Visit Boston Massachusetts
Visit Boston Massachusetts
Harrison Gray Otis House Parlor

The Harrison Gray Otis House

Boston, Massachusetts

Written by Julie Greiner
The epitome of high-style taste in Boston at the turn of the 19th century is revealed by the preserved interior design of this once home to Harrison Gray Otis and his family. The structure exemplifies the elegant life led by Boston's governing class after the Revolution. Harrison Gray Otis made
a fortune developing Beach Hill, served in Congress and later was Mayor of Boston. The house was built in 1796 and was one of the original many grand houses in the old neighborhood known as Bowdoin Square.

Gracious Hosts and Hostesses

Visitors may see Otis' office, with its concealed safe, the formal rooms downstairs prepared to receive guests and the family living quarters on the second floor. The reserved classical exterior of brick and stone barely hints at the brilliant colors, the imported wallpapers and carpets and the opulent furnishes within.
Harrison Gray Otis
Located at 141 Cambridge Street, the Harrison Gray Otis House was designed by Charles Bullfinch. The parlor features a plain paper with a border in the "Etruscan" style, which enjoyed a brief popularity in America in the 1790s. The elegant withdrawing room on the second floor features musical instruments, tea service and another lovely wallpaper.

Moving up to Beacon Hill

Otis and his family lived here for only four years before moving to a still larger house designed by Bullfinch on Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill was a new neighborhood which Otis and four partners developed around 1800. With the gradual shift of wealth to Beacon
Hill and the increasing commercial use of Cambridge Street, the old Bowdoin Square neighborhood to slipped into decay. By the end of the 19th century, the Otis House had become a boarding house.

Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities

In 1916 SPNEA acquired the house to provide headquarters for its staff and the growing collections. William Sunmer Appleton, SPENA's founder and the country's first full-time preservationist, began the lengthy process of restoration. The preservation efforts required meticulous examination of inventories, visual documents and physical evidence, including microscopic paint analysis. The ground floor of
Harrison Gray Otis House Drawing Room
the Otis House, which is open by appointment, contains over a million historic photographs, architectural drawings and other primary material pertaining to the New England's architectural and cultural history.

Today, the Otis House and the 1806 Old West Church beside it comprise a historic enclave amid the bustle of downtown Boston. Between May and October, Saturday walking tours explore daily life in the bustling neighborhood of Beacon Hill during the early years of the Republic. For further information regarding the Harrison Gray Otis House and SPNEA call (617) 227-3956.

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Last Updated: September 23, 2015