Recreating History: The Original Hancock Mansion

May 30, 2018

J.H. Stugis' 1863 Measured Drawing of the South Elevation of the Hancock House

The original front door of the long-gone Hancock Mansion on Beacon Hill recently emerged from storage as the Bostonian Society, its steward, seeks to exhibit the historic artifact at the Old State House. Students from our Preservation Carpentry program were commissioned to build a full-scale reproduction of the fine Georgian home’s opulent surrounding entryway, which is now on exhibit at the Old State House, starting in June 2018.

Here’s an excerpt of an article on the research process, written by Sira Dooley Fairchild of The Bostonian Society.

“The mansion was built in 1737 by John Hancock’s uncle Thomas and demolished in 1863. It stood on Beacon Hill in Boston near the current State House and was demolished in 1863 to make way for two fashionable townhouses.
Its demolition and the subsequent outrage precipitated the origin of the Preservation Movement in the United States. It was even cited as one of the justifications for the founding of the Bostonian Society in 1881 and our preservation of the Old State House.

The original Hancock mansion

The Bostonian Society owns the front door to the mansion and the Preservation Carpentry students are rebuilding the internal and external surround so that we can display it in our gallery.
In order to build the most accurate replica, the students and instructors, assisted by their advisory board and Bostonian Society staff, have spent several months researching the house. The research covered architectural drawings, images, documents, building elements preserved in museum collections, and two houses that were built to mimic the Hancock Mansion.

The visual record for the Hancock Mansion includes measured architectural drawings done by John Hubbard Sturgis (1834-1888), drawn just prior to its demolition in 1863. The research process included comparing these drawings to the 19th century photographs of the house, at which point it was discovered that Sturgis’ drawing were not fully accurate. Among other things, Sturgis depicted five keystones above the door, rather than the three that can be seen in the photographs.

…This process clearly shows how much more we know about the Hancock Mansion than of most houses which were demolished in the mid-19th century. This building was valued as a historical structure both during its lifetime and after. In preserving images, documents, and physical pieces of the structure, our predecessors both proved how important they believed this house to be and gave us an unprecedented ability to recreate it.”

Read the full article here.

Preservation Carpentry Program