Beacon Street Brownstone Speaks History Through Reclaimed Wood

By Beth Treffeisen

A historic brownstone on Beacon Street gave up a hidden secret during a gut-rehab project with the rare discovery of wooden joists made of Heart Pine,  uncommon to the late 19th century Boston buildings that are normally built with fir joists.

Discovered by Catamount Builders during the buildings demo, the floors of 474 Beacon Street in the heart of Back Bay has played host to numerous dwellers dating back to 1892.

If the floors could speak for themselves, they would tell stories of high society merchants, pains of patients when it was an oral surgeons office and soon it will play host to a four-story luxury apartments.

“Imagining all of these well-to -do people, people coming to age, walking up and down these streets – it’s kind of fun to image it,” said Kathy Woodward the spokeswoman for Longleaf Lumber Inc.

The renovations will take the nine units and ready them for occupancy as apartments that will have views overlooking the Charles River.

As for the wood that was salvaged, Longleaf Lumber that takes antique wood and gives it new life will turn the Heart Pine into shelving and flooring to be placed in other homes around the Bay area.

Longleaf Lumber that is located in Cambridge, takes salvage woods from industrial, agricultural, and large residential buildings throughout the eastern part of the U.S. and make them into flooring, paneling, stair treads, moldings, and more.

“They took it out beam by beam and by hand because they don’t want them wrecked,” said Woodward comparing it to other types of demolition that just “smash things to bits.”

Fehmer & Page architects designed the brick home, giving the building curved bay windows and basement exposure to the street above.

The Pierce family first owned the house for many years and eventually handed it down to their daughter Katherine. She later rented it out to Nathaniel Cotton, another merchant and Charles Foster the director and treasurer of Chickering & Sons piano manufacturer.

The Fosters came in later due to their need to better entertain for their daughter’s debutante season. Another family of James T. Barron who operated a cannery in Portland, Oregon also enjoyed the space for his daughter’s coming-of-age season.

Most notably, the building holds ties to the Museum of Fine Arts through Katherine Pierce the daughter of the original owners. According to Longleaf, when she passed away in March of 1913 she left her will for various local organizations including about $1.2 million in 2016 dollars to the museum.

Today the Katherine C. Pierce Trust continues to serve funds for women and children in need in the state of Massachusetts.

 “You walk by not knowing the history,” said Woodward, “But these buildings just have all these different lives.”

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