Headquarters House (Boston)

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William H. Prescott House
Headquarters House 55 Beacon Street Boston.jpg
The Prescott House is the left one of the two units depicted here
Headquarters House (Boston) is located in Massachusetts
Headquarters House (Boston)
Location 55 Beacon St., Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°21′23.6″N 71°4′5.7″W / 42.356556°N 71.068250°W / 42.356556; -71.068250Coordinates: 42°21′23.6″N 71°4′5.7″W / 42.356556°N 71.068250°W / 42.356556; -71.068250
Area less than one acre
Built 1808
Architect Benjamin, Asher
Architectural style Federal
Governing body Private
Part of Beacon Hill Historic District (#66000130)
NRHP Reference # 66000765[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL December 29, 1964[2]
Designated NHLDCP October 15, 1966

Headquarters House, also known as the William Hickling Prescott House, is an historic house museum located at 55 Beacon Street on Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the left-hand portion of a double townhouse at 54-55 Beacon Street, seen in the photograph. The townhouse, built in 1808 to a design by Asher Benjamin, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 for its association with William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), one of the nation's first historians. The house is now a museum operated by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, which purchased it for its headquarters in 1944.

Description and history[edit]

Built in 1808, the twin houses were designed by architect Asher Benjamin.[3] Still nearly mirror images of one another, they are four stories in height and three bays wide. The outer two bays of each unit are part of a rounded bay front, delineated by pilasters rising from the top of the first story porch to the roof. The porch is supported by a Doric colonade, and follows the line of the rounded bays. The doorways are in the innermost bays, flanked by sidelight windows and topped by a fanlight.[4]

The left side, 55 Beacon Street is named for William Hickling Prescott, a nearly blind historian from a prominent Boston family,[2] who lived there from 1845 to 1859.[3] Prescott had celebrated novelist William Makepeace Thackeray as a houseguest.[5] That unit was acquired in 1944 by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America for use as its headquarters, a role it still serves.[3][6] The Dames restored Prescott's study to its original state in 1968, based on historical documents.[4]

The houses' original owner was James Smith Colburn, a successful Boston merchant. He commissioned Asher Benjamin to build the double town houses on land he purchased from the Mount Vernon Proprietors. Originally, the structures were free-standing and would have had a water view (before the filling of the area that is now the Boston Public Garden). They were the height of fashion in the Early Republic. Prescott purchased his house in 1845 and after his death, his wife sold it to cousins, the Dexters. They made significant changes to the house: updating the stairwell, adding an elevator and reconfiguring Prescott's library into a dining room.

The house was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1964,[2] and was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1966,[1] for its association with Prescott, who gained a reputation for his books on Spanish (and Spanish colonial) history. His 1837 History of the Conquest of Mexico received great acclaim both in the United States and in Europe. Due to his blindness (caused by an incident during a bar brawl), he employed researchers and secretaries to acquire documents and prepare his manuscripts.[4]

One of the two units (possibly both) is memorialized as a Victorian dollhouse at the Cayuga Art Museum in Auburn, New York.

The house in a photo published in 1912

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c "William H. Prescott House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ a b c "William Hickling Prescott House". The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  4. ^ a b c "NHL nomination for Headquarters House" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  5. ^ Shackleton, Robert (1916). "Chapter IV: On the Prim, Decorous Hill". The Book of Boston. Penn Publishing Company. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  6. ^ "William Hickling Prescott House". NSCDA-MA. Retrieved 2015-02-17.