Smith Court Residences

3 Smith Ct Boston

Boston Black Heritage Trail/Smith Court Residences
Museum of African American History
Written By Museum of African American History

The Museum of African American History inspires all generations to embrace and interpret the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent, and those who found common cause with them, in their quest for freedom and justice. Through its historic buildings, collections, and programs, the Museum expands cultural understanding and promotes dignity and respect for all.

A glimpse of black Bostonian history

The five residential structures on Smith Court are typical of the homes occupied by black Bostonians in the 19th century. Number 3 was built in 1799 by two white bricklayers. It was a double house with a common entryway. Black families began renting here between 1825 and 1830. In 1865, it was purchased by black clothier James Scott. William C. Nell boarded here from 1851 to 1865. Nell was America's first published black historian, a community activist and leader in the struggle to integrate Boston's public schools before the Civil War.

Number 5

Number 5 was built as income property by a lawyer between 1815 and 1828. George Washington, a laborer and deacon of the African Meeting House, purchased the house in 1849. He lived in the upper part of the house with his wife and nine children, while the first floor was rented out.

Number 7

Number 7 was built some time between 1802 and 1811. Number 7A behind Number 7, is in Holmes Alley. Number 7A was built as a double house in 1799 and sold the next year to Richard Johnson, a mariner, and David Bartlett, a hairdresser. In the 1860s, black chimney sweep and entrepreneur Joseph Scarlett bought both 7 and 7A as rental property. In the 19th century, Holmes alley had several houses similar to 7A. They stood where there are backyards today. Such housing development in the middle of blocks, with an elaborate system of pedestrian alleys, was typical when African Americans lived in the West End.

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Number 10

Number 10, next to the African Meeting House, was built in 1853 for Joseph Scarlett. Originally, it had two brick stories with another story of dormer windows and a pitched roof. Scarlett lived on Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown. At the time of his death in 1898, he owned 15 properties. He left bequests to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, then on North Bennett Street, and to the Home for Aged Colored Women on Myrtle Street.

Walking past the walk-ups

The brick apartment houses on the west end of the court and on the corner of Joy Street are typical of the tenements developers began to build in this neighborhood between 1885 and 1915. They were built to satisfy the need for inexpensive, dense housing units for the waves of post-1880 European immigrants to Boston. Usually wooden houses were torn down to make way for these four and five story brick "walk-ups."

{Cover photo from Magicpiano via Wikimedia Commons}

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