Dorchester Historical Society's house tour coming up

BY MARILYN JACKSON/CORRESPONDENT
The Parish of All Saints at 209 Ashmont St., Dorchester, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram in 1892, the Gothic Revival church of Quincy granite and Nova Scotia limestone was completely restored two years ago.

Ten outstanding single-family homes in the Ashmont-Carruth’s Hill neighborhood in Dorchester will be featured in this year’s Dorchester Historical Society’s house tour, to be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 11.

Many of the tour houses were built during the 1880s for the city’s business leaders on land once owned by Nathan Carruth, a China trade merchant who served as president of the Old Colony Railroad in the 1840s.

His son Herbert Carruth inherited the family land and subdivided it into spacious lots, selecting different architects to build homes east of the Ashmont train station. Carruth also specified that the houses have setbacks, creating large front lawns, and that horses be stabled farther away, near the bottom of the hill and accessed from Minot Street. Today, the Fairfax Club Stables and the nearby greenhouses no longer exist.

It was a period of eclectic experimentation in this streetcar suburb, said Jeffrey Gonyeau, a historic preservationist and a house tour committee member. Some of these architects also were designing attached townhouses in the Back Bay, but in Dorchester, they could display their creativity on four exposures, incorporating various styles such as Queen Anne, Stick (the precursor of Arts and Crafts), Shingle and Colonial Revival, he said.

Often the styles were combined in one house. Two of the architects, Edwin J. Lewis Jr. and John A. Fox, were Dorchester men, he added.

The clapboard, shingled and brick exteriors feature wide porches, many gables, corbelled chimneys, arches, stained glass and multi-paned windows while the interiors boast large reception halls, elegant staircases with carved newel posts, quarter-sawn oak mantelpieces and parquet floors. One of the homes has a small alcove that once served as a telephone “booth,” said Gonyeau.

All reflect a commitment to craftsmanship and quality materials.

The present-day owners of these houses, or their immediate predecessors, have removed artificial siding, restored windows and doors and painstakingly undertaken other changes to add a level of comfort for today’s lifestyle, said Earl Taylor, president of the historical society. Newly installed kitchens and baths are the most significant changes.

“Homeowners will be on hand to talk about the ways they have preserved, restored and transformed their 19th century houses for 21st century living,” Taylor said.

The long tradition of Dorchester house tours was revived last year when the historical society showcased homes in the Ashmont Hill neighborhood, west of Dorchester Avenue. Proceeds from this year’s tour will be used to repair and restore the society’s Capt. Lemuel Clap House on Boston Street, which was built in 1765. Last year’s tour proceeds were used to refurbish the 1806 William Clapp house next door.

The self-guided walking tour begins from the Guild Hall at All Saints Church, 209 Ashmont St., around the corner from the Ashmont MBTA Red Line station and east of Dorchester Avenue. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. for ticket sales and advance-purchase check-in. Tickets are $30 in advance and can be obtained through the website, www.dorchesterhistoricalsociety.org. Tickets are $35 on the day of the tour.

The Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, also will be open. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram in 1892, the Gothic Revival Episcopal church was completely restored inside and out two years ago.

The developer Trinity Financial along with Verizon is a platinum sponsor of the tour, and Peregrine Urban Initiatives, another developer, and the Dorchester Reporter are gold sponsors for this event. Other sponsors include Cedar Grove Gardens, Eastern Bank, Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, John Hancock Investments, the New England Carpenters Labor Management Program and United Prosthetics.

Short-term parking is available at All Saints for registration and the church visit; otherwise, street parking is ample for tour goers throughout the neighborhood.

In addition to the Capt. Lemuel Clap and William Clapp houses, the Dorchester Historical Society owns and cares for the oldest house in the city, the 1661 James Blake House, and a mid-19th century barn. Founded in 1843 and incorporated in 1891, the organization presents free monthly programs about Dorchester’s recent and distant history and maintains extensive collections from Dorchester’s industrial and agricultural past.

The 18th century Capt. Lemuel Clap House at 199 Boston St. in Dorchester will be the beneficiary of this year’s Dorchester Historical Society’s house tour on June 11.

One of the society’s unique properties, this house is also known as the Roger Clap House. Roger Clap was among the earliest settlers of Dorchester in 1630.

The proposed project includes the restoration of important character-defining features of the house, such as window hoods and window trim, doors, door trim and shutters, that will reflect its appearance in the late 19th century as depicted in a photograph from 1870.

Earl Taylor, president of the Dorchester Historical Society, said he believes the house probably had not changed its look from 1765 when Lemuel Clap built an addition. The Clap family had acquired the house in 1710.

“As is common with early New England houses, this building was expanded significantly over time as the family grew and their economic circumstances improved,” he said.

“Based on physical evidence, it is believed that a portion of the center of the house may represent the entirety of the house that Roger Clap built in the 17th century.”

Before 1765 the house had three bays and was one-room deep and faced Willow Court, now Enterprise Street. Lemuel Clap added extensively to the house and reoriented it to face Boston Street.

Today the Georgian-style two-story, wood-frame building has a gambrel roof with five bays and an ell with three bays, one bay deep. It also has a one-story service addition with a gable roof.

In the 1950s when Willow Court was widened and the street renamed, the historical society moved the house to its present site, about 200 feet from its original location, saving it from demolition.

This house represents the fascinating evolution of a family property over many generations and helps document the rise of one of Dorchester’s most influential early clans, said Taylor.

Following several other recent exterior projects at the society’s campus, including the repair of the Clapp barn and of the William Clapp House, this final project will complete the repair of these precious historic buildings, said Taylor.

The Lemuel Clap House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of mid-18th century rural architecture. Four of its 12-over-12-pane windows are still intact.

The restoration work will comply with the Secretary of the Interior standards, retaining and repairing original fabric or, where necessary, replacing it with materials and workmanship to match the original.

Tour proceeds to be used for restoration

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