254 Beacon and 256 Beacon were built in 1870 for real estate developer Henry Bigelow Williams, two of five contiguous houses (252-254-256-258-260 Beacon) built for speculative sale.
Bainbridge Bunting, in the Appendix to his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, does not indicate an architect for 252-260 Beacon. However, in the introduction to the Appendix, he notes that “subsequent to the second printing of this book in 1968 the attributions to important architects of several early Back Bay houses have been brought to my attention by friends.” Among these, Bunting indicates that, “from a sifting of mountainous drawings and office correspondence now in the possession of the Boston Public Library, Wheaton Holden has been able to identify that 254-260 Beacon were designed by Peabody and Stearns.
The land on which 252-260 Beacon were built was owned by Samuel Frothingham, part of a larger parcel originally purchased on December 15, 1863, from the Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation by attorney John Duncan Bryant. On December 29, 1870, after the houses were completed, Samuel Frothingham sold Henry Williams the land (“that lot of land on which said Williams has erected at his expense five dwelling houses”).
Samuel Frothingham was Henry Williams’s father-in-law. He and his wife, Maria Louisa (Whitredge) Frothingham, lived at 317 Dartmouth until his death in December of 1872. Henry Williams and his wife, Sarah Louisa (Frothingham) Williams, lived with them; Sarah Williams died in July of 1871 in a carriage accident.
By 1908, 254 and 256 Beacon were both owned by John Howard Lee. He had owned and lived at 256 Beacon from the early 1880s, and acquired 254 Beacon sometime between 1898 and 1908 (254 Beacon had been the home of Francis L. Lee; although they shared the same surname, John and Francis Lee were not closely related).
By 1872, 254 Beacon was the home of Francis L. Lee and his wife, Sarah Mary Ann (Wilson) Lee. They had lived at 174 Beacon in 1870. He is shown as the owner of 254 Beacon on the 1874 Hopkins map and the 1883 Bromley map.
In 1878, they were joined at 254 Beacon by attorney and mining investor Horatio Ripley Bigelow and his wife Anne Lenthal (Smith) Bigelow. They previously had lived at 57 Marlborough. The Bigelows also maintained a home in Hanover, which they had made their sole residence by 1880.
Francis Lee died in September of 1886. Sarah Lee continued to live at 254 Beacon until about 1890. Their sons, Francis Wilson Lee and Thomas Lee, and their daughters, Alice Lee and Anne Wilson Lee, lived with her. F. L. Lee’s Heirs are shown as the owners of 254 Beacon on the 1888 and 1898 Bromley maps.
Francis Wilson Lee, a banker, married in September of 1890 to Marian Gliddon Dove; after their marriage, they lived in Chestnut Hill. At about the same time, Thomas Lee, formerly an investment banker, made the Lees’ Westport home his residence. Sarah Lee and her daughters continued to live at 254 Beacon during the 1890-1891 winter season, but moved soon thereafter, probably traveling abroad.
During the 1891-1892 winter season, it was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Guild.
During the 1892-1893 winter season, it was the home of attorney Richard Middlecott Saltonstall and his wife, Eleanor (Brooks) Saltonstall. They previously had lived in Chestnut Hill with his parents, Leverett and Rose Smith (Lee) Saltonstall. They subsequently moved back to Chestnut Hill to their own home.
During the 1893-1894 winter season, it was the home of Guy Norman, a stockbroker, and his wife, Louisa (Palfrey) Norman. They had been married in September of 1893, and 254 Beacon probably was their first home together. They had moved to 236 Beacon by 1895.
By the 1894-1895 winter season, 254 Beacon was the home of merchant Benjamin Loring Young and his wife, Charlotte Wright (Hubbard) Young. They previously had lived at 357 Beacon. They also maintained a home in Weston.
During the next two seasons, they were listed in the 1896 and 1897 Blue Books both at 254 Beacon and also at 393 Marlborough. They were listed at neither in the 1898 Blue Book and by the 1898-1899 winter season, they were living at 285 Beacon.
During the 1897-1898 winter season, 254 Beacon was the home of John Brooks Fenno, Jr., and his wife, Mary Hamilton (Thorndike) Fenno. They had been married in April of 1897, and 254 Beacon probably was their first home together. J. Brooks Fenno was a dealer in iron and coke. By 1899, they had moved to 175 Marlborough.
By the 1898-1899 winter season, 254 Beacon was the home of Dr. Charles Allen Porter and his wife, Margaret Cochrane (Dewar) Porter. They had been married in April of 1898, and 254 Beacon probably was their first home together. Prior to their marriage, he had lived (and maintained his offices) at 24 Marlborough.
Charles Porter was a physician and surgeon, and also was an associate professor (and later professor) at Harvard Medical School. He maintained his medical office at 254 Beacon.
Living with the Porters from 1900 until about 1902 was Dr. William Lord Smith, a physician. He also maintained he offices there. In 1902, he traveled Persia, where he was briefly physician to the Shah. By 1905, he lived and maintained his office at 397 Marlborough.
By 1903, the Porters had been joined by Dr. William Carter Quinby, a physician, who also maintained his offices there. He continued to live with the Porters until about 1906. By 1908, he had moved to The Graffam at 330 Dartmouth.
The Porters leased 254 Beacon from John Howard Lee. He lived at 256 Beacon and had acquired 254 Beacon sometime between 1898 and 1908 (he is shown as the owner of both 254 and 256 Beacon on the 1908 Bromley map).
John Howard Lee died in June of 1908, and his daughters inherited the houses: Evelyn L. Converse, the wife of Frank Betel Converse, is shown is the owner of 254 Beacon on the 1912 and 1917 Bromley maps, and her unmarried sister, Bertha Lee, is shown as the owner of 256 Beacon. Both houses were leased to others until the early 1920s.
In about 1915, the Porters purchased 116 Beacon, which they remodeled significantly. They continued to live (and he to maintain his office) at 254 Beacon until the remodeling was completed and they were able to move.
254 Beacon was not listed in the 1916 Blue Book.
By the 1916-1917 winter season, 254 Beacon had become the home of Joseph T. Brown, Jr., and his wife, Irene Thacher (Jenney) Brown. They previously had lived in Wellesley. He was a druggist in his father’s firm and later trustee of his father’s estate. Living with them were their adult children, Martha Thacher Brown and Joseph Frank Brown, a bond salesman.
The Browns continued to live at 254 Beacon during the 1921-1922 season, but moved soon thereafter to 1 Marlborough.
By 1872, 256 Beacon was the home of Martha Mansfield (Shepard) Silsbee, the widow of Salem merchant John Boardman Silsbee. Their three unmarried children — Arthur Boardman Silsbee (a banker, shipping merchant, and textile mill executive), Martha Silsbee (an artist), and Thomas Silsbee — probably lived with her. They also maintained a home in Beverly. In 1870, she (and probably her children) had lived at 159 Beacon with Mrs. Mary A. Hayward, the widow of Dr. George Hayward.
She probably leased 256 Beacon from Henry B. Williams, who is shown as the owner on the 1874 Hopkins map.
Martha Silsbee continued to live at 256 Beacon until about 1876, and her son, Arthur, continued to live there in 1877. By 1879, she was living at 25 Commonwealth.
256 Beacon was not listed in the 1877-1880 Blue Books.
By the 1880-1881 winter season, it was the home of wholesale boot and shoe merchant John Howard Lee and his wife Sarah (Emmons) Lee. They also maintained a home in Brookline, where they were enumerated in the 1880 US Census, and in Royalston.
The Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company is shown as the owner of 256 Beacon on the 1883 Bromley map, but John H. Lee is shown as the owner on the 1888 and 1898 maps.
In May of 1883, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to build a stable at the rear of the property.
Sometime between 1898 and 1908, he acquired 254 Beacon, which he leased to others.
Sarah Lee died in July of 1895. John Lee continued to live at 256 Beacon until his death in June of 1908. After his death, their daughters inherited the houses: Evelyn L. Converse, the wife of Frank Betel Converse, is shown is the owner of 254 Beacon on the 1912 and 1917 Bromley maps, and her unmarried sister, Bertha Lee, is shown as the owner of 256 Beacon. Both houses were leased to others until the early 1920s.
By the 1909-1910 winter season, 256 Beacon was the home of rubber shoe manufacturer Harry Elisha Converse and his wife Mary Caroline (Parker) Converse. Harry Converse was the second cousin of Frank Betel Converse. They previously had lived at 419 Beacon.
Harry and Mary Converse continued to live at 256 Beacon during the 1911-1912 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to Jamaica Plain.
In 1913, 256 Beacon was the home of Miss Edyth Deacon. During the 1912-1913 winter season, she had lived at 323 Beacon.
Edyth Deacon had been engaged to marry banker George Lee Peabody, who died in February of 1911. She was the sister of Gladys Deacon, who later would become the Duchess of Marlborough, second wife of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough, Charles Richard John Spencer Churchill (first cousin of Winston Churchill), and of Dorothy Deacon, who later would become Princess Radziwell, wife of Prince Radziwell of Poland, and then Countess Palffy, wife of Count Francis Palffy of Hungary.
By the 1913-1914 season, Edyth Deacon had moved to 431 Beacon.
By the 1917-1918 winter season, 256 Beacon was the home of Charles Barnard Prince and his wife, Halldis (Möller) Prince. They previously had lived at 229 Marlborough.
Charles Prince was assistant treasurer of the American Tube Works, manufacturers of brass tubing.
They continued to live at 256 Beacon during the 1921-1922 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to 190 Commonwealth.
In May of 1922, Evelyn Converse filed for (and subsequently received) permission to combine 254 and 256 Beacon into one building, converting them from two single-family dwellings into five apartments. It appears likely that the front entrance was lowered to street level at this time. The remodeling was dewsigned by architect Harold Field Kellogg.
After the remodeling was completed, Frank and Evelyn Converse made 254-256 Beacon their home. Evelyn Converse’s sister, Bertha Lee, also lived at 254-256 Beacon. The remaining apartments were rented to others.
The 1928 Bromley map shows them as continuing to own the two houses, Bertha Lee owning 256 Beacon and Evelyn L. Converse owning 254 Beacon.
In September of 1932, Bertha Lee applied for (and subsequently received) permission to construct a garage at the rear of 256 Beacon.
Frank Converse died in November of 1936; Evelyn Converse and Bertha Lee continued to live there in 1937. They sold both houses soon thereafter, and Marjorie C. O’Brien is shown as owner of both on the 1938 Bromley map.
By 1946, 254-256 Beacon was owned by Samuel D. Weissman. In June of 1949, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from five apartments to 11 apartments.
In July of 1969, 254-256 Beacon was acquired by Edward J. Ruel. In August of 1973, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remove the garage that had been added behind 256 Beacon in 1932.
In December of 1975, Paul S. Cohen purchased 254-256 Beacon from Edward J. Ruel. In January of 1976, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to reduce the number of units to seven apartments, and in August of 1976, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission “to erect 38 foot by 60 foot two-story addition to be used as an additional apartment.” In September of 1976, he converted 254-256 Beacon into eight condominiums.