Monday, March 26, 2012

The May House - En-Castle-ated

Detail of room in old wing of the May house.

Known as the Arborway Castle, or alternately as the house with all those fr*&%$in' Christmas lights, the May house joins the Curtis house in our parade of modified-to-the-point-of-unrecognizability Colonial houses. As is common with such articles, there is questionable information in this one. The writer states that the modern 'castle' part of the house was added to the original Colonial house in the 1800s. To be more precise, the addition was built between 1896 and 1904. It states that the house was built by a Mr Bridge. Bridge did sell the land to the Mays, but I'm not sure we can be confident that this was the original Bridge homestead. There were other houses on May's lane owned by the Mays in the late 1800s, any one of which could have been the oldest. And of course, the original house may have been torn down and replaced during the Colonial era. The Curtis house recently discussed here is dated to 1722, so it, too could be the oldest in the community.

Daily Boston Globe February 15, 1937

Jamaica Plain House Sold, Recalls Colonial History

The house of a thousand daily conjectures, strange in its location and imposing with its turreted, castle-like architectural appointments, has opened its portals and revealed an historical secret - the remnants of the Colonial home of Capt John May.

The unusual structure, located at 61 Arborway, Jamaica Plain, a short distance from Jamaica Pond on a main highway artery, has been viewed by passing motorists who wondered at its age and history.

For many years it has been tightly closed, but will now have an occupant, James M. Graham, Boston attorney, who purchased the property, known as the May and later Carter estate, from Mrs. John Emmons, Hingham, through the real estate office of the MacLellan Brothers.

In the passing of papers it was revealed that 11 "modern" rooms of the "castle" had been constructed in the 1800s, around five of the rooms of the old May house, which was built on May's lane, now May st, by a a Mr Bridge in 1650.

The first John May, master of the vessel (?), came from Mayfield in Sussex, England, and became a resident of Jamaica Plain and the ancestor of many of bear the name of May in this country. The original home was known in later years as the May House, after Capt Lemuel May, who fought in the Battle of Lexington and whose grave is in the little churchyard of the First Congregational Church on Eliot st, Jamaica Plain.

The five rooms represent what was probably the oldest house in Jamaica Plain. There were originally 47 acres on the May farm, but with the expansion of the park system about one-third of the area was taken. When part of the old house was razed incident to the erection of the present structure by Thomas W. Carter, workmen found a number of relics of Colonial years.

They included pewter spoons, buttons from the uniforms of the "Minute Men of 1775" and a number of silver coins. Spanish silver coins were plowed in the land adjacent to the house.

The old section of the property contains the original hardware of the Revolutionary period and the figures 1760 can still be seen on the fire back in the old fireplace.

Entering from the front porch there is a small, square reception hall that opens through narrow doorways into the old low-studded,irregular shaped rooms that have corner beams and wooden fittings of rich quartered oak.

The old living room with its hand-hewn ceiling beams, wainscotted sides, corner cupboard with convenient little shelves bears a distince Colonial tinge even though the woodwork has been covered with enameled paint. The old wooden coat hangers are in evidence and the beautiful hand-carved wooden staircase has a spiral carved newel post and uprights.

It is said that the house was used as a barracks durign the siege of Boston. On July 4, 1901, long after the present structure was erected, Capt Richmond P Hobson, United States Navy; Admiral Sampson and Boston Mayor Hart were entertained there.


  1. My parents looked at buying this house at one time, thinking they needed more bedrooms for their seven children. Wish they had!

  2. It had a pretty good fire in the early 70's if I was boarded up for a while.