Colonial Society Welcomes Public for Monthly Open Houses

The Colonial Society of Massachusetts  is inviting the public to tour its headquarters at 87 Mount Vernon St. at its next monthly open house on Sunday, Feb. 6.

“The house really hasn’t been open to the public that much, so we decided this was a good way to let people know what’s inside and what the Colonial Society does,” said Robert Allison, president of Colonial Society, as well as a history professor at Suffolk University, who describes the Colonial Society as “a scholarly nonprofit organization that primarily publishes books and documents on early American history,” specifically on the early history of Massachusetts.

The Colonial Society of Massachusetts at 87 Mount Vernon St.

“Here we have this great house, and neighbors and visitors to the neighborhood don’t know what’s happening inside and what the Colonial Society does,” said Allison, “and we also thought [opening the house to the public] would be a nice amenity for the neighborhood.”

For the open houses, which take place on the first Sunday of each month, the house opens at 1 p.m. and closes at 3 p.m., with a short speaking program by a Colonial Society staff member on the history of the house and what the organization does starting at 2 p.m. Docents will also be on hand to assist guests as they tour the house.

Renowned architect Charles Bulfinch built the Federal-style mansion at 87 Mount Vernon St. in 1807 as the other half of a double-house built six years earlier at 85 Mount Vernon St. for Harrison Gray Otis. Bulfinch originally intended to live at  87 Mount Vernon St., but after mismanaging his finances, he was forced to sell the house to Stephen Higginson, a merchant and shipmaster, according to Allison.

Higginson in turn sold the house to an attorney, William Sawyer, who resided there with his sister, writer Helen Farnham Lee, for a number of years. Lee’s family subsequently lived in the house until 1954, when a descendent of hers donated it to the Colonial Society.

“It’s a beautiful house that has only been owned by three owners since 1806,” said Allison.

The “driving force” behind the Colonial Society when the organization acquired the house was Walter Muir Whitehill, who collected furniture from other people living on Beacon Hill or things that their children didn’t want in  their homes, said Allison.

Today, the house contains a  variety of paintings, furniture, books; none of which are original to the house, although they are original to the 18th and 19th centuries, according to Allison.

The Colonial Society held its first open house for members only in October, followed by monthly open houses for the public in November and December, said Meghan Gelardi Holmes, Colonial Society curator.

“Folks pass by and don’t know what’s happening in the house, so we really want neighbors to have a have a chance to come inside,” she said.

For more information on the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and its monthly open houses at 87 Mount Vernon St., email Robert Allison at  [email protected], or visit to learn more about the organization and its work.

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