History Has Passed Through This Door:Former Hancock Mansion Doorway Given New Life by North Bennet St School

June 1, 2018
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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 the renowned North Bennet Street School’s Preservation Carpentry (PC) program have been commissioned to build a full-scale reproduction of the fine Georgian home’s opulent surrounding entryway, which will go on exhibit in the Old State House in June 2018.

Originally built in 1737 by Thomas Hancock, John Hancock’s wealthy uncle, the mansion later became home to his nephew, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence and first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A decade after John Hancock’s death, his descendants unsuccessfully offered the home to the state as a governor’s residence. In 1863, the house was razed to make way for new brownstone townhouses, with many of its components auctioned off or given away, scattered throughout New England.

The mansion’s demolition birthed the historic preservation movement in New England and gave rise to organizations like the Bostonian Society, which later went on to save Boston’s Old State House from a similar fate. Pieces of the Hancock Mansion became part of museum collections throughout New England, including a key from the collection of Boston’s Old North Church, which was recently confirmed as belonging to the original door, according to the Locksmithing & Security Technology program at NBSS.

“We hope to give people today a chance to encounter the Hancock Mansion Door for the first time in decades, and to transport them into the past,” shares Nathaniel Sheidley, Executive Director of the Bostonian Society. “But we also hope to use the door as a metaphor to engage 21st-century audiences in thinking about the barriers that divide us, and the doors that we’d like to see opened in our communities that aren’t open right now.”

The original 12-panel Hancock mansion front door became part of the Bostonian Society collection in the late 19th century, and has been exhibited periodically as a stand-alone artifact. During a transition between storage locations, the Bostonian Society asked NBSS to store the door and construct a custom crate for transportation. This stewardship eventually led to the creation of the current project with the School’s Preservation Carpentry program.

This is a perfect skill-building opportunity for our students,” says Steven O’Shaughnessy, PC Department Head at NBSS. “They’re learning how to research and document a project, in addition to hand and machine skills like turning wood columns, carving brackets, and constructing timber frames. Best of all, they get to collaborate with a dedicated, knowledgeable client in the Bostonian Society.”

The project will be completed in this—in time for National Preservation Month—and exhibited at the Old State House in 2018. Also included in the exhibit will be other items from the Bostonian Society’s collection related to the Hancock Mansion and its inhabitants.

Kathy Mulvaney, Director of Education and Exhibitions at the Bostonian Society, couldn’t be more pleased with the work being performed. “We are thrilled to once again be collaborating with the students, alumni, and faculty of North Bennet Street School. As always, we are amazed by their talent and attention to detail.”

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