Second Harrison Gray Otis House

Second Harrison Gray Otis House

Charles Bulfinch, 1800–1802

Remodeled: Peabody and Stearns, 1882

National Register of Historic Places

In the second house designed for Otis, Bulfinch attempted to establish the character for the rest of the development by the Mount Vernon Proprietors on John Singleton Copley’s land. His vision of Mount Vernon Street lined with grand freestanding mansions on spacious landscaped grounds did not materialize. This house remains the exception to Beacon Hill’s dense development.

As in many other Bulfinch works, the ground-floor windows are set within recessed arches. Unlike other houses, these tall windows house the principal rooms. Window size decreases on each floor until the third-floor windows are only small squares. Strong ornamental features enliven the façade: iron railings are in a Chinese fretwork pattern, two-story Corinthian pilasters define the end bays, and a stringcourse separates the principal floor from the other levels. A balustrade circles the entire roofline above the cornice, and an octagonal cupola surmounts the roof.

A cobblestone drive leads to the entrance and to the rear stable, a separate dwelling. The original entrance was on the other end of the house, where the bow window is now located. Otis lived here only until 1806, when he sold the house to the widow of a Salem merchant for $22,984. One twentieth-century owner was a frugal elderly lady. She lived alone in the large house but spent most of her time in a single third-story room, its floor covered with linoleum. The only heat came from a small freestanding gas heater.