History comes alive in the luxurious enclave of Back Bay and Beacon Hill. In Boston, mansions offer more than simply a posh place to lay your head. These stately structures invite residents and visitors to peek behind the curtain of history into the hazy days of yesteryear. In the soft light of gas lamps, the narrow streets take on a romantic feel, and one can easily imagine horse-drawn carriages depositing gloved ladies in front of beautifully appointed brownstones.
Cobblestone paths wind past the fashionable lane of Acorn Street, while Louisburg Square provides a lesson in architectural significance. Charles Bulfinch, who was considered the first professional architect in America, designed Federal and Georgian style homes here, while Louis Comfort Tiffany, of the stained glass lamp fame, made a splash with mosaic tile and curved lines.
Back Bay and Beacon Hill architecture is renowned for its elegance. Greek Revival and Federal styles bring a dash of centuries-past beauty to modern-day Boston, evoking the quaint scenes of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The author herself was a Beacon Hill resident, and, in fact, the neighborhood lays claim to a host of literary greats, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Frost. Let’s harken back to the days of old in this tour of the seven most interesting landmarks in Beacon Hill.
In the Ayer Mansion, Boston has found a true architectural gem and a stunning historic landmark. Unveiled in 1902, the Tiffany Ayer Mansion set Back Bay ablaze with its sleek design, modern sensibilities, and glittering glamour. This residential art piece was created by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Art Nouveau artist responsible for the whimsical, jewel-toned Tiffany lamps.
Tiffany worked on the plans for this spectacular home beginning in 1898 for Frederick Ayer, a prominent art collector, and Boston businessman. As the world’s only property fully designed, inside and out, by this famed artist, the Ayer Mansion has a unique place in history. Evoking the delicate beauty of a jewel box, the Ayer Mansion is a triumph of residential design. The structure spans six floors and features six bedrooms, 13 baths, and a formal parlor. Ten fireplaces illuminate the colorful tile work and keep the place crackling with warmth on snowy Boston nights.
The detail is sublime, from the crown molding work and mosaic tile all the way to arched windows and rich stained glass. Much has been made of the pale facade — at the time of the home’s construction, red brick was the norm for monied Back Bay mansions, and the Ayer Mansion’s sublime deviation to a light, shimmering choice sent society chatter into full swing. Today Ayer Mansion is a rare combination of sleek museum glory and a reminder of the lavish lifestyle of Edith Wharton-era Boston.
Massachusetts State House
Famous for its luxe gold dome, the Massachusetts State House is the oldest building in Beacon Hill. Designed by Charles Bulfinch, this impressive hybrid of Federal and Neoclassical styles was unveiled in 1798. Paul Revere coated the dome in copper a few years later to prevent water damage, and by 1874, the dome got a serious glow-up with a 24-carat gold gilding. Between the glass-domed Great Hall and the sky-blue Senate chamber interior, this is certainly high on the must-see list.
One of Boston’s most beloved sights, the Boston Athenaeum combines literature and art in one spectacular design. Part library and part museum, this divine structure is named for Athena, the Greek goddess devoted to learning. A bibliophile’s dream, this stunning structure features grand archways, chandeliers, tucked-away staircases, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. This sanctuary of study is one of the oldest libraries in the nation – and with its refined Colonial style and Louis Comfort Tiffany ceilings, it is widely regarded as one of the loveliest.
There is perhaps no other street in New England that encompasses the area’s persona as perfectly as Acorn Street. In fact, this narrow swath of beauty has been called the prettiest street in America. This delightful little lane provides all the charm for which New England is known – quaint brick sidewalks, cobblestone streets, gorgeous red brick townhomes complete with black shutters and ivy, gas lamps, and leafy trees overhanging the lovely scene.
Dating back to 1634, Boston Common is the nation’s oldest park. What once was a pastoral scene for grazing cattle is now a tree-lined example of a classic town gathering spot. The historic lawn, which once hosted a spirited debate among the country’s founding fathers, now invites youngsters to play in the summer sunshine and build snow villages in the winter. The Common is also a coveted destination for performers, concerts, and esteemed speakers like Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Classic east coast beauty continues along tony Louisburg Square, said to be the most prestigious address in Boston. Red brick homes sporting chic Greek Revival designs loom over the sidewalk. Designed by Charles Bulfinch, who was also a resident, these bow-front homes embody the stately style for which Boston is celebrated. As for exclusivity, Louisburg Square has dibs on that, as well – homeowners here own the entire square, with even the parking spaces requiring deeds of ownership.
Gibson House Museum
Walk through the modest entryway to the Gibson House Museum, and you are instantly transported back to 19th-century Brahmin Boston. Built in 1860, the Gibson House was designed by Edward Clarke Cabot and served as the main residence for the prominent Gibson family until 1954. A few years later, the doors opened to invite guests to tour the opulent interior and view the Gibson family’s original furnishings and heirlooms. Rich Victorian splendor is on full display with red carpets, patterned wallpaper, and gleaming mahogany details.
Are you interested in exploring the Boston real estate market or mansions for sale in Back Bay or Beacon Hill? Contact luxury specialist Beth Dickerson to begin touring properties.
*Heade photo courtesy of iStock