Martin Luther King’s Residence

397 Massachusetts Avenue, South End

In 1952-1953, while a graduate student at the Boston University School of Theology, Martin Luther King resided in a building located at 397 Massachusetts Avenue (as indicated by a small plaque on its façade). At the time, it was likely a boarding house in which residents rented rooms.

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Plaque on the outside of the building at 397 Massachusetts Avenue.

MLK’s apartment also served as the meeting place for the Dialectical Society, a club dedicated to discussing matters of philosophy and theology and composed largely of African American male graduate students. His future wife, Coretta Scott (who he met in early 1952), lived nearby as she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, and occasionally participated in the group’s meetings.

In the early 1950, the neighborhood was a vibrant, largely Black community with a rich array of restaurants and jazz clubs, ones where the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington could be seen. Today, only a few of those institutions remain in the heavily gentrified area.

No longer a boarding house, 397 Massachusetts Avenue is today home to apartments owned and maintained by the South End’s Tenants’ Development Corporation. Founded in 1968, the organization works to increase the availability of housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

397 Massachusetts Avenue, 2016. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

Orange Line to Massachusetts Avenue Station. Exit at Massachusetts Avenue and immediately go left. Number 397 is two buildings away on the left-hand side.

Nearby points of interest:

170 St. Botolph Street. At some point after living at 397 Massachusetts Avenue, MLK lived in an apartment in this building.

Wally’s Café Jazz Club (the last of the area’s venerable jazz and blues clubs), 427 Massachusetts Avenue.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe. Established in 1927, the white-owned restaurant was featured in The Green Book as it welcomed Black diners and Black jazz musicians during its first few decades, a time when many area establishments. The floor above the restaurant served as the union hall of the Boston branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an African-American-led union. 429 Columbus Avenue.

New England Conservatory of Music, 290 Huntington Avenue.

To learn more:

Cara Feinberg, “When Martin met Coretta,” The Boston Globe, January 22, 2003.

Stephen C. Ferguson II, “The Philosopher King: An Examination of the Influence of Dialectics on King’s Political Thought and Practice,” in Robert E. Birt, The Liberatory Thought of Martin Luther King: Critical Essays on the Philosopher King, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2012:  87-108.

Robert Hayden, “Local activists recall King’s presence in Hub,” The Bay State Banner, January 14, 2015.

For more sites in Boston associated with Martin  Luther King, see the “Malcolm and Martin Tour.” in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Photo credit:

The photo at the top of the entry is from April 22, 1965. MLK is speaking on the front steps of the William Boardman School in Roxbury, in support of parents working to remedy substandard and unequal schools and racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools. Source: Boston Herald.

First Town House/Old State House

206 Washington Street, Downtown

The First Town House opened in 1658. The wood frame building served as Boston’s town hall and the colonial seat of government. The building had a public market on the first floor. It also hosted legislative meetings and receptions by colonial officials and prominent Bostonians. In addition, it housed Boston’s first public library.

Illustration of First Town House, 1897. Source: Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University (Boston Streets collection).

On December 25, 1686, Sir Edmund Andros, the royal governor of the Dominion of New England, attended two religious services at First Town House celebrating Christmas. British soldiers flanked Andros as the recently appointed official feared protests by opponents of the Christian holiday. The Puritans saw Christmas as little more than a pagan festival, with origins in the celebration of the winter solstice, dressed up in religious garb. Moreover, Christmas often involved behavior that Massachusetts Puritans perceived as antithetical to respect for Christ’s birth—“rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often involving the threat of doing harm), and even the invasion of wealthy homes” in the words of historian Steven Nissenbaum. As the highly influential religious leader Cotton Mather said to his adherents in 1712, “the feast of Christ’s nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”

In 1659, about 27 years prior to Governor Andros’s attendance at the religious ceremonies at First Town House, the Massachusetts Bay Colony criminalized the celebration of Christmas, imposing a five shilling fine on those who violated the law. In 1681, however, Massachusetts rescinded numerous puritanical laws, including the ban on Christmas, in response to political pressure from Britain. Still, through the early decades of the 1800s, businesses and schools in Massachusetts did not close for Christmas, and many churches did not open. It was not until 1856 that Christmas became a public holiday in the state.

A huge fire destroyed the First Town House in 1711. Two years later, the Old State House, which still stands, was built on the site.

Getting there:

MBTA Orange or Blue Line to State station.

To learn more:

Christopher Klein, “When Massachusetts Banned Christmas,” History.com, December 22, 2015.

Steven Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Hugh Morrison, Early American Architecture from the First Colonial Settlements to the National Period, New York: Oxford University Press (88-89), 1952.

Staff, “When Americans Banned Christmas, The Week, January 8, 2015.

Bussey Bridge

South Street at Archdale Street, Roslindale

On March 14, 1887, the 7:00am commuter train left Roslindale station on its way to the Forest Hills stop. On board were somewhere between 200 and 300 passengers. As the train crossed the Bussey Bridge, the iron structure gave way and the passenger cars fell 40 feet or more (estimates vary) right through the bridge, killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Caption of illustration: “Massachusetts – the recent disaster at Forest Hills, on the Boston and Providence Railway – extricating the killed and injured immediately after the accident. Taken from a photo by D.W. Butterfield, Cambridgeport, Mass.” Source: Digital Commonwealth.

The Bussey Bridge was originally made of wooden trusses that were coated with tin for reasons of fire prevention, earning it the nickname “Tin Bridge.” By 1876, however, the entire bridge was made of iron. Following the fatal tragedy of 1887, an official investigation determined that bridge had been improperly designed and manufactured, and that it had gradually weakened from heavy usage. The Massachusetts Board of Railroad Commissioners also concluded that the Boston and Providence Railroad Company had been negligent in its managerial and inspection responsibilities. As a result of the disaster, railroad inspection regulations greatly improved across the country.

The wreckage also attracted a great number of viewers. Some claim that the viewing subsequently led many to decide to move to the area due to its beauty, thus spurring the growth of Roslindale.

Today, the rebuilt bridge, now made of cement and stone, stands as a memorial to the victims. The year of the accident, 1887, is engraved at the top of the bridge, and a small plaque explaining the event hides in the shadows on the left side (on the abutment) of the bridge on the Washington Street side.

Bussey Bridge, Summer 2014. Photo by Eleni Macrakis.

Getting there:

Orange Line or MBTA bus to Forest Hills Station. (0.8 miles, about a 16-minute walk.)

To learn more:

Boston 200 Corporation. Roslindale. Boston, Boston 200 Corporation, 1975.

Larry Pletcher, Massachusetts Disasters: True Stories of Tragedy and Survival. Guilford, Connecticut: Morris Book Publishing, 2006.

Anthony Sammarco, Roslindale. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 1997.

Massachusetts Board of Railroad Commissioners, Special Report by the Massachusetts Board of Railroad Commissioners to the Legislature in relation to the Disaster on Monday, March 14, 1887 on the Dedham Branch of the Boston and Providence Railroad. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Co., State Printers, 1887.

Edward J. Sweeney, “Bussey Bridge Train Disaster,” Yankee Magazine, Vol. 39, No. 3. March 1975.

Copley Square Hotel

47 Huntington Avenue, Back Bay

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Copley Square Hotel, circa 1909. Source: Library of Congress.

When it opened on July 4, 1891, the Copley Square Hotel was the first and only hotel in the Back Bay. In 1896, the hotel served as the campaign headquarters for then-presidential candidate William McKinley. During the 1940s, the hotel housed the Storyville Jazz Club, which hosted, among others, the famed Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Less known is the occupant of a second-floor suite from 1939 to 1942: the New England chapter of the Christian Front and its leader, Francis Moran, an agent of Nazi Germany.

Father Charles Coughlin, the antisemitic and fascistic priest from Detroit whose weekly radio broadcasts enjoyed a national audience of millions during the 1930s, established the Christian Front in the United States. Soon, the organization, a variant of which originated in Europe, had a large presence in Boston. Indeed, under the capable leadership of Moran—several hundred would often attend the organization’s meetings at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury—the city emerged as the epicenter of the Christian Front’s activities in the United States.

The membership of the Boston-area Front was composed mostly of Irish Catholics and largely of people on the socioeconomic margins. It also enjoyed significant support within Boston’s police force, within organized labor, and among key elements of the area’s political establishment. According to historian Charles Gallagher, “fronters” perceived themselves as under threat and as engaged in a holy war of sorts, one in which Communists and Jews—overlapping categories in their eyes—were the enemy. Many Catholic priests soft-peddled the far-right politics of the Christian Front while providing theological leadership. Meanwhile, the Church hierarchy did nothing to challenge, while often effectively sanctioning, the organization’s hate-filled propaganda.

German consul’s house, 39 Chestnut Street, Beacon Hill, 1940. Source: Tufts Digital Library.

Recruited by Germany’s consul general on Beacon Hill with the goal of helping to build support for U.S. neutrality during World War II, Moran would become a Nazi agent soon after the Christian Front’s establishment in Boston. Eventually, Frances Sweeney, head of Boston’s Irish American Defense Association, exposed Moran as a Nazi propagandist.* With the United States having recently declared war on Germany, this led the Boston Police Department to shut down the Christian Front’s operations and its office at the Copley Square Hotel in January 1942. Nonetheless, the Front continued to operate, clandestinely, in the Boston area until 1945 or so.

The Copley Square Hotel advertises itself as “the city’s second-oldest hotel in continuous operation.” However, it closed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic for reasons of renovation. It reopened in April 2022. The hotel’s worker’s are unionized, members of UNITE-HERE Local 26.

Photo by Suren Moodliar, October 2021.

Getting there:

Green Line to Green Line to Copley station; 0.2 miles (4-minute) walk. Orange Line or Commuter Rail to Back Bay Station; 0.4 mile (8-minute) walk.

To learn more:

Charles R. Gallagher, Nazis of Couple Square: The Forgotten History of the Christian Front, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Gal Tziperman Lotan, “Workers protest as hotel closures drag on and on,” The Boston Globe, October 28, 2021.

*See our entry on South Boston High School in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston to learn more about Frances Sweeney, the Irish American Defense Association, and the Christian Front.

Mather Elementary School

1 Parish Street, Dorchester

Mather School, 1905. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Mather is the oldest public elementary and the first tax-supported school in the United States. It was founded in 1639 near the corner of what are today Cottage Street and Pleasant Street as a one-room schoolhouse. It remained there until 1694, when it moved about a half mile to Winter Street (the site of a fire station today) atop Meetinghouse Hill, Dorchester’s highest point–just yards from the school’s present location. It was then that the school was named after Richard Mather (Increase Mather’s father and Cotton Mather’s grandfather), a Congregational minister who settled in Dorchester in 1635. It is unclear when girls first attended the school, but in 1784, the town of Dorchester voted to allow females to do so and provide for their education.

In 2014, the Mather School marked its 375th birthday. Today, it is a school of great diversity, with students of African American, Cape Verdean, Haitian, Irish, and Vietnamese backgrounds. With many recently immigrated students of Vietnamese descent with limited English proficiency, the school runs a Vietnamese Sheltered Instruction program. 

The Mather is today housed in a building constructed in 1905. There is a beautiful view of the harbor and much of the city from the school’s grounds.

Getting there:

Red Line to Fields Corner station. 0.7 mile (15-minute) walk.

Nearby point of interest:

First Parish Church Dorchester (established in 1631, Unitarian Universalist), 10 Parish Street. The congregation, which founded the Mather School, has had a church on Meetinghouse Hill since the 1670s. The current building was constructed in 1897.

Joshua Bowen Smith Catering Business

City Hall Plaza (formerly 16 Brattle Street), Downtown

Photo of Joshua Bowen Smith cropped from a larger photo showing ten Massachusetts state representatives in 1874. Public domain.

In 1861, as Massachusetts rallied for the Civil War, abolitionist Joshua Bowen Smith, one of just five Black restaurateurs in the state, fed the state’s 12th Regiment for a period of three months, incurring a sizable outlay, $40,378. On presentation of the bill to the governor, John Andrew, himself an abolitionist, the state refused to pay. However, it did reimburse white restaurateurs. Such discrimination was the norm. According to a historian of the period, Black business people operated in “constant fear” that white clientele would not pay. Eight years later, following a lawsuit, Smith received partial compensation, insufficient however to save his business and rendering him indebted until his death in 1879.

Prior to those events, Smith grew a lucrative catering and then restaurant business serving both Harvard University and the abolitionist movement. His staff included formerly enslaved people, many living as fugitives from the South. Their employment was thus in defiance of federal law. Such a stance was consistent with Smith’s commitments. He was a leader of the Boston Vigilance Committee and founder of the New England Freedom Association, a fugitive slave assistance group founded by African Americans.

After the Civil War, Smith enjoyed enough public support to be win election to the state legislature in 1873. His many legislative activities included persuading the state to erect the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial across from the Massachusetts State House and advising his close friend Senator Charles Sumner on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Smith’s home at 79 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, is today part of that city’s African American Heritage Trail. Smith harbored people fleeing enslavement in his home, which served as stop on the Underground Railroad in the years preceding the Civil War.

Map of Scollay Square, circa 1851. Red area is center of the square. Source: And This Is Good Old Boston.

As for the former site of his catering business, the City of Boston eradicated Brattle Street as part of the larger razing of Scollay Square in 1962. The business would have stood on what is today the southern end of City Hall Plaza. In Smith’s time, the area was home to key institutions associated with the abolitionist movement. Located one block away, on Cornhill Street, for example, were the offices of the famed abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, and John P. Jewett and Company, publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Getting there:

Blue Line or Green Line to Government Center station.

To learn more:

Kelly Erby, Restaurant Republic: The Rise of Public Dining in Boston. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.*

Related site:

Smith is buried at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

*The book mistakenly reports that Joshua Bowen Smith’s catering business was located on Brattle Street in Cambridge, instead of Boston.

Chestnut Hill Reservoir & the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

2450 Beacon Street, Brighton

Pumping station of the Boston Water Works, Chestnut Hill Reservoir, circa late 1800s. Source: Arts Department, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

The Chestnut Hill Reservoir, located at the western end of the city along the border with Brookline, opened in 1870 to help meet Boston’s water needs. Work on it began soon after the Civil War. With a capacity of 550,600,000 gallons, the reservoir greatly helped to relieve the pressure on Boston’s water system—at least for a while, particularly during a time of rapid population growth.

The reservoir was also noteworthy for the beauty of its grounds, constructed to allow for ambling in “nature” and, later, for its built infrastructure—particularly an 80-foot carriage road and greenway around the water body, a grand entrance arch connecting it to Beacon Street, and the pumping station (constructed in 1897). What the bucolic setting obscured was the arduous labor that went into constructing it.

Postcard of Chestnut Hill Reservoir pumping station and grounds, 1908. Source: Brookline Historical Society.

Built on the site was housing to accommodate for more than 400 workers, many of whom were Irish and Canadian immigrants or Civil War veterans While the Cotichuate Water Board, which oversaw the project, claimed that its policy was to “pay our employés fair wages for their services, and have them well treated,” the workers perceived the wages as inadequate. On March 2, 1867, 225 workers, who were receiving $1.50 for their 12-to-14 hour-workdays, went on strike for higher pay. According to the Water Board, the workers “virtually proposed to supersede those in authority, and to fix their own wages…”  The Board promptly fired all the striking workers, the majority of whom they said had been misled by “a few restless, rambling men [who] were the leaders in the affair,” and quickly found replacement workers, whose wages were raised to $1.75 a day. That the Water Board was able to behave as it did suggests the weak bargaining position of workers at the time, a result of low levels of organization among many laborers and the presence of many in need of wage work.

The reservoir was taken offline in 1978, but it still serves as a backup water source in case of emergency. The architecturally grand pumping station on the reservoir’s edge is today home to the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. The museum, entrance into which is free, interprets the history of Greater Boston’s water systems.

Getting there:

Green Line to Reservoir Station (D Line), or to Cleveland Circle Station (C Line). (0.4 miles, 8-minute walk.)

To learn more:

Boston Landmark Commission, Report of the Boston Landmark Commission on the Potential Designation of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and Pumping Stations as a Landmark, City of Boston: Environment Department, Boston Landmark Commission, 1989.

William P. Marchione, “Water for Greater Boston,” Brighton Allston Historical Society, circa 1998-2001. (See also historical images of reservoir here.)

Report of the Cotichuate Water Board to the City Council of Boston for the Year 1866-67, City Document No. 88, Boston, 1867.

Hibernian Hall

182-186 Dudley Street, Roxbury

The Emerald Isle Orchestra, Hibernian Hall, 1939. Source: Digital Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, UMass Boston.

Built in 1913, Hibernian Hall was an important center for Boston’s Irish community for almost fifty years. It hosted concerts of traditional Irish music, and contained a bowling alley, ballroom and many meeting rooms. Among other organizations, many local chapters of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization, which had its 19th century roots in combating discrimination against Irish immigrants, frequently took advantage of the space. So, too, did Boston’s largely Irish Catholic chapter of the Christian Front (see the entry on the Copley Square Hotel), an anti-Semitic organization, in the early 1940s.

In the initial decades of the 1900s, an influx of Jewish immigrants to Roxbury led to the Hall providing space for Bar Mitzvahs. In later years, the growing Black community in Roxbury led it to host James Brown and the Famous Flames before their rise to prominence. In a context in which many residents of Irish origin had moved out of Roxbury to other areas in Greater Boston and growing numbers of African Americans moved in, the Opportunities Industrialization Center bought the building in 1972. Started by Reverend Leon Sullivan of Philadelphia, the Center focused on providing technical and life skills training to the Black community.

In 2000, the Madison Park Development Corporation, a local community non-profit, purchased the Hall and relocated its offices there. The building’s 250-seat ballroom serves as the Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, a venue for theater, concerts, dances, film screenings, and private events.

Hibernian Hall, 2014. Photo by Eleni Macrakis.

Getting there:

Silver Line to Nubian Square station. Walk towards Dudley Street and turn left. Hibernian Hall is on the left side of the street. (0.2 miles, a 4-minute walk.)

To learn more:

Charles R. Gallagher, Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Gedutis, Susan. See You at the Hall: Boston’s Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press/University Press of New England, 2004.

Madison Park Development Corporation. “Hibernian Hall 100th Anniversary Video, Dudley Square, Roxbury, 1913-2013,” posted on YouTube on October 11, 2013.

Columbus Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church

600 Columbus Avenue, South End

Columbus Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church, 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Columbus Avenue African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church was born, according to its website, “on June 13, 1838 when seventeen persons of color withdrew from the communion of the Methodist Episcopal Church” on Beacon Hill. The Black worshipers opted to become part of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, an African American denomination.

The congregation established itself in its current location in 1903, a time when many African Americans were moving to the South End. The church purchased the building (constructed in 1888 and today the oldest synagogue building in Massachusetts) from Temple Adath Israel (now called Temple Israel and located in the Longwood area of Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood).

Plaque on the outside of the Columbus Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church. Photo by Joseph Nevins, 2015.

Soon after the move to the South End, the church became the site of a famous conflict between Dorchester resident William Monroe Trotter, the founder of The Guardian, an influential and African American newspaper based in Boston, and Booker T. Washington. Washington’s emphasis on Black self-help and his accommodationist approach to institutionalized racism greatly frustrated Trotter and his allies, who together became known as the Boston Radicals. So when the Boston branch of the National Negro Business League invited Washington to speak at the church on July 30, 1903, Trotter and his supporters went there to confront him.

Trotter’s contentious questions, declaimed from a chair on which he stood as soon after Washington began speaking, led to shouting and shoving between supporters of the two camps; meanwhile someone reportedly threw red pepper and a stink bomb into the large crowd. Boston police, wielding billy clubs, arrested Trotter, accusing him of provoking of what came to be known as the “Boston Riot.”

While calling it a “riot” seems excessive, the event was important in raising Trotter’s stature as a key opponent of Washington. It also strengthened W.E.B. Du Bois’s identification with the Radicals, thus contributing to the formation in 1905 of the Niagara Movement, a Black civil rights organization which, unlike Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine,” took a strong stance against policies of segregation and disenfranchisement.

Getting there:

Orange Line to Massachusetts Avenue station. The church is a 0.2 mile walk away (about 4 minutes). at the corner of Northampton Street.

To learn more:

Howard Manly, “The Guardian,” The Bay State Banner, Vol. 41, No. 25, February 2, 2005.

Elliot M. Rudwick, “Race Leadership Struggle: Background of the Boston Riot of 1903,” Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 31, No. 1, 1962: 16-24.

Kayla Schott-Bresler,Columbus Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,” BlackPast.org, undated.

Also see the entry on “The William Monroe Trotter House” in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Shirley-Eustis House

33 Shirley Street, Roxbury

In late 1755, ships carrying French-speaking deportees, from what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces, began arriving in Boston Harbor. Known as the Acadians, some 2,000 of them would resettle in Massachusetts. Their expulsion, what many Acadian descendants still refer to as “Le Grand Dérangement” (Great Upheaval), paved the way for the occupation of their lands by “New England Planters”—about 8,000 New Englanders heeding a British call to replace the Acadians. 

Although the treatment of the Acadian diaspora is much debated, responsibility for their expulsion and the expropriation of their lands is not in doubt. Massachusetts Colony Governor William Shirley, who spent at least part of each year living in his mansion on a 33-acre Roxbury estate, ordered their removal during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763). Although a civilian, Shirley also briefly served as commander of all British forces in North America.

Portrait of William Shirley, 1750. Source: Smithsonian Institution, public domain.

Prior to his governorship, Shirley’s title was that of the “Surveyor of the King’s Wood.” In this role he inventoried New England’s natural resources and engaged with frontier settlers whose antipathy toward the indigenous people and their French allies he shared. Shirley also served on a commission to determine boundaries between New England and New France (part of present-day Canada). As such, Shirley was very familiar with the region. 

Although Le Grand Dérangement was but one instance of ethnic cleansing related to the wars, it is especially interesting because Acadian interactions with the indigenous population was far less destructive than those of the English: living in relatively small settlements, the Acadians established stable relations with the Native people, intermarried, and often borrowed indigenous cultural practices. The mass deportation severed those relations. (In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II issued a formal apology to the Acadians for the “wrongs committed in the name of the English Crown.”)

Statue in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia commemorating the mass deportation of Acadians. Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The French and Indian Wars profoundly reconfigured relations between and among indigenous people, the British and French governments, and their respective colonial subjects, the settlers. Ultimate British victory in the wars proved expensive; the taxation associated with the war debt exacerbated tensions between the crown and its colonists. These created incentives for the latter to seek independence and to further plunder native lands notwithstanding the British Crown’s war-ending pledges to protect and “not molest” the indigenous people.

Built between 1746 and 1749 as Governor Shirley’s summer residence, the historic, three-story house is part of Shirley-Eustis Place. (The name reflects that it was also at one point the home of William Eustis, a Massachusetts governor, 1823-1825, and U.S. congressman.) The larger entity, now an official City of Boston Landmark, incorporates a carriage house and the grounds. It also includes an outbuilding (at 42-44 Shirley Street) that is now a private residence. 

Archeological research demonstrates that servants and enslaved Africans worked in the mansion and on the lands during Shirley’s ownership of the estate. It also suggests that some of the enslaved people may have lived in portions of the then-outbuilding, probably a barn. If true, it would make the building one of the last free-standing slave quarters (along with the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford) in the U.S. Northeast. None of this would have come as an embarrassment to Governor Shirley who went on to serve the British Crown as Governor of the Bahamas at the peak of its slave trading years.

Today the Shirley-Eustis House Association, founded in 1913, owns and operates the renovated and restored mansion and grounds. The landmark is open for tours from June through September.

Shirley-Eustis House, 2009. Photo by Tim Sackton. Creative Commons.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail to the Newmarket Station. 0.3 mile (5-minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass close by.

To learn more:

Boston Landmarks Commission, “Shirley-Eustis Place: Boston Landmarks Study Report,” July 2021.

William M. Fowler Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2005.

Anna Lamb, “Evidence of Slave Quarters at Shirley Eustis House,” The Bay State Banner, March 30, 2022.

Tiana Woodard, “Boston Sheds More Light on its Relationship to Slavery,” The Boston Globe, September 8, 2021.