Image: No. 12158 Pierce House in the 19th century.
Report prepared 1974
[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 Pierce House is a two and one-half story frame salt-box with a lean-to and extended pitched roof. Six bays wide by two bays deep, the house’s greatest visual impact results from its sweeping roof line. The façade has as its sole decorative element two simple pedimental doorways built in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. The doorway to the west has two sidelights. In the 1930s the nineteenth century clapboards were covered with light grey asphalt shingles.
The original central chimney has been replaced by a smaller one built in the nineteenth century. A subsidiary chimney o n the eastern side of the house was constructed as part of an eighteenth century full extension on the eastern side of the original nucleus. It was this extension, with its additional doorway, that resulted in the house’s “duplex” appearance.
The 6-over-6 window sash are largely replacements. The second story façade windows are directly under the eave. All windows have plain moldings.
The westernmost doorway opens onto a small entrance hall and stairs, remodeled in the 1840s, and exhibiting plain cylindrical balusters. To the west is a room exhibiting a finely chamfered summer beam. A nineteenth century mantle and paneled cupboard are principle decorative elements. Behind this room is the kitchen, and a half bath.
The central room has eighteenth century mantle with nineteenth century additions. Wide pine floor boards and a nineteenth century cupboard are of particular interest. A doorway on the eastern wall leads to an additional room. The nineteenth century mantle and the presence of six doors leading variously to closets, a back stairs, and lean-to are of particular interest in this easternmost room.
The second floor consists of three chambers directly above each of those on the first floor. As on the first floor, the posts are exposed. The central and eastern chambers have non-functional fireplaces. A full bath has been added in the lean-to. All the rooms described thus far are plastered.
The attic is divided into a large central room with a small one at either end. Evidence of an early gable, removed in the nineteenth century, is apparent. A small skylight has been let into the roof on the northern side.
The Pierce House is a primary example of a first period dwelling exhibiting changes and additions made over the ensuing three-hundred and twenty odd years of its history. It is among the dozen earliest houses surviving in New England that can be firmly dated, thus, constituting documentary evidence as a structure built by immigrant English carpenters. An unrecorded deed, dated 1652, provides an ante quem date for its erection.
[Note: since this report was prepared, dendrochronology has dated the house to 1683, later than originally thought.]
Architecturally, the house exhibits in its principle elements a pattern of development extending from the mid-seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth century. Of particular importance is the original seventeenth century frame, expanded in the third quarter of the eighteenth century by the lateral extension of the central nucleus and the addition of a lean-to. The resulting roofline, composed of three distinct degrees of pitch, is unusually dramatic.
In addition to its architectural importance, Pierce House represents great sociological and demographic significance. The house has been continuously occupied by the Pierce Family, beginning with Robert Pierce and extending over ten generations o of his direct descendents until acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1968. A great body of family documents exists, which illuminates the lives of every generation in their occupational, religious, political, economic and cultural contexts. The house is situated on a portion of the original six acre land grant given to Robert Pierce. The economic history of the plot, and several others acquired by the Family, with gradual, and then finally precipitous sale in the 1870s, documents the evolutionary creation of a neighborhood, and, in fact, a sizable portion of contemporary Dorchester. Thus, eleven generations of a single family, the house they lived in, and the land they owned form a uniquely complete fabric of the past.
Many members of the Pierce Family are of extraordinary interest. Col. Samuel Pierce described in his diary his first-hand account of the numerous events leading to the Revolution, including the Boston Massacre. Prior to the outbreak, he resigned from a commission under the crown to accept a commission of Lt. Col. In the Colonial Militia. As head of the Dorchester Militia for the duration of the War, he corresponded with Paul Revere, John Avery, and other prominent figures; he later commanded the forces on Castle Island. His highly descriptive muster lists and his letter to his wife provide unusual insights into this pivotal period.
Clapp, Ebenezer, History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Boston, Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society, 1859.
Orcutt, William Dana, Good Old Dorchester, A Narrative History of the Town 1630-1893. Cambridge, John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1893.