Historic House of the Month

1 Adams Street

Circa 1855

1 Adams Street is one of the most distinguished townhouses in all of Charlestown. Together with its ‘mate’ 63 Winthrop Street, these unique trapezoidally shaped Italianate homes built in 1855 create an impressive streetscape at the corner of Adams and Winthrop streets.

The Italianate style dominated urban architecture from 1850 to 1880.  The style reflects an interest at the time in Renaissance Italian architecture. Both 1 Adams and 65 Winthrop rise four stories above their granite bases to a flat roof with deeply bracketed overhanging eaves dominating the cornice line, one of the identifiable features of the Italianate style.  Both homes have recessed entrances with wooden oriels above, which contain narrow windows with an inverted U-shape at the crown. Italianate windows frequently have stylish or elaborately shaped window crowns. Paired entry doors are also common.

The interior of 1 Adams is beautifully embellished. The restoration is historically authentic with respect for the house as it was built. Many of the details including millwork, mantelpieces, flooring and original horsehair plaster remain intact. The stairwell and hall are located to the left, and a gleaming curved mahogany bannister and balusters lead to the upper floors. To the right is a cozy sitting room with original hardwood maple and walnut flooring, and a unique mantelpiece with reverse glass painted panels.  To the rear is a stunning European inspired kitchen designed by the current owners. The second floor (piano nobile) is typically the grandest space within urban townhouses of this era.  1 Adams features an elegant high-ceilinged parlor to the front with a refined library to the rear.  The oversized second-floor windows, including the aforementioned oriel, bring in abundant light from the southeast. Further detailing includes an elaborate plaster crown molding and ornate oval ceiling medallions in both rooms.  Both parlor and library have their original magnificently carved marble mantelpieces. Bedrooms and bathrooms occupy the upper two floors.

Adams Street, laid out in 1848, is entirely comprised of brick townhouses which serve as a classic backdrop for the Training Field (Winthrop Square).  In the early 19th Century, an almshouse (poorhouse) was located in this neighborhood on what is now Wallace Court, behind these homes. Following a fire in 1824, the almshouse was relocated to Elm Street and according to the Landmarks Commission this move was most likely influenced by the location’s proximity to the Bunker Hill Burial Ground, which was at that time a ‘burial place for the poor of Charlestown’.  The area northeast of the Training Field following the Battle of Bunker Hill and prior to 1848 was largely used for pastureland and farming.

The Landmarks Commission Survey indicates that 1 Adams and 63 Winthrop were built by Nathaniel Brown, a furniture merchant, in 1855. Nathaniel and his wife Julia were living in Charlestown during the 1850s and in 1860, but by 1880 they resided in the South End on Concord Square. It is unclear whether they ever occupied 1 Adams. A point of interest, a passport application from 1875 describes Nathaniel as being ‘5 ft 5½ in tall with brown hair, blue eyes, a small mouth and a pointed face’.  Nathaniel and Julia are both buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.  

On June 23, 1856 George Stimpson purchased 1 Adams from Nathaniel. Brown. The Stimpson family had been in Charlestown for several generations, and George’s ancestor Andrew served with Captain John Walton’s company in Rhode Island during the American Revolution.  Sawyer states in Old Charlestown that from 1857 to 1871 the house at 1 Adams was occupied by Reverend James B. Miles. Reverend Miles was pastor of the First Church for 17 years. Upon leaving his pastorate, he became secretary of the American Peace Society making several trips to Europe on behalf of the society.  On November 21, 1871, Miles sold 1 Adams to Edwin Weymouth for $10,500!  Historic homes and their various occupants have the ability to take us back in time . . . and reveal to us the history of our town in a colorful way.

Sources:  Old Charlestown by Timothy T Sawyer (1902), Boston Landmarks Commission Building Information Forms #4208 and #806, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester, A Century of Town Life by James F. Hunnewell (1888), Ancestry.com, Findagrave.com, Lineage Book-National Daughters of the American Revolution. Volume 17

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