Welcome to nineteenth-century Boston! In 1860, when the Gibson House was built, Boston was a center of manufacturing and shipping. The population had grown from about 15,000 inhabitants in 1760 (fifteen years before the start of the Revolutionary War) to about 200,000 people, in part due to an influx of Irish and Italian immigrants. Society was divided along strict class lines; wealth and power was concentrated among the elites, also known as “Brahmins.” The Gibsons are one such Brahmin family, and their experiences offer us an opportunity to explore class and culture in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Boston.
The story of the Gibson House begins with Catherine Hammond Gibson’s move to the Back Bay, Boston’s newest and trendiest residential neighborhood. Catherine commissioned noted Boston architect Edward Clarke Cabot to design the Gibson House at 137 Beacon Street. From 1860 until 1954, seven different Gibson family members and dozens of their employees lived at the house. Its interior is filled with the family’s original furnishings—elegant wallpapers, imported carpets, and an abundance of furniture, art, and family heirlooms. Its working spaces, including a kitchen, laundry room, and coal shed, also remain.
The Gibson House Museum exists because of the vision of Charlie Gibson, Jr., a poet, horticulturist, and notable Boston character. A gay man, Charlie never married nor had children. Beginning in 1936, he decided to preserve his nineteenth-century townhouse as a monument to his family’s legacy and to the Boston of his youth. The Gibson House officially opened to the public as a museum in 1957 and has been open ever since.