Historic House of the Month: 12-14 Common Street Ca1806

The house at 12-14 Common Street is a fine example of the Federal period. A substantial and stylish building, it boasts a handsome fanlight above the center entrance to the 3-story 5-bay main block. Flanking the hooded main entry door are two Doric pilasters and fascia boards, as well as two cast iron boot scrapers on the well-worn granite entry step. The original kitchen wing is attached to the right of the main block and is comprised of two stories with its own entry door. The home was originally heated by eight fireplaces, all of which remain today. The building is clapboarded, original shiplap style, on the front façade. The end walls of this structure are brick.  This neighborhood, with other homes of this era on Common, Park and Putnam Streets, and the Training Field (c.1640), create a magical combination of humanly scaled buildings and open green space. As a group, they are one of the most intact collections of late 18th and early 19th Century wood frame buildings in the City. This area bordering the Training Field’s southeastern edge began to take on the appearance of a residential quarter between 1795 and 1810, evidence of Charlestown’s post-Revolutionary War recovery. This development was triggered by the construction of the Charlestown Navy Yard as well as the completion of the Salem Turnpike, and would not be fully realized for perhaps 20 or 30 years following the Revolution.

The original owner of 12-14 Common Street was John Tapley. According to Old Charlestown by T.T. Sawyer, Tapley purchased the lot for $10 from Benjamin Teel of Boston, a baker. John Tapley was a blacksmith by trade, and Sawyer notes that the first day’s work at the Charlestown Navy Yard (after being purchased by the U.S. Government) was the shoeing of a team of oxen by Tapley. Subsequently, Tapley had much to do with the ironwork within the Yard. He also owned Tapley’s Wharf which was occupied for the repair of vessels and building of boats, and his part in the venture was as a master ironworker. Tapley’s Wharf also provided a landing place for small vessels bringing such things as wood, lumber, and bricks from Maine. In the late 1820’s John Tapley and his wife Lydia Tufts, moved from 14 Common Street to a small farm on the Milk Row road, beyond the Charlestown Neck (now Somerville), part of her father Samuel’s larger farm. They had 8 children. (Lydia’s second cousin Charles Tufts, also descended from immigrant Peter Tufts of Norfolk, England, donated a total of 100 acres of his land in Medford, beginning in 1852, for what became Tufts University.)

From 1827-1835 Reuben Hunt, a “Moroccan” leather dealer owned the building. He sold #12, the kitchen wing, to William Arnold for $3,500. By 1849 it appears that Arnold, who owned a findings store in Charlestown, owned both 12 and 14 Common Street, and his heirs subsequently held the property until at least the 1920s.  Sometime between 1868 and 1875, two els were added to the rear of 12 and 14.

From 1950 to 1970, 14 Common Street was operated as the McArdle Funeral Home. In 1970, my husband Allan Kueny purchased the building. Over the years, we have restored it authentically, keeping its original trim, as well as its Christian cross doors, pine flooring, and horsehair plaster walls in the main block. Interestingly, the original 1806 home never had any plumbing installed prior to 1970! Sources:  Old Charlestown by Timothy T Sawyer (1902), Boston Landmarks Commission Building Information Form C68 by Ed Gordon, Ancestry.com, Geni.com, Wikipedia: History of Tufts University.

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