Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old Curtis Farm

I remember this old house beside the Curley school as a funeral home. Many such large old houses had been turned into funeral homes, nursing homes and fraternity houses by the 1960s, and most have now been recycled again into condos. The Curtis family was one of the first to settle Jamaica Plain, and the original homestead, located near today's Stony Brook T stop, survived to the 1880s. The story is that the first Curtis settled on the Centre street land in the 1720s with a horse and a slave. Later, one of his descendants would be one of the first tenants to sell produce at Quincy Market.

Boston Globe September 13, 1970

Old Curtis farm

Jamaica Plain mansion has 18th century flavor

Most of the inhabitants of Jamaica Plain wold be astounded by the changes made during the past 100 years in their pleasant community. In the Civil War period, this area was a part of West Roxbury. The city of Boston later separated the portion near Jamaica Pond to make the present-day suburb with its imposing mansions, built on ample, landscaped grounds.

Once Farm

All of this land, 100 acres or more, was the Curtis farm 250 years ago. It was owned by Joseph and Charles Curtis, brothers, who built the original house at 509 Center(sic) St, in 1721. This house is still standing by is swallowed up by the huge mid-Victorian structure that Charles E.Curtis added at the front several generations later, in 1862 [This is wrong. The JP Historical Society cites an 1882 date, which would make it an early shingle design].

To the casual passerby it's a typical three-story house of the period that was marked by grotesque architecture. It has all the gingerbread found in such houses and some features all its own. Shingles on two upper floors are cut in fanciful designs, each floor in a different pattern. A large dormer has an elaborate hand carving in a floral design. The tallest pinnacle of the roof is adorned with a bronze or copper griffin, covered with the green patina of age.

The exterior is substantially the same as the day it was built, but the interior has modern improvements, including hot water heat in the 14 rooms, to take over the function of the 10 fireplaces that were in use a century or so ago.

And inspection of the house shows some unusual features. The large rooms on the first floor have lofty ceilings and appear to have no doors, but each room can be shut off from the others by simply pressing a button in a partition. A handsome 1-2 paneled double door then slides out to close the opening into the next room.


Each of the fireplaces has a mantel of different design in natural-grained hardwood.

The front entrance hall is probably unique in New England. It has a pipe organ on the stairway, whose console is 20 feet or more away in another room. Across the hall is the music room and the broad landing is lighted by two stained glass windows. A long maple settee is set against some fine oak paneling. The newel post is of hand-carved maple, as are the ornate balusters that support the rail of the winding stair.

A handsome antique crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Bernard Gateley long a custodian of the house says it was rescued in 1862 from an old Boston dwelling that was being demolished.

When you step into the rear rooms you get the full early 18th century flavor. The ceilings are so low that a six-footer can lay the palm of his hand up against them. Summer beams, now encased, support the upper floors. The gunstock corner posts hold up long exposed timbers, all part and parcel of Early American post-and-plank construction. The rafters of the original attic are held together by wooden pegs. The smoking lounge in this section is paneled in wormy ash, no doubt an 1862 improvement.

The front yard of the half acre surrounding the Curtis house has the oldest beech tree in New England and also a large elm at least 300 years old.

The original Curtis farm extended north to Jamaica Pond and the Brookline town line; west to Beaufort rd. and east to Halifax st.

Early in the 1900s it was cut into house lots and the Jamaicaway was built through the backyard. Four other new streets were laid out - Lochstead av., Pershing rd., Moraine st. and Pond View av.

The residence of former Mayor James M. Curley is nearby, now a home of the Oblate Fathers, and the Mary E. Curley school, with its 20 new rooms, is virtually in the Gormley's backyard.


  1. This is very interesting! I recall when this house was converted to condos a few years back (with some new construction added). Does any of the original 18th century structure remain today?

    (Also, there's an OCR error in the second to last paragraph of the story - should be Lochstead Ave.)

  2. Use to live on Beauford road,as a child. Wondering if any one has ever noticed,,,ummm haunting situations. I am over 50. Can never forget.

  3. Kim - do you have any stories to tell us?