William Hickling Prescott Historic House Tours
Referred to as a "neighborhood hidden gem" by the Beacon Hill Times, don't miss this opportunity to tour this beautiful mansion across from the Boston Common and experience what life was like for an affluent Beacon Hill family in the 1800's. Voted in 2018, one of the top 8 examples of Federal architecture by Boston Curbed and one of the Seven Boston house museums to visit by Boston Magazine, the William Hickling Prescott House, at 55 Beacon Street, and the adjoining home at 54 Beacon Street, were built in 1808 for the Boston merchant, James Smith Colburn. These Federal period twin houses overlook Boston Common. The land was once owned by John Singleton Copley, America's most accomplished colonial portrait painter.
These 5 1/2 story brick town houses were designed by the esteemed American architect Asher Benjamin and are highlighted by two bow-fronts. Gracious geometric forms such as these accentuate the rhythm of the exterior design as well as create beautiful oval interior spaces. The building's Federal style features include a ground floor colonnade with delicate fluted Doric columns, elliptical fan lighted entrances with flanking side lights, colossal pilasters, elaborate iron balconies, and an ornamental balustrade over the cornice. It's no wonder Boston Magazine listed the Prescott House as number 33 on their list of 100 Best Buildings in Boston.
The American historian, William Hickling Prescott, lived at number 55 Beacon Street from 1845-1859. Prescott was one of the first English-speaking historians to write about the Spanish Empire. His books included histories of the Spanish monarchs and the conquests of Mexico and Peru. Some have been translated into several languages and remain in print today. Prescott made major renovations to the house. He built a rear addition, which included his extensive library on the second floor, and a third floor study, now faithfully restored, where he wrote his History of the Conquest of Peru and Philip II.
After Prescott died in 1859, his widow continued to live in the house until her death in 1869, when it was purchased by her nephew, Franklin Gordon Dexter. The Dexter family replaced the original spiral staircase with the present colonial revival staircase which emphasizes the vast expanse of space between the first and second floor. In 1944, seventy five years ago, the house was purchased by The National Society of The Colonial Dames in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
The house is rich with character and filled with extensive collections of furniture and decorative arts which have been generously donated by the NSCDA MA. Chinese export porcelain and English ceramics are permanently on view. Remarkable portraits are on display including a portrait of past Prescott house residents who are talked about during the tour. The house comes back to life before your eyes as you gaze up at these magnificent portraits. Also, not to be missed is a rare and an original to house recently restored Tomkison square piano in the parlor.
There is a costume collection, dating from the 18th through the 20th centuries, which includes dresses, fans, shoes, parasols and children's clothing, selections of which are on continuous display. The full collection is available to researchers by appointment. Owned and operated by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of MA a 126 year old non profit organization dedicated to historic preservation, supporting veterans programs, promoting patriotism and educating the public about early US history.