Here to return to
NUMBER SIXTEEN BEACON STREET
ADJOINING the Raymond Building on the north, there is still to be seen in the year 1921 a small, three-storied, brick dwelling-house, numbered sixteen on Beacon Street. Nestled in between two lofty structures, it seems to shrink from public view, as if abashed by the superior dimensions of its stately neighbors. In its rear an iron gate stands between a tiny, brick-paved back yard and an alleyway leading to Park Street alongside the Union Club House. This is the last house on this portion of Beacon Street to be occupied as a residence. It was built by Robert Fletcher about the year 1808, and was sold by him to Rufus G. Amory soon after. The premises are described1 as a parcel of land with the buildings thereon “situate back of Bacon Street, beginning at the house occupied by Samuel Willard, as said Fletcher’s tenant; in the middle of the partition wall built by Christopher Gore between the house which he now occupies and the residence of the said Willard.” In December, 1827, this estate was bought by Chester Harding, the well-known portrait painter, who lived there about two years. He was a native of Conway, Massachusetts. When he was fourteen years old, his father moved to central New York, and settled in Madison County which was at that time an uninhabited wilderness. Here they built a log cabin, and reclaimed a patch of land for cultivation. In 1813 Chester Harding enlisted as a drummer in the army, and marched with the militia to the border of the Saint Lawrence River. He next became a travelling peddler and afterward found employment in a chair factory at Caledonia, a village in Livingston County. And here he met his future wife, Caroline Woodruff. A year or two later, in search of more congenial work, he tramped afoot to the head waters of the Allegheny River, where he took passage on a raft for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After tarrying there awhile, he returned through the wilds to Caledonia, having no guide but the blazed trees. On this trail he saw so many bears, wolves, and deer that he would hardly turn to look at them. Returning to Pittsburgh with his wife and child, he found occupation as a signpainter. Having met there an artist named Wilson, he became interested in the latter’s work; and this meeting completely changed his prospects. Finding that he had an aptitude for portrait-painting, he became absorbed in this new vocation, and exhibited so much talent that his portraits found a ready sale at twenty-five dollars each. After a course at the Philadelphia Academy of Design, he went abroad and set up a studio in London. On his return to this country he settled in Boston. And “to that city,” he said, “I feel that I owe more than to any other place. More of my professional life has been spent there than anywhere else. And it is around it that my most grateful recollections cluster.” In the latter part of the summer of 1830 he exchanged his house at Number Sixteen Beacon Street for one at Springfield, Massachusetts, which was his home in later years.
Following Mr. Harding, the estate was owned successively by Adoniram Chandler, a stereotype founder, of New York, and Emily Wolcott, of Boston. The latter sold it, November 24, 1863, to Levi Bartlett, a Boston merchant, who had occupied it many years before. Thereafter it became by inheritance the property of his daughter Martha, who married Dr. Henry C. Angell. They made their home there for about half a century. By the terms of Mrs. Angell’s will the estate passed to the American Unitarian Association. The walls of the various rooms were covered by valuable paintings, collected abroad. There were several landscapes by Corot, and as many by his contemporary rival, Daubigny. Other famous French artists of the nineteenth century there represented were Claude Monet, Jean François Millet, Troyon, Diaz, and Dupré. There were also paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Turner. About forty choice pictures of this collection were bequeathed by Mrs. Angell to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The Angell house naturally became a favorite resort of artists. And while a love of the beautiful in art was a prominent characteristic of both Mrs. Angell and her husband, they were also devoted to music, and welcomed music-loving friends to their hospitable abode. Passing through a room whose walls were adorned with engravings, one reached a cosy little sanctum in the rear, where Dr. Angell was wont to entertain his more intimate friends. William Howe Downes, the art critic, in describing some of the pictures in this house, mentioned a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which was in poor condition, but capable of restoration. This picture was a likeness of Lady Caroline Ponsonby (1785-1828) in her childhood. She was a daughter of the third Earl of Bessborough, and the author of several popular romances. She married in 1805 William Lamb, afterward Lord Melbourne. Of the American pictures in the Angell collection, according to Mr. Downes, the only one of importance is the work of Frank Duveneck. It is the portrait of a solemn, bespectacled old Professor, who looks at you through his glasses with an inscrutable air. “A flawless gem of art is Troyon’s Landscape. It is as naturalistic a painting of open air and sunshine as one will find anywhere. It is a miracle, the airness of it! It makes you happy to look at it, and you want to whoop for joy!”
In the autumn of 1919 the Angell house was reconstructed and adapted for use as an annex of the American Unitarian Association Building.
A door on the west side of the front entrance, opening from the sidewalk, and overhung by the second story, marks the place of access to a passageway, formerly on land of Dr. Henry G. Clark, and used as a cow lane.
The entire building has been renovated, and the windows of the lower floor are of an old-fashioned type, having small panes. The Unitarian Book-Room and the offices of the “Christian Register” occupy this floor. Next above are the quarters of the Religious Educational Society; and the upper stories are provided with accommodations for the clergy.
Dr. Angell, after graduating at the Hahnemann Medical College in 1855, studied for three years at the University of Vienna. On his return to Boston, he became prominent as an eye specialist, and was for twenty years Professor of Ophthalmology at the Boston University Medical School. In 1882 he was chosen President of the Philharmonic Society.
1 Suffolk Deeds, Lib. 228, Fol. 160. 125