Historic Houses of the Month: The Charlestown Savings Bank Building – One Thompson Square

By Nancy Hayford Kueny

The most interesting commercial building in Charlestown is the Charlestown Savings Bank at One Thompson Square, truly a landmark. Built in 1876, it is a magnificent example of High Victorian Gothic Style and was designed by architects George Moffette Jr. (1844-1939) and George Tolman (1837-1909), who began practicing as Moffette and Tolman in the 1860s. In addition to the Charlestown Five Cent Savings Bank which had offices on the second floor, the top three floors were built for and occupied by The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and included the King Solomon Lodge, the Price Lodge and the Faith Lodge. Other occupants of the building were the Charlestown Gas Company, the Monument National Bank, and the Mutual Protection Insurance Company. The street level tenants included R.F. Stacey Pharmacist (now Starbucks), and the C.D. Cobb & Co. grocery (now the Cambridge Savings Bank), as well as Mrs. S. Morse French Millinery.

In 1869 the City Council of Charlestown voted to enlarge the square, formerly known as Crafts’ Corner, to establish a commercial center. The frame house that stood at the junction of Warren and Main Streets at that time was built by the Boylston family who were residents of Charlestown as early as 1680. According to historian Timothy Sawyer, the Boylston House was possibly the first house built in Charlestown following the conflagration.This two-story frame gable roofed residence eventually became the apothecary shop of Elias Craft in 1828, and the location became known as Crafts’ Corner. The enlargement of the square required the demolition of the Boylston House, and the square was renamed Thompson Square in honor of the prominent Thompson family who owned several properties in the surrounding area.

The Hay family, also early settlers of Charlestown, owned a pasture that bordered Warren, Green and High Streets, and extended almost to Cordis Street on the southeast side.  Samuel Dexter bought a substantial portion of the pasture and built the mansion at 14 Green Street that is now Memorial Hall, currently being renovated. The First Church of Charlestown (historically the Universalist Church), as well as the Dexter Row lots, had also been part of the pasture. Lastly, the southwest corner of the pasture was owned by Timothy Thompson, who sold his mansion and grounds to the Charlestown Five Cent Savings Bank. The proposed new bank building served as a centerpiece for the newly created Thompson Square.

The Charlestown Five Cent Savings Bank was established in 1854 and was a significant financial institution for over a century. It was originally located in a small brick building in City Square, founded by a group of local businessmen and civic leaders. One of them was Phineas J. Stone (1810-1891) who was the president of the bank from 1854 until the time of his death. Phineas was born in Weare NH, the son of a grocer. His family moved to Charlestown in 1824. He became involved in the East India trade at 24, retiring from that occupation in 1851. Beginning in 1839 he became involved in local politics. Over the years he served as a Town Selectman, a member of the State Legislature, an inspector at the Charlestown State Prison, and was Mayor of Charlestown during the Civil War years, from 1862-1864. He lived in the stately double Greek Revival home at 2-4 Concord Street, built in 1840. It was one of the earliest homes built as part of the residential development of Monument Square.

The High Victorian Gothic Style was popular in the United States beginning in the 1860s, derived from Western European precedents. Chiefly used in large scale public buildings, these masonry buildings were characterized by complex massing and highly detailed façades, which featured  arched  windows and doorways and utilized varying design components such as brick or stone accents and contrasting colors and textures. The English architect and polymath John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a practitioner of the style, and it is frequently referred to as ‘Ruskinian Gothic’. One Thompson is a substantial appearing square building with a sandstone façade, brick sides and rear, and a mansard roof. The symmetrically designed eight-bay wide façade rises five stories. Two three-bay wings flank a slightly projecting two-bay central pavilion. Both the two entry doors and the second-floor windows feature characteristic Gothic pointed, lancet shaped arches, and there are two symmetrically placed plaques on the second-floor façade . Third and fourth floor windows feature rounded arches, and from a architectural design standpoint these two floors are treated as one element. The mansard roof is sheathed in slate with an intricate copper crest at the apex. Three gothic styled gabled dormers reprise the gabled entry doorways, giving the building a stunning cohesiveness. Much of the building’s interior original oak millwork in the public areas remains intact.

The building was designated a Boston Landmark in 1978 and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only commercial building in Charlestown to have been given these two designations.

For additional images visit www.nancykueny.com/blog.

Sources: Macris, SAH Archipedia, Old Charlestown by Timothy T. Sawyer (1902), National Parks Service, Boston Landmarks Commission, Wikipedia, Boston of Today: A Glance at its History and Characteristics by Edwin M. Bacon (1892)

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