When you’re in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, it won’t be hard to pick out the Prescott House. It is half of an Asher Benjamin Double Bow-front house which creates gorgeous bay windows on three floors overlooking the Boston Common.
Named for the profoundly influential historian, William Hickling Prescott, who lived and wrote there from 1845 to 1859, the house is a flawless example of Federalist design. While the entire house is full of fascinating details, the study, in particular, is noteworthy for having been restored to its original state based on historical documents.
Prescott suffered from severely impaired vision and was one of the first Americans to own a noctograph, an instrument designed to enable the blind to write. The noctograph was used by Prescott to compose and write histories—mostly about Spain—that remain widely read and essential to this day.
A noctograph is on display in Prescott’s study for you to view.
This Beacon Street home was built by James Smith Colburn and his wife Sarah Dunn Prince in 1808. Colburn made his fortune exporting housewares from England and fashioned the Boston Federal-style townhouse to show his station in life. In his memoirs1 Colburn noted that at the outset of the War of 1812 he “… became an agent for Privateers and Letters of Marque… I became agent for nearly all the Privateers out of New York, Baltimore and Charleston.”
At the 5½ story townhome, you’ll be treated to fluted Doric columns, entrances with side lights, colossal pilasters, elaborate iron balconies, and an ornamental balustrade over the cornice. Furniture, clothing and decorative arts are displayed throughout the home to show what life was like for an affluent Beacon Hill family in the 1800s.
1 Memoir entry: S.C. Historical Society James Smith Colburn Papers SCHS #551.00