So as you walk west on the long streets: Beacon, Marlborough, Newbury Street as well as Commonwealth Avenue, you are walking through the period of time in which the land was created and the houses were built. You can also see a progression of the architectural styles that developed in that period.
These stately town houses are beautiful when seen from the outside, but what did they look like on the inside? It’s hard to tell from the street because the houses are long and narrow (typically just 25 feet wide) with windows only in the front and the rear. The back ends face service alleys. Fortunately, you can find out by visiting one of three “house museums” that present a slice of early Boston life.
Entering the Nineteenth Century
Yesterday my husband and I visited the Gibson House Museum (@The_GibsonHouse) at 137 Beacon Street (between Arlington and Berkeley). Outside, the magnolias flaunted their magnificent pink-and-white blooms on a gorgeous 21st-century day. We stepped across the threshold to enter the world of 1860.
Our guide, Jonathan, was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, which made for a very interesting tour. We learned a great deal about the house and how it operated, the family and their history, the culture of the time, and how the house became a museum. The Gibson House is filled with original nineteenth-century furniture, wallpaper, china, kitchenware, carpets, clocks, and many marvelous paintings, including a family portrait by Thomas Sully.
The Gibson House gives a whole new meaning to the term “upstairs/downstairs.” An unusually tall house for the Back Bay at six levels, it must have forced its servants to be in good shape. I felt sorry for the maids who would have had to climb all those dark, narrow, twisty stairs in long skirts and while carrying heavy trays, platters, and buckets.
We enjoyed yesterday’s tour so much that we’re planning to visit Boston’s other two house museums: the Harrison Gray Otis House, one of three houses with this name, all designed by Charles Bulfinch, and currently the headquarters of Historic New England, and the Nichols House Museum on Beacon Hill.
Next Saturday’s Boston by Foot lecture is on land building in Boston and I’m looking forward to it. It’s fun to walk on water.