Who was Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844)?

Charles Bullfinch, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Until September this year this Boston-native architect’s name had not secured itself a place in my conscience.

Charles Bulfinch is, however, worthy of note – like John Nash in London (see more here), Bulfinch was a man with a plan, whose designs shaped the architecture of early Boston, Massachusetts.

He studied at the Boston Latin school and Harvard and then travelled to mainland Europe and England, becoming familiar with Robert Adam‘s work before resettling in Boston in 1787.

If success is part hard work, part good fortune then for Bulfinch, being the first practising architect-proper in Boston, it was certainly a case of ‘right place, right time’.

Bullfinch designed many buildings in Boston, including:

  • the old Federal Street theatre (1793);
  • the first playhouse in New England;
  • the “new” State House (1798); and
  • many properties at Beacon Hill and surrounding areas, including the three Otis houses, which I’ll detail in separate posts.

While many of the mansions Bulfinch designed at Beacon Hill have since been demolished, the properties that remain strike me as simple, sincere (but gaudy in part), lacking the extra swirls contained in much of Adam‘s principle of movement and instead reflecting earlier Palladian work that influenced the Federal style.

Having put a name and a background to a face, I visited the first Otis House at the former Bowdoin Square where Bulfinch’s childhood home (long since demolished) stood and then set off on a walk around Beacon Hill.  More of that next time.

See more on CB’s multi-dimensional life here.

If you are planning a visit to Boston, I recommend visiting during the third weekend of May, which is when ‘Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill’ takes place – select houses on Beacon Hill open their secluded gardens (different houses each year), offering a unique glimpse into was lies behind those pretty facades.  See here and here for details of things to do in Boston, including the open gardens weekend.

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