June 23, 2015

One Year on King Street!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the launch of our blog!  When we started the blog last year, we wanted it to serve as a space where we could share information about our archival, library, and museum collections, where we could keep our visitors (near and far) up-to-date on the preservation work undertaken at the Old State House, and where we could provide some insight into what Boston was like in the 18th century.  Looking back on our posts from last year, we've tried our best to cover each of these topics, plus we had the added surprise of writing about the 1901 time capsule that was found during preservation work on the lion and unicorn statues that sit atop the Old State House!

We hope that you've enjoyed reading our posts, and that you'll stay tuned as we continue to delve into these topics, and more, in the coming year.  If you have any suggestions about topics you'd like to see covered in the future, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks for stopping by King Street!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

June 18, 2015

Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price: An 18th Century Love Story

Elizabeth Bull didn’t need to marry for money, but marriage was, of course, in the cards. Such inevitability was central to her education, and her father was invested in the appropriate tutelage. As a merchant working on the family wharf, he was privy to the latest fripperies: sewing patterns from France and bolts of silk and thread from China dyed to match blooms along the Tigris, far from the provincial outpost of Boston. These were the raw materials for a polite education, and a means to an end. When Elizabeth was fifteen - two years before she met Roger Price on a Sunday morning at Trinity Church in 1732 - she began an appropriate assignment: a wedding dress.

Roger was brilliant, if not a bit dour. He didn’t care for his colleagues at Kings Chapel, and after four years as the only commissary to Anglican churches of New England - and almost constant bickering with his Assistant Minister - he booked a one-way fare back to London. On Sunday morning, he found his ship delayed by winds and opted to attend service at Trinity. He was probably not in the best of moods.

That year, Roger’s father wrote to him in Boston warning not to “let his love of a pretty face run away with his decision in choosing a wife.” Clearly, there was something about Elizabeth that cheered him up that morning. It was enough for him to stay and defy his father’s advice. He didn’t return to England for another fifteen years, and then it was with Elizabeth and six children in tow.

The couple married in 1734 after a two year courtship. 1730 to 1734 years is a long time to spend working a wedding dress; a heady preoccupation that surfaces in the garment. It brims with anticipation, recognizable in its precision and steep aspirations; the stitches are perfectly wrought but the ambitious design unfinished. It’s her process which makes the gown so enigmatic. The days spent crafting a vessel for a journey unseen, her dutiful intent to be a good daughter and wife all buoyed by a compulsive talent.

Elizabeth would have been exposed to urban glamor through stores on Kings Street that sold ribbons and high heeled shoes, and the Bull wharf. Prompting her to, in many respects, become a designer. Inspiration was drawn from patterns from Spittafields, cotton palampore from India, and silks from Canton, all indications of a world much larger.

She, most likely, created a robe l’Aiglaise: an open robe style dress with a fitted bodice and a visible petticoat. The style was fit for a French court, hers with wild vines clawing the celadon silk and springing with sunny chrysanthemums and cheerful red buds. Her parents must have delighted in her creativity and commitment. School girl wares were as much of a commodity as all the other trappings of 18th century refinement, even in colonial Boston. Parents proudly hung samplers above mantles and recognized their “educated” daughters as a marker of wealth and sophistication. It would make sense that they would welcome the affections of Roger Price, who was a prestigious figure in town. Elizabeth had already inherited tracks of land after the death of her two brothers, so a good match strictly meant status. This was a lucky circumstance. Money is freedom, and certainly it was liberating for a woman in colonial Boston: Elizabeth could marry for love.

Elizabeth and Roger's daughter, also named Elizabeth, inherited the dress and was probably the first to alter it. She eventually gave it to her niece Olivia Price Hall, and Olivia’s granddaughter, Francis Irving Weston, donated it to the Bostonian Society in 1910. Shortly after, the Society's curator of collections asked an unnamed model to wear it for a Boston Globe photo shoot at the beginning of the 20th century. One wonders if the model knew she would be last to wear it in a string of woman that began with a teenaged girl sewing in a tavern on Summer Street where South Station now stands.

The dress is currently on display in the Old State House, and will be followed by an exhibition of the gown’s petticoat in November. Be sure to plan a visit to see it in person!

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator

June 11, 2015

Ready for the summer - Old State House restoration work wraps up!

Crowds gather in front of the east façade
As many of you may have noticed there was more work being done on the Old State House last month. The return of warm weather at the beginning of May allowed the Society and its contractors, Commodore Builders, to complete the finish work to the balcony and east façade.

Last November the scaffolding on the west façade was removed to reveal the newly pointed and painted west end. At that time, work continued on the balcony and east façade. As the days of the month ticked away, the weather became our biggest enemy. When the calendar finally turned to December, our luck ran out. With all of the major work done, the weather called for the finish work to take a hiatus until the spring.

While no one could have predicted the winter Bostonians went through, the Old State House and its recently repaired façade, statues, and balcony handled it perfectly. Unseasonably cool weather and the large amounts of snow pushed our spring return for the finish work further down the calendar.

As April turned to May, sun and warmth was finally on our side. Commodore Builders came back on site with a lift for the finish coat of paint on all the wooden elements of the east façade. Completing the work in a week, the project which began last fall came to an end. Now on sunny mornings, the lion and unicorn sparkle, the balcony and windows show bright, and by the afternoon the west façade is illuminated to show a bright and sound façade.

The Society would like to thank Commodore Builders, Storeygard Associates Architects, Preservation Technology Associates, and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger for all their hard work.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

June 2, 2015

An Elegant Address: Henry Knox and the Tontine Crescent

Henry Knox, 1947.0002
Our Revolutionary Characters exhibit explores the lives of Bostonians by using artifacts from the Society's collections to highlight the daily lives, relationships, and aspirations of colonial subjects as they navigated a city forever changed by the conflict with Britain. Visitors have the opportunity to view notable items made by the likes of Paul Revere and Lydia Hutchinson, and a special document case also allows me to select an item from our archival collection that pertains to some of our Revolutionary Characters. By rotating the documents each month, I have the opportunity to share items associated with a number of Bostonians, from the famous to the lesser known.

I was recently able to display a document related to Henry Knox (1750-1806). Born and raised in Boston, Knox was a bookseller before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, during which he served as a military officer.  After the war, Knox was appointed the first Secretary of War in George Washington's cabinet.

The document from our collection is a deed from July 27, 1797, in which Knox deeded “a brick tenement situated at the easterly end of the Tontine buildings” to William Tudor for the sum of five dollars. This building was part of the Tontine Crescent, which was designed by architect Charles Bulfinch. Completed in 1794, it comprised 16 units arranged in a crescent shape and was Boston’s first row-house complex.  According to the deed, Knox owned building number one.  The crescent also included a central pavilion, flanked by eight units, that housed the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Library Society. Arch Street, which is still a main thoroughfare in Downtown Crossing, ran through a central archway in the pavilion.

Bulfinch's design was influenced by architecture in England and France, and when it was completed it was praised as an example of modern elegance. The crescent, along with an oval-sized park and four double houses, was referred to as Franklin Place.

Tontine Crescent on Franklin Street, ca. 1853
The Tontine Crescent was demolished in 1858, but a few images from our collection capture what it looked like in the early 1850s.  To see more images, please search our photograph catalog and use "Tontine Crescent" as your search term.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager