Roswell Gleason House
An unusually fine Gothic Revival house that shows the transition from Greek Revival to the newly popular style for country, domestic residences; designer unknown, but it is evident that the designer, and Perhaps the client, was familiar with the vanguard of residential styles and tastes popularized by A. J. Downing’s books and by A. J. Davis’ designs.
Gleason (1799-1887), from Vermont, came to Dorchester in 1818 and apprenticed with a tinsmith. Later he began his own tin and pewter business and, reputedly at the urging of his friend, Daniel Webster, began producing for the first time in America, silver plate, an established process in England.
Gleason’s factory was located on Washington Street at the northern edge of his residential property which he purchased just before 1840. By 1850, his factory employed 75 men. Largely due to his ability to adapt to changing tastes and to keep abreast of technical advances in manufacturing, as well as his personal skill and efficiency, Gleason’s business continued to prosper until his retirement. His work is in numerous collections including the Currier Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Designated a Boston Landmark by BLC on 7/20/77
Demolished 1982 after a fire, but before that the Museum of Fine Arts took whole rooms out of the house. Rooms are now on display at the Museum
The house was called Lilacs.
Notes from the Public Hearing before the Boston Landmarks Commission, July 26, 1977.
The historical significance of the Roswell Gleason House derives primarily from its association with its original owner. Roswell Gleason, besides being a successful businessman and manufacturer and a prominent resident of mid-19th century Dorchester, was a highly renowned pewterer whose work is included in most major col¬lections of American pewter.
Born in Putney, Vermont in 1799, Gleason came to Dorchester in 1818 and apprenticed himself to a tinmaker. Upon his master’s retirement four years later, 1822, Gleason established a business of his own, marrying Rebecca T. Vose of Dorchester that same year. Beginning with the manufacture of tin and pewter, he soon began producing brittannia ware, while the size of his business steadily increased. After about 1850, at the urging of his “intimate friend” Daniel Webster, Gleason began producing silver plate, drawing his two sons into the business with him. This silver plate operation was reportedly the first of its kind in America, using skilled laborers and a newly perfected process imported by Gleason directly from England.
Largely due to this ability to adapt to changing tastes and to keep abreast of technical advances in manufacturing, as well as to his personal skill and efficiency, Gleason’s operation continued to prosper until his retirement, following the death of his two sons and an explosion in his factory in 1871. Roswell Gleason died on January 27, 1887, a prominent, wealthy and respected citizen of Dorchester.”
The Roswell Gleason House is perhaps the best extant Boston example of the transition from Greek to Gothic Reveval styles in domestic architecture. The overall shape of the structure continues the gable-roofed box form of the standard Greek Revival house.
However, these traditional gabled boxes are firstly aligned in a cross shape and secondly decorated with stylistic elements that derive from the more current Gothic Rivival style.
“Relationship to the Criteria for Landmark Designation
The Roswell Gleason House clearly meets the criteria for Landmark designation as established by Section 4 of Chapter 772 of the Acts of 1975 in that it is a structure which is associated with a historic personage, and which is of a distinguished architectural design embodying distinctive characteristics of a stylistic transition which makes it inherently valuable for study. As such, it is of significance to the City, the Commonwealth, the New England region and the nation.”
The staff of the Boston Landmarks Commission recommend that the Roswell Gleason House be designated a Landmark under Chapter 772 of the Acts of 1975, and that the property be nominated to the
National Register of Historic Places.
The boundaries of the Landmark property should conform to the four adjacent parcels of land known as assessor’s parcel numbers 2410, 2411, 2427, and 2428.