Henry James said of Mount Vernon Street that it was “the only respectable street in America.” Originally called Olive Street, it sweeps majestically from the Bowdoin Street side of the State House, through the passage beneath the Annex, past the fine residences built by the Mount Vernon Proprietors, and down the hill toward the Charles River.
The Mount Vernon Proprietors, a group of wealthy investors, included Harrison Gray Otis, Jonathan Mason, Charles Bulfinch, Benjamin Joy, and Mrs. James Swan. Otis had wangled eighteen acres of pasture from John Singleton Copley’s agent for the bargain price of $1,000 per acre, despite Copley’s horrified but tardy protests from England.
The Proprietors began building in 1799 and did not complete the development of the land until 1848. Like many developers after them, they demolished fine buildings— in this case, large old Federal mansions. Charles Bulfinch designed a few of the houses built by the group and has a total of twelve houses remaining on Beacon Hill. For more than three decades after Bulfinch, Greek revival remained the predominant architectural style on Beacon Hill. Blending beautifully with the older Federal houses, it resulted in a harmonious neighborhood that remains widely admired.
Image: ©Ewelina Olechowska