New App Provides Increased Access to the Otis House

Historic New England’s app for the Otis House provides a new way to virtually “visit” the last surviving mansion in Bowdoin Square, offering a close look at its architecture, furniture and one-time inhabitants, as well as at the changing face of the neighborhood over the last 200 years.

“The most amazing thing is that it allows us to tell the complete story of the Otis House, which is really the story of Beacon Hill, the West End and Boston,” said Michael Maler, Historic Regional New England’s site administrator for Metro Boston, as well as a Temple Street resident. “The Otises themselves only lived there for four years. The larger story we’re telling is about the servants, the women, and the immigrants who lived there, and the whole transition of Beacon Hill and the West End from being an exclusive, upscale community to a broader, more diverse community over two centuries.”

Besides the Otis family, the new app looks at Elizabeth Mott, a British physician who based her medical practice out of the Otis House in the 1930s at a time when, Maler said, it was “very atypical” for women to work as doctors, “let alone have their own practices.”

The app, which is arranged by category, also explores how Bowdoin Square was transformed from an elite neighborhood into a working class enclave circa 1800, with what Maler describes as the “rise of the boarding houses,” and how the Otis House followed this trend when three sisters converted it into a rooming house during this period.

Once Urban Renewal took hold in the mid 20th century, the historic West End was “pretty much annihilated,” however, Maler said.

Additionally, the app’s Furniture category features “Hiding in Plain Sight,” an in-depth look at a couch made by Isaac Vose & Son to furnish the Marquis de La Fayette’s lodging during his 1824 visit to Boston.

Meanwhile, the app provides new levels of accessibility, including a 360-degree tour, Maler said, so visitors who have difficulty using the stairs can now visit every corner of the building virtually.

“A lot of people have commented that they’d been to the Otis House before, but this has allowed them a much deeper dive,” Maler added, “and they’re learning things they never knew before.”

While the Otis House tentatively plans to reopen this summer, the app allows visitors to access it in the meantime, Maler said, and when it does reopen, the app will be available at a kiosk inside the museum, as well as on visitors’ personal devices, so they can use it to supplement their in-person tours.

Susanna Crampton, Historic New England’s public relations officer, wrote: “We are excited by the opportunity to really expand our visitor outreach. This new virtual visitor experience makes Otis House more accessible than ever before. It provides an opportunity for the visitor to really explore a topic, for us to tell a broader story and to share new research. Visitors from all over can use their computer or mobile device to discover Otis House and the history of the surrounding neighborhood.”

The app for the Otis House, as well as for several of Historic New England’s other properties, was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) CARES Act, said Maler.

View the new Otis House app at https://otis.house.

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