John Hancock House, Boston

The John Hancock House on Beacon Street in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:


This grand mansion was built in the mid-1730s for Thomas Hancock, a wealthy Boston merchant. At the time, Beacon Hill was on the outskirts of Boston, and this house was the westernmost one on Beacon Street. Here, Thomas and his wife Lydia created what amounted to a country estate, with gardens, orchards, and pastureland that extended up the southern slope of hill, and was directly across the street from Boston Common. Despite the pastoral setting, though, the was within easy walking distance of Boston’s wharves, where Hancock conducted his business. The house itself was built of granite, and was an outstanding example of Georgian architecture, complete with a balcony that offered sweeping views of Boston and the the surrounding harbor.

Thomas and Lydia had no children of their own, but in 1744 Thomas’s brother John died, and his seven-year-old son, also named John, moved to Boston and lived here in this house. After graduating from Boston Latin School in 1750 and Harvard College in 1754, John Hancock joined his uncle’s firm, eventually taking over the business after Thomas’s death in 1764. Along with the business, he also inherited his uncle’s estate here on Beacon Hill, and he went on to live here for the rest of his life.

John Hancock went on to become one of the most prominent Patriots in the years leading up to the American Revolution, and in 1774 he was elected as a Massachusetts delegate to the Second Continental Congress. From 1775 to 1777, he served as the President of the Continental Congress, and it was in this capacity in 1776 that he famously signed the Declaration of Independence. Following his time in Congress, he briefly served in the war as a major general in the Massachusetts militia, and in 1780 he was elected as the first governor of Massachusetts. Widely popular, he easily won re-election every year until 1785, when he resigned due to ill health.

Later in 1785, James Bowdoin was elected as his successor, but his two years as governor were marked by a failing economy and a poor response to Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-1787. As a result, Hancock ran against him in the 1787 election and won easily, and he went on to win re-election every year until his death in 1793. During this time, he pardoned those involved in Shays’ Rebellion, and he was also an influential proponent of the U.S. Constitution, which was narrowly ratified by the state in 1788, probably thanks to his support. In the absence of an official governor’s mansion, Hancock’s house served that purpose well, and he received a number of distinguished visitors here, including the Marquis de Lafayette in 1781 and George Washington in 1789.

By the time John Hancock died in 1793, this house was no longer at the outskirts of Boston, and Beacon Hill was in the process of being transformed into an exclusive neighborhood of elegant townhouses. Portions of the estate were steadily sold, including land to the east of the house, which became the site of the Massachusetts State House. Other parcels were sold for new homes, and by the early 19th century the house was surrounded by more modern homes. Hancock’s widow, Dorothy, had remarried in 1796, and she lived here in this house until 1816. The house remained in the family, though, with John Hancock’s nephew, also named John, owning the house until his death in 1859.

The first photo was taken sometime around the time when the younger John Hancock died, and it shows his granddaughter, Elizabeth Lowell Hancock Moriarty, standing on the second floor balcony. Despite being over a century old, the house still retained its stately elegance, and was recognized as an important landmark. There had been several different proposals for using the house, including the possibility of purchasing it as an official governor’s mansion. The family even offered the property to the state for the low price of $100,000, but many balked at the idea of such an expense, and the idea was dropped.

The property was finally sold in 1863, with the intention of redeveloping it with modern townhouses. The state was offered one last chance to move the house to a new location, but again there was significantly opposition to the $12,000 expense, and the historic house was ultimately demolished in the summer of 1863. Had it survived, the house would have become one of the city’s iconic Revolutionary War landmarks, on par with such places as the Old State House, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church. Instead, though, its demolition did help to spur preservation movements for some of these other landmarks, including the Old South Meeting House, which survived similar redevelopment threats a decade later.

In 1865, two townhouses were built on the site of Hancock’s house. However, these houses did not last nearly as long as their predecessor, because in 1917 they were demolished to build a new wing of the Massachusetts State House. Since then, not much has changed. The 1798 state house, with its various additions over the years, remains in use as the state capitol building, and the surrounding Beacon Hill neighborhood is still home to many of Boston’s wealthy residents, nearly 300 years after Thomas Hancock first made his home here.

Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut (2)

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:


The front side of this house was featured in a previous post, and this view here shows the back of the house, which has hardly changed in the past 80 years since the first photo was taken. The house is perhaps the finest example of 18th century architecture in Windsor, and it was originally built around 1765 for Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee, a prominent local physician. He lived here until his death in 1819, but the house itself remained in the family for another century.

In 1926, a little over a decade before the first photo was taken, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to the nearby Loomis Institute. After the schools merged to form the current Loomis Chaffee School in 1970, the house was sold to the town of Windsor. It is now a museum, run by the Windsor Historical Society, and and it is a centerpiece of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Reverend William Russell House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 101 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


William Russell, Jr. was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1725. His father, also named William, was the pastor of the town’s church, and the younger William likewise entered the ministry. Like most of Connecticut’s other clergymen of the era, he attended Yale, graduating in 1745. He went on to work as a tutor at Yale for a few years, before coming to Windsor in 1751 to serve as pastor of the First Church. He was formally ordained in 1754, around the same time that he married his wife Abigail. A year later, they moved into this newly-built house, located directly opposite the Palisado Green at the center of town.

William and Abigail had four children, one of whom died in infancy. The youngest of the other three, Samuel, was only a few years old when his mother died in the 1760s. William subsequently remarried in 1770, to another woman who was also named Abigail, and they had one child, James, who died in infancy. In the meantime, William continued to serve as the pastor of the church until his death in April 1775, around the same time that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord. His son Samuel went on to serve in the war, and later moved to New York City. Here, he became a Colonel in the Army and a deputy commissary, and he also served as a state legislator.

Nearly 250 years after William Russell’s death, his house remains well-preserved, including the ornate doorway at the front of the house. Very little has changed in the 80 years since the first photo was taken, other than the building’s owner. After having been used as a private home for two centuries, it was purchased by the First Church in 1953, and was used as a parsonage. Although no longer used as a parsonage, it is still owned by the church, and it is part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Return Strong House, Windsor, Connecticut

The home of Return Strong on North Meadow Road in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


The exact date of construction for this house is unclear, with various sources giving dates between 1700 and 1726. Either way, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Windsor, a town that has many excellent examples of 18th century architecture. The historical records also do not seem to indicate which Return Strong built this house, as there were several with that name in Windsor. However, it appears to have been originally owned by Return Strong, Sr., a tanner who was a member of the prominent Strong family.

Return Strong was born in 1741, about six years after his father, John Strong, immigrated to New England. John Strong had originally settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, before moving to Taunton and then to Windsor in the 1640s. He later moved again, to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he was one of the founders of the town as well as ruling elder of the church. However, Return Strong remained here in Windsor, where he married his wife, Sarah Warham, in 1664. He became one of the town’s leading residents, including serving as a militia officer and representing the town in the colonial legislature.

One of Return Strong’s sons was also named Return, who had a son of his own with the same name. This name is rarely seen today, but it was not uncommon among Puritans, who frequently named their children after abstract virtues. Of John Strong’s 18 children, he also had two daughters named Experience and Thankful, in addition to an assortment of Old Testament names such as Jedediah, Ebenezer, Hester, and Jerijah.

The younger Return Strong died relatively young in 1708, but his father lived well into his 80s, until his death in 1726. Since then, there have been some additions and modifications, including the small front porch that is seen in the first photo. In the 80 years since this photo was taken, this porch has been removed, and the house has remained well-preserved. The other surrounding buildings are also still standing, including the church in the distance on the left and the house on the right. All of these properties are now part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Samuel Cross House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at the end of North Meadow Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


This house was built sometime before 1730, and it is situated right alongside the Farmington River. Like the neighboring Jonathan Alvord House, which was built later in the 18th century, it is built into the hillside along the river, with a high brick basement that has a full-size door and windows. The house originally belonged to Samuel Cross, who, according to the documentation done when the first photo was taken, operated a ferry across the river in the early 1700s.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was already over 200 years old, but it remained in good condition. Since then, a porch has been added to the left side, and there is also an addition on the back side of the house, which is not visible from this angle. Otherwise, though, the house retains much of its original appearance, and it is part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jonathan Alvord House, Windsor, Connecticut

The home of Jonathan Alvord on North Meadow Road in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1786 along the north side of the Farmington River, just upstream of its confluence with the Connecticut River. Just to the east of here is a large meadow, which is part of the Connecticut River floodplain, and the house is actually built right into the hillside at the edge of the meadow. It is two stories high, with a gambrel roof that was common in the late 18th century, but the most noticeable feature is the basement, which is a full story tall on the downhill side of the house.

The original owner of this house was Jonathan Alvord, whose last name is also spelled Alford in historical records. There seems to be very little specific information about him, although he was living here until at least the 1810 census. When the first photo was taken over a century later, the house remained well-preserved, and not much has changed since then. Along with the many other 18th and 19th century homes in the center of Windsor, it is now part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.