Virginia Street / Monadnock Street

Virginia Street / Monadnock Street

From the Boston Landmarks Commission

The Virginia-Monadnock area is situated directly west of the Upham’s Corner commercial area . It is included in the part of Dorchester known as St. Kevin’s Parish. This study area is bounded on the west by the Penn Central railroad tracks (Midland Branch); on the north by the abutting Dudley Street area; on the cast by the rear property lines of Virginia Street; and on the south by the edges of the intersection of Virginia, Monadnock, Bird and Sayward Street as well as the cul de sac known as Cedar Place7topraraphically, Virginia Street runs along the crest of a hill while Monadnock Street follows its base, curving to its contours on the south side. Virginia and Monadnock Streets form an elongated island of house lots. This area is an oasis of residential calmsurrounded on two sides by commercial concerns and their attendant activity and railroad tracks which separate the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods. The buildings of the Virginia/Monadnock area are mostly large, single- family homes of high architectural quality dating from c.1880-1915. Most have ample front yards and /or side lawns. Architectural intrusions include vinyl siding, unsympathetic additions, and alterations tofenestration. Buildings beyond the intersection of Sayward and Bird are smaller in size, of lesser architectural quality and are set much closer together and closer to the street. Cedar Place, a cul de sac off the southern end of Monadnock Street has been included in this area because of its small, relatively well -preserved collection of mid 19th century Italianate cottages which provide a glimpse of this area before wealthy late 19th c. suburbanites moved here.

Architectural Description

Virginia Street’s streetscape is characterized by a large houses set on spacious lots which is Nery different from the more densely built up streetscapes of Monadnock Street. One of the earlier houses on the street. The Isaac H. Allard House at 16 Virginia Street, is a substantial mansard roofed residence with a front porch unusual in its employment of Carpenter Gothic elements mixed with Italianate brackets.Good examples of large Queen Anne houses with irregular forms and well- crafted elements include 21 Virginia Street with its rambling, irregular form and corner tower with bell -shaped roof cap and intact slate shingles throughout. Other Queen Anne houses of interest on Virginia Street include #’s 28, 41,48, 50 and 54 . The Queen Anne/Colonial Revival 2.5 story square, side hall plan (?) house at #11 Virginia Street shows positive evidence of recent rehabilitation work, while #15 Virginia Street deserves praise for an appropriate color scheme over a typically Queen Anne sheathing of clapboards on the first floor and patterned wood shingles on the second floor. Its irregular form is enclosed by an intersecting gable roof. Relatively intact residential examples of the Stick style, with symmetrical massing and stick work detail are in evidence at 38 and #44 Virginia Street.

Monadnock Street presents a much more varied streetscape in terms of residential building types including single, 2-family , and 3-deckers rubbing elbows on lots less spacious than those of Virginia Street. The proximity to the railroad tracks and less elevated terrain resulted in a more moderate demand for house lots . Consequently this street was built up over a longer timeframe than that of Virginia Street. Large, irregular Queen Anne housing similar to that of Virginia Street appears at the southwestern end of Monadnock Street (i.e. 61,65 and 69 Monadnock Street) but these houses by no means represent the norm for housing on this street. A particularly charming foray into the Queen Anne vernacular is the towered, wood shingle clad house at #41 Monadnock Street. The best preserved Queen Anne house on Monadnock Street is #29 with its turned porch elements and wealth of original and relatively ornate detail. Striking a decidedly urban note in Monadnock Street’s suburban streetscape are the the c.1890 bow front brick apartments at 50;52;54; 56 MonadnockStreet #’s 36;38;40;42;44;46;48 Monadnock Street are three deckers with Classical Revival elements, including 2-story porches with monumental, square and fluted porch posts. These 3-deckers were built on this area’s narrowest lots between 1912-1913.

Historical Narrative

During the mid 19th century the Virginia-Monadnock area was owned by Ebenezer Sumner. By 1874, his heirs controlled a large tract containing 537,333 square feet that stretched from Dudley Street to Cedar Place.The first housing in the area appears to have been built on Cedar Place in the early 1870s in the form of Italianate cottages, a good example of which stands at 6 Cedar Place with its boxy 1.5 story cottage scale and total lack ofarchitectural pretentions–a far cry from the substantial, ornate housing that would be built on a Virginia and Monadnock Streets in the 1880’s and 90’s.

The Virginia and Monadnock area had the advantage of being located just across from the Dudley commuter stop on the Midlands Branch of the Penn Central Railroad which was constructed around 1870. It was also close to the burgeoning commercial area at Upham’s Corner and yet had all the rural suburban qualities prized by middle class Yankees anxious to escape the social problems and increasing industrialization of the city.

The homes built on Virginia and Monadnock Street during their first twenty years of development from 1880-1890 were large single family homes on the hill which overlooked the city. The first house to be built on Monadnock Street was #29. Exhibiting a date plaque which reads “1880”, this house has been sensitively restored , representing an interesting blend of the Mansard, Stick and Queen Anne styles. Over time members of the B.G. Smith (1880’s), Alda M. Jones (1890’s), Florence D. Reynolds (1900’s) , Julia G. Flaherty (1920’s) and Ellen E. Mahoney (1930’s-?) families lived here. Another early house in this development was #16 Virginia Street, the home of Isaac H. Allard who owned a livery stable at 767 Dudley Street. A number of doctors settled on Monadnock Street during these early years of development so that by 1900 this street was sometimes called Pill Road.By the 1930s real estate agent Percy I. Minard lived here. The Minards built a six car concrete garagebehind this house in 1925. The brick bow front row houses at #’s 50 to 56 Monadnock Street may represent the work of prolific late 19th century architect and developer William H. Besarick. These houses are listed as being owned by Besarick’s wife (?) Elizabeth from c.1890-1920.

By 1912, most of the land was developed with the exception of the narrow, steeply sloping hill section of Monadnock Street which was least dsirable for development because of its topography. In 1912, this last area, still valuable for its location in a fine neighborhood close to transportation and commerce, was subdivided into narrow lots and a set of double and single triple deckers with fine classical detail was built between 1912 and 1913. Expansion of the street car lines by this time was so extensive and fares so reasonable that more moderate income families could afford to move to the area. By the 1940s wide spread automobile ownership resulted in many of this area’s residents moving further out into the suburbs. During the 1940s and 50s many The George Milliken House was built in 1881 as a single family home. From 1881 to 2004 it passed through three owners, and remained a residence until the winter of 2003-2004 when it was vacated. Alterations to the interior of the house by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in 1993 suggest reconfiguration of the house to allow for two family occupancy, though no application for a change in occupancy was recorded.

The George Milliken House stands as an outstanding example of a late nineteenth century suburban dwelling that exhibits characteristics of the Queen Ann and Stick Style aesthetics. Taking its cue from elements of nature and deliberately defying the constraints of the urban lot and row house form, the large, asymmetrical, wood frame dwelling sprawls on its 7,979.2 square foot parcel and exhibits playful details and ornament. Exterior alterations are limited to a sympathetic addition of a sun porch in 1926, reorganization of first floor window arrangements on the western (Virginia Street) and southern elevations probably in the same era, the removal of a widow’s walk, and very recently, the removal and replacement of the original two over two, wood sash windows. Despite these alterations, the great majority of the character-defining features of the house are remarkably intact.

The George Milliken house rises two and a half stories above its stone foundation. It measures twenty-eight feet across the front, twenty-five feet across the rear, and fifty-five feet deep. Typical of the Queen Ann aesthetic, an irregular footprint defines the massing of the building which features multiple roof lines and projecting bays. A prominent gable and partial first and second story porches organize the three bay Virginia Street (west) façade, a polygonal bay projects from the northern elevation of the house, and a rectangular bay projects from the southern elevation. Also projecting from the southern elevation is a two bay by two bay, one story, flat roofed sun porch added in 1926. A two story, two bay by one bay pavilion defines the rear (east) elevation. A hip roof covers the central massing of the building with a cross hip roof covering the rear pavilion. Internal chimneys rise from the southern slopes of the rooflines of the rear projection and from the central massing. A gabled dormer pierces the northern slope of the central roofline, and two small dormers form right angles on the northern slope of the rear pavilion and the eastern slope of the central roofline.

The irregular footprint reflects a rambling interior plan that includes entry into a spacious stair hall leading to a dining room, and double parlors to the south. A pantry, kitchen and rear stair hall, and sun porch complete the first floor plan, with corresponding bedrooms above.

The fenestration pattern has been slightly altered from its original organization. Two windows presently light the center and southern corner of the second floor on the front façade with a small attic window directly above the center window. Where two corresponding windows originally lit the front parlor on the first floor, a single centered window lights the room at present. This alteration also occurred on the first bay of the southern façade of the house; on the second floor, windows light the corners of the front bedroom and the original corresponding pair of windows on the first floor were replaced by a single centered window.

The rooflines and porch details of the house lend an air of informality and of the naturally-inspired to the house. The eaves extend beyond wall planes in the manner of rustic shelters, and the exposed rafter ends, the curved braces supporting the porch roofs, and the stick-like framing of the porch are reminiscent of tree branches. These elements imply simple construction and contribute to an overall whimsical appearance that contrasted greatly with urban dwellings of the same era.

The surface treatment of the George Milliken House is as varied and playful as the complex rooflines, projections, and porch details. Constructed entirely of wood, the wall planes of the house exhibit various patterns and textures. Characteristic of Stick Style architecture, applied horizontal and vertical boards masquerading as framing members organize the elevations. These boards define corners, floor heights, and frame the fenestration. Patterns and textures of the cladding material generally alternate between clapboard siding and fish scale shingles between these faux framing members. Equally playful, the bargeboard displays alternating wooden spheres and rectangular, wood panels. Elements of this motif appear also on a decorative panel between the second and attic stories on the Virginia Street elevation featuring a pattern of spheres and framing members.

The house sits north of center on its lot, roughly ten feet from Virginia Street. Two curb cuts provide paved driveway access to the lot, one to the north and one to the south. The northern driveway is 10′ 4″ wide. The southern driveway, 16′ 6″ wide, connects Virginia Street with the Holy Family parish property abutting this property on the east. Minimal vegetation appears on the property. Untended shrubs grow around the entry, and mature trees and a hedge define the southern and northern property boundaries, respectively.

One of many single family, wood frame residences on its block, the George Milliken House is distinguished from its neighbors for its associations with outstanding historic personages, and as a highly intact, rare example of the work of a prominent Massachusetts architect. Commissioned by George F. Milliken, widely recognized for inventions that advanced the technology of the telegraph, among other things, and designed by John H. Besarick, whose buildings contributed significantly to Boston’s development in the late nineteenth century, and extended beyond the city limits and into northern New England, 44 Virginia Street achieves significance at the national, state, and local levels.

Historic Significance

Suburban migration and the development of Virginia Street

Due in large part to the increasingly diverse populations crowding downtown neighborhoods, the perceived superiority of rural over urban environments, and the extension and improvement of public transportation, streams of middle and upper class Bostonians poured into the recently annexed and sparsely developed neighborhoods of Roxbury, West Roxbury, and Dorchester during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Highly desirable suburban enclaves sprang up across the newly accessible land. The area of Dorchester in which Virginia Street developed exemplifies this transition.

Proximity to the Dudley and Bird Street commuter stops on the New York and New England Rail Road, and to the rising commercial area at Upham’s Corner made Virginia Street and its immediate vicinity ideal for suburban development. Surveyors Barbour and Hodges subdivided the Clarence Sumner estate in preparation for this development in 1877. Between 1880 and 1900, large single family homes occupied by merchants, physicians, attorneys, clergy, and other professionals, their families and their servants, sprang up on what would become Virginia and Monadnock Streets.1 Protective of their burgeoning upper middle class neighborhood, property owners entered into an agreement in 1892 dictating that for a period of ten years no buildings other than private, single family dwellings with private stables could be erected. The agreement also stipulated that no building or projection should encroach beyond ten feet from the street.The only permitted exceptions to the single family homes were the “first class brick apartment houses” to be erected on Monadnock Street. Entered into “in order to make the use of said lots more agreeable, pleasant, and certain…,” thisarrangement guaranteed a uniformity of scale and design on the street and more significantly, ensured neighbors of equal economic status.3

By 1912, all but a narrow, steeply sloping section of Monadnock Street had been developed. Despite the earliest residents’ efforts with their agreement to allow only single family dwellings, this section was subdivided and developed with double and single triple deckers between 1912 and 1913. Expansion into this area of streetcar lines with more reasonable fares than the New York and New England line, and expiration of the 1892 agreement made Virginia and Monadnock streets accessible to the more moderate income families previously excluded from the neighborhood.

44 Virginia Street

Among the well heeled residents of the late nineteenth century neighborhood, George F. Milliken of 44 Virginia Street, stands out. Milliken, who acquired the land on which the present house stands in 1880 and erected his home a year later, was renowned for his inventions. Among his most significant were the Milliken Repeater and the Duplex System, both of which aided greatly in the development of the telegraph system. The repeater made telegraphing possible between great distances, where previously communication was limited or slowed according to the length of a telegraphic circuit. While Milliken’s was not the first repeater in the telegraph industry, it improved upon its predecessors and was utilized by the Western Union Telegraph Company, with whom Milliken was associated, for many years. Equally significant, Milliken’s Duplex System also advanced the industry by providing a distribution of current which enabled two messages to be sent over a single wire simultaneously, where messages were previously limited to a single transmittal at a time. In addition to these innovations, Milliken was also credited with being one of the inventors of the Gamewell Fire Alarm, a system which relied on telegraph technology.

Milliken’s associations with the telegraph industry began in 1852 when he arrived in Boston from Portland, Maine, and began working as a telegrapher for the American Telegraph Company, a company acquired by Western Union in 1866. By 1867, Milliken had risen to the position of General Manager of the Boston Office of Western Union. During his tenure as General Manager, Milliken hired and oversaw a young Thomas Edison as a telegraph operator. Western Union employed Edison from 1868-1869, during which time he filed his first patent—for an automatic vote recorder for legislatures. After many years of service, Milliken left Western Union and by 1885 had become the superintendent of Electrical Development and Manufacturing (ED&M), a laboratory and factory on Congress Street. Three years later, Milliken was Superintendent at the GamewellFire Alarm Company on Pearl Street. He continued this association until his death in 1921.

Milliken built the house at 44 Virginia Street at the height of his professional career. He and his wife, Margaret, occupied the house for nearly forty years. A year after Milliken’s death at age 87, Esther M. Cannon, a teacher in South Boston, purchased 44 Virginia Street for $6,800, and resided in the house until her death in 1954. In 1957 the house passed to the current owner, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, through Mary E. Cotter, a joint tenant of 44 Virginia Street with Esther Cannon as of 1942. Because of its limited ownership, 44 Virginia Street appears today much as it did when Milliken and his wife occupied the house.

Architectural Significance

The prolific Massachusetts architect, John H. Besarick, designed the house at 44 Virginia Street. Besarick’s designs contributed to Boston’s residential and commercial character in the late nineteenth century as examples of his work in the Back Bay, Brighton, Dorchester, East Boston, Mission Hill, and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston attest. Plentiful as his designs were in Boston, Besarick’s commissions extended beyond the city limits to Brookline, Hopkinton and Newton, Massachusetts, as well as to New Hampshire. Besarick’s designs included church complexes, single and multi-family residences, schools, hotels, warehouses, and commercial blocks. Responding to the demands of his clients and the tastes of the period, Besarick worked with a variety of building materials and manipulated multiple stylistic aesthetics, resulting in a broadly defined architectural career.

Besarick received his architectural training in Boston and New York from regionally and nationally prominent architects. Eight years in the office Samuel J.F.Thayer, a boston-based designer of buildings throughout New England, and time in the offices of Richard Hunt and McKim, Mead and White in New York, exposed Besarick to a variety of building projects and approaches to design. Armed with training from some of the most influential architects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Besarick opened his own practice after 1869 at 32 Pemberton Square in Boston, and later on Bedford Street, where he continued to work until 1920. Among Besarick’s local projects were the Hotel Eliot (demolished) in Roxbury Highlands, the Congregational Church and Chapel on Moreland Street, Roxbury, numerous row houses in the Back Bay and Mission Hill, as well as detached houses in Roxbury and Dorchester. Some of his larger projects include St. John’s Roman Catholic Seminary Complex in Brighton, and Pilgrim Hall, a commercial block in South Boston. Outside of Boston, Besarick designed numerous homes in Brookline and Newton, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hopkinton, and Windermere, a large summer estate on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besarick’s contributions to the Virginia/Mondadnock Street neighborhood of Dorchester extend beyond the house at 44 Virginia Street. Besarick’s wife, Elizabeth, owned 32 Virginia Street and 50-56 Monadnock Street, likely the designs of her husband. Not just a developer, Besarick was a long-time resident of this neighborhood, residing at 32 Virginia Street in 1881, 50 Monadnock Street in 1899, and 36 Bird Street by 1915.

Of the existing examples of Besarick’s detached, frame dwellings in Boston, the George Milliken House remains the most intact single family home. Because of its early construction date ca. 1881 relative to his other residential designs within the city, the George Milliken House possesses architectural features absent in his later designs, namely the playful embellishments attributed to the Stick Style. Other examples of his work which may have possessed similar features have been obscured by unsympathetic alterations


Posted on

June 18, 2022

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