Mt. Vernon Street Neighborhood

85 Mt Vernon St Bostonundefined

Bulfinch's Boston/Mt. Vernon Street Neighborhood
City of Boston Arts
Written By City of Boston Arts

The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.

In 1795, a group of investors led by Charles Bulfinch’s friend, Harrison Gray Otis, purchased 18.5 acres of cow-grazing land on Beacon Hill from the painter John Singleton Copley. The area quickly became a desirable place to live when Beacon Hill was chosen as the site for the new Massachusetts State House by a committee that included Otis. This potential conflict of interest caused a controversy and court case seeking to block the sale but did not manage to stop the State House or the development of Beacon Hill. Bulfinch created a master plan for the neighborhood which was realized by various developers over the next few decades.

The house at 85 Mt. Vernon St. is the second of three houses that Bulfinch designed for Otis, who would later serve as mayor of Boston and a US Senator. Like most of the houses on this street, it is still a private residence.

Mt. Vernon Street, named for one of three peaks that made up Beacon Hill before it was flattened for development, was one of the first streets to be developed and contains mostly single-family homes. As Boston became more crowded, rows of connected houses became more practical. Bulfinch was the first to introduce them to Boston in a crescent-shaped development downtown called Franklin Square. Though that project was a financial disaster for Bulfinch due to an odd financing scheme, it inspired many more multi-home developments which became the norm in most of Beacon Hill and Boston. One well-known example is Louisburg Square, a planned block of upscale homes on Mt. Vernon Street built in the 1840s. Bulfinch did not design it but it fit his plan for the neighborhood.

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An interior photo of 85 Mt. Vernon St. taken about 1895-1900 shows a fireplace flanked by satyrs. Throughout the 19th century, educated Bostonians were fans of classical Greek and Roman culture. These including Charles Bulfinch’s son Thomas Bulfinch, who wrote the classic "Bulfinch’s Mythology."

If you look carefully as you explore this neighborhood, you may catch a glimpse of this statue of the classical Athenian politician, Aristides. Now mostly obscured by trees, it was once an important symbol for elite Bostonians who saw their city as the “Athens of America." In a new nation with no official class system, the old families who arrived on the first few boats of English settlers, along with a growing number of families who made their fortunes in industry, saw themselves as America's aristocracy. Though their worldview was far from egalitarian, this noble sense of purpose motivated the "Boston Brahmins" to fund public schools, hospitals, museums, and libraries that would benefit all the people of Massachusetts and set a standard for public institutions throughout the US.

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