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5 1 Granite Bred in the Bone 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 many of these buildings. Indeed, the elder Bryant was best known as the inventor of mechanisms and devices to transport and manipulate the heavy stone used in construction. His most famous accomplishment, the “Granite Railroad” in Quincy, was designed and built when his son was a young boy.1 Throughout his childhood, Gridley J. F. Bryant witnessed his father’s work as a contractor, both in the procurement of stone and in the actual construction of these granite buildings. One of the elder Bryant’s most important projects was the Suffolk County Courthouse, begun in 1833 and completed in 1836, just as young Gridley was coming of age. In Boston’s dense urban center, monumental public buildings typically occupied sites between rows of urban blocks on narrow streets. Such was the case with the massive granite courthouse, constructed in the Greek Revival style. This imposing structure stood on Court Street between Washington and Tremont streets. Dwarfing its neighbors, the building was a long, two-story rectangular barn with massive Doric porticos at either end (fig. 1.3). The great Doric columns, each weighing sixtyfour tons in the rough, were quarried out of Quincy granite at a location four miles from the nearest waterway, the Neponset River, south of the city. Gridley Bryant’s responsibilities included transporting the columns from the quarry to the building site on sleds. Because of an early thaw, however, Bryant quickly had to construct special wagons capable of carrying the Figure 1.1. Gridley James Fox Bryant, age sixty-five. New England Magazine, November 1901. (Courtesy Trustees of the Brookline Public Library) Granite Bred in the Bone 7 load. The wagons were drawn by sixty-five oxen and twelve horses.2 The procession of animals and granite, as it snaked its way through Boston, provided dramatic evidence of the elder Gridley’s ability to take on ambitious construction projects, and to develop innovative solutions when difficultiesarose .TherecanbelittledoubtthatyoungGridley’sself-confidence as an architect derived in large part from his firsthand experience of these accomplishments. Although Gridley J. F. Bryant grew up in Boston and Quincy, his parents were from the south shore farming community of Scituate. It was there Figure 1.2. Gridley Bryant. This image of the architect’s father in old age does little to suggest his intrepid nature as an inventor and builder. From Stuart’s Lives and Works of Civil and Military Engineers of America. (Courtesy Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.) Figure 1.3. Second Suffolk County Courthouse, Court Street, Boston, Solomon Willard, architect. Supervised by Alexander Parris and built by Gridley Bryant, senior, this granite structure was completed in 1836. A year later, Gridley J. F. Bryant opened his Court Street office nearby. (Courtesy Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.) Granite Bred in the Bone 9 that his father was born in 1790. Having lost his own father when he was still a boy, Gridley senior received only a few months’ education each year in a local school before, at age fifteen, apprenticing with an unidentified builder in Boston. According to biographical accounts, within a few years he took charge of his employer’s business before, at age twenty-one in 1811, establishing himself as an independent masonry contractor. Boston’s architecture in 1811 consisted mostly of brick buildings, and much of his early work was presumably as a brick mason. Charles Bulfinch’s designs dominated the city at that time, just as they do today when one thinks of Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century.3 A variety of wellknown structures survive as testimony to Bulfinch’s skills, including the Massachusetts State House (1795–97), the three Harrison Gray Otis houses (1795–96, 1800–1802, 1805–8), and the enlargement of Faneuil Hall (1805–6). In Gridley Bryant’s day, there were many more distinctive landmarks, now gone, such as the Boston Theater (1793–94), the Tontine Crescent (1793–94), Park Row (1803–5), India Wharf (1803–7), and the Colonnade (1810–12). This Bulfinch legacy of elegant Federal-style brick buildings gives a somewhat misleading image of a city where granite buildings , including many...


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