Samuel Parkman built this house @ Bowdoin Square in Boston MA this painting is by Philip Harry in 1847
Among the many treasures in the Society’s collection is an extraordinarily well-preserved circa 1847 oil painting by Philip Harry of a grand Boston home that no longer exists: the late eighteenth-century Samuel Parkman House on Bowdoin Square in the West End.
Founded in 1788, Bowdoin Square had, by the early nineteenth century, become one of the most prestigious residential areas of the city and home to many of Boston’s leading families, including the Parkmans. (Samuel Parkman, who built the house around 1789, was a successful merchant who made a fortune in real estate as Boston grew into one of the most important cities in the new republic.)
Sadly, as the nineteenth century progressed, Bowdoin Square became increasingly run-down – an area noted more for its boarding houses and snake oil salesmen than its majestic houses. With the exception of the Harrison Gray Otis House (Boston’s only extant free-standing eighteenth-century townhouse, now a world-class house museum owned by Historic New England), all of the great private houses, including the Samuel Parkman House, were demolished.
The Parkman House at Bowdoin Square in Boston, in 1880. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
Bowdoin Square in 2015:
The Bowdoin Square area was once a prominent residential neighborhood, and these two attached granite houses were built around 1816 by Samuel Parkman, a wealthy merchant who hired Charles Bulfinch to design them. Samuel Parkman’s daughter Sarah lived in the house to the left, along with her husband, Edward Blake, Jr., who died in 1817, shortly after they moved in. Sarah lived here until her death in 1847. Parkman himself lived in the house to the right until he died in 1824, and another daughter, Elizabeth, lived here with her husband, Robert Gould Shaw, until around 1840.
Both the Parkman and Shaw families were prominent in Boston’s 19th century upper class. Samuel Parkman’s grandson was Francis Parkman, a noted author and historian, and Robert Gould Shaw was one of the wealthiest men in the city. When he and his wife left this house in 1840, they moved to the other side of Beacon Hill, to a house overlooking Boston Common at the corner of Beacon and Joy Streets. By 1846, he had an estimated net worth of a million dollars, much of which he had inherited from his father-in-law. Shaw’s grandson and namesake, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, would go on to achieve fame as the commanding officer of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first all-black units to fight in the Civil War.
The two houses stood here at Bowdoin Square until the early 1900s, when they were demolished and replaced with a commercial building. This building is no longer standing either, nor is anything else from the 1880 photo. The entire West End section of the city, aside from a few buildings, was demolished in the late 1950s as part of an urban renewal project, similar to what was done at nearby Scollay Square around the same time, Even the road networks were changed, and today Bowdoin Square bears essentially no resemblance to its earlier appearance.
|Birthdate:||August 22, 1751|
|Birthplace:||Westborough, Worcester, Masschusetts|
|Death:||Died June 11, 1824|
|Immediate Family:||Son of Rev. Ebenezer Parkman and Hannah Parkman
Husband of Sarah Parkman and Sarah Parkman (Rogers)
Father of Samuel Bert Parkman; Hannah Tuckerman; Susannah Thomson; John Parkman; Sarah Parkman; Abigail Parkman;Susannah Parkman; Hannah Tuckerman; Elizabeth Willard Shaw;Rev. Francis Parkman; George Parkman, Famous Murder Victim;Samuel Henry Parkman; Daniel Parkman; Elizabeth Parkman andGeorge Parkman, M.D. « less
Brother of Elizabeth Parkman; William Parkman; Sarah Parkman;Susannah Parkman; Alexander Parkman; Breck Parkman; John Parkman; Anna Sophia Brigham; Hannah Parkman; Elias Parkmanand Robert Breck Parkman « less
Half brother of Mary Forbes; Sgt. Ebenezer Parkman; Thomas Parkman; Lydia Parkman and Lucy Forbes
Samuel Parkman (August 22, 1751 – June 11, 1824) and Sarah Rogers had five children: Elizabeth (1785), Francis (1788), George (1790), Samuel (1791), and Daniel (1794). Samuel Parkman had also had six children by his previous marriage to Sarah Shaw. Samuel Parkman, George’s father and family patriarch, had bought up low-lying lands and income properties in Boston’s West End. He also founded and was part owner of the towns of Parkman, Ohio and Parkman, Maine. His sons from his first marriage oversaw theOhio properties, while his second set of boys were responsible for the Maineparcel. Samuel’s daughters inherited wealth as well. The most notable was George’s sister Elizabeth Willard Parkman, whose spouse Robert Gould Shaw (1776 – 1853), grandfather of Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863, Union Army colonel during the American Civil War), grew his wife’s share of the fortune to become the senior partner in the most powerful commercial house in a city glutted with the proceeds of the China Trade.
The eleven Parkman scions united in marriage with the Beacon Hill families of Blake, Cabot, Mason, Sturgis, Tilden, and Tuckerman. Of his eleven offspring, Samuel chose George as the one to administer the Parkman estate.
With the loss of so much of the West End, the NEHGS painting of the Parkman House transforms from a lovely scene to a valuable record of lost Boston. And there’s more than just the documentation of a demolished house in this painting – to the right of the house is a corner of Bowdoin Square Baptist Church, a site occupied today by the circa 1930 New England Telephone & Telegraph Company building. In the bottom right corner are two African American porters (an extraordinarily rare depiction of African Americans in a nineteenth-century painted view of Boston) from the nearby Revere House, one of Boston’s most prestigious mid-nineteenth-century hotels. Named after the famous Paul Revere, this luxurious Bowdoin Square hotel hosted many of the luminaries of the day, including Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Ulysses S. Grant, and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of Great Britain). Top it all off, the celebrated Daniel Webster (who was a member of NEHGS!) used the hotel’s portico to address crowds at political rallies!
The story of the Parkman family is an inspiring and tragic one. Samuel’s son, Dr. George Parkman, became one of the leading lights of Boston. He endowed the Parkman Professorship of Anatomy and Physiology at Harvard (his alma mater) and donated a large piece of land in the West End to build Harvard Medical School – home today of the world-famous Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Parkman’s friend, John James Audubon, even named a bird – the Parkman Wren (Troglodytes Parkmanii) – after him.
It all came to an ugly end when George was murdered and dismembered in 1849 by Dr. John White Webster. The murder was one of the most sensational events of nineteenth-century Boston and rapidly became an international event via the fast-growing popular press. Ironically, Dr. Parkman was murdered at Harvard Medical School, built on the land he donated to the university. The city was rocked to the core and the Parkman family never recovered (they lived as recluses for the rest of their lives). Like so much art adorning the Society’s walls, this painting is both beautiful and historical, and it gives us a link to Boston’s rich and vibrant past.