281 Beacon was designed by Peabody and Stearns, architects, and built in 1881 for merchant, cotton manufacturer, and real estate developer Charles William Freeland, for speculative sale, one of six contiguous houses built in the same style: 271-273-275-277 Beacon built ca. 1876 and 279-281 Beacon built in 1881. 271-277 Beacon form a symmetrical group, with the bays of 271-273 Beacon on the west side of each house, and the bays of 275-277 Beacon on the east side of each house. Both 279-281 Beacon have bays on the east side of the house.
The original building permit application for 271 Beacon has not been located. The building permit applications for 273 Beacon and for 275-277 Beacon, submitted in 1876, do not indicate the name of the architect. However, the permit applications for 279-281 Beacon, originally submitted in 1877, abandoned, and re-submitted in 1881, indicate that Peabody and Stearns was the architect of these houses, and it is reasonable to assume the earlier four – which are of the same design — also were designed by them (in his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting attributes all six houses to Peabody and Stearns).
The land on which 271-281 Beacon were built was purchased by Charles W. Freeland from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in several parcels: Four 25 foot wide lots to the east on May 26, 1874, and a 50 foot wide lot to the west on October 30, 1877. 271 Beacon is 26 feet wide, 273-275-277-279 Beacon are each 25 feet wide, and 281 Beacon is 24 feet wide.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 281 Beacon, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Beacon and Alley 418, from Dartmouth to Exeter.
Charles W. Freeland is shown as the owner of 279-281 Beacon on the original building permit application for the two houses, dated March 15, 1877. This application was abandoned, and he filed a new application on April 14, 1881. He died in December of 1883.
281 Beacon was not listed in the 1881-1884 Blue Books.
On October 7, 1884, 281 Beacon was purchased from Charles Freeland’s estate by Miss Mary H. Bartlett. She and her sister, Caroline Bartlett, made it their home. They previously had lived at the Hotel Vendôme.
Mary and Caroline Bartlett were the daughters of Enoch Bartlett, a Boston shipping and dry goods merchant and horticulturalist, after whom the Bartlett pear was named.
Caroline Bartlett died in February of 1890. Mary Bartlett continued to live at 281 Beacon during the 1890-1891 winter season, but then moved back to the Hotel Vendôme.
On May 12, 1891, 281 Beacon was purchased from Mary Bartlett by Richard Montgomery Field. He and his wife, Cynthia A. (Endicott) Field, made it their home. They previously had lived at The Thorndike at 91-92 Boylston.
Richard M. Field was manager of the Boston Museum on Tremont Street. It was primarily a theatre, but also featured a wax museum, natural history museum, and fine arts gallery.
They continued to live at 281 Beacon during the 1895-1896 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to an apartment at The Tuileries at 270 Commonwealth.
On May 1, 1896, 281 Beacon was purchased from Richard Field by Alfred Perkins Rockwell. He and his wife, Katharine Virginia (Foote) Rockwell, made it their home. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
A former professor of mining at MIT, he served as Chairman of the Boston Fire Commission from about 1873 to 1875, president of the Eastern Railroad from 1876 to 1879, and treasurer of the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, a textile firm, from 1879 to 1886, when he retired.
During the 1900-1901 winter season, the Rockwells were living elsewhere and 281 Beacon was the home of Col. Henry Sturgis Russell and his wife, Mary Hathaway (Forbes) Russell. They previously had lived at 403 Beacon. They also maintained a residence, Home Farm, in Milton. Col. Russell was Boston Fire Commissioner; he formerly had been a shipping merchant in the East India and China trade in his father-in-law’s firm, John Murray Forbes & Co., and had served as president of the Continental Telephone Company.
By 1901-1902 winter season, the Russells had moved to 217 Beacon and 281 Beacon was once again the Rockwells’ home.
Katharine Virginia Rockwell died in March of 1902 and Alfred Rockwell died in December of 1903. Their daughter, Katharine Diana Ward Rockwell, continued to make 281 Beacon her Boston home until her marriage in August of 1907 to Eliot Sumner. After their marriage, they lived in Baltimore.
The house was not listed in the 1908 Blue Book.
On April 16, 1908, 281 Beacon was acquired from Alfred Rockwell’s estate by wholesale dry goods merchant George Lewis, Jr., as trustee of a trust he established for the benefit of his wife, Marian (GRay) Lewis, and their children. He and his wife made it their home. They previously had lived in Chestnut Hill. They also maintained a home in Dark Harbor, Maine.
On October 29, 1963, 281 Beacon was purchased from the trust establshed by George Lewis by John H. Ayvazian, Jr., Nubar J. Dinjian, George Najarian, and Thomas Moranian, trustees of the Penwood Realty Trust. In December of 1961, they had purchased 279 Beacon.
In October of 1963, Penwood Realty applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 281 Beacon from a single-family dwelling into ten apartments. It similarly had remodeled 279 Beacon the previous year. In January of 1964, it amended the plans for 281 Beacon to remove the second floor and build two floors between the current first and third floors, making it a five story building. Plans for the remodeling, drawn by architect Leon Furr, are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston Public Library’s Arts Department (reference BIN R-254).
On April 7, 1969, Penwood Realty transferred 279 Beacon and 281 Beacon to Marguerite (Moranian) Dinjian, wife of Nubar Dinjian.
On February 9, 1979, 279 Beacon and 281 Beacon were acquired from Marguerite Dinjian by Malcolm MacPhail and Peter A. Mead, trustees of the 279-281 Beacon Street Realty Trust.
On June 8, 1979, they converted the properties into nineteen condominium units, nine at 279 Beacon and ten at 281 Beacon, the 279-281 Beacon Street Condominium.