Monday, November 1, 2021

On (Virtual) Display at the State Library

We might be biased, but we think one of the prettiest views in Boston is looking up from the Common to the State House. So this month, we’re sharing a lithograph of just that view in our virtual display case. Boston Common was drawn by James Kidder and published by Abel Bowen in Boston in 1829. It shows the State House and its neighbors atop Beacon Hill, with a swath of the Common in the foreground. Adults and children are shown strolling paths, cows graze on the grass, and young trees are shown in growing supports, all of which combine to create a bucolic scene in the middle of downtown Boston. 

A noticeable feature in this lithograph is that the State House is a much smaller building than its current size. This image shows the original building as designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1798. A large addition, designed by Charles Brigham, was added to the back of the State House between 1885 and 1889, and the east and west wings, designed by architects Sturgis, Bryant, Chapman & Andrews, were added between 1914 and 1917. Though not visible from this exterior image, the State Library itself, which was established in 1826, would have been found within the walls of this 1829 State House, but not in the same location it occupies today. Visit the Flickr album from our past exhibit on the history of the State Library to learn more about the library’s location at its 1826 founding, its expansion and move in 1856, and the move to its current location in 1895. Just as the State House has grown over the years, so has the State Library!

While the State House dominates the view in this lithograph, there are a few other buildings of note visible. If you are facing the State House from the Common, as this view shows, the building that is visible to its right is the Amory-Ticknor House, located at 9-10 Park Street and 22-22A Beacon Street.  This is a Federal style mansion designed by Charles Bulfinch and built in 1804. Soon after its construction, however, the building’s owner Thomas Amory sold it and it was enlarged and divided into multiple dwellings (which is why it has door fronts on both Park and Beacon Streets). The rest of the building’s name comes from a later owner, scholar George Ticknor, who resided in the building at the same time that this lithograph was published. He lived in the building until 1871, followed by his daughter, Anna Eliot Ticknor, who lived in the building until 1884. After that, the building was used for retail rather than dwellings and has housed restaurants, coffee shops, and stores ever since. Over the years, the Amory-Ticknor house has seen some alterations, most noticeably, the addition of oriel windows on the upper levels, but the house still stands today. 

And to the left of the State House is another important building, but unfortunately, one that has not survived to the present day. The Hancock Manor was located at 30 Beacon Street, in fact, not far from where our Special Collections Department is located today. It was built in the 1730s for the merchant Thomas Hancock and his wife Lydia, who were John Hancock’s aunt and uncle. The stately mansion sat among outbuildings, gardens, orchards, and pastures - much different from the Beacon Hill that we know of today. John Hancock lived in the house after the death of his aunt and uncle, and it was after his death in 1795 that some of the pasture land was purchased by the Commonwealth to be used as the site of the future State House. For a number of years afterward, the State House and the Hancock Manor were neighbors until the mansion was demolished in 1863. Before it was torn down, relics and souvenirs were retrieved from the house, so even though it doesn’t live on in its entirety, pieces of the mansion can still be found in historical collections throughout Massachusetts and beyond.  

To take a closer look at the State House and its neighbors, click on the image above. And the next time you visit Boston Common, imagine what it looked like in 1829! 

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian