in 1859-60, the Gibson House stands as the historic house museum
of the Back
Bay. In 2001, the National Park Service declared
the Gibson House a National Historic Landmark. It is unique as
an unspoiled single-family residence that retains its kitchen,
scullery, butler’s pantry and water closets, as well as
formal rooms and private family quarters, filled with the Gibsons’ original
furniture and personal possessions. Visitors enjoy a glimpse
of the lives of a well-to-do Boston family and their domestic
Gibson House and the Back Bay
1860 when construction on the Gibson House was completed, the
population of Boston was 177,902, making it
the fourth largest city in the United States. In 1855, to accommodate
the city’s growth, Boston began what is still one of the
most ambitious urban development projects ever undertaken: the
filling in of the Mud Flats or “Back Bay” west of the
Public Garden. This urban development project lasted until 1886,
by which time 400 acres of new land had been created.
planner Arthur Gilman was influenced by the French style of long
with extensive vistas—a radical departure
from the narrow streets and English style of residential squares
and crescents found on Beacon Hill, the North End, and the newer
South End. At first, people were suspicious of the “New Land,” but
the area soon became a popular and fashionable residential neighborhood.
Homes in the Back Bay were equipped with the most up-to-date conveniences
including gas lighting and running water provided by public gas
lines and a 96-mile water and sewer system. Back Bay also began
to attract numerous churches, schools and cultural institutions.
In addition to the Arlington Street Church and Trinity Church,
Back Bay became home to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Public
Library, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the
nation’s first School of Architecture.
The Story of the Gibson Family at 137 Beacon Street
Gibson family story begins with the pioneering move of the
Hammond Gibson and her son, Charles Hammond
Gibson, from the top of Beacon Hill to the just-developing flats
of the Back Bay. In the 1860s, Back Bay was in the early stages
of transformation from a malodorous marsh to the most fashionable
residential neighborhood in the city. The filling of the Back
Bay was the largest public works project of its time. Catherine
was among the first to venture into this raw wasteland, and was
one of very few women to own a house in the “New Land,” as
it was called.
Designed in the Italian Renaissance style by the noted Boston
architect Edward Clarke Cabot, the house is built of brownstone
and red brick. Its interiors
are both tasteful and ornate, with black-walnut woodwork, elegant wallpapers,
imported carpets, and an abundance of furniture, paintings, sculpture, photographs,
silver, porcelain, curios, and 18th-century family heirlooms.
1871, a decade after the Gibsons set up housekeeping at 137
Catherine’s son Charles married Rosamond Warren, a member of the distinguished
family of Boston physicians. (Her great-uncle, General Joseph Warren, had died
while leading American troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill.) After her mother-in-law’s
death in 1888, Rosamond redecorated parts of the house in the latest fashion,
including white woodwork in the music room and gold-embossed “Japanese
leather” wallpaper in the reception hall.
Vision of an “Improper Bostonian”
Gibson House Museum exists because of the vision and family
pride of Charles
and Rosamond’s middle child, Charles Jr.
He was a poet, travel writer, horticulturalist, and colorful
bon vivant. However, his eccentric lifestyle was viewed with
raised eyebrows by more proper Bostonians and family members.
His sartorial tastes were impeccable: he persisted in appearing
in formal attire—a morning coat, spats, and a cane—long
after these were in fashion. Neighbors observed him setting out
each evening, exactly at six, for dinner at the Ritz, often in
a full-length fur coat.
Caught in a changing world, as families moved to the suburbs
and left their townhouses to be converted into rooming
houses, schools and dormitories, Charles
Jr. tried to preserve a piece of the Victorian era he remembered from his
youth. The Gibson House Museum began to take shape as
early as 1936. The furniture
was already roped off with gold cord, and so his guests were invited to sit
on the stairs while sipping their tea or martinis (made from his own bathtub
Mr. Gibson died in 1954, the last of three generations of his
family to live in the house. The Gibson House Museum was
officially opened to the public as
a museum in 1957.
Us Keep Mr. Gibson’s Dream Alive
Jr. correctly predicted that his house’s importance
would not be recognized until the year 2000; indeed, despite
national recognition in 2001, the Gibson House remains one of
Boston’s least-known treasures. Its holdings are a valuable
resource for students and lovers of late-19th- and early-20th-century
architecture, decorative arts, and social history. The period
wallpapers, carpets, and other textiles are especially important.
The Gibson House has also attracted filmmakers seeking authentic
interiors for period documentaries and dramas, most notably Merchant-Ivory’s
The Bostonians, filmed in 1983.
the 1990s, the Board of the Gibson House Museum initiated two
efforts: establishing the Friends of the
Gibson House Museum and securing substantial
grants from local and national foundations. The Friends, established in 1995,
is the Museum’s membership group and organizes the Annual Benefit Tea.
The Museum offers an expanding schedule of public and school programs, group
tours and special events. Monies raised in the 1990s enabled the restoration
of the Museum’s exterior, including roof, front steps and gate, windows
and the rare one-story shed at the rear of the house. An inventory of the varied
collection approaches completion, bringing to light many objects and documents
pertaining to the Gibson family and to Boston life during the late 19th and
early 20th century.
Museum’s mission is to preserve and exhibit the house and its collections
for the education, enjoyment, and inspiration of the broadest possible audience.
The Friends invite you to become a member and help make Mr. Gibson’s
dream a reality.