The city of Boston has had its share of tragedy throughout history. But as with any grand American city, what gets its people through tough times is their resilience and holding on to the traditions they have respected and observed as part of the fiber of who they are.
This is a story of a family home’s last surviving member, who set out to preserve his family’s example of a Victorian way of life to be enjoyed by others for years to come.
Charles Hammond Gibson Jr. was the son of Charles Hammond Gibson and his wife, Rosamond Warren. Born in 1874, Junior enjoyed the life of a privileged Bostonian. His grandmother, Catherine Hammond Gibson, was the first to purchase land in the swamp-ridden Back Bay area of Boston. At more than 400 acres, it was the largest residential development of its time. The area was to be a residential enclave for the elite, and Mrs. Gibson, a widow, wanted to be the first.
Indeed, Catherine Gibson’s fashionable home at 137 Beacon Street became the first completed house in 1860. Her famous neighbors included Louisa May Alcott and Julia Ward Howe, and the area eventually became the home for MIT, the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts and other important cultural institutions.
Architect Edward Clarke Cabot, the most renowned architect in Boston at the time, ensured that all of the latest modern conveniences would be used: gas lighting, indoor plumbing and central heating. The interiors of the Gibson red-brick, four-story brownstone only would have the best examples of architectural detail and be outfitted with the finest of accoutrements and design materials in the way of wall coverings, furniture, carpets, artwork, fabrics and silver.
Each floor served a specific purpose: The ground floor was for the servants’ use, and it included the laundry, kitchen, furnace and a rear courtyard. The first floor was for public use, with the entry hall, dining room and a guest lavatory. The second floor was for entertaining and business, with the music room and library. The third floor was where the master suite was located, as well as a second bedroom or office. The fourth floor was used for children’s bedrooms. The top floor was used as the servants’ quarters. There also were two staircases to accommodate the family and the servants’ needs so that the servants could move through the home and not be seen.
Back to Charles Junior: He was an interesting character who lived the high life, fancying himself a poet, horticulturalist, travel writer and bon vivant. Living the ‘good life’ was his main goal in life—definitely a person we would consider an ‘eccentric’ as he came from money (if he was poor, he would have just been crazy). At age 62, he began his attempts to turn the family home into a museum by roping off rooms. And when he would entertain, he asked guests to sit on the stairs and sip their martinis and gaze into the rooms, rather than allow them to sit on the furniture, so the upholstery would be preserved.
Charles Hammond Gibson Jr. achieved his goal: His home became a museum in 1957, three years after his death. And in 2001, the National Park Service declared the Gibson House a National Historic Landmark.
A Boston original, you will want to visit this amazing time capsule that clearly articulates the Victorian lifestyle at its height!
For more information visit thegibsonhouse.org.