Known for its distinctive and sprawling Victorian houses, Ashmont is one of the most desirable historic neighborhoods within Dorchester.
Victorian mansions. While Dorchester was settled in the 1630s, much of the development was concentrated in the northern neighborhoods, and Ashmont remained primarily farmland until the 1850s. The historic farms and Welles (owned by the family for whom the town of Wellesley is named) and Carruth estates were developed for affluent residents during a particularly rich architectural period. In the 1880s, Ashmont Hill began to be developed as a showcase for the what were then the contemporary designs of the leading Boston architects and builders of the day. It is recognized as one of the most significant concentrations of Craftsman, Shingle, Stick, and Queen Anne Victorian houses in Boston. The neighborhood's architectural legacy is under consideration for the Ashmont Hill Architectural Conservation District.
Kennedy family. The neighborhood may be best known for the origin of an American political dynasty. At 39 Welles Avenue (at the corner of Harley Street) stood the mansion of former Boston mayor John Fitzgerald (1863-1950). His daughter Rose married the rising political star (and future ambassador) Joseph Kennedy. Mayor Fitzgerald later helped his grandson, John F. Kennedy, win his first seat in Congress. Today, Rose is remembered in the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway which runs through downtown Boston.
Ashmont is a larger neighborhood with several distinct sections, including Ashmont-Adams, Ashmont Hill, and Peabody Square.
Ashmont is a large neighborhood within Dorchester, with several distinct sections including Ashmont-Adams/Carruth Hill, Ashmont Hill, and a primarily commercial district, Peabody Square:
Ashmont-Adams (or Carruth's Hill) is east of Peabody Square and Dorchester Avenue. It is loosely bounded by Ashmont Street, Gallivan Blvd, Bushnell/Wessex Street to the west, and Adams Street to the east. Further information can be found at the Ashmont-Adams Neighborhood Association.
Ashmont Hill. West of Peabody Square, Ashmont Hill is a 40-acre neighborhood known for Victorian estate houses with large lots and stables. According to the Boston Landmarks Commission, "Few neighborhoods in Dorchester, and for that matter in Boston, can match Ashmont Hill for sheer number of substantial, well-crafted, well-designed, and well-preserved late-19th century residences.” However, the side streets (Fuller, Burt, Dracut, and Wrentham) are primarily more modest two-family and triple-decker houses. Ashmont Hill is loosely bounded by Brent Street on the north, Ashmont Street on the south, Washington Street on the west, and Talbot Avenue on the east.
Many large house lots. The size of house lots in the area ranges from 3,000 square feet to more than 20,000 square feet with most of the largest lots along the major streets of Alban, Ocean and Welles, and to a lesser degree, on Roslin and Harley: the first streets to be laid out in the district during the early 1870s. The later streets – Grace, Montague, Mellen, Waldorf and Brent – tend to have smaller houses on narrower lots.
Few through streets mean limited traffic. The area's major interior streets are Alban, Ocean, and Welles. Of these, Welles is the widest and the only through street in the neighborhood; all but one of the remaining shorter streets run into each other to form T intersections. This street pattern lends a sense of self-containment and visual interest to the district, both by reducing through auto traffic and by containing vistas and providing views of houses at the head of streets.
Ashmont was developed after the then-town of Dorchester was annexed to Boston in 1870, becoming one of the largest neighborhoods of the city. By 1874 the first seven houses were built, including the distinctive mansard-roofed “French cottages” on Welles, Ocean, Roslin, and Harley Streets which were built to set the architectural tone for the neighborhood and spur further development. The efforts to draw affluent residents were successful, and the majority of Ashmont Hill houses date from the mid-1880s until just before World War I. In addition, Ashmont Hill's rustic charms evolved into a genteel artists' colony, including Edmund Tarbell, Frank Henry Shapleigh, and Chansonetta Stanley Emmons.
The neighborhood's housing stock includes distinctive Craftsman, Queen Anne Victorian, Shingle Style, Stick Style, and the Colonial Revival residences. Many of the larger houses were designed by noted architects including Harrison Henry Atwood, John A. Fox, Samuel D. Kelley, Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. and Arthur H. Vinal.
Ocean Street contains some of the most significant historic residences on Ashmont Hill. The crest of Ashmont Hill is along Ocean Street at the head of Roslin, and many houses have views of Dorchester Bay.
Emma James House (47 Ocean St.) is the most opulently ornamented Queen Anne house in the area and, for that matter, Dorchester. Its outstanding feature is the rich, florid, high-relief plaster detail which ornaments panels of the second floor encompassing medallions, swags, swirling leaves and heraldic shield-like motifs. This large residence is characterized by a highly plastic form with bowed corners, angled bays overhanging porches, and deeply recessed porches within the attic facades of the intersecting gable roofs. This house has a fine quartered-oak-paneled and spindle work interior. The original carriage house has been adapted into condominiums.
60 Ocean Street is among the finest examples of the Shingle Style in the Boston, and architectural historian Douglass Shand Tucci calls it the best domestic work of Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. According to Tucci, two things stand out about this asymmetrical gambrel house: "The back porch, which is a triumph of the Shingle Style in its boxy, sawtooth elegance, and the wonderfully conceived roof, where, having thrown up his usual huge, two-story gambrel silhouette, Lewis then boldly cantilevered forward the volume formed by the upper slopes, which holds to the plain of the main wall. The projecting upper volume is also given a 'bell-cast' profile of flaring eaves."
67-69 Ocean Street. According to the Dorchester Athenaeum, "Much of Ocean Street's charm is dependent on the presence of this cottage scale double house." Built in the 1870s in the Stick Style, this U-shaped clapboard house features charming corner porches and a pair of polygonal bays and substantial chimneys.
75 Ocean Street is a notable example of the pioneering Colonial Revival architect Arthur Little. Possessing an asymmetrical form, this house's wide jerkinhead or truncated gable roof remains unaltered on the north front; also surviving is the triple gable profile on the south front.
Lower Ocean Street is noteworthy for the memorable streetscape of Arthur Vinal-designed Queen Anne houses at 103 Ocean Street (1889) and 107 Ocean Street (1890). Characterized by turrets, iron cresting, eyebrow windows, and two-story polygonal bays, these wooden houses are far less compact and ornate than Arthur H. Vinal's own wood, brick, and stone-constructed home at 35 Melville Park (1882).
Alban Street, the eastern-most north-south street in this neighborhood, like Ocean Street, is lined by an extraordinary progression of sophisticated and tasteful late Victorian-era residences on spacious lots. More than any street in this area, mid-Alban Street conveys a wooded "country" atmosphere that perpetuates the landscape of the old Welles estate from which Ashmont Hill's streets were carved. Alban Street covers part of the Welles estate's apple orchards and here and there there are said to be ancient apple trees that predate this family's mid-19th century ownership of Ashmont Hill. Listed below are just a few of the architecturally significant houses situated along Alban Street and the hill top above Talbot Avenue.
12 Alban Street is one of the important examples of the work of Edwin J. Lewis on Ashmont Hill. It stands with Lewis's trademark massive gambrel facade facing the street. Covered with a skin of shingles, this house is as much a work of sculpture as it is architecture. It also speaks to the First Period New England architecture that was such an inspiration to architects designing in the Shingle Style. According to Tucci, "one of Lewis' chief sources of inspiration for its plain and unadorned shingled gambrel profile and overall informality of plan and mass was the seventeenth-century Fairbanks House in Dedham." This house undoubtedly reflects Lewis's antiquarian interests as he was active in the Dorchester Historical Society during the late 19th century.
A handsome example of a Stick Style house, 44 Alban Street possesses an asymmetrical form sheathed with clapboards and an overlay of vertical and horizontal boards. Its full-length front porch features square posts, diagonal bracing, and a center pediment with a modified king post. Projecting from near the southeast corner is a polygonal oriel with pyramidal, finial-topped roof cap; in general the roof is characterized by a complex configuration, enclosed as it is by a massive hip roof and steeply pitched mansard at the northeast corner.
Ashmont Street, the southernmost street in this area, represents a tale of two different types of streetscapes. 6-100 and 3-51 Ashmont Street encompass primarily Queen Anne two-bay, three-pile front gable residences which stand close together on some of the smallest lots in this area. Interrupting the rhythmic repetition of front gable houses are the three-story, polygonal towers with pyramidal roof caps that project from the northeastern and northwestern comers of 21 and 23 Ashmont Street, respectively.
The second type of Ashmont Street's streetscape is more akin to the houses of Ocean, Alban and Harley Streets. From 121-153 (including 2 to 19 Burt Street) and 124-159 Ashmont Street, the houses are larger, more complexly massed, and in some cases more lavishly detailed than those bordering Ashmont Street west of Ocean Street. These houses are situated on more ample lots and enjoy deeper setbacks from the street. 145 Ashmont Street is a particularly fine example of a Georgian Revival two-bay, two-pile house which is enclosed by a hip roof with a trio of dormers; the center dormer is surmounted by a segmental-headed dormer and is flanked by pedimented dormers. At the center of the main facade is an elegant entrance porch with paired Ionic columns which supports an entablature and modillion block cornice. Rising from the porch roof is a railing composed of well-turned balusters. Projecting on to this second floor porch is a polygonal oriel. A two story polygonal dormer projects from the north east corner of the house.
Welles Avenue possesses a small collection of cottage-scale ltalianate/Mansard one-and-a-half-story residences with formal massing and thoughtful architectural embellishments.
48 & 52 Welles Ave. are mirror images of each other. Each house exhibits a center entrance flanked by a flat window bay and an octagonal bay which is carried through the roof line as a tripartite dormer. These L-shaped houses feature wide corner boards, double doors set within segmental arches, and straight-sided hip-on-mansard roofs which retain their original slate shingles. 48 Welles Avenue retains its original front porch.
62 Welles Avenue is noteworthy for its towered center pavilion with open front porch and bell-cast mansard roof cap. Essentially cross-shaped in form, this house is surmounted by a bell cast hip-on-mansard roof. Its dormers are set deeply into the roof and exhibit pedimented enframents.
16 Harley St. was part of the George D. Welles estate until around 1874. This house, along with its stable and spacious side yard, offers a glimpse of Ashmont Hill before the intensive building boom of the 1880s and 90s. This L-shaped, cottage-scale house exhibits a full length front porch, center entrance, polygonal bays with dentillated cornices and slate shingled mansard roof.
22 Harley St. is a Queen Anne/Colonial Revival with a highly irregular form complete with two story corner tower (although old photographs show a conical roof cap, which is now missing). The front and smaller second floor porches are set within broad segmental arches.
Behind the odd numbered houses of Alban Street, Ashmont Hill's eastern slope drops steeply down to Talbot Avenue.
61 Alban St. is a Shingle Style house designed in 1888 by architect and congressman Harrison Henry Atwood as his own residence. In many ways, it is a pioneering house that anticipates some early 20th century designs, including the bungalow entrance, and the way the carriage house is built into the foundation of the building evokes the connected garage that would be common by 1930. The south wall exhibits a "parade of bay windows" noteworthy for their well-crafted and colorful stained glass.
24 Alban St., former residence of American Impressionist painter Edmund Tarbell (1862-1938), whose works are at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Smithsonian.
16 Harley St., former residence of Frank Henry Shapleigh (1842-1906), one of the White Mountain Artists.
22 Harley Street, former residence of pioneering photographer Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (1858-1937). Her interest in photography grew after her brothers (who had previously invented the Stanley Steamer automobile) developed dry-plate printing. Her earliest photographs consist of her family house in Dorchester, and her work is displayed at the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, Maine.
The major commercial thoroughfares include Ashmont Street, Dorchester Avenue, and Gallivan Boulevard.
Peabody Square is primarily a commercial district and transit hub. Additional information can be at the Dorchester Athenaeum.
The Red Line runs through the middle of the neighborhood, with a stop at Ashmont/Peabody Square, and for those in the southern part of the neighborhood, the Cedar Grove station is just beyond the neighborhood edge. From the Ashmont station, it is eight stops to South Station.
At the Ashmont station, there is also a connection to the Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line trolley to Mattapan.
Ashmont is a neighborhood in the southwest section of Dorchester, near the border between Boston, Milton and Quincy. It is surrounded by other neighborhoods within Dorchester: to the west is Codman Square, to the east is Neponset-Port Norfolk, to the north is St. Marks Parish and Fields Corner, and to the south are Lower Mills and Cedar Grove
Ashmont is a larger neighborhood with several distinct sections including Ashmont Hill, Peabody Square, and Ashmont-Adams.
While today Dorchester is a neighborhood of Boston, it was once an independent town. And when English settlers established the town of Dorchester in 1630, it extended all the way to Rhode Island.
Ashmont Hill was part of the 17th century 'Great Lots', an area that was bounded on the north by Field's Corner, on the east by Adams Street, on the south by Lower Mills and on the west by Washington Street. Ashmont was named for a Neponset related to Chickataubut, sachem of the Neponset.
The fertile land was farmed for centuries, with little development before the American Revolution. For many years there were only two houses within the Great Lots: the Pierce House on Oak Avenue and the Minot House (since demolished) on Chickatawbut Street. During the first two centuries of Dorchester's history, the center of town was Pleasant Street, but by the 1670s, settlement spread to Meeting House Hill in northern Dorchester.
The area that would become Ashmont Hill area remained farmland until the mid-1800s. The Codman Square library was built on the site of an historic farmhouse occupied by Henry Knox in 1784, a bookseller who was present at the Boston Massacre and who joined the Sons of Liberty, eventually becoming a general in George Washington's army. The same farmhouse was later home to lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852). As an aside, Knox dropped out of Boston Latin School, and Webster was an alumnus of Phillips Exeter. Because Boston has always been about droppin' one's academic credentials.
By 1850 the Hon. John Welles had acquired a large tract that included Ashmont Hill. In 1872, two years after Dorchester was annexed to Boston, his grandson, George Derby Welles, had a subdivision plan drawn up for “Welles Hill,” which included Alban, Ocean, Welles, Roslin, Harley and Walton streets. Other streets in the neighborhood were added soon thereafter. From the 1870s until World War I, it became a desirable and affluent neighborhood. American Impressionist Edmund Tarbell, photographer Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (whose brothers invented the Stanley Steamer), and painter Frank Shapleigh all lived here, as did Boston educator Jeremiah Burke. Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and his family occupied a mansion at Welles and Harley Street (which burned in 1938), from which his daughter Rose was married to one Joseph Kennedy.
As in other parts of Dorchester, development on Ashmont Hill was spurred by the construction of the Old Colony Railroad, with a station in Peabody Square, and then by the expansion of streetcar lines to downtown Boston.
In 1893, the Boston City Council named the Square for Colonel Oliver White Peabody, an investment banker and co-founder of Kidder, Peabody, and Co., in recognition of his generosity in developing the neighborhood. Peabody and his wife, Mary Lothrop Peabody, were not only the primary benfectors in the building of All Saints, but also developed other parcels of land adjacent to the church, such as the Peabody Apartments, that complimented the architectural style and quality of the church and helped shape the character of the neighborhood. The Square's granite drinking trough – for both horses and people – was given in 1899 in honor of Col. Peabody by his brother. In 1909, the City installed a four-faced monument clock manufactured by the E. Howard Company, with a case designed by architect William D. Austin.
By the 1890s, Ashmont Hill was ringed by "streetcar suburb" development triggered by the introduction of the electric trolley. Three-deckers and two family residences were built in the residential areas south, west and, to a lesser extent north of Ashmont Hill. During the 1930s, as the area became less affluent, the older families gradually sold their Victorian mansions, which were often subdivided into apartments.