Wednesday, Sep 13, 2017 12:00p -
William Hickling Prescott House
55 Beacon Street
Boston, Ma 02108
Please come visit our historic Beacon Hill townhouse and experience a fascinating glimpse of life in Boston among the city’s affluent 19th-century elite. The William Hickling Prescott house at 55 Beacon Street and the adjoining 54 Beacon Street were built in 1808 and designed by esteemed American architect Asher Benjamin. The house was originally built for the Boston merchant James Smith Colburn. The house proudly displays its latest art acquisition - a portrait of Colburn’s wife Mrs. James Smith Colburn painted by Gilbert Stuart a famous Colonial portrait painter from Rhode Island who painted the first six Presidents of the United States. The land across from the Boston Common on which the federal style twin townhouses were built was originally owned by John Copley Singleton, Americas most accomplished Colonial portraitist.
The exterior looks like any other grand Federal red-brick townhouse bordering the Boston Common with black shutters, wrought iron balconies and the American flag flying high. However, it is no ordinary mansion. It is the preserved home of 19th-century historian William Hickling Prescott, often referred to as the nation’s first scientific historian. Prescott (1795-1859) was one of the country’s most respected intellectuals. He is considered a key figure in the development of history as he was one of the pioneers of drawing upon archives that allowed him to accurately re-create political and military events in Spain, Mexico and Peru. The residence at 55 Beacon Street was purchased by Prescott in 1845 when he was already a widely translated author.
The house remained in the family until the 1940’s. In 1944 the National Society of the Colonial Dames (NSCDA), a nonprofit organization of approximately 450 women committed to preserving historic properties, educating the public about early American history and promoting patriotism purchased and restored the mansion. In 1964 it was designated a national Historic Landmark. The five story residence is decorated with elegant chandeliers, mirrors, furniture, artwork and decorative arts including Chinese porcelain and English ceramics donated by the NSCDA. While most of the furniture and decor are not direct Prescott heirlooms, it is all done in keeping with early to mid 19th-century interior design trends. Prescott’s descendants recently donated the family’s Babcock piano from the 1800’s. Visitors can see Prescott’s extensive library and the third floor study where he wrote his last two books. Not to be ignored, portions of the NSCDA significant costume collection are displayed throughout the house including dresses, fans, parasols and children’s clothing dating from the 18th through the 20th centuries.
The Prescott House serves as the headquarters of the Massachusetts NSCDA chapter. It was named #8 top iconic buildings in Boston by Boston Curbed in 2017. As we get ready to enter our 125th year as a Massachusetts Chapter, please visit us at any of our 3 properties operated and/or owned by NSCDA MA including Quincy Homestead in Quincy and Martin House Farm in North Swansea. Please visit our website nscdama.org or any of our house pages on Facebook for updated tour schedules.
Docent led tours are hourly beginning at 12:15 and ending at 3:15 Wednesdays and Saturdays through September. Admission is $8, $6 for seniors, free for children under 12. We are a Blue Star museum and admission for active military and their families is free.