church. Given the Peabodys standing relationship with Ralph Adams Cram, the choice of Lewis for this commission as well as that of the church rectory is a testimonial to the respect that Lewis commanded.
Designer of many of the finest houses in the area, Edwin James Lewis, Jr. (b. Roxbury, May 1, 1859; d. October 16, 1937) was an important architect in Ashmont. Approximately fifty properties in the neighborhood dating between 1887 and 1912 have been attributed to him. After graduating from M.I.T. School of Architecture in 1881, he apprenticed for nine years with Timothy Walsh at the firn of Peabody & Stearns. Lewis established his own immediately successful practice in 1887. He was elected to the Boston Society of Architects the same year, and became a Fellow of the American Institute shortly thereafter. Known for his distinguished plans for homes, mostly in Boston but also in surrounding communities, Lewis also won a national reputation as the designer of more than 35 churches throughout the United States and Canada. His first ecclesiatical commission may have been Christ Church in Dorchester built in 1894. Lewis’ important works include the Fassett Estate House in Gloucester, Dearborn School in Roxbury (NR 2000), Danielson Library in Brimfield, the Dedham Historical Society, and All Souls’ Church in Braintree. He contributed designs for Draper Corporation worker housing and the church in the company town of Hopedale, Massachusetts. Lewis also served as president of the Dorchester Historical Society, sustained an active membership in the Unitarian Association, acted as a municipal reformer, maintained a lifelong membership in the Boston Society of Architects, and retained membership in the Boston Art Club. In 1907, an article by Frank Chouteau Brown in the Architectural Record included Lewis among the leading architects of suburban Boston. Other Lewis properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places include: 748 Columbus Avenue, Boston; South Congregational Church, Brockton; Second Unitarian Church and Prescott Hall House, Brookline; and the Wollaston Unitarian Church, Quincy.
Grandly rendered in style and material, the Peabody combines four sections to create a U-shaped plan suggesting the form of a Tudor manor house configured around a picturesque, if not imposing, landscaped courtyard open to the street. In connecting the sections at their narrow ends, Lewis gained maximum window exposure for light and ventilation. This organization, common in Europe where Lewis frequently visited, was more fully expressed a year later in Cram’s significantly elaborated design of Richmond court (NR) in Brookline, generally credited in being the first and often-emulated apartment house in the Boston area to be designed in the Jacobean or English manor style arranged around a central open courtyard.
The actual nature of the relationship between Lewis, the Peabodys, and Cram is unclear, but the opportunity for interactive influence is apparent. As an Ashmont resident, Lewis may have known both the Peabody’s and Cram. The latter may have been approached regarding design of the apartment building. Both architects maintained offices in the same building during the early 1890s. Construction of the Peabody proceeded while Cram remained involved with development of All Saints Church, completing ongoing commissions for Mary Lothrop Peabody over the remaining fourteen years of her life. Cram’s Richmond court was built for the Richmond Court Trust which included Francis Peabody as trustee.
Similarities between Richmond Court and the Peabody are found not only in the orientation of the buildings, but also in the location of entrances, including vestibules and stair halls, at the interior corners and in the middle of the forward wings. Floor plans have similarities in layout with kitchens and dining rooms in larger units separated from the parlor by the interposition of bedrooms and a bathroom. Amenities are also similar with well-lit stair halls finished with oak paneling and balustrades, dumbwaiters in rear stair halls and working fireplaces in each unit. Plans and a photograph of the Peabody were published in The Brickbuilder in 1900 (see illustration).
The Peabody was considered sufficiently elegant to be immediately included in Clark’s Blue Book. Characteristic of early apartments, the Peabody catered to demographic extremes, collquially described as “the newly wed and the nearly dead.” Typically, these groups included those yet unable to afford a single-family home during this period of escalating prices in the rapidly-developing suburbs and those attracted to the easier lifestyle afforded by single-floor living available in a “flat.” Early tenants included salesmen, a bank teller, small business owners, a civil engineer, and a physician. Proximity to All Saints drew clerics, while design accommodations catered to other professionals. Street-level plans had offices with entrances for waiting rooms fronting Ashmont Street, and separate, residential entrances accessed off the courtyard. A tradition of doctors as residents began with Dr. Robert Miller, a dentist who moved in 1899 to the Peabody where he maintained an office for thirty years. George C. Phelps, music teacher and organist for All Saints’ lived at the Peabody during the 1920s.
Apartment units in sections A and D Were subdivided ca. 1930. The Peabody passed from control of the parish of All Saints’ to secular ownership in 1974, but has remained rental housing. It has recently undergone a certified rehabilitation in accordance with the standards of the Secretary of the Interior.
Boston City Directories. 1898, 1900, 1910, 1915, 1920, 1925,1927, 1930, 1940.
Boston Landmarks Commission. Report of the Ashmont Hill Study Committee, 1978.
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The Brickbuilder, September, 1900.
Brown, Frank Chouteau. “Boston Suburban Architecture.” Architectural Record, XXI (April 1907), pp. 245-280.
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“Col. O.W. Peabody No More.” Boston Herald, October 21, 1896, p. 19.
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___________. Gothic Churches of Dorchester. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1974. Withey, Henry F. and Withey, L.C. Rathburn. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects Deceased. Los Angeles, 1970 reprint of the 1956 publication.