Historic Houses of the Month The Temple Front Greek Revivals

During the reconstruction following the Battle of Bunker Hill, two house styles dominated Charlestown, the late Georgian and the Federal. Both of these styles were derivative of English architecture, but the newly independent United States, particularly following the War of 1812, began looking to the ancient classical world for inspiration. From about 1825 until 1860, the Greek Revival style emerged as a popular style.  Within this style, a subtype developed known as the temple-form house. Displaying all the hallmarks of the style, 33 Cordis St. is a fine example. The three-bay gable end of the building faces the street to form the main façade. A full-width portico with four handsomely carved fluted Ionic columns with scrolled capitals stretches across the façade. The Ionic columns are surmounted by entablature as well as a classical pediment which gives the home the look of a miniature Greek temple. Greek Revival homes are side-hall plans and generally have elegant taller first floor windows, in this case nine-over-six sashes.

Known as the Swallow Mansion and built in 1845, 33 Cordis St. was named for its fifth owner, Amaziah N. Swallow. Swallow purchased the home from Robert Edes in 1862 for $2,462. Swallow was a successful grocer who operated ‘The Big Store’ at 12-13 City Square beginning in 1850. It was one of the largest grocery stores in the Boston area. Groceries were shipped all over New England on a daily basis. Swallow also held lucrative contracts with the U.S. Government to supply warships with hundreds of tons of goods. The Swallow family owned No. 33 until 1901.

Two more fine examples of the temple-form Greek Revival are located on the Charlestown Neck at 4 Brighton St. and 28 Brighton Str., anchoring both ends of the block. Both were built around 1846-7 by Boston builder James Richie who was active from around 1835 until his death in 1884. The house at No. 28 has most of the same attributes as 33 Cordis St., while the temple-form house at No. 4 is a simpler, smaller version of the style with an ionic columned porch that rises to the attic.

The Neck Village has been inhabited since the early days of Charlestown when Main Street was known as the ‘Main Road’ or ‘Country Road,’ which went from the Town Hill (Windmill Hill) settlement past the Mill Pond and Mill Village and onward to the Neck .The 19th-century development of the Neck Village was largely due to the influx of immigrants from Ireland and Europe arriving in Boston at that time. In the 1840s, Brighton, Perkins and Parker streets were laid out on land purchased in the early 1800s by Richard Sullivan, Sr., a son of James Sullivan who was Governor of Massachusetts (1807-1808) and also President of the Middlesex Canal Company, which operated from 1803 until 1851. Richard, also involved with the Middlesex Canal, was an attorney, a real estate speculator and owner of Sullivan’s Tavern near the terminus of the canal. Sullivan Square was named after this family.

Another variation of the monumental Greek Revival is located at 20 Albion Place. It was built 1840-42 by carpenters Aaron Clark and Enos Varney on a lot purchased for $466. The house is notable for its side porch with four fluted columns that rise to a projecting entablature under the roof.  Corners are accented with flat Doric pilasters. It’s a fine example of a homestead built when lots were much larger, prior the period of extensive building of row houses that commenced in the later part of the 19th century.

This house at 20 Albion was eventually lived in by one of Charlestown’s most notable citizens of the mid-19th C, Dr. Elias Crafts. Dr. Crafts ran an apothecary shop located at the confluence of Warren and Main streets at the point where Austin Street enters Thompson Square, across from what is now Dexter Row.  The property had been owned by John Hay, baker, since before the Revolution. All of the land between Main and High street from Green Street almost to Cordis Street was John Hay’s pasture. The house was burned following the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Hay erected a new house in the 1780s on the site of his former homestead. The historian Timothy Sawyer believed that the house was the first house to be reconstructed in Charlestown following the battle. Hay’s daughter Mercy Hay Boylston inherited the house and it became known as the “Boylston House.” The house was a two-story, gable-roofed Georgian, and in 1828 Elias Crafts established his apothecary shop on the northwestern end of the building looking up Main Street. The corner was known as “Crafts Corner” for the next 40 years. The shop was stocked with all sorts of bottles and jars of medicine, as well as fancy goods, and it became a gathering place for the locals to stop by to socialize and discuss the news of the day. In 1857, Dr. Crafts sold his store and established a wholesale drug business on Commercial Wharf in Boston. In 1869, the City Council of Charlestown passed an order to enlarge the square. The Boylston House was torn down, the corner cut off, and the square enlarged and renamed Thompson Square, after the Thompson family who lived in the neighborhood. The Thompson houses shall be the topic of a future article.

 Sources: “Old Charlestown” by Timothy Sawyer, “A Century of Town Life” by James F. Hunnewell, MACRIS: Various Landmarks Commission Surveys, “A Field Guide to American Houses” by Virginia Savage McAlester, “Images of America: Charlestown” by Anthony Mitchell Samarco.

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