Third Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston

The Third Harrison Gray Otis House, at 45 Beacon Street in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library

The house in 2017:


Harrison Gray Otis was a lawyer and politician, and one of the most prominent residents of Boston at the turn of the 19th century. Born in 1765 as a member of the prominent Otis family, he was a young boy when his uncle James became one of the leading anti-British patriots in the years leading up to the American Revolution. After graduating from Harvard in 1783, Harrison subsequently opened his law practice in Boston, and in 1796 he was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. That same year, he was elected to Congress, and served two terms from 1797 to 1801.

Otis would go on to serve in the state legislature from 1802 to 1817, and was elected to a term in the U.S. Senate from 1817 to 1822. A few years later, he finished his political career by serving as mayor of Boston from 1829 to 1832. However, despite his extensive political career, his greatest legacy in Boston has probably been his three houses on Beacon Hill, all of which are still standing today as some of the finest examples of residential Federal architecture in the country.

All three of his houses were designed by Charles Bulfinch, one of the nation’s most prominent architects of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first house, completed in 1796, was built on Cambridge Street, but Otis only lived here for a few years before moving in 1800, to another new house on Mount Vernon Street, near the top of Beacon Hill. He did not live there for very long either, though, because his third house, seen here on Beacon Street, was completed in 1808.

When the house was completed, Beacon Hill was just starting to be developed as an upscale neighborhood for Boston’s elite, and Otis’s house occupied one of the most desirable spots, directly across from Boston Common. Although most of the houses here are townhouses, his was originally built as a freestanding home, with gardens to the right and behind it, and a driveway to the left. The house itself is considered to have been one of Charles Bulfinch’s finest works, and Otis was evidently satisfied with it, because he lived here until his death 40 years later in 1848.

Otis’s political career peaked during the time that he lived here, and this house saw several distinguished guests, including James Monroe, who stayed here during a visit to Boston in 1817, as well as Senator Henry Clay. With Beacon Hill becoming the city’s most desirable and exclusive neighborhood, though, property values rose to the point where Otis could no longer justifying having large gardens around his house. So, in 1831 he sold a 25-foot wide section of his garden to his neighbor, David Sears, who built an addition to his own house. This granite townhouse, which can be partially seen on the far right, was built for his daughter Anna and her husband William Amory, who was a prominent textile manufacturer. Two years later, Otis filled in the gap between the two houses by building 44 Beacon Street, directly adjacent to his own house, for his daughter Sophia and her husband, Andrew Ritchie.

By the time Harrison Gray Otis died in 1848, his formerly freestanding home had been mostly incorporated into the streetscape of Beacon Street. The only remnant of the gardens that once surrounded his home is the driveway on the left, which leads to a carriage house in the backyard. A rarity in Beacon Hill, this driveway is the only break in an otherwise continuous row of houses on Beacon Street between Walnut and Spruce Streets. When the first photo was taken about 12 years after his death, the house and its surroundings had already assumed its present-day appearance, and there is hardly any difference despite being taken over 150 years apart.

When the first photo was taken, the house was owned by brothers Samuel and Edward Austin, both of whom were merchants. Neither brother ever married, and after Samuel’s death, Edward continued to live here for many years, until his own death in 1898 at the age of 95. The property changed hands several more times in the first half of the 20th century, and by 1940 it was owned by the Boy Scouts, who used it as offices until 1954. Since 1958, it has been owned by the American Meteorological Society, and it is used as the organization’s headquarters. During this time, the interior was significantly renovated, but the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, and it still stands as one of the finest homes in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Mass

The Red Lion Inn at the corner of Main and South Streets in Stockbridge, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The origins of the Red Lion Inn date back to 1773, when Silas Pepoon opened a tavern here in the center of Stockbridge. Taverns in colonial America often used distinctive signs to identify themselves, and Pepoon’s tavern sign featured a red lion with a green tail. Although its name would later be derived from the old sign, it was originally known simply as the Stockbridge House. In 1862, it was purchased by Charles and Mert Plumb, and in the decades that followed the hotel enjoyed success, with the Berkshires becoming a popular summer destination. During this time, the hotel was steadily expanded, and 1891 it was renamed Ye Red Lion Inn. Five years later, though, the historic building was completely destroyed in a fire.

The Plumbs rebuilt on the same site, although by now the hotel was being run by their nephew, Allen T. Treadway. A future state legislator and Congressman, Treadway also built the nearby Heaton Hall hotel, and he owned the two properties until his death in 1947. His son, Heaton, sold both hotels in 1955. By this point, many of the grand hotels of the Gilded Age had been destroyed by fires, or had closed during the Great Depression. Those that remained, such as the Red Lion and Heaton Hall, struggled with declining business, with tourists increasingly preferring modern, more convenient motels.

Both hotels were sold again in 1969. Heaton Hall was demolished a few years later, but the Red Lion Inn was purchased by Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick, the founders of Country Curtains. The ground floor of the inn became the company’s first permanent location, while the upper floors remained a hotel. Around the same time, Norman Rockwell, a longtime Stockbridge resident, featured it in his famous Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas painting. Since then, the inn has continued to be a prominent landmark in the center of town, and is one of the few surviving grand hotels in the Berkshires from the 19th century.

Hagyard Store, Lenox, Mass

The Hagyard Store at the corner of Main and Housatonic Streets in Lenox, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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Built in 1910, this building at the center of Lenox was the home of Frank C. Hagyard’s drugstore. When the first photo was taken, Lenox was a popular resort destination for the wealthy, and the drugstore would have catered to many of these summer visitors. Like some of Lenox’s other prominent buildings of the era, it was designed by Pittsfield architect George C. Harding, and it reflects the Renaissance Revival style that was popular at the time.

More than a century later, the former drugstore building is still standing. With modern air conditioning, large awnings are no longer needed over the windows to keep the upper floors cool, but otherwise the exterior does not look much different from its appearance in the 1910s. There is no longer a drugstore on the first floor, but the building now houses, among other things, the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.

Town Hall, Lenox, Mass

The Lenox Town Hall on Walker Street in Lenox, around 1905-1915 and 2016. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The corner of Walker Street and Old Stockbridge Road has long been the site of Lenox’s town government. When Lenox was designated as the seat of Berkshire County, the first county courthouse was built here in 1791. A new courthouse opened a short distance away in 1816, and the old one became the Lenox town hall, serving in that role until the current one was completed in 1903. The old building was preserved, though. It was moved off the site, to a new location at the corner of Housatonic and Church Streets, where it still stands today.

The new town hall was designed by George C. Harding, a Pittsfield-based architect who also designed some of the additions to the Curtis Hotel across the street. Because of this, the two buildings match each other with their similar Colonial Revival architecture. Aside from its role as the town hall, the building also housed the post office, a bank, the police department, and the fire department. Most of these secondary functions, except the police station, would later be moved to separate buildings, but it remains in use as the town hall, with few exterior changes over the years.

Curtis Hotel, Lenox, Mass

The Curtis Hotel at the corner of Main and Walker Streets in Lenox, around 1905-1915 and 2016. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2016:

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This hotel in the center of Lenox was built in 1829, and prospered in part because of its location next to the Berkshire County Courthouse, which is visible just to the left in both photos. In 1853, the building was purchased by William O. Curtis and became known as the Curtis Hotel, with the business staying in his family for nearly a century. During this time, the county seat was moved to Pittsfield, but Lenox was in the midst of changing roles and becoming a popular tourist destination.

The Curtis Hotel prospered during this time, with visits some of the most prominent Americans from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Other notable guests included writers Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Civil War Generals William T. Sherman and George B. McClellan, and businessmen Jim Fiske and John Jacob Astor.

Because of this prosperity, the hotel underwent several major expansions, to the point where it was unrecognizable from its original appearance by the start of the 20th century. The last major addition came in 1898, and by the time the first photo was taken it had largely assumed its present-day exterior. At this point, the hotel faced competition from other nearby hotels, including the Hotel Aspinwall, which opened on a hilltop just to the north of the town center in 1902.

However, like so many other grand hotels of the Gilded Age, the Curtis Hotel was hit hard by the Great Depression. Lenox would no longer be the playground of the rich and famous as it had once been, and many of the hotels began to struggle . The Curtis family sold the hotel by the 1940s, and by the 1970s the deteriorating hotel had closed for good. In 1979, though, the town purchased the historic building and converted it into subsidized housing for elderly residents. The renovations were completed in 1982, and the building has continued to be used in that role ever since.

Country Club, Pittsfield, Mass

The Country Club of Pittsfield, on South Street, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The Country Club of Pittsfield was established on this site on South Street in 1900, but the building that became the clubhouse actually dates back more than a century earlier. It was built in 1785 by Henry Van Schaack, who lived here until 1807. During this time, he entertained visitors such as Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Jay, and Senator Philip Schuyler. From 1816 to 1837, it was the home of author Herman Melville’s uncle, Thomas Melville.By this point, Pittsfield was becoming a popular destination for some of the great writers of the era, and Thomas’s son Robert took advantage of this. He purchased the house from his father in 1837 and opened Melville Hall, a resort whose guests included literary figures such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1850, the house was sold to the Morewood family, who renamed it Broad Hall and lived here for the next 50 years. Prominent guests continued to visit here during this time, including former president John Tyler. After the Morewoods sold the property to the country club in 1900, the house very nearly hosted another president. Theodore Roosevelt was in Pittsfield on September 3, 1902, and was traveling in a horse-drawn carriage on South Street, heading for the country club. With him was governor Winthrop M. Crane, along with several others. Shortly before reaching the country club, the carriage was hit by a speeding trolley, throwing the occupants out of the carriage. Roosevelt suffered a bloody lip and bruised face, and was reportedly only two inches away from being crushed by the wheels of the trolley, but was otherwise unhurt, and later remarked that “It takes more than a trolley accident to knock me out.” However, Secret Service agent William Craig was killed in the accident, making him the first agent to be killed in the line of duty.

Today, the country club is still located on this property, although the clubhouse has significantly expanded from its original 18th century building. The historic structure is still easily distinguished from the modern additions, though. It still has its distinct Federal architecture, and aside from its connection to so many historic figures, it also serves as a rare example of an 18th century mansion in Pittsfield.