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Building Victorian Boston

Building Victorian Boston: The Architecture of Gridley J.F. Bryant

Roger G. Reed
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Building Victorian Boston
    Book Description:

    Much of Boston's rich heritage of Victorian buildings dates from the midnineteenth century when Gridley James Fox Bryant (1816–1899) dominated the profession of architecture in the city. At that time, Boston was undergoing a transformation from a quaint postcolonial town to a rapidly expanding Victorian metropolis. Bryant led this transformation, providing an important link between the earlier architecture of Charles Bulfinch and Alexander Parris and the later work of such practitioners as H. H. Richardson and Peabody & Stearns. In Building Victorian Boston, Roger Reed focuses on representative projects by Bryant, presenting them in a chronological narrative that both illuminates the trajectory of his career and creates a portrait of the profession of architecture during a defining period of New England history. Bryant designed more major buildings in Boston from 1840 to 1880 than any other architect. He also undertook commissions throughout New England, especially in towns linked to Boston by newly constructed railroad lines. In many ways, his practice presaged aspects of modern architectural firms. His ability to work with a variety of designers, his expertise in construction management, and his exceptional talent for selfpromotion all contributed to his success. Although by the time of his death his work was no longer fashionable, newspaper accounts noted the passing of the "Famed Bostonian" and "Great Builder" whose career had had such a dramatic impact on the face of the city. For this volume, Reed has tracked down hundreds of Bryant's drawings as well as specifications, letters, newspaper articles, published renderings, and historical photographs. These materials are amply represented in this book, the definitive study of a quintessential Victorian architect.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-154-0
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Looking back at the life of Gridley J. F. Bryant (1816–1899) in 1901, his friend Henry Bailey characterized him as “An Architect of the Old School.”¹ What Bailey referred to as “old school” was an era of unregulated building, when traditions of craftsmanship were being replaced by products of the machine age. Bryant’s career began in the early nineteenth century, when there were few professional architects. By the time of his death, well-established schools, both in the United States and abroad, provided formal training and offered degrees in architecture. The American Institute of Architects was working to establish professional...

  6. 1 Granite Bred in the Bone
    (pp. 5-31)

    Gridley J. F. Bryant (fig. 1.1) grew up in a world of granite construction. Although brick was the predominant building material used in Boston, major architectural landmarks erected after Bryant’s birth in 1816 were often built of granite derived from regional quarries. The architect’s father, also named Gridley (fig. 1.2), worked as a mason and constructed many of these buildings. Indeed, the elder Bryant was best known as the inventor of mechanisms and devices to transport and manipulate the heavy stone used in construction. His most famous accomplishment, the “Granite Railroad” in Quincy, was designed and built when his son...

  7. 2 Mastering His Profession
    (pp. 32-50)

    By the beginning of the new decade, the economy had still not improved. Indeed, the economic depression had grown more serious over the summer of 1839. There continued to be new construction to meet the needs of the growing population, but as late as 1843 a local newspaper cautioned those in the building trades against coming to Boston in search of work: “We would not hold out … an encouragement for mechanics to come to the city—there is a sufficient number who have wintered with us, who have found it hard to get along, and to these belong the...

  8. 3 Architecture and Reform
    (pp. 51-75)

    The great social reform movements that swept Boston during the early nineteenth century offered architects opportunities to develop original design solutions for specialized buildings. Traditionally, buildings erected for charitable causes operated under very tight budgets, and the resulting architecture was often plain in appearance and conventional in plan. Typical is Bryant’s design for the Mariners House, erected by the Boston Port Authority in 1846 (fig. 3.1). Still standing in Boston’s North End neighborhood, the Mariners House is four stories high with flat stone lintels, a gable roof, and cupola. On the first floor were shops where seamen’s wives and widows...

  9. 4 Transforming Boston
    (pp. 76-94)

    Bryant’s success in winning commissions for public buildings garnered the architect considerable publicity, as well as important contacts with wealthy citizens. In the early 1850s Bryant’s office was turning out drawings for the almshouses in Boston and Cambridge and large jails in Boston, Cambridge, Dedham, Lawrence, and Northampton. At the same time, the architect was busy working to secure the major prize of designing an addition to the Massachusetts State House. Bryant did not hesitate to supplant other architects when he thought he had a better solution. In the days before the establishment of professional standards through organizations such as...

  10. 5 From Down East to San Francisco Bay
    (pp. 95-114)

    By his own account, Gridley Bryant was a man of extraordinary energy. Not content to work in the Boston area, he made extensive use of the new railroad lines built throughout New England to establish a regional practice. As with his work in the Boston area, securing commissions for prominent public projects was important as a means of enhancing his reputation in a given locality. Yet in his day as in our own, public projects tend to take a great deal of time and effort if they are to be carried to a successful conclusion. With elected officials as clients,...

  11. 6 Bryant and Gilman
    (pp. 115-139)

    On the eve of the Civil War, Boston had finally recovered from the financial crisis of 1857 and was continuing the great period of residential expansion which had begun in the early years of the decade. Gridley Bryant had been very successful, both locally and regionally, and the fact that the country was about to enter a period of grave crisis did not significantly curtail his practice. The number of talented competing architects only continued to grow. Men such as Nathaniel P. Bradlee, George Snell, John R. Hall, Edward C. Cabot, George Meacham, and Alexander Esty were joined by new...

  12. 7 Bryant and Rogers
    (pp. 140-159)

    The post–Civil War period brought economic prosperity and change in the architectural profession. In 1865 fifty-seven firms were listed in the Boston city directory. By 1872 that number had almost doubled. Bryant had remained eager to work with a variety of designers on various projects even during the years when he and Gilman shared an office. In 1865–66 he collaborated on several projects with John Hubbard Sturgis, an English-born architect who had arrived in this country with plenty of pedigree but few contacts among Boston’s businessmen. It was Sturgis who made measured drawings of the John Hancock Mansion...

  13. 8 An Architect of the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 160-174)

    The end of the Bryant-Rogers partnership coincided with continuing radical changes in architectural fashions in the United States. As noted, for a brief period the High Victorian Gothic style had supplanted the Second Empire style in the design of many of the most prominent architectural landmarks. Nonetheless, the High Victorian Gothic also lost favor by the late 1870s. In its place came the Queen Anne style, another English import, and the American Colonial Revival movement. With the completion of Trinity Church in Boston, a revival of the Romanesque style as interpreted by its architect, H. H. Richardson, also began to...

  14. APPENDIX 1 List of Architectural Drawings and Lithographic Renderings of Buildings and Projects by Gridley J. F. Bryant
    (pp. 175-176)
  15. APPENDIX 2 List of Buildings and Projects by Gridley J. F. Bryant
    (pp. 177-198)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 199-216)
    (pp. 217-220)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 221-224)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-227)