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Building Victorian Boston

The Architecture of Gridley J.F. Bryant

Roger Reed

Publication Year: 2007

Much of Boston's rich heritage of Victorian buildings dates from the mid-nineteenth century when Gridley James Fox Bryant (1816–1899) dominated the profession of architecture in the city. At that time, Boston was undergoing a transformation from a quaint post-colonial town to a rapidly expanding Victorian metropolis. Bryant led this transformation, providing an important link between the earlier architecture of Charles Bulfinch and Alexander Parris and the later work of such practitioners as H. H. Richardson and Peabody & Stearns. In Building Victorian Boston, Roger Reed focuses on representative projects by Bryant, presenting them in a chronological narrative that both illuminates the trajectory of his career and creates a portrait of the profession of architecture during a defining period of New England history. Bryant designed more major buildings in Boston from 1840 to 1880 than any other architect. He also undertook commissions throughout New England, especially in towns linked to Boston by newly constructed railroad lines. In many ways, his practice presaged aspects of modern architectural firms. His ability to work with a variety of designers, his expertise in construction management, and his exceptional talent for self-promotion all contributed to his success. Although by the time of his death his work was no longer fashionable, newspaper accounts noted the passing of the "Famed Bostonian" and "Great Builder" whose career had had such a dramatic impact on the face of the city. For this volume, Reed has tracked down hundreds of Bryant's drawings as well as specifications, letters, newspaper articles, published renderings, and historical photographs. These materials are amply represented in this book, the definitive study of a quintessential Victorian architect.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv


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p. v

Table of Contents

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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p. xiii

My research has benefited from the assistance of many kind scholars. Foremost among them is Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., without whose assistance and encouragement this book would not have been written. Moreover, a good deal of information, particularly about the Maine projects, was made available to me through the extensive files of the Maine Historic...

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pp. 1-4

Looking back at the life of Gridley J. F. Bryant (1816–1899) in 1901, his friend Henry Bailey characterized him as “An Architect of the Old School.”1 What Bailey referred to as “old school” was an era of unregulated building, when traditions of craftsmanship were being replaced by products of the machine age. Bryant’s career began in the early nineteenth century, when ...

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Chapter 1: Granite Bred in the Bone

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pp. 5-31

Gridley J. F. Bryant (fig. 1.1) grew up in a world of granite construction. Although brick was the predominant building material used in Boston, major architectural landmarks erected after Bryant’s birth in 1816 were often built of granite derived from regional quarries. The architect’s father, also named Gridley (fig. 1.2), worked as a mason and constructed...

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Chapter 2: Mastering His Profession

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pp. 32-50

By the beginning of the new decade, the economy had still not improved. Indeed, the economic depression had grown more serious over the summer of 1839. There continued to be new construction to meet the needs of the growing population, but as late as 1843 a local newspaper cautioned those in the building trades against coming to Boston in search of work:...

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Chapter 3: Architecture and Reform

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pp. 51-75

The great social reform movements that swept Boston during the early nineteenth century offered architects opportunities to develop original design solutions for specialized buildings. Traditionally, buildings erected for charitable causes operated under very tight budgets, and the resulting architecture was often plain in appearance and conventional in plan. Typical...

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Chapter 4: Transforming Boston

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pp. 76-94

Bryant’s success in winning commissions for public buildings garnered the architect considerable publicity, as well as important contacts with wealthy citizens. In the early 1850s Bryant’s office was turning out drawings for the almshouses in Boston and Cambridge and large jails in Boston, Cambridge, Dedham, Lawrence, and Northampton. At the same time, the architect was busy working to secure the major prize of designing an addition...

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Chapter 5: From Down East to San Francisco Bay

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pp. 95-114

By his own account, Gridley Bryant was a man of extraordinary energy. Not content to work in the Boston area, he made extensive use of the new railroad lines built throughout New En gland to establish a regional practice. As with his work in the Boston area, securing commissions for prominent public projects was important as a means of enhancing his reputation...

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Chapter 6: Bryant and Gilman

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pp. 115-139

On the eve of the Civil War, Boston had finally recovered from the financial crisis of 1857 and was continuing the great period of residential expansion which had begun in the early years of the decade. Gridley Bryant had been very successful, both locally and regionally, and the fact that the country was about to enter a period of grave crisis did not significantly...

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Chapter 7: Bryant and Rogers

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pp. 140-159

The post–Civil War period brought economic prosperity and change in the architectural profession. In 1865 fifty-seven firms were listed in the Boston city directory. By 1872 that number had almost doubled. Bryant had remained eager to work with a variety of designers on various projects even during the years when he and Gilman shared an office. In 1865–66 he collaborated on several projects...

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Chapter 8: An Architect of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 160-173

The end of the Bryant-Rogers partnership coincided with continuing radical changes in architectural fashions in the United States. As noted, for a brief period the High Victorian Gothic style had supplanted the Second Empire style in the design of many of the most prominent architectural landmarks. Nonetheless, the High Victorian Gothic also lost favor by the...


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pp. 175-198


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pp. 199-215


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pp. 217-220


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pp. 221-224

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761540
E-ISBN-10: 1613761546
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495555
Print-ISBN-10: 155849555X

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 645893365
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Building Victorian Boston

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Subject Headings

  • Bryant, Gridley James Fox, 1816-1899.
  • Public architecture -- New England -- History -- 19th century.
  • Public architecture -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History -- 19th century.
  • Architects -- Massachusetts -- Biography.
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